Tottenham Hotspur 2 - 2 Reading
A footballer occasionally comes along who rapidly becomes the game's hottest property.
This week's fantasy player for Premier League giants like Manchester United and Chelsea seems to be Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov and his cash-hungry agent is doing all he can to get his client out of his Tottenham 'misery' during this January transfer window.
The sum required to persuade Tottenham to part with their prized asset seems to be around £30m and while few who have watched the mercurial striker in action during his 18-month spell as a Spurs player would doubt his class, his statistics generally don't back up the price-tag.
In essence, Berbatov is the ultimate Tottenham player. Better than his average team-mates and blessed with supreme ball control, his end product and goal return has yet to confirm he is a player who should command such a vast value. Few doubt he is a great footballer, potentially one of the world's very best, yet when you are paying so much, you need more than the odd silky touch around the box.
Indeed, until his four-goal haul against Reading last weekend, Berbatov had scored just 16 goals in 52 league games for Tottenham and while he has doubtless set-up just as many for his free-scoring team mates, he cannot yet be classed among the top league of strikers.
The fact that Juande Ramos had no hesitation in naming him as a starter for the FA Cup third round tie suggested he cared little about the speculation surrounding his No.9. In fact, the full strength side sent into battle against a weakened Reading was evidence that Tottenham have ambitions to reach Wembley on two fronts this season, with the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Arsenal coming up next Wednesday.
Whether this faltering Tottenham side make Berbatov look a little better than he actually is remains to be seen, but on a day when Soccernet's Insider came to White Hart Lane to asses the merits of football's 'Most Wanted', we were not to be disappointed as Berbatov turned in a five star display.
A week after these two sides played out a game that finished 6-4 to Tottenham, goals were a certainty in this game and both combatants proved yet again that their defensive skills are anything but Premier League. Indeed, long-time England goalkeeper Paul Robinson will mark this date in his New Year diary as yet another black afternoon.
His part in Reading's opening goal could not have been more embarrassing as Stephen Hunt launched a long and innocuous ball into the box, which looked set to be a comfortable take for Robinson.
While he was under some pressure from Andre Bikey, it was hard to see how the long-time England No.1 managed to carry the ball over his own line, but the decision of the assistant referee went against him and Hunt had his goal after 25 minutes of an open FA Cup third round tie.
It was a goal against the run of play as both Aaron Lennon and Robbie Keane had missed clear chances to open the scoring for Tottenham, yet they needed their talisman to dig them out of another self-induced hole and Berbatov's equaliser just two minutes after the Reading opener another example of the Bulgarian's sublime class.
As Reading appealed for an off-side flag that never came, Berbatov wasted little time in composing himself and lashing the ball into the top corner. Coming from anyone else, it would have been a great finish, but you expect it from this guy.
He may look a little languid and uninterested at times, but when the ball comes Berbatov's way, his genius clicks into gear and he so nearly produced another brilliant goal as he swivelled and crashed a volley just wide moments after his polished opening strike.
Jermaine Jenas then wasted two glorious chances to put Tottenham into a first half lead and the frustration displayed by Berbatov as his team-mate hit Reading keeper Adam Federici on both occasions was obvious to all. He is crying out to play with players as good as himself and doesn't look content to be the biggest fish in a moderate size pond.
Berbatov then put Spurs ahead with a cool penalty three minutes into the second half after Robbie Keane was fouled in the box and with that, it seemed as if Reading's spirit would be broken. Keane wasted another glorious chance before he was hauled off by Juande Ramos before Berbatov proved he was human by missed from a matter of yards after fine work down the flank from a revitalised Aaron Lennon.
You just knew Spurs would regret missing so many chances and so it proved as Robinson spilled Leroy Lita's 78th minute shot and Hunt was on hand to sweep home the equaliser in a game they should have been out of a long time before.
From that point on, the true Tottenham took centre stage. Panicking every time Reading moved forward, the gasps from the White Hart Lane faithful suggested they were expecting a winning goal to fly past the hapless Robinson at any moment. This team clearly needs a psychologist to get them through the final few minutes of games as their confidence evaporates when the pressure is applied late on.
They survived this latest example of craziness by luck as much as judgement and Reading boss Steve Coppell suggested the display of his second string side silenced those who claimed his club had disrespected the FA Cup with their pre-match comments.
'Once we got a handle on how Spurs were playing, we made life difficult for them and I make no excuse for the team I picked,' he said. 'The lads selected justified their places for this game. They are first team players and needed to show they were all up to speed. They did that by showing their commitment.'
Ramos' press conference was delivered through a Spanish translator, but his anger at the spurned opportunities was clear in any language. 'We missed some big chances, especially in the first half, and should have won this game easily,' he said. 'We will not give up on this competition just because we have a lot of games to play now.'
His reaction to a question about apparent Spurs target Alan Hutton was the most alarming aspect of the briefing. 'Who is Hutton,' he asked, blissfully unaware that the club had lodged an £8m bid for the Rangers defender earlier this week. 'I don't know anything about this.'
Clearly Tottenham Sporting Director Damien Comolli is up to his old tricks by trying to sign players without telling the club's manager. It is yet another pathetic example of why this former North London giant is a long way away from being run like a top four club.
Spurs fans had better hope Dimitar Berbatov does not get fed up with their lack of professionalism on and off the pitch.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Dimitar Berbatov
This brilliant Bulgarian is a class act and it's no wonder the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea covet his talents even at a £30m price-tag. He gets so frustrated with his faltering team mates throughout every game and deserves to be playing in a better team.
WHAT A MISS: Robbie Keane looked certain to score five minutes into the game, but he somehow missed an open goal from five yards.
FOOD WATCH: The pre-match chilli was a little bland, but we should be grateful to be treated so well by the Tottenham press team.
BERBATOV VERDICT: Some have compared Berbatov to Old Trafford legend Eric Cantona and while such talk would be considered a mortal sin by United regulars, his laid-back approach and classy touches are in the mould of the great Frenchman. If he was to have the sort of impact Cantona made in Manchester, a £30m investment would be a bargain in the January sales.
Who is Hutton?
||— Juande Ramos
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