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18:45 9th April 2011

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Stoke City 2

A HUGELY entertaining encounter at White Hart Lane failed to yield the same outcome as last year's heroic 1-0 victory,. . . but it did bring with it just as much entertainment as Tony Pulis' side took the game against the Champions League Quarter-Finalists right to the wire.

The hosts raced into an early two-goal lead thanks to Peter Crouch and Luka Modric, but they were pegged back by a determined and impressive Stoke side thanks to a splendid Matthew Etherington strike midway through the first half.

Spurs' two goal cushion was restored after Crouch grabbed his second goal of the game with a powerful header, before Kenwyne Jones rifled home a sensational 25-yard strike right on the stroke of half-time to end a goal frenzied first 45 minutes of action.

No goals followed during an equally as entertaining second half, and the Potters were left to rue a series of missed opportunities with Jon Walters going the closest having seen his effort from four yards agonisingly crash back of the post.

Tony Pulis made one change to his starting line-up ahead of the game with Andy Wilkinson being reinstated to the starting line-up for the first time in over two months to replace the injured Danny Higginbotham. He came in at right back, with Marc Wilson being switched to the left hand side of the backline.

An electric atmosphere swept around a stadium bathed in sunshine, and with victory almost a necessity for the hosts if their aspirations of a second consecutive top four finish were to stay alive, it was no surprise to see them fastest out of the blocks as they desperately went out in search of an early opener.

Unsurprisingly Asmir Begovic was the first of the two keepers to be tested in just the fifth minute after Bale lashed a ferocious strike goalwards, which the Bosnian international did superbly well to grasp.

The impressive Bale was again the instigator moments later as a pacy and powerful run down the left culminated in a dangerous ball being fired across the danger zone, but thankfully for the visitors Ryan Shawcross was on hand to divert the ball out for a corner and away from the approaching Peter Crouch.

There was no denying the England international striker from the resulting flag-kick though, as he rose highest to meet Rafael Van Der Vaart's centre and powered the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net.

One became two just seven minutes later as Modric got the better of the City backline and drilled the ball between the legs of Begovic from the corner of the 6-yard box, after Michael Dawson's long punt forward had found its way through to the Croatian.

There was still life in the Potters however, and they managed to halve the deficit midway through the half thanks to a piece of individual brilliance from former Spurs winger Etherington.

The 29-year old picked the ball up inside of his own half and used his pace to lethal effect to weave in and out of Vedran Corluka down the left before cutting inside and almost effortlessly beating Heurelho Gomes from the tightest of angles.

An explosive half continued as Harry Reknapp's side restored their two goal cushion five minutes later, and again it was Crouch who proved to be the thorn in the side of the Potters rearguard, as he peeled off of Wilkinson and glanced Tom Huddlestone's centre into the far corner leaving Begovic helpless.

Surely the Potters wouldn't recover from that... but as we have all learned over the past few years, never write off Pulis' side, and that was again proved to be correct as the Spurs goal was breached for a second time just before the interval.

Trinidad and Tobago star Jones picked up the ball 40-yards out, after Wilkinson had done well to dispossess Huddlestone, and he took one touch before lashing an unstoppable strike into the back of the net, via the crossbar, to claim his first goal since the January victory against Everton.

It was the visitors who came out of the half-time break looking the more likely of the two teams to score, and they should have been back on level terms just six minutes in as Jones brilliantly picked out Walters inside the six-yard but his effort cannoned back of the post and into the hands of the relieved looking Gomes.

The Potters were buoyed, and a third goal appeared inevitable as the side laid siege to the Spurs penalty area, only to be deserted by a lack of lady luck as Jones brushed the post with a firm header from eight-yards, whilst Pennant saw a curling free-kick superbly saved by the eccentric Gomes.

At the other end of the pitch the hosts did have the ball into the back of the net for a fourth time following a goalmouth scramble, but it was correctly chalked off after Russian striker Pavlyuchenko had steamrolled his way through two City defenders en-route to knocking the ball over the line.

Pulis freshened things up with twenty minutes remaining by making a triple substitution with Ricardo Fuller, Dean Whitehead and Salif Diao being thrust on in a bid to grab a late equaliser as the hosts began to look weary.

Somewhat out of routine with what had been an unbelievably entertaining game, there was a brief stale period where neither side managed to gain any real momentum. That was until the final stages where the Potters pressed forward in hope of picking up what would have been a thoroughly deserved point.

The menacing Jones saw a thunderous strike brilliantly tipped over the bar by Gomes in the 88th minute, before Etherington saw his goalbound strike somehow diverted away for a corner by the foot of Dawson in the first of four minutes of stoppage time.

A series of free-kicks failed to yield a goal in the dying stages, but the Potters can leave the capital with their heads held high and confidence well and truly still intact, ahead of a return back down to London for that eagerly-anticipated FA Cup Semi-Final against Bolton Wanderers next Sunday.

    Data provided by Press Association


    The Potters played out four replays to finally beat Bury in the FA Cup in 1955