Spurs close gap on Reds, but gulf in quality exists

Posted by Dan Fitch

Sunday's game was a classic example of a good result being taken from a very poor match.

The first half was so bad that for the last 15 minutes of it I found myself embroiled in conversational topics as diverse as the musical merits of Billy Bragg, this week's London tube strike and the behavioural issues of my springer spaniel puppy rather than actually paying any attention to the game.

- Report: Tottenham 1-0 Everton
- Delaney: Three things: Tottenham vs. Everton

In many ways, the 90 minutes acted as a metaphor for Tottenham's season. You couldn't wait for it to be over so you could move on with your life.

Despite heavy initial concerns over the appointment of Tim Sherwood, I have tried to keep an open mind. Even though Sunday ended with a win, it was still the tipping point when I decided that he's not up to the job and is definitely another figure waiting to be added to Daniel Levy's growing list of victims.

Sherwood's team selection was very cautious. Against an Everton side looking there for the beating thanks to their injury problems in attack, he chose to pick Nabil Bentaleb, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho as a midfield three. The obvious question this posed was which one of this trio was meant to pass the ball forward. The obvious answer was none of them.

Spurs' most creative midfielder Christian Eriksen was out on the left. This works when he plays there in a 4-4-2 because there is space for him to drift into. With three central midfielders, there was nowhere for him to go.

Tottenham created next to nothing in the first 45 minutes, and Everton looked like the better side. Leon Osman forced a very good save from Hugo Lloris within the first 10 minutes, and Everton should really have made their dominance pay.

Slow starts have been a trademark of Spurs this season, both under Andre Villas-Boas and now under Sherwood. Rather than hit the ground running, they approach it at a stroll. As a writer who earns a certain amount of coin as a football-betting tipster, I can reveal that one of the biggest "sure things" this season is that the second half of Tottenham's games will contain more goals than the first.

This proved true once again as Spurs grabbed a goal that neither they nor even the game really deserved. Sherwood had seemed to reduce the likelihood of his side scoring a goal when he substituted Eriksen. The Dane had a poor game, but he can create chances. It would have made more sense to shift him inside where he could have more influence and sacrifice on one of the three central midfielders.

Yet from nowhere a piece of quick thinking gave Tottenham the lead. Having won a free kick, Kyle Walker had the presence of mind to take it before the Everton defence could organise itself, playing it forward to Emmanuel Adebayor, who brought the ball down on his chest and drove it past Tim Howard's near post with his left foot. It was Spurs' first shot on target.

Having suffered the shock of going behind, Everton rallied in search of an equaliser. They came closest in injury time when a challenge from substitute Etienne Capoue on Seamus Coleman really should have resulted in a penalty.

Not helping Tottenham's chances of ending the game with a clean sheet was the fact that Jermain Defoe was brought on in the remaining few minutes. It was Defoe's last chance to say goodbye to the White Hart Lane crowd, and I would have no issue with him being brought on if the team had a 2-0 lead. Instead, the whole team's formation was changed to accommodate the substitute, just as they sought to protect a single-goal advantage.

Don't tell me that Sherwood would have switched from playing with one up front to a 4-4-2 if it wasn't Defoe's last game. It was a sentimental substitution rather than a tactical one. Perhaps I'm being heartless in regards to a player who I've never really appreciated, but with a game of this importance, it was an unnecessary risk.

As it was, the risk didn't prove costly. I suppose Sherwood was gambling with his own future. On this evidence, he hasn't got much of one anyway.

Time and time again, the team took possession only for the lack of movement around the man on the ball to stop the move in its tracks. Compare that football to what we witnessed on Saturday when Liverpool thrashed Arsenal. The gap between the two sides might not be much according to the league table, but watching them perform reveals a true gulf.

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