MARCH 20 2010 18:56h
Niko Kranjcar's wonderful goal secured an impressive 2-1 victory for Tottenham against ten-man Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
Niko Kranjcar's wonderful goal secured an impressive 2-1 victory for Tottenham against ten-man Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, although a hugely positive afternoon was marred by the loss of Roman Pavlyuchenko to injury.
If Spurs manager Harry Redknapp believes in omens, Tottenham’s first victory at Stoke City for 25 years may be hugely significant in the chase for the final Champions League qualifying place - despite Russian striker Pavlyuchenko limping off in the first half with a hamstring injury to further deplete his striking options.
Spurs last win in the Potteries came with a goal from Garth Crooks, the former Stoke City striker and that season they finished third in the old First Division.
A quarter of a century on, Spurs have a five point advantage in the race for the lucrative fourth-placed finish, thanks largely to the second half dismissal of Dean Whitehead, by referee Mike Dean.
Stoke simply could not resist for virtually the whole of the second half with ten men, despite Matthew Etherington’s penalty cancelling out Eidur Gudjohnsen's first goal for Spurs since his return to the Premier League.
Unlike the Premier League's leading trio, all three of their rivals for the final Champions League place - Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa - had all previously tried and failed to emerge with maximum points from the Britannia Stadium this season.
Even after the loss of Pavlyuchenko with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, casting further doubt over the wisdom of Redknapp’s decision to allow Robbie Keane to join Celtic on loan, Spurs hopes of breaching fortress Britannia were lifted almost right from the start of the second half.
Up until then their chances had been limited to a long-range shot from Kranjcar, which forced Thomas Sorensen into a frantic scramble to claim at the second attempt and prevent Peter Crouch from accepting a simple tap in.
Spurs had been frustrated by some typically robust Stoke resistance and always looked vulnerable because of the uncertainty of goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, but just 30 seconds from the re-start Gudjohnsen injected the kind of quality that persuaded Redknapp to lure him back to the Premier League.
He had plenty to do once he collected Crouch’s clever lob over the top of the Stoke defence and held off the challenge of Abdoulaye Faye, before lifting a measured finish beyond Sorensen for his first goal for the club.
Stoke’s plight worsened almost immediately when Whitehead, who had already been booked by Dean for one challenge on Modric, was unfortunate to be shown a second yellow card for a clumsy challenge on the Croatian playmaker.
But Stoke's never-say-die attitude seems to know no bounds.
If Whitehead’s sending off was unlucky, Dean’s decision to award a penalty for Benoit Assou-Ekotto's foul on Dave Kitson was fortunate in the extreme and Matthew Etherington’s finish was unerring to give Stoke something to cling to, but their resistance was broken again.
Once again Gudjohnsen was involved with a clever step over in the area after Assou-Ekotto’s cross and Kranjcar’s venomous right-footed shot gave Sorensen no hope and Tottenham plenty of reason to be optimistic of Champions League football at White Hart Lane next season.