Fortress Stoke to Test Tottenham Hotspur's Patience and Defence

Trent Scott@ IIIDecember 21, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16:  Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham Hotspur (2R) celebrates scoring the first goal with Gylfi Sigurdsson,Andros Townsend, William Gallas of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City at White Hart Lane on December 16, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Tottenham have struggled with many clubs over the years, but most of those have typically lived at the top end of the table.

But for four straight years, and with the exception of the departed Wolves, no club that has finished below Spurs has given them more of a headache than Tony Pulis’ Stoke squad.

During the Potters’ current top-flight appearance, Tottenham have only collected 13 out of 24 points against Stoke in Premier League play spanning four campaigns.

Only Everton, among those who have not finished in the top four in the same time period, has given Spurs more trouble than the men from the Potteries.

To put it in perspective, coming into the current campaign the men in Lillywhite have taken one more point of Stoke than they have Arsenal, three more than Chelsea and exactly the same of Manchester City.

Saturday again presents a challenge to Spurs’ top-four ambitions.

At the beginning of November, Stoke were sitting three spots above the relegation bog. Since then, the Potters have collected 15 points and are fourth in the form table, dead even with Tottenham.

Given their tendency towards grit and graft over style and substance, it is little wonder that Stoke often move up the table relatively unnoticed.

It is this workmanlike approach that has given Spurs fits, particularly last term as Stoke collected a home win and an away draw.

What, then, is Tottenham to do?

It was announced (via SkySports) that Gareth Bale should be ready for this weekend’s tilt, something that should boost morale and balance the squad across the attacking third.

But speed to the byline is only good if crosses can find targets. Unless Emmanuel Adebayor’s hamstring is ready, finding Jermain Defoe against Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth seems about as likely as the NHL playing a game this season.

Catching Stoke on the counter is also hard to do, as they rarely venture out of their defensive shell on the road to the bigger clubs. If they are caught flatfooted off of a free kick or corner, they have plenty of men willing to take yellows for the cause.

Tottenham will likely have to wriggle their way to a goal. It should not surprise anyone to see a scoreless first half.

Patience will need to be Spurs’ mantra. Stoke will concede plenty of possession to defend their goal, meaning that the hosts will have plenty of time to try to break down the two banks of four that the Potters will employ.

Stoke can cause such frustration that it gets men of known physical attributesand massive hairstylesto do unsightly things.

Fortress Stoke is not easily penetrated, however, so it will behoove the fans at White Hart Lane to give the club some time to do their work.

Defensively, Tottenham can look forward to the usual bevy of long balls, diagonals and crosses from the visitors, looking to utilize everyone’s favorite beanpole, Peter Crouch, as a knock-down specialist.

The key in these situations is rarely the header itself; fending off the second ball is the issue that Spurs have been struggling to deal with.

Pulis and Co. will have seen that matches at White Hart Lane begin to get nervy in the last quarter of an hour. He will be hoping his squad can induce enough panic at the back to continue the trend.

If Spurs control the second ball, winning becomes a much easier proposition during this first of winter clash.

It will also be interesting to see if Tottenham can hold on to another clean sheet after their hack-attack final few minutes against Swansea.

Pitching another shutout would be a great confidence builder for a defense that could stand to build some good feelings.

Keeping the fourth spot in the table is important through the end of the year as Chelsea and Arsenal likely will stabilize sooner rather than later. Picking up all three points against Stoke would go a long way to ensuring that Spurs stay rooted to the top spots.


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