Tottenham Hotspur 2 Manchester City 1: Spurs owe thanks to Ireland's latest blip
A game that had simply meandered along, presenting both sides with the prospect of an unsatisfactory point, suddenly crackled and sparked into belated life. With eight minutes remaining, Stephen Ireland carved a tackle into the Spurs left-back Young-pyo Lee and the referee Mark Halsey did not hesitate in showing a red card for a challenge that showed Ireland with one foot raised off the ground and the studs going into the South Korean's leg.
Just 60 seconds later and with Manchester City trying to re-organise after the loss of their midfielder, Steed Malbranque's shot hit the post and bounced out to Jermain Defoe. The substitute had been on for only six minutes when he tucked in the rebound past Andreas Isaksson for just Juande Ramos' second league win since taking over as Spurs' manager in late October.
Ireland's season has been an eventful one, to say the least. Dropped by the Republic of Ireland after making up stories while on international duty about deaths in his family in order to comfort his girlfriend, he has had mixed fortunes ever since.
That incident saw him dropped by Manchester City as well but on his return he scored the winning goal against Sunderland only to drop his shorts to reveal Superman underpants, which saw him receive a letter from the FA warning him as to his future behaviour. He also scored a stunning, injury-time winning goal against Reading two weeks ago. Unfortunately he seems determined to cancel out the positives in his approach with just as many negatives and games don't often turn so visibly on single incidents as this one did.
Eriksson reviewed the incident with the player in his dressing-room afterwards and said he had apologised. He added that the sending-off helped no one but he refused to instigate a character assassination. The Swede said: "We suffered with this tackle and the player will suffer too as he will probably miss three games.
"The tackle was not a nice one but I can't kill him because of it. It happens often in football. He will pay a heavy price now but he said sorry, of course."
At that stage the visitors at least looked likely to end their run of five straight league defeats against the Londoners. It had taken just under an hour for Eriksson to realise that Tottenham's strong point is not their defence and having seen Darius Vassell labour on his own, he gave him a partner in attack.
Three minutes later and Manchester City had equalised. That was less of a shock than the identity of the visitors' goalscorer, namely Rolando Bianchi. Paraded in August after his £8.8m transfer from Reggina, the Italian was serenaded here by City fans. That despite scoring on the opening day of the season and not doubling his league tally until 61 minutes had elapsed here. Martin Petrov swung in a corner and he outjumped Younes Kaboul to head past Paul Robinson.
Spurs, without the suspended Robbie Keane, after his own red card last week, had also struggled in attack, with Darren Bent not exactly showing he was worth the faith Ramos put in him, after starting him alongside Dimitar Berbatov.
While the Bulgarian was bright and aware, Bent was a case study in nervous finishing. Twice he was put through by Berbatov only to misfire. Not that Ramos was offering too much comfort to the match-winner Defoe. "I have four strikers to choose from. He can help when he comes on," he said.
When Spurs' first goal arrived, its legitimacy was open to debate. Jermaine Jenas' free-kick found Berbatov and his clever flick went to Pascal Chimbonda, three yards out and possibly offside, with the ball nudging past Isaksson off the Frenchman's hand.
Ramos hoped this victory – his only other league win was against Wigan – would push Spurs on. A combination of results yesterday could have seen them drop into the bottom three but the Spaniard does not see the danger as having passed. "It was essential to win today to relieve some pressure," the former Sevilla manager said, "and it is very important to continue and get as many points as possible with teams close to us." The opposition will rarely be as accommodating as they were here.
Goals: Chimbonda (45) 1-0; Bianchi (68) 1-1; Defoe (82) 2-1
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, Kaboul, Lee; Lennon (Boateng, 68), Jenas, Zokora, Malbranque; Berbatov (Tainio, 90), Bent (Defoe, 77) Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), O'Hara
Manchester City (4-5-1): Isaksson; Corluka, Dunne, Richards, Garrido; Etuhu (Bianchi, 58), Johnson, Fernandes, Ireland, Petrov; Vassell (Geovanni, 84) Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Jihai, Onuoha
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire)
Bookings: Man City Garrido, Fernandes Tottenham Jenas
Sent off: Man City Ireland
Man of the Match: Berbatov