x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Sun does not shine down on Tottenham

The carrot was dangled invitingly Sunday in front of Everton and Tottenham Hotspur. Second place in the was up for grabs, along with the chance to look down on the pre-season title favourites. Neither would take the opportunity.

Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard shields his eyes from the sun during their English Premier League soccer match against Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park. Phil Noble / Reuters
Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard shields his eyes from the sun during their English Premier League soccer match against Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park. Phil Noble / Reuters

EVERTON 0 TOTTENHAM 0

Man of the match - Jan Vertonghen

English football correspondent

LIVERPOOL // The incentive was obvious. The carrot was dangled invitingly Sunday in front of Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.

Second place in the English Premier League was up for grabs, along with the chance to look down on the pre-season title favourites, Chelsea and the Manchester clubs. Neither could take the opportunity. Indeed, neither looked likely to grasp it.

The consequence of the scoreless draw is that Arsenal maintain a five-point advantage over their challengers. Everton and Tottenham are among a group of six, separated only by a point and bunched together so closely that a congestion charge should be applied. It was appropriate, then, if scarcely entertaining, that there was nothing to separate them at Goodison Park.

Perhaps the outcome was not surprising. Everton remain enviably hard to beat. They have now only lost eight of their last 57 league matches. Had they won more of the other 49, they might be playing Uefa Champions League football or occupying a top-four spot.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are England’s clean-sheet specialists. They have played 17 games in all competitions this season and their defence has only been breached in four of those matches. This would have amounted to a comfortable afternoon for goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, but for a collision with the muscular Romelu Lukaku. He was less troubled by Everton’s shots, with only the replacement Gerard Deulofeu really testing him.

Tottenham’s only other alarm was when Jan Vertonghen caught Seamus Coleman in the box. Referee Kevin Friend, who departed Goodison Park rather friendless after annoying the home crowd with many of his decisions, ruled it was not a penalty. Predictably, the two managers disagreed.

“I think the referee gives the right decision,” said Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas.

Roberto Martinez countered: “Seamus gets impeded. He doesn’t overreact, he gets back on his feet, but it should have been a penalty.”

The Spaniard cited similar incidents in away games at Manchester City and Aston Villa.

“When they tell you decisions level themselves out over a season, it doesn’t happen,” Martinez said.

Such good fortune as Everton had yesterday came in the half-time scoreline.

Yet while Tottenham were firmly in the ascendant before the break, converting superiority into opportunities, let alone goals, proved problematic.

Roberto Soldado glanced a header wide and goalkeeper Tim Howard saved from Lewis Holtby and Kyle Walker, but there was no golden chance. “We couldn’t be more happy with the first half,” Villas-Boas said. “There was good pressing, motivation and aggressiveness to recover the ball. Normally in these situations, you end up going 1-0 ahead.”

But Tottenham didn’t and after a second period where only substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson threatened, they drew a blank.

Ten league games have only brought them nine goals.

“It’s results which put you in the fourth place,” Villas-Boas said. “And then you can have more goals or less goals. We are on 28 goals this season in 16 games [actually 30 in 17].”

That tally, however, is boosted by their involvement in the League Cup and the Europa League.

They have preyed on the weak but have been less prolific against the best.

Everton have attacked with greater verve this season, but this was a reminder they are a work in progress.

So, too, are Tottenham after their £110 million (Dh643.4m), seven-signing summer overhaul, but since Villas-Boas is in his second season, more ought to be expected in the short term. Improvements have been made, he said.

“We keep ourselves in the frame and collect a point where we didn’t get one last season,” he said.

But three points would have provided a greater statement of intent.

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