Hypnotized and likely bored with the featuring of short, slow, square balls, White Hart Lane was silent and subdued for most of the first half as Tottenham hosted Swansea in Sunday's leading encounter in the Premier League. With the sunshine out in North London and unseasonably warm temperatures, a nap might even have been in order.
An overflow of goals, perhaps expected with Jermain Defoe and the league's signing of the season, Michu, on offer, failed to materialize. But the Spurs faithful ultimately went home happy thanks to a striker's finish from a defender, Jan Vertonghen, in the 75th minute. No, Tottenham wasn't at its free-flowing best, but the 1-0 victory was fully deserved as Swansea, who conquered the red half of North London earlier this month, disappointingly created little.
Match report: Tottenham 1-0 Swansea
There were thus no lasting effects from last week's collapse at Everton as Tottenham overtook the Toffees in fourth, the final Champions League spot.
Defoe has flourished under new Tottenham manager Andre-Villas Boas -- the diminutive striker will probably consider AVB a better man manager than Harry Redknapp (yes, really) since he couldn't consistently crack the starting lineup last season. On this day, with flying and flying-to-the-ground winger Gareth Bale sidelined due to injury, Defoe had a strike partner in Emmanuel Adebayor. As a result, United States international Clint Dempsey shifted from his position behind Defoe to the left side of midfield, where he struggled to make an impact.
Relishing his role as the main man up front, Defoe indeed looked lively in the early going, a time when the smooth, graceful Moussa Dembele was his most influential in midfield.
The duo tried to liven up proceedings.
An Ashley Williams tackle denied Defoe a good opportunity, then later Michu atoned for giving away possession by blocking a Defoe effort inside the box after Dembele dragged the Swansea defense out of position. Defoe's resulting quick turn and shot was more evidence of his danger to the Welsh outfit.
Bale's fellow winger, Aaron Lennon, manhandled Swansea left back Ben Davies in the first half, and it was only because of skipper Williams, back from a suspension, and his central defensive partner, the pony-tailed Chico Flores, that Swansea kept a clean sheet in the first 45 minutes.
Flores impressively blocked an Adebayor effort -- really the lone occasion the African striker came close to finding the net. Adebayor limped off in the 72nd minute, and his replacement, England under-21 winger Andros Townsend, did more in his 20-minute cameo than the ex-Gunner.
As for Michu, whose body language is similar to that of Dimitar Berbatov (although the Spaniard isn't averse to smiling during encounters), his long-range effort with Hugo Lloris off his line had the Frenchman scrambling back in mild panic until the ball sailed over the crossbar.
They would meet again.
Midfielders Wayne Routledge, Pablo Hernandez and Jonathan De Guzman have all contributed to Swansea's success under Michael Laudrup. Hernandez was still absent with a thigh injury and Nathan Dyer, in for Hernandez, should have scored when he was set up by Routledge early in the second half during a rare Swansea attack.
Tottenham right back Kyle Walker, whose venomous drive in the first half prompted a shoulder save from Gerhard Tremmel, sliced his shot well wide when played in by Defoe in the 58th minute.
Just when a 0-0 finish threatened, Vertonghen's half-volley finish on his weaker right foot released the tension. The Lane broke out in song.
Was Vertonghen an arm offside? Maybe, but it was tight. Vertonghen is suspect at the back, particularly at fullback, but going forward he impresses.
Tottenham's propensity for conceding late goals meant Swansea still had hope, and even more so when the fourth official's board signaled five minutes of injury time. The fans gasped and groaned.
Swansea hoofed a ball forward and on a 50-50 ball near the edge of the box, Lloris punched to safety, taking out Michu in the process. It was brave 'keeping from Lloris, who was marginally at fault for Everton's opener last week. Michu lay on the pitch for a minute or two, and five minutes of added time turned to eight.
Michu was OK, the final whistle blew and Tottenham made it five wins in its last six.
The busy Christmas program, which starts this weekend, could bring yet more points to Tottenham, since it hosts Stoke, visits Aston Villa and Sunderland, and entertains Reading.
Good point for Hammers, Baggies
West Ham and West Bromwich Albion could have no complaints about their positions in the standings entering Sunday. The meat-and-potatoes Hammers, guided by Big Sam Allardyce, stood 11th following promotion from the Championship, while the Baggies occupied sixth.
Come season's end, West Ham, particularly, would be content with 17th.
But the mood has dampened mildly for both. West Brom, mixing with the elite for most of the campaign, had lost three in a row, and injury-ravaged West Ham was a loser in three of its past four.
The teams, then, wouldn’t have minded the 0-0 draw that ensued in the late kickoff in West Bromwich. Having been used to riding the promotion and relegation escalator in recent seasons, the home fans sensibly didn't jeer at the final whistle.
The first half was utterly dire, indicating a level of nervousness from two teams slumping. The hair-dryer treatment, maybe, surfaced at halftime, leading to an entertaining second half -- entertaining in the old-fashioned way. Technical brilliance, it wasn't.
Balls were pumped into the area, scrambles resulted in the box, and big, strong central defenders tangled with big, strong forwards. James Collins and Winston Reid may be an unlikely pairing in the center of the West Ham defense -- Collins wasn't a standout toward the end of his stay at Aston Villa and Reid represents New Zealand -- but they were there to mop up.
They had to be alert given the number of times Peter Odemwingie beat right back Guy Demel and sent inviting, low crosses into the middle of the box.
Gary O'Neil flashed his curled shot a shade wide of the West Brom post, and with a quarter of an hour remaining, West Brom midfielder James Morrison saw his header from a corner hit the post.
That would be that.
A little surprisingly, West Brom manager Steve Clarke hauled off top scorer Shane Long in the 84th minute in favor of Swedish striker Markus Rosenberg, and the Irishman's face showed his disappointment.
He'll be counted on over the busy next three weeks.