Tottenham Hotspur 3 Reading 1: Hearing accusations of Gareth Bale dependency, Tottenham Hotspur responded with a display of unity and fluency to move up to third in the Premier League.
Andre Villas-Boas said that he was “extremely pleased” with his Christmas haul and so he should be. This was Spurs’ third league win in seven days and their seventh from their last nine games
This particular win was achieved against a disciplined and competitive Reading side, and was even more impressive coming without Spurs’ best player. Bale was suspended, for the crime of persistently being quick and getting fouled, denying Spurs their unique game-changer.
As if to make up for Bale’s absence, all of his team-mates improved. Michael Dawson, Emmanuel Adebayor and Clint Dempsey scored the goals but Aaron Lennon, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Mousa Dembele were all excellent. Spurs dominated the ball, made the chances and, but for a brief second-half panic, always looked as if they would win the game. The home fans, at the end, told Reading what they thought losing to Bale-less Spurs said about them.
“We are enjoying our football and we’re playing well,” said a delighted Villas-Boas afterwards.
“We had an extremely good December and when you get so many points in a month you feel extremely confident. The players have been amazing. To play 4-4-2 home and away and to be so organised, so tight, not conceding lots of opportunities is good for us. They deserve great credit.”
White Hart Lane is a much more relaxed place now than it was earlier in the season. Spurs drew their first two league games here and some of the home crowd needed to be won over to Villas-Boas.
But that seems to have happened. There was barely a whimper of anxiety during the match, even when Reading took the lead in the fourth minute or the teams went off at half-time level at 1-1. There was very little tension at all, on or off the pitch, and little surprise at the outcome.
The only thing that did not go to Villas-Boas’ plan was at the very start. Kyle Naughton was penalised for a tackle on Pavel Pogrebynak on the edge of the box. Ian Harte curled the free-kick on the bar and Pogrebynak followed up and headed the ball beyond Hugo Lloris.
From that point on the game was largely attack versus defence played in Reading’s half.
Reading have improved since bringing Pogrebynak and Danny Guthrie back into the side in recent weeks and changing to 4-5-1. They are harder to beat than they were before and just came up against a better team. “I couldn‘t fault our players today,” Brian McDermott said afterwards. “You have to come here and have a certain way of playing.” The fear, though, is that McDermott has only found his best approach half way through a season which may already be lost.
Reading’s lead only last five minutes. Adebayor had already missed a good headed chance before Dawson equalised, charging onto Sigurdsson’s in-swinging corner and heading past Adam Federici. The rest of the first half involved Spurs trying to pick their way through Reading and shooting from distance.
But there was still a sense at the start of the second half that Spurs would go 2-1 up sooner rather than later, and so they did, five minutes after the re-start. Lennon, in the form of his life, darted down the right wing and floated a perfect cross to the far post. Adebayor hung in the air, met it, and scored his first league goal since mid-November.
“A striker lives off goals and I think it was important for him to score,” Villas-Boas said. “They breathe off scoring goals and it will give him a boost of confidence.”
The worry, though, for Spurs is that just as Adebayor starts scoring he may go off to the African Cup of Nations. “It’s a vulnerable situation and anything can happen,” Villas-Boas said. “We have left it to the player to decide.”
Spurs' serene progression to victory was nearly interrupted, though, when Pogrebnyak and Jimmy Kebe found themselves in good positions but missed good chances to make it 2-2.
That possibility disappeared, though, when Dempsey ended the game four minutes after coming off the bench. His shot from distance deflected off Mikele Leigertwood, over Federici and into the net. The goal owed to fortune but the result did not.