Tottenham Hotspur approach the away match against Bolton this Saturday knowing that we have an appalling record at the Reebok. However, let history count for nothing, at least in this instance, and ensure that we return with a victory.
Since they returned to the top division, Bolton have performed with a brusque physicality that in truth we have seldom coped with. Hard running plus brute force have been our undoing and we have been incapable of mounting a serious challenge. One abiding memory from the Allardyce era was thinking that Bolton have an extra one or two players on the pitch, a function partly of their dominance but also, tellingly, of our inability to resist.
Bolton regularly exposed perhaps the single biggest problem with our team over the last decade. No matter the personnel or managerial changes, we lacked spirit and caved in under pressure. Soft. Weak. Spineless. Leaderless.
This blog has threatened regular readers with massive over-use of the word ‘resilience’ this season and makes not the slightest apology for raising it once more. We need it because we haven’t got it, and without it, we won’t get anywhere. Now is the time to make real inroads into the problem by defeating one of our bogey sides, at least away from home. We have the form and certainly the players, so all that is left is the mental attitude to focus on the job at hand for 95 minutes, deal with the pressure and the inevitable periods when the home side will be on top, and push on to a win.
Lack of confidence in our own ability is the main, perhaps only, impediment to success. We have played some gorgeous football recently and are well set up to make that talent count. Even without Defoe, chances will come and surely there is little to fear in the post-Allardyce Bolton. Davies remains a difficult opponent and will both unsettle our central defenders and drift over to the left where Megson will believe he can out-muscle Benny and drift in from wide positions. Dawson may play alongside Bassong to deal with this threat, well though Hud performed last week. Fuller can come from deep and Cohen is scoring from midfield. However, the protection offered by their physical approach has dissipated and JJ and WP will able to compete in what promises to be a crowded midfield. We will strike swift and sure on the break, but may end up playing like a home team for long periods because Bolton will go for a defensive formation with 5 in midfield. They are down the bottom for a reason and even the home fans have little time for their manager. Remember the stick he received from the Bolton fans when they came to the Lane last year.
Last season’s match at the Reebok was notable for the debut of Wilson Palacios, the Man Who Saved Us All. Otherwise, it was all depressingly familiar. By January, the new-manager bounce of Harry’s arrival had well and truly worn off. A desultory first half performance looked to have been turned around as two goals from Darren Bent put us level. With four minutes left, we gave away first the ball and then, from the resultant corner, a soft headed goal. Those were the days, when at dead ball situations we may as well have stood to the side of pitch and noshed a burger, for all the good our defenders were.
Much has changed for the better since then but we still suffer from those two faults, namely giving the ball away too frequently and conceding unnecessary free kicks and corners, as I said in my report of last week’s Burnley game. Cut this out and we are well on the way. Our Saviour must stay on his feet and not dive in, or soon we will worship no longer.
I understand that Spurs have sold 4000 tickets for the game, testament once more to the phenomenal support for our club and passion aroused by even the merest glimpse of good football. It’s the same for Arsenal away, where the loyalty points total is way above that required for the corresponding fixture last season.