Spurs (a) report

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Spurs 2- 2 Latics
Sunday 19th February 2006

A impressive performance and a brace of nicely taken goals from Andreas Johansson were not enough to win this game, but the Swede will be hoping it was enough to give Paul Jewell a selection headache for next week’s League Cup final. The makeshift forward’s second and third league goals of the campaign saw Latics take the lead twice at White Hart Lane, only to be pegged back on each occasion. Although a draw was well earned by both sides and probably the fair result, Spurs will be a little bit grumpy at not strengthening their league position, whilst Latics will be happy to have finally reached that benchmark 40 points.

With Neil Mellor nowhere to be seen and Gary Teale limping out of training on Friday, Jewell’s hand was forced and he had little option other than to start with Camara upfront. Elsewhere Chimbonda and Baines resumed their full back roles and Scharner slotted back into midfield with Bullard moving to wide right.

From the off this was a much brighter performance than we’ve become used to. Camara’s pace and trickery allied to Johansson’s clever running causing Tottenham problems. However the absence of Teale was more marked than his reputation would give him credit for. Whereas we’ve had (and to some extent relied) the easy option of pushing the ball wide, this much more narrow set up channeled play into the hands of Dawson and King, who managed to nullify most of the threat.

Despite this it was Latics who drew first blood, a punt from Pollitt saw Johansson breaking onto a flick on from Scharner, Robinson managed to get a hand to the shot, but not enough of one. The initial reaction to the goal was a little muted. Camara had been in an offside position when the ball was played, but somehow was judged not to have interfered with play and the goal allowed. Even allowing for the current instructions on ‘passive’ offside it seemed a dubious decision but for obvious reasons I’ll leave those arguments to the Spurs fans.

It’s a fine line between direct play and being a long ball team, and our day Jewell has got the balance right. It’s easy to see that when things start to go wrong, we fall back onto percentage balls but we never set out that way, it just doesn’t suit our forwards. Jol’s accusations to the contrary give lie to his own style of play. Spurs reliance on the big man up front, at the expense of playing their two best strikers together says a lot.

It was that big man up front that got the home team back in the game. Not for the last time in the game, Latics went to sleep at a throw in allowing Saltieri to get a cheap cross in. Mido’s finish at first looked like a flukey bounce off the knee, but on closer examination was a tidy flick that did enough to take the ball away from keeper and defence.

The second half followed the same pattern. For the umpteenth time this season Latics were in a game that was ‘one for the neutrals’ good for the club, but not for the fans hearts. Spurs again were edging it on possession but the balance on chances had turned and Latics were in the ascendancy. No surprises then when they took the lead. Again it was Johansson, but this time it was a pure football move that got us the break.

Quick, on the floor passing ended up with Johansson facing a wall of Spurs defenders on the edge of their box, a one-two with the impressive Camara and he was in with only Robinson to beat. The ball duly dispatched, it was a welcome goal but one that raised more questions for Jewell than it answered. A deserved lead? Probably, now surely all we needed to do was remember the old cliche about not going to sleep after scoring. Hang on a minute, damn.

Barely 15 seconds had gone from the kick off when De Zeeuw failed to deal with a Mido flick on, the ball falling to Defoe. The England striker had previously denied by a combination of his own wastefulness and Pollitt’s ability, but this time he made no mistake. From this point the game could have easily petered out to a draw, but the three points were important to Spurs and Latics don’t do fading away.

As the game came to a close, Jol brought on Robbie Keane, going with three strikers to push for the winner, but it was Latics who had the better chances. First Scharner, with a header and then the returning McCulloch, with a typical back post shot pulling excellent saves from Robinson. When the whistle finally went it brought inexplicable boos from the Spurs crowd, maybe there’s a corner of north London where they still haven’t realised we’re a decent team.

In all you’d have to say this was a fair result. The number of chances for each side were fairly even. A draw at spurs is a good result whichever way you look at it, but you’d have to be disappointed with losing the lead twice. Positive points are the return to some kind of form, McCulloch’s reappearance and Johansson’s contribution. The loss of Henchoz is a worry as is Teale’s absence. Te natural thing would be to use all this as some sort of omen for the Carling Cup Final next Sunday, in reality all it tells us is that we’re going to do more than turn up
But we knew that already.

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