There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had this morning as Spurs fans bask in the glow of a strong performance. Leeds posed a tough challenge and we rose to the occasion.
My piece yesterday highlighted the two problems with our game at the moment, our marshmallow resolve and the comparative lack of punch up front. Last night there was little reason to question our determination and focus. I’d say we took hold of the match from the start but I was late home from work and so missed the first 25 minutes, although if I break the habit of a lifetime and rely on the ITV commentators, it sounds as if I would not be far wrong. Now having been a Spurs fan for so many years, I don’t actually need to see the game to know what’s happening, so when I switched on it was a tale of Spurs’ superiority and missed chances. We’ve seen this all before, actually in the first game of course, so I sat back and waited for the goal against the run of play and the cup shock that ITV were wanting so desperately that if they could have used CGI to morph the ball into our net, they would have.
JD was on the ball but not quite on his game, looking good to all intents and purposes but we could see that extra touch, that hesitation, momentary but fatal. TV also shows Defoe’s First Law of Thermodynamics to its full extent – ‘the level of performance is in inverse proportion to the level of moaning’. Whinging and scowling like a spoilt child to mask his irritation with his own play, he nevertheless overcame his self-frustration to consistently get in the right positions and was rewarded with a goal, which predictably came not from one of his crisply struck efforts but a mishit shank.
No matter: we deserved to be ahead. The next stage for us is usually implosion and sure enough Leeds forced themselves back into contention. In sport, successful managers and coaches are often praised by sportspeople for their attention to detail. Get the little things right, and what followed was the perfect example of the consequences if you don’t. Almost straight from the kick-off, Dawson went for a high ball well away from the goal, against a guy several inches smaller than he, and fouled him, the sort of irritating transgression that happens ten or fifteen times a match. This innocuous moment completely changed the course of the first half. Leeds seized the initiative precisely at the point where we should have been guarding it like a dog with a bone. They proceeded to hurl the ball into our box from open play and a series of set pieces, the result being an equaliser. Another self-inflicted wound.
The man I felt sorry for was Gomes, and not just for the way he looks with that beard. He had another impeccable game; he is just playing so well right now and is not receiving the credit he deserves. I wouldn’t swap him for any keeper in the land.
But here’s the thing. For the rest of the match Spurs were totally dominant. All credit to them both for their application and intelligent football. Playing to our strengths we kept the ball on the move, supported our men in possession and patiently searched for the gaps. We had so many chances, it looked as if we practiced shooting at the middle of the goal, but the opportunities kept on coming and in the end one went in, this time set up perfectly by Bentley and delightfully finished by Defoe.
Those chances were generated by a willing midfield. Bentley’s was the standout performance, spoilt only by Clive Tyldesy’s ludicrous proposal that after one game against a division one fullback out of position, he’s in consideration for the World Cup. DB used his brain tonight and benefitted from having someone to whom he could pass. He’s not a natural winger so needs that support, but above all he should be praised for his effort and concentration. Hud and JJ had solid rather than spectacular performances but they were in charge of the centre of the park. JJ was wasteful in possession, especially in the first half but he took up good defensive positions, covering the gaps as others went forward and he and Hud took it in turns to venture upfield.
Leeds are to be admired for their passing and movement. They play decent football and deserve to be promoted. However, by the end of the match they looked exhausted, undone by a hard season, a deficiency that we exploited ruthlessly, passing the ball round and through them with economy. Also, our opponents’ back four offerred JD and Crouch so much room that we could not fail to take advantage.
A game to enjoy, in my case for all of the two minutes after JD’s hat-trick. When the second went in, my wife looked up from her knitting (I’ve painting a picture of domestic bliss, eh?) and said, ‘Go on then, shout’. Silence was the reply -in this sort of game, going ahead means only that there’s more to worry about, so it’s only afterwards that the excellence of this performance can be appreciated. Once ahead, we superbly shut the game right down, keeping the ball meticulously. We played really well and the whole team deserve huge kudos for that. This cup is winnable, we can take on and beat anyone who is left in it. Steady now.