Man City (H) Slick Spurs kept at bay by great show of Hart

Jul 28, 2004
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The opening game of this season's Premier League pitted against each other the two sides who provided last season's most exciting race, the battle for fourth place and Champions League football. On the evidence of the final score, this should be another season where North London and Manchester's less celebrated sides should be in close competition, but the match itself told a different story. One side lined up with roughly £65m worth of new talent on the field in addition to last season’s expensively assembled collection of players, but it was the side boasting not one new signing who dominated proceedings and were unlucky not to end the day with a comfortable win. Spurs can feel very unlucky not to have taken a full share of the spoils today.

As ever for the opening home game of the season, White Hart Lane was awash with passion as kick off approached, the roar of the crowd making the stadium announcer's job of reading out the team sheet doubly difficult, and once the teams kicked off, the action lived up to the anticipation. Modric and Bale immediately linked up well to set up Crouch for a blocked shot, a sign of things to come. Bale would continue offering Spurs most dangerous outlet for the remainder of the half.

Manchester City hit back with their only meaningful attack of the half, but Wright-Phillips, under pressure from Assou-Ekotto, could only hit his shot well over the bar. From this followed a lengthy period of sustained pressure from Harry Redknapp’s men, with Hart having to tip a Crouch header round the post in the sixth minute after Bales excellent free kick. How the match officials awarded a goal kick, nobody knew. Spurs then showed that they are just as irresistible from the right hand side, with Aaron Lennon leaving Yaya Toure for dead down the right hand side before floating a cross onto the head of Peter Crouch, who in turn laid it off for Jermain Defoe. Nobody could quite believe that Joe Hart kept out the resulting shot, but save it he did.

At the basis of Spurs best play was the combination of Modric and Huddlestone, keeping possession and probing constantly, and when the former made one of many interceptions from De Jong’s pass out of defence, it took a well timed tackle from the older Toure brother to block the Croatian schemer's attempt, while Huddlestone's threat from distance soon became apparent when, shortly after he stung the body of debutant left back Kolarov from distance, he hit a superb volley from distance from the resultant Kolarov. Unfortunately, there was Hart again to turn yet another effort round the post. Predictably at this point, the resulting corner led to another fine Hart save, this time from Assou-Ekotto's deflected long range effort. Had this gone in, it would have felt like history was repeating itself after Spurs began last season with a goal from similar distance by the Cameroonian left back.

The next ten minutes brought an understandable lull in action. Spurs would have defied logic to keep up this level of pressure, while City, now looking quite demoralised and unable to use the ball after just 17 minutes of a season that should promise so much, were happy just to stay level. Their respite was short lived, however, and after Hart blocked Defoe’s bouncing effort with his legs, he can consider himself fortunate to not have the burden of saving a penalty (which he may well have done) when Micah Richards was somehow deemed not to have bundled down Bale in the area on the 28th minute.

The final 15 minutes of the half saw more of the same. Spurs fans were on their feet as Bale's shot from an angle came back off the far post, and they remained standing only to see Lennon's follow up blocked by Vincent Kompany, fortunate to still be on the pitch after getting away with a series of fouls not long after being booked for cynically dragging down Jermain Defoe. Soon afterwards, Defoe, Hart and Kolo Toure were involved in a tug of war over the ball in the area which Toure eventually managed to deflect away from goal, before his brother was involved in the final serious action of the half with a stinging low shot from range that Gomes needed two attempts to collect.

The second half began after an entertaining half time performance from Paul Coyte and the 1961 double winning side, including interviews with the much loved Dave Mackay and Cliff Jones, amongst others. After a first half that really wet the appetite, Spurs fans were justified in licking their lips at what was to come, but the players seemed unable to play with the same verve and tempo. It was City who nearly drew first blood, in fact, when Wright-Phillips sprung Spurs’ offside trap, but the excellent Ekotto came in with a last ditch tackle that any sweeper would be proud of to save Spurs from an undeserved deficit.

While not coming anywhere near the first half performance of their opponents, City certainly had more of a foothold in the game from now on. Toure and the slowly emerging David Silva began to probe and push Spurs back with some clever play, though in truth they seldom looked like penetrating the Spurs backline. In fact, the better chances would still fall to the hosts, despite their diminished control of the game, with Aaron Lennon running at Zabaleta, on for the ragged Kolarov, whenever Spurs attacked. This eventually led to a booking for the Argentinean international, so it was perhaps surprising that Spurs didn't try and exploit this more.

By the hour mark the game had slowed down considerably, Micah Richards soft header at Gomes the closest thing to an event of any note, and it was no surprise when both sides made substitutions by the 60th minute. Adam Johnson replaced Wright-Phillips for City to give them a different kind of threat from the right, while Harry Redknapp unusually replaced both his forwards at once, with Keane and Pavlyuchenko replacing the now uninvolved Crouch and Defoe.

The changes seemed to make more of a difference to the visitors, with Johnson nipping inside Assou-Ekotto and Bale before laying off Tevez, his shot deflecting off King and looping over the bar when for a moment it threatened to punish Gomes for leaving his line. The resulting corner brought a counter attack from Spurs though, with their substitutes getting in on the action. Modric and Keane combined well to find Pavlyuchenko unmarked on the left hand side of the area in a matter of seconds, but his shot was hit softly and Hart never seemed uncomfortable as he dived to his left. This seemed to give Spurs a second wind though, and half a minute later Hart had to be alert again as Lennon cut in from the right to hit a left footed shot, well hit but straight at the young England goalkeeper.

As the match entered it's final stages, both sides made their final changes in an attempt to win. Giovani replaced Lennon for Spurs, and a few minutes later Adebayor came on for Carlos Tevez. As both caused their opposition defences new kinds of problems, it was a man who started the match who continued to pose the greatest threat to his counterparts.

Gareth Bale had the goal at his mercy when a wonderful Modric cross came back to him off of Keane, but he somehow scuffed wide when it seemed easier to score. Having witness what he can do with his right, the use of a weaker foot is no excuse and he knew it. He didn't let this kill him off though, bursting forward and playing Pavlyuchenko a brilliant weighted pass when Vincent Komany seemed to come out of nowhere to tackle the Russian striker, who was again involved a few minutes later in the final meaningful action of the match, combining with Huddlestone from a corner before drilling an ambitious left footed effort wide.

Despite the scoreline, this was an entertaining opener to the season, and though they should have easily won this game, Spurs fans should not be disheartened by the result. They will certainly dominate any team they play if they continue to perform as they did today against the league's most expensively assembled side, but they will seldom face a goalkeeping performance filled with quite as much heart as that of Manchester City's young England goalie.

BBLG's Spurs Man of the Match: Benoit Assout-Ekotto
BBLG's Moment of the Match: Bale's shot coming back off the post only for Lennon's follow up to be blocked.