The Tigers welcomed Tottenham Hotspur to the KC Stadium tonight for a good old fashioned 6 pointer. Spurs' last visit in the league came so long ago that only 3 of the Tigers squad tonight were even born. It was a very entertaining game, played with good spirit and pace, very open and with plenty of action at both ends. Unfortunately, points are all that matters at this stage of the season and we ended up without any again.
The line-up featured two changes from the side that drew at Chelsea in our last league outing. Cousin returned up front, replacing Fagan, while Gardner's inclusion at centre back pushed Zayatte into midfield with Marney going right and Garcia back up front. Geovanni was dropped to the bench. The team choice was a good one, for half the game at least. Despite the massive gulf in class (and price tag) between the two sides on paper, we matched them easily and despite falling behind, recovered to give a very good account of ourselves. Corner kicks were key to the game. All three goals game from that route, as did 90% of the other chances in the game. Spurs defended them poorly but got away with it. We defended them much better than they did but still managed to give away two soft goals from that route. The first City corner was whipped in by Dawson, Garcia made a terrific run across the front post but failed to connect properly with a free header. At the other end, Zayatte and Ashbee won key headers from short corners. Cousin hammered a half volley just wide from 20 yards following a neat move on the right and a lovely knock down by Garcia. Then Spurs went in front. They released Bent on their left and he looked to have beaten Gardner for pace but the big man made a terrific challenge with the outside of his left foot, conceding a corner in the process. The kick was taken short again and caught everyone napping. Marney was pulled out of the box to defend it and Lennon was left in acres of space on the 18 yard line. It was criminal really and as Modric slid the ball across, the little winger had all the time in the world to bury a shot past Duke.
We responded immediately, Kilbane sliding in Zayatte to run clearly on goal from the left hand side. His second touch was too heavy and he gave Cudicini the chance to block the ball. After that, we were very quiet for 6 or 7 minutes as we tried to work out how to get back into the game. Garcia and Cousin worked hard to hold the ball up and we started to fight our corner again. Ricketts delivered a poor cross beyond the back post that Corluka put out for a corner while trying to let it go out. From the first delivery, Gardner challenged Cudicini who flapped at it unconvincingly and it was put out for a second corner. The clearly rattled goalkeeper (who looks much bigger on TV) flew from his goal and punched the ball straight down at Palacios who could only watch as the ball rolled towards the goal were Michael Turner made sure it went in from 6 inches. The goal gave us new impetus and we went for the jugular. Some of the football was very good as we worked our way into some very good positions. Garcia broke into the box on the left but tried to slide in Cousin when he should've shot. Marney drove at them at drew the defence to allow Ricketts to charge up on the right but he couldn't provide a cross in. Then Ricketts drove forward from full back, sliced through two in the midfield, produced a lovely bit of skill to beat King and slid in Marney whose cross was an inch or so from landing plum on Ricketts head, instead drifting wide just as Garcia's early header had done. Spurs, for all their big names and bigger transfer fees had caused us no harm at all from open play and got to half time safely thanks to an impressive pair of centre halves and our lack of cutting edge.
The second half performance was terribly disappointing. We didn't start at all. The first 10 minutes was as poor as we've been all season, gifting them possession time and again with wayward, stupid or suicidal passes. Spurs played well, their movement was top class and they opened up space delightfully but again did us little harm as we dealt with everything that came into the box. Once the ball left the box, it was only a matter of seconds before we gave them the ball back and we did a great job of destroying any momentum we'd built up and making the spurs players feel like superstars. A Darren Bent snapshot that Duke saved comfortably and a Keane off target shot after Duke's poor kick had gifted him a half chance were as good as it got for them. We improved slightly, forcing a pair of corners that led to goal-mouth scrambles. Woodgate blocked bravely from Kilbane and Gardner just failed to connect with another flub from Cudicini. Both sides then hit the woodwork within a few minutes. Corluka looped a header against our crossbar from a right wing free-kick before Zayatte connected with another terrific Dawson delivery to glance a header against the post.
The introduction of Mendy from the bench gave the crowd a lift for all of 5 or 6 seconds before we realised that the excellent Cousin couldn't play beyond 70 minutes. The change meant a move to 4-5-1 which steadied the ship in midfield where we'd been chasing shadows for most of the half but ended our chances of nicking a winner. Garcia struggled on his own before he was replaced by the invisible man(ucho). We didn't have the service or the support to create a lot with 2 forwards in the second half; we were never going to do anything with just one. Our threat came from the odd corner. Oh, there were long throws too. Whoever thought chucking the ball in towards Ledley King and Jon Woodgate was a good idea was very wrong. It was left to Spurs to find the winning goal they probably just about deserved. A corner cleared the box, Anthony Gardner had a moment of madness and followed the ball out onto the left wing, was beaten ridiculously easy on the deck and the ball was crossed for Woodgate to jump above Dawson, who was trying to fill the gap left by the wandering centre half, and head into the far corner. Phil Brown immediately threw on Geovanni who somehow managed to get less involved than Manucho. The final whistle confirmed another Tigers defeat.
