When Juande Ramos screws up his eyes and tries to imagine his own personal hell it will probably look something like Stoke yesterday on a chilly October afternoon. Tottenham Hotspur at the bottom of the Premier League, two men sent off and a team in freefall. This Spurs crisis has grown large even by the standards of this particularly calamitous club and their Spanish coach cannot be sure of his job this morning.
Could Tottenham be relegated? Eight games into the new season, they are already fighting a relegation battle against odds that history tells them usually prove insurmountable. Defeat yesterday left Spurs with two points from their first eight games and only one club – Southampton in 1998-99 – have stayed up with a record as bad as that after the first eight games of the season.
There was also a comical dimension to this game at times, a whopping 11 minutes added on at the end, a second penalty for Stoke that Ricardo Fuller conspired to bounce off both posts but most of all there was a keen sense of the shambles that suffuses Spurs. Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson were dismissed and no one among the Spurs players – with the possible exception of Jermaine Jenas – looked capable of dragging them out of the mire. Who is going to turn this team around for Ramos?
The Stoke fans sang, "You're getting sacked in the morning," to Spurs' beleaguered manager and, judging by his haunted stare at the end, Ramos did not seem to disagree. He has overseen Spurs' worst ever start to a season and he is steering a very gilded ship perilously close to the rocks. So far the Spurs hierarchy have chosen to place the blame on Damien Comolli, the director of football, but things are changing fast. The games coming up are Bolton (home), Arsenal (away), Liverpool (home) and Manchester City (away) – none of which at the moment look remotely winnable.
If the Spurs fans turn upon Daniel Levy at home against Bolton on Sunday then the notoriously jumpy chairman may start looking around for someone else to carry the can. Before then they travel to Udinese for a Uefa Cup tie on Thursday. There are injuries and suspensions too: Vedran Corluka was knocked unconscious by his own goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes and taken to hospital. He recovered although if he could be selective about his memory loss, he would surely rather forget the last three months since he joined from City.
Ramos has so far refused to be explicit about his complaints surrounding the disastrous summer transfer saga surrounding Dimitar Berbatov but it cannot be long until he lets rip. David Bentley was dreadful on the right wing and Luka Modric – apart from a couple of moments – looks completely bereft of confidence. These players are too good to be relegated but they are not demonstrating that at the moment.
Now five points clear of Spurs in last place, Stoke were deserving of their victory. After Danny Higginbotham dispatched the penalty that was awarded as a result of Bale's red card in the 17th minute, they struggled for the rest of the first half and were overrun by the 10 men of Spurs. Darren Bent equalised and then in the second half Stoke took control of the game. Rory Delap scored the winner and, in the never-ending injury time at the end of the game, the frame of the Spurs goal was struck four times.
Were it not for the terrible circumstances that Spurs find themselves in they would have reflected on playing their part in one of the best games of season so far. Ramos could argue that, with Bale sent off, even his best laid plans were in ruins with hardly 20 minutes played. Perhaps he should have started with Dawson to deal with the threat of Delap's throws but the recklessness of the Spurs' defender's challenge on Mamady Sidibe, for which he was sent off, makes that debatable.
The memory of Ramos's impact upon the Spurs players when he was appointed last October is fading fast. He remains remarkably composed given the circumstances and his machine-gun English is better than using an interpreter, as he did last season, but his team are making fundamental errors.
On 17 minutes, Bale allowed Tom Soares to steal ahead of him and his recovery tackle on the Stoke debutant was clumsy. With the midfielder just inside the area and no one else in sight, Bale did not stick around long to argue over the red card.
It was an absorbing start to the game and the penalty was made even more dramatic by the wind disturbing the ball after Higginbotham had set it on the penalty spot. Four times he had to check his run and walk forward to reset it before he scored.
An impressive show of nerve from the Stoke left-back; a complete catastrophe for Spurs. Without Bale, they reorganised to move Didier Zokora to left-back yet they had been struggling even before then.
You had to wonder whether Tottenham were the only people in the country not to know that Delap's long throw-in was Stoke's most potent weapon. Gomes had flapped at one throw-in before Bale's red card.
A goal down, Spurs fought back and were level within six minutes. Alan Hutton cut in from the right and hit a shot that ricocheted off Abdoulaye Faye and fell into the stride of Bent in the Stoke area. Bent was offside when he got the ball but there was no flag and the striker held off Andy Griffin to get his shot under Thomas Sorensen and in.
You wondered if this might be the turning point for Spurs but eight minutes after half-time, Delap forced home the winner from Sidibe's cross from the right and Tottenham never really recovered. They put on Roman Pavlyuchenko to little avail. Sorensen was injured by Hutton and Ibrahima Sonko and was substituted. Corluka was kneed twice in succession by Gomes – in the chest and head – and departed to hospital.
In injury time Stoke won another penalty when Jonathan Woodgate tripped Soares and Fuller, on as a substitute, struck both posts with his shot. Delap struck the rebound against the bar then Dawson was sent off. Fuller then hit the bar. Memorable stuff, not that Spurs will wish to recall it.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen (Simonsen, 65); Griffin, Sonko (Shawcross, 83), Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham; Soares, Diao, Olofinjana, Delap; Sidibe, Kitson (Fuller, 55). Substitutes not used: Whelan, Cresswell, Amdy Faye, Tonge.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-5-1): Gomes; Hutton, Woodgate, Corluka (Dawson, 76), Bale; Bentley (Pavlyuchenko, 58), Zokora, Jenas, Modric, Lennon; Bent. Substitutes not used: Sanchez (gk), Huddlestone, Campbell, O'Hara, Assou-Ekotto.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).
Booked: Tottenham Hutton, Woodgate; Stoke City Abdoulaye Faye.
Sent off: Tottenham Bale (17); Dawson (90).
Man of the match: Soares.
Attendance: 27,500.Reuse content