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Tottenham 2 – Birmingham 1

August 29, 2009

Aaron Lennon scored a late winner for Tottenham yesterday, eking out a victory over Birmingham.

Tottenham eked out a narrow victory Saturday despite dominating the game the whole way through, but winning the three points may have cost more than they were worth, as both Ledley King and Luka Modric went down to injury.

The match was frustrating for Spurs throughout, as the team had three legitimate chances on goal in the first 10 minutes, with the back of the net continuing to be elusive for much of the match. The first half was very much Tottenham’s as attack after attack was thrown against Birmingham’s seemingly weak defense only to be averted at the last second by a miraculous save or by a shot trickling inches off of its target.

The first major injury came at halftime, as Ledley King came out of the game with a groin injury, to be replaced by Alan Hutton. The Scottish defender was excellent against Hull City last week, but his replacement would prove to be detrimental to the squad this week, in part due to a seeming lapse in strategy by manager Harry Redknapp, who placed Hutton in King’s center back position instead of in his preferred right back spot.

Any time King is injured, of course, it is a major concern, as the defender has proven time and time again that he is one of the players who makes up Tottenham’s backbone. This injury was even more concerning, however, because fullbacks Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Dawson are already out with injuries, meaning that the only center back who is fully healthy is the just-bought Sebastian Bassong. Redknapp supposedly brought Honduran international Osman Chavez in on trial last week. Hopefully Chavez impressed Redknapp enough that he can be pressed into action soon, if need be.

The second major injury came in the 46th minute, when Birmingham midfielder Lee Bowyer clipped the side of Modric’s right calf on a challenge. Redknapp said that the injury looked pretty nasty and acknowledged that if it looks like the Croatian is out for any extended period of time, he may be forced into the transfer market to find a temporary replacement. (There may be a ready-made one right at ‘Arry’s former Fratton Park stomping grounds in the form of Niko Kranjcar. After all, who better to replace a play-making Croatian than a play-making Croatian? Redknapp said anything to back that up, but there have been reports all summer linking Spurs to the left midfielder. Another solution may be Manchester City misfit Martin Petrov, who the Daily Mail is seemingly certain will end up at Spurs.)

Modric was replaced by Peter Crouch, who instantly added another dimension to Tottenham’s attack, with crosses landing on his head from all angles, with the lanky striker getting three chances between the 58th and the 60th minutes. His chance in the 64th minute proved to be a thrilling one, however, as Robbie Keane, who had dropped into Modric’s left midfield slot when Crouch came in, sent a cross in to Crouch’s head that met the crossbar before bouncing out. Crouch’s next chance was cleared off of the line by Birmingham defender Lee Carsley, with Tottenham players swearing that the ball had broken the imaginary plane.

Alas, Crouch wasn’t done quite yet. Aaron Lennon made one of his thrilling runs down the right hand side, where he was tripped up by Lee McFadden. Tom Huddlestone, who was again excellent throughout the game in running Spurs’ midfield, took the free kick and sent a beautiful ball looping into the box, where Crouch rose to meet it and sent it careening into the back of the net for a well-deserved lead.

After the game, Redknapp said that Crouch could easily have had three or four goals on the day and that really isn’t an exaggeration. The recent transfer truly was a game changer once he came on, giving Spurs an aerial threat that they truly lacked throughout last season.

The joy at White Hart Lane was short-lived, however, as Birmingham brought striker Christian Benitez on for Carsley in a move that showed immediate dividends for Alex McGleish’s squad. Spurs’ defenders began to appear lost as a unit, as City had more chances in the 16 minutes than they did in the rest of the game.

The near-fateful moment, however, came when Benitez tapped a ball into the path of Bowyer, with Hutton and Carlo Cudicini suffering a major communication issue, as Hutton’s attempts to knock the ball back to the keeper resulted in the ball lying in the Birmingham player’s path for one of the uglier goals in the recent history of White Hart Lane. It is worth mentioning that, despite their excellent form so far this season, Spurs have yet to keep a clean sheet. This goal was clearly the result of miscommunication between Hutton and Cudicini, the result of two essentially reserves being on the field at once. If Tottenham are actually going to make a run at the top of the table this season, these kinds of mistakes just can’t happen.

After Bowyer’s goal, Birmingham fans were noticeably louder than Spurs fans, obviously thinking that they would be able to sneak out of London with a point in hand and, possibly, three points, which appeared to be the case when City were the team menacing for much of the final 15 minutes.

That all changed, however, when Lennon, who Fabio Capello is planning to recall to the English squad for next week’s World Cup qualifier against Croatia, swooped in to make the difference in injury time for the second week in a row. The moment was the result of ex-Spur Stephen Carr suffering a tumble in his own territory, allowing maligned striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who came on after Jermaine Defoe (who wasn’t completely clinical for the first time this season) suffered a knock, to swoop in on the right wing and send a pass to Lennon, who was lurking unmarked on the left side of the field. Lennon ducked to his right and rifled a shot towards goal that City keeper Joe Hart managed to get a hand on but not save, allowing the midfielder to be the hero for the second week in a row.

The development of Lennon is one of the stories of the season for Spurs so far this year as he, like his club, is finally beginning to emerge from years of being labeled as the next big thing to actually producing. Lennon is crossing accurately, moving well and playing with a confidence that Spurs fans haven’t seen from him thus far, meaning that the Englishman is finally beginning to claim his place as a valuable part of the future, but, more importantly, a part of the present for both club and country.

Spurs ended up with 60 percent of the possession today, in comparison to Birmingham’s 40 percent. Tottenham also recorded 26 shots on goal (10 on target) in comparison to City’s 13 (5 on target). In other words, Spurs definitely deserved to win this game despite both teams having excellent chances at scoring throughout, with any result but three points to the London side being something of a fluke. This is the type of game-gritty, tough, injury-ridden, frustrating-that Tottenham wouldn’t have won in the past couple of seasons and shows the continuing growth of this team.

Originally posted at White Hart Lunatic

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