Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Planted by the Potters: Stoke City 2 - Spurs 1

photo by Bodsvia PhotoRee

James makes a return to these pages, in search of the silver lining in Spurs' weekend's loss to Stoke:

Spurs' fantastic league run had to end some time.  And in gazing at the schedule through the last few weeks there were two games that popped up as troublesome:  Chelsea at the Lane next week and our trip to the Britannia last Sunday, a notoriously difficult place to play for reasons that are well known. The "cold Tuesday at Stoke" expression seems particularly profound after the events of last weekend.

Although the location, support and weather are clearly factors in Stoke sitting 8th and for Pulis never having been relegated despite negligible budgets and talent levels, the main reason for Stoke's recent success is their Neanderthal style of play in a league that, overall, is evolving from the hoof and throw mentality.  But not the Potters, who not only employ the style but seem to happily embrace it. This is so even for their fans, who are famous for chanting "we only score on throw ins" and taunted Spurs at the end of the first half on Sunday with "2 nil to the rugby team."

Of course none of this is a surprise for those that follow the Permiership and certainly not for Harry Redknapp and his Spurs.  But there they were in the first half looking like they were continually trying to play chess in the middle of a game of checkers.  Credit to Stoke who came out ready to play, vastly more so than the Lilywhites.  They consistently beat Spurs to loose balls, bullied them all over the pitch and took full advantage of Spurs' sloppy marking (the second goal was the otherwise sublime Scott Parker's worst moment so far in a Spurs' shirt) to race to their first half lead.  Even when Spurs made the occasional counter attack, it appeared that a cross would come aimed haphazardly at Adebayor in the box surrounded by four red and white striped trees.  It was during the first half of this game that I realized how short a team Spurs are, particularly without Dawson and King in the back, while, for some reason, Gallas and Kaboul, for all their virtues, seem genetically unable to get more than six inches off the ground.  Stoke took full advantage of this in the first half and did all the annoying things the Potters do - one could read whole chapters of "War and Peace" while Shotton dried the ball with his special ball-drying shirt during any one of the hundred throw ins Stoke executed.  

Even more troubling was the seeming reluctance of the Spurs' players to aggressively take on Stoke on their numerous set pieces.  Granted that is not necessarily their style, but there is also no doubt that the likes of King and Dawson would have at least been in their faces more.  

Regardless, none of this should have been a surprise going in.  So perhaps, in hindsight, we should have started with the formation that Harry went to at half time.  Although the sight of Bassong sent shivers in light of recent performances, credit to Redknapp for brilliantly adjusting at the half by moving to a 3-5-2.  He replaced Assou-Ekotto, who had been torched by Shotton (who looks a fine all around young player), with Bassong, and the ineffectual Lennon with Defoe, and the game completely changed.  With the three center backs protecting the middle, clogging up set pieces, freeing up the now 5 man midfield and benefiting from the refreshingly aggressive performance by Bassong, Spurs were free to do what they do best - attack.  And attack they did - creating numerous chances and unarguably putting themselves in position to at least take one, if not three points, from this game.  

That is, but for the absolutely atrocious performance by Referee Chris Foy.  It will indeed be difficult, even for the neutral, to witness a more poorly officiated game in any sport than the excrement laid by Mr. Foy on Sunday.  There is no doubt that Tony Pulis will send him a fruit basket after this - or perhaps a new set of man bras (note to Foy: you are an EPL referee, not Art Donovan) - because Foy literally gifted the Potters at least two points.  The incidents are numerous and well documented and include:  at least three missed Stoke hand balls, a missed blatant penalty in the box on Kaboul in the 66th, yellow on Kaboul for complaining, second yellow and sending off for a borderline foul on Kaboul, a missed blatant corner for Bale in the 70th, his linesman disallowing the Adebayor equalizer even though Adebayor was at least two yards on side, and many, many more.  Stoke fans will complain that they were victimized on the Modric penalty.  In fact, Modric was compared to Suarez of all people on this very website.  After observing the play several times, however, clearly contact was made.  Could Modric have stayed on his feet?  Perhaps.  But it was a clear penalty nevertheless.  To compare Modric based on this incident to the Biter/Racist/Diver/MiddleFingerGiver is hyperbole in the extreme. 

In the end, though, this was a predictable loss at a location where the Gooners had been defeated and United held to a draw already this year.  So, the streak ended not surprisingly but under frustrating circumstances.  And more troublesome, it looks like Kaboul is gone for the next two key fixtures at home to Sunderland and Chelsea after his ridiculous red card.  Regardless, Spurs fans will hope that Ledley King will be ready. 

But all is still there for the taking for Spur,s who remain who remain only seven points out of first with a game in hand.  

This is farlieonfootie for December 14.

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