Rafael van der Vaart capitalises for Tottenham as meek Blackburn Rovers stare at abyss
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Blackburn Rovers 0
White Hart Lane
Monday 30 April 2012
This is how a Premier League tenure ends: not with a bang, but with a 90-minute whimper. Blackburn Rovers now look desperately unlikely to avoid relegation to the Championship.
The result is no surprise: many better teams than Blackburn have lost by more here this year. But the manner of it; the dismal, insipid, timid, tame manner of the performance was quite remarkable.
Blackburn did not have a single shot. This is the first time that has happened in the Premier League since 2004. Clearly a strange occurrence in any game, for it to happen in a match which needed to be won to give Blackburn a good chance at survival was astonishing.
But at no point yesterday did Blackburn play like a team who were fighting to survive. Not only did they not even record a single shot, they did not receive a single booking. Of course, fair play should be applauded, but one would have found more of a competitive edge in a convent.
Blackburn manager Steve Kean started with a flat back five in an attempt to block off Tottenham. It made sense at the start, but once Rafael van der Vaart had put Spurs ahead, to stick with the plan seemed curious.
To pursue it throughout the second half, not once putting the hosts – who came into the game in worse form than Blackburn – under pressure was bizarre.
Afterwards, Kean was insistent that lack of quality, rather than ambition, was the problem. "The chances were very few and far between," he admitted, "because we didn't get any quality in the box. I don't think if you're playing with two up [Yakubu and Junior Hoillet ] that's lacking ambition. Playing with one up is lacking ambition. We didn't get a result today because we weren't good enough with the ball."
Redknapp was relieved to meet such generous opponents after such a bad run. Tottenham had won just one of their last nine league games, but yesterday's win moves them back to fourth. "It was nice to get a win," Redknapp said. "They didn't really get after us. I'm sure Steve would have wanted to, but we didn't have to get out of second gear. You'd have thought that they would have come out second half and been a bigger threat but they never did."
With Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor back in the team following the frustrating 1-0 defeat to Queen's Park Rangers at Loftus Road, Tottenham had all of their best attacking players on the pitch. The pace and force of their team nearly put them ahead within a minute, as Luka Modric burst down the left and crossed to Aaron Lennon, who volleyed wide at the far post.
Sandro hammered a shot against the crossbar after nine minutes, and Van der Vaart volleyed the rebound wide. Tottenham continued to press and probe, switching Gareth Bale and Lennon, to the chagrin of the White Hart Lane crowd.
They need not have worried. Blackburn were so bafflingly passive that a Tottenham goal was inevitable, and it came after 23 minutes. Lennon's cross – from the right – was headed by Bale, and on to the bar by Scott Dann. It rebounded out towards Van der Vaart who, despite a crowd of bodies, volleyed the ball in.
Having conceded a goal, the rationale for Kean's approach surely vanished, but he refused to change course. The defence dug in, so Tottenham continued to attack. Modric laid the ball through to Danny Rose, who was playing at left-back instead of the injured Benoit Assou-Ekotto, but he was swiftly blocked by Paul Robinson. Three minutes before the interval, William Gallas headed Van der Vaart's corner against the bar.
Half-time ought to have been the perfect moment for Blackburn to rethink and regroup, for Kean to prepare them for a second half in which they must try to score a goal. But all they did was retreat further.
Still the wing-backs sat either side of the back three. Still the midfield failed to press or tackle. Still there was no meaningful attempt to stop Tottenham, to win the ball, to keep it or to use it.
It was probably the strangest passage of the match: if not now, then when? And once Tottenham had adjusted to the ease of their task, they continued to attack. Lennon was played in down the right and shot into the side netting, before Modric hooked a shot wide.
Tottenham looked pleased to play at a tempo of their own choosing. They did not have to force the pace, and appeared a team who could have scored more goals had they wanted to. After Chelsea's 6-1 victory over QPR earlier in the day, Tottenham might even have attacked more, but they did enough.
Not that they needed a second goal, but Kyle Walker scored with 15 minutes remaining. Taking a free-kick from 30 yards out, he whipped the ball into the far top corner. "He's not going to shoot for there, he's not going to beat Robbo from there," Redknapp admitted to thinking as Walker struck it.
After so many insipid minutes, and insipid games, this season, the absence of any Blackburn Rovers rally was no real surprise. Anthony Modeste and David Goodwillie were introduced, but they could produce nothing between them either, as Blackburn drifted meekly towards the Championship.
Man of the match: Van der Vaart
Possession: Tottenham 65% Blackburn 35%
Attempts on target: Tottenham 8 Blackburn 0
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).
Basement battle: Remaining games
Aston Villa Sunday Tottenham Hotspur (h); 13 May Norwich City (a)
QPR Sunday Stoke City (h); 13 May Manchester City (a)
Wigan 7 May Blackburn (a); 13 May Wolves (h)
Bolton Wednesday Tottenham (h); 6 May West Bromwich (h); 13 May Stoke (a)
Blackburn 7 May Wigan (h); 13 May Chelsea (a)
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