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+Big Match Verdict

Posted on 23 November 2004  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

IT IS OFTEN an interesting pastime doing a bit of ear-wigging on football smalltalk among ex-players and managers in pre-match press rooms.

On this occasion at Villa Park it was ex-England and Aston Villa boss Graham Taylor providing a little insight into how he fills his time when football isn't occupying his thoughts.

"I didn't watch any football on Sunday, to be honest," he reported to the assembled midlands media. "I was tending to my record collection, putting them in alphabetical order.

"There's quite a bit of Vera in there," he added, before one wag couldn't resist questioning which particular Vera he was referring to. "Vera Duckworth?" he replied before Mr Taylor cleared the matter up once and for all...

"The Vera. The one and only Vera!" So that was that, the game hadn't even started and our knowledge of Graham Taylor's musical loves was added to our bank of useless information to bore people with.

Away from Dame Vera, Villa Park is one of football's great stages, the place oozes with tradition and, for a fan, is a proper ground. It is easy to see why, apart from the location, this has been a favoured FA Cup semi-final venue.

There were a couple of changes to the starting line-up from the Arsenal game, Thimothee Atouba returned to action in place of Reto Ziegler after a month out with a knee injury, while Fredi Kanoute stepped in up front for Robbie Keane.

'Same old Cocknies' bellowed the inhabitants of the Holte End on eight minutes when the ball was shielded out of play for a goalkick away from the intentions of Ulises De La Cruz. Interesting to note the player the chant was aimed at - none other than Thimothee Atouba...

A fascinating free-kick routine emerged in the 13th minute with Michael Carrick shielding the ball, Erik Edman doing the mock run-up and Defoe in place to make the decisive strike. Only trouble was, it confused the referee Mr Foy more than anyone and it was he who applied the all-important mockers to the grand plan.

Carlton Cole had Paul Robinson at full stretch from his near post a minute later in the first real chance of the game before Atouba forced Thomas Sorensen into semi-meaningful action at the other end.

Villa were gathering momentum, but the next best chance fell to Ledley King - although he didn't know much about it as the ball skidded through onto his shins in front of goal following a defensive mix-up.

The lead should really have been secured seven minutes before the break when Kanoute laid a perfectly weighted pass in the direction of Brown in the area. It was at a slight angle, but Sorensen should really have been more troubled by the midfielder's effort.

Edman looked to be struggling with an ankle injury just before half-time and was set to be replaced by Reto Ziegler, but the whistle delayed his introduction. Ziegler duly took over left-sided duties in the second period, but played ahead of Atouba who dropped into the full-back position.

Kanoute just failed to connect with a Mendes cross three minutes into the half before a Defoe spin in the area forced Sorensen to save sharply to his right. The same player, minutes later, flashed an effort just wide of the post after cutting in brilliantly from the left.

After this spell of domination Villa went up the other end and scored. A corner came in from the right that evaded all defensive heads, Nolberto Solano bought it under control with his back to goal and, from about seven yards out, fired past Robinson to give the home side an unwarranted lead.

It should have been two. Shortly after the ball squirted across the area and into the path of Solano again who fired firm and true towards the goal but Robinson was on hand to perform a vital block at his near post.

Goals change games and the complexion of this one certainly altered. A flurry of Villa chances followed and Robinson came to the rescue several more times during the period following the lead being taken.

On 68 minutes came the chance to level when Mendes burst down the left and delivered a centre that Kanoute nodded just wide. Mendes was then replaced by Keane.

Villa continued to press and Robinson continued to defy before Martin Jol played his last card with the introduction of Calum Davenport for his debut. The England under-21 player went straight up top as we sought to get something out of the game, with Ziegler switching to left-back for the subbed Atouba.

Davenport posed a new threat, winning the ball in the air to set up Keane, but the striker scooped his shot skywards. It seemed fairly typical of recent fortune - fortune the team will be seeking to reverse when Middlesbrough come calling at the Lane on Sunday.