The last time Tottenham Hotspur away to Bolton meant anything very much was in the mid 70s when two pulsating battles helped decide the promotion places from the old Second Division.
It’s not that I have something against them. Rather, they are just – there. Not a big club, small club, homely club, friendly club, mouthy club, upstart club, arrogant club. Just there. However, yesterday’s match offered a significant benchmark of our progress as a team and I’m sorry to say that we failed the test.
In my preview I suggested that we should no longer be afraid of the physical, muscular teams. Yet we were consistently vulnerable, especially in the box. I laughed out loud at Bolton’s tactical ploy towards the end of the game, when they replaced small players with very big players. And it was effective.
Credit where it is due. Our opponents played some good football and in the end it was Spurs who were offering long balls, scoring from one and another from a set piece. We did little to ameliorate faults evident in our play this season, such as not closing down effectively in midfield and conceding needless free kicks. Above all, our ball retention was appalling and Bolton took full advantage. I also take absolutely no pleasure in the fulfilment of my predictions that Gardner was a danger and that Davies would peel off to BAE on the far post.
These problems must be sorted out as a matter of supreme priority if we are to maintain our status as a top six team, with aspirations to move higher. They are basic to Premier League success, and if we have to adopt a slightly less attacking attitude, then so be it. Keep the ball and play people who can do so. Without resorting to stereotypes, this is more familiar to foreign players, so Kranjcar, BAE and WP can be a good influence in this key aspect of our game.
I would add Corluka to that list but he is not quite on his game. One of my favourite players, I see calm and measured ease where others have clamoured for more pace. He’s strong, intelligent and shrewd. Last season he was seldom outmanoeuvred, never dispossessed and held the ball superbly. This more than made up for his slowness, although even this was exaggerated. There were few occasions where he was flatly outpaced in situations where other defenders around the league would not have struggled. Even against Drogba for Chelsea’s second, he looked lost but actually reached the ball first with his toe. This year, he’s not playing badly but has lost that air of superiority. He seems to be more hurried and whereas I used to rely on him, he now gives the ball away continually.
Overall it was a disjointed, edgy performance but we can take some pleasure in the fact that we came back from a goal down on two occasions and created several more chances. Lest I forget, we came back with a point. In other years, we would have been beaten. However, I remain disappointed and look to Harry and the many, many coaches to work hard in training to rectify the faults that are restricting our development.