Tottenham Hotspur 1
(Pavlyuchenko – 61)
Tottenham returned to winning ways against Sunderland after Roman Pavlyuchenko came on to score his first league goal of the season.
The Russian, a first half replacement for Aaron Lennon, managed to latch onto a delightful pass by Rafael Van der Vaart and fired low past Keiren Westwood in what proved to be the deciding goal in a close encounter at White Hart Lane.
Harry Redknapp was forced into a two changes from the side that lost to Stoke City last weekend, Ledley King returning to the starting XI at the expense of the suspended Younes Kaboul while Gareth Bale, who reportedly picked up a knock to the ankle on Friday, was replaced by Sandro. Meanwhile, Jermain Defoe was dropped from the 18-man squad following a knock in training.
It was a gritty opening 45 minutes without many clear-cut opportunities from either side with Bale’s pace on the left clearly hindering Spurs’ chances of opening the scoring.
Sandro dragged the home-side’s best chance of the first half wide while Sebastien Larsson and Kieran Richardson forced Brad Friedel in action as the clocked ticked towards the half-time whistle with the two best efforts from both sides.
Pavlyuchenko, replacing Lennon on 27 minutes after the nippy winger pulled up with a hamstring problem, steered his effort inches wide after he beat the ensuing Westwood to Scott Parker’s cross at the near post.
The away side started the second half the brighter of the two sides with Friedel having to be alert to deny David Vaughan his second goal in as many games and following the Welshman’s effort, Spurs began to assert themselves in the tight affair.
Van der Vaart fired just inches wide of the post; Emmanuel Adebayor came close to connecting with Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s cross while Kyle Walker was giving Phil Bardsley a torrid time on the right flank before the pressure paid dividends for the top-four hopefuls.
The ever consistent Parker won possession in the midfield, released Luke Modric who picked out Van der Vaart. The Dutchman played Pavlyuchenko through before the recently-turned 30-year-old drilled into the far corner past Westwood and into the Sunderland net.
It could, and perhaps should, have been 2-0 minutes later with Westwood on hand to deny Adebayor after the Togolese had been played in by another wonderful Van der Vaart pass. The Republic of Ireland international parried his effort into the path of Modric but where it was easier to score, the Croatian managed to blast his effort over the bar with the Paxton End goal-mouth gaping.
Pavlyuchenko came close to doubling his, and Spurs’, advantage, dragging his 25-year-old strike just wide while Nicklas Bendtner came closest the Black Cats level but the big Dane sliced his attempt wide of the post as the final minutes of the game passed by without much incident and the North London side came away with the win to move back ahead of Thursday’s opponents into third.
What Redknapp had to say
“It was a tough, tough game. We had to make lots of changes today,” Redknapp told Sky Sports after the final whistle.
“We lost Gareth Bale yesterday evening in training, he’s got a bit of a sprain in his ankle, then we lost Aaron Lennon so we lost a lot of pace out of our team and that was a problem.
“No-one is going to be easy. They came here today and set themselves up well Sunderland. They always looked dangerous on the counter-attacks, so it was always going to be a tough game.
“But we stuck at it, and once we scored a good goal from Pav (Roman Pavlyuchenko), we pushed on and we made some good chances.”
Man of the match
Rafael Van der Vaart provided the touch of class that was needed to grind out the in this afternoon. His delightfully weighted pass set-up Roman Pavlyuchenko for what ultimately turned out to be the winner and he could have had a second assist minutes later had Keiren Westwood not been on-hand to deny Emmanuel Adebayor. Honourable mentions have got to go out to centre-midfield pairing Scott Parker and Sandro who, despite only their third start together this season, controlled the tempo of the match from the middle of the park.
Moment of the match
Roman Pavlyuchenko’s winner 15 minutes into the second-half proved decisive and all the more important following Chelsea’s draw away at Wigan Athletic yesterday evening. Now two points clear, and back into third following the win, Thursday’s encounter is now looking like a must-win game if Spurs want to push on and obtain some breathing space in the Harry Redknapp’s side and the Blues. Aaron Lennon limping off injured after 27 minutes with a suspected torn hamstring could potentially see him ruled out for a number of weeks.