MANCHESTER CITY (3) vs TOTTENHAM (2)
MANCHESTER 2 LONDON 0
CRESTFALLEN Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp criticised referee Howard Webb’s failure to send off Mario Balotelli after the controversial forward took full advantage of his reprieve to sink Spurs with an injury-time winner.
Balotelli’s decisive penalty came seconds after Jermain Defoe missed a chance to snatch victory for the visitors, while Redknapp and his bench were still fuming at the Italian’s apparent stamp on Scott Parker (inset).
Victory maintained Manchester City’s three-point lead at the top of the Premier League and came after strikes from Spurs duo Defoe and Gareth Bale had undone home efforts from Samir Nasri and Joleon Lescott.
It delivered a heavy blow to Tottenham’s hopes of mounting a strong challenge for their first top-flight title since 1961 but Redknapp was more exercised by Balotelli, who he insisted should have been dismissed. “It is not the first time he has done that and I am sure it won’t be the last. I am the last person to talk about getting people sent off and what they should and shouldn’t do, but it is blatant,” said Redknapp, whose trial for charges of alleged tax evasion begins today at Southwark Crown Court.
“What reason did he have to backheel Scott in the head with his studs when he is laying on the floor? It is not a nice thing to do.”
The Football Association will read Webb’s report before deciding whether to take action against Balotelli.
Tottenham were inches away from victory in the dying moments, when Bale streaked clear and squared for Defoe, who could only divert wide at the far post at full stretch.
It would have put them two points behind City and eight clear of Chelsea in fourth; instead they remain third, having slipped to five points behind second-placed Manchester United.
Spurs were left reeling after conceding two goals in three minutes early in the second half.
First, former Arsenal midfielder Nasri burst on to David Silva’s through-ball to smash past Brad Friedel before Lescott bundled in a flicked-on corner.
Seconds later Defoe pulled one back, however, rounding goalkeeper Joe Hart after scampering onto Stefan Savic’s wayward header. Bale then looked to have earned Redknapp’s men a point when he curled an exquisite first-time effort across and over Hart.
How costly could Jermain Defoe’s late miss prove for Tottenham’s season? When Gareth Bale launched a last-ditch counter-attack by charging purposefully from the half-way line, skinning Joleon Lescott and delivering a low ball across goal Defoe looked certain to score. But, with echoes of Paul Gascoigne in Euro 96, he could not make up enough ground to get the contact he needed and instead slid his effort wide.
“I haven’t seen the video [of the Balotelli incident]. Until I have, I can’t comment. I don’t think there was any kind of reaction from the players. But if someone has seen something, I will be able to comment once I have seen something from a different angle. The gaffer is delighted with the victory but he’s made it very clear that we can’t give silly goals away when we’ve more or less put the game to bed if we are to achieve what we want to this season.”
Man City assistant David Platt
Mario Balotelli’s tangle with Scott Parker left Spurs boss Harry Redknapp and pundits in little doubt that the Italian had deliberately made contact with the England midfielder. The question for the Football Association, should referee Howard Webb confirm he missed it, is whether it can be similarly confident and issue the walking headline generator with a retrospective punishment. Webb seemed to notice the clash but his report, submitted to the FA, will be crucial.