When after just three minutes my mobile phone notified me that Stoke City had taken the lead against Spurs, I wasn’t concerned. It was certainly not what I was expecting, but Tottenham have shown over the course of this season that they keep going for the full ninety plus minutes. In truth it was a poor goal for the visitors to concede. Charlie Adam whipped in a free-kick and Steven N’Zonzi beat the Spurs defence, who seemed to still be in the dressing room, to the ball and nodded past Hugo Lloris. The Frenchman did manage to get his hand to the ball but could only push the ball onto the post and into the net.
Spurs took a little while to get going but were level on twenty minutes through a slightly fortunate but instinctive goal from Clint Dempsey. Scott Parker’s through ball was cut out by Stoke defender Marc Wilson, but unbeknown to the Irishman his goalkeeper Asmir Begovic had raced off his line to clear the ball himself. Wilson’s clearance fell straight to Dempsey and with Begovic in no man’s land, the American’s first time effort floated into Stoke’s empty net.
The momentum of the game swung massively in Tottenham’s favour early in the second half when Charlie Adam was sent off for two bookable offences. The Scotland international was dismissed following two poorly timed challenges on Jan Vertonghen. As Adam made the walk to the dressing room both Stoke City players and supporters knew they were going to be under pressure for the rest of the game.
Tottenham pressed and were eventually rewarded with a second goal on 82 minutes when Emmanuel Adebayor slotted home the winner from Clint Dempsey’s low cross, after Gareth Bale’s pass from outside the box was deflected into the American’s path.
So it all comes down to this Sunday. After thirty seven games of football, the final qualifying berth for next seasons Champions League will be decided by the final ninety or so minutes of this season.
However, all is not lost. Arsenal travel to Newcastle United on the final day and the locals will be demanding that their team finish what has been a very disappointing season, with a victory, whilst Tottenham entertain Sunderland at White Hart Lane.
From a Spurs perspective Newcastle’s victory away at Queens Park Rangers last Sunday was less than ideal, as the win ensured ‘The Toon’ will be playing top flight football next season. The one benefit of Arsenal’s victory against Wigan this evening is that it condemns this season’s FA Cup winners to relegation, meaning Sunderland are safe and the pressure is off.
As a result of their Premier League status being preserved for another season, Paolo Di Canio may decide to experiment with his squad. One thing is for certain, left back Danny Rose will definitely be unavailable as he is ineligible to play against his parent club. If Di Canio chooses to name his strongest eleven however, the final game of the season could be a lot tougher than the home supporters had hoped.
Sunderland have a very experienced back four, marshalled by ex-Manchester United defender John O’Shea. In midfield the defence are protected by Alfred N’Diaye and Jack Colback. James McClean, Sebastian Larsson give Sunderland width, and the talented Adam Johnson will operate in a free role behind the striker, most likely to be Danny Graham.
With the exception of their long term absentees, Tottenham should be at full strength for their final game of the season. I would expect André Villas-Boas to start the game with two holding midfielders, most probably Scott Parker and, if fit, Mousa Dembélé, sitting in front of the back four. AVB will also most probably start with a lone striker, with Gareth Bale playing in a free role just behind. I also expect if Arsenal are either drawing or losing, and Tottenham aren’t winning, for AVB to really go all out for the victory. This will be a risky strategy to employ but it’s the final game of the season and we have to win.
Spurs have done their bit and given their supporters a season to remember, regardless of what happens on Sunday. At the start of the season all the pundits were talking about how strong both Arsenal and Chelsea were looking and how Tottenham were likely to struggle following the departure of Harry Redknapp. André Villas-Boas has done a fantastic job in his first season at White Hart Lane and I for one hope he remains Tottenham Hotspur manager for many years to come.
In finishing, and for one last time this season… COME ON YOU SPURS!!