On a night when a spectacular goal set Spurs on their way to a magnificent victory against Arsenal, we discovered that the secret of glory lies in honest endeavour.
The old ground was trembling to the rafters with emotion, at times creaking with anxiety as our opponents expertly taunted and teased us with long spells in possession but mostly with a heartfelt outpouring of support as we battled back from the semi-final despondency, sometimes vicious to unsettle our rivals, sometimes tender almost, as team and crowd were as one. Here’s the true magic of derby days, when from first to last whistle, this is our world, we and the players. Nothing exists outside this florescent bowl of white light.
In the past, the atmosphere would build for fully an hour before kick off as the volume from the terraces gradually grew. These days, we arrive late, secure that our seats will be available, and anyway any embryonic chanting is drowned out by the all-conquering PA. But when it began, how we roared them on. From deep down it came, years of disappointment and frustration plus the debris from Sunday, echoing around the steep-banked stands in one of the last remaining proper football grounds, no escape upwards so over the pitch it floods, driving the white shirts on.
And they did not stop. Not a man gave anything less their all. It did not always work: too many passes went astray and chances went begging. But all we the fans ask is that they give their utmost, as we do in our sacrifices and dedication, and last night they dredged up something from the despair of the weekend. Frankly I doubted them. I doubted that they would be able to do enough against opponents skilful, organised and rested. Nobody could be more delighted than me to be proved wrong. Physically and mentally, this was a phenomenal achievement. I’ve questioned this team’s resilience many times, with justification, but last night they stared down their demons and left them beaten and whimpering.
If further inspiration were needed, and I’m not sure that ultimately it was, Danny Rose provided it. Pav was still looking to the heavens after missing our first golden chance when Rose moved purposefully onto a clearance from a corner. It may have been his full league debut, his career could blossom or wither and die like those of so many youngsters before him, but what happened next ensured that his name will not be forgotten by any Spurs fan for many a long year.
He stuck the ball sweet and true, smack on the sweet spot meat of the foot. No wobbly mechanics, no earnest science about the trajectory and airflow around the modern footballs, just sweet and true, ever upwards, an arrow into the net. In line with the shot, it seemed as if a huge gap in the impossibly packed penalty area opened up around the ball as it flew, the moment of impact a shimmering portal as in science fiction films, a pathway into another world.
Quite what a forward was doing so far outside the box for a corner I don’t know. Harry will give him severe stick. The other remarkable thing about his performance was that he contributed virtually nothing else whatsoever. The game passed him by, or rather the Arsenal players on his flank passed him by. They gradually got on top, relentless movement and full-backs advancing further and further in an attempt to outnumber and outpace our defence. On the left the pace of Bale and Benny got us out of trouble but Kaboul and Dawson looked vulnerable. We could not keep the ball. Hud’s passing touch deserted him while Pav and Defoe could not escape their markers. Every time we cleared, back it came.
But tonight we refused to crumble and displayed the intense application that was the bedrock of our win. Conceding the halfway line and dropping back to the safety of two banks of four is a risky strategy but a successful one. It constrains their space at the edge of the box and try as they might, there were few openings. Led and Daws were able to operate in areas where they are at their best, at the edge of or in our box. If Redknapp deserved criticism for tactics and team selection on Sunday, then he should be praised for his preparation last night. And judging by his expression after the goal, I’m sure he will claim full credit for Rose’s selection.
King was superb again, subtly organising his players, sweeping up the bits and pieces that got through and inspiring Dawson, not that he needed any. Ledley seems to have altered his style, forgoing long strides in favour of several quick short movements to get into position and tackle.
This was a full-blooded derby and all the better for it. The number of tackles, mostly clean, and the squabbles over the ball were a welcome reminder of how football is better for the inclusion of physical challenges. In yesterday’s preview I committed the ultimate sin on any Spurs blog of admiring the Arsenal style, so what the hell, I may as well go the whole hog – the ref was excellent, Clattenberg I think, he knew how to tell the difference between a hard tackle and a foul, and how to play the advantage rule.
Although we were defending remarkably well, half-time came as a relief from the anxiety that had replaced the early euphoria. Paul Coyte’s drooling over the goal (or was he droolling over Ginola?), was surely a portent of doom. Do that at full time after a win, not halfway through. Then a bright start, a long ball into space….and Bale was all alone. The pass went a long, long way and for once their defence had gone to sleep. What a left back was doing on the right wing, I don’t know. Harry will give him severe stick.
Then we would not budge. Tired legs worked and worked. Modric busy and available, his trademark one touch and away from his man into space, hard yards for the cause. Then my moment of the match, why I love these games so much. Hud in for a tackle, half wins it, moves on and finishes the job, into touch for a throw-in. Nothing special in itself, but this time the centre shelf rose to him as he got up. Crowd and team as one, each energising the other. He did not play well in the first half, and he was plumb awful on Sunday, but was totally focussed on putting it right, and we stood in recognition of that effort. Last night he learned the art of having an effective game without playing well.
Derbies need heroes. Danny, great goal old son, but step aside, because we all wish we were Brazilian too. One, two, three times, electric reflexes and elastic reach. The free kick defied the laws of nature. Brian Cox, the solar system and the laws of physics throughout the universe, well, explain that one away, my learned friend.
Gomes was fantastic. Lest we forget, there were other saves and the three or four crosses/corners he punched away under huge pressure. TOMM has praised him consistently this season but I make no apologies for saying once more that I would not swap him for any other keeper in the league. Someone told me that on Saturday the Sky pundits identified Gomes as our weak link. Do me a favour.
Just as it seemed as if we had resisted, they scored, of course they did. Whisper it, but we all feared Van Persie when he came on. But we held on, the ball safely in the corner as the whistle went and we stayed as long as we could to drink in every last second. Gudjohnsen was excellent, brought on at the perfect time (thanks again Harry) to fill up the midfield, link with the attack and above all to hold onto the ball.
One more line – Bale. How does he do it? From first to last. After 120 lung-busting minutes on Sunday. I’m lost for words in my admiration for such focus and talent in one so young. Little more than a kid really, and a few months ago he looked it, scared like a rabbit in the headlights. His stamina and power stand out but it is his mental fortitude that has taken him to these heights. Like Gomes, he has determinedly pulled himself up from the depths. A world class prospect.
The profound joy of the derby victory hit when the adrenalin had stopped flowing, late at night in motorway gloom punctuated by the passing glare of occasional headlights. Utter satisfaction and pleasure deep down, that feels even better today. The world is sharper, more vivid. I’m smiling and chatting with strangers in town today. Everyday stresses and strains are forgotten. Life is sweet. Unreserved praise for a terrific performance.