Dutchman inspires Redknapp's side to impressive win
Tottenham recorded the double over Aston Villa after a brace from Rafael van der Vaart secured three points for the north London side, despite being reduced to 10 men following a red card awarded to Jermain Defoe.
Marc Albrighton had given the home side hope with an a goal in the 81st minute, but Spurs were able to hold on and secure a well-deserved victory.
Having seen Bolton leapfrog Spurs into fifth spot in the Premier League earlier in the day, Harry Redknapp’s side looked to take the game to their hosts in what was an extremely open first half.
Gerard Houllier’s side could feel aggrieved for not being award a penalty after Heurelho Gomes seemed to bring down Emile Heskey in the penalty area — in what would have been the second penalty conceded by the Brazilian in 12 minutes of first-team football, having gifted Chelsea a last-minute spot kick last time out.
The incident seemed to hinder the striker's mobility, and he was soon replaced by Nathan Delfouneso to the annoyance of his manager, who lost Heskey in the match at White Hart following another collision with the Spurs No.1.
But it would be Spurs whose appeals were ignored minutes later, as Younes Kaboul was denied what would have been his third goal of the season after lashing a volley past Brad Friedel. The referee's assistant adjudged that Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s deep cross went out of play before Alan Hutton helped it back into the box.
Nonetheless, Tottenham would not be denied again, when the returning Van der Vaart – who inspired Spurs’ victory in the home tie against Aston Villa – gave his side the lead on 23 minutes.
The Dutchman reacted quickly to latch onto another Alan Hutton cross, getting in front of James Collins before lashing home his seventh league goal of the season.
However, the hosts received a timely boost minutes later, as Jermain Defoe was given his marching orders after contesting a ball with Collins, in which the England striker lead with his arm. It was Spurs’ first dismissal for two years, when Defoe again was sent off against former club Portsmouth.
For the moments which followed, Villa were in the ascendancy, and appealed for another penalty when Marc Albrighton went down under a challenge from Assou-Ekotto, but replays showed such a decision would have been harsh on the Cameroon full-back.
But despite their numerical disadvantage, Spurs looked good for ther lead and kept the ball comfortably throughout the remainder of the half, albeit that the lack of an added frontman stiffled the threat of Van der Vaart, who was forced to operate as a lone forward until the interval.
Double Dutch | Van der Vaart brace saw Spurs reclaim fifth spot
It was Houlier who looked to mix things up after the break, replacing the ineffective Jonathan Hogg with Stiliyan Petrov – making his first appearance for three months having been sidelined through injury.
Petrov’s introduction added increased steel and experience to a Villa midfield that was left wanting in the open exchanges.
Redknapp, however, refused to alter his set-up, believing that the presence of Van der Vaart at the far end on the field would help his side maintain possession despite being down to 10-men. And his decision was proving effective, as the Dutchman held his own against the physical Collins and Cuellar.
It wasn’t long before the home side started to turn the screw on their opponents; in an attempt to maximise their man advantage in the penalty area, with Collins in particular going forward at every opportunity, with Kaboul and Michael Dawson tussling for and deflecting a series of flighted balls to safety.
But in attack, Tottenham continued to look dangerous, with the majority of their play stemming down the right flank, with Hutton and Aaron Lennon linking up well.
Villa’s Spanish defender had his head in his hands on the hour mark, as he meet Stewart Downing's whipped-in cross with a downward header which bounced inches wide of Gomes’ right post, before winning a corner after impressive work from Delfouneso, but once again Tottenham were able to hold onto their lead.
It was the former youth team player who looked most likely to spark his side into a revival, but still it was the visitors who looked most comfortable in possession.
Luka Modric seemed to thrive in the heart of midfield, picking out his team-mates with a catalogue of neat and crisp passing. Then Spurs ignited the match once again.
A beautiful flick from Van der Vaart set Bale loose on the right flank as he evaded the attentions of Stephen Warnock. The Welshman put on the after burners before jinking passed Cuellar on the half-way line. Bale cut inside as he approached the edge of the penalty area, before feeding Lennon who slid the ball back for the onrushing Van der Vaart to slot home his second goal of the game.
Both managers then tinkered their line-ups on 75 minutes, with the returning Van der Vaart replaced by former Villa striker Peter Crouch, while Houllier introduced former Arsenal favourite Robert Pires — to the resounding boos from the travelling faithful.
Gasps soon echoed round Villa Park, as Gomes was forced into save after Gabriel Agbonlahor left-rip from the edge of the area, and the Brazilian got down well to to tip the shot wide. From the resulting corner, Gomes went down with what appeared a finger injury, but after a period of treament, the 'keeoer was fine to continue.
Finally, Villa made the breakthrough on 81 minutes - to deny what would have been the visitor's first clean sheet since the opening day of the season.
Albrighton floated in a cross from the left flank, a wonderfully curled delievery which forced Gomes to wait until the last minute before reacting for the ball. Collins leapt for the ball, but didn't appear to make contact, as the ball drifted into the corner of the goal, for Albrighton's second goal against Spurs this season.
Tottenham were then aggrieved as Pires chopped Bale down in front of the Spurs dugout, to the anger of Redknapp, who went toe to toe with the former Arsenal star.
But the goal proved only a consolation for Houlier's side, as Spurs were able to hold onto their lead to secure all three points, despite a barrage of the hosts at the death.