Fresh tactics for Spurs at Watford - and AVB’s left with plenty to ponder
Watford 0 Spurs 1
Tottenham recovered from a highly uninspiring first-half performance to triumph at Watford in their penultimate pre-season outing, with Jermain Defoe netting the winner in Lloyd Doyley’s testimonial.
Trialling new tactics, and a number of his squad players, Andre Villas-Boas will have been highly disappointed with a poor first-half display.
However, a handful of half-time substitutions produced the desired effect – and the introduction of the impressive Kyle Walker was particularly effective as the 22-year-old set up Defoe’s winner 10 minutes after his arrival.
Having played in a 4-2-3-1 formation in their four previous pre-season outings, there was a subtle change to the Lilywhites’ system at Vicarage Road.
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Jake Livermore, Jermaine Jenas and Tom Carroll gave Spurs a more fluid three-man central unit, each taking turns to sit deep and attack.
Defoe started up front, having missed the last two friendlies in the US following the tragic death of his cousin, with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon on either side in a three-man attacking prong.
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Aside from Villas-Boas’ new tactics, there was precious little to interest the travelling Spurs fans in the first half.
The former Tottenham man Mark Yeates whipped in an awkward, bouncing cross which Brad Friedel pawed behind for a corner, and William Gallas headed narrowly over from an inswinging Carroll corner - but that was the summation of the action before the break.
There was little control over the possession from Tottenham, and a consistent stream of long balls towards the dimunitive Defoe were easily fielded by the Watford rearguard.
Jermaine Jenas was particularly culpable as Tottenham struggled to string passes together, summing up his technical limitations by advancing through midfield but passing to no-one in particular and gifting the ball straight back to Watford.
Jenas was certainly not alone though and, having moved to the right-hand side, Bale initially looked well short of his best.
The Welshman tried to find Defoe on two occasions towards the end of the first period but saw his first attempt easily intercepted and then, having collected the ball on the halfway and advanced with customary intent, he overhit his throughball.
Villas-Boas responded with a string of changes at the break, with Carlo Cudicini, Jan Vertonghen, Kyle Walker and Gylfi Sigurdsson replacing Friedel, Gallas, Naughton and Jenas.
Vertonghen made an early impression, advancing out of the back line into Watford territory and freeing Bale, whose cross from the left was blocked by Doyley and went behind for a corner.
Spurs were instantly looking better and, although Walker incurred Villas-Boas’ displeasure with a huge crossfield pass to Bale which went into touch, the substitute right-back quickly made amends by creating the breakthrough goal 10 minutes after the interval.
Walker scorched past Watford’s left-back Carl Dickinson to reach the by-line and then crossed for Defoe, who was left unmarked six yards from goal and headed home.
Watford very nearly equalised after an error from Cudicini, who dallied over a clearance and then failed to get any distance on it, allowing Yeates to run at a threadbare defence, cut inside and whip a curling effort inches wide of the far post.
But Spurs had the ball in the net again moments later as Lennon slipped the ball through to the onrushing Walker, who crossed to gift Bale an open goal and an easy tap-in – only to see the goal disallowed due to Walker being offside.
Walker and Bale combined again, with the Welshman finding the Young Player of the Year, who returned the favour with a deep cross to the back post, where Bale headed at Manuel Almunia – and that was the Spurs winger’s final contribution as he was replaced by Andros Townsend with 15 minutes left.
Townsend, who was booed by the home crowd following an underwhelming one-month loan spell at Watford in 2011, nearly added to his encouraging pre-season displays with a goal, forcing Almunia into another save with a 25-yard effort.
However, Spurs were unable to add to their tally in the final minutes, leaving Villas-Boas to reflect on the importance of his first-team players – and to ponder the future of some of his reserves.
Tottenham: Friedel (Cudicini 45), Naughton (Walker 45), Gallas (Vertonghen 45), Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto, Livermore (Bentley 79), Jenas (Sigurdsson), Carroll (Huddlestone 67), Lennon, Bale (Townsend 75), Defoe (Kane 67)