Home » EPL, Latest » Match Report: Stoke 2 Tottenham 1

Rugby can be a glorious game to watch when played like this. The Britannia Stadium shook to renditions of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, the home fans taking their popular caricature and hurling it gleefully back into their opponents’ faces.

Tottenham Hotspur had arrived with a record of 10 wins in 11 games and the tag of legitimate title challengers. Stoke City sized them up, stared them down and gave them a terrific bloody nose. Tottenham departed downtrodden, defeated and depleted, after the late dismissal of Younes Kaboul.

Long balls and long throws landed in the Tottenham penalty area like bombs. At every turn, the visitors found themselves confronted by a red-and-white barricade. Stoke pushed and pulled, barged and charged, squeezed the space between the midfield and their defence – the canvas upon which Tottenham’s artists habitually like to work – to within an inch of its life. Brawn, yes, but matched by brain, and bolstered by unshakeable spirit.

Never was that spirit in greater supply than when Tottenham, two goals down at the break, surged back into the game after a half-time tactical change by Harry Redknapp. Suddenly the bombarded became the bombardiers, shots pinging in on the Stoke goal from all angles. Emmanuel Adebayor pulled one back from the penalty spot and had a second unjustly chalked off for offside.

But Stoke clung on, and given the manner in which they had seized control of the game in the first period, few could argue they deserved anything less than three points from the game. From the first whistle, they never allowed Tottenham to settle, the visitors appearing almost in a trance after their fine recent run.

Tottenham were slow and predictable, blinking in the face of the Stoke onslaught, and before long they were behind. Ryan Shotton crossed high from the right, Peter Crouch latched on to Jonathan Walters’s header with a hint of hands, and held the ball up at the near post before stabbing it back across goal through Brad Friedel’s legs. The loose ball scuttled across the area, where Matthew Etherington slammed it home from five yards.

It was 24 minutes before Tottenham even had a shot on goal, Rafael van der Vaart’s weak effort from distance smothered by Thomas Sorensen. Luka Modric had a scorching low drive turned away, but at the other end they were still under siege. Ryan Shawcross missed two good chances either side of the goal. Adebayor was desperately hoiking clearances away inside his own penalty area.

This was not what the visiting fans wanted to see, and they made their frustrations clear. “We only play football,” they sang. “We’re Stoke City,” came the retort. “We’ll play what we want.”

Content to soak up pressure and then hit on the counter, Stoke were still able to break with speed and precision. Only a fabulous saving challenge from William Gallas prevented Shotton from putting Crouch in the clear.

But the result was a long throw, headed on by Walters at the back post and volleyed by Etherington. The contact was scuffed, but the ball thudded into the ground, looped over everyone, and nestled into the far corner.

Two-nil at half-time, and Redknapp rang the changes. On came a third centre-back, Sebastian Bassong, and a second striker, Jermain Defoe, as Tottenham channelled the spirit of the 1990s by going 3-5-2.

On the hour mark, Tottenham’s renewed vigour paid dividends. Kyle Walker’s stinging cross, hit Woodgate and went behind. But the corner came out to Modric, who tried to dance past Glenn Whelan, gratefully accepted the clip on his ankles and went down for a clear penalty. Adebayor sent Sorensen the wrong way to reduce Tottenham’s arrears.

The stage was set for a ferocious assault on the Stoke goal. Sorensen kept Stoke’s heads above water, brilliantly tipping Parker’s rasping drive wide, pushing behind another shot from Modric, whose every touch was by now being booed. Kaboul’s terrifying thrash was knocked off the line by Shawcross’s shoulder – or possibly even his upper arm. As the ball came back into the six-yard box, Adebayor bundled it in, only to see an offside flag that should never have been raised.

Stoke held firm, though, and Kaboul’s late dismissal for a needless clip on Walters – his first booking had been for dissent – added further insult for Tottenham. The debate over Stoke’s style of play is likely to re-open after this triumph, the contrast to Barcelona’s scintillating victory on Saturday likely to be drawn anew.

But today, there was one team hounding the man in possession, pressing every ball as if their lives depended on it, showing unparalleled levels of dedication and fitness. Perhaps Stoke and Barcelona have more in common than we first thought.

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