We demanded strong and bold, what we were given was limp and lifeless. We were up for the moment, they were down in the dumps. It’s premature to describe the Liverpool defeat as a turning point, but after this and Hull, I stare at the table and see us fourth but by default rather than merit. The table does not lie, it’s what happens over a season that counts and there’s plenty of that season still to run, but last night in no way, shape or form did we look like a top four team.
Cameo performances typically brighten up a performance of any kind. In film or on stage, the actor seizes her or his brief chance in the spotlight to steal the scene and put on a show that is noticed. Last night a Spurs cameo encapsulated the entire night and the performer was indeed noticed but for all the wrong reasons. Closest to the pitch yet so tantalisingly far from the action, being a substitute requires a degree of resolution. Bassong must have had some idea before kick-off even that his services were likely to be required as once more Ledley’s prematurely creaking bones could give way at some time. Yet when called upon his mind was elsewhere, unable to offer the basics, like shorts. Finally on the pitch, he never came to terms with the fact that he was playing, missing tackles, late with a header and then conceding a penalty.
That foul made no difference to the outcome of the match – it was well and truly lost by then – but Bassong’s lack of mental application and fortitude perfectly sums up the approach of the entire team. Half a mistake, Daws not quite strong enough, and suddenly there is a gap for Kuyt to finish skilfully, a well-taken strike. Going a goal down early is tough but not insurmountable. I waited for us to get into our stride. Waited for us to get hold of the ball. Became frustrated as in the first half we lost possession so often, wanting to take three or four touches, to beat a man, where one or two would have done. Waited for the Croats to get on the ball and knock it around, it’s their game and here was the place to play it. Waited patiently, the second period came and finally the ball was ours, we were on top, we pushed them deep into their own half…
Nothing. Nothing but a smart long shot, a Modric chance and a couple of kerfuffles in their box. No pattern or intelligence. No one willing to take control. JJ and Wilson huffed and puffed, not everything came off but they won the ball for us on sufficient occasions only for nothing to come of it. Luka and Niko disappointed, drifting infield to be swallowed up by an eager Liverpool defence. In my preview I suggested they would be key. Without Lennon’s surging pace, they had to respond in a different but no less effective passing style, yet they seemed as confused as the rest of them.
I had warned that Liverpool should not be written off as a spent force and the performance that Benitez coaxed from them proves he remains highly influential in the club. They worked, covered and pressed, and when their legs tired did not wilt. Known for their open play, Liverpool on this night took heed of the success of their less illustrious counterparts and threw a stifling midfield blanket over us, as have Stoke, Wolves and Hull of late. It worked perfectly, and only some frankly awful finishing prevented them from handing out a real beating.
Nothing should obscure the fact that this was a ragged and intensely disappointing Spurs performance. However, now that we mention turning points, there was another one in this match. The Defoe goal should have stood. Active, phases, whatever – my view is that he was not offside. This is the second time this season that a controversial decision by Howard Webb has affected the outcome away against a big team, the first being the penalty he denied Keane versus Chelsea. Then as last night, we were not getting anywhere and such a moment could have brought us back into the match as well as testing Liverpool’s own fragile confidence.
Put into the context of the season as a whole, however, the point is that goal or not, we should not allow ourselves to wait for something to happen in order to ignite the passion and the football. We have to make it happen ourselves. In the same way, a shrewdly engineered two minute injury break broke what spluttering rhythm we had. Surely we had enough experience of that on Saturday to know how to overcome it. It says much for the lack of resilience in the team if we cannot deal with this.
Of the other players, Bale had another decent performance and apart from five minutes at the end of the first half where the ball was in his corner and he totally lost concentration, it augers well for the future. Not much more comfort to be had, I’m afraid. Crouch was awful, barely a single decent pass or lay-off in the entire match, let alone effort on goal, and Defoe was not far behind in the race for last place. Nothing stuck when the ball was played up to him and he spent most of the match in apparently increasing resentment that he was being tightly (but fairly) marked. Defenders tackling – the very nerve. And I genuinely forgot Keane was ever on the pitch.