By Callum McCarthy
A gruelling fixture midweek in the Champions League left many wondering whether Spurs could continue the momentum they gained in Bremen, and by and large, they were right to be doubtful.
Harry Redknapp had named a largely unchanged side from the one that drew 2-2 away to Werder Bremen on Tuesday, fearing his Tottenham side would fire another blank against resilient opposition.
Their opponents would be Wolverhampton Wanderers, a team who have recently garnered a rather confusing reputation as the league’s dirtiest team. By hook or by crook, Wolves were hoping to emulate their bottom-half cousins Stoke, West Brom and Wigan by stopping one of the more attractive teams in English football from taking all three points.
Close, Wolves, but no cigar.
Now you know how my Dad felt when he heard Liverpool had signed David N’Gog.
It would take a spectacular comeback in the final 15 minutes to save Spurs from another domestic setback, inspired by brilliant performances by Rafael Van Der Vaart and right back Alan Hutton.
But it was Wolves who should have had an opportunity at the lead early on — William Gallas clumsily upending Matt Jarvis in the box and somehow getting away with it.
Pressing forward with as much speed as is possible against a defensive team, Spurs probed away, attempting to stretch a well-drilled defence. Gareth Bale was denied by a sliding Hahnemann mid-way through the half, and Van Der Vaart had a sublime volley tipped over.
Spurs’ best chance of the half would fall to Peter Crouch, who’s header was diverted over after Bale showed Kevin Foley a clean set of heels and sent a hanging ball over.
Frustration was setting in quickly for Spurs. Limited to half chances by a Wolves team dead set on a snatch and grab, holes began to appear as the bodies poured forward. Against the run of play and with time running out in the first half, Wolves graciously accepted their gift.
After some lovely intricate passing, David Jones found Foley on the overlap. One inviting low cross later, and Stephen Fletcher was wheeling away to celebrate his first goal of the season, converting from close range.
Record signing Stephen Fletcher put Wolves ahead.
1-0 Wolves, and editors nationwide start punching in the words “European Hangover” into their Sunday morning headlines.
It was more of the same after the half-time oranges — Spurs being kept to the perimeter with seemingly no way through the assembled ranks of orange jerseys. Van Der Vaart — played in a free role in the absence of Luka Modric — often pausing in possession and looking in despair at a static landscape, with no targets to hit.
As Spurs’ situation became more desperate, their urgency rose. Hutton’s introduction at half time had seen more creativity and pace injected into Spurs’ play, and it would be him who would provide his team with the opportunity to level things up after 76 minutes of frustration, cutting inside and being fouled in the area by Stephen Ward.
Up stepped Van Der Vaart to slot home.
1-1, and as they say in America, “it’s a new ball game”.
“Insenstive Celebration of the Month Winner: September 2010”
That it certainly was. Wolves looked nervous, knowing that they had 15 minutes in which to park the bus, shut up shop and hope for the best.
Van Der Vaart was withdrawn shortly after his goal — a cautionary move to protect an injured suffer in Bremen — and was replaced by Aaron Lennon. With just 14 minutes left to play, Lennon went straight into fifth gear.
Escaping down the touchline, his cross was cleared only as far as Tom Huddlestone, whose effort ricocheted to another substitute, Roman Pavyluchenko. With the Russian’s recent form, it would have been sensible to put money on him to miss, but Tottenham’s number 9 defied the odds to thump home from close range.
2-1, and Spurs would now have to literally go to sleep to cough this one back up.
Wolves had given everything to keep Spurs at bay, and even though a late burst of effort could have turned things around, they were spent. As such, a series of comical errors by the Wolves defence led to a ham-fisted clearance striking Alan Hutton and looping into the net.
3-1, game over, and sighs of relief all around White Hart Lane.
Sweaty men in a heap? You’ve got the wrong sort of football, Gareth.
It was a relieving win for Spurs, who have struggled to score goals in domestic football this season, but heartbreaking for Wolves, who worked diligently to try and prevent Tottenham’s onslaught late on.
Tottenham will play arch-rivals Arsenal on Tuesday night in the Carling Cup — an opportunity for Harry Redknapp to rest tired legs before another high octane game away at West Ham next Saturday.