Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Tottenham Hotspur 1, Norwich City 2: The Canaries may find it a touch more difficult to fly under the radar if they insist on upstaging these high profile Champions League contenders.
Swansea’s smooth hypnotic passing rhythms have captivated many in the Premier League for months. The Canaries’ stirring win at White Hart Lane will catapult Paul Lambert and his squad into the national consciousness far better than any league double over QPR or Bolton could ever do.
This win was notable not simply for the calibre of opposition, but for the boldness of approach; the level of assured control. City were magnificent to a man. You can throw in any rider you wish right now that Tottenham are a pale shadow of the side who swept all before them prior to Christmas – including Norwich on a memorable December night when Gareth Bale underlined why he is coveted by Europe’s best. Harry Redknapp’s stock heads south with each passing week that fails to bring a definitive outcome to the England managerial saga.
The seeds of Tottenham’s alarming dip in form are sown in such uncertainty. No matter. Spurs still have quality players few others in English club football possess. Yet measured purely on this one afternoon, their direct rival in green was superior.
Kyle Walker has all the attributes to carve out a long international career. Anthony Pilkington was better. Aaron Lennon and Bale come with big reputations attached. Russell Martin and Adam Drury kept them largely in check – although the Welshman’s class inevitably shone through at times, notably with a second half strike guided onto the underside of John Ruddy’s bar.
Luka Modric has long been coveted by the super rich clubs. Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson were supreme in a pairing made in Leeds, but blossoming in Norfolk.
Meanwhile up front, Grant Holt and Aaron Wilbraham dominated the once masterful Ledley King. Tottenham’s talisman looked inhibited; in stark contrast to Norwich’s verve, bravery in possession, their sheer impudence.
Maybe Tottenham’s Carrow Road pre-Christmas cruise had lulled Spurs into the falsest sense of security. On that night Pilkington and Elliott Bennett watched from afar for the first 75 minutes. Here they shared top billing.
Bennett deserved his Premier League moment in the limelight. The former Brighton flyer has looked more and more assured since a pivotal role in another landmark recent away win at Swansea. All that was missing was the maiden strike.
His swinging right-footer that arched away from Brad Friedel was the best part of a season in the making. A delicious finish celebrated with relish by the travelling support and his team mates.
Pilkington’s first half roll past the American was less spectacular, but no less significant to imbue fresh reserves of self-belief to think the unthinkable.
Holt’s muscularity had already unsettled King and Younes Kaboul. Panic was palpable again when Walker’s bid to curtail Pilkington’s direct thrust merely ended with the ball ricocheting against King and back into the ex-Terriers’ path. The sidefoot finish bore more than a passing resemblance to Holt’s weekend Everton equaliser.
The prowling Lambert leapt skywards to celebrate the opener. Gravity and another brush with referee Michael Oliver brought him swiftly to earth. Elliott Bennett’s brilliance ensured Holt’s tumble after King had manhandled him inside the Tottenham penalty area proved a mere footnote.
Jermaine Defoe’s exquisite lift over the advancing John Ruddy seconds later did for the water bottle by Lambert’s side for the opening half-an-hour; flung to the ground with all the velocity of Bennett’s later match winner. Phil Dowd bore the brunt of Lambert’s rage.
Oliver had a reception committee waiting for him at the interval as players and officials headed for the tunnel. By then Norwich could have been back in front. Friedel batted away Elliott Ward’s half volley following another penetrative incursion sparked by the vibrant Pilkington.
Emmanuel Adebayor’s introduction at the break was a backhanded compliment to Norwich’s work. The on loan Manchester City striker needed little time for acclimatisation. One cushioned ball freed Benoit Assou-Ekotto, but Ruddy stood tall to push away the left-back’s goalbound clip.
King’s misplaced pass coolly controlled on his chest by Elliott Bennett triggered the first outburst of discontent on the home terraces. It was not to be the last. Johnson blazed wildly over at the back post following Elliott Bennett’s perfectly weighted initial pass to free Holt who stood up an inviting cross for the recalled midfielder. Lambert slumped to his haunches. The Scot was expending equal reserves of energy on the touchline as those men under his command. Kicking every ball, living every moment.
City’s management suffered fresh agonies just past the hour mark when Wilbraham was shoved to ground. Nothing doing in Oliver’s eyes. Lambert shot Dowd a wry smile.
Modric then fashioned a sliver of space in front of City’s retreating defence for the first real moment of alarm seconds later before sliding in Bale who checked back onto his left but cracked against the underside of Ruddy’s bar.
So often previously in Lambert’s tenure, attack has been the best form of defence – a desire to commit men forward, to push back the opposition. It worked lower down the pecking order. It worked here. Howson broke up a Tottenham surge. Martin fed Elliott Bennett who advanced before lashing past Friedel.
Redknapp turned to Rafael van der Vaart for inspiration, but Bale remained the driving force. A glancing header flew wide from Assou-Ekotto’s centre. Steve Morison threatened at the other end. But there was to be no grandstand finish from the hosts. Norwich were the dominant power. Elliott Bennett was coolness personified when he cushioned a header back to Ruddy deep in stoppage time from Lennon’s dangerous centre. The perfect end to a perfect day.