Hungry Spurs state top-table intentions

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester City

Sam Wallace,Football Correspondent
Thursday 17 December 2009 01:00 GMT

You had to wonder how Mark Hughes could bring himself to shake the hand of Robinho as the Brazilian striker trudged off the pitch after an hour, a dismal performance capped by a sullen slouch straight down the tunnel.

Robinho was already showered and suited by the time the final whistle blew, waiting in the tunnel like a man anxious to get off somewhere else. He could at least pretend that he is bothered or would that be too much to ask, with his manager under pressure and his club struggling for the kind of form that will make them Champions League contenders?

Robinho was the worst offender in a poor City performance but he was by no means the only one. Emmanuel Adebayor blasted his only decent chance over the bar in the closing stages of the game and he failed to make a tackle when he had a chance to stop Tottenham's third goal. Kolo Touré was at the centre of a City defence that no one would describe as commanding.

This was a godforsaken City performance and Hughes knew it. The City manager twitched and gesticulated, but the uncomfortable truth was that the superstars of this £200m team Hughes has assembled are letting their manager down. In the last 10 league games they have only won once and that is not what the oilmen of Abu Dhabi had in mind come Christmas.

Last night was about putting down a marker for that fourth Champions League place that is very much up for grabs and Tottenham did so in style. They were magnificent in attack, led on the right wing by Aaron Lennon, who ushered Sylvinho towards retirement with a performance that told the Brazilian left-back that his time really is up against the best at this level.

But Niko Kranjcar stole the show with two goals, the second when he slipped the ball one side of Adebayor and nipped round the other to toe it past Shay Given at the near post. Harry Redknapp's team looked like they wanted this victory much more than their hapless opposition and by the end Hughes was momentarily on his haunches on the touchline, his head in his hands and the weight of the world on his shoulders.

It was only their second league defeat of the season but City are six points behind Aston Villa in fourth place and, realistically, talk of the title will have to wait until next season. It was the manner in which they capitulated that was most worrying for their careworn manager. A pathetic attempt to elbow Wilson Palacios was Robinho's last contribution before he took his leave.

Long before Lennon clipped over the cross that led to Tottenham's first goal, the left side and Sylvinho had been identified by Spurs as City's biggest weakness. The flecks of grey in the hair of the 35-year-old Brazilian left-back were the giveaway: he is getting old and his legs are not what they were.

With Wayne Bridge recovering from surgery, Hughes has no option but to play his second-choice left-back, who had only started one league game before last night. There are more problems. Joleon Lescott will be out for up to eight weeks after surgery to remove a piece of floating bone from his knee and that, combined with Touré's absence next month at the African Nations Cup, could mean more performances like last night.

Hughes admitted that his team were struggling with "balls that come into our box", which was a pretty damning indictment of his defence. They also had serious problems down the flanks. Spurs put together an exquisite move on eight minutes, Benoît Assou-Ekotto starting the passing sequence at the back that went via Vedran Corluka, Peter Crouch, Lennon and finally to Kranjcar, who shot wide.

Lennon saved his best cross of the first half until the 38th minute. He collected the ball from Kranjcar, beat Sylvinho and picked out Crouch at the back post. The England striker's header was blocked by Stephen Ireland and, as the ball spilt loose, Kranjcar reacted first to score from close range.

The second goal was the killer. Heurelho Gomes punted the ball from left to right into the City area, Crouch loomed over Micah Richards to head it on and Defoe buried his shot first time. City briefly burst into life in the final 10 minutes and Adebayor missed a good chance. Then Kranjcar ghosted past him for the third and it really was embarrassing for Hughes.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto (Bale, 90); Lennon, Palacios, Huddlestone, Kranjcar; Defoe (Jenas, 89), Crouch. Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Hutton, Pavlyuchenko, Keane, Modric.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards, Touré, Onuoha, Sylvinho; De Jong (Petrov, 70), Barry; Ireland, Tevez, Robinho (Santa Cruz, 59); Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Zabaleta, Benjani, Kompany, Weiss.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Tottenham Kranjcar, Palacios; Manchester City: Sylvinho, Tevez, De Jong.

Man of the match: Lennon.

Attendance: 35,891.

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