This was a match to confirm to Harry Redknapp that the problem with his Tottenham Hotspur squad lies between their ears, not within their boots. For 50 minutes they were flying last night, rolling back the years, if not quite to the Bill Nicholson era, then at least to the reign of Martin Jol. Boosted by Aaron Lennon's seventh-minute strike they rushed into a 3-0 lead inside 27 minutes with further goals from Jermain Defoe and Michael Dawson.
Spurs and their fans were enjoying themselves. Stepovers, dribbles and backheels proliferated, with Luka Modric running the show. Then James Beattie scored just before the hour and the confidence dipped. By the end it felt, ludicrously, as if they were hanging on. The talent is there, as the team-sheet shows, but the mental strength is fragile.
"It was a terrific first half," said Redknapp. "Modric was fantastic. He ran the game tonight. We could have come in five-up we were that dominant but every team will have a good spell like they did in the second half."
Stoke manager Tony Pulis agreed with his counterpart's assessment of the first half. "I thought we were bloody awful in the first 25 minutes. We were inept. We never got close to them and the game was lost in the first 25. Everything after that was a bonus but we stuck at it and it would have made Harry twitch if Cress [Richard Cresswell] had scored [a headed chance] with seven minutes left."
Nevertheless, it was a very different match to the teams' meeting in October, in the dog days of Juande Ramos's reign when Spurs spent a harrowing afternoon at the Britannia Stadium losing 2-1 and finishing with nine men.
They were then adrift at the bottom but, although the subsequent revival under Harry Redknapp brought them in touch with the pack, they still began this game level bottom, with four other clubs including Stoke.
Now they are a giddy 13th. Surely they will go on to climb clear. Well, maybe. They go to Bolton on Saturday. Not a place for faint hearts. Redknapp indicated Wilson Palacios would make his debut there, probably for Lennon, who has a groin strain. The Reebok will be a better test of their character than this match. Although, had Benoît Assou-Ekotto not headed Ryan Shawcross's goalbound header clear in the fifth minute, it might have been very different.
We will never know. Two minutes later Defoe squared the ball to Lennon who ran at the retreating Andy Wilkinson before driving in his first goal at White Hart Lane for a year and five days. Thirteen minutes later Spurs put together a high-class goal.
Didier Zokora fed Modric who swiftly moved the ball on to Roman Pavlyuchenko. He turned to play a reverse pass which found Defoe breaking off Shawcross. Defoe provided his usual deadly finish, his third goal in five games since returning to Spurs.
The game had gone beyond Stoke when Dawson rose to head in a Modric cross following a short corner routine which exposed Stoke's defence.
More slack defending led to a Defoe shot which Wilkinson cleared off the line. It was as if Stoke's players were mentally on the beach, having prepared for this match in Dubai, while Spurs laboured in Lancashire against Burnley and Manchester United.
A rout loomed but Dawson's loose pass enabled former Spurs player Matty Etherington to release Beattie to score his first goal for Stoke, and ruin Carlo Cudicini's clean sheet on his first start since crossing the capital from Chelsea.
Stoke, thereafter, produced enough pressure to unnerve the home support and, to judge by his reactions on the bench to every contentious decision, worry Redknapp. He knows there remains much work to be done.
Goals: Lennon (7) 1-0; Defoe (20) 2-0; Dawson (24) 3-0; Beattie (56) 3-1.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cudicini; Corluka, Dawson, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto; Bentley, Zokora, Modric, Lennon (Huddlestone, 90); Pavlyuchenko (Campbell, 90), Defoe. Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Bale, Giovani, Taarabt, Rocha.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson (Griffin, h-t), Ab Faye (Sonko, h-t), Shawcross, Higginbotham; Delap, Whelan, Am Faye (Fuller, 48), Etherington; Beattie, Cresswell. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Kitson, Pugh, Lawrence.
Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).
Booked: Tottenham Hotspur Bentley, Woodgate; Stoke City Higginbotham, Cresswell, Whelan.
Man of the match: Modric.
Attendance: 36,072.Reuse content