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Aug 14, 2007

Jol won't hit the panic button

Tottenham Hotspur 1-3 Everton

It has taken just four painful days for Tottenham's Champions League ambitions to be exposed in savage fashion.

As Martin Jol's side took to the field at Sunderland on Saturday, they were being hailed as the new members of the Premier League elite, with a second successive summer of healthy spending apparently pushing Spurs ahead of the other pretenders and turning them into genuine contenders.

Expectations generally coincide with extra pressures and if the slightly unfortunate 1-0 defeat against Roy Keane's newly promoted side at the weekend was a disappointing setback, then this comprehensive defeat against a functional Everton side suggested Tottenham are destined to remain marooned in their role as the bridesmaids of London football this season.

Even though they may still have thirty six league games to play, their pre-season optimism has already been replaced by the familiar taste of pessimism and it will take a mighty effort to recover from an opening to the campaign that has been more deflating than anyone could have imagined after some encouraging pre-season performances.

A post mortems may seem a little premature in mid-August, yet goals from Jolean Lescott, Victor Anichebe and Alan Stubbs gave Everton the sort of routine victory a genuine top side specialises in, so it seems apt to pick holes in the make-up of a team whose desperation to under-achieve is coupled with serious flaws.

While there must be some doubts over increasingly unconvincing keeper Paul Robinson, a back-four featuring the injured Michael Dawson, Gareth Bale, Ledley King, alongside Pascal Chimbonda has the makings of a decent unit. With that in mind, the nervy third choice performers playing in this game give little indication of what the real Tottenham defence may be capable of.

Their much-heralded strike-force are also certain to test the best of defenders in the months ahead, but the considerable talents of Dimitar Berbatov, Robbie Keane, Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe may be left to curse their supply line as they aim to live up to their billing.

It's not a lack of numbers that is hurting Tottenham's midfield as the likes of Tom Huddlestone, Danny Murphy, Teemu Tanio and Wayne Routledge are waiting in the wings, yet Tuesday night's starters looked well below the standard expected of a player in a 'top four' side. To be brutally honest, Steed Malbranque, Jermaine Jenas and Didier Zokora are little more than average players and they have been exposed as such this week. They might have been good enough for Fulham, Ipswich and Newcastle, but will never be top class performers.

Indeed, Malbranque was one of Everton's better players in the opening half an hour and as seemed incapable of trapping a ball or finding a white shirted colleague and it is not just in a creative sense that Tottenham's midfielders look second rate. Without the under-rated Tanio for this game, they lacked a holding midfielder willing to break up the opposition's attacking intent.

The tireless Keane did his best to track back at every opportunity against a highly committed Everton side, but Jenas and Zokora are more intent on producing a fancy flick than to getting their foot stuck in.

The term winning ugly would not go down well among Tottenham fans who, it is often said, would rather see their team lost a nine goal thriller than win 1-0, but if they are to realise their ambitions, such mundane score lines needed to be added to their repertoire.

Anthony Gardner's lone reply was little consolation for supporters who jeered their team off at half-time and had left long before the referee had put those who remained out of their misery. Such abuse may have been a little harsh on a side who played with a decent degree of verve in the opening 45 minutes and were it not for a deflection on Stubbs free-kick seconds before the break, the scale of this unexpected crisis would have been kept into some suitable perspective.

As Berbatov's header crashed off the inside of a post and away to safety shortly after the restart, an eerie depression began to settle on a set of fans who struggled to hide the deflation and, to his credit, Jol didn't try to hide as he faced the media.

'It was a disastrous start and to concede three goals to Everton means you are going to have a tough night,' stated Jol. 'They are a good defending team and the main problem we have had in the first two games is that we have seven defenders out injured. I'm not using that as an excuse, but it does not make things easy.

'Everyone around the club has a right to be disappointed, but let us not talk about any panic yet. There are still a lot of chapters to be written in this season and we have to show we can bounce back.'

Everton can take plenty of credit for executing a clinical game plan that was given a finishing gloss by a few helpings of good fortune and manager David Moyes could barely stop smiling as he gave his verdict.

'You can't put any words how pleased we are to come to Tottenham and win 3-1,' he said. 'We came here with two up front and we did the right things at the right moments. It was a real workmanlike performance at times and there was plenty of quality in there as well.

'There are only two games gone and we are not going to get carried away. We have been in those top four positions before, but the competition is going to be fierce this season, so we have to keep on working.'

Watching England manager Steve McClaren got a chance to look at Darren Bent in action as he made his first start for Spurs, but it was the display of keeper Paul Robinson that must have given him the greatest concern. Ever since the established national team No.1 allowed a ball to bobble over his foot in a Euro 2008 qualifier last year, the ex-Leeds stopper has looked a shadow of his former self and he was woeful again in this game.

At fault for Everton's first and third goals, he looked edgy every time he attempted to claim a cross and his curious tendency to stand on the spot rather than try and save a ball directed at his goal is a habit he needs to shed quickly if he wants to remain as England's first choice. Not even a decent couple of late stops could cover up Robinson's flaws.

Such issues matter little to Tottenham boss Jol who is rapidly becoming the hot tip to become the first Premier League manager to lose his job. Promoting yourself as a giant in the making is proving to be a dangerous policy for all associated with Tottenham's rapid demise.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Leon Osman
The sort of unsung hero Tottenham are crying out for in the midfield, Osman was willing to do the dirty work and deserves to be hailed as the star of a fine Everton victory.

FOOD WATCH: A very tasty mixed grill in a 'cockney café' across the road from the stadium meant any press room pre-match offerings were not required. However, the half time chicken pie did little for The Insider's late night cholesterol count.

EVERTON VERDICT: Mixing hard work with a touch of class, David Moyes has found a recipe that will serve Everton well again this season and with Tottenham already falling by the wayside, maybe they can be the dark horses to ruffle some 'top four' feathers.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Unless Jol finds a balance in his defence and the ideal midfield combination, he will not get the best out of his potentially devastating strikers. Even at this early stage in the season, you have to question whether this menacing looking Dutchman has what it takes to haul Spurs onto the next level.


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