Aston Villa 1 – 1 Tottenham
It was the clash of the great pretenders at Villa Park. Both Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur harbour ambitions of a top four finish this campaign after several seasons of flirtation with a Champions League spot.
Spurs are currently the favourites to sneak in amongst the big boys and ruffle a few feathers. Last week’s 9-1 drubbing of Wigan Athletic certainly cemented their lofty ambitions.
But Villa, with their strong British contingent, were determined to display their credentials for a spot amongst the European elite. It made for an intriguing clash, overseen by two of the Premier League’s most accomplished managers.
The contrast in styles was evident. Spurs looked to play pretty and patient football, content to probe Villa’s defence for any momentary lapses. Meanwhile, Martin O’Neill’s men sought to press Spurs at every available opportunity, displaying an enterprising ethic, with Agbonlahor closing down from the front.
Indeed the tactic worked. Spurs failed to ignite the engine room that ran so smoothly last week as they demolished the Lactics. This was largely down to Luke Young who contained the lethal Aaron Lennon.
The home side threatened from set pieces in the opening exchanges and it was from a corner that Villa opened the scoring in the tenth minute.
Milner whipped in a cross which was met by Cuellar. The former Rangers player had his powerful header blocked on the line by Assou-Ekotto.
There was a question of handball, but the referee was removed of the responsibility of making a difficult decision. A scramble of legs raced towards the loose rebound, with Agbonlahor reacting fastest and smothering the ball into the net.
Despite the lead, Villa continued to hustle and harry Spurs in every position.
Kranjcar has bedded well into Redknapp’s midfield and the elegant Croatian looked in potent mood when on the ball. A deft swivel was followed by a delightful pass which was only slightly over hit for Defoe. He did successfully find Defoe moments later, but the English striker volleyed over the crossbar.
The best chance for the away side fell to Michael Dawson on the 28th minute.
A Spurs free kick eventually landed at the feet of Defoe. The miniature striker failed to beat Friedel but when the rebound fell to Dawson it seemed inevitable the centre back would level the scores.
But Cuellar denied Dawson with an inspirational last-ditch dive blocking the goal-bound shot with his outstretched right leg.
Spurs started the second half in sprightly fashion. A sweeping move saw Crouch lay the ball off to Kranjcar. The former Pompey ace timed his strike to perfection, driving the ball towards the top right hand corner of Friedal’s goal and forcing the American to dive full stretch to keep the venomous strike out.
Villa dropped deeper as they looked to sustain their narrow advantage. Inevitably, they invited the visitors to bombard the home goal with high, hopeful balls in search of target man Peter Crouch.
The introduction of Jermaine Jenas spurred the away side forwards. They enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but the Villa defence, marshaled by Richard Dunne, clung on.
With twenty minutes remaining, it appeared O’Neill’s men had successfully soaked up the Spurs pressure and Emile Heskey was sent on to see out the remaining time. Robbie Keane was readied as Redknapp sought to tweak his team’s attack.
Yet, before the Irishman’s arrival, the away team had their equaliser with 13 minutes remaining. Dawson capitalised on some suspect defending by Villa from a set piece, rifling a fine attempt past Friedel.
Both sides had chances to snatch three points in the dying moments of the game. Emile Heskey glanced Young’s cross over the crossbar before Defoe followed up Heskey’s attempt with a low driven shot which crept past the outside of the post.
Indeed the restoration of parity was well deserved for a Spurs side that dominated the second period after having been out-fought in the first half. The results means Spurs tighten their grip on third spot with Liverpool to face Everton at Goodison Park tomorrow and Arsenal clashing with table topping Chelsea.
Aston Villa: Friedel; Beye, Cuéllar, Dunne, Luke Young; Milner, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Ashley Young; Agbonlahor, Carew.
Tottenham Hotspur: Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Huddlestone, Palacios, Kranjcar; Defoe, Crouch.
Man of the Match: Carlos Cuellar