Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester City 1
Same old Tottenham. They're going to choke, they laughed. They've thrown it all away they mocked. But alas, this isn't the same old troubled Spurs of last season that besmirched themselves by failing to muster up the courage and tactical astuteness to regain lost momentum and instead disappeared into a void of apologetic self-pity. A ground-hog day replaced with a battered and bruised cockerel.
Today's Tottenham is Andre Villas-Boas Tottenham, with extra goodness in the shape of an extra dimension or two. In what was seven minutes of scintillating salivating glory (six minutes and 20 seconds to be precise) we overturned a 1-0 deficit to a rejuvenating momentum demanding 3-1 victory.
Seven minutes of clinical devastating football. A dizzying high packed in the only way Spurs know how to deliver.
The average man* has sex and reaches orgasm in two/three minutes. Tottenham hardly average with their penetration. City slapped and tickled three times in seven minutes sending a shuddering bed shattering vibration across N17. White Hart Lane, volcanic in reception. No need for the tantric here when a quick-fire multiple orgasm of swagger will do.
*I'm not the average man.
The game began with a frantic pace, mostly with us in possession. Bale had a shot that Hart was equal to. But with ominous timing, City on their first genuine calculated attack, scored. Five minutes on the clock and Tevez instrumental, cleverly playing in Milner who cut the ball across the penalty area to find an unmarked Nasri waiting to strike the ball past a hapless Walker. Kyle, instinctively (and fatally) roaming away from Nasri to defend the goal rather than stick to him and block any potential shot. The goal woke up City who started to hold onto the ball with more purpose.
Nasri, not content with the opener, decided to pay back Walker in kind by taking him out with a cowardly tackle that screamed 'red card'. He wasn't even awarded a yellow.
The pace of the game continued with City looking far more controlled and comfortable and Spurs displaying endeavour but generally too eager to push forward, usually without impetus. There was still pockets of attacks that could have seen us carve something out. But City remained equal to it.
Dempsey played in Walker who was in on goal, only to delay his shot and give Hart the time to deal. Nasri had another opportunity, that went wide. There was a handball incident where the ball bounced and hit Barry on the hand, but no controversy or complaints. Dempsey was involved again, this time with Clichy defending. Dzeko had a shot, Lloris not troubled. Tevez with a header with Hugo again reacting well. Both efforts lacking power, our keeper not having to break sweat.
As the first half came to a close, Dempsey had a free header over, unmarked from a corner and there was time for Walker to cross for Sigurdsson not quite connecting and Zabaleta blocking.
Half time. Spurs pragmatic in approach without enough guile and tidy possession to get hold of the game with City far more fluid with the ball in offensive positions but not dominating in a bullish way.
Adebayor, for all his running around, was a lonely man up top. There was effort but it resembled a man in a car without a sat nav unable to find his destination and attempting the same route over and over again. I know Adebayor remains an obvious scapegoat for many because at the most basic level he's a striker, so you expect goals and you expect forceful bullying for a man of his physicality. In same games, his work goes unnoticed because people refuse to see beyond the 'goals' issue. Against City however, we weren't able to get the ball to him and he wasn't able to create the space to invite it.
Bale was also quiet during the first half. Returning to the side, possibly not 100% fit, he found no freedom of expression through the middle which City controlled with their narrow system, congesting any chance of time on the ball for our talismanic forward. The lack of pace with Spurs was also evident, with no true flank play. The game was not being stretched out with width.
The second half began and AVB made his first tactical switch. Bale and Dempsey swapped sides. Bale now on the right.
Benny had his own Nasri moment with a two footed tackled on Zabaleta who thankfully got up and hugged him, rendering a possible red for a yellow (although the hug probably not too influential in the decision, rather just another poor decision by the referee, Mason).
Bale had a free-kick which he wasted with a wild drill of the ball up up and away after Clichy fouled Parker outside the box.
That tactical switch wasn't impacting the game with Bale still denied space on the right hand side. Villas-Boas again looked to change things, this time with a less subtly approach by bringing on Holtby for Sigurdsson and Huddlestone for Parker. Thirty minutes to go, thirty minutes to gain some ilk of control in the middle.
What proceeded to happen over the next ten minutes was a gradual bedding in period for Holtby and Huddlestone. Tom was deep, much like Parker played in the first half, but with the added expertise of long balls to feet and more importantly, composed intelligent distribution. Tom is much maligned, usually because of his size and his lack of mobility but if he's slow with the ball at feet when running, he's Boltesque in the mind with vision. I love a Matrix/Neo reference so I'm going to use one again. What Tom excelled at was the ability to bypass all the frantic paced passing and movement by picking out one ball that would see us release a more effective attack. When the opposing side are set out to contain a more static midfield, it becomes tricky to defend against them when the attacking outlet changes.
