Forget the goalkeeping heroics: the story of the weekend is the emergence of Spurs as a genuine force to be reckoned with.
In my season’s preview, I stressed above all else that we had to respond to the pressures of expectation by taking the play to our opponents and dictate the game. Every match, every stride, pass and touch. Using that as the benchmark, the draw against Manchester City was a fine performance that augers well for the future.
Infused with optimism that really is not like me at all, I took in it all those precious moments of anticipation before kick-off. Shaking hands with the seat-holders around me, who I’ve seen every other week for many years, see in fact far more frequently than my ‘real’ friends these days, yet we still don’t know each other’s names. The ground full and shiny, a roar at the first whistle.
As ever it’s also the moment when it suddenly occurs to me that things may not proceed as smoothly as my fantasies predicted. City have a mighty team, the experience, quality and muscle of that midfield. Yaya Toure is huge. 30 seconds in and they have 11 within 25 yards of their goal. Reality bites.
From the first whistle we went hunting for the ball, teasing and probing City’s massed defensive ranks. Modric busied himself from the off, covering ground, available for team-mates and searching for passes, either wide or into the channels at the edge of the box. Huddlestone had a quieter but effective game, not afraid to put himself about a bit with a couple of sly late nibbles at City players’ ankles. Both put their foot in when it mattered.
Sometimes, though, it’s the attitude and approach that signals the true state of play. Throughout we were impressively purposeful and confident, barely a moment’s complacency in the 90 minutes. Hud again marked it for me. In the past he’s hidden from the challenge and slunk away when the first passes go astray. Now, there’s an air of authority about him. He put in the yards and maintained his concentration. He wanted to make things happen rather than wait for colleagues to take over the centre before he gets going. Again, he was not our best player by any means but he symbolised this new attitude. Dare I say he looked like man not an overgrown boy.
Luka’s excellent first half kept everyone moving. The interchange in the centre was good and throughout the match we had width from Lennon and the superb Bale, raiding with exhilarating power and precision for the entire game. Those curling crosses at pace will lead to many assists over the coming season and he was unlucky when he hit the post.
Unlucky – lazy writing, you make your own luck and if the ball hits the post, sure, it’s close but it’s a miss nonetheless. But ‘unlucky’ is my mind’s entry into the fact that our sustained first half superiority didn’t lead to goals. Hart was fantastic, the reaction save from Defoe bettered only by the gravity-defying leap into the top corner from Benny’s deflected shot. JD had probably the best chance but his effort was smothered well. Sharper finishing would have made the difference but I don’t feel inclined to be over-critical, although he should score more one-on-one.
City got a grip in the second half as they pushed De Jong into a more central role. However they seldom threatened and the brave double substitution reinvigorated our play as Keane and Pav’s movement created further chances. In the end, the pressure told. The ball bounced clear in the box and Bale moved on to it. You work and work, something will come up. Not luck, you see, keep grafting and there, suddenly, is your one precious moment, when time stands still, acres appear where once there was barely room to stand, the target is wide and inviting…..
The ball dribbles onto rusty shale, a crunching that sets the clocks in motion once more, the chance gone, never to return. The raging after that miss soon subsided and this morning there’s an air of quiet satisfaction despite the loss of two points. Our team play was outstanding, considering that it was the first match of the season. We (almost) always had plenty of men both in attack and defence, worked hard as a unit and tracked back for 90 minutes. In the first half City broke swiftly after we had a corner, yet by the time the ball reached our box we had 6 men back. That would not have happened last season.
We missed chances but at least we made them against a team with a disappointingly negative outlook. Understandable as it’s an away match versus one of their closest rivals but City have such quality I had expected more. There will be more as the season progresses, I’m sure.
Tactically, our 4-4-2 was seldom outnumbered in the middle but up front Crouch and Defoe still operate as individuals. JD’s off the ball play continues to improve but his runs should be sharper. When the ball is coming from the right, he usually drops away instead of running for a ball down the right channel. It’s because his instincts take him towards goal but often he needs to wait for a pass or three as the move develops rather than go too early and be marked out of it.
Our full backs were cautious for the most part – I’m not sure Charlie crossed the halfway line. It meant that even when we pushed on, we always had three men at the back. This in turn gave the midfield some security to go forward and could be the way we maximise attacking resources whilst staying strong in defence when teams drop back into their half to defend. City made it easier because they were so narrow; it would be difficult if a winger kept Corluka occupied out wide. Dawson was scarily willing to commit himself, often inside the City half, but again this might have been part of the tactics because Corluka was usually behind him. It’s still reckless and Daws should make his choices more conservative before flying in. Get stuck in is fine, but miss and he’s on his arse and out of the equation.
Man of the match was Assou Ekotto, by a nose from Bale. Neat in the challenges and creative in his use of the ball, his long curling passes were a feature of our performance and his tackle on SWP was a match-saver (although MOTD showed his was the error that allowed SWP the space).
So early days but the signs are good. Points lost in circumstances where later in the season I may be feel less sanguine. Now, this feels like a promising beginning, and the first half especially was a thrilling spectacle. Roll on tomorrow night – impose ourselves in the same way and we’ll win.