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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Joltide Greetings

After years of joking, name calling and general piss-taking it has come to pass that even The Mirror has written a positive story about Spurs.

NO-ONE should doubt Tottenham's credentials as genuine Champions League contenders any longer.

The mark of a good team is to win when they are not playing well and Spurs certainly fitted into that category yesterday and remained firmly on course for Europe.

But they had some controversial decisions from referee Phil Dowd to thank, which at least livened up a terrible game at White Hart Lane.

The first half was a real shocker and a great argument for scrapping fixtures over the festive season. At times you could hear a pin drop as White Hart Lane fell even quieter than the nearby Highbury Library.

The match turned within the space of two debatable decisions in the space of eight minutes. First, Robbie Keane took a spectacular tumble under Matthew Upson's clumsy 57th minute challenge just inside the box.

Up stepped Keane to convert the spot kick and put Tottenham on their way to another crucial victory.

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Eight minutes later Tottenham were lucky to escape conceding a penalty. Birmingham midfielder Muzzy Izzet, booked in the first half for a foul on Keane, went down under Michael Dawson's challenge and it looked every bit as a penalty as Tottenham's.

But Staffordshire referee Dowd sent off Izzet for a second yellow card for diving.

It summed up the afternoon as Tottenham, with luck on their side, snatched victory with a spectacular goal from supersub Jermain Defoe in injury time.

Birmingham were very unlucky to leave with nothing to show for their battling qualities - although that has been the case far too often for Steve Bruce this season.

They created chances and Tottenham keeper Paul Robinson deserved to be man of the match for at least three top-class saves.

Even Tottenham assistant boss Chris Hughton, standing in for Martin Jol, who dashed straight off after the final whistle because of flu, said: "The pleasing thing is that we know we can play better yet we still won.

"I hope that's the sign of a good team. We expected a hard game and Birmingham gave us that because they are fighting for survival. They had made changes and made it hard for us. We've been in the top six since the start of the season and our aim this season was to make progress.

"We feel we've been doing that with the squad we've put together. We're delighted to be up where we are now."

Birmingham boss Bruce was left cursing his luck again after yet another defeat which leaves them in desperate trouble ahead of two daunting matches against Manchester United and Chelsea.

"That was as good as we've played for a long, long time," said Bruce. "I was delighted with the performance but our Achilles heel is obvious. You can't come to Spurs, create four or five chances and not take one of them. But up until the penalty decision we were the better team by far.

"We can take a lot of positives out of this game. Yet we have lost again."

Birmingham were the better team in a desperate first half and Robinson was forced into a brilliant early save from midfielder Jiri Jarosik.

Robinson then produced an even better stop just before the break from Julian Gray and, from the resulting corner, it took Tottenham striker Mido to keep out Upson's goalward header.

Tottenham had not produced much at all with Ledley King's close-range drive forcing a save from Birmingham keeper Maik Taylor and the stadium was deadly quiet as if the fans had been bored senseless.

Again, it was Birmingham who started brighter after the restart but it was Tottenham's ruthless quality that really won the match.

Keane, always trying to work an opening, twisted and turned on the edge of the box and won a penalty after 57 minutes with Upson stupidly climbing all over him.

Tottenham then began to relax. Edgar Davids' sublime through ball released Keane, who was denied by Taylor, and it looked as if they had found their rhythm.

They escaped conceding a penalty of their own. But when Jenas led a late breakaway and released Defoe, the finish was lethal.

In brilliantly selfish fashion, Defoe turned away from Kenny Cunningham and his waiting team-mates to unleash an unstoppable shot past Taylor.
COYS

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