Holtby's inclusion was positive and aided the gradual change of that attacking outlet. A bundle of enthused energy, he gave us some much needed retaliation in the midfield battle. With Dembele, the two of them had assured intent when chasing down the ball and when playing their way out of midfield to release players out wide and through the middle. Huddlestone had time to look up and pick the pass. The midfield was not only dynamic in shape but no longer reactive to the opposition. We had control. It was up to City to switch it up to contain us. They didn't.
Tick tock, tick tock. Tevez had another shot (wide). There was a surging run from Dembele who played in Bale (came to nothing). Dembele and Holtby continued to hold their ground in midfield and Huddlestone grow in confidence and stature...in the literally sense for anyone looking for a cheap shot.
A great passage of play followed (around the 66th minute mark) with Dembele winning the ball in midfield, playing in Dempsey who found Holtby via an Ade touch, with the ball to Benny who crossed it in only for Zabaleta to cut it out. Dempsey going down in the box, a little too easy.
City not reacting to the Spurs switch.
Then Jermain Defoe was introduced for Adebayor. I'll keep on banging this drum, but shame on those that booed the player. Completely unnecessary.
Dempsey had a shot saved. Then a moment of hesitation for City at the back, with Dembele to Defoe who misplaced his pass only for Kompany and Hart to leave the ball for each other and Dempsey falling (again) in the midst of the chase.
City still not reacting to the Spurs switch.
Bale had space, pushing forward. Defoe adding a much needed injection of pace. There was a directness to our play, no necessity for the slow build up. Pushing the ball, looking for the quick pass, the clever pass. There was urgency, effective not that frantic congested movement of the first half. Since that switch, Spurs had purpose with ball at feet and with players making runs that demanded a pass. This was 433 in its ascendency.
Huddlestone played a wonderful ball out to Walker as he continued to fine tune his range. Then Dawson equal in effort seeking out Benny on the left. He crossed the ball, which evaded the pen area and found itself out to the right with Walker picking it up. Walker, composed, waited, then played Bale in. What followed was a majestic moment of football. A sublime assist with the outside of his left foot that found Dempsey lurking to poke the ball in with Kompany unable to deter him.
1-1. 75th minute.
City reacted (finally) with a couple of attacks. The noise inside the Lane now at ear-bursting levels. Football is amazing at times with how your hopes can travel from one end of the emotive spectrum to the other and all defeatism can be forgotten about even though it spent the best part of 70 minutes festering in your mind. Spurs fans did not stop believing, neither did the coach and players.
We won the ball in midfield. Holtby released Defoe. Kompany (again) allowed Defoe to turn onto his right foot inside the penalty area. Oops. Defoe with the power of his venomous right peg unleashing an unstoppable shot. Hart with no chance.
2-1. 78th minute.
This is Defoe at his instinct comfortable best. Allow him to run onto the ball, against the last defender. Impact.
The Lane buzzing.
Huddlestone running in midfield with Bale in support to his right, tracking Hudd's run and waiting. Tom duly threaded the ball through two defenders to Bale. Hart rushed out, Bale beautifully dinked the ball over Hart.
3-1. 81st minute.
Absolutely ridiculous scenes. Seven minutes of scintillating salivating glory.
Kudos to Andre Villas-Boas for the early substitutions and tactical changes. He changed the complexion of the midfield battle in our favour, allowing us to boss the tempo which meant the pace of the game and our attacks was far more controlled and measured. Huddlestone and his crisp confident passing, the game changer.
Bale effective on the right only after the subs. Holtby a bundle of electricity to aid Dembele against Toure and Barry. City we're comfortable for so long, complacent in their approach believing they had it all under control. Mancini without answer to our stunning application and reversal. Tottenham's shape, spearheaded, City's resembling a pear.
This is testament to the players, their character and the desire to keep on going. The support deserving of a side that simply refused to roll over and snooze the season away.
This was meant to be the most likely game of our remaining fixtures we'd lose. This has to be followed up with a win away to Wigan to once more apply pressure elsewhere.
Lennon is not that far off from returning. Villas-Boas will have decisions to make in how we line-up, with the likes of Huddlestone (pinging) and Holtby (pressing) once more showing focused fortitude with their sparkling emergency rescue. Although the latter is better suited to the high intensity of the opening exchanges with Huddlestone offering impact off the bench in the latter stages to allow for that something different.
That's not to say the side can't be set up from the start, the way it finished the game. 433 can work as long as the two midfielders do the work and protect to allow Huddlestone to play make from deep. At home, we should be the ones dictating from the kick off. The decision is one of risk, but we can't afford to lose this gained momentum.
Suddenly, that lack of depth that was looking like the excuse to carry us into the summer months has been replaced with promise and spirited determination. No matter the decisions made, one thing we'll need for certain is a belly full of fire till the very end.
Roll on the next cup final.