Redknapp frees Bale to hunt the title
Norwich City 0 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Wednesday 28 December 2011
The chants of the Spurs fans may have aimed at their north London rivals, and perhaps Arsenal were indeed watching, but it will be the two Manchester clubs who will have taken more notice of a performance and result which confirmed that the Premier League is not a two-horse race just yet. If Spurs, exhilarating for 70 minutes, can follow this success by winning their remaining game in hand they will be only four points behind the league leaders.
For Gareth Bale, who scored both Tottenham goals and could have scored two more, the match was one which showed how much the club has learned from playing in the Champions League last season.There was no panic when the first half, which the visitors had dominated, somehow ended goalless, merely a determination to continue to create.
"We were confident we'd score in the end, whoever the chances fell to," said Bale. "We've learned a lot from the big teams in the Champions League, we've kind of adopted that style in a way, being patient. The gaffer said before the game a lot of results had gone for us, so we needed to take advantage."
That they did, and in some style, buoyed from the start by the knowledge not once this season had Norwich prevented Premier League opposition scoring. Hard though the Canaries worked, they never really looked capable of ending that unfortunate sequence.
The visitors were very quickly on to the front foot. Rafael van der Vaart, given a shooting chance by Bale's knockdown, rather scuffed his effort, but Bale, set up by Emmanuel Adebayor soon afterwards, made Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy dive to save.
The pace of the game was impressively high, and so was the commitment of both sets of players, evident in a series of challenges from which it was remarkable nobody emerged with a yellow card. Referee Michael Oliver's determination to keep the game flowing ensured the action retained an almost frantic quality, and at times Norwich gave as good as they got. Twice Van der Vaart was robbed of possession dangerously close to his own penalty area, and William Gallas – deputising for Ledley King – and Younes Kaboul were being given a thorough physical by Grant Holt and Steve Morison.
That there would be no goals before half-time was hard to credit, the more so given the series of chances created by Spurs on and shortly after the half hour. First, Bale caught Russell Martin in possession and bore down on Ruddy but scooped his shot over. Then Adebayor got to Van der Vaart's superb long ball before Ruddy, only to push the ball too far past the goalkeeper. Finally, Bale, set clear in the Norwich penalty area by Luka Modric, was denied by Ruddy.
The pattern continued after the break, though it was noticeable that Norwich's defence was dropping deeper. Time and again Spurs came close to picking their way clear in the City penalty area, and in the 55th minute the inevitable happened. Three City defenders stood and admired Adebayor's close control before the Togan laid the ball off for Bale to finally beat Ruddy from close to the penalty spot.
One or two Norwich heads dropped at this, and 12 minutes later Spurs made the points safe. Modric's through ball gave Bale plenty to do, but his pace saw him leave first Martin and then Zak Whitbread trailing before clipping the ball neatly over the exposed Ruddy. The game rather petered out thereafter, with Norwich knowing they were being beaten by a better side and Spurs' thoughts turning to battles to come.
"I made Gareth free tonight, because sometimes when he stands wide he can be hemmed in, but when he drops into those little holes in the middle and turns and runs at defences he can be unstoppable," said the Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp.
"It was a big game for us, because with Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all dropping points we had to take advantage. It shows there are no easy games – I thought they'd all win, and we'd be coming here having to win just to keep pace."
And the title? "I saw Man City at QPR, they could have got beat quite easily, but Man United are looking strong," Redknapp reflected."It's going to be tight. We've just got to keep winning games and see where it takes us."
The Norwich manager, Paul Lambert, was rueful. "Good, aren't they, Spurs?" he said. "We gave it everything we had, but we were up against a team vying for the Premier League. We didn't disgrace ourselves, but they're a really good side."
Man of the match Bale.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).
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