Pochettino Faces Up To Brutal Reality

I’m knocking up the commemorative t-shirts. ‘7-2 I stayed til the end’. Is it the worst home defeat in 137 years? I was there. I’ve seen Spurs come a cropper before now. 7-0 at Liverpool, shipping six at City under AVB, 5-0 at home to Arsenal, but this is the first time I can recall seeing Spurs or any side for that matter lose 7-2 after being ahead and then arguably the best side for the opening half hour. Colchester and Bayern in 8 days is some feat.

 

Post-match, Pochettino was honest enough to say out aloud what we all knew. By the end, we had given up. It’s hard but possible for a team to get over the impact of a defeat like this. Harder to overcome is rebuilding individual and collective self-respect, which lay in tatters, trodden underfoot in successive gleeful German goal celebrations.

 

Gnabry trotted over to the Shelf after one of them, don’t know which, I lost track and was beyond caring by then, and mimed a fishing rod, reeling us in. It’s probably the best match summary you’ll see. The beating was so bad, nobody had the energy to abuse an ex-Gunner in return.

 

I was past anger into numbness. Deep breath, wait a few days, stay away from twitter, no rash judgements, now write.

 

History is a series of events joined by a timeline. The significance of each moment, every potential tipping point, along the way can be judged only by looking at what preceded it and what happened subsequently. The Champions League final defeat marks not the beginning of a new era but the end of phase one of Pochettino’s rebuilding of Tottenham Hotspur. He knew he had to move the team forward, win or lose. This next rebuilding phase presents a different set of challenges. So far, Pochettino has still to find his way and his players look lost. reality is brutal and he has nothing but hard work ahead if he is to turn this around.

 

He’s worked wonders at the club, instilling an ethos of hard work, attractive football and teamwork, without the wholehearted financial backing of his chairman. Fans and team have not been as close for decades. Every player in the squad is better than they were before and they should be eternally grateful.

 

So what’s next. Firstly, he now must manage the demands of key players who also saw the Final as a tipping point, in their case that it was not going to get any better than this at Spurs and to seek employment elsewhere. Eriksen wants the sun on his back, while Jan and Toby by all accounts want a last big payday. There are unsettled players at every club. The trick is to manage this without creating undue disaffection. Poch can’t get rid of them, as he did with Lennon, Kaboul and others who did not sign up to his ethos at the time, because we rely so much on them. Whatever he’s said, there are too many rumours of dressing room disharmony to ignore them.

 

New phase, new players. This should have happened the summer before last. Clearly Levy did not deliver, which I said at the time was short-sighted. It’s hardly the manager’s fault that all his buys have been injured. However, if they had come at the beginning of the window, he would have had the time to get them fit and strong, ready for the season to come. N’dombele is a star in the making, an increasing influence on matches now that he starts regularly, but he’s not been fit enough to last the whole game or play two in four days, as we saw to our cost on Tuesday night. N’dombele on the boil, Spurs on top. He fades early in the second half, the Spurs midfield disappears, out go the lights.

 

New players to bolster the existing squad. Except key players who should be reaching their peak can no longer be relied upon. I say this with no pleasure whatsoever, but Wanyama will never regain the strength and power that made this mighty proud warrior such a force in our midfield. I’m seriously worried about Eric Dier, who appears like a rumour every now and again to lumber around aimlessly, his mind taking him into the right positions, his body lagging five yards behind. Poch has not enabled youngsters like KWP and Skipp to play any competitive football, so their progress has stalled.  Trippier has gone, so the problem of a lack of squad depth that has dogged Spurs’ development has not been solved. In fact, with the glaring problems at full-back, it’s worse. Trippier’s sale without a replacement is a self-inflicted wound. Maybe Poch wanted someone, maybe Levy wouldn’t pay, not for the first time. But it’s avoidable. Full-backs are so important to Poch’s style. Spurs had the chance to be a top club (without thinking I opted for the past tense there, let’s leave it for now). That costs. Any system in any field is only as strong as its weakest link.

 

All managers make decisions that from the outside are puzzling but I wonder how Poch is seeing the abilities of some of these players. Against Leicester, he brought Wanyama on, presumably to protect the defence. In reality it had the opposite effect. Leicester were able to seize the momentum of the game. Also, going back to the City game, he brought on Skipp right at the end. He had to mark Laporte for a corner. Outgunned, the ball went in, only to be disallowed. We got away with it but it seemed unnecessary, based on an inflated view of Skipp’s defensive abilities.