Defensively we managed to be very sound and yet still concede two awful goals. The second wasn't solely down to Gardner but his crazy decision played a big part. The first was just a terrible effort from the whole team. Lennon is small but not invisible, surely? Marney was pulled wide to defend the short corner but Spurs had two players out wide taking it as well as two back. We had more than enough bodies back to cover Lennon. Duke didn't have a great deal to do besides a comfortable stop from Bent. He produced two awful kicks again, one nearly very costly. After that mistake, he kicked very well under some tough conditions. He can't continue though. You can't have a goalkeeper who's going to kick the ball to the opposition twice a game. Ricketts did a fine job of supporting Marney in the first half but died away as an attacking force after the break. To be fair to him, if you can't keep the ball, a full back cannot make a move forward. Defensively he was solid, if unspectacular. I'd like to see more from him when he's bringing the ball out of defence; his distribution is too predictable and not particularly well delivered. Dawson was booked very early on for clattering Lennon twice in quick succession. He did brilliantly to keep Lennon pretty much in check thereafter despite the threat of a red card hanging over him. He showed good movement and reading of situations to make up for the difference in pace and good strength to fend off his oppo's. His set piece delivery was excellent all game. Like Ricketts, he needs to be better in general play at delivering a ball that forwards can win. Turner deservedly picked up the man of the match award in the ground. Why does he have to score to win it though? He was 100% in the air defensively, threatening in their box and made some incredibly timed tackles. Gardner was having an equally impressive game until the second goal. He moved more comfortably than he did last week, covered the ground well, challenged strongly and didn't give anyone any room around the box. He made two fantastic blocks to stop goal bound efforts, first taking Palacios's powerful volley in the chest and then sticking out a boot to deny Jenas. As a unit, we are a little erratic having too many players haring around to cover here there and everywhere and not dealing with things in a calm and efficient manner. That will only come with time but needs to come as quickly as possible. To concede so few chances and yet two goals is very disappointing.
Ashbee and Zayatte in midfield looked fine on paper and showed a few promising signs but overall, it didn't really come off for us. Zayatte is athletic and strong and a real asset in the air but more miss than hit in possession and unsure of his positioning. When he got on the ball in the last third, he looked quite threatening. Ash made his usual share of interceptions and challenges but without any real quality around him, didn't get away with being cautious on the ball. Marney had the best game he's ever had when playing wide. His energy was great; he carried the ball well and crossed well too. He only really fell over when it came to running through the middle with the ball, taking too long to decide what to do and not having the confidence to shoot at all. He's a terrific dribbler; I'd like to see him running at defences more often. He runs towards them and then lays the ball off which is OK but on a day when crosses aren't really hurting them in open play, he could be braver and run at them. He might lose possession at times but he's just as likely to find himself a sight of goal or win a free kick or penalty. Someone with his ability to run with the ball should be winning 4 or 5 penalties a season by getting into the box and frightening defenders. One of the biggest differences between the two sides was the pace at which the ball was moved through midfield. We were far too pedestrian, allowing Spurs to recover quickly and get bodies into key areas. When we tried to move the ball quickly, we just gave it away. Unfortunately, there isn't really an answer to that at the moment. I haven't forgotten about Kilbane but I've tried really, really hard to. He did a good job of running off the ball, protected Dawson quite well and got into some good areas but he was just absolutely rotten on the ball. One bad decision after another and even worse execution. Take comfort in the fact that he can't possibly be that bad again.
Up front, Garcia and Cousin did a terrific job with the god awful service they received. Cousin played for nearly 70 minutes with King and Woodgate pushing, pulling and hanging off him and received absolutely nothing from the referee. He got into good positions to give people an out-ball, won his share of headers and did a fine job with his back to goal. Garcia worked incredibly hard off the ball and showed good appetite on it too. He fought for everything and got some reward. He's got to take the chances that fall to him and he's also got to be greedier at times. Between the two of them, they caused a top class defensive pairing plenty of problems and were definitely the right pairing to go with physically. Sunday will be very physical too so these two need to miss out on Thursday in preparation. Manucho gave another poor 10 minute cameo, capped off with a terrific defensive header as we entered last chance time in stoppage time. There is more chance of Cristiano Ronaldo playing for Weymouth next season than this guy ever making a first choice striker at Old Trafford.
Our gloomy league run continues despite some positive periods in the game. We've got to put it together for 90 minutes if we're going to start picking up wins again. We look like we'll only pick up 3 points if the opposition has an off day at the moment. We need to find some steely determination at the back. Phil Brown also needs to remember that sometimes, offence is the best form of defence. Spurs were allowed to dominate the second half by our lack of quality and ambition. We were looking solely to contain them and to hang on to a point with not enough emphasis on hurting them. Garcia has terrific heart and deserves to be in the first team at the moment but with all the will in the world, if he's playing as a lone front man, you are not going to win anything. Browny has been bold in his City tenure thus far and caution just doesn't suit him. Take your brave pills before Sunday, Phil. Blackburn have great attacking quality but a soft underbelly. We need to get at them from the off and not let up. With arsenal waiting in the quarter final and the squad stretched very thin, it might be worth throwing the game on Thursday. A cup win would be great, but it isn't going to happen. Time to concentrate on the league.
Ratings: Duke 6, Ricketts 7, Dawson 7, Turner 8, Gardner 7, Marney 7, Kilbane 5, Ashbee 6, Zayatte 6 (Geovanni), Cousin 7 (Mendy), Garcia 7 (Manucho).