Tottenham show the fight lacking in limp Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Liverpool 1
Monday 29 November 2010
With six minutes left to play, Jamie Carragher cast one last plaintive glance over his shoulder as he was led down the tunnel yesterday by the physio treating his dislocated shoulder. When he left, Liverpool were still good for a point; by the time Carragher was reunited with his team-mates in the dressing room they were going home with nothing.
In keeping with the way he plays the game, Carragher continued until he simply could not go on. If only his team-mates had shown a similar resolve then Liverpool might not have left White Hart Lane last night with nothing, because against the team with the most formidable comeback record in the Premier League you can never be certain.
For the fifth game this season, Spurs came from behind to win the match, this time with Aaron Lennon's injury-time goal. They were outplayed in the first half and Jermain Defoe missed a penalty after the break, but no one could throw at this current Spurs team the old accusation of flakiness that has in the past followed their club around like a curse.
Spurs came from behind to win in the kind of tradition that Liverpool fans would have recognised from their own club. It was through the quality of players such as Lennon, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale and the cussedness of Peter Crouch to get his head to every ball into the area – including the crucial flick to Lennon – that saw Tottenham through.
Liverpool teams of past eras would close out games with a combination of superior talent and dogged determination to battle until the final whistle. Now it is Spurs who, from somewhere, have acquired a backbone and a sense of purpose for the first time in years.
For the home fans at White Hart Lane, who greeted the 1-0 deficit at half-time with some boos, it is still hard to believe that their team really is capable of turning around difficult situations. But the evidence is there in the past 10 days alone which have included victories over Arsenal, Werder Bremen and now Liverpool.
It would be hard to make that leap of faith with Liverpool, who go into their next Premier League fixture against Aston Villa a week today without Steven Gerrard, Carragher or Daniel Agger. It is only three players but in these difficult times the club will sorely miss the reassuring presence of their two native Liverpudlians.
When Gérard Houllier arrives with Villa at Anfield next week he will discover his former club badly in need of a victory. For the first half, at least, yesterday they were the better side and in Raul Meireles had the game's most impressive player. Carragher took the battle to his old friend and team-mate Crouch with aggression and a touch of craftiness. Martin Skrtel gave his side the lead with three minutes of the first half left.
Fernando Torres, once again, looked out of sorts. He had a great opportunity to score shortly after Skrtel's goal but, as he went through, seemed too absorbed with getting the ball on to his right foot to notice that Sébastien Bassong had caught him up in time to make the tackle.
Torres' form is a problem. While Harry Redknapp's most creative players ultimately came good for him yesterday, Torres never quite sparked for Liverpool. There was a chance that he might have had a penalty for Bassong's tackle on him two minutes after the break. Liverpool had a stronger claim turned down when Benoît Assou-Ekotto seemed to go through Dirk Kuyt on 70 minutes.
The game had started badly for Tottenham, who lost Rafael van der Vaart to a hamstring injury within the first 10 minutes. And Younes Kaboul did not demonstrate a particularly high pain threshold when, rubbing his thigh and looking nonplussed, he followed Van der Vaart off 26 minutes later.
By the time it arrived on 42 minutes, Liverpool deserved their lead. Skrtel headed Meireles' cross against David Ngog and when the ball dropped free Skrtel reacted first to score. Just before Torres' chance to score a second, Maxi Rodriguez had another great opportunity but simply fell over as he tried to go round Heurelho Gomes.
A better team would have put this game beyond Spurs' reach by half-time but Liverpool left the door open and Redknapp's side came back. Bale had a shot cleared off the line by Meireles. Then it was the Welshman's free-kick that was blatantly handled by Ngog who, standing in the wall, raised his hands as he jumped.
The referee, Martin Atkinson, awarded Spurs the penalty but, given they had already missed three this season, there was no certainty they would score. So it proved, with Defoe failing to hit the target, his eighth miss in his past 13 penalties. Spurs need to find another penalty taker.
Modric made the equaliser, evading Carragher and Glen Johnson before hitting a cross that Skrtel poked into his own goal. For his part, Johnson found himself beaten by Bale on a few occasions but he was not subjected to the same level of humiliation inflicted on some visiting right-backs at this ground of late.
Lennon's winner, nicely finished from Crouch's flick, was late but there was always a sense it was coming once Carragher had departed. By the end they both embodied their new-found status in English football: one pushing on ambitiously, the other trying desperately to cling on. In the end the day belonged to the new order.
Substitutes: Tottenham Defoe (Van der Vaart, 12), Bassong (Kaboul, 36), Sandro (Defoe, 90).
Unused Cudicini (gk), Corluka, Kranjcar, Sandro, Pavlyuchenko. Liverpool Aurelio (Ngog, 74), Kyrgiakos (Carragher, 86). Unused Jones (gk), Poulsen, Shelvey, Jovanovic, Babel. Booked: Liverpool Johnson, Konchesky, Carragher, Skrtel, Meireles.
Man of the match Modric. Match rating 7/10.
Possession Tottenham 50% Liverpool 50%.
Shots on target Tottenham 8 Liverpool 4.
Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire). Att 36,310.
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