Stoke City 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1: Harry Redknapp has that habit of taking all the attention and it is certainly hard to ignore him when he's imagining how a linesman who has done his side a disservice might be spending the evening ahead.
"He will watch it on TV when his wife's making him a bacon sandwich and he'll think, 'Oh f**k me, what have I done there?'" Redknapp imagined of Robert Pollock.
He had reason to feel aggrieved, though this day still belonged to players who have been forced to make a life away from White Hart Lane. There was no great fanfare or thank you when Peter Crouch left north London on deadline day this summer and when he stepped up to take his penalty in the shoot-out which eliminated Spurs from the Carling Cup in September, Redknapp shouted: "We know which side you go for." Crouch promptly converted and yesterday reinforced his own perception that he has always played his best football with a manager who rates him. Redknapp was not in that number, though Tony Pulis is. "Have a look at his stats," the Stoke manager quietly reflected of Crouch and to go with the effort of commitment that they revealed was some clever skill and control which helped him play a part in both Stoke goals.
The happy beneficiary was Matthew Etherington, released from Spurs far sooner on his road through football, and whose two goals - in a season when they have flowed from him far less - contributed to a deserved win. Jonathan Woodgate, another exile, was solid out of position at right-back, while Wilson Palacios, completing a quartet of those for whom White Hart Lane once held promise, proved in five minutes that there is something of Stoke in him too. " We like that effort and commitment and we don't like to have people outside of that group doing what they want to do," Pulis said.
It was Redknapp who had been ruminating on how the Europa League "just messes the whole week up" in a way which made it seem like elimination from the tournament this week would delight him, but the only side to reveal the merits of free Thursday nights were Stoke, fresh from a week of no European commitments, who made short work of opponents who had won six in a row and not lost in 11. They created more during their first-half supremacy than Tottenham did when – reshaped with a three-man defence and two wing-backs – they returned to pummel Stoke in an enervating second half.
The officials had an even more unconvincing second period than Stoke. First the referee Chris Foy awarded a penalty against Dean Whitehead when he appeared to have removed his foot as Luka Modric flew past him in the penalty area. Emmanuel Adebayor converted. A handball went undetected on the line, as Ryan Shawcross sought desperately to keep out a shot from Younes Kaboul. Then, when the ball was recycled for Adebayor to find the net, Pollock did not spot that Marc Wilson had just stepped back over the dead-ball line on to the field to play the striker onside. The goal was ruled offside. There was another borderline handball when Whitehead blocked Jermain Defoe's shot.
Kaboul made his feelings clear with a spectacle gesture, earned a booking, and after a soft challenge on Jon Walters soon found himself dismissed. Redknapp diced with an Football Association disciplinary hearing as he challenged all this. "When I saw [Chris Foy] from the start of the game I didn't think he was going to give us a lot today," the manager said. "I don't know why – I just had that feeling with him today. I just thought he was just enjoying not giving us anything. I never go to see referees after half-time– never in 30 years of refereeing, never – but today he has got it badly wrong."
It had been some turnaround. The Stoke fans like to sing of how "we'll play how we want" and the siege was certainly instantaneous, with the excellent 23-year-old Ryan Shotton launching a missile in the first minute which Benoit Assou-Ekotto's miscued head sent to the left foot of Etherington, of all places. Brad Friedel saved smartly.
But another routine had been worked on at Stoke's training ground, involving Shotton swinging in a cross from the right for Walters to head the ball into danger. Crouch seized it first time around, taking two very deft touches and holding off William Gallas to cut back for Etherington just as the ball seemed to be squirming out near Friedel's left post. He dispatched it imperiously. The precise same routine came 30 minutes later and though Crouch's deft incision came earlier – a well crafted flick sending Shotton racing down the right – Etherington again reacted first.
Pulis suggested that Tottenham could "push all the way to the Premiership this year" after his side weathered their second-half response. But Crouch looked like a man who could live without that title tilt. "It does make it more sweet," he said, articulating how it feels to flourish against a side who did not want him. "They are going to go very close this season but it's good to get a result."
Possession: Stoke 47% Tottenham 53%.
Attempts on target: Stoke 7 Tottenham 12.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside).