Spurs left frustrated as Stoke defence holds firm once again
Premier League: Tottenham 0 Stoke City 0
Tottenham tumbled out of the top four after being frustrated by a Stoke side who secured their ninth clean sheet of the season at White Hart Lane.
Spurs struggled to find a way through a Potters outfit who restricted their hosts to just three clear-cut chances – headers for Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Bale and substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson - as the visitors played out their fifth goalless draw of the campaign.
The result is that Andre Villas-Boas’ side will spend Christmas outside the Champions League spots after being overtaken by Arsenal and Everton, who beat Wigan and West Ham respectively.
Spurs had kept a clean sheet in their previous outing at Swansea but the head coach opted to change his back line, bringing in two big men to negate Stoke’s notoriously direct approach.
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Michael Dawson returned from a hamstring injury to add his aerial prowess to the defence and Steven Caulker was recalled alongside him in the centre, while Jan Vertonghen switched to left-back at the expense of Kyle Naughton.
Spurs nearly gifted their visitors an early lead as Kyle Walker thumped a suicidal low ball across the edge of own penalty box - straight to Kenywyne Jones, who fortunately fired high and wide.
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There was another scare shortly afterwards as Hugo Lloris came for a corner and got stuck in no-man’s land, but the Potters were unable to take advantage and get an effort on target.
Tony Pulis’ side had succeeded in turning the clash into a physical battle, and the typically full-blooded Sandro was booked for a nasty high tackle on Glenn Whelan.
Stoke then created their best chance of the half, breaking quickly and freeing Jones, whose shot was saved by Lloris but appeared to be gift-wrapped for the arriving Matthew Etherington – until Sandro’s timely goal-line clearance.
The Brazilian soon conceded another free-kick as he continued to walk a disciplinary tightrope in the mdfield battle, and Vertonghen also picked up a yellow card for a late challenge on Whelan.
There had been little for the Lilywhites faithful to cheer in the opening 20 minutes, but Vertonghen then showed his class, escaping down the left flank and beating three players before swivelling with his left foot and crossing with his right – unfortunately just too high for Jermain Defoe.
Gareth Bale gradually began to gain in influence, delivering a wicked cross which Ryan Shawcross deflected over his own bar and then seeing a thunderous 25-yard effort diverted wide of Asmir Begovic’s goal.
The Welshman then created Tottenham’s stand-out opportunity of the first period, racing from the halfway line and delivering an inch-perfect cross for Emmanuel Adebayor, who looked primed to head home but planted his effort wastefully over the bar.
Adebayor then freed Defoe, who lashed a first-time left-footed effort high and wide – and the half ended with a low Defoe shot which flew wide of Begovic’s left post.
Tottenham had ended the first period on top, and they picked up where they had left off after the restart, with Defoe again trying his luck from 25 yards but missing the target.
Stoke were gradually penned back onto the edge of their box, defending with 10 men and offering no route through as Spurs probed in vain.
Aaron Lennon and Bale swapped flanks in a bid to offer Stoke a different problem, and it nearly paid dividends as Lennon hung up a cross from the left and Bale leapt above the visiting defenders but put his header over.
At the other end, Stoke made a rare raid forward, with Geoff Cameron making tracks down the right and cutting the ball across the box to Ryan Shotton, but he miscused and sent a tame effort at Lloris.
That was followed by a quiet period as Spurs continued to labour against their defensive-minded guests, but they created another opening with 20 minutes left as Defoe chipped the ball over the defence for Sandro, whose low cross was well cut out by Robert Huth.
Villas-Boas introduced Sigurdsson in place of Lennon with 13 minutes of normal time left, but there was little improvement in Spurs’ attacking threat until the final moments.
Bale had a penalty appeal turned down as Cameron Jerome attempted to stop him from shooting from behind, and Sigurdsson then directed a late header at goal, only to see Begovic get down to make a vital save and earn a point for his team.
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Caulker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Lennon (Sigurdsson 77), Sandro, Dembele, Bale, Adebayor, Defoe
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs