Spurs make it four out of four
Tottenham 2 Aston Villa 0:STEVEN CAULKER knew nothing about his first goal in top-flight football and his smile betrayed a degree of embarrassment. They all count. The Tottenham Hotspur defender found that all his stars were in alignment when Jermain Defoe took a touch to control a Gareth Bale corner and struck for goal. The shot was travelling wide only for it to deflect off the unwitting Caulker, fizz inside the near corner and send Tottenham to their fourth Premier League win in succession.
Caulker, who is often referred to as the future of Tottenham, had previously scored only two goals, both of which came during a loan spell at Bristol City. His joy, however, led to frustration for Aston Villa, their manager, Paul Lambert, and in particular the striker Christian Benteke. Everyone in claret and blue was left to consider the tightness of the margins.
Lambert had omitted Darren Bent, again, from his starting line-up, which was coloured by controversy after the striker had come off the substitutes’ bench to score the equaliser in last weekend’s derby against West Brom.
The spotlight picked out Benteke, who started as the lone forward in a new-look formation but, after he missed a shooting opportunity immediately after the interval from Gabriel Agbonlahor’s cut-back, he spurned a gilt-edged header in the 51st minute that Bent, the former Tottenham player, would have fancied himself to score.
The intrigue ran deeper. Andre Villas-Boas, the Tottenham manager, had started with Hugo Lloris at the expense of Brad Friedel. It was the France goalkeeper’s loose throw straight to Brett Holman that led to Marc Albrighton measuring the cross for Benteke. When he directed the header beyond the far post Lambert contorted in agony.
Instead Caulker caught the break, Tottenham were fortified and they emerged as comfortable winners with Aaron Lennon punishing loose defending from Joe Bennett to lash home the clinching second goal. Bennett’s day would get worse when he suffered a nasty-looking cut to his leg and was wheeled off on a stretcher.
Lambert had used his substitutes and, with his team on the back foot for the final 12 minutes with 10 men, they narrowly avoided a more comprehensive defeat. Clint Dempsey missed a free header and Bale watched Brad Guzan touch his shot on to the far post and away.
Lambert spent a portion of his post-match conference explaining the reasons for omitting Bent. It was down to the formation he wanted, which was designed to counter opponents that attack in numbers on the flanks. Benteke, he said, was the better bet as the lone striker. Lambert said that Bent had been “fine” about the decision.