STOKE-on-Trent // The stereotypical game of two halves was a match of two Tottenham Hotspur teams. For the first 45 minutes, they were the Spurs of old, frail and flaky, dominated and defeated. For the next, they were inspired and irrepressible, seeking to undo the damage done.
They almost succeeded, too, but a golden unbeaten run of 11 league games, 10 of them victories, came to an end.
They lost gallantly and controversially but, despite their complaints about referee Chris Foy, Stoke City won deservedly. But as the home side joined an elite band - the Manchester clubs were alone in defeating Spurs until yesterday - Tottenham learnt a lesson: beware the past. Or, to be precise, beware their past.
Matthew Etherington, their former winger, scored both goals; Peter Crouch, who they sold to Stoke in the summer, caused a defence sorely missing the injured Ledley King numerous problems; and Tony Pulis, Harry Redknapp's captain, coach and successor at Bournemouth, whose game plan remains hard to combat.
There is no element of surprise, but Tottenham were subjected to a fearsome assault. After three months of brilliance, they were bombarded.
They soon trailed to a scrappy goal that was quintessentially Stoke. They can both create and capitalise on uncertainty, as they did when Ryan Shotton's cross was deflected. Jon Walters chested it down, Crouch nipped in to shoot and it bounced back off the post for Etherington to apply the finish.
The other winger, Shotton, is the replacement-in-waiting for Rory Delap, Stoke's resident long throw expert. Tottenham struggled to deal with the deliveries from the touchline. When Jonathan Walters flicked one on, Etherington arrived at the far post to score with a bobbling shot.
Cue a revival that was orchestrated by Redknapp.
A double substitution brought a half-time switch to 3-5-2, solidifying the centre while retaining pace on the flanks.
Their lifeline came from a contentious penalty, converted by Emmanuel Adebayor after Luka Modric had tumbled over Glenn Whelan's leg, but controversy became a constant.
After Scott Parker and Modric, both with long-range efforts, were denied by Thomas Sorensen, Younes Kaboul had an effort blocked on the line by Ryan Shawcross, using his elbow illegally, before Adebayor was deemed offside when he finished from close range. "I know how we've come away with nothing because there's a blatant handball on the line and Adebayor's two yards onside," fumed Redknapp.
He was irritated further because Kaboul, cautioned for complaining about the decision, was later dismissed for a foul on Walters.
"If you look at it, you will see the most blatant handball you'll ever see," he continued. "I don't talk about refereeing decisions and never have done in 30 years of management, but I will today.
"When someone is a yard and a half two yards onside like Adebayor was, how does the linesman not see it?"
And yet, as Redknapp admitted, Stoke were much the superior side in the first half.
"We couldn't handle the long throws," he said. It was a damaging failing. A side that was starting to look unstoppable have been halted.