Late on Sunday evening, a distant grumbling could be heard in press offices around the country as journalists worked late, frantically re-wording their pre-written, AVB-bashing match reactions. Up until Bale’s goal in the 70th minute, it was looking like one of this season’s typically Tottenham performances – long periods of domination characterised by a failure to turn the dominance into goals. The longer the game went on, the more you could sense that the events of the previous two games, where potential 1-0 wins were squandered into 1-1 draws, were preying on the players’ minds. Thankfully, once the vital second goal was netted, the shackles (to an extent) came off, and the rest of the game was seen out in a relatively comfortable fashion.
Conceding late on was disappointing, though you can’t help but feel that Hugo Lloris probably greeted that with barely disguised glee in the stands. Friedel had very little work to do up until the consolation goal, largely unchallenged by an incoherent Reading attack, and aided by an excellent defensive performance by Jan Vertonghen – so far fulfilling his promise. The absence of Benoit Assou-Ekotto with a supposed knee injury was covered by an able, if not flawless showing by Kyle Naughton; the young defender committed a few unnecessary fouls which suggested he still needs a little more experience, but overall put in a good shift.
It was up front, though, where AVB had the bold personnel decisions to make, opting to stick with Jermain Defoe as a lone striker instead of bringing in Emmanuel Adebayor. It was a choice that would surely have attracted inevitable lashings of criticism from Fleet Street had Spurs failed to take all three points, but as it was Defoe rewarded the policy of sticking with the man in form with two goals – if anything, he should have had more. I’ve criticised Defoe before, and I probably will again, but on this showing perhaps he’s growing into the lone striker role; he was a threat throughout to an admittedly holey Reading defence, giving rookie keeper McCarthy plenty of nervous moments, and decidedly unlucky not to take home the match-ball. His old faults were still there to see, selfishness chief amongst them – on several occasions he took on the shot with team-mates better placed, whilst several wasteful attempts flew wide of the target. Still, AVB’s faith in Defoe is being rewarded with goals, which, when it boils down to it, is all anyone asks from a striker.
Others in the team had more of a mixed game. For Aaron Lennon, the game’s first half was essentially his career in microcosm. His awareness to pull the ball back for the opening goal was unexpectedly commendable for a player who has a reputation for playing with his head down; however, his control at other points during the half let him down several times whilst in good positions, and it was all too easy to tag his performance with the same old ‘lacking in an end product tag’. He threatened the Reading defence, but despite several defence splitting runs, perhaps didn’t deliver as much as he could have.
Elsewhere, Sigurdsson’s first half was solid, and lit up by a killer through pass that led directly to Defoe’s opener. He perhaps should have scored after McCarthy’s mistake gifted Defoe possession, but his failure to do so can perhaps also be put down to Defoe’s delay in passing the ball across. However, in the second half, Sigurdsson misplaced several passes, and his influence waned until his substitution.
At this point, an honourable mention has to go to his replacement Tom Huddlestone, whose cameo performance this time around was a drastic improvement on his (rescinded) sending off against Norwich two weeks ago. He can perhaps look forward to more action in the Europa League than in the Premier League this season, but he pinged some delightful passes around the pitch, and his turn taking out four Reading players without touching the ball late on was a joy to behold. Clint Dempsey, too, looked lively after his introduction – still working his way towards full match fitness, we may well get to see a bit more of him in the Europa League later in the week, along with Emmanuel Adebayor, who was kept on the bench by Defoe’s goals.
As a note of caution, we should be under no illusions that this was a tough test – Reading offered little. However, it was vitally important for Spurs to get back to winning ways, and equally important to win convincingly. A 1-0 win might have gotten the points on the board, but scoring three goals will hopefully be a big psychological boost for the players, and one which they can carry into the next game against QPR. It was equally important, too, for AVB – for a short time, at least, it’ll silence the murmurings of John Cross and his ilk. The focus now will turn to our first Europa League game against Lazio on Thursday – hopefully, despite the inevitable changes in personal, the team can keep the momentum going with another good result.
On Twitter: @AEFSpurs.