Tottenham 1 West Brom 1
It was a day for reunions at White Hart Lane on Saturday, but an injury-time James Morrison goal ensured that West Brom’s Steve Clarke left north London feeling much more satisfied than his Tottenham Hotspur counterpart Andre Villas-Boas.
Both managers are disciples of Jose Mourinho, having spent more than three years working under the ‘Special One’ at Chelsea and had warmly embraced on the touchline before kickoff. Clarke’s debut as a top-flight boss last week saw his industrious side inflict a nightmare start to the Brendan Rodgers’ era at Liverpool and this time it was new Spurs boss Villas-Boas who was denied a victory on his first appearance in front of his home supporters. A return of one point from his opening two matches is not the kind of start the 34-year-old Portuguese would have hoped for after last season’s travails at Chelsea.
Yet, with the shadow of Harry Redknapp still hanging over the club after his unceremonious departure in the summer despite guiding Spurs to a fourth-placed finish, Villas-Boas was quick to deny suggestions that the pressure is already building on his slender shoulders.
“I don’t think so, there’s still a lot of games ahead. It’s how you finish that is important,” he said.
“Conceding a late goal is always disappointing but we have proven in these two games that we are looking sharp. We just have to improve to get the victory that we deserve.”
On this evidence, there is plenty of work to be done still. A promising first-half display that saw West Brom’s defence stretched on both flanks by the lightning pace of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon eventually ended with nothing to show for it, although Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen should have capped his debut with a goal in the 24th minute after a pitch-length burst into the box.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s free kick was the closest Spurs had come to breaking the deadlock in the second-half until both managers made their first changes in the 62nd minute, with Emmanuel Adebayor and Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku entering the fray. Defoe then saw his effort ruled out for offside before Lukaku – frozen out by Villas-Boas at Stamford Bridge after arriving from Anderlecht last season – stole the ball off compatriot Vertonghen and forced Brad Friedel into a full-length save.
The home supporters had started to grow restless but a slice of luck helped settle their nerves as Assou-Ekotto’s long-range strike following a corner took a deflection and gave Ben Foster no chance. Villas-Boas must also have breathed a sigh of relief yet West Brom showed the team spirit they have built up under first Roy Hodgson and now Clarke to deservedly found a way back into the game.
Gareth McAuley and Lukaku both came close with headers during a frantic finale before Morrison eventually applied the killer touch to leave their new boss relishing his dream start.
“I’ve waited a long time for the chance and I said I was going to enjoy it,” said Clarke, who spent last season working as assistant to Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool. “Two games in I can say I’m enjoying but I’m also realistic enough to know that there can be many different Saturdays. It’s all-consuming . You don’t get as much time to yourself. I used to have some hobbies but I don’t anymore.”
He added: “We know it’s a difficult league and there will be 10 or 11 teams just trying to get to 40 points. That’s the first target for all those teams and then from there you can push on. I think we still are the underdogs. We’ve done well in our first two matches but let’s not get carried away.”
For his part, Villas-Boas reflected fondly on his time working alongside Clarke at Chelsea and admitted they still share ‘a mutual respect’.
“I was extremely young and Steve had just made his jump from the reserve team under Jose,” he remembered.
“We were living a great football experience under one of the world’s greatest managers so it was a fantastic time.”
Now he knows the time has come to live up to the lofty expectations of Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy.
TOTTENHAM (4-2-3-1): B Friedel 6; K Walker 7, W Gallas 5, J Vertonghen 7, B Assou-Ekotto 7; Sandro 6 (Sigurdsson 73 6), J Livermore 6; A Lennon 8, R Van der Vaart 6 (Adebayor 62 6) , G Bale 7; J Defoe 7 (J Jenas 76 5).
Subs not used: C Cudicini, K Naughton, A Townsend, S Caulker.
WEST BROM (4-2-3-1): B Foster 7; S Reid 6, J Olsson 7, G McAuley 7, L Ridgewell 6; Y Mulumbu 6, C Yacob 8; M Antoine-Fortune 6 (M Rosenberg 78), J Morrison 8, G Dorrans 7 (C Brunt 75 7); S Long 6 (R Lukaku 62 7).
Subs not used: B Myhill, Z Gera, C Dawson, B Jones.
Referee: Mike Dean.
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