I hope you have something better to do on Christmas Eve than read this…
Boxing Day derbies used to have more spice than a fixture against Fulham, who we face for the third year running. In the late 70s/early 80s Arsenal were the regular opponents on the 26th or 27th, followed for the next few seasons by West Ham. Presumably the police put a stop to all of this because of the trouble, hence the ‘we will fight for evermore because of Boxing Day’ song. Eminently sensible, but there was a real sense of anti-climax when we instead faced Southampton one year.
Fulham are cuddly and nice, with a charming old style ground by the river, all too scenic and peaceful for football. Maybe they are the right choice for Christmas after all.
They will be difficult opponents. Unbeaten in five, their confidence is sky high after beating Manchester United last week. Their manager is old style too, and all the better for it. Roy Hodgson comes over as a real football man, deeply knowledgeable and highly passionate about the game. This is manifested not in showy histrionics but in quiet determination. He gives the impression that he is always thinking about football. In interviews, he sounds serious but a little vague, his mind already pondering a possible future purchase or tiny alterations that will make all the difference. He goes through the motions when a microphone is thrust in front of him but really he’s on a higher, more cerebral plane.
He’s fashioned a hard working team who are well-organised and more than the sum of their parts. Hangeland was a canny purchase and he has brought the best out Murphy, something we conspicuously failed to do. He’s even got some goals from Zamora. You could see why Hoddle took a chance on Booby, where others had a long look and declined. He had mobility, control and could hold the ball up well. However, what appeared to be youthful promise to improve upon proved to be a ceiling – that was as good it got. It’s a damning indictment on England and our desperation for a centre forward as the fulcrum for the team that he is being seriously touted as an international.
For Spurs, it must be same again. An attacking attitude will put more pressure on Fulham than they have been used to and Huddlestone’s passing over distance could take the Fulham midfield out of the game if we keep a high tempo. Above all, carry on where we left off last week and maintain that same workrate. We must respect our opponents but not get too carried away with their win last week. Up against a defence of Carrick, Fletcher and some other bloke, I’d fancy even us to beat them.
Meanwhile, the Dublin fiasco has as predicted gone away, even though it is the silly season and the papers usually will take anything to fill up some space. A Prem manager in a brothel means those columns are empty no longer, I’ll grant you that.
A draw plus three points against West Ham will see us nicely set up for the New Year. Happy Christmas one and all.