After the draw against WBA I complained about lack of power through the central midfield area, and a lack of pace out wide. Somebody, somewhere was listening.
With Paulinho and Dembele restored to midfield we had a powerful duo commanding the central areas. That they added guile and composure was also a major benefit to the team as a whole.
Paulinho probably had his best game for us since his summer transfer, drifting into forward positions, flicking the ball delightfully into the path of his comrades. In a dominant first half he had a 100% pass completion rate – dropping to around 92% by the time he was substituted.
Dembele seemed to glide effortlessly past opponents who frequently resorted to manhandling him to stop his progress. On the one occasion they failed to get close enough he unleashed a bullet of a shot to give us our two goal cushion.
Pace was provided by Lennon who proved a major handful to Stoke´s defence for the entire game, running at the opposition and tormenting them until finally he scored with a sublime half volley. That apart, his end product was not that good, failing to find any fellow Spurs man with any of his crosses, but at least he was getting into dangerous areas.
All three were sorely missed last time out so no surprise that their return should be greeted with our biggest League win of the season.
Defensively we were barely tested as Stoke were more Stuck than anything else, recording just two shots on goal – one a weak Crouch header while the other was an Adam piledriver freekick which flew two yards wide. They offered so little that the outcome was rarely in doubt – especially once Adebayor´s acrobatics had forced Shawcross into handling and Soldado´s composure from the penalty spot was as good as ever.
Three goals, three points and a small move up the table into seventh, just three points off the magical fourth spot but as we all know with a vastly inferior goal difference. Everton now hold that position but Liverpool and ManUre sit between them and us and in order to qualify for the Champions League it looks like a straight race between the four of us.
With Le Arse, Citeh and Chelski all winning – yet again – and beginning to stretch away from the chasing pack, it appears that anything above fourth may be beyond us.
A win on Wednesday – a repeat of that fantastic result at Old Trafford last season – would go a long way to achieving that objective.
It would appear that midfield is now sorted (at least until the Beast is back) but defence still presents a problem – missing four players who could well be in most people´s preferred starting line up (Walker, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose). Is anyone convinced that Dawson – despite playing in every League game so far – is our best defender? And Naughton and Fryers are only stand-ins, capable against lesser teams but suspect against top sides.
However, our strike force is once again the main focus of attention. Despite putting in a lot of effort, a lot of running off the ball and combining – in different ways – for the first goal, both Adebayor and Soldado failed to score from open play despite both being given gilt-edged opportunities.
Yet again we had so many shots on goal, but were so wasteful.
Throughout the season so far, we have consistently had more possession (today´s game was no exception as we had around 65/70% throughout the match) we have almost always had more shots than any of our opponents, yet we also cannot convert these into goals.
If Tim Sherwood can, by some miracle, come up with a solution to this seemingly simple problem – we will have a second half to the season to remember.