Tottenham Hotspur hail Roman Pavlyuchenko as they move to third place
Breadth of attacking options, perhaps more than anything else, is why Tottenham Hotspur finished the weekend as London's top team, as they moved to third place.
Yesterday Spurs coped with the absence of Gareth Bale, and an injury to Aaron Lennon, to overcome Martin O'Neill's newly-resilient Sunderland. The only goal came from Roman Pavlyuchenko, a third choice centre-forward surely better than his counterparts at Arsenal or Chelsea.
Pavlyuchenko might not be delighted with his situation at White Hart Lane, but he certainly has the ability to make himself useful to Spurs. His goal was a characteristically clean strike.
“Pav popped up with a great finish to win the game for us,” Redknapp said. “He's a fantastic player, he's got real talent, great ability. I work with him every day in training, left foot, right foot, great finisher. He's top drawer.”
The goal came after an hour of rather uninspiring football from Spurs. Without Bale or, after 26 minutes, Lennon, they missed the speed and incision of their wingers.
“We normally play with lots of pace down the flanks,” Redknapp said, “but we lost Gareth Bale with an ankle injury yesterday and Aaron Lennon tore a hamstring early in the game, so it took the pace away that we normally counter-attack with, so we had to play slightly different.”
Sunderland did not make it easy for Spurs. This may have only
been Martin O'Neill's second game in charge, but his team look already like one inculcated with some necessary virtues: discipline, commitment and focus, all of which were allowed to slip into abeyance during Steve Bruce's tenure.
“In terms of effort I couldn't ask for much more,” O'Neill (pictured) said afterwards.
“Just a bit misguided here and there but overall there were a lot of things that were pretty good about us, and we certainly never gave up. I didn't think that any player wearing a Sunderland shirt downed tools.”
Redknapp had brought Sandro into midfield, pushing Luka Modric onto the left wing. Modric is brilliant, but he is not a winger, and Spurs missed his artful direction in the opening spell just as much as they missed Bale's gallops.
Those brighter moments that Tottenham did manage came when Modric drifted into his preferred midfield position. When, after 25 minutes, Lennon went off with a torn hamstring, which will rule him out of the entire Christmas programme, Spurs' were further blunted. Redknapp rather surprisingly turned to Pavlyuchenko, leaving a narrow 4-4-2, with Rafael van der Vaart mirroring Modric's nominally left-wing role.
Pavlyuchenko did find Tottenham's best chance of the first half but O'Neill would have been the happier manager at the interval, and his replacement of Connor Wickham with Nicklas Bendtner signalled a belief that a result might be attainable.
Just when Spurs might have started to worry, as the game entered its second hour, their two creators combined to build the winning goal. Wes Brown lost the ball and Modric found van der Vaart in space. The Dutchman played a delightful reverse pass to Pavlyuchenko, who shot right-footed into the far bottom corner of the net.
Buoyed by the lead, Tottenham's attacking football grew in conviction and incision.
Only an unfathomable error denied them a second goal: Modric clipped the ball over an open goal from eight yards out, after Westwood had parried Adebayor's chip.
Tottenham continued to push forward. Adebayor had a close range attempt saved by Westwood, and Pavlyuchenko went close, shooting wide from distance.
The lack of a second could have cost Tottenham, as Sunderland created the game's final chance: Bendtner played a one-two with Stephane Sessegnon but volleyed the ball wide with his left foot.