Belfast Telegraph

Brave Blackburn beaten as Van der Vaart inspires Spurs

By Tim Rich

Blackburn Rovers 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2: As he tries to soothe the pain of the heaviest defeat of his managerial career, Sir Alex Ferguson might consider that the last major team to be humiliated at home by Manchester City have recovered rather well. On 28 August, Tottenham were bottom of the Premier League having been taken apart 5-1.

But yesterday brought their fifth victory in half-a-dozen subsequent games and, but for a late Newcastle equaliser at St James' Park, all six would have been won.

This was perhaps the toughest victory of the lot, achieved against a Blackburn side that, however much their supporters wish the dismissal of their manager Steve Kean, resisted with more passion than many might have expected from a side who have picked up less than a point a game since he took over. Afterwards, fans in the newly renamed Ronnie Clayton End unveiled a banner that read: "Norway Wants Kean Out". Nothing is known of how Sweden and Finland feel about the Blackburn manager but, for Kean, the only country that matters is India.

This performance, if not the result, would have reinforced the view of the club's owners, Venky's, that Kean can still lift them clear of relegation.

"There is a manner in which you can lose and I think we lost trying to win," he said, although those who remained behind, people he professed not to care about, would have replied that all that mattered was Blackburn lost.

"I don't think the Blackburn players could have given any more for their manager," Harry Redknapp said. "If he had really lost the dressing room, or they didn't like him, they wouldn't have been playing for him like they were."

What Blackburn did not possess was the kind of quality in front of goal that Tottenham were able to call upon, especially in the shape of Rafael van der Vaart. The Dutchman is a rare breed in that he expressed regret that he was not eligible to play in the Europa League. If he was frustrated by missing out on trips to northern Greece and eastern Russia, Van der Vaart has started to take it out on Premier League defences.

Kyle Walker made a driving, muscular run down the Tottenham right, drew two defenders and then pulled the ball back beautifully. His second was rather more fortuitous but rather better taken. Benoit Assou-Ekotto did not pass to him, rather the ball deflected off his knee into the path of the Dutchman's boots. The shot, delivered side-footed, was exquisite, finishing in the top corner of Paul Robinson's net.

Curiously, given Kean has emphasised his commitment to a different style to that pursued by his predecessor, Blackburn were most effective when they returned to Sam Allardyce's plan of pumping long balls into the box toward big footballers. There are few bigger or more muscular than Chris Samba.

"I told them at half-time that we could not give free-kicks or throws away because they would take advantage with set-pieces," Redknapp said. "I told them we couldn't even give away an offside. Samba was an absolute handful."

From free-kicks and throw-ins, the balls rained into Tottenham's area, although they only produced one goal. It was a long, high free-kick from Morten Gamst Pedersen that Jason Roberts met by clambering above two black-shirted defenders and his knock-down was met on the bounce by Mauro Formica.

A second goal nearly followed. A long throw from the Norwegian, who probably is not in favour of Kean's sacking, was met by Samba and saved brilliantly by Brad Friedel, falling backwards but still quick enough at 40 to tip the ball over. They were the kind of saves Ewood Park has come to know well.

Booked: Blackburn Nzonzi, Lowe, Roberts, Yakubu. Tottenham Rose

Man of the match: Van der Vaart

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph