There’s been no such thing as a comfortable win at White Hart Lane so far this season and facts like Harry being forced against Villa to play his tenth centre back pairing in twelve games help explain why. This was an end-to-end encounter and another example of what Redknapp described as ‘more like basketball’ after the fiasco at Upton Park last week. In the process of vanquishing Villa we combined spells of width, fluid movement and enterprise (mostly centred around the irrepressible Van der Vaart) with some defending that we wouldnâ€™t have got away with but for the profligate feet of John Carew and Ashley Young.
As in last season’s equivalent fixture Heskey started up front for the away team but limped off early. The difference this year was that Villa’s performance dipped markedly whereas in February Carew’s one-man bulldozer impression got his team a point. He was awful in this game, shooting high & wide, losing challenges that Heskey was winning with ease and towards the end giving away needless free kicks that helped us relieve any pressure we were under.
Villa started, like a lot of teams are doing against us this season, by snapping and biting at the heels of Modric, Bale and anyone else who dared stand still for more than a nanosecond with the ball at their feet. Before half an hour had gone all of Gomes, Bale and Pavlyuchenko had each twice been downed and needed treatment. Twattenburg let Reo-Coker, Albrighton and Petrov wreak mini mayhem in the middle as they redefined the tackle from behind. The first yellow card was for a handball against Young, which was ridiculous given the spitefulness that had gone before. It’s nothing we haven’t come to expect from this ref of course.
Skipper again, big Tom lined up alongside Bassong at centre back. He was shown up in the air, on the floor and in his positioning but as he has done whenever he’s played there before, over all he got away with it. It was Bassong who was embarrassed and outmuscled by Heskey for Villa’s opener; Hutton should perhaps have got to the big manâ€™s ball across goal before Albrighton but it would’ve needed the deftest of touches to put it wide rather than in to his own bottom corner.
If Huddlestone was the talk of the terraces at ten to three, by ten to five it was the name of Rafael Van der Vaart on everyoneâ€™s lips. Nominally starting in Lennonâ€™s place on the right he in fact appeared all over the shop in the first half and after a quiet opening along with everyone else (one odd thing was that we kicked towards the Paxton End in the first half. We must’ve won the toss as Villa kicked off – maybe this was Harry’s idea of changing things around to avoid the infamous Champions League hangover?), he dominated proceedings, nicking both goals after Crouch had headed crosses from Pav and Lennon back across the six yard box and consistently appearing in dangerous positions to rifle shots at Friedel. Itâ€™s early days of course but he certainly looks like the real thing at the moment. His enthusiasm and ability to drive the team forward are reminiscent of Gazza.
A good win given the injuries and the intensity of Wednesday nightâ€™s game. Itâ€™s too near the start of the season to stare at the table and think â€˜if onlyâ€™ but even so, the results against Wigan and West Ham are beginning to stand out. A win in either of those games would have seen us third in the table without being anywhere near our best yet. But thatâ€™s what you get for not being able to score in either game I guess. Weâ€™ve only got 8 goals in 7 league games so far which isnâ€™t good enough. In Van der Vaart though we do seem to have the makings of a new hero.
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