Keane takes advantage of Villa's shortcomings

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Football

A match that was beginning to look as bleak as the weather for Tottenham was transformed by two little rays of sunshine in the form of Rohan Ricketts and Robbie Keane, whose late goals in the space of three minutes left the team's caretaker manager, David Pleat, with a warm glow.

In a season where so many are separated by so few points, the result lifted Spurs four places into 12th place and enabled Pleat to speak out optimistically about the prospect of his position at the club being clarified "before Christmas".

Before this match, between two teams far too close to the wrong end of the Premiership for their comfort, Pleat predicted that Spurs - who have been without an official manager since Glenn Hoddle was sacked in September - might be thinking in terms of re-structuring their managerial set-up. He may have dropped a hint when he said, referring to the club's first-team coach, "Chris Hughton is doing a terrific job - can you write that?"

The possible model, according to Pleat, would be along continental lines - a head coach who dealt exclusively with first-team training and the nuts and bolts of match days, and a director of football, who would take an overview, including, in Pleat's words, "dealing with those awful people called agents". If Pleat is angling to get his old role back again, this result, which came after defeats by Bolton and Arsenal, will have done him no harm.

But it was ultimately a victory that Villa gifted to the home side after they appeared to have done enough to secure what would have been only their second away Premiership win in two years.

Having established a deserved lead through a firmly headed 66th-minute goal by Marcus Allback, after Peter Whittingham's well-flighted pass had caught out Tottenham's defensive cover, the visitors lost their concentration. Ironically, it was Villa's scorer, Allback, who instigated their demise, slackly giving away possession in midfield to Ledley King. The ball was swiftly transferred via Keane to Ricketts, who cut in from the left past the flailing challenge of Mark Delaney before firing home a right-footed cross-shot that went in off the far post.

Delaney had to go off with an injured knee and the defence was still reorganising itself to accommodate substitute Dion Dublin when Spurs took advantage. Stephen Carr found Keane in space in the box, and the wily Irishman turned clear of a lumbering challenge from Ronny Johnsen, spinning to his left before driving home a shot as Dublin arrived just too late to cover the danger.

The game was still not over - Tottenham's uncertainties allowed Allback an immediate opportunity to equalise with an overhead kick that grazed the post, and with five minutes left, Kasey Keller had to claw the ball away at full stretch after a Villa cross had struck Carr. But as the final whistle sounded, the overriding sense was of a game lost rather than won.

"We gave them three points," said Villa's manager, David O'Leary, who remained non-committal about being able to sign any new players in January but acknowledged that his side's position in the bottom three was becoming increasingly worrying.

Goals: Allback (66) 0-1; Ricketts (78) 1-1; Keane (81) 2-1.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Keller 8; Carr 7, Richards 5, Gardner 7, Taricco 7; Dalmat 6, King 7, Anderton 8, Konchesky 5 (Ricketts, 57 8); Postiga 4 (Zamora, 72 7), Keane 8. Substitutes not used: Burch, Doherty, Poyet.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen 6; Delaney 6 (Dublin, 79), Melberg 6, Johnsen 6, Samuel 7; Hendrie 6 (Moore, 86), Hitzlsperger 7, Whittingham 7, Barry 6; Allback 7, Vassell 5. Substitutes not used: Postma, Ridgewell, Kinsella.

Referee: J Winter 7.

Booked: Villa: Hendrie

Man of the match: Keane

Attendance: 33,140.