This was a classic game of two halves, poorly refereed. The early moments often dictate a game and so it was here as Tottenham Hotspur were forced to play catch-up in a compelling second half. Initially Stoke City's power, fitness and aerial strength confounded Tottenham, who were unable to get into their creative rhythm. But Spurs also failed to handle Stoke's height and movement from crosses and set-plays, and it was these that led to Matthew Etherington's two first-half goals.
With Ryan Shotton proving an able replacement for the absent Jermaine Pennant on the right wing, and hurling throws with the accuracy and elevation of Rory Delap, who was confined to the bench until the closing minutes, Tottenham had problems. Stoke's previous positive results against top‑table passing teams were a clear guide. Tottenham may have possessed the finer footballers but there is more than one way to play the game.
The home side's movement from long throws is very good. Two of the tallest players wait at the near post for flick-ons, with everyone else picking up the space behind and preparing for knock-downs. The defending team need a dominant goalkeeper to claim the ball whenever possible, and a dominant defender to contest the ball at the near post, but Stoke are masters of this art. Their runs are well organised and well timed, and opposing teams find it difficult to cope with.
Unusually, when Stoke are defending corners they have no protection on their goalline. They are confident that their taller players will ensure that no opponent gains an advantage. Tottenham recognised this aerial supremacy and were reluctant to swing in high crosses. They relied on their patience and craft but Stoke's back four kept their discipline well. The full-backs, Jonathan Woodgate and Marc Wilson, rarely even considered making an attacking run, resulting in a continuous, secure shape at the back.
Etherington's second goal, from Shotton's long throw, gave the home team the perfect platform to defend in depth for the remainder of the match.
At half-time Harry Redknapp gambled, introducing Sébastien Bassong for Benoît Assou-Ekotto to make a three-man central defence. Gareth Bale and Kyle Walker provided width and Aaron Lennon was withdrawn to allow for an extra striker in Jermain Defoe. With good fortune, it would have succeeded.
Tottenham began to stretch Stoke's back four but the home side always had bodies in the box to repel their greater craft. Luka Modric came to the fore in the second half and the Croat's sleight of foot brought Spurs a lifeline. He continued to impress as Ryan Shawcross, under pressure, could have conceded two penalties. Tottenham took control and exerted the pressure.
Younes Kaboul's sending off was Stoke's great relief. For the first time in the second half they could breathe a little easier. Their first-half effort turned out to be enough to win the day.