Tottenham winger Andros Townsend is living a charmed life of late.
After helping England qualify for next year's World Cup finals with two scintillating performances during the recent international break, Townsend put in a Man of the Match performance in leading Spurs to a 2-0 win over Aston Villa in Birmingham on Sunday. The victory extended the visitors' unbeaten streak at Villa Park to ten matches, following Tottenham's 4-0 win over the Claret and Blue in the Capital One Cup last month.
Villa has been a bit of a cobra early on this season, shocking Arsenal at the Emirates in the season opener and then scoring a smash-and-grab win over Manchester City in late September. A spirited opposition and a slick pitch under heavy rain had Spurs looking flat and sloppy in the early stages of the match. But credit to Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas. After getting bested on tactics by West Ham manager Sam Allardyce two weeks ago, AVB rose to the occasion on Sunday. With the Spurs attack again looking anemic, he pushed midfielder Paulinho from his defensive role into a more advanced position, and things changed from then on.
Townsend touched off the scoring in the 31st minute, though not without a bit of fortune, as he swung a beautiful cross on goal. Spurs creative midfielder Lewis Holtby, who made his first league start of the season, is all hustle, but he made his most important contribution of the day by doing nothing -- cleverly ducking under the cross and allowing it to curve into the net past Villa and U.S. national team member Brad Guzan, who was left in a no-win position on the play. "It was my cross into the box, no one got on the end of it and I'll take that," a happy Townsend said later.
The moment was marred when a smoke bomb was thrown from the visiting fans' section and struck assistant referee David Bryan. "Two men aged 25 and 47 were arrested following the incident at Villa Park, fortunately the linesman wasn't injured," the West Midlands Police announced on Twitter.
Townsend nearly scored again before the half when he linked up with Paulinho for a give-and-go. The midfielder instead attempted to serve up Soldado on the right, but the ball was deflected back into Townsend's path as he made his run forward to Paulinho's left. The winger drilled a low shot that forced Guzan to make a one-handed diving save.
Villa regained momentum and looked ready to tie the match when manager Paul Lambert introduced Christian Benteke in the second half. After missing time with a hip injury, the star striker looked fit again and got his head on a number of crosses. His first and best chance came in the 64th minute when he headed just over keeper Hugo Lloris' crossbar.
But five minutes later, Spurs caught Villa on the counter. Roberto Soldado went out wide to muscle Ashley Westwood off the ball, and Holtby pulled it back to Paulinho at the top of the box. The Brazilian showed nice touch in sending a through ball to Soldado, and the Spaniard buried it in the back of the net for his first open-play goal of the season.
From then on, it was the Andros Townsend Show as Villa opened things up in search of a goal. The Spurs man was a menace on the right, and his brilliant cross in the 80th minute should've produced a third goal, but Paulinho's half-hearted header put the ball wide.
The win will wash away some of the bad taste left from Tottenham's shocker of a loss to the Hammers, which stands as the difference between fifth in the table (where Spurs now sit) and first (where they would be had they defeated West Ham). The sight of Sandro, who made his first league start since January in place of Moussa Dembele -- yes, AVB actually gave the overworked Belgian international a little rest before sending him on late as a defensive-minded sub for Holtby -- and Aaron Lennon, who saw his first action since the opening week, gave supporters more reasons to feel heartened. "This means everything to me because it was hard to be out of the Premier League. I feel so happy now," Sandro said afterward. May the return of Etienne Capoue and Younes Kaboul come soon, as well.
The Villa match also saw the Premier League debut of Romanian central defender Vlad Chiriches, who allowed Jan Vertonghen to switch out to the left in place of the injured Danny Rose, thus sparing supporters the existential ennui of seeing right back Kyle Naughton filling in on the left again. Meanwhile, we await the first league start for the much-heralded but rarely seen Erik Lamela.
Tottenham are still a work in progress, a club for whom two goals still resemble an outburst -- this Spurs squad will never win a goal-differential tiebreaker with anyone. The starting XI might not be as strong as last season's, yet the club is deeper and more equipped to compete on the multiple fronts of the league, in Europe, and two cup competitions. It seems unrealistic to see Spurs truly threatening Chelsea or Man City in the table, both with their embarrassment of riches, and the early season form of Arsenal and Liverpool have changed the landscape a bit at the top. But things don't seem as dire as they did two weeks ago.