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Monday, September 3, 2012
The name Tottenham Hotspur featured prominently in the brazen orgy of spending that seemed to grip those with access to Sky TV and nothing better to do on Friday evening, but if proof were needed that big money isn’t everything, it was provided at White Hart Lane less than 24 hours later.
True, not every new capture made by André Villas-Boas in football’s biannual equivalent of the trolley dash was immediately on show for the Premier League visit of Norwich City, but the Spurs starting line-up still cost nearly £60m to assemble, and more than £20m worth of substitutes joined the fray in the second half.
One of those who came off the bench, £15m midfielder Mousa Dembele – who played a major part in inflicting on City such a painful start to the campaign when he was still in Fulham colours a fortnight earlier – certainly made his presence felt with the goal that looked set to give his new club a victory they did not really deserve.
However, the Canaries’ squad, put together at a fraction of the cost, demonstrated the value of other qualities – spirit, endeavour and a refusal to give in – which, allied to no little skill, eventually earned them a point they thoroughly deserved and made it a happy return to old, familiar territory for manager Chris Hughton, who served Spurs for 27 years as player and coach.
Hughton’s one regret when it came to the post-match debate was that his team had played so well on successive Saturdays but still not registered a win in either game.
They most certainly would have done so at Tottenham but for the performance of veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel, poised, it seems, to become the victim of one his manager’s expensive new acquisitions, France international ’keeper, Hugo Lloris.
But Hughton can take comfort from the fact that if City do continue to perform like this, the first Premier League win of the season should not be too far away.
Former Leeds duo Bradley Johnson and Robert Snodgrass, whose 85th-minute equaliser secured a point, took most of the plaudits but there was a pleasing solidity and sense of purpose about the whole side that made the nightmare of Craven Cottage seem more than a mere fortnight ago.
In the past two matches, the performance of new centre-back pairing Leon Barnett and Sebastien Bassong – returning to his old club on Saturday – suggests City can eradicate the kind of jitters that led to a flood of goals alongside the Thames.
The Canaries almost moved ahead in the eighth minute when Snodgrass, fouled by Benoit Assou-Ekotto, floated the free-kick in and Russell Martin’s powerful header rattled the crossbar.
City continued to threaten and Simeon Jackson shot across goal when a pass to Grant Holt might have been the better option.Johnson produced another fine effort on 25 minutes with a left-foot shot that fizzed just over the bar.
Gareth Bale tested John Ruddy with a powerful 20-yard drive that the City ’keeper parried into the air, but three minutes before the break, it was City who again came desperately close to taking the lead. Anthony Pilkington’s superb cross from the left was met with a diving header from Snodgrass that goalkeeper Friedel clawed away one-handed.
The introduction of Dembele at the interval and, 12 minutes later, a second striker in Emmanuel Adebayor gave Spurs more impetus and they felt they might have had a penalty when Bassong tripped Jermain Defoe, but a free-kick was awarded on the edge of the area.
Friedel excelled again when he saved Pilkington’s low shot from a tight angle but it was Spurs who took the lead on 69 minutes when Dembele marked his debut with a goal.
Howson was caught in possession by Dembele and when the ball came back to him from Defoe, he sidestepped the City midfielder and struck a left-foot shot all along the ground inside the post, beyond the unsighted Ruddy.
Steve Morison’s introduction might have earned City a penalty when Assou-Ekotto tried to swap shirts with him prematurely, but they struck with five minutes left as Snodgrass scored his first goal for the club. Pilkington’s cross from the right appeared to be overhit, but Russell Martin did brilliantly to head it back, Holt nodded it on and Snodgrass, arriving swiftly from the right flank, hooked a left-foot half-volley out of reach of Friedel.
Two minutes later, Bale was booked for dissent as Spurs’ frustration began to show, and there was further drama in the final minute as substitute Tom Huddlestone, on the field only seven minutes after replacing Defoe, was shown a straight red card by referee Halsey for a challenge on Howson.
It might have been even worse for Villas-Boas and Spurs in the last minute of stoppage time, when a deft backheel by Holt set up Johnson for a piledriver that was kept out by the admirable Friedel.