 

Maybe that’s going too far. Criticism of the diamond formation used against Bayern and others is justified. Spurs gave up long before the end, giving the ball away at will. It was unforgivable, and desperately sad to see Pochettino’s thrilling side reduced to a disorganised, unmotivated rabble. However, to find out the real problem, look at what happened around 30 minutes, when Bayern took over after we had arguably been on top and certainly should have scored more than one goal.

 

The diamond is a shiny, beguiling jewel but be wary of being seduced by it. It plays to our strengths, allowing Kane and Son to do their brilliant thing and frees up Dele or Eriksen in the attacking point. However, it also exposes our weaknesses. It can leave big gaps, especially if the two wide players are not fit enough to cover huge amounts of ground and skilled enough to both defend and attack. N’Dombele is not fit enough to be one of those for 90 minutes.

 

Winks is not the player to leave at the base of the diamond. In my view, any one player is not enough because our defence is not strong enough to be so exposed. We give teams too much room in front of our back four, whether it’s Bayern. Palace or Leicester. Bayern shifted bodies into that space and we were two down by half-time.

 

This isn’t about a sophisticated tactical analysis. It’s about getting bodies back to stay secure and about getting the ball back and getting it forward quickly. Winks is one player essential to that aspect of our play – he’s more than good enough, but he can’t do it on his own. Bayern targeted him in possession and isolated him, three or four men rushing to him as he tried to turn defence into attack. We made it too easy for them. Instead of battle-hardened CL finalists, we looked naïve. Managers and their teams have to evolve, you can’t stand still, I can see absolutely why Poch feels he has to try something progressive, and why he thinks he has the players to do it, but it’s not working.

And this is so obvious, but the players must all take responsibility to be the best they can be again. None of this is an excuse. On the contrary, they have to look deep inside themselves to say, never again. Contract disputes mean nothing on the pitch.

 

On the tube home, I was giving off such powerful signals of ‘do not under any circumstances interact with me in any way’, it would have been less obvious if I had hung a neon sign round my neck flashing ‘naff off’. Nevertheless, the bloke next to me felt compelled to dig me in the ribs to share his disgust with Eriksen. The conversation wasn’t entirely wasted because he also shared the fact that Brian Murphy from George and Mildred lives in the cottage opposite my son’s house. Frankly, it didn’t lift my mood. My suspicions that he’d been drinking were confirmed when he said he was staying on the tube until Clock House – which doesn’t have a tube station. He had the right idea, though, having a few to dull the pain.

 

Eriksen’s mind is halfway between north London and Madrid and his form has suffered but it’s wrong to blame individuals for poor team performances, although in Aurier’s case I might make an exception. We know the truth, that Spurs have been off-colour for the best part of a year, and that Levy’s investment is not enough for Pochettino to compete. Maybe the surprise is that it has taken this long for the cracks to turn into chasms.

 

I write this after visiting a foster carer as part of my working life. Foster carers are remarkable people who willingly face challenges I would walk away from in a heartbeat and pressure 24/7 because they know the child deserves the best possible life. They too look beneath the surface. The chances are, an angry child has good reason to be distressed and uncertain because of what led up to their being looking after.

 

This carer is extraordinarily insightful and patient. They’re also knackered and who can blame them. I asked what kept her going. She replied, “tomorrow is a new day.” She loves the children and proud of every little success. A proud, dedicated man, Pochettino is angry and uncertain too. He has to find a way forward. Sissoko’s four year deal could be a significant change of policy with regard Seeto experienced players. If so, it could lead to big offers to Jan and Toby. Eriksen apparently already has one on the table. I’ve repeatedly said this is sound investment, because CL qualification pays for the contracts and much more. We need them onside.

 

The true of any side is the way they come back from adversity. They got right on it against Southampton, but versus Brighton they have a bigger gap to bridge. Perhaps in the future, we’ll look back on Brighton away as the start of phase 3.

 

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Out now from Amazon, this is the story of Spurs’ Champions League campaign last season, told through newspaper match reports, the memories of supporters and the authors’ reflections. I’m not going to review it because I’ve been quoted a few times, and I make a point of writing what I think rather than responding to social media guff. So this is what the book is about. Judge for yourself if you want to buy it. Easy, isn’t it. All part of the service.

