Looking forward, not back, so the visit of Sunderland to Tottenham tomorrow assumes a greater significance than might otherwise have been the case. Sunderland have quickly built a useful team under the experienced guidance of Steve Bruce but our attention will be focused firmly on the reaction of our own players to the events of last Saturday.
It might be my imagination, but the derby loss has had more of an impact than usual. We should be used to these by now, yet a pall of gloom continues to hang over the fanzines and messageboards. A particular combination of the excruciating manner of the defeat plus our dizzyingly high league position and the accompanying raised expectations are to blame. Or maybe it’s just me being a miserable old git. Whatever, Sunderland is now A Big Game.
When I was a kid, I was always playing football in my spare time, conveniently ignoring the absence of a garden or outside place to play in our maisonette. This meant I was often reduced to kicking a cushion around the front room. One evening the inevitable happened: I fell over the standard lamp and the wire came away from the base. In my imagination, I had been tripped by a nefarious Arse defender, Ian Ure most probably, when clear through on goal. Bemoaning my fate, my mind was elsewhere so I absentmindedly picked up one end of the wire. Unfortunately, the loose end had become detached from the lamp itself, not as I thought the plug. The power coursed through the cable and burnt two neat, perfectly circular black marks on my palm.
This is how I imagined the face of the MOTD post match interviewer to look when he suggested to Harry last week that Sunderland was important, the power coming from Harry’s eyes. I swear I could smell burning flesh. He was livid, a reminder that Uncle Harry is a hard so and so. The journalist caught him off guard amidst the pain of defeat but even so Harry’s reaction was revealing in the extent to which an innocent question put him so much on the defensive. I wonder if HR suspected that his team has a soft centre and that the derby confirmed his worst fears. It also revealed the problem publicly.
All his fabled powers of motivation will be therefore tested to the limit tomorrow. There is plenty to play for, points as well as pride, although the question mark remains, if we can’t get up worked up for the derby, then what really does matter? Still, there is an opportunity to get back on track. Also, the plain fact is that every match carries pressure when you are challenging high in the table. Simply, we must get used to this, right now.
Although Sunderland have a decent side able to create and score goals as well as work hard in midfield, they are not strong away from home, their point at Old Trafford notwithstanding, having lost at Stoke, Burnley and Birmingham. They will also be without the drive and energy of Cana and Cattermole in the centre, and Jones is also not available.
But what use analysis when instead we have football folklore. The Immutable Law of the Ex dictates that Reid, Campbell and Steed will excel and of course Bent will score. Last season was an example of another law which in my paranoid anxiety outranks even the Ex, namely that against Spurs rubbish players and teams will play a blinder. One Game Wonders, it’s called, basically because I can’t think of anything better. Cisse’s time at Sunderland was hardly a success, but against us he rose majestically to classically head a late winner, as we gradually let the match slip away from us. There’s another Spurs law, but another time.
The main question for Spurs is whether or not Harry makes wholesale changes, partly to motivate but also to rest men like BAE and Hud who are not at the top of their game. JJ must start in the centre, please, and Bale may have an opportunity. Up front, Keane is way off the pace, bless him, he’s not even waving his arms with much enthusiasm. However, Harry might resurrect his partnership with JD to beat the ponderous Sunderland defence with pace and guile, in which case Kranjcar needs a good one too.
If I were Bruce, I’d go with two strikers to pressure our shaky defence but probably away from home he will be more concerned with shoring up his midfield, so there is a chance for us to attack from the back. Long term we must establish a settled pair of centre halves, but with injuries that’s not possible right now. Dawson and Woody for me if Led is unfit.