Match Report: Sergeant-major Tony Pulis marshals his Stoke City men to stop Tottenham Hotspur marching on

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Stoke City 0: Stoke stand firm and earn point but Villas-Boas' side still look well-placed for a top-four finish

white hart lane

No one does bah, humbug quite like Tony Pulis. He's the sort of manager who would question Bob Cratchit's work-rate were Dickens's careworn clerk reinvented as a midfield player who doesn't mind leaving his foot in. It was entirely unsurprising that seasonal spirit was severely rationed here.

Stoke did pander to our prejudices but profited with a point and extended their unbeaten run to eight games. The ghosts of seasons past haunted Tottenham, whose failure to secure their sixth win in seven games resulted in them falling behind Arsenal in the table on goal difference. It was a leftover turkey curry of a contest: stodgy, over-familiar and indigestible.

All managers blur the boundaries between perception and reality, and Pulis is in the Fergie class at setting a convenient agenda. When it suits, he has the menacing air of a regimental sergeant-major whose haemorrhoids have not cleared up as speedily as he had hoped. His gaze is steely and his tones are clipped.

Following yesterday's draw the Stoke manager was unapologetic. "Irrespective of what people say, or don't say, we do what we think is right," he stated. "The referee did a hard, hard job very well, in difficult circumstances."

Pulis had staged a classic pre-match diversion by criticising the Football Association for the supposed leniency of the punishment imposed on Everton's Marouane Fellaini for his headbutt on Ryan Shawcross last week. This subtle application of pressure on yesterday's referee, Lee Mason, was straight out of the Stoke playbook, but was inconclusive in its effectiveness.

Andre Villas-Boas, his opposite number, was frustrated by the disparity in Mason's response, suggesting he was more inclined to punish Spurs for what he described as "grabbing". In truth, however, Stoke did relatively little to embellish their reputation for turning set-pieces into grapple contests more suited to Giant Haystacks than the dainty Jermain Defoe. Shawcross, the Premier League's best exponent of dirty dancing in the box, was notably effective without being remotely offensive.

The main interest stemmed from the street theatre of the technical areas, where the benches did their best to summon superficial outrage. Pulis, true to character, advanced aggressively into the Spurs side when he felt Gareth Bale's susceptibility to gravity was becoming an issue.

Villas-Boas was particularly harsh towards Stuart Attwell, the fourth official, who took out his earpiece and covered his microphone before resuming his "discussion". So much for transparency in the post-Clattenburg era. League officials later confirmed the recording of conversations involving the match officials has yet to begin, without explaining the delay.

Stoke's fans, many dressed as penguins and snowmen, were more festive than their team, but Villas-Boas had picked the sort of side that don't mind concealing a horseshoe inside a velvet glove. Michael Dawson, recalled in central defence and reinstated as captain, was in his element.

Sandro was quickly booked for planting his boot on Glenn Whelan's hip, and the outstanding defender Jan Vertonghen was similarly punished for a late challenge on the Irishman. Stoke, however, were ready to respond in kind, with Steven N'Zoni's elbow catching Moussa Dembélé in the face. Whelan's vengeful shove on Vertonghen was, in the circumstance, rather mild.

If Pulis is depicted, somewhat unfairly, as a schoolyard bully waiting to relieve an innocent of his sweets, Villas-Boas is, equally unjustly, lampooned as a swot who always carries an apple for teacher.

But there is much to admire. Villas-Boas eschews excuses and deflects praise. He has worked quietly and diligently to fashion a team which, with strategic strengthening in the January transfer window, still look capable of being the best of the rest, behind the Manchester giants.

Tottenham are fifth, but their next four games, all against teams in the lower half of the table, offer an opportunity to establish a spot in the Champions' League places. Yesterday they paid the price for having insufficient options on the bench. A new striker is a priority.

Stoke missed the game's two best chances, through Kenwyne Jones and Ryan Shotton, before their ninth clean sheet of the season was secured by Asmir Begovic's brilliant one-handed save from a 91st-minute header by the Spurs substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Ho, ho, ho, indeed.

Tottenham (4-4-2): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Vertonghen; Lennon (Sigurdsson, 78), Sandro, Dembélé (Parker, 85), Bale; Defoe, Adebayor.

Stoke (4-4-1-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Wilkinson; Shotton (Whitehead, 64), Whelan, N'Zonzi, Etherington (Crouch, 69); Walters; Jones (Jerome, 66).

Referee: Lee Mason.

Man of the match: Vertonghen (Tottenham)

Match rating: 3/10

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas