Aston Villa 1 Spurs 2: Harry's revenge as O'Neill's top four dream is derailed
16 March 2009 11:57
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Harry Redknapp was once more cast in the role of villain at Villa Park, but this time with good cause as he exacted the sweetest of revenges against supporters who had abused him five months ago.
By denting the Champions League aspirations of Martin O'Neill's side, the veteran boss laughed last and longest as goals from Jermaine Jenas and Darren Bent dragged Tottenham one mighty step closer to Barclays Premier League salvation.
Redknapp, on duty with Portsmouth last October, was at the centre of a coin-throwing incident when the resistance shown by his side during a goalless draw tipped fans behind the visitors' dug-out over the edge. One was moved to throw a 50 pence piece in his direction.
It is a fact that no-one leaves Villa Park these days without having had to fight tooth and nail for the spoils. It was the same here. Unusually, Spurs withstood a ferocious Ashley Young-inspired bombardment to earn themselves a shot at victory.
They had been given the benefit of a fourth-minute opening goal when the lively Aaron Lennon forced Brad Friedel to palm away his cross. However, much to the surprise of the American keeper, he had merely presented Jenas with the chance to head the visitors in front.
That sparked an onslaught from Villa to such an extent that Young forced Redknapp to substitute right back Didier Zokora 10 minutes before the interval. Such was his torment that he would have been glad of the rest.
It was a brave move and ultimately the right one as Vedran Corluka suffered far less, although he was undoubtedly helped when another Lennon-inspired moment allowed Spurs to double their lead four minutes into the second half.
Villa have done well but they will not finish in the top four, says Redknapp
This time he cut in from the right, Luka Modric's shot was parried by Friedel and the ever-alert Robbie Keane was on to the ball in a flash. It was touch and go whether the American keeper's hand would be sufficient to prevent the ball from crossing the goal-line. However, Bent made sure.
The two-goal lead undoubtedly knocked Villa out of their stride. O'Neill threw on three forwards in an attempt to force Spurs on to the back foot.
But Redknapp's two centre halves were outstanding and it was not until a momentary lapse in the dying stages that John Carew was able to raise home punters out of their seats for the right reasons.
Redknapp did not need to gloat at the final whistle. His team had done his talking.
He said: 'The character was right. We have been in great form, really. It's 33 points now since I've been here - from 21 games, that's top-seven form.
'I spoke to Peter Storrie at Portsmouth the other day. He reckons they need 42 points to stay up. If that's the case, we've still got a bit of work to do.'
O'Neill, to his credit, asked his colleague to walk out of the tunnel in tandem. 'Martin said to me, "Hang on Harry, I'll walk out with you",' added the Spurs chief.
'I still don't know what it is that I'm supposed to have done. All I did was turn up here with Portsmouth and we played fantastic.'
It would be too easy to suggest that a break in Dubai - on the back of an energy-sapping run in the UEFA Cup – had anything at all to do with Villa's performance. Woodgate was quietly outstanding.
In the first half, he produced three brilliant near-post headers inside 60 seconds that were of the highest order.
Up and away: John Carew climbs above Woodgate to score for Villa
Predictably, O'Neill was downcast. Emile Heskey thumped a header against the crossbar from Gareth Barry's cross during first-half injury time. Had that gone in, few would have predicted a Spurs triumph by the final whistle.
But after Bent's goal, Villa simply lost their way. They could not even thread a ball out to Young and were reduced to lumping it forward fairly aimlessly, until James Milner produced across from nowhere that was nodded home by substitute Carew.
Downcast: Martin O'Neill struggles to comprehend Villa's latest failing
'I still think we can do it,' said Villa's boss, pondering their Champions League qualification hopes.
'Recent form doesn't suggest that, but we're capable. Way back in November we lost two games in six days (against Middlesbrough and Newcastle) and had to face Arsenal and Manchester United in the next two games and started a 13-match unbeaten run.'
He reserved a rightfully withering response for those supporters who cynically cheered when Gabby Agbonlahor was taken off 11 minutes from time.
O'Neill added: 'He's going through a period at this minute where confidence is low. But I've got to tell you that is no way to treat a player for what he's done.
'People have short memories. He might occasionallygive the impression from a distance that he has a bit of a swagger andthat he doesn't care but that's far from the truth.'
Redknapp left with a far more chilling warning for Villa's fans.
'I've said all along that I fancy Arsenal for fourth,' he said.
'They've got players coming back, like Walcott and Fabregas. They are at another level, in my opinion. 'Not that this Arsenal-boosting win will have pleased all the away support. 'Some Tottenham fans said to me, 'I hope we don't win at Villa',' revealed Redknapp. 'I have never heard such c**p in all my life.'
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Friedel 7; Reo-Coker 7, Knight 6, (Carew 62min, 8) Cuellar 6, L Young 6; Milner 6, Barry 6, Petrov 6, A Young 7; Heskey 5 (Gardner 82), Agbonlahor 5 (Delfouneso 79). Booked: Reo-Coker.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (4-4-2): Gomes 7; Zokora 4 (Corluka 35, 7), Woodgate 9, King 8, Assou-Ekotto 6; Lennon 8, Palacios 6, Jenas 7, Modric 7 (O'Hara 82); Keane 7, Bent 6. Booked: Zokora, Keane, Modric.
Man of the match: Jonathan Woodgate.
Referee: Steve Bennett.