Tottenham 2 Sunderland 0
Tottenham 2 Sunderland 0 I HOPE I get a good reception from the Spurs fans, said Darren Bent, in the build-up to his highly-charged return to White Hart Lane. Suffice to say, his wish was granted. Greeted with a mixture of jeers and cheers when his name was announced in the build-up to kick-off, Sunderland's record signing was applauded as his weak second-half spot-kick failed to beat Heurelho Gomes in the Tottenham goal. In terms of his rocky relationship with Spurs supporters, he had never had it so good. In terms of proving a point following his acrimonious departure from north London in the summer however, he merely reinforced the reputation that had hung around his neck from the moment he joined Spurs in 2007. In the eyes of the Tottenham fans, he will always be Twit rather than Twitterer. Sunderland supporters see him rather differently of course, and while his penalty miss was undoubtedly the pivotal moment of an open and entertaining encounter, his eight goals in 12 games so far this season mean he remains firmly in credit on the banks of the Wear. Yes, his penalty, earned after he tumbled under Gomes' challenge, was wretched. Yes, it lengthened a dreadful run that has now seen Sunderland's players miss five of their last six penalties if you include the unsuccessful Carling Cup shoot-out against Aston Villa. And yes, it will hardly have impressed watching England boss Fabio Capello, who nevertheless picked the striker last night in his squad for this weekend's friendly against Brazil. But like so many of his Sunderland team-mates on Saturday, it was also simply proof that it wasn't Bent's day. The Black Cats had missed everything else to that point, so it was perfectly in keeping with a frustrating afternoon that even the most gilt-edged of opportunities went begging. Darren has been outstanding for the last three months, said Sunderland manager Steve Bruce. He's missed a penalty, but all great players miss penalties in their career. The England manager will know that. We haven't got a dearth of strikers, and he is right up there with the big boys. Bruce was quick to absolve Bent of any blame for Sunderland's fourth away defeat, but the boss was keen to rebuff any suggestion that the striker had dived for the penalty and question referee Kevin Friend's decision not to send Gomes off. First, the alleged dive. Bent's feet were already off the ground when Gomes collided with him six minutes after the break, but there was definite contact and it is hard to see how the forward could have got out of the way of his opponent. BBC commentator Garth Crooks might have branded Bent a diver moments before Bruce delivered his post-match address, but the striker's actions appeared less of a dive and more of an over-exaggeration. Crucially, there is a difference. Garth Crooks is talking an absolute load of bullshit, said a clearly incensed Bruce. He used to play here didn't he Enough said. Everyone in the ground knew it was a penalty, and there is a big difference between diving and taking evasive action. If someone is hurtling towards you and is going to smash into you, then of course you are going to take evasive action. He has taken the ball around the goalkeeper and, if there isn't contact, he sticks the ball in the back of the net. Which brings us to the second talking point should Gomes have remained on the field The Tottenham keeper unquestionably denied a scoring opportunity, but just how clear-cut the opportunity would have been is open to debate. Bent had pushed the ball wide of the goal, and it is not certain that he would have scored. On reflection, a yellow card was probably about right. For me, it was a clear red card, Bruce countered. The law says he has denied him a goalscoring opportunity, and even if he was going away from goal a little bit, he would have stuck it away. I'm not going to criticise the official, but we didn't get the decision and that happens too often, especially away from home. Friend's performance was erratic throughout, but as well as pointing a finger at the referee, Bruce would be as well to assess the role played by his own players in Sunderland's downfall. Fielding a five-man midfield in the absence of Kenwyne Jones, Lorik Cana and Lee Cattermole, the Black Cats were competitive and, for large periods, the visitors were the dominant force in the central third. Jordan Henderson produced a performance brimming with composure and maturity, while Andy Reid and Steed Malbranque offered plenty of support for Bent. The problem, and it was a crucial one, was converting good play into goals. Reid hit the post with a dipping longrange half-volley and Gomes saved well from both Malbranque and Kieran Richardson, but for all their bright work, Sunderland's players were anything but clinical. If Bruce is going to persevere with a 4-5-1 formation away from home, a lack of midfield goals will be an issue. Malbranque has only scored once in his entire Black Cats career, while Reid and Richardson contributed five goals between them in the whole of last season. For all of his quality, Bent cannot shoulder the goalscoring responsibilities on his own. It's a question mark against us, admitted Bruce. We created five or six chances against Aston Villa, five or six chances against West Ham and five or six chances again here. You don't normally get that in the Premier League so we have to be more clinical. That's where we have to improve. Chances went begging throughout, and as a result, a listless Spurs side were able to claim a result that lifted them into the top four in the table. Robbie Keane broke the deadlock with the home side's first chance of the game Peter Crouch nodded down Benoit Assou-Ekotto's cross and, while Craig Gordon saved the Irishman's first attempt, Keane was on hand to bundle in the rebound but for much of the first half, Spurs were second best. They improved slightly after the break, largely thanks to the midfield efforts of Tom Huddlestone, and the Tottenham enforcer put the game out of Sunderland's reach with an excellent goal in the 68th minute. Jermain Defoe held up possession, and without breaking stride, Huddlestone lashed a ferocious 20-yard drive off the underside of the crossbar. We've got Arsenal next week, and we've only just played Manchester United and Liverpool, so we're in a run of games we knew was going to be difficult, said Bruce, who has seen his side claim just one win from their last five matches. But the level of performance was terrific and if we keep playing like that, I'll be happy. Match facts Goals: 1-0: Keane (12mins, bundled in rebound after Gordon saved his first attempt from six yards out) 2-0: Huddlestone (68mins, crashed a 20-yard drive off the underside of the crossbar after a pass from Defoe) Bookings: Henderson (38mins, foul), Turner (48, foul), Gomes (51, foul) Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicester) his refusal to dismiss Gomes was probably right, but so much of his refereeing was dreadful 3 Attendance: 35,955 Entertainment: TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (4-3-1-2): GOMES 8; Corluka 6, King 6 (Dawson 60mins 5), Woodgate 5, Assou-Ekotto 7; Palacios 6, Huddlestone 8, Jenas 5; Keane 6 (Kranjcar 63mins 5); Crouch 5, Defoe 6. Subs (not used): Alnwick (gk), Hutton, Bale, Bentley, Pavlyuchenko SUNDERLAND (4-5-1): 6 Gordon: Almost prevented Keane from scoring, and tried to carry on despite breaking arm; 5 Bardsley: Tackled well enough on his return to the side but failed to offer much going forward 6 Da Silva: Looked comfortable enough at centre-half and kept Defoe quiet for large periods 6 Turner: Battled gamely against Crouch, but picked up a booking that rules him out of the Arsenal game 5 McCartney: Blotted his copybook when he played Keane onside for Spurs' opener; 6 Campbell: Ran his heart out on the right flank, but always looks more comfortable up front 7 HENDERSON: Compensated for loss of Cana and Cattermole with performance that belied his years 7 Reid: Probed intelligently throughout and almost scored with a belter that hit the post 5 Richardson: Got himself into some decent positions, but lacked the composure to make the most of them 6 Malbranque: Tested Gomes with a number of efforts, but should score more than he does; 5 Bent: A miserable penalty miss was in keeping with an unusually unproductive display Subs Fulop (for Gordon, 67mins): First job was to pick the ball out of the net, even if he was hardly at fault for the goal 5 Healy (for Malbranque, 77) Ferdinand (for Bardsley, 77) (not used): Nosworthy, Meyler, Reed, Murphy MAN OF THE MATCH HEURELHO Gomes Might have seen red when he sent Bent tumbling, but produced a series of excellent saves.
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