Premier Analysis: Listless Spurs squeeze past luckless Villa
After a Manchester derby in which both teams displayed weaknesses that question their right to compete at the top, an undercard of a game showed why these two are currently scrapping some way below that level.
Villa's admirably efficient early-season translation of shots into results – 6 accurate efforts in the first 4 games gained them 10 points – now seems a very long way away. It's now seven weeks since they earned a point, and although they finally scored their first goal in that time, it was once again their only effort on target of the entire match.
Not that Villa knew that would be the case when Andi Weimann put them ahead after 16 minutes. The goal came when Charles N'Zogbia got the better of Danny Rose down Villa's right wing, pulling it back for Weimann to slide home.
The erratic Austrian hadn't seemed the most likely candidate to end the goal drought after 547 minutes – just over six hours of goalmouth inaction, during which in a parallel universe Cristiano Ronaldo was bagging 20 goals.
Christian Benteke had been involved in Villa's previous three games without blunting the scorekeeper's pencil but looked back to something approaching his bustling best in the first half, bullying Younes Kaboul and firing in 4 efforts; although 0 were on target – this is Villa – 1 in particular, which rattled the angle of post and bar, gave the home fans hope.
The goal-induced joie de vivre was certainly not evident among the Spurs fans, for whom cup wins over Asteras Tripolis and Brighton don't really outweigh a poor league run of one win in seven games, a haul of five points from 21 that had dropped them into the bottom half. This is not the top-four tilt Tottenham ordered.
Furthermore, new boss Mauricio Pochettino has seen his old club Southampton settle into second place. As he juggles his new squad through various competitions, the Argentine has come under question – and today's flat 4-4-2 seemed to lack width, not to mention cup goal-grabber Harry Kane… and, as it turned out, pace and movement. Spurs reached the halfway point with only 2 shots on target.
That was enough for Pochettino to bring on his compatriot Erik Lamela for the ineffective Christian Eriksen, although Spurs' key man came not from Buenos Aires but the borough of Enfield. By full-time Ryan Mason topped the lists for passes (57/65), final-third passes (23/30), tackles (5/5), take-ons (5) and interceptions (3) – and he was also involved in the incident that turned the match.
An increasingly niggly match about-turned in the 64th minute, not long after Pochettino had replaced the ambling Emmanuel Adebayor with the keen Kane. Mason niggled at Benteke on the touchline, leaning his head into the Belgian – at which the big man pushed the kid's face away.
That earned Villa's centre-forward a straight red and Mason a somewhat lucky reprieve, although if he had been watching the earlier Manchester derby he'd have seen Joe Hart do the same to the referee without censure. Kids can be impressionable like that.
Villa aren't exactly the type to go gung-ho at the best of times, and the combination of numerical inferiority and a rare lead only coaxed them into their shell: from that point on, Spurs out passed them 3 to 1.
But you don't go winless for the thick end of two months without being somewhat shonky at the back, and Spurs finally equalised when Nacer Chadli was surprised to find himself unmarked in the six-yard box to score his fifth in nine league games.
Villa's woes got worse in the last minute of regulation time. Carlos Sanchez brought down Andros Townsend just outside the box, and although Lamela fancied the free-kick, Kane snatched it off him – then saw his shot bounce off the bounce of Nathan Baker, completely wrong-footing Brad Guzan and nicking three points at the death.
The win was wildly celebrated – defeat would have left them 15th, three points above the drop zone; victory left them eighth, three points behind the top four – but couldn't hide the fact that Spurs seem, as ever, a team in transition with a manager stood on a trapdoor.
There are good players at the club, but that's not unusual for the Premier League; although he doubtless needs time to impose his vision, Pochettino quickly needs a run of victories to hush the naysayers. Their season could yet go either way.
Can the same be said of Villa, now in their worst form for 47 years? The suspended Benteke will now have to sit and watch his team-mates poke ineffectually towards the target, but this side has been feeding on scraps for too long.
The opening goal had prompted the Holte End to launch into a predictable but long-awaited "we'll score when we want", but maybe Lambert's Villa don't want it enough.
- Andreas Weimann’s goal ended Villa’s Premier League goal drought of 547 minutes.
- Weimann has scored (3) or assisted (1) 80% of Villa’s 5 league goals this season.
- Aston Villa scored with their only shot on target in this game.
- Charles N’Zogbia got his first assist since February 2013, in a 2-1 defeat at the Emirates against Arsenal.
- Christian Benteke was sent off for the second time in the Premier League; his first came against Chelsea at Villa Park in May 2013.
- Indeed, that instance was the last time any Villan was sent off in the top-flight; they didn’t receive a single red card last season in the league.
- Nacer Chadli has scored 5 goals in 9 league appearances this season; he managed just 1 in 24 last term.
- Harry Kane has scored 9 goals in 13 appearances in all competitions this term, though today’s winner was his first league goal of the campaign.
- Tottenham have won 9 and lost 0 of the last 12 Premier League matches against Aston Villa (D3).