After two defeats in a row at home and just one victory in all competitions in the last month, Tottenham Hotspur hosted a Maribor side that also found themselves in somewhat of a rough patch; with a 100% record throughout September, the Slovenian side had only picked up two wins since the end of the month before tonight, with one of those – a slim victory, it must be added – coming in the Slovenian Cup against second-tier side NK Zavrč.
Both out of form and both fighting for a place in the last thirty-two of this year’s Europa League, victory at White Hart Lane certainly was essential for both sides.
After showing their clear frustration towards André Villas-Boas for replacing Jermain Defoe with Emanuel Adebayor early into the second half against Wigan last weekend, the young Portuguese manager seemingly granted the wishes of the ever faithful by starting the two strikers together for the first time competitively since the start of his reign. Tonight also marked Adebayor’s first start of the season and Villas-Boas’ first time opting to go with a simple 4-4-2 formation since his arrival at White Hart Lane.
After much speculation about its success before kickoff, the partnership of Adebayor and Defoe seemed to work wonderfully from the start, Spurs dominating both in possession and chances early on.
Their hard work and attacking force was rewarded after twenty-two minutes when Gareth Bale broke down the left wing and beat Maribor right-back Martin Milec – as he did so often during the evening – before whipping in a perfectly-weighted low cross for Defoe to side foot with skill past goalkeeper Jasmin Handanović.
The hosts continued to dominate for the rest of the first half until, moments before the half-time break, a poorly chosen pass back from youngster Kyle Naughton left Hugo Lloris under pressure from Maribor striker Robert Berić, the young Slovenian striker throwing his body in front of Lloris’ attempted clearance and guiding the ball into the back of the net to make it 1-1.
Despite their costly mistake, Spurs started the second half with the same drive and intensity as they did in the first, Defoe grabbing his second of the game just four minutes in when Tom Carroll – another youngster thrust, and rightly so, into an important game by Villas-Boas – played an impressive ball through the Maribor defence, Defoe converting coolly and clinically as he has done so many times before.
Maribor tried to initiate a comeback but the Spurs back line held strong and Adebayor, this evening completing his first full ninety minutes in a Spurs shirt for the first time since the final game of Harry Redknapp’s reign last season at home to Fulham, had the perfect chance to put the home side 3-1 ahead not long after but the Togolese striker sent his Bale-assisted half-volley wide of the post.
Luckily for Spurs, Bale, easily the best player of the night alongside Defoe, was on hand to seal the win for the North Londoners when he connected with Defoe yet again, the Welshman breaking down the left wing that he so often rules like his own personal kingdom before firing in another low cross for Defoe to calmly tuck away to grab his hat-trick and the win for Spurs, as well as lifting him to second place in Tottenham’s European all-time scoring charts.
On the day that England boss Roy Hodgson announced his squad for the upcoming friendly against Sweden and didn’t include Defoe, tonight’s performance sure was the perfect way for the thirty-year-old to showcase just why England still need him so desperately.
Spurs’ win sees them climb to second place in Group J, two points behind leaders Lazio – who they travel to Rome to play in two weeks time – and now two points ahead of Maribor. Unbeaten in the Europa League so far but with only one victory out of four games, André Villas-Boas’ side will be hoping that tonight’s win will give them the momentum to pick up the four points needed to reach the knockout stage that they so desperately require.
If Villas-Boas sticks to tonight’s system that worked so well and his team delivers what he knows they’re capable of there’s certainly no doubt that they can achieve just that.
Written by Ben Cullimore
Follow him on Twitter @bencullimore
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