Spurs moved up to eighth - their highest league position of the season - with a thoroughly deserved win over West Ham. While the statistics reflect the team’s dominance over their London rivals - ten corners to West Ham’s one, and almost three times as many attempts on goal - the game finished only 1-0. This was partially a result of yet another poor refereeing display, with Martin Atkinson denying no less than three legitimate claims for a Spurs penalty. Yet overall, his performance was still better than that of Spurs' starting pair up front. Robbie Keane had, by his standards, an off day, while Darren Bent had, by his, a typical day, failing to link with the midfield, hold the ball or provide a scoring threat.
Fortunately the manager did use his bench effectively, unlike last week’s game at Blackburn. Jenas was taken off (although seemingly with an injury) and was replaced by the dynamic Zokora. Even more effective was the withdrawal of Bent for Roman Pavlyuchenko, early in the second half. Within ten minutes of coming on, the out of favour Russian had the ball in the net, following a clever turn and a smart finish.
Why Harry Redknapp has persisted in preferring Bent is something of a mystery. Although he has made fewer appearances, Pavlyuchenko has a better goal per game ratio and is clearly the more technically adept and naturally gifted of the two players. Redknapp has expressed concern about both his physical strength and his adjustment to England and the English game. Not to give him an extended run in the side seems, then, to be counterintuitive. How can he be expected to adapt to the Premier League if he doesn’t play? His national team boss, Guus Hiddink, who - for the time being at least - is warming the manager’s chair at Chelsea, observed,
"It’s a pity that the club (Tottenham) keep him in reserve. I would never do that. A talented player like Roman must play, play and play again."
Rather ominously, Hiddink also noted that "I think Pavlyuchenko would prove useful to Chelsea." With training and time - above all, playing time - Pavlyuchenko could develop his game to suit Redknapp’s requirements for a central striker. He could also focus on improving his language skills, another of the manager’s gripes. Much of what he already possesses as a footballer, however, has not been learned and certainly cannot be taught to Darren Bent.
The majority of the Spurs fans will hope that Pavlyuchenko rather than Bent runs out against Newcastle, although there is also a possibility that neither of them will make the starting line-up. Jermain Defoe is close to full fitness and could well be paired with Keane as Spurs endeavour to claim a European place. (The Newcastle game may also mark the very welcome return of fullback Alan Hutton.) The run-in is not easy, but if Spurs can qualify for the inaugural Europa League, Redknapp would not expect to be in the same position as earlier this year, when a UEFA Cup challenge had to be sacrificed in order to help secure Premier League safety.
Who knows, perhaps European football for next season will hinge on the last game of the current campaign at Anfield, and on a certain striker with something to prove to Rafa Benitez.