COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
In a game that never hit the heights, compared with Monday's JJB hapless display, this was like watching Brazil.
The first half hour was much of a stalemate with neither keeper unduly troubled but it did have moments, the worst of which was the Yak limping off in what is now known to be a shocker of an injury. He was replaced by Saha who had himself been an injury doubt.
Light relief was provided by Ossie who on having his run to close down the keeper blatently baulked by Zakora he barged him not once but twice in good WWF style. The ref had just a word with both players but anywhere else on the field blatent blocking is a foul but never in the penalty area — why?
The final quarter of the half livened up a little with Howard making a good, confident catch from a deep Bentley cross then a good run and cross by Fellaini just evaded the toe of the on-rushing Osman from which Spurs broke straight down field and Lennon, when well placed, fired high over the bar.
Then it was our turn. Fellaini broke from midfield and from the edge of the box hit a fierce shot that the keeper parried back into play and between them Neville and Osman somehow managed to get the ball back to Fellaini whose strike was fumbled for a corner by the keeper.
Then it was their turn again as Pavlyuchenko stepped over the ball leaving Bent free but he put his shot straight at Howard. Just before the interval Saha had a glorious headed chance which he put straight at the keeper — a yard either side and it was a goal.
Half-time and I had been heartened by the performance and the fact we were looking the better team.
After Monday I couldn't help wondering what effect it might have on us should they get a goal early. I needn't have worried as Osman had the first shot of the half — well over — then the Spurs leftback drilled one with some venom just over.
We then broke with Pienaar who was brought down by Lennon. Arteta took a quick one catching Spurs cold and Pienaar hared into the box, 'let fly' and saw a lucky deflection take the ball past the keeper and the roof came off. Pienaar's shirt came off to reveal a T-shirt proclaiming 'God is great' — "might be able to get him on loan," was one wag's take.
The half carried on in similar fashion to the first they had breaks we had breaks. Pavlyuchenko put one over from a well worked free kick, then from good Blues build up Pienaar stung the keepers hands.
We looked the more composed team with Jags marshelling the back four well Spurs were running out of ideas so Appy Arry hauled off Bent and sent on Campbell — it made little difference.
The Blues recieved another cruel blow on the 70min mark with Saha who had looked lively being stretchered off. This saw our third striker of the afternoon, Big Vic... with the injuries to Yak Vaughan and Saha, he is likely to get a Big Chance.
Tim Howard proved his worth again by turning a point blank poke from Pavlyuchenko for a corner at his near post. Such was our dogged dominance Spurs pushed two more subs on in quick succession but to little effect. Seeing SIX minutes of overtime put up brought some apprehension from the faithful and the team dropped ever deeper as Spurs had one last hurrah.
The mighty Jags and his team-mates stood firm and really the six minutes went quite quickly. Final whistle, fans and players celebrated, Moyes's name had been sung out again, and many of us wondered was that the same team we saw at Wigan.
Overall I thought we deserved to win as we had looked a more composed outfit than Spurs which was much to do with our team formation today. Whether is was by design, accident or just forced on us due to squad shortage, it sure worked and that was as balanced a performance as I have seen all season. It could be described as 4-5-1 but I thought it was more fluid than that with players dovetailing well.
If we are lucky enough to keep the majority of that team fit and available and they get more used to the system and their positions and jobs within it then a high finish just might be possible. No doubt we will have this system at home to so I think players and fans may have to be more patient as it seems essentially a counter attacking system.
On considering a man of the match I thought all did much better today but on reflecting I thought Jags or Howard and if the rest can get up to their consistancy then so much the better.
Villa next up; always a hard one to call. I am still getting over Paul Merson sending me home less than sparkling on a bonfire night.
See you there.
UP THE BLUES
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