Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: Villas-Boas finally up and running with Spurs

All's well that ends well seemed to be what Andre Villas Boas was saying in the euphoric body language that accompanied the second of Jermain Defoe's goals. Maybe he's right.

Perhaps he really is entering the first stages of the rest of his football life and the sight of Emmanuel Adebayor smouldering on the sidelines was just the smallest of occupational hazards when set against the memory of the full-scale insurrection the manager provoked at Stamford Bridge.

The trouble is this wasn't the end of anything except an extremely embarrassing beginning at White Hart Lane.

It's true that everyone, except perhaps Adebayor when Defoe was responding so brilliantly to a little bit of what he surely believes is overdue faith, was breathing a lot easier in Reading after a performance which at the very least reminded us of how AVB first made his reputation. Tottenham produced some passages of superb cohesion which highlighted the reputation for running, passing football which gave their manager his year in the sun in his hometown of Porto and his hugely profitable move to Chelsea.

There was also plenty of encouraging evidence that in the absence of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart Spurs have replacements of impressive quality in Mousa Dembélé and Gylfi Sigurdsson.

However, if you just happened to live in the real football world the combination of their skill, strength and tactical awareness, and the long established assets of Aaron Lennon's speed and Gareth Bale's explosive power, was not necessarily overwhelming evidence that it was necessarily time to consign the regime of Harry Redknapp, and all its promise, to some distant recess of memory.

Before the game the author of such dramatic change, chairman Daniel Levy, rubbished reports of AVB's already precarious status and said that one poor season didn't make a bad manager. Maybe so, but then it is also true that one extremely eye-catching victory at Reading hardly makes a month, let alone a season.

Reading even after due consideration of the ring rustiness inevitable after playing just two Premier League games were – there really is no other way of putting it – utterly hopeless. Lennon not only gave the veteran Ian Harte a transfusion of twisted blood, he handed out brutal lessons on basic demands of survival in the top league. Supreme levels of sophistication and skill may not always be required but certain levels of pace certainly are and this reality left Reading doomed from the first killing stroke of Defoe. It wasn't the most clinical piece of finishing he has ever displayed but he was in the right place and achieved the right direction after Sigurdsson had cut Reading in two and Lennon had produced the perfect cross.

AVB erupted from his seat as well he might have done given the build-up of pressure that followed those chilling failures of conviction at home to West Bromwich and Norwich. Perhaps wisely, he seems not to have resurrected the request he made to the Chelsea players that they rush to the touch-line to include him in their celebrations.

However, there was some pre-match evidence that at least certain Spurs players were enthusiastically on-side. Kyle Walker, who made such striking progress under Redknapp, was especially ardent about the potential of the new coach. He said that Spurs were re-committed to the future which seemed to be beckoning before the collapse of momentum that came in the second half of last season.

The dressing room, declared Walker, could not be more enthusiastic about the meaning of AVB. This was, presumably, in spite of the coach's complaints that the transfer window had not opened as widely or successfully as he had wanted. That complaint did not seem too weighty, it had to be said, as Tom Huddlestone and Clint Dempsey joined the action long after Tottenham's absolute ascendency had been established. Nor, if you put aside the brooding expression of Adebayor, was there a breath of evidence to suggest that Walker was over-stating the dressing room enthusiasm for the new man's vision of how the game should be played.

Spurs played some beautifully rhythmic and intelligent football, exploiting their strengths in a way that heaped futility on their outplayed opponents. But then of course they were performing similar feats against the likes of Milan and Internazionale in rather more challenging circumstances. This didn't invalidate the enthusiasm for yesterday's triumph but it perhaps did suggest a degree of caution might be exercised.

What you could say without any fear of contradiction was that Spurs once again had the look of a team of considerable talent and the means of imposing some genuine authority. This was as much as could be expected after the concerns provoked by Villas Boas's second opening statement at the start of a Premier League season. Here, he showed us more than a glimpse of some extremely fine football. It was, given his antecedents, hardly before time.

Belfast Telegraph


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