Typical Tottenham change the record
Contenders or pretenders? It is the age-old debate where Tottenham are concerned. Too often, the answer has been unflattering, the verdict being that they possessed more style than substance. Now opinions may have to be revised. Defeating Manchester City in such emphatic fashion was the sort of result that has tended to prove the prelude to disappointment. Not on this occasion.
"When we lose, people always say: 'Same old Tottenham'," complained Harry Redknapp during the week. If this was untypical Tottenham, it was all the more welcome for them. The notion of Spurs as soft southerners was tested in the bitter cold of Ewood Park but, at a ground where only Aston Villa and Manchester City had won in Sam Allardyce's first year in charge, they prospered. Peter Crouch doubled his tally of league goals with a brace and Redknapp said: "It was the type of game Tottenham have lost in the past."
His side remain outside their equivalent of the promised land, but it was not merely the defeats suffered by Manchester United and Liverpool that suggested a top-four finish is feasible. There was a resilience to Tottenham which has not always been evident before. Umpteen free kicks and corners were repelled and, if Blackburn borrowed Corporal Jones' theory that "they don't like it up 'em", they nevertheless stood tall. Sebastien Bassong excelled, clearing off his own line after Benni McCarthy had struck the post and mustering a fine recovery tackle when the South African sent Michel Salgado clear.
His excellence was required. If an ability to win without playing particularly well is often a hallmark of successful sides, Tottenham displayed it. The classy Niko Kranjcar apart, Tottenham were not at their most fluent. Kranjcar, with one beautifully guided pass for Jermain Defoe, bisected the Blackburn defence, but such creativity was a rarity, as both managers admitted.
"It was a tough game, not a pretty game," added Redknapp. "It wasn't free-flowing football but it was three terrific points." Allardyce added: "We virtually nullified Tottenham to almost nothing in terms of chances and the only chances that fell were to Peter Crouch but he scored two of them."
Indeed Crouch celebrated three times. One - when he headed in Aaron Lennon's cross - was correctly disallowed. Another, his second goal, brooked no dispute, when Lennon and Jermaine Jenas combined on the right and the latter slid the ball into the path of the striker, who converted calmly.
His opener was more contentious, at least in Blackburn's eyes. After Tom Huddestone struck a shot of such inaccuracy that it didn't even go out for a goal kick, Kranjcar was able to meet it, loft his cross into the middle and watch Crouch out-jump Ryan Nelsen to head in via the bar.
Allardyce, rarely an admirer of referees, was doubly unhappy. He said: "The foul on Ryan Nelsen is blatant, wrestling him to the floor, and it's the wrong decision. It is 90 seconds into injury time when there was only one minute signalled. We have been yet down by the referee as far as I am concerned yet again."
As even Allardyce accepted, however, it was the benefit of possessing a goalscorer. "You pay the extra money for the extra quality," said the Blackburn manager, who numbered Crouch among his summer targets before settling for cheaper alternatives.
Blackburn's greatest threat came from a player their manager has appeared to distrust. McCarthy lacks a league goal this season and is found among the replacements more often than he is in the team. But in the continued absence of David Dunn, he was both the set-piece specialist and the link between midfield and attack. A 14th-minute free kick deflected off Lennon on to the cross bar. If that was a cross, there was more intent when McCarthy chested the ball down in the box and shot. Heurelho Gomes tipped it on to the near post and Bassong executed a last-ditch clearance.
"That is the turning point," said Allardyce. "On 99 times out of 100, Benni would have scored that." Thereafter, however, Redknapp introduced Jenas and Spurs grew in purpose. A substitutes' bench including the midfielder and Robbie Keane is evidence of real strength in depth. A win at Blackburn is a sign of progress. Typical Tottenham? Perhaps, in time, it will be.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Niko Kranjcar - Superlative against Manchester City on Wednesday, the Croatian was merely excellent today. But at £2.5 million, he is among the bargains of the season. When his compatriot Luka Modric is fully fit, Redknapp faces an awkward but enviable decision.
BLACKBURN VERDICT: As Allardyce admitted, a lack of goals is an issue. This was the third successive league game at Ewood Park where they have failed to score and their four strikers have a combined total of four in the Premier League. That Franco di Santo is only half as prolific as Ryan Nelsen is one illustration of their difficulties and an attacker surely should figure on Allardyce's January shopping list. In a strange midfield, Junior Hoilett showed promise but Dunn was definitely missed.
TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Despite a fine start to the season, clean sheets have been a rarity and this was both welcome and well-deserved. Bassong, in particular, was excellent, while Michael Dawson also did well to repel the aerial attacks from Rovers. Gomes, much criticised a year ago, proved reliable when it mattered today.
NOT THE REAL DEAL: Michel Salgado's decade at Real Madrid probably didn't prepare him for this. He made just his second Premier League start and, whereas the Bernabeu has heaters in the roof, the infinitely colder Ewood Park has no such luxuries. Played on the right of midfield, Salgado lasted 63 minutes and looked distinctly off the pace.