Three Points The Best Hangover Cure
After last year’s Wembley triumph, Tottenham Hotspur suffered from a Carling Cup hangover so mammoth that their season never quite recovered. Spurs were left to languish in mid-table and with European football secured and very little to play for, the North London side lost all momentum and fell flat. Manager Harry Redknapp must not let the same happen again this term, with his side still in danger of falling back into the relegation places in the Premier League. There is far more at stake for Harry than there was for previous manager Juande Ramos.
The way Spurs combat the cup final defeat could make or break their season. Some players were visibly worn after 120 minutes against Manchester United, most notably Michael Dawson, while midfielder Jamie O’Hara, a Spurs fan since childhood, found missing a penalty all too much to take. The squad as a whole simply must put this defeat behind them and quickly as they attempt to pull away from the bottom half of the table.
Redknapp has no further distractions away from top flight survival having watched an ‘experimental’ or ‘weakened’ team fall to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Cup last week. Spurs picked up a vital three points in their last Premier League outing away from home against Hull City and their next two meetings – at home to Middlesbrough and away to Sunderland – are screaming ‘must-win’, with the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool waiting for them in the last five fixtures of the season.
A Rare Win
Middlesbrough’s win against Liverpool last weekend was unexpected by many; the Merseyside-based club were desperate to put their championship chase back on track following some mediocre results. But Boro’ were more than equipped to deal with Rafael Benitez’s men; Stewart Downing, for example, often criticised by England fans, turned in one of the best performances of his season, giving Martin Skrtel a torrid time on the left wing.
Gareth Southgate, the Middlesbrough manager, has been patient with his front line, who haven’t exactly fired on all cylinders this season, and is starting to see some dividends pay off. Southgate also has a whole host of young talent in his side including Downing and goalkeeper Brad Jones, who was instrumental in keeping Liverpool at bay.
Southgate will not think his work is done after just won good result however, as he will be well aware that Middlesbrough have won only one of their last 15 games, a statistic that needs reversing immediately if survival is to be achieved. Boro’ fell back into them bottom three after Blackburn Rovers defeated Hull, another struggling side, but a win against Spurs can see them climb back out and give them the impetus to continue to crawl slowly up the table.
Man Utd 0 – 0 Tottenham AET (Man Utd win on pens, Lge Cup Final)
Tottenham 1 – 1 Shakhtar Donetsk (UEFA Cup)
Hull City 1 – 2 Tottenham (Prem)
Shakhtar Donetsk 2 – 0 Tottenham (UEFA Cup)
Tottenham 0 – 0 Arsenal (Prem)
Middlesbrough 2 – 0 Liverpool (Prem)
Middlesbrough 2 – 0 West Ham (FA Cup)
Middlesbrough 0 – 0 Wigan (Prem)
West Ham 1 – 1 Middlesbrough (FA Cup)
Man City 1 – 0 Middlesbrough (Prem)
Ledley King will not feature for Spurs having played in their last two games as his knee injury continues to cause him problems. Jonathan Woodgate, who failed a late fitness test ahead of the Carling Cup final, is also a doubt, while Roman Pavlyuchenko has a groin complaint that could keep him out. Carlo Cudicini, Pascal Chimbonda, Wilson Palacios and Robbie Keane are all available again after being cup-tied, but Alan Hutton and Jermain Defoe are still out.
Possible Starting XI: Cudicini; Chimbonda, Corluka, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Jenas, Modric; Keane, Bent.
Gareth Southgate has named an unchanged squad to the one that defeated Liverpool at the Riverside last Saturday and is likely to name the same starting 11 with no fresh injury worries. After resting Tuncay Sanli, Southgate has seen the striker score a vital goal and the Turkish forward looks set to keep his place. Jeremie Aliadiere looked to be struggling at the end of Boro’s meeting with the Merseysiders, but has been back in full training since.
Possible Starting XI: Jones; Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz; O’Neil, Bates, Arca, Downing; Sanli, Aliadiere.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The star man for Tottenham at the weekend was undoubtedly Aaron Lennon. The right winger was in majestic form, giving one of the best left backs in the World in Patrice Evra a real test, one that he often failed as Lennon got round his man. He nearly capped the performance with a goal had it not been for United ‘keeper Ben Foster as well, and should he feature on Wednesday night he will look to harass the temperamental Emanuel Pogatetz.
Stewart Downing is arguably Middlesbrough’s hottest property these days and in the past couple of weeks, the England squad member has shone perhaps more than ever. In Boro’s win over West Ham United in the FA Cup Downing scored a remarkable free-kick as good as anything David Beckham will produce this season. The left winger went on to produce a glittering display against Liverpool and if he can reproduce such good form, he could dramatically affect the result of this game.
If Tottenham Hotspur can get over the heartbreak of a Carling Cup final runners-up medal rather than retaining the trophy, they will be in good shape to win against Middlesbrough at White Hart Lane. Harry Redknapp has a few selection doubts, but with cup-tied players returning to the fold, his side will be suitably fresh. Middlesbrough can take confidence from their victory over Liverpool and may be able to develop that into a winning mentality, but it will be difficult for them away from home, making the long trip from Teesside to North London.
Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 0 Middlesbrough
Jamie Dunn, Goal.com