Superb Norwich pile pressure on Spurs
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Norwich City 2: Tottenham Hotspur's stumble continued yesterday. Looking vaguely complacent, they were hit by a Norwich City performance of remarkable commitment and energy, and were well beaten.
Now drifting away from Arsenal, and ahead of Newcastle United only on goal difference, Tottenham are in a desperate scrap to avoid playing Europa League football next season. And, having won only one of their last eight league games, they have found the worst possible time to run out of ideas.
With expectations reconsidered, Redknapp conceded afterwards that the focus is now on beating Chelsea – who drew at Fulham last night – and in-form Newcastle to fourth. "We'd settle for finishing there," he said afterwards. "It would be lovely to finish above Arsenal but it's still all to play for." It spoke of a confidence downgrade; six weeks ago Spurs were 10 points clear of Arsenal, six weeks before that they were within two points of the Manchester sides.
Only United and City had won here before yesterday, and even then United came and played on the break. No side, certainly, had made Tottenham look quite as flat and limp at home. But yesterday Spurs struggled to control a game against constant swarms of Norwich pressure. With Scott Parker out with a hamstring injury, and Rafael van der Vaart on the bench, Redknapp returned to the 4-4-2 system he had recently switched for 4-2-3-1. With one man fewer in central midfield, Spurs could not dictate play as they like to.
"I felt it leaves us a little bit open," Redknapp said of his decision to revert to 4-4-2. "I think we've looked stronger recently at 4-3-3 but I thought I'd give it a go today. We get hold of the ball more when we play 4-3-3. Today was too open, from our point of view, really."
Without that aura that long spells of possession at home can bring, Spurs had to compete with Norwich as equals. And, on those terms, they were routed. Paul Lambert also played 4-4-2 but was able to summon so much more running, more fight and more spirit from his players.
There was no question whether Norwich deserved to win. "It was the best performance in the three years I've been here," Lambert said afterwards. "That's the magnitude of it , I thought we were brilliant right from the off." In those three years Norwich have been promoted twice. They now have as many Premier League points as Liverpool.
And, on a fairer day, Norwich would have been awarded two penalties by Michael Oliver. A first-half tackle by Ledley King on Grant Holt, which Lambert said "would not have looked out of place at Murrayfield", and a second-half push on Aaron Wilbraham by Emmanuel Adebayor ought to have gone in Norwich's favour.
It was clear from the start that the Spurs defence was uncomfortable with Norwich's physical threat. "We couldn't handle them," Redknapp admitted afterwards. "They worked their socks off." A direct run inside from Anthony Pilkington brought the first goal, as he beat Younes Kaboul and King before Kyle Walker's hurried clearance broke back to him, presenting a simple finish.
Norwich might have had a second had Holt, who bested King for most of the game, been awarded a penalty. Lambert's rage increased when Spurs swiftly broke, Jake Livermore's pass finding Defoe who chipped the ball delightfully over John Ruddy.
Tottenham had their best spell at the start of the second half, with Benoît Assou-Ekotto having a close-range shot saved and Gareth Bale hitting the bar. But Norwich were relentless, mining reserves of energy clearly inaccessible to Spurs. An excellent passing move ended with Elliott Bennett thundering the ball into the far corner from the edge of the area.
Bennett, like Pilkington, was signed from League One last summer. "They haven't even played Championship football," Lambert said of the goal-scoring pair. "I'm as proud as anything of them, and every one of them."
Spurs: FRIEDEL 5/10, WALKER 6, KING 4, KABOUL 5, ASSOU EKOTTO 5, LENNON 5, LIVERMORE 5, MODRIC 5, BALE 6, SAHA 4, DEFOE 6
Norwich: RUDDY 8, DRURY 7, WARD 7, R BENNETT 8, R MARTIN 7, PILKINGTON 9, HOWSON 7, JOHNSON 8, E BENNETT 8, HOLT 7, WILBRAHAM 7
Scorers: Spurs: Defoe 33. Norwich: Pilkington 13, Bennett 66.
Substitutes: Tottenham Nelsen 5 (Kaboul, 44), Adebayor 5 (Saha, 46), Van der Vaart (Livermore, 71). Norwich Morison (Holt, 69), Jackson (Wilbraham, 79).
Booked: Tottenham Walker. Norwich Johnson , E Bennett.
Man of the match Pilkington. Match rating 9/10.
Possession: Tottenham 50% Norwich 50%.
Attempts on target: Tottenham 9 Norwich 6.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland). Attendance 36,126.