After their mauling at the Emirates, Tottenham Hotspur returned home to a brawling triumph at White Hart Lane last night. Both teams had a man sent off as a competitive Premiership match ended in ill-tempered outbursts during a wild final quarter.
The dismissals, after 88 minutes, of George Boateng and Didier Zokora came when, it seemed, arms and fists were raised in the furore that followed a late challenge on the Middlesbrough captain by Aaron Lennon. Spurs led 2-1 at the time, thanks to Robbie Keane whose first touch after coming on as a substitute was to drive in a 25-yard winning shot, Robert Huth having equalised Dimitar Berbatov's opening goal for Spurs.
Given the poverty of their performance against Arsenal, it was no surprise that Martin Jol's team were in a fighting mood, though the manager went to some lengths to protest that Zokora's role in the first mass brawl was as a peace-maker. "He was trying to prevent a fight, not start one," said the Spurs manager ,before adding that he was satisfied with his team's attitudeafter the limp 3-0 surrender at Arsenal. "We got a very good reaction. We were worried about the fans, after last weekend, but we showed we wanted to do well for them."
Jol also suggested that Middlesbrough, had come to London for a draw, but this was hardly supported by the enterprise of the visitors' early play in a 3-5-2 formation. "There was not a lot in the game in the first half and I felt we lost it because we lost concentration," the Boro manager, Gareth Southgate, said. "We switched off and it cost us."
Neither side seemed switched on in the first half, when a crowded midfield produced few chances. Jermain Defoe fizzed and he had a 20-yard shot parried, while Tom Huddlestone forced a diving save.
After the interval, and two tactical changes by Southgate, Tottenham took the lead from the first of two decisive set-pieces. Huddlestone took a free-kick on the left, Pascal Chimbonda headed across the area and Berbatov notched his seventh goal of the season with a hooked right-foot volley.
This was the prelude to the arrival of Mark Viduka from the substitutes' bench. He powered in a free-kick, saved by Paul Robinson on the hour, before the visitors drew level. Steed Malbranque kicked a Jonathan Woodgate header off the line following a Stewart Downing corner, but Spurs' panicking defence failed to clear and Huth, from 15 yards, thumped home.
Within seconds, Keane was introduced and, from a short and quickly taken Huddlestone free-kick, he caught Schwarzer unawares with a perfect dipper. After the ensuing scraps, the Spurs captain limped off with a knee injury. The pain hurt, but the win restored some pride.
Goals: Berbatov (48) 1-0; Huth (80) 1-1; Keane (83) 2-1.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, King, Lee; Lennon, Zokora, Huddlestone, Malbranque (Keane, 81, Murphy, 92); Defoe (Tainio, 89), Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Cerny, Stalteri.
Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Xavier, Huth, Woodgate; Pogatetz, Taylor (Arca, h-t), Cattermole (Viduka, 57), Boateng, Downing; Yakubu, Christie (Morrison, h-t). Substitutes not used: Jones, Parnaby.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Boro Pogatetz, Arca, Huth.
Sent off: Tottenham Zokora; Middlesbrough Boateng.
Man of the match: Defoe.