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Stoke City lived up to their billing as one of the best defensive units around as they put in a stubborn display to deny Tottenham Hotspur victory at White Hart Lane. Spurs could have gone third in the Barclays Premier League with a win, but the visitors proved too hard to break down thanks to a predictably tough display from Tony Pulis' side.
Spurs head coach Andre Villas-Boas had described the Potters defence as one of the best in Europe on Thursday and his assessment proved correct as Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth kept Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe quiet for almost the entire match.
Gareth Bale, returning to the Tottenham side after his hamstring injury, went close with a second-half header, as did Gylfi Sigurdsson in added-time, but for the most part Spurs were restricted to long shots.
Stoke, who have kept nine clean sheets this season, have now gone eight matches unbeaten for the first time since the Premier League began. Tottenham, meanwhile, head to Aston Villa on Boxing Day in fifth position after rivals Arsenal and Everton both won their respective matches, and Villas-Boas will no doubt see this as a missed opportunity to start the festive period with a bang.
Stoke made a bright start, stifling the home side in the first five minutes amid a quiet atmosphere inside White Hart Lane. Just 45 seconds had gone before Kyle Walker fed a pass straight in to the path of Kenwyne Jones, but he lost his balance and could only shoot over.
Spurs sought to match Stoke's physicality in midfield with a couple of hefty tackles early on, but Sandro went too far five minutes in when he earned a booking for a dangerous challenge on Glenn Whelan.
Stoke had all the early play, but Hugo Lloris remained untested in the Spurs goal. Bale fired in a low cross, but Huth hooked the ball clear before Defoe could get to the ball. Stoke soon hit back through Steven N'Zonzi, who fed Jones on the counter-attack. The striker beat Lloris, but Sandro scrambled back to clear off the line.
Back up the other end Jan Vertonghen used some silky skills to beat three Stoke players and cross for Defoe, but the ball just evaded the diminutive striker. Vertonghen was booked for a late tackle on Whelan and was back in the thick of the action moments later with a deflected shot that flew in to Asmir Begovic's hands.
Bale put in one of his trademark runs and beat his marker, but Shawcross cleared before Defoe could tap in. The Welshman charged at the Stoke defence 60 seconds later and this time found his target at the back post, but Adebayor could only head over.
Spurs started to take control of the match and went close to breaking the deadlock just before the break through Mousa Dembele, who fired half a yard over the bar.
Spurs had their best chance of the game so far when Bale leapt to meet Lennon's cross, but he could only head over. Stoke hit back on the break the following minute through Geoff Cameron, who sprinted down the left to found Ryan Shotton, but his attempt on goal was weak.
Bale and substitute Sigurdsson drove at the Stoke defence, but they had to shoot from distance as the away side looked to close out the game. Spurs threw everything at the visitors, but they could not find a way through.
Bale went down in the box, but Lee Mason waved play on. Seconds in to the four minutes of added time Sigurdsson had a chance to win it, but Begovic pulled off a world-class save and the hosts had to settle for a point.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas: "It is difficult to break them [Stoke City] down. We tried everything from the first minute but Stoke proved why they are on a magnificent unbeaten run.
"It's difficult to create chances against them. We had lots of possession and lots of shots from outside the box, but we can't be negative because we gave it a go. We tried to get the three points but we couldn't do it today."
Stoke City manager Tony Pulis: “We’re very pleased that we came away from the game with a point. To get a clean sheet here, we’re absolutely delighted. We played really well first half and created a few chances but just didn’t put them away. The second-half was more backs to the wall and that’s when the determination was called for.
“You’ve got to put things in perspective. To give our players credit, and they deserve a lot of credit; Tottenham are on a different level to us really. If you’ve got good team spirit and good organisation, though, then you’ve got a chance of doing well against anybody.
“We still need 14 or 15 points to stay up, and that will always be our priority to stay in the Premier League and get a little bit better each season. We don’t get carried away with anyone or anything outside the walls of the football club.”
|26 Dec 2012||v Aston Villa (A)|
|29 Dec 2012||v Sunderland (A)|
|01 Jan 2013||v Reading (H)|
|12 Jan 2013||v QPR (A)|
|20 Jan 2013||v Man Utd (H)|
|30 Jan 2013||v Norwich (A)|