Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Harry's Spurs have their mojo back
Richard Jolly, Reebok Stadium
Amazing the difference an England manager makes. Barely 24 hours after Roy Hodgson's appointment, the effects were obvious. For the first time in 2012, Tottenham won on their travels in the league. Playing with a freedom that suggested a weight had been lifted off their shoulders, the slump that coincided with the vacancy at the Football Association was brought to an emphatic end. They were liberated and lethal.
Rejection has brought a reaction from Harry Redknapp and Tottenham even if, carefree to the point of flippancy, the manager denied he had been worried: "I didn't wake up on Monday morning and think 'What's happened to my life, I'm not England manager?'" he said. "It saved me making a decision." If he remained adamant the uncertainty did not bother him, the players were affected. "My staff think they were," he added.
After a resolution, they were a revelation. Where they were in limbo, they could be headed for the promised land of the European elite. They may still require Bayern Munich to beat Chelsea but their destiny - as far as a top-four finish is concerned - is in their own hands. Bolton's is not. With two games to go, the vanquished Wanderers are in the relegation zone, requiring favours.
It may be the Championship for them, the Champions League for Tottenham and 60 games a season, rather than the more sedate ten of the international game, for Redknapp. What could have been a farewell was actually a comeback. Or two, in fact, because, 46 days after he suffered a cardiac arrest on the White Hart Lane turf, Fabrice Muamba was back on a football field. His pre-match appearance was met with a rousing reception from both sets of fans and left the midfielder overcome with emotion. "It was absolutely brilliant to see him smiling," Redknapp said.
If, now as then, the Spurs supporters merit praise for their actions, their players are deserving of plaudits. This was more like the Tottenham of autumn, the inveterate adventurers who were voted the best to watch by the Premier League managers. They boasted goalscorers in attack, with Emmanuel Adebayor scoring at the double and Rafael van der Vaart getting the crucial second goal.
They had a symmetrical, speedy threat on either touchline with Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale providing eviscerating acceleration. And, orchestrating proceedings, they had a playmaker of admirable, elegant class in Luka Modric. The scorer of a delectable first broke a drought that dated back to the final days of Fabio Capello's England reign. Now Modric, like Spurs, has his mojo back.
He provided a fantastic finish after a controversial corner was awarded. Van der Vaart picked out Modric, who controlled the ball on his chest and unleashed an unstoppable volley. "A corner that should never have been given," said Owen Coyle, referring to Sandro's handball before the corner was awarded.
Spurs did not have a monopoly on glorious goals, as Bolton showed when they levelled. As he has done countless times, Kevin Davies won a header. What followed, however, was out of the ordinary. David Ngog teed up Nigel Reo-Coker with a sublime backheel and the midfielder drilled his volley past Brad Friedel.
While Bolton could lament first-half misses by Ngog, who span, shot and saw Friedel save, and Dedryck Boyata, who blazed wildly over, Tottenham's response to conceding was clinical. "We showed fantastic ability and pace and really punished them," Redknapp added.
Twice in three minutes, they launched a high-speed break on the flank. The first was on the left, the second on the right, but the outcome was the same both times. Following Gareth Bale's low centre, Van der Vaart's shot nestled in the far corner. Then Modric provided a peach of a pass, placing inside the turning Sam Ricketts for Aaron Lennon to sprint onto. The winger crossed, leaving Adebayor with a tap-in.
The Togolese completed the scoring, strolling around Adam Bogdan after Bale piercing pass bisected the Bolton defence. By then Wanderers were falling apart, Tottenham playing with a renewed rampancy.
While his artists excelled, the architect was serenaded. There has been the sense some Spurs fans would have happily seen Redknapp swap club for country. Now he does not have a decision to make. He has to focus on Tottenham. Sympathy for the overlooked candidate was in short supply, not least from Redknapp himself.
"There are lots of lads cleverer than me managing lower-division clubs," he reasoned. "I'm lucky. I get very well-paid. I've got a fantastic job. I don't think anyone owes me anything." Rather than the impossible job, he is in enviable employment. There are far worse fates than managing this Spurs side.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Luka Modric - On days like this, the Croatian would improve any team in the division. Spurs' problem is that they face another summer of trying to hang on to their prize asset.
BOLTON VERDICT: Their fixture list - with West Brom at home and Stoke away - is not too forbidding, but Wanderers are running out of time to escape the relegation zone. Moreover, their dismal home form (this was an eleventh defeat of the campaign at the Reebok Stadium) both explains their predicament and scarcely bodes well for Albion's visit. They were way too open, as they often have been when they have played 4-4-2, and a porous defence was exposed. Behind them, Bogdan gave another erratic performance. On the plus side, Kevin Davies troubled Tottenham and Reo-Coker brought drive to the midfield.
TOTTENHAM VERDICT: It was an excellent performance and showed the difference Lennon makes. While Bale can threaten when roaming free, Spurs are still at their most dangerous with two out-and-out wingers. With Aston Villa and Fulham their next opponents and Chelsea losing, they have exchanged a three-way battle for fourth spot for a contest involving Arsenal and Newcastle where the winner's reward is third.
OUT OF THE RECKONING: Redknapp said he hopes Hodgson sees out his four-year contract and believes he will never be England manager. "I'm history with that job," he said. While wishing the FA's choice well, he also conferred a little pressure on Hodgson. "I might be an idiotic, patriotic Englishman and I went to the World Cup thinking we would win it and I think we have got a real chance in the Euros," he said.
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