It’s a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any Spurs fan because the campaign is placed in the context of the club’s heritage. Playing in Europe has a special place in our history. Also, it analyses extensively how Pochettino embraces the club’s traditions of trying to play attractive, expansive football to take us into the top four and to Madrid.

This book is authentic, bringing out the way supporters became intoxicated on a heady mixture of excitement and disbelief as the run progressed. This isn’t about destiny or entitlement. It’s about fans who were surprised and delighted as their team punched above their weight, about supporters having a good time, about fans and team being together on the journey. About loyalty. Which is what being a football fan is all about, isn’t it?

If you think you know how it ends, prepare to be mistaken. Part of being a fan of any football team at any level is crushing disappointment. One Step From Glory celebrates the journey but doesn’t glorify defeat. The book concludes with an honest appraisal of what might have been and what the future holds. No tub-thumping here, rather an insight into prospects on and off the pitch as Spurs get used to the new ground and the income it brings. Having written extensively about north London football and business, Alex Fynn provides unparalleled depth and authority to these later chapters.

One Step From Glory is written by two professional writers, one a Spurs fan, one not, and it’s published independently, not by the club. It therefore gives both the sense of involvement, how it felt to be part of it, and a professional detachment. This, plus using newspaper match reports that in my view downplay the quality of some of Spurs’ football, means this readable account rattles along without ever becoming cloying or gushing. It’s part of our history and an insight into what the club means for so many supporters all over the world.

And if you’re still with me, look out for two other must haves – Julie Welch has updated the new edition of her Biography of Tottenham Hotspur, which should be out soon, and Adam Powley has written the biography of Steve Perryman, one of the all time greats, published by Vision. Christmas is coming…

Spurs Rediscover the Bad Old Days

Watching Spurs falter against a resolute Newcastle defence on Sunday was like a trip back in time. Pre-Pochettino, half the home matches, or so it seems, saw teams pitch up with 10 men behind the ball, lay out the deckchairs and sit back as we buzzed around for 90 ineffectual minutes. All perspiration and toil with brains disengaged, and no goals.

Newcastle did it a couple of times, Krul heroics denied us, a superb breakaway winner set up by a player charging 50 yards up the pitch. Sissoko, I think his name was. Wonder what happened to him? I don’t blame them, because it worked. Works. Villa did the same but were not as well-drilled as the Geordies and ran out of steam. The league has found a way to play against us.

Sunday’s Spurs was the most dispiriting performance I’ve seen for a long time. There was a total absence of creativity and thought. These experienced footballers forgot basics such as movement off the ball. They left their team-mates isolated and without support.

I’d say there was no plan B, except I’m not sure what plan A was. Poch’s formation changes shifted players along the same laterals without breaking the lines. Whether Lamela played centrally or out wide made no difference to the end product. Moura went more central after a while, which simply made it easy for the defence to pick him up. No concerted attempt to shift defenders out of their cosy togetherness. Kane tried to come off the centre halves, again without doing so consistently. We tried long passes into the non-existent gaps between the keeper and the centrebacks.

Width and tempo are key in these games. We seemed content laboriously to pump the ball out to the full-backs, then sat back and watched them, rather than trying to get 2 against 1 in those wide areas.

Newcastle’s winner was the ultimate mug’s goal. It’s barely conceivable that an opponent could be in as much space at the edge of our box as Joelinton was allowed. It’s the equivalent of arriving at Margate on the Bank Holiday to find you had the beach to yourself.

The goal encapsulated the performance, individual errors compounded by a lack of team purpose. Rose could see the centre forward but did not react. Sanchez knew he was behind him somewhere but not exactly where. Sanchez is a promising player, mobile and times interventions well but like many centre halves of his age, he must take on an air of authority, to command his space rather than fill in for those around him, if he is to progress. Ultimately though, a collective failure. As Toby pulled out to help Walker Peters, the back four was stretched so far out of shape that it could not cope with a single striker.

Although there have been changes in personnel, these players know each other well enough to not make such basic errors. It’s worrying that they did, more so that they also made mistakes against Villa and City, or indeed that Newcastle’s other chance came from a simple long downfield pass.

 

Ten years ago, I wrote the first post on Tottenham On My Mind. 548 later I’m struggling for match fitness these days but have washed my kit ready for another season. Sincere thanks for the many messages of support from people who say they enjoy this old-fashioned little blog. It means a lot. Time is tight, so no regular match reports but the clue’s in the title and I can’t stop now.

