Everton 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0: Three of the four Champions League clubs are adjusting to new managers. Liverpool are a work in progress.
The year may not end in the figure one that is supposed to signify silverware along the Seven Sisters Road but, logically, Tottenham Hotspur will not have a better opportunity to impose themselves on the Premier League. This is a club whose substitutes’ bench yesterday cost £78m. That in itself is a statement of intent.
A win at Goodison yesterday would have taken Tottenham into second place in the table but they have scored fewer goals than Fulham and there is a limit to how many games you can win 1-0 with a Roberto Soldado penalty.
Andre Villas-Boas was irritated by suggestions that Spurs lack something in front of goal, pointing out that the club has scored 30 times in 17 matches this season, although he neglected to point out that the vast majority have come in Europa League fixtures that have seen them duff up clubs of the stature of Dinamo Tbilisi and Tromso. However, the manager was on firmer ground when he pointed out that it is results rather than goals that determine league position.
“We are the team that constantly creates the best chances,” he said. “We all want excitement and this is a team that is doing extremely well.”
When Tottenham were travelling to Merseyside to face a side that has lost one home league match in 20 months, this was a result Villas-Boas would have taken. At half-time, with Spurs dominant and Jan Vertonghen sweeping forward imperiously, it is a result Everton would have accepted with a sense of deep gratitude.
The home side were considerably better after the interval, particularly after Roberto Martinez brought on Ross Barkley, whom he had rather conservatively omitted in favour of Leon Osman. For the first time there was a sense of electricity about them. Almost the teenager’s first touch was to send a fierce, curling shot into the Gwladys Street End. Martinez reflected afterwards that “a little bit of magic” was required for Everton to have won this game and Barkley seemed the likeliest to provide it.
Spurs have one of the smoothest and best-drilled defences in the country – only Southampton have conceded fewer – but with time draining away it was split by a through ball from Gareth Barry that Romelu Lukaku and Hugo Lloris both sprinted for. One of the French goalkeeper’s great attributes is the speed with which he comes off his line and he had the ball in both gloves when Lukaku’s thigh struck his head. There was no malice in the challenge but there was plenty of pain.
Speaking nearly an hour after the incident, Villas-Boas said Lloris still did not recall too much about it. His captain, Michael Dawson, and various members of the Spurs backroom staff debated with Lloris whether he should go off. However, with Brad Friedel stripped to go on, Villas-Boas took the decision he was fit to continue. Under the circumstances, it was a big call, which Lloris justified with a couple of fine saves.
In fact, it was Lukaku who was forced off with a thigh injury. This was probably Lukaku’s least eventful game since his loan move from Chelsea but his performances, following those of Marouane Fellaini under David Moyes, have ensured that when it comes to naming 10 famous Belgians Goodison does not stop at Hercule Poirot and Tintin.
Vertonghen treated them to another beautifully measured performance from the land of beer and chocolate. In defence, he has the smooth, unhurried action of an expensive car accelerating away. Going forward before the interval, he consistently outflanked Seamus Coleman, who was given precious little protection by Kevin Mirallas, who although born in Liège, fell below the standards usually expected of his countrymen here. Eventually, Martinez ordered James McCarthy to go wider to try to offer Coleman some reinforcement.
The early stages of the match were the most compelling and they were orchestrated by men in white shirts. The closest to a breakthrough was a header by Soldado, who recognised the quality of the chance by running his gloved hands over his face.
Apart from digging his elbow deep into Phil Jagielka’s ribs, for which Sylvain Distin exacted a measure of retribution later, the forward did less and less as the match wore on. For once there was no late penalty, although both sides might have had one in clashes involving Vertonghen and Coleman. Either would have been soft.
Jagielka’s performance came close to matching Vertonghen’s and was epitomised by a block that saw Everton’s captain fling himself in front of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s vicious drive, the kind that had seen him score against Hull in the Capital One Cup.
Spurs had not won here for six years and one by one the opportunities slid by. The supporters, whom Villas-Boas had criticised for their lethargy at White Hart Lane, were loud and, when it came to comparing Leighton Baines to Sir Bradley Wiggins, witty. However, nine minutes of additional time was more than they or anybody else watching really deserved.
Everton: (4-2-3-1) Howard 6; Coleman 6, Jagielka 7, Distin 6, Baines 6; McCarthy 6, Barry 6; Mirallas 4 (Deulofeu 63 5), Osman 5 (Barkley 63 6), Pienaar 5; Lukaku 5 (Jelavic 85). Substitutes: Robles (g), Oviedo, Naismith Stones. Booked: Howard, McCarthy, Mirallas, Lukaku.
Tottenham Hotspur: (4-1-4-1) Lloris 6; Walker 6, Dawson 6, Chiriches 6, Vertonghen 8; Sandro 5 (Dembele 61 5); Townsend 6, Paulinho 6, Holtby 5 (Eriksen 86), Lennon 5 (Sigurdsson 68 6); Soldado 4. Substitutes: Friedel (g), Kaboul, Lamela, Defoe. Booked: Paulinho.
Match rating: 5/10
Man of the match: Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)
Referee: Kevin Friend