By Jay Jaffa
As Aaron Lennon scampered behind Sam Ricketts to latch onto Luka Modric's exquisite through ball and square for Emmanuel Adebayor to tap home Tottenham's third goal against Bolton, you'd be forgiven for wondering just how the club made a mess of their Premier League advantage over rivals Arsenal.
The answer perhaps lies in the fact that Lennon has missed 20 of the club's fixtures this season.
Aside from a 15 minute spell of pressure from Owen Coyle's side, Harry Redknapp presided over a confident and dominant league win – Spurs' first at the Reebok Stadium and their first away win of 2012. But it was Lennon's harassment of Ricketts from the first to last minute that stood out as the key battle on the evening.
Gareth Bale, Tottenham's other flying winger, found the alleys he so often motors down closed for much of the game, Dedryck Boyata growing wise to the Welshman's wizardry. But on the opposing flank, the diminutive Lennon fed off the incisive passes of Kyle Walker and Modric to bedevil poor Ricketts.
This performance highlighted how essential Lennon is to Spurs' game-plan – a style much less intricate than you might believe. Tottenham received many plaudits this year for the exhilarating football they are capable of playing. However, it is largely down to fast counter-attacks led by Bale and Lennon that caused the greatest damage.
|HARRY'S SECRET WEAPON?
|11/2||Aaron Lennon is 11/2 with Paddy Power to score in a Tottenham victory over Aston Villa on Sunday.|
Which leads me onto a surprising statistic: of the 51 games Tottenham have played this campaign, Lennon has not been named in the starting eleven on 27 occasions. That is a staggering 53% of the club's fixtures this season. If you delve deeper, you will find that he has only made the bench on seven of those 27 absences.
A succession of injuries have plagued Lennon's season and forced numerous experiments on the right wing. Rafael Van der Vaart and Niko Kranjcar have been trialled but to little success. Perhaps the most underrated side of Lennon's game is the defensive work he offers the team. It is certainly understated but should be no less heralded than the injections of pace he can offer to the Spurs attack.
In his absence, Kranjcar and Van der Vaart provided prowess on the front foot but it was evident that Walker suffered on the right flank – often finding himself overrun by the opposition. Lennon's importance has been shown through Redknapp's insistence to rush him back from injury – often exacerbating a problem and causing a further few weeks on the sidelines.
|ON THE PLANE?
| LENNON'S 2011-12 PREMIER LEAGUE RECORD
Unfortunately it has been the constant threat of injuries that has haunted Lennon's club career but perhaps more prominently – an international career that has just never found a rhythm.
As Roy Hodgson sets about the task of naming his first England squad, Lennon should be one of six wide options available for this summer's European Championships. It's hard to believe Lennon is still just 25-years-old and possibly even harder to believe that he has been a member of both of England's last two international tournament squads.
He made two appearances at World Cup 2006 and started England's first two games of the World Cup in South Africa. Despite the trust bestowed on him by Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, the winger has only won 19 caps for his country since making his debut in 2006, just prior to the World Cup.
Over six years, it is a paltry accumulation, particularly when compared to Liverpool winger Stewart Downing – the owner of 33 England caps. Downing becomes relevant in this argument because he also travelled to Germany as part of Eriksson's squad, holding just one cap more than Lennon.
So why the disparity? Lennon was only called into two of Capello's post-World Cup squads – withdrawing through injury on both occasions whereas Downing has featured in nine of the past 12 squads. It's possible that having seen Lennon in close-quarters, Capello simply didn't take to the Spurs midfielder.
To the many journalists at White Hart Lane in the post-match media scrum, it has become a running joke that Lennon is simply not worth bothering. A grunt confirming another hamstring injury was as much interaction Lennon offered the press all year and whilst it's entirely possible he just dislikes the media, his laconic attitude may well have hindered his international status.
Compare Lennon to Theo Walcott – a similarly pacey winger often chastised for lacking a final pass. Walcott has had statistically his best season in an Arsenal shirt this year with eight goals and 11 assists in the league but has had far less media fanfare in comparison to years gone by.
The PR machine was in overdrive following his £12 million move to the Emirates Stadium as a 16-year-old and Eriksson bowed to media pressure taking young Walcott to World Cup 2006 as an unused squad member.
The media have an extraordinary influence on England's national football team but with Hodgson in charge of affairs, PR may not come into the equation. Lennon's use of pace and crucially the marriage between that and confidence has had a telling impact on Tottenham's return to form.
If as I suspect, Hodgson trusts his own judgement, the quietly effective flier on Tottenham's right wing may yet make his third consecutive summer tournament with England. Whether that is from the start or the bench remains to be seen but Lennon should be considered England's best impact player ahead of the summer trip to Poland and Ukraine.
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