Tottenham should have won this game and must be wondering how they didn't. Joe Hart is the short answer, Manchester City's new first-choice goalkeeper proving equal to the considerable amount the home side threw at him. Yet having created a succession of chances, Spurs cannot be totally happy with the quality of their finishing. They will need to sharpen up to prosper in the Champions League.
Harry Redknapp's players are appearing in the European Cup on Tuesday for the first time in 49 years, and to mark the occasion they paraded their Double-winning side of 1961 on the pitch at half-time. Spurs hark back to that year so often it has been unkindly suggested they adopt Living in the Past as an anthem, although as long as they get through their qualifier against Young Boys they have the chance to celebrate an achievement that does not involve old men.
By the end it was inevitably being suggested Spurs could have done with Cliff Jones or Dave Mackay against City, though that was slightly unfair on a first-half performance that had plenty to admire apart from goals. "Tottenham played very well in the first half," Roberto Mancini conceded. "We are going to need time to learn how to play together. That is normal when you have new players, but I saw some good signs in the second half. Our goalkeeper played very well, and I was quite happy with the second half."
Hart won the first round of his goalkeeping battle with Shay Given and was kept busy for almost the entire first half, City rarely crossing the halfway line and taking something of a battering as a result. The visitors' £100m outlay does not appear to have bought them much style or shape. There was little width on show and an unbridgeable gap between their line of three defensive midfielders and their Subbuteo front three of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Carlos Tevez and David Silva. The newcomer from Spain must have spent the first half-hour wondering if he was going to spend the whole of his City career seeing so little of the ball.
With Gareth Bale excelling on the left and Aaron Lennon more than occupying City's disappointing Aleksandar Kolarov on the right, Spurs put pressure on Hart's goal from the off. Peter Crouch had a far-post header scrambled away, then the City keeper made a superb reaction save from Jermain Defoe's close-range shot on the turn. Hart kept out a piledriver from Tom Huddlestone from the edge of his area, then had to look sharp to prevent a deflected effort from Benoît Assou-Ekotto dipping under his bar. Perhaps the best stop of the lot saw Hart stand up to Defoe when the striker was clear on goal after half an hour, and when a Bale shot did beat him, it struck the foot of a post. Vincent Kompany was on hand to block the follow-up from Lennon.
All this was before City had managed to trouble Heurelho Gomes, who made his first save of the game from Yaya Touré eight minutes before half-time. For all that, City should have taken the lead when they caught Spurs cold at the start of the second half. Wright-Phillips was in the clear after staying onside to take Yaya Touré's pass but was not quick enough to accept the chance before the cover got back. Kolarov, a mere £17m from Lazio, did not return after a sluggish first half due to an ankle injury, an unpromising debut leading to questions about Mancini's judgment before anyone has even had a chance to glimpse £22m Mario Balotelli. Pablo Zabaleta, in turn, found he had his hands full with Lennon's direct running, although as the hour mark approached it began to look as if Spurs might regret not turning their superiority into goals.
Spurs sent on Robbie Keane and Roman Pavlyuchenko for the last quarter, the latter immediately bringing two more stops from Hart with not especially convincing shots, although City also improved when Adam Johnson replaced Wright-Phillips to offer more penetration down the right.
Practically the first thing Johnson did was skip effortlessly past Bale and Assou-Ekotto to set up Tevez with a chance. His shot hit Ledley King and spun narrowly over the bar with Gomes stranded, yet it was still the closest City had come to a goal in 70 minutes of trying.
Spurs had an opportunity to seal the points seven minutes from time, when Keane could not quite convert Pavlyuchenko's cross and the ball broke to Bale, only for the Welshman to miscue with the goal gaping. He almost atoned a minute later with a smart cross intended for Pavlyuchenko, but Kompany alone of the City defence was alive to the danger and the last chance was lost.
"That was a brilliant ball from Gareth, great vision and weight of pass, but I must admit we ran out of steam a bit in the second half," Redknapp said. "We couldn't get a break in the first half, and Hart is a goalkeeper who looks like he's got a great future. But if we can play like that all season we should be right up there again.
"A goal would have opened the game up but some of the football we produced in the first half was terrific. Everything we worked on in the hour that we had with the players this week was there to see."
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICTDAVE MASON, Observer reader We should have won. We should have had two or three in the first half, although it was a game we would have lost a couple of years ago. City were negative - three holding midfield players and they weren't very ambitious. But not many teams will score too many against them this season because they are strong in possession. We looked stronger when Pavlyuchenko came on, but I'm worried a lack of cutting edge will mean we don't improve on last season's position. I've never been a big Crouch fan, and I'd like to see Craig Bellamy join us, because of his pace. But I doubt City will let him go to a rival.
The fan's player ratings Gomes 7; Corluka 6, King 8, Dawson 7, Assou-Ekotto 8; Lennon 6 (Dos Santos 76 7), Huddlestone 7, Modric 7, Bale 7; Crouch 6 (Keane 66 7), Defoe 6 (Pavlyuchenko 66 7)
LLOYD SCRAGG, ManCityIssues.comcorrect Not many teams will keep a clean sheet at White Hart Lane this season and I'm very pleased with that point. I expected Tottenham to come flying out of the blocks. Gareth Bale was outstanding - turning Richards inside out and delivering inviting crosses for Crouch. Joe Hart did more than justify his selection after a world-class performance. We weathered the storm and David Silva's influence grew after the change of formation. Kolo Touré looked better after being relieved of the captaincy, and Kompany made some vital tackles. As Mancini said, it's going to take us about three weeks to begin to gel.
The fan's player ratings Hart 9; Richards 5, K Touré 8, Kompany 8, Kolarov 5 (Zabaleta ht 6); Y Touré 6, De Jong 7, Barry 6; Wright?Phillips 5 (Johnson 66 6), Tevez 6 (Adebayor 82 6), Silva 7
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