 

This can’t be dismissed either as a one-off or a rusty side clanking through the gears of the new season. This is a continuation of our league form at the back end of last term, when there was a gradual deterioration from the New Year onwards. Something’s not right.

The season began full of expectation. We had a solid foundation of experienced players at the peak of their ability, allied to team-work forged in the red-hot coals of Champions League football. A spine of Hugo, Toby, Jan and Harry, with Eriksen and Dele in the middle and Sissoko reborn. To this, Poch grafted four new players of his choosing, for once, including N’dombele, the powersource in the middle. We brought the collective confidence that we can succeed at elite level and the motivation to go one better to win something.

Instead, Pochettino could be facing his biggest challenge, rebuilding a side rather than developing one. Travelling back in time again, the term ‘transitional season’ when applied to Spurs became an exhausted euphemism for disorganisation and missed opportunities. Yet, when taking last season’s league form into consideration, this begins to feel like a team that has run its course.

Transition is not a dirty word. Purposeful change is a necessary element of evolution. Levy has backed his manager and by all accounts he has his top four transfer targets. The question marks surround the foundation of the team. What we thought we could take as given, the reliability of our proven stars, begins to look uncertain.

The fact is, none of us know what’s going on in the club’s inner sanctum. It’s one reason why I seldom dive into social media debates in Tottenham On My Mind. Nevertheless, there’s a feeling that several experienced players are not entirely happy at the Lane, and more to the point, that the manager is not at all happy with them. Vertonghen, magnificent and committed last season, is on the bench because he’s not match fit, supposedly. Toby has not signed up, Dier is not in the team and has had fitness problems for a worrying length of time, while Eriksen will take any offer where he can get the sun on his back.

These and other contracts are coming to an end. No team has a squad that is 100% focussed all the time. Managers have to deal with this. At Spurs, even If these players fall a little from their peak, the team suffers. From the outside, they are not taking a long-term view that Spurs will bring them the money and success they desire. Far from last season’s heroics being a gateway to something special and lasting, perhaps several believe this was their zenith in a Spurs shirt and that it’s time to move on, either to greater success or a big final pay deal.

Also, Pochettino may be in a quandary as to his approach. In the past, he’s never been afraid to sideline players who are not behind him fully. He treated Alderweireld and Rose in this way last season. Both came back to play crucial, committed football in the last quarter. This has paid dividends. When he came to the club, he gave everyone a chance. Then, he got rid of undesirable influences in order to move forward. The story goes that the turning point was a home defeat by Stoke, a game very similar to Sunday’s, which provoked a dressing room row as Kane and Mason took on the experienced players who laughed off the defeat.

We’re probably not at that stage yet and these players have given so much for the team, lest we forget. If he took the same approach this time, we may lose more than we gain. Isolating Lennon and Kaboul is one thing, dismissing the Spurs spine is quite different. But he does not seem clear about Eriksen’s role, for example. He’s available but on the bench. We don’t know if he will leave. What we have found out, which frankly we knew already, is that this side pulses to the Eriksen beat. It’s more than his passes, movement, his goals even. It’s the tempo and rhythm. We miss Dele too, his ability to find space in front of and between the back four. In time, Pochettino has plans to rebuild the side without Eriksen, but this could be a painful process. In the meantime, he’s there and I’d play him.

Also, full-backs have been integral to the Poch plan, yet this has been a weak area this season. Danny Rose has earned my undying respect for the way he came back from the heinous sin of that Sun column and confronted mental health issues and racism to produce compelling and committed performances in the final months of the season. Gawd bless him, he can’t cross the bloody thing, though. Poch the fullback whisperer will coach Foyth and Sessegnon to good things. In the meantime, Aurier is nowhere and KWP is playing like the talented but inexperienced player he is. The shortfall was laid bare on Sunday.

Pochettino is not at ease right now. He’s not afraid of big decisions. Hard work ahead for Poch and his new team. Change is in the air as he integrates new players. There could be pain before he sorts it out.

Spurs Dream the Impossible Dream

Talk to any Spurs fan about reaching the Champions League final, and I’ve spoken to many, or tried to, and the reaction is the same. Make eye contact, pause, look away and a shake of the head. Words just don’t cut it.

I’ve wanted to talk about nothing else since Lucas slid the ball into the corner of the Ajax net, the calm in the hurricane’s eye as all around him was blown away. I’ve rewatched it so often, I shut my eyes and hear the sound of boot-leather on ball, the gasps of despair from each exhausted defender, the ripple of every individual blade of grass touched by the ball. But when it comes to it, I choke. Words become stuck in my throat and I well up. I shake my head and look away.

