A Spurs fan e-mailed Friday evening’s 5Live football programme to say how much he enjoyed games against Manchester United, especially for the first twenty minutes when we play well then United score. Defoe’s brilliant bicycle kick looked like the pattern that was all too familiar to my eyes had been broken, but sure enough, 20 minutes later United were on top and by and large, that’s the way it stayed.
There was plenty of time to think during the last ten or fifteen minutes. Those periods are excruciating torture, where the side is beaten but hope flickers occasionally as we string a few passes together or a long ball into the box produces half a chance. Logic dictates that it’s time to start the car but I have never been able to bring myself to leave before the final whistle, and never will. Further self-flagellation: to stay and suffer leads to more hard time in the traffic jams afterwards. Sentences to run concurrently.
The punishment fits the crime, in my case of approaching the match with a degree of optimism. Mitigating circumstances, m’lud – only slight optimism, none of this ‘we’re going to win the league’ baloney perpetrated by certain other defendants. As we muddled through the last few minutes, I was still thinking about what might have been. Crouch’s header from 6 yards and Defoe’s uncoordinated miss in front of goal, both in the first half, if Wilson had stayed on his feet and not let them back into things, or some excellent flowing passing early on.
However, with each step away from the ground and closer to the car, as the adrenalin subsided I could not hide the reality of a sound beating by a better team. We were still on our feet in wonder and awe at Defoe’s scything feat when United sliced through an absent midfield. They repeated the trick a couple of minutes later and although on these occasions nothing came of it, in hindsight the tide turned just at our moment of triumph. Face facts: but for Cudicini’s excellent goalkeeping we could have been thrashed.
Harry Redknapp has been a bloomin’ marvel cor blimey etc. Yesterday, playing Keane at left midfield was a mistake. When United had possession, Keane drifted wide to cover his opposite number. This took him out of the equation and left plenty of space for the opposition, and as the game went on they took full advantage by outnumbering us in midfield. I thought Kranjcar would start, but as soon as he came on it was evident that he is seriously overweight and not fit for 90 minutes. Also, he tried too hard: by being involved in everything he came inside at a point where staying wide on the left would have given us room to exploit our man advantage.
Wilson has been remarkable for us and I hugely admire him. For this, I will forgive his trespasses or whatever it is the goyim do. So I say this because I care. He has to learn when to fly in and when to remain on his feet. He’s quick and alert so he should be able to jostle and niggle at the opposition when they make their runs on goal, rather than see the big tackle as the only option. The free kick brought them back into the game. They probably would have scored at some point anyway but that’s not the point. The booking weakened his effectiveness. There have been clear signs of this impetuosity in the past, and now is the time to take action. It’s Ok – we forget he’s still quite young and is learning his trade. Harry will help.
Finally, we fell into the Ten Man trap. We began well enough, with Lennon staying wide, JJ being always available, pass and move, stretching the play, being patient, the openings will come. Then, we pushed men further forward. Falling into such temptation is seductive but fatal. Too many players ahead of the ball makes it easier for the opposition to pick them up – our men are largely static and their players are in defensive positions anyway – and also removes our man advantage in midfield, where all the creative action takes place. If our men are ahead of the ball the options we have available are curtailed – passes must mostly go forward to men who will have defenders in close attention, rather than enabling the option to move from side to side, then strike when a weakness has opened up.
It has to be said: United were outstanding. In other circumstances I would have said it was a pleasure to watch Rooney. In the flesh, his purposeful intelligent running and great skill is so obvious. I would not blame Hutton too much for the third goal. He saw the problem and came across to deal with it, but the pass was perfect and Rooney unstoppable. Evra’s bursts from deep, perefectly timed and at such pace, should be the benchmark for us to aim for. And the United fan who rang 606 to wonder why Giggs was still being selected should be barred for life from watching football – sir, this fine game is far too precious for the likes of you.
In many ways, this match told us nothing new. We’ve done extremely well to have 12 points out of 15 at this stage of the season. Our players, for the most part, are on form and very fit, and Redknapp has enabled them to work as a team, the outcome being some quality football, some of which we were able to produce against one of the best teams in Europe. However, we have a long way to go before we achieve the combined resilience that enables us to complete at the highest level over a period of team. That’s something we can learn over the course of this season.