Van der Vaart sinks Villa
Rafael van der Vaart (AP Photo)
Birmingham - Rafael Van der Vaart was the scourge of Aston Villa yet again as he marked his return from injury with two goals to hand 10-man Tottenham a deserved 2-1 victory on Sunday.
The Dutch international, who netted both of Tottenham's goals in the October win over Villa, scored in each half as Harry Redknapp's side kicked off the busy Premier League Christmas period with a win to keep them in the hunt for a Champions League place.
Spurs's victory was especially impressive as they played for more than an hour with a man down after striker Jermain Defoe was sent-off for elbowing James Collins.
Marc Albrighton scored a late consolation for struggling Villa, who are still stranded in 15th, with eight minutes left when his teasing cross evaded everyone including Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes to ensure a tense finale.
Villa flew out of the starting blocks and could have been ahead within the opening minute when Albrighton latched onto a Collins flick-on only to see his effort blocked by Gareth Bale inside the six-yard area and the Welshman was up quickly to deny the Villa winger for a second time from a tight angle.
Spurs looked dangerous at the opposite end, however, and Villa had Brad Friedel to thank in the fourth minute when Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon combined smartly to send Defoe clean through only for the veteran American goalkeeper to dart quickly off his line to smother.
The home crowd's vociferous appeals for a penalty were ignored by referee Martin Atkinson when Gomes caught Emile Heskey as he dived to reach the ball ahead of the Villa striker and replays showed the referee made the correct decision.
Gerard Houllier's side had a golden chance to take the lead in the 18th minute when Gabriel Agbonlahor raced through from a Heskey flick-on only to fire straight at Gomes.
Villa soon paid the price for their profligacy in the 23rd minute when Modric exposed a gaping hole down the left side of their defence, releasing Alan Hutton with a probing crossfield ball before the Scot centred to leave van der Vaart with the simplest of tap-ins.
But Tottenham's joy turned to disappointment four minutes later when Defoe received his marching orders for use of the elbow when he rose for a high ball with Collins.
Villa were forced into an early substitution just two minutes later when Heskey hobbled off to be replaced by Nathan Delfouneso and within seconds of his introduction the young forward got a sight of goal only to fire high over the bar.
Houllier brought on club captain Stiliyan Petrov, back after two months out with a knee injury, for Jonathan Hogg upon the resumption in a bid to add some experience to his young midfield for the second half.
Tottenham picked Villa off with another classic counter-attacking goal in the 67th minute.
Bale embarked on a flying run from inside his own half down the left before switching the play to Lennon on the opposite side of the area.
Lennon laid off to van der Vaart and the Dutchman did the rest with another fine curling shot into the right corner.
Agbonlahor and Eric Lichaj both saw long-range efforts flash past the post and Villa eventually grabbed a goal via Albrighton's curling cross but it was too little too late.