Well, this one certainly lived up to it’s billing, didn’t it? The two pretenders, lying first and third respectively went head to head today and served up a treat. Possibly the game of the season so far. All in all a great advert for English football though not, I suspect, for English refereeing. Howard Webb did wonderfully well in terms of letting a fascinating match run it’s course, but it has to be said that his use of cards was woefully inconsistent and that he missed two incidents which might possibly have changed the course of the game. The first was an uplifted arm by Lescott which caught Kaboul in the face and for which not even a free kick was given and the second, perhaps even more pivotal, a stamp on Parker’s head while on the ground by an already yellow carded loco Balotelli which looked suspíciously deliberate even though the player was clearly unbalanced (as he so often does). In any event, both incidents went unpunished and by some strange twist of fate, it was the offending players who scored the second and third goals for their team. Such is football.
The game was as absorbing as it promised to be, possession equally divided throughout the first half, Spurs possibly showing the better quality, but City the greater penetration. There were few chances to savour in the first forty-five minutes but that took nothing away from the quality on display. Both are teams with a more free-spirited style than usually seen on these shores and the two star-studded midfields duly went at it hammer and tongs, both putting pressure on their counterparts and rushing their game. For all that, though, the passing was fluid from both teams and the football good to watch. Spurs, for all their dainty passing, couldn’t get forward as effectively as their counterparts and were restricted, much like they were against Wolves, to hopeful pot-shots from distance. City on the other hand, carved out two very clear chances with Aguero and Silva combining to great effect, the latter sending a shot whistling inches past the far post. Nil-nil was a fair reflection of the first-half proceedings and Spurs, for so long looking more comfortable on the ball than their rivals, went in with the job half-done.
But oh how the game came alive in the second half. Spurs came out and, as has so often been the case in the past, lost concentration and allowed the opposition to roam. Within 20 minutes of the re-start, Spurs were two goals behind, some particularly and typically slack marking from a corner allowing Lescott to bundle City’s second over the line, despite the attentions of the industrious Scott Parker. Their first, however, was a gem. Some intelligent running in space from Nasri to latch on to a lovely weighted through ball and hook it into the top corner. So, 2-0 City and all over bar the moaning. Or was it? Just when you thought Spurs head might drop and subsequently concede more goals, Harry took off Van Der Vaart and replaced him with Livermore. Not only did Spurs tighten up, but they took control. Shortly after City’s second goal, a long ball from Kaboul proved just too high for Savic and the defender helped it onto Defoe, quiet up till then, who rounded Hart and stroked into the far corner. 2-1 then and game on. The equaliser came not long after with Gareth Bale hitting an exquisite curler into the top corner from outside the box and from then on Spurs were the dominant force. Defoe should have won it just before the end, but could not stretch far enough to turn in Bale’s low cross at the far post after a typical surging run. That would have been the three points going back to North London, but how cruel the footballing Gods can be. In truth, Bale’s cross might have been delivered a little earlier but it had just too much pace and was just a tad in front of Defoe but it nevertheless made the miss look much worse than it was.
Then came the killer blow, and from such an unlikely source. A few seconds before the final whistle, Benoit Assou Ekotto, rather than let the ball run harmlessly out of play for a throw, attempted a long ball along the touchline to Bale, who was free. sadly it fell to a City player and when the ball was played back in and Ledley King made a needless and reckless challenge on Balotelli, who calmly converted the spot kick to give City the points. There can be no complaints. It was a nailed on penalty, even though it came about thirty seconds after the added four minutes were up.
Spurs, as hugely disappointed they may feel, Ledley King chief among them, can walk away from this game with their heads held high. Their football was good and their commitment even more impressive and can only be left ruing what might have been. They may have come out of this game eight points behind Manchester City in the title race, but they showed us that there is no difference in quality whatsoever. So, in a nutshell, nothing gained for Spurs in terms of points but a difference between the teams could not really be proved on the basis of this evidence. Spurs’ time will come.
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