There was no malice in Sunderland, but more seasonal joy as Spurs overshadowed the home side at the Stadium of Light to secure a second victory in three days. Temporarily, at least, Tottenham sit in third place and it is fair to say that, despite the misgivings of some mischievous individuals in the national media, Andre Villa-Boas has more than three games to save his job. More like 133.
Stalemates at Villa and Sunderland were viewed by some observers as the roots of last season’s ‘failure’ to secure a Champions League spot. Yet within three days, Spurs have emerged triumphant at both grounds as the players begin to flourish following the AVB blueprint. Since that misleading 2-5 reverse at Arsenal, Spurs have won seven and drawn two of ten games in all competitions. This purple patch was sparked by the return of the talismanic Mousa Dembele who has yet to be on the pitch when Spurs have lost a match.
A recent conversation with a Spurs insider made pleasant and encouraging listening. The Portuguese is an extremely popular figure among the squad and his man management and personal skills seem to have been significantly underestimated. He is also gracious in defeat unlike so many of his Premier League counterparts. The likes of Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers do themselves few favours with their post-match justifications. Martin O’Neill’s claim that Spurs had not had many chances was stuck in a odd place between delusion and comedy.
But for some alert goalkeeping and the agonising profligacy of Emmanuel Adebayor, in particular, the outcome would have been decided long before a traditionally edgy five minutes of injury time. Michael Dawson had been slow to react when Sunderland capitalised on some slack defending to take the lead through ‘Peter Kay’ but was a key figure as the Spurs’ backline withstood an inevitable bombardment in the closing stages. O’Neill’s decision to withdraw Sebastian Larsson, one of the best deadball takers in the game, was curious but certainly beneficial to the away cause. In goal, the alertness and handling of Hugo Lloris was, again, exemplary. The Frenchman looks every inch a world class goalkeeper.
The machine-like Sandro bossed the midfield areas, allowing speed demons Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon the freedom to take on the Sunderland rearguard. Lennon has been in sparkling form this season and the record of Spurs never losing a game when he has been on the scoresheet continued. Shortly after half-time, a Carlos Cuellar own goal gave Spurs parity before Lennon delightfully flicked the ball past Kay and Matthew Kilgallon to collect his own pass in the area and coolly shoot Tottenham into a lead they would never relinquish.
Martin Atkinson, who clearly shares an optician with O’Neill, once more found his eyesight under scrutiny. The referee who infamously awarded Chelsea an FA Cup semi-final goal despite the ball not crossing the line became the latest official to book Bale for diving. Instinct and replays suggested that the Welshman had been impeded. The decision was quite ironic given Jermain Defoe’s unconvincing ‘stumble’ in the first half and Stephane Sessegnon spending much of the game lying on the deck with a mouthful of grass. Spurs have yet to ‘earn’ a penalty in the 2012/13 Premier League campaign in stark contrast to rivals Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal who have received more than one gift this season. We’d probably miss it anyway. But under AVB Spurs have ended 2012 firing on all cylinders.
*** A happy and healthy New Year to all readers of this blog. May your hopes and dreams be realised in 2013. We may share one or two of them ;).