Adebayor lifts Spurs to third as Villa show only fear

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Aston Villa 0

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The Independent Football

His team an advert for the dangers of conservatism, their conquerors proof of the benefits brought by entry into the Eurozone: David Cameron, that famously devoted Aston Villa fan, might have hoped for an evening away from the business of government when watching his side lose at Tottenham. No such luck.

Still, at least the Premier could take solace from the evidence on the touchline of the benefits of private healthcare: three weeks after minor surgery to insert two stents into his coronary arteries, welcomed by a friendly hug from Alex McLeish, Harry Redknapp took charge of Spurs.

The 64-year-old could not have hoped for a gentler return to work, his team's eighth victory in nine games assured by two first-half goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and earned through a performance of trademark power and panache.

It was the sort of win which highlights the gulf between these sides which has opened in the 18 months since Cameron took power. Then, just six points separated two clubs of similar size and ambition as they tussled for a spot in the Champions League; Spurs won that race, using it as a springboard to retain and strengthen a squad fit for the Champions League. Villa, hamstrung by austerity measures, are unquestionably in a slowdown. The clubs' relative roles were evident from the first minute, from the publication of the team sheets.

The trappings of McLeish's fear were everywhere, clad in claret and blue. There was Alan Hutton, revisiting his former home, employed as a right-winger in a futile attempt to draw the sting from Gareth Bale. And Emile Heskey, his makeshift counterpart on the left flank, deployed essentially as a man-marker for Kyle Walker. Chris Herd, a full-back, in central midfield; seven to destroy, just four to create. There is a name for this sort of thing. Some would call it cowardice; kindlier souls would apply the more exotic epithet of catenaccio.

Spurs could, and should, view it as the most ardent of compliments. The firepower in Redknapp's arsenal is enough to make most of his peers blanch. Perhaps only Manchester City, among their rivals, possess more. He has transformed White Hart Lane into a destination to endure, a trip for battening down the hatches and gritting the teeth. Even then, Spurs can be impossible to contain.

No matter how many defenders McLeish produced, the hosts buzzed around the ball, their side brimming with brio, all vim and vigour and vibrancy. Aaron Lennon, right arm outstretched, part rudder, part sail, ducked and shimmied and tormented Stephen Warnock, a night of twisted blood and strained neck for the full-back.

Villa, devoid of an outlet, undone by their own negativity, creaked under the pressure. Younes Kaboul saw a fearsome drive deflected wide by the unknowing Warnock. Luka Modric curled in the corner, Heskey headed it only as far as Bale, whose scooped shot found Adebayor on the edge of the six-yard box, for a leap, a twist, and a scissor-kick past Shay Given.Fourteen minutes had passed, and Villa's plan lay in ruins, their evening in disarray.

Redknapp sat impassive, doing his best to contain his emotions, but McLeish fretted and fidgeted, his anxiety apparent. Little wonder. He will never be loved by his public; the best he can hope for is tolerance, begrudging acquiescence to Randy Lerner's somewhat inexplicable determination to bring the man who had relegated Birmingham to Villa Park.

McLeish exists in a state of permanent peril: one heavy defeat, one step back, and he is no longer the Aston Villa manager, but the blue sleeper cell, the fifth columnist, the enemy within. His past is just a beat away from dominating his present.

That probably explains his caution here, but there is no pride in damage limitation when it singularly fails to limit the damage. That his side surrendered so limply here, and in a fashion as devoid of courage as it was ambition, will simply serve to stoke the embers of disaffection.

Villa twice went close in the opening 120 seconds, through a Heskey header and a wayward Darren Bent shot, but it was not until the 30th minute that they again darkened Spurs' door, the former's pass for the latter a touch too heavy.

That was the last glimmer of hope. Before half-time, Adebayor had his second, tapping in from the goal-line after James Collins lunged in front of Given in an attempt to block Bale's cross, but managed only to distract his goalkeeper. The ball squirmed from the Irishman's grasp, landing on Adebayor's foot. Even Scott Sinclair would not have missed.

There might have been more after the break, had Adebayor's sure touch not deserted him. He screwed one shot wide after Luka Modric's perfectly weighted through ball left him with just Given to beat; another effort, after Bale had left four defenders sprawling in his wake, curled just past the far post. The hat-trick just would not come: the Villa goalkeeper smothered another from close range.

A more important third, though, was long secured: victory lifted Spurs above Chelsea and Newcastle United. They can now be considered the most legitimate challengers the capital can offer to the game's emerging cartel in Manchester. They are the Premier League's last hope of bridging its burgeoning North-South divide. As they have proved over recent weeks, they have the style and the substance to do so.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Parker, Modric (Sandro, 90), Bale; Van der Vaart (Defoe, 69); Adebayor. Substitutes not used Cudicin (gk)i, Gallas, Giovani, Bassong, Pienaar.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Given; Cuellar (Bannan, 63), Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Hutton, Herd (Delph, 87), Petrov, Heskey; Bent, Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used Guzan (gk), Ireland, N'Zogbia, Clark, Weimann.

Referee M Halsey (Lancashire).

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