Fletcher halts Spurs' title charge
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1: Redknapp's men miss the chance to go level at the top as Wolves defence holds firm
Having involuntarily kick-started Tottenham's season at Molineux back in August, Wolverhampton Wanderers halted it at full throttle yesterday, denying Harry Redknapp's side the victory that would have brought about a three-way tie at the top of the Premier League.
It was a 2-0 away win over the same opposition five months ago, once Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor had been signed, that began Tottenham's rapid rise up the table – they have lost only once in 19 subsequent games – after stalling badly against the Manchester pair.
Yesterday Parker, returning after missing three games, was not at his most influential and Adebayor's most notable contribution was to be standing marginally offside as he flicked in Gareth Bale's pass just before half-time. That would have been an equaliser, Steven Fletcher having put Wolves ahead with his ninth goal of the season.
Wolves do not do clean sheets – not since August anyway – but although Luka Modric drove in an equaliser with 40 minutes remaining, a defence in which the centre-half Roger Johnson was outstanding kept Spurs just far enough at bay to earn a point invaluable in easing their position in the bottom five.
If it was one of those days on which crucial decisions went against them, Tottenham would have to admit they were below their best. Beating a feeble Everton in midweek should not have taken too much out of them but they lacked zip and from a total of 22 attempts on goal, more should have tested Wayne Hennessey. Redknapp refused to be downcast, claiming with some justification: "When we scored, we felt we'd go on and win but they defended with their lives."
He was also keen to play down some of the talk of a first title in 50 years: "I never said we were going to win the League, I only said it's possible, and so did the players. What are they supposed to say if they're asked? The favourites have got to be Manchester United and Manchester City. But we'll go to City next week and try to win, like we always do."
Redknapp had not at that point seen a replay of the build-up to Wolves' goal, from a corner that should probably have been a goal-kick. Kyle Walker, Tottenham's right-back, certainly thought so as he was shepherding the ball over the line.
A corner was given, however,and when Matt Jarvis swung it over, Johnson outjumped Michael Dawson. Modric and Brad Friedel between them blocked the header,but Fletcher was smartly on to the rebound to score.
Spurs had started comparatively slowly, having created no significant opportunities at that stage, and the crowd's growing impatience was matched by Redknapp's when he felt Wolves' goalkeeping coach, Paul Mountain, was too slow in returning the ball for a throw-in.
"It was a bit childish," the Tottenham manager said with tongue lodged in cheek, "so I just said, 'Come on old chap, give us the ball back'."
His team were not able to do anything much with it until early in the second half, although their equalising goal was preceded by Friedel's fine save from Emmanuel Frimpong, the midfielder on loan from Arsenal who gave a characteristically full-hearted display beforebeing substituted for fear of a second yellow card.
In the 50th minute, Spurs finally broke through two lines of stubborn defence when Rafael van der Vaart found Bale, who in turn supplied Modric for a low, right-footed drive through a forest of legs. As Redknapp said, a home win suddenly looked the obvious result. Modric and then Aaron Lennon almost scored in the same move, before Redknapp responded to the crowd's chants for Jermain Defoe. The England striker replaced Lennon and saw his first shot, a left-footed drive, beaten away by Hennessey's legs. Time, however, was ebbing away, and too many Tottenham shots continued to find their way into the crowd.
Five minutes of added time brought no great alarms for Wolves, whose manager, Mick McCarthy, was "delighted" and "very proud" of his team's performance. "Maybe we could make a habit of winning something in the West Midlands," he said, aware that the next three games are all at home, against Birmingham in the FA Cup and then Aston Villa and Liverpool in the League.
With only one win and nine goals away from Molineux, they will need to remain resolute on the road as well if the manager's promise to avoid relegation is to be fulfilled; there is still a significant gap to the little group ahead of them.
Tottenham, meanwhile, have missed a chance to put some added pressure on City before they play there next Sunday, but Redknapp remains upbeat, and despite being linked with more players than most in any transfer window, says he is far from desperate to be adding to his squad in the next fortnight. "I like my team, I struggle to get Defoe in my team and Niko Kranjcar, so I don't want to give myself another problem," he said.
Earlier in the day Redknapp, who appears in court tomorrow week on charges related to alleged tax evasion, had again been asked about the possibility of succeeding Fabio Capello – who was at yesterday's game – as England's manager after the European Championship finals. "It's a great opportunity to manage your country but it's a difficult job," he said. "Until I get offered the job I haven't got that decision to make." There is plenty to occupy him in the meantime.
Tottenham (4-4-1-1): Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto (Rose, 81); Lennon (Defoe, 74), Parker, Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart; Adebayor.
Wolves ((4-2-3-1): Hennessey; Foley, Johnson, Berra, Ward; Frimpong (Hunt, 67), Henry; Kightly, Edwards (Milijas, 81), Jarvis (Elokobi, 85); Fletcher.
Referee Michael Jones.
Man of the match Johnson (Wolves).
Match rating 6/10.
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