Spurs enjoy dream afternoon versus Stoke

Posted by John Crace

Three goals at home and a clean sheet. The win may have come against a weakened Stoke team that showed little resistance, but this is the sort of afternoon that Spurs have been dreaming of all season. Powerful in midfield, quick on the break and secure at the back; everything, in fact, that Spurs hadn't been three days earlier in the tired and error-strewn home draw with West Brom.

- Report: Tottenham 3-0 Stoke City
- Report: Sherwood delighted with win

New manager Tim Sherwood must take some credit for ringing the changes. Only Christian Eriksen retained a place in midfield, with Aaron Lennon, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho coming in for Nacer Chadli, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Lewis Holtby. The difference was marked. Dembele looked far more like the player he once was at Fulham, winning the ball with ease and putting defenders on pressure with his strength and pace. His goal from the edge of the box was a reward for his tenacity as well as his skill.

Paulinho played by far his best game yet for Spurs, tackling back when required and creative going forward before limping off on 60 minutes after a nasty stamp on the ankle by Stoke midfielder Charlie Adam. Whatever anyone at White Hart Lane has said to the Brazilian during his Christmas holiday -- Paulinho is reported to have conveniently picked up suspensions over Christmas for the past five years -- it has had an impact. Here, finally, was sustained evidence of why Paulinho is regarded as integral to the Brazilian national team.

If Paulinho and Dembele choked the Stoke midfield, it was Lennon who stole the show up front. When fit, the winger has been one of Spurs' key players for the past six seasons, and he was a constant menace, time and again getting behind the Stoke defence with his speed and well-timed runs. Spurs ought to have taken greater advantage of the chances he created -- Emmanuel Adebayor and Eriksen should both have done better in the first half -- and his well-struck goal midway through the second half capped a fine all-round performance. He fully deserved the standing ovation he got when he was replaced by Erik Lamela late in the game.

Though Spurs started strongly, it began to feel as if Spurs' season-long shyness in front of goal might come back to haunt them, as wave after wave of attack came to nothing. Roberto Soldado and Adebayor worked hard up front but their confidence is still fragile. Soldado thrashed the ball just wide after being put through from a delightful Paulinho flick, while Adebayor seemed reluctant to pull the trigger. Several times he created an opening for himself only to pass when a shot was the better option.

Stoke might well have taken the lead had the referee, Kevin Friend, not refused them a penalty kick for what looked like a clear foul by Michael Dawson on Oussama Assaidi. Instead, Spurs finally broke the deadlock when the referee was as harsh on Stoke as he had been lenient on Spurs. Ryan Shawcross was adjudged to have deliberately hand-balled and Soldado was as ruthless from the spot as he has been all season. The Spaniard may be struggling in open play, but it's a long time since Spurs have had a penalty taker with ice in his veins.

Going a goal ahead has been a mixed blessing for Spurs in recent weeks, but this time it was only a launch pad for a ruthlessness that had gone missing. A back four of Kyle Naughton -- in for a suspended Kyle Walker -- Michael Dawson, Vlad Chiriches and Ezekiel Fryers -- in for an injured Danny Rose -- had looked suspect on paper, but was solid on the day. Chiriches seemed to have got all his mistakes over and done with in the game against West Brom and didn't put a foot wrong, while Naughton reveled in the chance to play in his preferred position and all but locked out Assaidi.

Fryers looked the part in his first Premier League start. He will have tougher days against better teams, but just maybe Benny Assou-Ekotto won't need to be recalled as backup in January. Spurs fans will have mixed feelings about that. As they will about saying goodbye to Jermain Defoe. The England striker wasn't even on the bench for the second game running and it looks very much as if he will be leaving for West Ham. It would have been nice for the White Hart Lane crowd to have had the opportunity to see him off in style.

After Spurs went three up after two quick goals, the game inevitably flagged with both sides content to see out time. Sharper finishing might have added to the tally, but a three-goal win is untold riches for Spurs in this campaign. Just what it means is harder to tell. Everyone at the club will know better than to talk of corners being turned. This team is way too inconsistent for anything to be read into its performance. One day they play like a top-four team, the next like amateurs in a park. I'm not sure if anyone -- not even the players themselves -- has a clue which team is going to turn out on the day.

The old Spurs is back, all right. Maddening and thrilling in equal parts. We wouldn't have it any other way, would we? Hmm. I still need to think about that. For now, I'll enjoy the best win of the season and look forward to the trip to Old Trafford on New Year's Day with a little more confidence.


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