I doubt very much if there is a team in the League that is more frustrating to watch at the moment than our beloved Spurs. Capable of so much, we deliver so little at times. Used to asking the question pre-match, ‘which Tottenham team is going to turn up?’, after yesterday we now have to pose the same query at half-time as well because who knows what they are going to come up with? Problem is, I suspect they don’t have any idea either.
Players make mistakes and teams go through bad spells. Intensely irritating but after all these years I’m used to it. What really grates, what digs around deep down inside and contorts my innards into a tight aching throbbing mass of bile-filled fury that bubbles and froths until it is fit to burst open the lining of my stomach, shatter the rib cage and spew into the light drenching the room with rancorous acid, is when we don’t learn. And round about now, it feels like we never learn. A few days ago we dominated the match by imposing ourselves on a quality team and by sustaining our effort and application for 90 minutes. Our centre midfield ran the show. Watching from the high television position at the Reebok, at times our team looked like Subbuteo figures on a giant pitch, spread out far and wide and just as mobile. I would have given them more than a flick to wake them, I can tell you. Memo to HR- at the next team talk make sure they understand that when you talk about making space, it’s not supposed to be space for the other team.
I refuse to lose that Tuesday night feeling and neither do I wish to infer too much from Saturday as a stand-alone performance. 99% of Spurs fans would gladly have exchanged defeat at the Reebok for the experience of victory against the European Champions. Left to myself I would have gone for 100% but I do know people who left the Lane muttering about the real bread and butter of Bolton away.
So I’m not going to get too maudlin about this tawdry little effort. But all this ‘would have taken that’ stuff is a sign of restricted horizons. We have huge ability and an even larger potential, so let’s fulfil that and see where it takes us. I want it all, wins against Milan and in a slog at the Reebok, not because of unrealistic expectations but because that’s what we should be capable of.
Bolton played well, especially at the beginning of the second half where they pre-empted our 4-4-2 by pressing higher up the pitch, holding possession and generally making a right nuisance of themselves. We expected to settle into a rhythm at that point and didn’t recover until we were three down and beaten.
Our opponents refused to let us play from the back. Sandro was dropping further and further back yet still he was denied any room. The first time he was tackled, we got away with it but no reprieve for the second time. Holden had a fine match as defensive midfield and Lee is a real talent while Crouch can only dream of a touch like Davies’ for the fourth goal. They took their chances well but we made it simple. Two goals came from us losing possession and the penalty was the sign of a tired mind. Without decrying their efforts, we made it so easy for them.
Bale had a good game; anything he came up with would have suffered by comparison with Inter. He made a series of opportunities down the left: it’s not just about him, it’s who gives him the ball. You can try to stop him getting going but if he plays those one-twos and the ball is accurate, no defence can get close. Modric too was excellent in the first half, plenty of sorties forward.
However, as I’m repeating so often these days, you can’t really play a through ball to Crouch. As the lone striker, he’s all Modders has. Time and again Luka made a little break and had to play it out wide. This is easier for Bolton to defend – Knight and Cahill were great dealing with the crosses, digging out even the toughest of Bale’s swervers, but they would not have been so sure-footed if we had come through the middle.
Over the last 12 months a number of players who were not first team regulars have shown a burning desire to seize every chance when it came their way. Last January Bale had a loan move on his mind, while Dawson’s introduction led to individual and team success, culminating international honours. Even poker faced Benny clearly burned to reclaim his place after injury. Now Kaboul for all his inexperience is determined to take the same path.
If only the same could be said for Palacios and Kranjcar. Not only did they fluff their opportunity, Niko in particular didn’t seem too bothered. I’m a big fan of his: on Saturday it was like playing with ten men. Wilson needs to build up a head of steam, using several games to settle into a rhythm, but he’ll never get the chance if he continues like this. Harry was apparently having a go at him. Whether he was drifting too far forward I don’t know, it would have been ideal if he hovered in front of the back four, because goodness knows there were wide open spaces for Bolton to exploit. The back four were stretched call over the place because none of the five midfielders dropped back. Bale and Niko were nowhere. We simply can’t do this. Didn’t I say that about the United game, in regard to Bale and Lennon? I did you know.
The selection of 4-5-1 against a Bolton team keen to get men forward was misjudged. It made it harder for us to take the game to them. I wonder if deep down, Harry knows that despite our strength in depth, this lot play best with a pattern dictated by certain key players. Tom Huddlestone’s value is so often proved in his absence. We’ve seen him come on this season, Young Boys being one example, when on the surface it’s like for like, DM for DM, but it all works more smoothly. The men around him look more comfortable with his presence.
Pav came on, did nothing, then scores a volley from a ball that dropped from the clouds. Hutton’s effort was superb, but I always feel great goals are wasted if you lose badly. Give me 3-0 and save the glory goals for another time. Hutton was the pick of a bad bunch. Probably the least effective man on Tuesday, he had a good game at the back and coming forward.
So what do know this week that we didn’t know ten days ago? We know how well we can operate if we attack and we have our best men available. The potential is breathtaking. We’ve learned that we cannot afford to chop and change too much, but I reckon we knew that already. We can’t play two games a week to the same intensity. I’m not having this ‘European hangover’ lark – it’s about an overall ability to stay strong mentally and play well even if individuals are tired, in other words something that pre-dated our involvement in the CL.
We’ve hit the heights this week but are still a work in progress. We are developing but fact is, we have to go a bit harder and faster because others are learning too and there’s a danger we will be left behind. As it is, we are as close to the relegation zone as we are to the top four. Two home matches to come are vital – six points is essential as we are running out of wiggle room.
The two opening paragraphs aren’t bad, even if I say so myself. They sum up both the game and the fan’s feelings of frustration. Thing is, though, I wrote them not on Sunday but after the corresponding fixture last season. We are a better team now, no question – the team we dominated before Bolton away last season was Aston Villa, not Inter Milan – and I’m really not too despondent, but it’s a salutary reminder that some things aren’t changing as quickly as we might like.