Spurs v Burnley Preview

In the middle of the icy January of 1984, beleaguered Everton manager Howard Kendall took his struggling Everton team to Oxford for a League Cup tie. Heavily criticised for a lack of success and for wasting precious cash on a series of underperforming stars, defeat meant his job was on the line. Unfashionable Oxford, who had already beaten three Division One teams, led until late in the game when Adrian Heath, one those summer buys, equalised at the death.

Everton went on to the final, narrowly losing to Liverpool, then Kendall took them an FA Cup victory, two Leagues titles and the European Cup Winners Cup. It may sound fanciful to attribute similar significance to Pavyluchenko’s extra time goal away to Burnley last January, but the parallels are striking. Whilst Redknapp was not as vulnerable as Kendall, before that goal went in he looked ashen and shell-shocked, bereft of ideas as a three goal lead evaporated. More to the point, another insipid, naïve performance demonstrated this expensive team’s utter unpreparedness for the relegation battle ahead.

That goal could be seen as the turning point and the modern Burnley as more than a footnote when it comes to writing the history of Tottenham Hotspur in the early 21st century, although our task of climbing to the top of the pile will be harder than that of Everton back in the eighties. From then on, Harry was able to convey successfully his ideas to the players and also understood better their capabilities to battle.

Burnley will also appear as another footnote, this time as our defeated opponents in the 1962 Cup Final. That was before my time, but I was brought up with Burnley as a top division team, a small club with a reputation for playing good football and finding their own talent. In the early 70s players like the cultured midfielder Martin Dobson, Frank Casper, the terrific Welsh winger Leighton James and of course Ralph Coates all caught the eye. Ralph never seemed to be quite as dangerous for us as he was with his first club, a good servant but a case of better as a big fish in a smaller pond.

This modern Burnley is all about hard work, determination and organisation. Their manager Owen Coyle has done an impressive job on scant resources. I like them and wish them well, after today that is, although I might feel different if they had beaten us last January. Watching them on MOTD is like going back in time to an age when football was competitive but somehow more wholesome. Turf Moor is a traditional ground (some might say old-fashioned and pokey but stay with me, nostalgia is turned to ‘on’ and read this with a rose-tinted glow). They still have painted hoardings advertising the local garage and travel agents. I’m sure the sales of minibuses rocket locally with every TV game. Minibus sales?

Although the League Cup is often seen as a chance for the second string to have a run-out, Wednesday’s team selection provided a clear signal that Gomes is our first choice keeper. The centre midfield is once more key, not because of the selection – I expect the pairing of Jenas and Palacios to continue – but because they have to securely protect our defence. Whoever plays there (if fit the back four will be Corluka, Dawson, Bassong and Assou Ekotto), the centre halves will be an unfamiliar combination and, with Corluka and Dawson, the defence is not the quickest. Moreover, we are likely to be doing most of the attacking so must guard against the temptation of being drawn too far forward as a unit. There must always be cover, so this is an opportunity for Wilson to return to his disciplined, controlled form of last season.

Crouch and Defoe must start but Harry will want Keane’s attacking abilities as we use both these and width from Lennon to get round and through Burnley’s well-organised ranks. BAE must get forward too and thoughts of Bale’s crossing could mean we see him at some point today. We must be patient and not panic if we do not score early. There will be periods in the game where Burnley frustrate us, so stick to football and not be tempted into a constant succession of long balls aimed at Crouch. Burnley will score, so Spurs to win a match with several goals.

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