Defoe's display of control keeps greater goals in sight

Tottenham Hotspur 1 - Birmingham City 0
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The Independent Football

The promise of better days coming back to White Hart Lane is not to be taken lightly in view of a massive change in playing and managerial staff. But on the journey to that brighter time there could still be a lot of familiarly tense occasions like yesterday's game which Spurs should have gripped more commandingly.

With a couple of draws and two wins already in their locker, they have given an encouraging start to their new manager, Jacques Santini, who said: "Yes, I'm very happy because we had a difficult preparation with so many new players. But September is going to be a difficult month with games against Manchester United and Chelsea.''

Among his new players is Michael Carrick, bought for £3.5m from West Ham but not ready yesterday to join his old colleagues from Upton Park Frédéric Kanouté and Jermain Defoe.

As for Birmingham, they were suffering from mass unfitness with Stan Lazaridis, Jamie Clapham and David Dunn out and Robbie Savage suffering the peril of his rugged style - suspension. In spite of that they competed strongly for supremacy in midfield. Pedro Mendes, Spurs' Portugal international, was clearly the most inventive of anyone in that area, playing astute passes from the left side and linking promisingly with Robbie Keane, who later developed into the outstanding player of the match.

Their need to play the ball forward at pace for Emile Heskey and Mikael Forssell to address was not easily fulfilled. They needed more from Jesper Gronkjaer, who too often plays beneath his potential. Yet it was Birmingham who after 30 minutes should have broken the stalemate when Forssell was only a few steps from the Spurs' goal-line yet had his shot rushed down by Noureddine Naybet.

Until that stage little had been seen of the fragile Spurs' striker Defoe. However his talent is his elusiveness. That was deployed superbly in the 35th minute when he controlled a pass from Michael Brown, deceived Matthew Upson and drove in a fine goal.

There was an impression that Savage's absence was costing Birmingham the ability to break down attacks in their infancy. So Spurs grew in confidence and gave the indication that they could take a proper hold. Turning that into reality proved difficult but Keane gradually became the dominant force.

Birmingham clung on without increasing their scoring chances and must have been relieved to see Keane (who had not been 100 per cent fit) replaced by Kanouté, who joined Defoe to re-form the Spurs' attack.

The haphazard way that Birmingham struck what shots they had further condemned them to frustration but Spurs were not exactly safe. Their new manager showed great concern on the touchline as his team stuttered and even survived a late Birmingham penalty appeal when goalkeeper Paul Robinson rushed into Heskey, who fell dramatically. Steve Bruce, the City manager, had no complaints about the referee's decision but added: "We feel hard done by, not by that, but because of our missed chances.''

Although Santini said all the right things about what is obviously a fulfilling first few weeks in England, he may well discover that many Spurs' supporters are a fickle band, not easily satisfied. Their annoyance at the way in which the match against a clearly weakened team still caused huge problems will be stored in their memories. Santini will quickly need to satisfy them both with continued success and, as importantly, with style.