BOLTON // An inability to beat their supposed inferiors has undermined Tottenham Hotspur in their quest to finish fourth in the Premier League. It threatened to result in their elimination from the FA Cup, too. But for their inability to score from 12 yards, they would have sealed a quarter-final berth. As it was, Bolton could not emulate Wolves in defeating Tottenham, who avoided becoming the latest of the pretenders to tumble out of the competition.
When Harry Redknapp addressed his players after the first 45 minutes, that fate awaited them: the subsequent improvement suggested the gift of the gab has not deserted the Spurs manager. "We certainly didn't play in the first half," said Joe Jordan, the first-team coach. "In the second, we did dominate the game." Indeed, abject before the interval and excellent thereafter, they contributed to the clichéd game of two halves.
Bolton had the upper hand before the break when Kevin Davies gave them the lead, but Tottenham were a team transformed as they rallied. Jermain Defoe equalised and, had Tom Huddlestone converted a penalty, the comeback would have been complete. It would, though, have been harsh on Bolton. "Our level of performance was of a high standard," Owen Coyle, the manager, said. "If we had come in at half-time with a bigger lead, nobody would have thought it was unjust."
As it was, one goal was the least they deserved for an enterprising and energetic approach. Johan Elmander's work rate was allied with Matt Taylor's rapier of a left foot and Chung-Yong Lee's bright wing play. Bolton had umpteen attempts at goal, though most displayed more effort and ambition than accuracy. When they did strike, however, it was with the kind of fluent football that has become Coyle's hallmark but, before his move from Burnley, was a rarity at the Reebok Stadium. A terrific team move featured 16 passes, but with a crucial contribution from the sacked Gary Megson's most-maligned signing, Elmander.
The Swede got to the byline to complete a one-two with Lee, who played his part with nonchalant assurance, and pulled the ball back for his strike partner. Davies took one touch to control it before providing the accurate finish. "For large periods of the game, we looked the team in the ascendancy," Coyle added. "It was a game of an hour for us and that last half-hour for Tottenham." That was not strictly accurate. Spurs struck the woodwork twice in quick succession 10 minutes after the restart. First Defoe put in a high cross, Peter Crouch leapt above Jussi Jaaskelainen and was denied by the bar. Then Wilson Palacios' swift burst was followed by a cross that Paul Robinson turned towards his own goal, the outstretched foot of Jaaskelainen lifting it on to the bar.
A goal was coming and it duly arrived. Gareth Bale, who should be exempted from criticism for Spurs' first-half display, advanced and cut infield before finding Defoe. He rifled his shot into the roof of the net, albeit aided by a deflection off Sam Ricketts. Indeed, luck deserted the unfortunate defender. When Crouch juggled the ball, it struck Ricketts' raised arm. While Bolton objected, referee Phil Dowd pointed to the penalty spot. Huddlestone was the chosen man after Defoe had missed his previous four spot kicks. He fared no better, however, with Jaaskelainen guessing correctly. "Spurs have had a bad season with penalties," Jordan said. "Tom takes penalties in training with power; today he tried to place it."
Jaaskelainen was equally defiant in open play, saving well from Niko Kranjcar and Defoe either side of the equaliser. Tottenham's top scorer also volleyed just wide in added time. "We should have won the game," Jordan added. Perhaps, but after 45 minutes, they looked more likely to lose it. email@example.com