Straight away let me say that I did not see all yesterday’s match. Whatever you think about Tottenham On My Mind, know that I like to make up my own mind about things rather than relying on the secondhand or received wisdom. My plans were undone by a combination of a dodgy stream and having to take my grandson to football practice as his mum was at St Thomas’s. I can share the improvement in his stamina and positional play but his close control and concentration needs more work. Or is that JJ?
On Radio 5Live the excellent Pat Murphy commented that whereas we were well muffled in gloves, undershirts and long sleeves, Wolves to a man took the field in short-sleeved old gold. This apparently epitomised their fighting spirit, although I would point out that no one criticises elite athletes in spring marathons or cross-country when they wear gloves: it is sound advice for exercise in the cold to keep warm without losing too much sweat by covering the extremities. Medical advice or not, we certainly lived up to the clichéd jibes and failed to turn up in the inhospitable cold of the black country. We were neither strong enough to withstand the pressure nor to drag ourselves back into the match in the second half.
By then it had become a rather surreal experience. The stream by now was Ok but cut out intermittently as these things are wont to do. Several times it froze as we attacked, our players in athletic poses and good positions with plenty of space in front of their box, as if pausing momentarily for the Spot the Ball photo. However, when it restarted only a few seconds later, Wolves were coming away with the ball. Trouble is, when I did see the whole move, it may as well have been a blank screen for all the effort and ability on show. Simple passes going astray, slotted into touch with apparently great care, no blend or invention. JD running down blind alleys or long balls to Crouch, both separated from team-mates or our midfield time and again, unable to set up even a half chance. I fail to see the point of bringing Modric on then playing the long ball. Wolves and other teams have cut down our time and space but I saw yawning gaps last night. This time it was purely our fault. I saw a stat that we did not have a single shot on target in the second half.
Thanks for all the comments on yesterday’s piece, ‘What’s Going Wrong?’ It contains a few suggestions about why we aren’t scoring enough goals or are able to break down defence-minded opponents. It makes the unspoken assumption that we are playing reasonably well and consistently: I had absolutely no sense that these days we could implode like last night, let alone against a very average team. I also mentioned that in the long run Crouch is not the pivot of a top four team but the reasons for changing the starting line-up baffle me totally. We played really well against Villa, despite a few too many long balls at the end. Something even vaguely approaching that effort would have secured victory, yet the personnel changes served only to unbalance a team beginning to enjoy the comfort of familiarity. Gudjohnson is not fully fit and cannot yet have got used to his team-mates, while we have got used to how to perform with the big centre forward. Palacios had an excellent performance on Saturday and he and Hud combined well then, looking after each other and with Hud at last showing his ability to impose himself on the midfield.
I understand what was on Harry’s mind. JJ to drive on in midfield on the assumption that Wolves would have a defensive outlook even at home (we wouldn’t therefore require so much defence ourselves in the middle) while a mobile front pairing would unsettle Wolves pedestrian centrebacks. However, the Villa game showed we could do that well enough anyway. Unnecessary changes made to the spine of the team, the balance destroyed and points thrown away.
It’s too early to say if our hopes of 4th place have gone with them. There’s still a way to go. But here was an opportunity that we failed to grasp, and moreover failed spectacularly badly. It’s the manner of this capitulation that grates this morning. The positives of Villa have faded away, replaced by those doubts, nagging away in the background, that we don’t look like a Champions League team. Opportunities remain but they are fast running out.