After peppering Joe Hart’s goal with scant reward on the first day of the season, and a half-hour horror show in Switzerland during the week, you could forgive Spurs fans for a hint of wariness concerning a trip to the Brittania Stadium. The White Hart Lane physio room has also quickly been gathering as many strikers as possible in the last week to compensate for the work shelled out on defenders over the last few seasons, as Robbie Keane, Jermaine Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko were all ruled out. That meant that Peter Crouch had to lead the line alone, and even the much maligned Jermaine Jenas found himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of a starting line-up, in a swollen midfield five.
Tottenham won this game, and more to the point, deserved to. At times Gomes may have rode his luck: quality saves came hand-in-hand with moments of indecision, and the goalmouth melee could have easily gone in any number of directions concerning fouls, handballs and goal lines, to give Stoke a point, but Spurs stood firm. It is a characteristic that is becoming increasingly common in Redknapp’s team, with wins at Blackburn and Stoke, and draws at Birmingham and Bolton last season. Without wanting to either generalise or sound disrespectful, these battles against physical teams were previously the undoing of Spurs in their quest to climb the Premier League ranks. Only the year before, the very same teams all took three points off Tottenham when playing them at their respective homes. Redknapp certainly has a better group of players than Ramos had, but it is more the variety in players he has at his fingertips: Dawson, Palacios and Huddlestone are up for the fight.
When at White Hart Lane, against most teams, Spurs can rely on Modric, Defoe, Lennon, and now Bale, to play teams off the park, but it is the trips away from home that have previously been the undoing of the team, and now where they must continue to bring three points with them on the journey home. If Redknapp wanted to dip his toe into a murky selection dilemma, and test the strength of his squad, he will have been delighted with the result. First choices Defoe, Modric, King and Woodgate were missing, as well as able deputies in Keane and Pavlyuchenko, and the eleven he put out did the job in hand. Spurs will have known that the addition of the Champions League will have tested their squad to its limits, but maybe not at this early stage of the season.
The next stage for Spurs, to really show the big four party has been well and truly crashed, is to take regular points of the teams around them. Chelsea may have won the league with an unfamiliar six defeats, but they had a 100% record against Arsenal, United and Liverpool. This Spurs side has to do everything they did last season and more. Redknapp will be relieved that the return leg against Young Boys is followed up with the relative rest bite of a home encounter against a Wigan side responsible for donations of LiveAid proportions; his team can put everything into Wednesday’s game, knowing that the weekend should be rather more straightforward.
In a season where so much is expected of Redknapp and his men, they have passed their first test, but there are far greater ones to come. After Wigan, an alliterating sequence of fixtures against West Brom, Wolves and West Ham follow in the league, where anything less than 12 points will be seen as insufficient. The trip to Stoke neatly portrayed what is needed to win trophies within just ninety minutes: grit, flair, technique and large slice of luck. Spurs possessed all those thing on Saturday, it is now a case of repeating the combination throughout the season.
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