This was really a tale of two distinct games. Villa came out looking aggressive, something I was surprised to see. It was working, too, which might have been an even bigger surprise. Spurs spent much of the first half an hour on their heels, and Emile Heskey's brilliant run and cross to Marc Albrighton in the 16th minute gave Villa the lead they deserved. This was a good as Heskey has ever looked in a Villa shirt, doing everything you want from the kind of player he is; holding up play, creating chances, breaking down the defense and winning balls in the attacking third. Villa looked very dangerous for much of the first half; though no clear-cut chances aside from Albrighton's presented themselves there was a feeling of inevitability about things, that if Villa kept things going the way they had been they'd find another.
Things went quickly south when Heskey left the field in the 36th minute. John Carew brought somewhere in the neighborhood of zero percent of Heskey's value; not functioning as a target, not spotting his teammates' runs or making runs of his own and taking poor low-percentage shots far too often. Something is clearly not right with Carew, and it hasn't been for quite some time. It doesn't appear to be a physical issue, as he speed and quickness don't seem to have faded. Rather my guess would be that it's a combination of a protracted run of poor form combined with his being somewhat ill-suited to playing as a lone striker in a system like the one Villa have been playing. Carew's strengths aren't in his ability to create chances for himself or for others, and in a counter-attacking system that's a major problem. If Carew can find his form and adjust his style of play to match the team's, he's still a valuable player. If not, it's probably time for the big man to move on.
With Villa no longer able to present a threat at Spurs' goal, Tottenham were able to push men forward and lay siege in the attacking end. The inevitability of the coming goal swapped sides, and Rafael van der Vaart headed home the equalizer late into stoppage time. Spurs newest addition had imposed himself upon the game in the minutes leading up to the goal and on this occasion van der Vaart got the better of Richard Dunne. Harry Redknapp made several adjustments to his squad at the half, and to his credit they were the correct ones. Villa were a non-factor in the second half and though the dfense performed admirably it was once again van der Vaart in the 76th minute putting home what would turn out to be the winner.
Losing is never fun, but I'm finding it hard to get especially upset about this result. Spurs are a very good team playing at home and they earned the victory. Villa played well for the most part and there were no defensive collapses or severe mental lapses that were characteristic of the team's more recent failures. They were simply outplayed by a better team, and there's no shame in that. There were bright spots, particularly the play of Nigel Reo-Coker. It's increasingly apparent that a central midfield of Reo-Coker holding and Ireland attacking is worth a look, even at the expense of Stilyan Petrov. A box-to-box midfielder is ideal, but it will be January at the very earliest before one can be added to the team, so Gerard Houllier needs to get creative. Continuing to run the corpse of Stilyan Petrov onto the pitch to play what is arguably the most important position in the game simply because he's generally in possession of an armband is not especially creative.
A win would have been nice. A point would have been nice. But that wasn't in the cards, and as long as Villa didn't actively give the game away it's tough to be too disappointed. What is disappointing is the fact that Gerard Houllier is not putting the XI players on the pitch that give Villa their best chance to win. Perhaps I'm being naive, but I'd not at all be surprised to see some major changes to the squad when action returns after the international break. If we don't, mild annoyance is going to progress to outright anger rather quickly. I still trust Gerard Houllier, but that's not something that will continue if action isn't taken.