Middlesbrough 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1: Berbatov cocktail gives Spurs a bad head

Click to follow
The Independent Football

According to juanderamos.com, the personal website hosted by Tottenham Hotspur's intriguing Spanish manager, "Distance does not exist, language is no barrier". Well try telling that to the Bulgarian international forward, Dimitar Berbatov.

Still a Tottenham player, his mind is hundreds of miles away from the London club and a complete breakdown in communication is clear. On Saturday, barely a word was exchanged between player and manager as Berbatov was ushered on to the Riverside Stadium pitch by Ramos in a late attempt to steal the points for Spurs.

Later, his mission having failed, the Manchester United target spent little time dissecting defeat with his team-mates in the visitors' dressing room. Head bowed, baseball cap pulled over his eyes, the isolated Berbatov made a move for the team bus long before his colleagues. It would be no surprise if an urgent call to his agent followed.

Ramos must wish for a suitable resolution to a growing crisis but, according to the former Tottenham forward Mido, there can be no successful conclusion.

"You can see Tottenham without Berbatov are a different team," said the Egypt international after his goal four minutes from time secured all three points for Middlesbrough. "But I don't think his head is there anymore – it's not with Spurs and I think he is looking for a move."

Mido was the most obvious casualty of a Berbatov-Robbie Keane partnership which set the Lane alight. Far from being bitter, however, he genuinely fears for his old club should United prove successful in their attempt to snare a player who scored 27 goals last season.

"If he leaves then Tottenham will sign big strikers and big names because that is what they need to satisfy the supporters," he added. "But how do you replace Berbatov? It's very difficult. He is a class player, plays his own game every game and he is not affected by anything around him. It will be especially difficult for Spurs after losing Robbie. 'Keano' is one of the best players I have ever played with. Losing him, I think, will turn out to be even more difficult for Spurs."

Like Berbatov, the slimmed-down Mido appeared off the bench but his was an altogether happier introduction. Within four minutes of replacing the profligate Afonso Alves, the alert substitute had converted Didier Digard's cross-shot to give Middlesbrough a 2-0 lead.

That Robert Huth managed to divert David Bentley's 92nd-minute free-kick into his own goal took some of the gloss off an otherwise impressive Middlesbrough performance and even the Teessider Jonathan Woodgate was minded to praise his former club.

Roundly booed by the home faithful, the England international defender was the outstanding player in a Spurs shirt as new midfield signings Bentley, Giovani dos Santos and Luka Modric laboured under pressure. Woodgate refused to blame the Berbatov saga for a stilted display but said: "It is up to Manchester United to make a bid and Spurs to accept or decline it, or whatever. The ball is in our court really because he is our player. The chairman will decide what to do – if he stays or if he goes."

Goals: Wheater (71) 1-0; Mido (86) 2-0; Huth (90, og) 2-1.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz, Taylor; Aliadière, Shawky, O'Neil, Downing; Alves (Mido, 82), Tuncay (Digard, 72). Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Emnes, Adam Johnson, Williams, Grounds.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Gomes; Zokora, Dawson, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto (O'Hara, 76); Jenas, Modric; Lennon (Bale, 65), Giovanni (Berbatov, 65), Bentley; Bent. Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Huddlestone, Gunter, King.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Middlesbrough Digard; Tottenham Jenas, Bentley.

Man of the match: Wheater.

Attendance: 32,623.