Middlesbrough 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1: Ramos misses trick by making the wrong call

By Michael Walker
Monday 05 November 2007 01:00
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On afternoons such as this, when the football is look-away bad, it is easy for the mind and eyes to roam.

Even Juande Ramos turned away at times, despite this being his first Premier League match in charge of Tottenham Hotspur. There were moments when his opposite number, Middlesbrough's Gareth Southgate, did the same. But a disconcerting sight awaited both of them when this happened: they saw what they had on the bench.

For Ramos this should have offered supreme reassurance, as sitting in the Spurs dugout were Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov and Didier Zokora. However, they were only there because Ramos, in his first big decision at the club, had dropped them. It was some call and, ultimately, the wrong one. The thing is, Middlesbrough were here for the taking.

When Southgate turned away from the latest misplaced Boro pass he saw, alongside George Boateng, two teenagers, Seb Hines and Ben Hutchinson, who have yet to start a league game. They were not there through choice; it was because that is all Boro had left.

Threadbare in terms of personnel and fragile in confidence, having lost their previous five matches, Boro could hardly have been more inviting opponents for Ramos. On the pitch, having lost Jonathan Woodgate on Saturday morning, Southgate had 20-year-old David Wheater playing in his 15th game, and Chris Riggott. It was a central defensive partnership that had featured in Boro's 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane five weeks earlier.

Berbatov started that night, beside Jermain Defoe, but Spurs scored only after the introduction of Keane and Zokora.

It is the sort of detail that might have interested Ramos. But he went for Darren Bent and Defoe. Bent scored, profiting from some weak defending from Riggott: that was in the 35th minute. In the 52nd, Luke Young scored a spectacular equaliser against his old club and Ramos quickly sent on Berbatov and Keane to restore the lead. They could not. The messages were mixed, and two points were dropped.

Ramos avoided the post-match press conference but he did speak to reporters elsewhere at the Riverside. "I decided to rest Keane and Berbatov before the game," he said. "We have many games and we have to give breathers to the players and today we decided to rest our strikers. Bent and Defoe tried really hard and worked well for the team. Bent scored as well and, generally speaking, both of them gave their all."

It was Defoe's first start of the season in the league and he looked rusty. He remarked of Ramos: "The new manager speaks to me, which is important. He lets me know where I stand. Sometimes all you need is for someone to put an arm around you."

If that was a dig at Martin Jol, at least it is out of Defoe's system. But Ramos still has the "problem" of how to accommodate his strike force and get the best out of them. It is hard to believe either Keane or Berbatov enjoyed their demotion, however temporary.

The point at least took Spurs out of the bottom three and they face Wigan at home on Sunday. Another two of the bottom five, Bolton and Boro, meet the same day and Southgate was not optimistic about players returning from injury.

"Tough times don't last, tough people do," was a slogan he pinned to Boro's wall last week. It came from John Gregory. Southgate, whose philosophy is admirable, really should know better.

Goals: Bent (35) 0-1; Young (52) 1-1.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Young, Riggott, Wheater, Taylor; O'Neil, Cattermole, Rochemback (G Boateng, 77), Downing; Tuncay (Hutchinson, 72), Aliadière (Lee, 78). Substitutes not used:Turnbull (gk), Hines.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2) Robinson; Chimbonda, Kaboul, Dawson, Y-P Lee; Lennon, K-P Boateng (Zokora, 63) Jenas, Malbranque; Bent (Berbatov, 58) Defoe (Keane, 58). Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Stalteri.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Tottenham Lee.

Man of the match: Young.

Attendance: 25,625.

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