Dawson goes from villain to hero as Spurs look Euro stars
Aston Villa 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Sunday 29 November 2009
One week you score nine, the next just one. In football it is predictable the high will be followed by a comparative low. Yet Harry Redknapp will take just as much from this hard-earned point as he did from that three-point waltz against Wigan, if not more. Should Spurs go on to achieve their European dream, then evenings like this will be vital.
Villa Park on a wet and cold Saturday night is not the best place to go chasing down a deficit. But so Tottenham did, rising to third place with an irresistible élan. Redknapp could even be forgiven for going away thinking two points had gone begging. There were times in a supreme second-half performance when their crispness of pass and movement almost demanded they take the maximum return.
"I'm sure Martin [O'Neill] was happy with the point," said Redknapp. "In the end, there was only one team going to win it. The stats said we had 14 shots to their one. At half-time we talked about being more patient with the ball. And we were. We dominated the second-half. Totally dominated."
O'Neill did not disagree. "At the end we were hanging on a bit," admitted Villa's manager. "But then, you saw a very fine Tottenham side tonight." Fine enough to deny Liverpool and, who knows, even Manchester City the final Champions' League berth? "Why not?" said Redknapp. "We're not a bad team, we've got good players. Yeah, it'll be hard but it's not impossible." Strictly on this evidence it will be very much possible. Certainly Spurs gave Villa a reality check for their own European ambitions.
The home side had Brad Friedel to thank most for keeping Spurs at bay for so long. While the American was the game's best performer, the narrative of Michael Dawson's match was more intriguing. The centre-half was the Redemption Man, making up for the worst miss of the evening with the sweetest strike. It seemed that as the Villa goalkeeper and his belligerent back four were repelling wave after wave, Villa could hang on. They would not have deserved to, even though they probably shaded the first half.
Saying that, Spurs had enough chances to go in level and one, in the 20th minute, was particularly edged in gilt. After Friedel had set the tone for so much of the proceedings, blocking Jermain Defoe's close-range shot, Dawson was presented with what seemed an open goal. Except it was not quite open. Carlos Cuellar was on the line to kick away the centre-half's inadequate effort. When you're four, five or eight up, woolly slippers can convert those opportunities.
It is all so different when the equaliser-hunt is on, and by then Villa had held the advantage for 10 minutes. Ashley Young's corner was met at the near corner by Cuellar and his flick across eluded all the Spurs defenders in the six-yard box to locate Gabriel Agbonlahor. The World Cup wannabe gratefully bundled it over for his eighth of the season, and for a while it gave Villa an impetus O'Neill believed they kept hold of until half-time.
"The reason we lost it in the second half was down to two things," he said. "Spurs's own good play and our players camping themselves on the edge of the box. We just couldn't get out."
Indeed, they were pinned down. Perhaps nothing like in the manner of Wigan, but still there seemed nowhere to go but backwards. Fortunately for them, Friedel was equal to the best Niko Kranjcar, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Jenas and Defoe could throw at him. And even when Defoe did hit the net the England striker was adjudged (correctly) by Phil Dowd to have handled. The "one of those days" whisper was raising in volume.
Yet then followed Dawson's fine half-volley in the 77th minute and a measure of justice was done. O'Neill claimed "there was a suggestion of handball" but he wasn't about to begrudge Spurs. "They deserved their equaliser," he said.
Referee: P Dowd
Man of the match: Friedel
Match rating: 7/10
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