I thought it was just me, over the top and stupid like only a middle-aged man who has watched and loved a football team all his life can be. Yet, when I met some good Spurs friends after the Everton game, they were the same. Filling up, no words, big hugs, shake of the head.  Football makes fools of us all.

I’m just a little overcome. This piece is that overwhelming surge of emotion, it’s that incoherent noise you made when Moura scored. The gibberish you spouted, the uncoordinated movements of your arms and legs as you danced about like one of those inflatable stick people you see at opening ceremonies. It’s the spluttering as you try to explain how much it means to you. It’s the shrug as you give up because that’s impossible. It’s the hug we all need.

There’s stuff here. Rearrange it if you like. Might make sense, might not. I’ve not been able to write about it before now. This is the Tottenham On My Mind blog with fifty deleted introductions. I’m left with one: Spurs are in the final of the Champions League.

See what I mean. The introduction’s not even at the beginning. And Spurs are in the final of the Champions League. It is unbelievable, in the sense of beyond belief, not even a figment of my imagination. My dreams during my most disturbed, feverish nights never included reaching the Champions League final.

Spurs fans are in a state of bemused delight, rekindling the lost pleasures of joy, belonging and the unsurpassed thrills that supporting a team can bring, finding the child within us when football first cast its spell. We’re floating not gloating. There’s no strutting hubris or self-absorbed over-importance. We’re too busy having a good time being Spurs.

Liverpool fans have a different perspective. I have always respected and envied Liverpool, respect for their achievements, envy for the manner in which they’ve succeeded, a precious combination of good football and bloodyminded willpower I’ve wished Spurs could have found over the years. I also envy their fans for the link between club and city, a foundation and identity which London fans cannot match however loyal and passionate we are. The recent rivalry that’s has grown up has largely been fuelled on social media by millennials who spout abuse online as an element of the way they express their support. It’s not important. They’ve been there before. They have a context, a march towards another title, it’s their destiny. We don’t exactly know what to do.

Klopp clearly hears destiny calling. I like the way his teams play football and he takes pride in managing Liverpool, which for me are two benchmarks when it comes to judging managers. His celebrations, cocksure and certain, after that thrilling comeback against Barcelona, were entirely justified, but the different reactions to reaching the final are shown in the reaction of his opposite number, Mauricio Pochettino.  Poch fell to the turf and fell apart. He wept, unashamedly and uncontrollably. Just like you and me.

One of the features of Pochettino’s time at Spurs, which I’ve freely written about on the blog, is how he and his players have created a close relationship with the fans. For much of this period, the board seemed to try to alienate us as much as possible but in that moment, Pochettino’s tears established an unbreakable bond between him and the supporters. He has always understood what our heritage means for us. Now, he is one of us, overwhelmed with the joy of being Spurs. That reaction was about us, not personal reputation.

More than this, Pochettino gives us the words to express our feelings about the club in a way matched only by the illustrious Bill Nicholson. Bill wanted to aim high, for players to give their all for the fans. Tottenham was his life and he loved the club. Pochettino, in his moment of triumph, also digs deep: “Without football, it is impossible to live.” Modestly, he thanked his players for being ‘heroes’, but here is a man who understands what this victory, this club, means to everybody who reveres the navy blue and white. Football is life itself. This win makes us truly alive. We feel the blood pulsing in our veins, sensations are heightened, life and love is better than it was before. We reach deep down into our heart and soul to find out something about who we are, what matters, and who we can be. Only football can do this for us. Poch knows.

Poch has also developed our vocabulary:

“Pochettino has run the gamut of emotions during Tottenham’s run to the final but he admitted it did not take much to have him well up with tears. “My mother said to me: ‘You are a llorona’ – a person who cries often and a lot,” Pochettino said. “My mum and my two brothers are different, and my dad is more strong. I am strong but very emotional and I cry.

“Maybe I listen to some music in my car, it translates to some moment in my life and I start to cry. When I arrive home, my wife says: ‘What happened?’ I say: ‘I was listening to some music that translated to a moment 30 years ago in Argentina!’ And she will say: ‘You are crazy.’”

