Tottenham 3 Manchester City 1 match report: Andre Villas-Boas tactical nous seals nervy City’s downfall at White Hart Lane

Spurs came from behind to win

It happened in the space of just six minutes and 22 seconds, the time it took for Tottenham Hotspur to score three improbable goals and for the bubble to burst for Roberto Mancini’s side for what will surely be the last time this season. They could not have made it much simpler for Manchester United if they had tried, now that the leaders need only win at Old Trafford on Monday night to make their 20th championship official.

It cannot be that City have been intimidated into allowing their neighbours surge to the title with potentially four games of the season left to play, because there was nothing particularly intimidating about United’s form of late. Rather, a familiar anxiety took grip of City and once it had hold, there was no telling just how bad things could get for them.

For most of the first half, during which they took the lead through Samir Nasri, City lived up to their billing as the form team of the month with Carlos Tevez leaving the Spurs defence like butterfly collectors in futile pursuit of one elusive specimen. The Argentine should have scored their second goal on 42 minutes when Hugo Lloris instead reached out a hand to stop it, a moment that Andre Villas-Boas would later identify as critical to the afternoon.

For much of that first half, and a good deal of the second, Villas-Boas looked like a man contemplating the collapse of his season. He ended the match having to restrain his assistant Steffen Freund from joining in the goal celebrations. Somewhere in the middle was a tactical shift which will take pride of place in the Villas-Boas coaching dossier, and no doubt all those theses that argue for him as one of the great modern coaches.

On the hour, he replaced Scott Parker and Gylfi Sigurdsson with Tom Huddlestone and Lewis Holtby and changed the game. Twelve minutes later he substituted the hapless Emannuel Adebayor for Jermain Defoe who scored the second and the whole thing was recast in the popular imagination as a tactical masterpiece.

You could say that there were precious few other options at his disposal, or that no-one was going to be less effective at centre-forward than Adebayor, not even, say, Jake Livermore. In truth when he considered the bench Villas-Boas had few options when it came to chasing the game against the champions, but he deserves the credit for at least taking the plunge.

It was Holtby who supplied Defoe for the second goal, and Huddlestone who passed to Bale for the third. Suddenly Spurs had come alive and, after one win in their last seven games in all competitions it was about time. They switched to a 4-3-3 formation and City had no response, bringing on the lesser-spotted Scott Sinclair and then Joleon Lescott in a meagre attempt to turn the game around.

It thrusts Spurs back into the heart of the intriguing three-way battle between themselves, Chelsea and Arsenal for the three Champions League places. If it is still alive by the time that Spurs visit Stamford Bridge two weeks on Wednesday, the game in hand both sides have over Arsenal, then that match promises to be an absorbing contest with so much at stake for both teams.

As for City, at times it is hard to see why it has gone so wrong for them this season when they play as well as they did in the first half. In the first five minutes, Jan Vertonghen made the mistake of believing he had seen off the danger from Tevez, ushering him out to the right before the City man unexpectedly changed direction. He played in James Milner who cut the ball back to Nasri for a tidy finish.

Nasri was fortunate that referee Lee Mason did not see the full extent of his bad challenge on Kyle Walker eight minutes later which went largely unnoticed on the Spurs bench too. Nasri, and then Edin Dzeko, had further chances in the first half but were unable to finish. Gareth Barry was running the midfield much as he had against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final a week earlier, but trouble was just around the corner.

Spurs had threatened only once in the first half when Joe Hart was obliged to make a good save from Walker as he ran onto a ball by Clint Dempsey into the right channel of the area. It was Dempsey who scored Spurs’ equaliser, a lovely ball played with the outside of Bale’s left foot from the right wing. It eluded Vincent Kompany, out of sorts in the second half, and presented itself nice for tucking away at the back post.

Bale had started in a central position behind Adebayor and struggled after a two match absence to find a place in the game. On the right wing he looked much more effective. It was Holtby who won the ball in midfield for the second goal, passing it out to the right channel where Defoe had taken Kompany. The Spurs man moved the ball back onto his right foot as he carried it into the area and hit one of those vicious shots that are past the goalkeeper before he reacts.

It was Defoe’s first goal in the league since Boxing Day and by that point, White Hart Lane was in raptures and the old confidence was flooding back. Huddlestone, an impressive player in midfield, who passed the ball well as City tired, created the third goal. He spotted a window of opportunity between two defenders as City backed off him to create the opening and Bale lifted the third gently over Hart with the outside of his left foot.

Game over for City who would probably rather get the worst of it out the way tonight with a United victory over Aston Villa that settles the title race once and for all and allows Mancini’s team to concentrate on securing second place and winning the FA Cup final on 11 May. It will be painful to hand the trophy back but then if they needed reminding of where they have gone wrong over the last ten months then this game encompassed much of the good and the bad.

Match facts



Goals. Spurs: Dempsey (75), Defoe (79), Bale (82) Man City: Nasri (5)

Substitutions: Tottenham Hotspur Holtby 7 (Sigurdsson, 60), Huddlestone 7 (Parker, 61), Defoe 7 (Adebayor, 71). Manchester City Kolarov 6 (Milner, H/T), Sinclair (Dzeko, 83), Lescott (Clichy, 90+1).

Bookings: Tottenham Dawson, Assou-Ekotto. Man City Y Toure, Hart.

Man of the match Bale. Match rating 8/10.

Possession: Tottenham 45%. Man City 55%.

Attempts on target: Tottenham 6. Man City 4.

Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Attendance 36,121

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most