Although it’s tempting to chart Spurs’ progress against our performance in certain individual games, the season unfolds a series of little sequences of matches that provide a better guide as to how well we are doing. Today’s contest against Stoke City marks the end of a four game run against teams lower down the league, sandwiched in between Chelsea, United and the Arse next week. If we are to achieve a top six finish, this sequence is frankly more significant than those glamour games. A win today makes 10 out 12, unbeaten in four, form that will keep us near the top. Modest though that target may appear, repeat that over the course of the season and we are in clover.
Playing Stoke is a bit like being part of a re-run of Land of the Giants. Even without the suspended Huth, they will use their main weapons of strength and power to the full. West Ham left the Victoria Ground bruised and battered last weekend. By all accounts Stoke deliberately put it about a bit, and our defenders will have a tough time of it at set pieces especially. Whatever your position on the debate in this blog about our resilience, Pulis will identify this as a weakness and tell them to get the elbows out.
However, that’s all part of the game, always has been and I hope always will be. Stoke are much more than a bunch of cloggers and long throws. Supremely fit, they move the ball quickly and in Beattie and Fuller play two up front, whilst Ryan Shawcross is one of the most sought after young defenders in the league. Beattie was much in demand a few years ago. Strong and mobile, he scored and made plenty of goals for Southampton and as a favourite of manager Hoddle was rumoured to be on his way to the Lane as another in our tradition of footballing skilful strikers. Then again, Hoddle was once that much away from signing Michael Ricketts. Beattie’s wasted his abilities since then but is finding form and will be a danger today. Meanwhile, on the BBC football site a slightly bemused Ricardo Fuller says, ‘The gaffer says I need to lose a bit of weight’. He’s not scored in the league this season but runs around a lot. His words not mine.
Although Woodgate is available, I think King and Bassong will continue with Dawson still on the bench for his physical presence, we might see him later in the game if Stoke are coming forward. JJ will get the nod over Big Tom in centre midfield with Lennon and Kranjcar on the flanks. Up front, the pairing of two small mobile strikers could by-pass the big Stoke defen…Oh. See what an idiot you were, JD. This could have been a perfect game for you. Crouch and Keane can do the damage, however, and it will be interesting over the next three matches to see if they can create a partnership. Keane worked so well with Berbatov, maybe this is what he needs, a strike partnership to shake him out of the doldrums.
Last season, the corresponding fixture was won in the first half as Lennon and Modric combined down the left to slaughter their poor young right back. I think his name was Wilkinson – he was subbed at half time but by then we had scored three. Stoke won’t repeat that tactical error today but we must adopt a similar attacking outlook and keep piling forward. As I said last time, scoring is the key to our success at the moment and if we get two or three, we will win.
This blog is providing the Fans Verdict in the Observer tomorrow, so expect a sudden circulation increase. Twice the opportunity to kvetsch about my analysis. Last time they surprised me by asking for scores out of ten for each player. It’s hard enough anyway placing that sort of value on a performance (‘can I have 6.2546 for Keane?’) but I had to sort that out whilst negotiating the Tottenham one way system and a bagel, so the Guardian Chalkboard it was not.
My marking was based more on loyalty to the players than anything else. It’s one thing offering some (hopefully) constructive criticism to other Spurs fans on this blog but as soon as an outsider asks, I become protective. At the time, Gomes was back in the team after becoming a bit of a joke for pundits for several howlers. He had not played that well but my instant reaction, as obviously the first player to be marked, was to give him a seven. No way is anyone going have a go at the Gome. He’s my Big Gome. This skewed everything, because in comparison on the day Led had achieved probably a 12 but overall the performance was not that good, so in reality no one deserved more than an 8. What I’m saying is – it was rubbish, and I dribbled egg mayo down my shirt. This time I will be prepared. Smoked salmon.