Tottenham 3 Reading 1
It's been an almost perfect transition from the festive period of 2012 into the cold front of 2013 that might or might not be warmed up by a new arrival or two. Ten points from twelve, just the one blemish ruining what might so easily have been a perfect Christmas and New Year. Near perfect being nothing to scoff at.
Tactical rotation (mostly at the back) and signs of improvement from some players (Dempsey, Sigurdsson) and continued rich form from others (Lennon). Very little to complain about. We sit in 3rd (for the moment) but more importantly we have our dear friend back with us. Momentum. Traditionally, the next two months is where we get unstuck. But this will be the first post-Christmas season under our new coach. There's plenty to suggest that those traits of yesteryear won't resurface this time round. That might depend on a variety of things. Burn out (and its avoidance) being one. An injection of that extra little something to spark the midfield is another.
Andre Villas-Boas very deflective in commenting on potential incoming players but then contradicting by admitting we're interested in X player(s). I tend to favour his dismissive, non-committal approach to the alternative open house of our previous coach. Who cares what is admitted publicly as long as something is happening privately. Here's hoping to no prolonged sagas and just one or two out of the blue official announcements.
As for the Reading game, we're not quite at the pulsating standard of play we've become accustomed to in recent years but then sides no longer come to White Hart Lane and invite us to attack by virtue of their own offensive intent. However, we retain resolve and even though we might not have the strength in depth we have strength in belief. Reading at home proved to be a good test mainly thanks to Howard Webb awarding a free-kick (which wasn't) which resulted with us conceding a goal in the opening fifteen minutes of a match for the first time this season. Four minutes in, Harte's deadball effort coming off the bar and Pogrebnyak heading in the rebound.
Not ideal, but hardly a consequence of anything other than poor officiating and luck. After that incident until very late in the game, it was all Spurs. Dawson glancing the ball in for the equaliser on the 10th minute from a Sigurdsson (involved and enjoying his starting place) corner. Dembele showed plenty of power and driving force through the middle. In fact our midfielders were involved in most of the work in and around the box as we went in search for a second.
Completely dominant in possession. The only struggles were the odd despondent shrug aimed at Webb and his erratic whistle-blowing and our two forwards struggling to impose any threat (combined or otherwise). Not sure they compliment each other as a partnership. Hard to know if their movement is sterile only because there isn't a player to play that much needed through-ball. So much of what we do is down the middle of the pitch (66% in the first half) that more emphasis is required from the flanks. One up front might actually allow for a far more concentrated shape - especially if we look to bring midfielders into attacking positions.
Yet more parking the bus ethics from the opposing side but again, can't complain about how teams set themselves up to contain us. I don't have to like it or enjoy it. But have to accept that although it can illustrate some of the frustrating elements of our play it can also build character. We have to find a way through.
Defoe showing a little more with an effort on goal (clipping the post). Dembele continuing to own the space around him. A deflected Sandro effort excellently saved. That invention still missing to make the breakthrough for the second a more comfortable endeavour.
Second half, more of the same. All Tottenham. Defoe tests Federici. Our play now with more width than the first half, allowing for less congestion. It didn't take long for us to take the lead. Lennon from the by-line, crossing superbly and Adebayor, moving away from goal at the back post, heading in. This was a big big moment. The timing was important - an early goal. But equally so, the goal scorer. I still think he hasn't been playing half as badly as suggested by some. Perhaps he hasn't quite got the zest but this goal might boost his confidence and we might see a more instrumental Adebayor rather than one who remains a little lost with his responsibilities within the team. That's if he stays and doesn't end up departing from the ACN.
This was followed up by yet more Spurs pressure. Lennon involved for the most part. Adebayor looking a lot better than what he did in the first half and far more involved with ball at feet. Reading with very little to offer in reply. Sandro commanding his midfield. Then came the moment of uncertainty.
Another test. Dembele (who continues to struggle with longevity in games due to his hip problem) replaced by Parker. Naughton has an effort on goal with a half volley. A Sigurdsson effort goes wide. Then, almost shoehorned into the game, three Reading chances that didn't' quite seem to fit into the script. Or perhaps this being Spurs, they fitted in perfectly.
Pogrebnyak races through, Lloris with a good solid save, the header that followed thankfully going wide. Heart in mouth.
Kebe, almost..almost in for a one on one. Kyle Walker saving the day, a foot in the way of the shot resulting in just a corner. Heart being chewed on.
Then a goal mouth scramble. Pogrebnyak again involved, Dawson clearing the ball off the line. Heart spat out.
In amongst all the drama, Dempsey had come on for Sig and then duly scored to get things back on track, his shot from thirty-five yards deflected and looping over Federici. Heart back in chest, pumping blood like a champion.
Spurs never make it easy but they're making it easier these days. The final ten minutes or so, Lennon and Defoe again involved. Lennon working the flanks. Defoe with yet another shot on goal. Parker with a long ranger. Dempsey with a couple of efforts. It's a lot more enjoyable when Spurs are owning the final ten minutes.
Final whistle. All smiles. A strong, confident home performance. Could have been a whole lot worse, could have been a whole lot better. Reading could so easily have made it 2-2. A reminder that for all our effort we still need to have more guile and cutting edge. Then again, Reading had about five minutes worth of decency. We swamped them.
Adebayor scoring - That will help. What might help even more is to spend more time in the penalty area waiting for those wonderful Lennon crosses to plant his head on. If Dempsey is good to go with a starting position, I'd like to see us go back to one up front.
Parker - Really does steady things up with tidy play in the middle, in the latter stages.
Lennon - Our best player. Works so hard, not just from wide positions but linking with the midfield and tracking back. Key player. His cross for Adebayor's goal, top drawer.
Dempsey - One day, he'll score a clean goal. Loves a deflection.
Some random stats (mostly from @SpursStatMan): 34 attempts on goal, 398 passes completed versus Reading. In the last four games we've created 94 attempts on goal whilst only allowing opposing sides 23 efforts. Might be a little tricky to produce such dominance against a better class of opposition but we're beating the teams we have to be beating. Can't ask for more than that. Well, apart from perhaps finishing more of the attempts we produce.
The pace, the tempo - that will improve in time. Scoreline would have been bigger if Bale played (but then that's just a personal assumption made on Gareth's current form).
Coventry up next. AVB might actually look to rotate for the sake of rest. Although they should not be underestimated. Then we've got QPR. Doubt they'll be much to write about with that one.