By Matt Fortune
A masterclass in goalkeeping from Lukasz Fabianski ensured that, for the second time this season, the North London reserve team derby ended in a draw.
A frantic and thrilling encounter between the old adversaries was witnessed by nearly 2,000 on a bitterly cold April night.
Tomas Peckhart's 12th-minute effort was cancelled out by an Armand Traore long-range netbuster midway through the opening period, and despite a plethora of chances for the visitors in the second period, a share of the spoils was probably a fair result.
Of those who had started October's stalemate, 11 lined up again tonight. The visitors provided six of those and also included January acquisitions Chris Gunter and Gilberto. The latter was on first-team duty as a substitute at Ewood Park on Saturday.
Neil Banfield named five changes from the side that had drawn with Chelsea a little under a fortnight ago. In came Abu Ogogo, Paul Rodgers, Fabianski, Nacer Barazite and Gilles Sunu.
Tottenham came into the game unbeaten in four knowing that a win would haul them level with their fierce rivals. Quite an incentive, but the tempo of the early exchanges didn't suggest much was at stake.
In a tepid opening, the most exciting action could be found in the stands. Underhill was the most buoyant it had been all season, proving ultimately that, at whatever level, passions run deep on North London derby day.
As a battle for verbal supremacy continued in the stands, it was the visitors who were starting to seize the on-field initiative. Spurs stroked the ball about almost at will and soon made the breakthrough. Jacques Maghoma was afforded too much time wide on the right and, although his cross lacked venom, it found a way through to Peckhart at the far post. The Czech striker couldn't miss.
Banfield was clearly disappointed with the manner in which his team had conceded. However, the response of his players would certainly have warmed him. Traore's pace twice caused panic in the Tottenham backline as the visitors were forced to hack the ball, far from convincingly, to safety.
Barazite then sent a thunderous effort goalwards, calling Tommy Forecast into action. If that was all about power, what followed was all about guile.
Sublime passing and movement involving at least six players had Spurs in a daze and when the ball fell to Sunu in space on the edge of the area, it seemed the home fans would have reason to cheer. Alas not. The recently-erected South Stand above Forecast's crossbar was all the Frenchman could find.
Since falling behind, Arsenal had opted for intelligent and precise build-up, but it hadn't worked. Traore decided a more direct approach was needed and set himself from all of 30 yards. In the blink of an eye, the hosts were level.
It stayed that way until the break.
Early in the second half, Tottenham had a worthwhile shout for a penalty turned down as they started to regain a foothold. All of a sudden Fabianski was the busier of the stoppers. The Pole scampered low to his left to thwart Simon Dawkins in a prelude to a simply stunning save.
Spurs found space again down the left and, as the ball was rolled into the path of Peckhart, Arsenal looked certain to fall behind again. But in an astonishing show of athleticism, their goalkeeper flung out a hand to keep his goal intact. As the ball bobbled around the area, Tottenham's No 9 had another nibble but this time found Djourou expertly stationed on the line.
Arsenal were living dangerously, so Banfield reshuffled. On came Tom Cruise and Sanchez Watt for Sunu and the tireless Rui Fonte. In the ensuing minutes, impetus dropped as a fractious encounter begun to take its toll.
Spurs eventually reclaimed the upper hand but Fabianski again kept his side in it, blocking with his feet. James Dunne was next to the rescue, hoofing a loose ball away from immediate peril.
The momentum, and the infamous Underhill slope, was at the visitors' backs. Arsenal were fading and Jake Livermore passed up another good opportunity for Spurs to take the lead.
A winner for Tottenham would have been merited after a sterling second-half effort. To the hosts' credit, though, they defended stoutly and just about earned their point.
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