All week forums were buzzing with what team we should play, who should come in, what tactics should we try – thing is they were mostly talking about our next home game at Wolves. I, like many it seems, was more or less consigned to not getting anything at Spurs, last season’s mauling still very fresh in the mind and Sorensen’s late exclusion only seemed to cement that feeling. One player who had a nightmare last season was Wilkinson, who came back in for the suspended Huth, you could almost see Lennon’s grin from the stands as he rubbed his hands in glee at the prospect of once again running the deputising right back ragged.
The game actually started brightly enough and it was Stoke who were attacking, a failed attack saw the ball drop to Diao who sent the ball back into the mire for Fuller to nod on to Etherington who saw his deflected shot cleared by Woodgate’s head which in turn was cleared by Beattie’s head. The Spurs defender dropped like a sack of spuds and came around slowly, I didn’t see the physio holding up his fingers to count but I imagine ‘Eleventeen’ would have been the response such was the state of the unlucky Centre Back. Woodgate was replaced shortly afterwards in front of a watching Capello, but it was a Stoke player who may well have caught the eye of the England Coach on this particular day.
I was very nervous when I heard Simmo was to play, I’ve nothing against the lad, he did great in the Championship and his shot stopping is excellent but his command of his area has always been poor and that in turn makes for a nervous back line. Simmo made a number of excellent saves in the first half and really kept us in the game, though one save was because he failed to come out and collect a ball which was then won by Crouch at the back post over Shawcross who might well have expected his Keeper to come and claim. It was Beattie, however, who had anticipated the flight of the ball to clear off the line with what looked like the hamstring agilty of someone half his age, just watching him get his foot that high made me wince. Stoke continued to frustrate and at half time there were more than a few boos for the home side for failing to break down an obviously stubborn Stoke.
The second half went much the same way as the first with the brilliant Diao continuing to pull the strings in midfield and the reborn Etherington making his full back earn his wages by running outside him, inside him… over him… under him. Stoke seemed to get more space as the game went on and as they have done in the last 2 games kept a higher line and committed players forward to try and pin Spurs back. Harry utilised his bench well and Jenas was starting to really make an impact but then Whelan who had come on for the leggy Delap brought down Lennon, who despite his Manager’s protestations, refused to go back onto the pitch, Spurs had used all 3 of their subs so they were now down to 10. This suited Stoke and their other substitute, the lively Turk Tuncay who came on for the largely ineffective Beattie, was playing like a man with a point to prove. Tuncay looks very comfortable on the ball and managed to run with it taking pressure off the defensive unit, though such was his desire to make an impact, on more than one occasion he ran into trouble, at one point he had 4 defenders around him whilst his strike partner Fuller was open to receive a pass.
The space left by the 10 men of Spurs was starting to work in our favour and in the 86th minute the brilliant Diao played a simple ball to Fuller on the right of midfield, Fuller strolled with the ball with Assou Ekotto and Palacios in tow right down to the corner flag, perhaps thinking he would stay there the defender seemed to switch off for a split second and before he knew it Fuller was past him and looking up could see the Spurs defence completely static as he picked the option of Whelan who produced a finish reminiscent of his excellent goal for the Republic against Italy….cue pandemonium in the stands for the brilliant 1800 or so Stokies who had kept going throughout.
5 mins went up on the electronic board and we just had to hang on, it could have gone horribly wrong though when Diao appeared to trip Krancjar in the box, though the replays showed that Diao got the faintest of touches on the ball, enough to change it’s direction, before taking the man who was all to eager to go down arms flailing in disbelief. We hung on though and completed what could easily be described as our best away result of the last 25 years.
An excellent game, some real encouraging play, a lovely move for the goal with the ball not leaving the floor once, all starting from a lovely shimmy and pass from the improved Collins, in fact it was Spurs playing ugly with their upfield punts to Crouch for the last 25 mins or so. Simonsen was brilliant, but I still think he struggles with commanding his area and you could tell the defence looked nervous as a result. Whitehead had a better game but with Diao playing so well I think it is time to bring Whelan back into the fold. Beattie despite his goals of last week and heroic clearance off the line didn’t have his best game and put the team under pressure by losing the ball 3 times in midfield before he was replaced. But the team, including all the players listed here, were magnificent as a unit and yes, we rode our luck but it kind of felt deserved, maybe not just from today, but for those games where we have been so desperately unlucky this season already.
Manager Rating – 9.5
Simonsen – 9
Wilkinson – 8
Shawcross – 8
Faye – 8
Collins – 8.5
Delap – 7
Whitehead – 7.5
Diao – 9.5 (Man of the Match)
Etherington – 9
Fuller – 8.5
Beattie – 7.5
Whelan – 8.5
Tuncay – 8
Higginbotham – not on long enough