By Callum McCarthy
When Harry Redknapp acquired Rafael Van Der Vaart with just two hours left on transfer deadline day, nobody quite knew what they were getting.
A torrid spell at Real Madrid had yielded nothing but frustration for the Dutch midfielder, and a lack of first team football over the last two years left many wondering whether he could ever fulfil the huge potential exhibited in his teens and early twenties. Left without a squad number at the start of last season by Real manager Manuel Pelligrini, Van Der Vaart (photo) was in danger of falling off the world football map.
What a difference a year makes.
Without their now talismanic Dutchman, Spurs would be languishing in domestic mediocrity. Luckily for Spurs, Harry Redknapp got his man, as a superb brace either side of the half overturned a 1-0 deficit to give Spurs a crucial home win. Peter Crouch finished the game with both assists, linking up with Van Der Vaart superbly throughout.
It was Villa who made the better start though, going ahead after 15 minutes when Emile Heskey stole possession from Sebastian Bassong and squared the ball for Marc Albrighton to slide in his first professional goal.
It seemed that Heskey’s sublime winner last weekend against Wolves had instilled some much needed confidence in the former England striker’s game, as Villa ran through him for the majority of the first half. Their fluid start came to a crunching halt as Heskey limped off after 35 minutes with a dead leg. Without the krux of their operation Villa lost their foothold in the game, allowing Van Der Vaart to take his own.
His first would come from a rather unnatural source – his head. Linking up with Crouch from the right wing for most of the half, the Dutchman made his way into a scoring position to convert Crouch’s flick-on from close range just before the break.
His winner came with a quarter of an hour left, as a perfect Crouch knockdown allowed him the space to drive one past Friedel from eight yards. He could have had more – twice stinging the hands of the American and having a great chance bravely blocked by Richard Dunne.
Manager Harry Redknapp’s instinctive decision to move Van Der Vaart inside from the right paid off after the break, but the Spurs manager admitted his star man posed a problem.
“He’s never going to stay wide when you play him wide right. He only comes inside and plays where he wants to play, anyway,” Redknapp said. “I felt that in the first half we were too open with two up and Rafael floating around where he wanted to play.”
Whilst playing Van Der Vaart behind Crouch seems to be a sure bet for the next few weeks, the return of Jermain Defoe may complicate the simplest of partnerships. Defoe, who is currently out with an ankle injury, is scheduled to return in December, and what would normally be a nice problem for any manager could turn into one that upsets a fragile balance.
Coming off the back of two impressive wins, the international break does Redknapp’s men no favours, but for Villa, it could be their saving grace. A turbulent September filled with backroom and boardroom confusion finally seems to have settled, and a week away from club football provides manager Gerard Houllier with the opportunity to make a fresh start with his squad upon their return.