Jermain Defoe‘s second-half goal secured victory for Tottenham over West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane and has narrowed the gap between Harry Redknapp’s side and second-placed Manchester United to three points.
Spurs dominated the match from start to finish but lacked their usual speed and cutting edge in the final third of the pitch against a defensively resilient West Brom.
Defoe’s winner has also propelled Spurs five points clear of Chelsea, who sit in fourth, and Redknapp’s men have the opportunity to extend that advantage with their game in hand against Everton on January 11.
Spurs reverted to a 4-4-2 formation in the absence of Scott Parker, who was ruled out with a calf injury. Sandro and Luka Modric were paired in the middle of the park with Defoe joining Emmanuel Adebayor up front.
18-year-old George Thorne started in midfield for West Brom, with James Morrison only featuring among the substitutes. Chris Brunt and Shane Long missed out due to injury, as Simon Cox deputise on the right wing and Graham Dorrans supporting Peter Odemwingie in attack.
Odemwingie cut an isolated figure from the start as the lone striker, constantly finding himself surrounded by the home side’s defensive trio of Sandro, Younes Kaboul and William Gallas. West Brom’s defensive approach did see them through the first 20 minutes without cause for concern, however, Spurs’s lacked the tempo required to unsettle Hodgson’s back four and midfield five.
Untroubled in his own half, Kaboul powered into opposition territory unchallenged in an attempt to spark the Spurs attack into life and slipped Gareth Bale into space on the left-hand side. The Welshman fizzed a low cross into the path of Rafael van der Vaart but his first-time effort was tipped over the bar by Ben Foster.
After both teams had made substitutions forced by injury – Gonzalo Jara replaced Jerome Thomas for West Brom before Jake Livermore was introduced in place of Sandro – Bale and Adebayor linked up well on the edge of the penalty area but the Togolese striker couldn’t control the final pass, allowing Foster to collect.
Brad Friedel remained untested in the Tottenham goal but Hodgson will have been relatively satisfied with an efficient first-half performance in which the home side were well contained.
Tight affair | Spurs’s Gallas closes in on West Brom’s Odemwingie
Spurs began to work the ball into the West Brom penalty area more menacingly in the early stages of the second half. After volleying over the bar when a clever Adebayor back heel took him by surprise, Defoe showcased his predatory instinct by moving inside his defender in order to divert Van der Vaart’s cross towards goal but the England forward’s effort just evaded the far post.
There was a sense that frustration was beginning to creep in among the Spurs players and supporters, but after Adebayor ended a promising counter-attack with a poor pass his strike partner extinguished the fears of the White Hart Lane faithful.
Defoe’s first touch on a firm Van der Vaart pass into the box popped the ball up into the air but, surrounded by defenders, he neatly brought it under control before swivelling and superbly guiding a well-placed finish beyond Foster.
Harry Redknapp lost another man to injury as Gallas was forced off, with Sebastian Bassong coming on at centre-back, but Spurs continued to control proceedings. Bale stung Foster’s palms with a curled effort from 20 yards which the goalkeeper comfortably held.
The introduction of James Morrison, however, seemed to energise West Brom somewhat, and they carved out their first half-chance when the Scot combined with Odemwingie on the left, but his inviting pass crossed the penalty area untouched.
Sensing Spurs were beginning to take their foot off the pedal, Hodgson introduced another attacking player in the form of Somen Tchoyi and the Cameroon forward tested Friedel with a 25-yard drive after substitute Niko Kranjcar had squandered possession with a loose pass in midfield.
The home side never looked in too much danger of being pegged back, though, and held on to claim a win that keeps their ambitious title hopes alive.