A bizarre match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium has ended in that rarest of recent creatures: A defeat for Spurs. After the first half, which saw the home side absolutely demolish Harry Redknapp's merry band of lavender marauders, this would not have been a controversial result. After the second... well, let's just say that referee Chris Foy isn't the most popular man amongst Tottenham fans at present.
The game began in blistering fashion, and the visitors were absolutely overrun by the speed Stoke were playing at. Within 30 seconds, Brad Friedel was forced into a difficult stop on a Matthew Etherington shot, and more was to come from the former Tottenham winger. With twelve minutes gone, Peter Crouch did very well to turn and play Etherington in eight yards out, and with virtually an open goal to aim for the 30-year-old made no mistake in giving the hosts the lead.
Before the half was over, Spurs were facing a two-goal deficit. Stoke hadn't scored from a long throw-in all season, and with Rory Delap benched it seemed unlikely that that little streak would be snapped, but Ryan Shotton's delivery wasn't properly cleared and Etherington - again - was on hand to bury the rebound.
Tottenham were in trouble, and Redknapp rang in the changes. Off came Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who had been terrorised by Shotton all half. The anonymous Aaron Lennon was also withdrawn as Spurs switched to a somewhat unorthodox 3-4-1-2. Despite a spell of Stoke pressure early on, it worked. Tottenham's attack pushed the hosts deeper and deeper, and cracks were appearing well before Luka Modric won a penalty by tumbling over Glenn Whelan's leg*.
*And yes, he went down easy, which is exactly how you would go down if someone kicked you in the foot while you were running.
Emmanuel Adebayor stepped up to smash the ball past Thomas Sorenson and cut the deficit to one. Then... well, things go interesting.
Knowing that Chris Foy wouldn't dare give Spurs another penalty so quickly, Stoke began fouling in the penalty box, breaking up attacks by simply barging players off the ball or kicking them quite hard. Foy and his crew were completely unable to cope, and lost control of the match entirely. There was one ten second spell where Tottenham were denied two penalties, a Stoke red card (Ryan Shawcross elbowed the ball off the line) and had a completely legitimate Adebayor goal disallowed for offside. It was, as they say in the business, a complete farce.
If Spurs were fuming about calls going against them in Stoke's half of the pitch, they'd be even more annoyed by one near Brad Friedel's net. Younes Kaboul, who had been booked for dissent after appealing for one of those penalties, chased Jonathan Walters towards the corner and didn't touch him. Walters went down anyway, and as Kaboul was retrieving the ball for what he thought was a goal kick, he was instead flabbergasted to see a second yellow card appear, followed by a red.
With a man advantage, Stoke were never going to concede. They spent the rest of the match looking the more impressive side, although by this point both teams were so exhausted that the game was being played at walking pace, and the five minutes of injury time mostly saw everyone but the substitutes shuffling around pathetically. Full time came as a blessed relief, even for the losers.
So, Tottenham go down 2-1 and suddenly their third place slot is looking remarkably fragile. Arsenal are two points behind them; Chelsea three, and they've got an important few games coming up. Stoke, meanwhile, are Stoke.