So Arthur turns to me, as he often does around this time, and says, ‘So what do you think, then?’ Good man he is, likes to chat, asks about the family, loves his Spurs. Been going for as long as I have. Seen it all before but comes back for more.
I paused. It was that sort of an afternoon. Warm in the pleasant autumnal sun on the Shelf, we basked in our superiority without becoming fully involved. The frustration of missing a series of chances was outweighed by the comfort that another one would be along in a minute.
I leaned forward. ‘Well’, I began, ‘I don’t want to tempt fate but…’
No such thing as fate. The universe comprises atoms and particles that behave according to the same immutable laws of physics that stretch into the unimaginably distant recesses of the universe. My life is governed by decisions and coincidences without recourse to mystical spiritual forces. We are human and make our own destiny.
However, this is Spurs, so better be safe than sorry. During a match I seldom make rash judgements, at least out loud. However on this one occasion, one lousy time I have to smugly link my brain to my mouth, you know what’s coming here, don’t you…. ‘…we’ve outplayed them’.
Well we had. No disrespect to Wolves, who worked hard and were willing to move it forward when they had the ball. It’s just that we were much better than they were. In stark contrast to this fixture last season, we could always find space and time in midfield. Bale was the main outlet, banging in a series of deadly serving pacy crosses, and through the middle Hud and especially Jenas could press on and move into dangerous areas. VDV drifted inside with impunity. We kept the ball and moved it well in all areas. Our opponents seldom ventured into our half.
Literally 20 seconds after I opened my mouth, they scored. I blamed Arthur, for asking me the question, and he graciously accepted responsibility, but the reality is: I confess. Strange but true.
After the interval, I expected some drive and tempo. Nothing. Wolves came right back into it, gaining possession and unafraid to attack. Their 4-5-1 was often 4-3-3, to their credit as they could have easily sat back and retired into their shell to protect their lead. Bale was on the receiving end of a couple of hard fouls and the time-wasting is so tedious but this is not a dirty team. McCarthy gets worked up but he knows a tackle. In the second half a Wolves player and JJ crunched in. The Wolves man stayed on the floor and the stretcher vultures twitched with anticipation but McCarthy remained seated. He knew it was a 50-50 and did not try to persuade the ref otherwise.
So the subs are on but there’s not a lot going on. Pav’s on for his mobility but he remains static, lined up with the others on the edge of their box, waiting for the ball rather than looking for it, easily marked by their back four. This is a real fault if we are chasing the game: we played into their hands.
When the ball is in the air, it’s the great equaliser. Our advantage in skill and ability, nurtured, practised and expensive, is negated in an instant because it takes most of our team out of the game. Crouch may or may not win the ball, but a man on man aerial duel evens up the odds. VDV crosses the ball beautifully- he sees it early,fine control and moves it quickly, class, absolute class. but however good the ball, that class will have a greater influence if we play through the middle sometimes, on the ground. With wide men like Bale and Lennon, it’s a potent brew, but strikers hanging around waiting for something to happen is a criminal waste.
Although Kaboul had another good game – he must be scary for opposition full-backs as this huge bull of a man charges forward at them, football’s equivalent of Jonah Lomu – the introduction of Hutton gave us more options on the right. Eventually, he picked up the ball and ran with it, and ran, ran….
The penalty turned the game. I could not see us scoring until then but whilst McCarthy will have blasted his team for an unnecessary tackle, we exerted sufficient pressure to make it happen. If Hutton had had a run in the side as BAE and Bale had, we would have a true measure of his ability. Better coming forward than defending, I’ve always felt he has been too easily dismissed by many Spurs fans. His ‘unfortunate’ moments against ManU, Birmingham and Arsenal came when he was not fully fit. Let’s not get carried away but with Corluka rightly left out he can press his claims. He and Lennon combined well yesterday and could develop an effective partnership. They used to get in each other’s way but Lennon has more to his game than he did when the pair first played together – better positioning, more options, can come inside and let Hutton carry on wide on the outside.
After the game Harry took the credit, saying what a good player Alan is. Typical Harry – as with Pav last season, he excludes men then when they appear because he has little alternative, if they do well he always knew their potential. Still, Redknapp was able to not only make the substitutions but also to shake up the team by resting Lennon, keeping JJ in the middle, dropping Corluka and bringing Gallas in. These changes did not affect the balance or effectiveness of the team. Also, players who come in are motivated to take their chance, JJ and Kaboul being the two best examples. They have seen how Harry will give men a run in the team – Benny, Bale, Dawson – and he deserves credit for creating that culture of opportunity.
Strange but true – we dominate and get nowhere, then score three times during our worst passage of play. Even after the penalty, Wolves pushed us back and in their best spell could easily have scored before a deflection fell to Pav. He took it calmly – one chance one goal, can’t really ask for more….today anyway. Then Hutton with a bit of luck, but again he made his own luck. The players seemed genuinely excited for him (was that sheer relief?). Except Benny, who half-heartedly ambled up to the collapsed scrum of delight under which Hutton struggled for breath, then strolled off again to get on with business.
Jenas had a fine game, looking mobile and strong in the centre. His hesitation when he drove forward, ball at feet, was frustrating and a glimpse of what he could have been, but as a DM he did just fine yesterday.
Gallas and King were solid and largely untroubled. I confess that I never, ever thought I would see the day when William Gallas set foot on the White Hart Lane turf in a white shirt and frankly I’m not sure I ever wanted him to. However, he’s Spurs now and the boos he received were vile and moronic. He’s Spurs, for goodness sake.
To be fair to Crouch, he won much of the ball today but little came of this. One good header, well-saved but too close to the keeper.
For Keano I feel no anger, only pity. Sadly off-form and out of touch, his eyes are hollow and dull. His chance in the first half begged to be hit first time but he took a touch, the tell-tale sign of a struggling striker. He missed one in the second but at least it was an instant strike. Maybe he can play his way back into some sort of form but it promises to be a painful business, for him and us.
So a welcome win, deserved overall, just. At half-time the three flags on the West Stand roof each blew in a different direction at the same time. Strange but true, rather like the rest of the day.
Sad news today of the passing of the great Bobby Smith. I never saw him play but from the moment I was a Spurs fan I knew he was a genuine legend. The half-time round of applause was warm and richly deserved, even before the news was out. Seeing him recently on the pitch, it’s clear that this was a fearless warrior of a centre-forward, proud and unbowed by the passing of time. My very best wishes to his family and friends.