Blues 1 Tottenham 1 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 04 December 2010 By Richard Barker

Wednesday night was a game that everyone was looking at, working towards and I just feared that it would have taken a lot out of the players.  

To be honest, if it had, I don't think anyone would have blamed them.  I'll confess that I struggled to feel up for this Spurs game after Wednesday night, and the whole atmosphere pre-match and during the first half indicated that I wasn't alone.  I know that it's a cliche to refer to the whole "after the Lord Mayor's show" feeling, but that was apparent, I felt.

So, in light of all of that, I have to say that I think this was an excellent result for Blues.  Bear in mind too that Spurs have been playing midweek and weekends all season with their excellent Champions League exploits, but even they'd had a week off before this game.  Everything, to me, was stacked in Spurs' favour.

Alex McLeish made a couple of changes for Blues - that was no surprise.  I personally felt he might make a few more, and again, I wouldn't have blamed him if he had done.  Craig Gardner and Jean Beausejour came into the side for Seb Larsson and Nikola Zigic, both of whom dropped to the bench.

Much had been made pre-match of Spurs' injury problems, but their front five was still Modric, Lennon, Bale, Defoe and Crouch.  Not bad at all.  Defensively though they were without some decent players, and that's where they've struggled this season.

Blues started fairly brightly for ten minutes or so, but Spurs gradually began to take control.  It was all too easy for them to open Blues up with their excellent movement.  Modric, Bale and Lennon all drifted out of position and Blues struggled to pick them up.  They really are a very good side these days and they do pull you all over the place.   

I've said a few times this season that Ben Foster has been a fantastic signing, but I think you're going to have to accept that you might get two or three mistakes a season.  That's fine, honestly.  I have no issue with that.  You're not going to get a 'keeper who doesn't make a mistake or two.  Foster also makes brave, proactive decisions (like Joe Hart does, the opposite of Maik Taylor) and that means that occasionally he'll get it wrong.  He did for Spurs' goal.  He came and tried to punch away a Bale free-kick but never really got himself in a position to do so.  He failed to clear the ball, was on the ground and Sebastian Bassong hooked in.

Spurs went on to dominate the rest of the first half and that fear that I had about Blues appeared to be manifesting itself.  There wasn't really enough support for Jerome, playing as a lone striker, and others looked a little leggy.  Fahey struggled on the right and Beausejour just couldn't really get in the game.  Lee Bowyer, who I felt was Blues' outstanding midfielder on Wednesday night, was again impressive, but otherwise it was tough for Blues.

Spurs were a little wasteful with their final ball and their finishing, but in truth had they gone in 2-0 up or 3-0 up, it wouldn't have been a surprise.

Blues were much better in the second half though.  Much, much better.  Even before the substitutions that I'll come to shortly, Blues just seemed to shake off the lethargy from the first half and compete with Spurs a lot better, closing them down far more and preventing them having things so easy.  Suddenly they weren't quite able to open Blues up so much.  Modric (who I love) saw much less of the ball.

After about 60 minutes McLeish brought Zigic on for Fahey and went 4-4-2 with Bowyer moving to the right.  Zigic made a massive difference.  He genuinely won every header - I can't think of him losing a ball in the air against Gallas or Bassong.  Suddenly Jerome was able to take up the role of looking for knock-downs rather than trying to win them himself and Blues were able to pin Spurs further up the pitch.

Whilst Blues pinned Spurs further and further back, they still struggled to create clear-cut chances.  They just never really had the bounce of the ball.  Spurs were playing more and more on the counter attack and had Defoe not been just coming back from injury, I suspect he'd have taken one of the two chances that fell to him.

Blues did get their equaliser with about ten minutes left though, and there was no surprise that Zigic was key.  With him on the field, Blues were able to hit diagonal balls to the far post and with Zigic winning everything, it meant Blues always had a chance.  Sure enough, when another such ball came in, Zigic superbly headed across goal and Gardner arrived to head down past Heurelho Gomes.

Gardner's an important player for Blues.  He adds drive and impetus from midfield.  He doesn't always make the right decisions, but he's always in the game and, as we saw on Wednesday, he does get beyond the midfield and support the forwards.  I know a lot is made of the comparison between him and Bowyer, but in the way that Gardner gets forward from midfield, he's very much like the Bowyer we all saw at Leeds (and still do sometimes, in fairness).

Blues perhaps looked more likely to get a winner, although Spurs were still a threat on the counter attack.  I think either side getting a winner would have been unfair.  Spurs were excellent first half but I think that Blues' second half display and improved desire meant that they fully deserved their share of the points too.  I thought it was a fair result.

A few comments on a few players then, and firstly there's no doubt that this was the performance everyone had been looking for from Nikola Zigic.  He was a genuine handful and Spurs just couldn't cope with him.  Before the goal he was poor on Wednesday, but he came on here and bullied Gallas and Bassong.  He won everything in the air and was aggressive and strong.  His header across goal for Gardner's strike was superb and it wasn't the only time he did something similar - he just wasn't always backed up so well.  I was delighted for him.  We want and need much more of the same.

Secondly, Jean Beausejour.  A few people criticised me for "writing him off" after his performance at Stoke.  I wasn't writing him off.  I was just saying that he was absolutely dreadful at Stoke, which he was, and that he had a long way to go.  He still does.  He wasn't as bad as he was at Stoke (it would have been virtually impossible to be that bad again), but he still seems to be a long way short of Premier League standard.  He was clearly told to make forward runs more, and he did, but not with the ball.  He rarely looked to take Alan Hutton on which, given that Hutton struggles to defend, was disappointing.  He was more involved in the second half and does look to have good delivery with his left foot, but we need to see much more from him.  Nowhere near as bad as at Stoke, but still a long way short.  Hopefully he'll improve.

Finally, there's that frustrating oaf Cameron Jerome who all I do week after week is criticise.  Well, what on earth can I say about his performance today?  Where do I start?  

I'll use just one word to describe Jerome today - immense.

Seriously, he was superb.  As a lone striker he was strong, powerful, held the ball up well, linked up with those behind him (if they ever got there) and was a real handful.  He let the centre halves know that he was there and never let them rest.  When Zigic came on, his role changed and he was the support striker really.  He made good runs, was excellent on the ball, he dropped off the defenders to link up play.  He was genuinely excellent for 90 minutes.

For those who think I'm overly critical of him, I appreciate that perhaps I seem to target him sometimes, but doesn't this performance just justify that even more??  This is what he can do.  This is how he can play.  If he does this every week, what a bloody centre forward we'd have.  If he and Zigic both performed like they did today, blimey, we wouldn't have an issue up front.  They don't though, but they've both shown what they can do and they both need to live up to these standards.

Today though, Jerome was really, really excellent.  I'll criticise when I see fit and I'll give praise when I see fit, and there's absolutely no doubt that he deserves praise after today.

All in all I was very happy with today's result and the second half performance.  I really wouldn't have been surprised if Blues had been beaten by a couple of goals today with a fairly poor performance following Wednesday and, as I've said, I wouldn't even have really blamed anyone.  It would have been understandable.

It looked, for 45 minutes, that that's what we might get too, but a lot of credit needs to go to Blues for their second half display against a very good side.  Spurs are brimming with quality and confidence and this is a decent result for Blues in the circumstances.  It's been a good couple of weeks.  Wolves will be tough next week though, but at least there's a good week to get ready for it.