Better late than never for Adebayor
Striker scores winner to help Spurs jump above Arsenal in table
Stoke City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2: Emmanuel Adebayor has come to life just in time. Following his man-of-the-match display against Chelsea in mid-week, the striker who has spent most of this season fending off accusations of uselessness swooped to score an 82nd-minute winner against Stoke City and keep alive Tottenham’s chances of claiming fourth place in the Premier League table.
Spurs had to show character and quality to overcome a Stoke side that took the led through Steven N’Zonzi in the third minute.
Clint Dempsey equalised in the 20th minute and, after Charlie Adam was sent off early in the second half, the visitors laid siege to the Stoke goal as they sought the win that would take them back into fourth spot, two points clear of Arsenal having played a game more. Adebayor’s goal makes Tuesday’s clash between Arsenal and the FA Cup winners Wigan even bigger.
This was a bad time for opponents to come to the Britannia. Before the match Stoke celebrated the 150th year since their foundation, throwing a birthday party around the ground with the same vigour that Rory Delap used to throw balls.
There were circus performers, a jolly brass band and a parade of distinguished players form the past, from Geoff Hurst and Gordon Banks to Ade Akinbiyi. Several members of the current squad will merit places in any such commemorations in the future, as will Tony Pulis, even if the manager has not felt much love from fans this season.
Pulis’s achievements in hoisting the club to the Premier League in 2008 will forever be acclaimed but the lack of evolution since then has led to disenchantment – Stoke’s survival for a sixth successive season in the top flight is all but secured despite this defeat but that is no longer considered enough for many supporters given the size of the club’s investment in recent seasons.
So talk of Pulis leaving in the summer remains rife, the latest reports adding the name of Celtic’s Neil Lennon to a list of possible replacements that also includes the Arsenal assistant manager and Stoke native Steve Bould. Whether or not this was a final farewell from the manager, Stoke were determined to make it a joyous occasion for their fans.
Tottenham did not care about any of that. All they were interested in was three points. Their prospects of claiming them darkened early.
In the third minute, Adam curled a delicious free-kick in from the right and Nzonzi helped himself to a goal, heading into the net from six yards via the post and a touch from Hugo Lloris.
That cranked the home celebrations up a notch, with Adam taking particular pleasure in them given that the away fans had barracked him from the start owing to tackles the Scot has made on Gareth Bale in previous encounters.
Stoke were not the jaded, uninspired side that they have looked in recent months. This was a return to the rambunctious unit that opponents used to hate. Every ball was chased, every challenge an ultimatum: be at your best or get beaten. Spurs set about responding.
Bale forced a fingertip save form Asmir Begovic in the seventh minute with a swirling shot from distance. Dempsey flicked the ball into the net in the 15th minute from an offside position but it was ruled out for offside.
Five minutes later the American got a goal that counted, as a Scott Parker pass from deep led to a mix-up between Begovic and Marc Wilson outside the home penalty area. Dempsey showed deft instincts to lift the ball into the unguarded net from 30 yards.
Spurs started to dominate. Stoke shrunk from fearsome towards frantic. With Parker and Tom Huddlestone gaining control in midfield and Aaron Lennon threatening from wide, the hosts had to defend with gusto.
Begovic did well to parry a header from Michael Dawson after a free-kick from Bale and, in the 43rd minute, Bale slalomed his way into the box and unleashed a low drive that forced another solid stop from the goalkeeper.
But just before the break Adam, visibly a man on a mission, gave a reminder of the menace of the home side with a series of dangerous crosses that caused Spurs to scramble, too.
That, however, was the last positive contribution that Adam would make, as in the first minute of the second half he carelessly tripped Jan Vertonghen to earn a second yellow card. How the Tottenham fans jeered as he trudged past them on his way to the dressing room.
Dempsey almost put Spurs in front immediately, prodding the ball just over after meeting a Bale corner. Stoke battened down the hatches in a bid to withstand wave after wave of Tottenham attacks.
They did a pretty good job of it, although Mousa Dembele prised them open in the 75th minute with a wriggly run before feeding Bale, who shot just wide from nine yards.
It took a stroke of luck to finally help undo Stoke’s resistance, as Dembele unwittingly deflected a Bale pass into the path of Dempsey, who rifled the ball across goal for Adebayor to slam into the net form close range.