Having carelessly mislaid one talismanic Frenchman, Tottenham Hotspur have found another. Stéphane Dalmat, a misfit at a patchwork club, picked up le baton from Frédéric Kanouté to furnish, with a flourish, an arresting victory for his latest employer which halted a series of four successive Premiership defeats and eased them out of the relegation places.
Good job, too. Because Kanouté strolled through the game mentally packing his bags to represent Mali in the African Nations Cup, while his fellow striker, Robbie Keane, for long periods visibly crumbled in front of goal. Dalmat, on a season-long loan from Internazionale, was all tricks and flicks. A French Under-21 international, like Kanouté, he probably had Spurs officials scurrying to talk terms with the Milanese, and, surely this time, check Dalmat's parentage and intentions.
He has been a bit-part footballer until now. Richly talented, Dalmat has struggled to find form and continuity at a succession of clubs. He is an embodiment of Spurs. Flattering to deceive. Exuberant and erratic, in equal measure. This was one of his good nights. "Exceptional," Birmingham's manager, Steve Bruce, said. "Excellent," the Spurs coach, Chris Hughton, said.
Two goals inside the opening quarter of an hour by Dalmat destroyed Birmingham and shredded a hapless stand-in left-back, Darren Carter, who did not reappear for the second-half such had been his torments. Indeed Bruce tried three players in that position inside 40 minutes. Also missing Matthew Upson, he found his reinforcements inadequate. "We couldn't cope," he admitted.
And yet. Even at 3-0 up Spurs appeared fragile. Such is their psyche. When Robbie Savage scored a penalty, with 23 minutes left, after David Dunn had fallen gratefully from Dalmat's nudge, the panic spread. Clinton Morrison, aggressive throughout, could have turned it into a frenzy but fluffed when clear on goal. Birmingham played fast and loose throughout, as did Spurs, who appear to know no other way. Shutting up shop is anathema.
It was a case of what might have been for Bruce, who surely regretted the attacking intent shown by his players. From the kick-off they poured forward and soon after Dunn had stepped his way beyond Gus Poyet and forced a fine tip-over from Kasey Keller, Spurs took the lead. Dalmat picked up an innocuous cross-field pass and waited for Stephen Carr to overlap. He did - distracting Carter sufficiently for Dalmat to shift the ball on to his left foot and strike it from 20 yards low inside the far post.
The follow-up was swift. Keane maintained his composure, and sure balance, to protect the ball inside the penalty area before picking out Dalmat, who scored from no distance.
Keane then showed what frustrates about him. Clear on goal, he shot weakly at Maik Taylor and, more alarmingly, contrived to shin a second chance past the post from two yards after Dalmat's cross.
Another reshuffle led to another goal. Just as Jeff Kenna was pushed from right to left, Keane swept the ball into the space where he would have been. John Jackson crossed first time and Simon Davies met it exuberantly, all the more ecstatic because it was his first start since September. Spurs were riotous, Birmingham rank.
Yet they came back, with Morrison and Mikael Forssell combining fluently. A cross by Damien Johnson kissed the crossbar before Forssell, in space, guided a header on to the roof of the net. Keane blasted into the seats behind the goal before Dalmat's footwork released Kanouté, who clipped the bar. Then Birmingham won their penalty; the intake of breath was collective around the stadium and, yet, Keane then found redemption. He exchanged passes with Kanouté for a simple tap-in. Spurs' mercurial rehabilitation is underway. Che sara sara.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Keller 6; Carr 5, Doherty 4, King 4, Jackson 5; Dalmat 8 (Ricketts, 79), Anderton 6 (Kelly, 86), Poyet 5, Davies 7; Kanouté 4 (Postiga, 79) Keane 5. Substitutes not used: Hirschfeld (gk), Bunjevcevic, Ricketts.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor 5; Kenna 4, Purse 5, Cunningham 6, Carter 2 (Tebily 4, h-t); Johnson 4, Savage 6, Clemence 6 (Hughes, 79), Dunn 6; Morrison 6, Forssell 6 (Kirovski, 82). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), John.
Referee: B Knight 6 (Orpington).
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