West Brom 0 Tottenham 1
Gareth Bale’s wonderful goal, his 11th of a prolific season, has put Tottenham within a point of third-placed Chelsea in the Premier League; but their victory in a tepid match against 10 men wasn’t quite enough to answer every question about his team’s lack of firepower.
This victory means Tottenham are still unbeaten in the league since early December and leaves them very comfortably placed in the race for Champions League places, now four points ahead of north London rivals Arsenal.
But on a day when West Brom’s Goran Popov was sent off for spitting at Kyle Walker — rendering the entire second half pretty meaningless as Spurs dominated every facet of play — there was serious concern for the victors thanks to an injury to one of their only strikers, Jermain Defoe, just hours after they failed to sign a forward on deadline day.
Both these sides, in fact, could end up regretting the events of January 31 because the embarrassing episode of Peter Odemwingie’s failed transfer to Queens Park Rangers — which culminated in him driving to Loftus Road apparently unaware a transfer fee had not been agreed and leaving him stranded in his car in west London — was hardly a happy day for West Brom, either.
Reaction to Wingiegate ranged from merciless ribbing of the striker on Twitter to admiration of West Brom’s stance in standing up to a player who was trying to force the club into selling him against their wishes. But the outcome was at best unhelpful for manager Steve Clarke as Odemwingie was advised not to turn up for training and dropped from the squad to face Spurs.
Tottenham fans were quick to spot the metaphorical shore shins of their opponents and aim a sharp, early kick at the burgeoning bruise — “Odemwingie; he would have scored that,” they chanted as Shane Long wasted an early opportunity.
Not that Tottenham arrived in the west midlands completely happy with the events of the previous week that saw them fail in a long-term bid to sign Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao from Internacional when fans were clamouring for AVB to increase his options up front.
In fact, with Defoe increasingly injury-prone and Emmanuel Adebayor currently away on African Cup of Nations duty it was rather hard to agree with AVB’s pre-match boast that even without Damiao “we’re stronger than Arsenal and Chelsea up front”.
That verdict will now be tested to the full because Defoe lasted only 39 minutes before being injured and replaced by midfielder Lewis Holtby, the only player who did manage to sign for Tottenham before the deadline passed.
“He is definitely out of the England squad and our Newcastle game for sure,” Villas-Boas said. We just have to scan it, but at the moment it doesn’t look too good. Normally it is the ligament on his ankle and this should keep him out for around three weeks.”
Spurs were saved on the day, however, by the bizarre actions of West Brom defender Popov, on loan from Dynamo Kiev, who spat at Walker shortly into the second half, and was promptly sent off by referee Mark Clattenburg.
Clarke condemned the player, saying: “The game changed with the sending-off. I’m absolutely disgusted with Goran’s behaviour.
“There’s no excuse for that. There’s no place for it in life, never mind on a football pitch. I would like to think that at some stage he will apologise.”
The home side responded by taking off Romelu Lukaku and bringing on defender Liam Ridgewell — leaving the game even shorter of quality forwards but with Tottenham almost permanently camped in the West Brom half.
The inevitable goal came when the excellent Bale cut across the pitch and unleashed a stunning left-foot shot from 20 yards to win the game after 67 minutes.
The only worry for AVB, however, is that although Tottenham dominated the remainder of the match — producing 21 shots on goal — they had to settle for a single-goal victory; which could be a portent of things to come.
“We just have to focus on getting Defoe back and continue to work with the options we have,” said Villas-Boas. “Clint Dempsey is a different type of striker if we play him there and it will require a certain level of adaptation but I think we can make it work.”
It seems churlish to challenge AVB on that verdict; but even though star man Bale is on fire and Tottenham are enjoying a hot run of form, it doesn’t mean they are not a striker light.
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