Van der Vaart keeps up his flying start for Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Football

The reception given to Rafael van der Vaart when he left the pitch in the final minute suggested the Dutch forward has already gone a long way towards repaying the £8 million fee Tottenham paid Real Madrid on transfer-deadline day for his services.

Van der Vaart's goals settled a thrilling game that made a nonsense of the suggestion Spurs might be drained after their midweek Champions' League exertions against FC Twente and ensured the Holland international has made the scoresheet on eachof his three home appearances for his new club. Little wonder the cheers rang out.

Not only that, Van der Vaart demonstrated that he offers Spurs' manager, Harry Redknapp, much more than goals by effectively switching roles at half-time to hand the home side the tactical edge they had lacked when a determined Villa threatened to takecontrol of the game.

And in a season when Spurs need all the help they can getif they are to successfully compete for a second successive top-four finish as well as sustain their interest in the Champions' League, that could prove vital.

For 46 minutes Tottenham struggled to break down a Villa side determined to protect Marc Albrighton's 16th-minute opening goal and apparently capable of handling the threat posed by Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko. Then, deep into first-half added time – too deep as far as Villa's manager, Gérard Houllier, and his assistants were concerned – Crouch headed down forVan der Vaart to finish from close range.

Boosted by the equaliser and Redknapp's decision to push the Dutchman closer to Crouch at the expense of Pavlyu-chenko, Spurs then edged the second half and just about deserved to take the points.

"I changed it at half-time because in the first half I thought we were very open with two up," said Redknapp. "We looked better in the second half with Rafael stuck in behind. He'll score goals. The ball goes up to Crouchy and he's always looking to get on the second [touch].

Redknapp added: "Rafael is going great now, he's getting fitter and he'll only get stronger with games. The crowd here always like a good player and he could have scored even more."

Houllier conceded Van der Vaart was the game's outstanding player but believed that the loss of Emile Heskey to a groin injury in the 35th minute severely hampered his side's chances. Heskey had been a revelation in the Frenchman's first two games in charge and continued that form when he harried Sébastien Bassong, forcing the defender into a mistake before confidently taking the ball to the byline then pulling it back for Albrighton to score.

That focal point was lost, however, when Heskey departed prematurely, and while Villa maintained a threat throughout the second half, the balance of power in the game swung tellingly in the direction of Redknapp's side.

"John Carew came on and did a good job but he is not the same kind of player," said Houllier. "I've got mixed feelings, because I'm pleased with the performance but disappointed with the result. The only thing we can blame ourselves foris that we didn't take our chances. In terms of quality of play and character we are moving in the right direction.

"I'm not happy with the equaliser because of the time lapsed," he added. "The law says it was a minimum of two minutes of added time and the referee decided to play three."

Pavlyuchenko had spurned Spurs' best chance of the first half when he diverted Gareth Bale's ball across the face of goal rather than testing the Villa goalkeeper, Brad Friedel. But the Russian made amends when his right-wing cross found Crouch at the far post and the England player headed back to set up Van der Vaart's headed opening goal.

The second was similar, this time with Aaron Lennon providing the 75th-minute cross towards Crouch. On this occasion the ball was directed down towards Van der Vaart's feet and the Dutchman again finished from close range.

Attendance: 35,871

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Man of the match: Van der Vaart

Match rating: 8/10