Sitting pretty in third without playing consistently well, the accepted view is that Spurs have developed the precious asset of being able to play below our ability and win, or at least not lose. Our last two games perfectly illustrate this. The emotional cocktail at the final whistle was a double shot of pleasure mixed with a dash of relief. Four points, yet we could have easily come away with none. Make that – last season, we would definitely have come away with none.
Play badly and win. Win ugly. Hard to beat. These are the off the shelf clichés that the lazy TV pundits habitually trot out to fill time but my question is, how do we know? Have Tottenham changed their ways or, dare I say it, have we been lucky? How can we tell?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying this as much as any of you. We’re doing just fine, thank you. I’ve been banging on about our defensive frailties in, I hope, a constructive manner, and because I care. I want us to do better but right now we’re making good progress. I said top six at the start of the season, not top four and I’m certainly not a whinging Spur.
Maybe it’s me. Just sit back and enjoy it. But I have an inquisitive, questioning nature. I don’t necessarily accept things, things that matter I mean, at face value. And this everlasting passion matters more to me than anything except my family. So I dig a little deeper. I’m only reflecting on my own perceptions here because I’ve agreed with the received wisdom. Although people often brand me a cynic, I prefer to believe that I know what is truly meaningful. Passion is no ordinary word.
Let’s examine the evidence. In the last two games we have withstood sustained late pressure. Last season we surely would have caved in, the best example being the Blackburn game when, protecting a one-nil lead, Palacios was sent off, albeit harshly and we conceded twice. On Saturday we held out for 30 minutes with ten men. We also resisted well against Liverpool at the start of the season. Against Birmingham we picked ourselves up for Lennon to score the winner at the death in a match where arguably Birmingham deserved a point.
Or – against Birmingham we failed to convert our superiority into goals, let them back into the game, conceded a stupid goal through weak defending and won only because Carr fell over. Bolton had us on the ropes and we couldn’t cope with crosses. Pompey? Couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, and that’s being harsh on banjos. Lucky lucky Tottenham.
Same events but different interpretations, many of which have been aired in the comments on this blog. There’s truth in both. One thing that strikes me is that we don’t look like other teams that ‘win ugly’. Off the top of my head, the old Liverpool team of the 80s or, dare I say it, the Arse in the ‘one-nil’ days, differed in the crucial aspect of limiting the chances that the opponents had to score. Playing them, it felt like you could hardly get near their goal, let alone score. Both these teams had great players but they were supremely well organised, set up to protect the goal at all costs.
Whatever you say about our Spurs, that description doesn’t fit. We defend better than we used to but we simply cannot shut up shop once we are ahead. Our asset is that we look more likely to score, therefore we are in a position where we have a lead to defend more often – we’ve scored in every game this season bar one. Also, we can add to that lead, scoring twice or more in all but two matches. Moreover we counter attack superbly at times, not only able therefore to score again but also teams cannot throw all of their resources into attack for fear of the gaps being exploited. We defended poorly at times against Pompey and Bolton but in both games we missed chances to score even more.
So the new model Spurs is different from the old, and that is a welcome and permanent development. It’s based less on improved defending, although as I say we are better, and more on goalscoring prowess. We make so many more chances than I can recall for years now, and we do so consistently. We lack the bloody-minded resilience of other teams that are typically called ‘hard to beat’ and ‘win ugly’, well, this team may be many things but ugly is not one of them.
I’m happy with where we are and my expectations are grounded, but here’s a thought to finish with. If we could develop that mental and physical resilience, how good might we be? Exciting, isn’t it.