x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fletcher cuts Spurs down to size for determined Wolves

His late equaliser earned a deserved point for his team in a pulsating Premier League clash after two first-half goals from Doyle and a genuine goal was denied.

Fletcher scored the equaliser to draw the honours for Wolves.
Fletcher scored the equaliser to draw the honours for Wolves.

WOLVERHAMPTON // So determined was this Wolverhampton Wanderers side they could only be Mick McCarthy's. Battling for Premier League survival, twice behind to impressively taken Tottenham goals, infuriated by refereeing that offered not the slightest hint of home advantage, still they recovered to harvest a crucial point.

In a furiously open game, Wolves screamed foul at Mark Halsey's failure to send off Alan Hutton when the Scot conceded a first-half penalty and raged once more when Richard Stearman lost a late equaliser to another contended whistle.

Yet still they would not be denied. With just two minutes remaining, Matt Jarvis found space on Tottenham's right flank, crossed for Steven Fletcher and the sparsely employed Scottish striker delivered a fine leveller. Wolves are not out of the drop zone yet but they  continued an impressive sequence of results against the division's strongest sides, while further damaging Tottenham's pursuit of a Champions League place.

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"It's like the party line when somebody challenges a goalkeeper," said McCarthy. "It's sad but true that most are just given. I've got a slow motion view of it and he hasn't but it's a poor decision. It wasn't a free kick. The rules are if you stop a clear goalscoring opportunity it's a red card. It's not a yellow card.

"We shouldn't have to score four goals to win a game, but I'm always proud of the way my players play the game. And I admire them. They don't leave anything on the pitch when they go out. But it's better than that because we played well. It's not about us running around stopping Tottenham, they've had to stop up in the second half."

For Harry Redknapp there was the relief of observing Gareth Bale's confident return to first-team duties as his centre forwards netted "three amazing strikes" for the first time this season. Despite all the excitement of the team's forward play, Spurs arrived at the Molineux averaging 1.4 goals a Premier League fixture; Roman Pavyluchenko, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe having managed just eight Premier League finishes from their 59 starts. Defoe began the match on a duck - "the worst goal scoring season of his whole life," admitted Redknapp.

The game's opening was as ugly as the Molineux pitch. Wolves pressed intensely, Halsey allowed a series of risque challenges, and chances were at an absolute premium. As Tottenham regressed to the mean - Benoit Assou-Ekotto launching a pair of hopeful punts at Defoe - the home side sensed opportunity.

Wolves' first arrived in familiar fashion as they forced set pieces and waited for their opponents to crack. Tottenham failed to properly clear a corner, Milijas returned the ball from the right touchline and Kevin Doyle rose highest to glance it home.

The goal at least provoked some passing play from Tottenham. First Modric then Pavyluchenko found Pienaar around the area, but the South African's finishing was not of the same standard as his movement. Jenas broke through the middle for a weakly struck shot before Defoe intervened with two compelling strikes to almost identical areas of the net.

For the first, the England striker was fed by Pavyluchenko 23 yards from target. A shuffle to his right offered an angle through Wolves defence, and his curled shot traced it to the top corner.

The second involved a significant degree of fortune. A rapid counter placed Defoe against Richard Stearman, whose defending was good enough to see the striker push the ball across to Modric. Cannoning off Ward, the Croatian's pass flew back to Defoe, who bent it, first-time, past Wayne Hennessy.

Unbowed, Wolves replied with another quick-fire goal. Encamped around Tottenham's area, Doyle's shot deflected to Milijas whose run on goal was hindered by a tangle with Hutton. If the penalty was clear-cut a red card should have followed, but Halsey contented himself with a caution. Doyle's conversion was precise, yet Wolves believed they should have both an equaliser and a man advantage.

"I haven't seen what Alan Hutton did," said Redknapp. "If he's pulled an arm it must be a clear goal scoring opportunity. He's very lucky not to get sent off."

Home anger intensified when Tottenham regained the lead. A more studied forward pass from Assou-Ekotto provoked Jenas' intelligent sprint to the top of the penalty box. His flick back to Pavyluchenko offered the opportunity to shoot and Hennessy had no answer to the Russian's power.

The game now spread across from one end to the other, Ward sent a free header wide of Heurelho Gomes' far post before making way for Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Milijas stormed past Sandro to watch a more accurate strike deflected onto it by the Brazilian goalkeeper.

Seeking to kill a still dangerous foe, Redknapp gave Gareth Bale his first appearance since succumbing to a January back problem. Employed on right wing rather than left, the Welshman was soon breaking past George Elokobi to manufacture a trio of chances. "A real positive," said Redknapp. "I don't think there's anything wrong with Gareth Bale."

Defoe struck a post, but Redknapp's defence was the negative. Ebanks-Blake and Milijas spurned celar-cut chances before Gomes was beaten illegally. For all the Wolves' protests, Stearman had led with an elbow in levering another dead-ball cross from the goalkeeper's hands.

The pleasure, though, was merely postponed. As Wolves supporters chanted "3-2 to the referee", Ebanks-Blake and Jarvis stretched the visiting defence and Fletcher placed enough just purchase on a difficult header.

"Conceding three is a concern," said Redknapp. "You score three goals like we did today you'd think we'd win the game. I think it's between us and Man City for the final [Champions League] spot. But you don't know. If we get Gareth back, we get other people back, we can go on a run. Everybody's involved, it's all to play for."