We are all llorona now. Our minds flicker back to moments in Spurs’ history, prompted by nothing much in particular, we well up and we’re not crazy. And Mauricio, as long as I live, as long as my son and granddaughter live, we will not forget the moment Moura scored and you wept. As long as people talk of the Hotspur, they will tell tales of Mauricio Pochettino and the comeback at Ajax.

I’m just coming to terms with the reality that on Saturday night, I will be five rows from the back of the Spurs end in Madrid. In the end, I had easily enough loyalty points, without going to away games but having the season ticket for many years and notching up those points for going to Wembley. Seems it was worth it after all.  I’ll probably have to sell my internal organs to pay for it but now I know why god gave me two kidneys. Liverpool fans again – they thought it was possible so they booked ahead, and of course they had that extra day before we played.

I’ve had the extra expense of getting a passport at short notice. The old one expired years ago, and one Sunday night when I was feeling low, in a fit of pique I thought life means I’ll never need this again so I cut it up and threw it out. Telling that to people at the Passport office produces wholesale incredulity. Nobody cuts up up their old passport before renewing it.

All I ask of players is that they be the best can they be. Those goals though. Somehow, they freed themselves from the burden of expectation to fashion three glorious chances through invention and pace, rather than relentless pressure of frantic gung ho attacking. They were beautifully created, the high velocity craftsmanship only football can provide and finished with exquisite precision and poise. Dele’s pass for the winner – where did he get that from, in that instant, at that stage in the tie? Moura’s expression as he finishes – here’s a link to the Guardian pictures that capture the moment as only still photography can. Your new desktop pic is there by the way. As he takes the shot, that’s my look when I concentrate on pouring a cup of tea, not scoring a legendary goal. His second matched Villa’s 81 goal for calmness amidst the bedlam. There’s no higher praise.

Everything has changed now. Vertonghen’s header against the bar, in that arc your lifetime of support flashed before you. The golden moments, the surely nots, the there it is, as it looped back in the opposite direction, the dashed hopes and crushed dreams, swaddled in the comfort of familiarity. This is what we expect from Spurs, a lifetime of support doomed to be separated from glory by the width of the crossbar. I missed Moura’s second go in because I was still looking to the heavens in frustration at the initial miss. That’s all over now. Throw away the lucky charms. No need to keep wearing the same pair of pants. The jinxes have themselves been jinxed. Spurs 1 Karma 0. Spursy is 6 feet under. Start again.

Allez Spurs. The allez allez song is unlike any Spurs chant I can recall, less a football chant, more a piece of storytelling and mythmaking.  Perhaps also the first football song to celebrate VAR. Wanyama and Llorente feature, hardly two of our most celebrated players, but maybe that’s why they are included. Maybe their names scan easily, or maybe, and I like to think this is true, maybe this recognises those moments when Llorente, after a shocker at the Lane, made sure he was in the right place, and when Wanyama, a shadow of the powerhouse he was once was, stood tall against City’s relentless attacking force. Deep in the second half, with Spurs penned back 35 yards from their goal, as an attacker bore down on him, he steeled himself. A fading warrior fighting one last noble cause, he rose to his full height and thumped into the tackle to come away with the ball. Unforgettable.

Players, managers, games, we see them come and go. Each one takes a little piece of your heart. But now is our time. We are giddy and intoxicated with sheer joy of being there and being Spurs. I’m overwhelmed with pride in my team and my heart is bursting out of my chest. We are the Hotspur. Wherever in the world you watch it, we’ll be together. Come on you Spurs.

Champions League at the Lane in Three Scenes

 

Best bit of the Ajax game? Everything before kick-off. Just another day. Work – writing reports up. Chores. Walk dog. More reports. Clear up. Prepare dinner. Get on a train. Watch Spurs in a Champions League semi-final at my home ground. Just another day.

Walking to the ground from Tottenham Hale is the eye of the hurricane, a leisurely stroll through city backstreets before the noise gets you. Far from an intrusive behemoth, the stadium is hidden once more behind the houses, faithful to Spurs’ roots amidst ordered terraces and looming up only when I’m a minute away. So my new routine includes one of life’s little pleasures, the quickening of the step to round the final corner, knowing it’s there, just to see it that much sooner.

Then it hits you. That something in the air. More people, a lot more police, excitement and anticipation. Roads are blocked, the delay serves to ramp up the tension, rumours of bottles thrown on the High Street but no Ajax fans in sight. My first ever queue at the new turnstiles. The welcoming buzz from the concourse, a sound that can only be a football crowd.

