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Jan 5, 2011

Everton expose Tottenham frailties

The natives were growing restless amid underachievement on Merseyside. The manager's position was becoming the subject of speculation while the supposed star striker wasn't scoring. Not, as might be supposed, Liverpool, but Everton. Yet there are stark differences between the red and blue halves of this troubled city.

• Everton 2-1 Tottenham
• Moyes hails "determination"
• Premier League round-up
• Premier League Gallery Photo Gallery

There is a constancy of purpose to David Moyes and, nearly nine years into his reign, Everton maintain the invaluable habit of halting downward slides before they become critical, for either club or manager. Moyes had insisted he wouldn't walk away and, on nights like this, only the opposition want him to.

A truly storming second half condemned Tottenham to a defeat that hinted at the blemishes in their candidature for the title. In a comparison of the clubs, Seamus Coleman was a fitting match-winner. A converted full-back on the wing, a callow Celt with pace in abundance, he has distinct similarities with Gareth Bale.

But the £60,000 signing overshadowed the man with an estimated worth of £30 million. Bale was shackled for a second time by Phil Neville and exited early with a back problem. Coleman, meanwhile, subjected Benoit Assou-Ekotto to a torrid time with some pitiless pieces of acceleration. "Gareth Bale should get the major plaudits from everybody this season and Phil Neville did an unbelievable job," said Moyes. "But if you're going to talk about a winger tonight it can only be Seamus Coleman."

His decisive goal was the product of sheer speed allied with drive. After Jermaine Beckford played in Louis Saha, Coleman's pace enabled him to keep up the centre-forward so that, when Heurelho Gomes parried the Frenchman's shot, he was on hand to head in.

The Brazilian was a busy man. Saha and Coleman converged on his goal time and again. Endearing as their approach is, the verdict might be that Tottenham were too open. Lacking anyone remotely resembling a defensive midfielder, they had no barrier in front of the back four when Everton swarmed forward. When they acquire momentum, when a roused crowd raise the volume, the ingredients for a special night at Goodison Park are there. But it helps the visitors' cause if they display a little more resistance.

Rewind to the start of the game and the omens were inauspicious for Everton. With Tim Cahill absent on international duty, Moyes named a team with a mere 10 league goals between them. The focal point of their attack hadn't contributed any.

That soon changed. Afforded too much room by William Gallas, Saha drilled a 25-yard shot that beat Gomes at his near post. "That's what everyone knows Louis Saha is capable of," added Moyes. "That's why he's been revered. On his day he can be an unbelievable talent."

Only two minutes of the game had elapsed, but it had been a long time coming for Saha: 25 league games and five days short of 11 months, to be precise. "King Louis" had been an anaemic advertisement for republicanism, but he was transformed into the force of old.

Tottenham had a majestic performer of their own. Rafael van der Vaart is the frontrunner for the signing-of-the-season award, an impression he cemented even in defeat. How Chelsea and Liverpool, to name but two, could have benefited from his invention and inspiration.

David Beckham, if he joins, should have to defer to the new darling of White Hart Lane. Van der Vaart levelled when Alan Hutton's deep cross was met by Peter Crouch who, in his now familiar role as his strike partner's supply line, looked for the Dutchman. Van der Vaart responded with the leap of a target man, rather than a fantastista, high above Sylvain Distin, and a header that flew past Tim Howard.

His confidence was already apparent: an audacious lob almost caught Howard out. He found his range minutes later, though the whistle had long since gone when an inch-perfect chip nestled in the Everton net. Howard twice denied him a winner and, when Coleman struck, the month that is supposed to be about signings witnessed a valedictory appearance.

New Year, new club: Robbie Keane's January ritual never seems to change, even if it is never quite his fault. As Ireland's answer to Bill Bryson prepares for life in Birmingham, the reality is that Spurs have outgrown Keane; these days, the designated flair player in the main striker's slipstream is a World Cup finalist recruited from Real Madrid. Van der Vaart is their deluxe upgrade. But rather than a celebrity makeover on the right wing, this suggested the next addition should be to stiffen the spine of the side for such tests on their travels.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Seamus Coleman - It is often said that Everton need a right-sided midfielder. They don't. There are plenty of full-backs who can testify to his impact. Redknapp outlined his qualities anyway: "He is willing to run and run and run."

EVERTON VERDICT: "They worked their socks off," said Redknapp. Or, as Moyes put it: "Tonight there was an edge to the players. They played with improved vigour and determination." The problem for Everton's enigmas has been sustaining the level of performance that they have often produced against the top teams. "I think we're a good team. We can play against the best teams," their manager added. After a barren season, Saha's performance offered encouragement.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: A first defeat in 12 games should not be cause for panic but results elsewhere gave it the feel of a missed opportunity. Redknapp felt the turning point came on the stroke of half-time when Crouch strayed offside before tucking in Bale's low centre. As he admitted, his team were below par in centre midfield, where they were over-run by Marouane Fellaini and where Wilson Palacios might have been a more useful selection than Jermaine Jenas.

COMINGS AND GOINGS: The latest on Beckham, according to Redknapp, is that the deal is not yet done: "One million percent not." He remains eager to sign the 35-year-old. As for Keane, a £7 million fee has been agreed with Birmingham. "It's up to Robbie," his manager added. "He won't be going on loan anywhere. No way."

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