The noise from the Park Lane, spreading round the ground, sitting over the centre spot. Intense, vibrant, unforgettable. Doesn’t want to go anywhere. Passion and fury where it belongs.

Second best bit of the Ajax game? The morning after, when you take stock and realise in the cold light of day that it’s just half-time. In between, nah.

Ajax’s movement, pace and intelligence in the first half proved far too hot to handle. We didn’t get near their shadows. No escape from the stifling press. Bad touches and misplaced passes for sure, but there appeared to be no way out. The bloke behind me who coaches from row 23 like a Sunday league manager with a hangover urged more effort and more getting stuck in. Well, yes, but for extended periods, no amount of sweat and toil alone could have stopped the Dutch advances. Their goal released a player who had time and space in a packed penalty area. How did they do that? Spurs’ back five don’t know.

As Vertonghen staggered from the field after a clash of heads with Alderweireld, his distress and state of collapse summed up Spurs’ night so far. Happily, he recovered quickly, although rightly may not be available this weekend due to concussion. Look after him, and let the docs take the decision. We know he’d play for our sake, bleeding and battered, if it were up to him.

If it was hard to believe Spurs are in the semi-final of the Champions League, it was all too easy to envisage it all falling down around our ears. Thinking quickly, Pochettino used this as an opportunity to bring on Our Saviour, Moussa Sissoko, and change from a back three to a 4-4-2. This posed more problems for our opponents, plus Sissoko contributed much-needed energy and drive from deep positions.

Going longer to Llorente proved a worthwhile option. And when I say worthwhile, I mean the only option. Forgive me the delusion that it might have worked, he did his best, but against this defence, his best is not enough. However shrewd his touches and lay-offs, the defence found them relatively straightforward to smother. The tactics also pinned players close to him by way of support, which negates Moura’s pace, makes Dele easier to pick up and limits our options out wide.

We barely served up a decent cross all night. Rose was very good again save for his final ball, the same can’t be said for Trippier, sometimes unfairly criticised but justified on this occasion. Llorente’s in for his aerial ability, yet he missed our best chance, a free header from a first half free kick. Dele looked out of sorts. It may be only a hand injury but his form’s dropped away since it happened. I realise he’s had to drop deeper to do a job for the team but he misses Kane more than any of us.

The state of play in three scenes. Scene one: early on, Eriksen picks up the ball just inside their half, for once in a bit of space. His pass is quick and instinctive. Llorente comes off the defender and turns towards their goal. Then, nothing. He fiddles around because he knows he can’t run with it, something which of course has not escaped our opponents’ attention, so they funnel back into position and he knocks it tamely sideways. It doesn’t sound like much but we didn’t get another similar opportunity. You know Kane or Son would have been gone, up and at them, putting fear and trepidation into Dutch hearts.

That moment sums up where we are right now. I tried not to, really tried, but there were times when I narrowed my eyes and imagined Harry leading the line, head over the ball, hunting and inspiring. Impossible to escape that feeling of what might have been. I sincerely hope that sentence isn’t our season’s epitaph.

Scene two: Tottenham Hotspur play a Champions League semi-final with no forwards on the bench, let alone a striker. Home leg, goal down, we bring on two full-backs, one of whom, good though he is, is really a centre half. Not the time to dwell on this, but the gaps in the squad laid bare and raw. Not even an under 23 striker. It should not have come to this.

Scene three: we’re still in in it. We have it in us to spring a surprise in Amsterdam. We proved against Dortmund that we can defend, and Moura and Son are two ideal forwards for a counter-attacking game.

In the second half, we didn’t play well but we did restrict Ajax’s chances. Lloris had little to do, a sign perhaps that the Dutch are not as effective going forward as they might be. You bring the straws, I’ll clutch them. Even McDonalds paper straws.

It won’t be about a change of personnel. It will be about who we have giving everything they’ve got for the sake of fans and for the shirt. This we know they can do. Poch will come up with something. Show the football world what’s possible, show them who we are and what we have become. As Poch said in the programme, “it’s important that as players and fans, we show why this is such a special football club.” It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. Leave nothing in the dressing room and have no regrets.

Sincere thanks to the gent who walked past before the game, saw my TOMM t-shirt and said he liked the blog.

This week, I guested on the Football Pink podcast, reminiscing about the 1991 cup semi-final. The Arsenal bloke didn’t make it so there’s too much of me. And Gazza’s free-kick should have been third on my all-time list of Spurs’ moments. Listen anyway.