Now I’m angry. I had no issue in being generous after the let-down against Bolton. Not going to read too much into a single game and anyway I was clutching on to Inter glory for as long as is humanly possible. Not so this wretched, feeble effort versus a decidedly average Sunderland team. We’ve played a lot worse in the past, the recent past for that matter. The matter at hand is that faced with a great opportunity to win two home games against teams we should not fear, we capitulated as meekly as a kitten facing a rotweiler. These opportunities are fast running out.
Same old classic signs of my utter exasperation. Drab resignation at the final whistle gathering momentum as I trudge back to the car. Nearly there and I’m spluttering incoherently to my son who, bless him, has heard it all before. Open the door and it’s transformed into a few moments of bitter complaints plus a few slaps of the innocent dashboard. It’s a sure sign things have not gone well when I start shouting at the radio. Last night I turned on 5Live to hear Steve Claridge ajudge Sunderland as worthy of a point. Now this blog has a history of kind comments from opposition fans who pick this up on newsnow and I don’t mean to offend the loyal band who midweek fill their allocation of seats, but our rivals did nothing. They didn’t have to, and that’s why I’m furious. This was a game where Spurs failed rather than where the opposition succeeded.
Over the last couple of years many teams have closed us down with ruthless efficiency. Hull, Stoke, Wolves, hard work and well-drilled 11 man defence for which we had no answer. Last night Sunderland worked hard and their back four were strong but at no point did they stop us from playing football. Time and again, especially in the first half, we created space with ease, passing the ball around or through their midfield, good interchange between Modric, Huddlestone and VDV plus plenty of support from Hutton, Bale and Bentley on the flanks. Even when we were off colour in the second period, there was room to move. At the back we were sound throughout, bar two moments, and I honestly cannot recall a game when I felt less threatened. Sunderland showed not a flicker of creativity and at times we pushed them back so far, they joined the queue for the Colonel’s burgers in the Paxton Road.
Back to the radio and a shouty man in the backstreets of N17. Claridge then solemnly opines that in the second half, when we attacked down our left, Sunderland let Benny have the ball and dropped two men on Bale, thus nullifying his efforts. Yes, but that didn’t stop him. Repeatedly he bore down on the defence, what went wrong was his use of the ball. He crossed too early too often but he had loads of room. For some reason he didn’t cut into the box, a potent weapon as our opponents tired, they couldn’t risk tackles for fear of a penalty but he never took them on in the danger areas.
Same on the other flank, where we were victims of our own weak-minded failings. Bentley’s Hollywood flicks and long range shooting is evidence of a man keen to impress as an individual, at the expense of team play. He never learns. However his real problem was his robotic preprogrammed compulsion to overlap when he and Hutton advanced. Acres of room inside but every time he goes wide. Just where Sunderland want him and the ball. The full-backs’ thighs were red-raw by the end where all his attempted crosses thwacked into their flesh, and they loved every second of the pain, because he was in their pocket.
Crosses. Teams score lots of goals from crosses. We got one. But they are easier to defend for English teams. Some of the most talented midfielders in the league stood and watched as the ball sailed over, or not as in many cases. Time and again. What is the point of having Luka, Tom, VDV if all we do is cross the ball? We may or may not score a few goals in this way, but that’s where teams want us to be, they’ll take their chances with the cross, thank you very much. To repeat, we had plenty of space in the middle because we were seldom closed down effectively. A mindless waste.
Titus Bramble. Let’s fathom a cunning plan to get at him. Lithe, mobile, lightening quick in the tackle, sees the first yard in his head and anticipates uncannily well. Oh hang on, that’s Bobby Moore, I got a bit mixed up. With Bramble, let’s bring on a big bloke and wang the ball aimlessly into the box for 45 minutes. Crouch comes on, first ball into the box is a good one but he decides that the best approach is a Pythonesque goose-step. That comedy walk gets them every time, eh Pete? I wasn’t laughing.
The crosses, the Crouch, it’s tactics and they are Redknapp’s responsibility. On the evidence of his movement, dropping deep and linking front and back in the first half, Redknapp decides to push VDV to the edge of the box in the second half, where he waits for the good ball that never came and Bramble and Turner can head them away all night. At half-time, we had played well without having much of a cutting edge. Gallas and Kaboul were untroubled at the back and Hud was supreme in midfield, the pick of the players. Luka was busy and creative, whilst Pav’s movement and committment was good. We were comfortable and on top with the 4-4-1-1. Some tweaking was required and the goals would surely come. Cut down on the crosses and we’d get one or two. Crouch’s arrival ended all that. Whilst Sunderland’s two up front pressured Hud, it left others with room to move, yet we criminally failed to exploit it. If there are two on Bale, there’s room somewhere else. VDV couldn’t fill it, he was told to stick to the edge of the box. Luka can’t do it on his own. Anyway, the ball’s in the air, and Turner and Bramble are heading it away….
We get one, no danger from them, we should be fine. Then a moment when…I’ve not seen a replay so I can only go on the night – how on earth did that happen? Our fault again, letting a team back into a game under no pressure. We nearly did the same at the end when Gomes fouled at the edge of the box.
That wise sage jimmyG2 summed it up perfectly in the comments section of Bolton – ‘I give Harry credit when it’s due and the blame when its not’. I’m conscious that I’ve been banging on about this problem for a bit. I genuinely have no axe to grind but this is plain wrong. Granted we have scored three goals from a far post crosses, Crouch knockdown and VDV a yard out. This is but one tactic, not the only one. This is about potential – we have the players to do so much more. If this is how we’re going to play, buy Kenwynne Jones or any bruiser and go the whole hog. This about the best team we’ve seen at the Lane for ages, and what they could do. This is about finishing in the top four. The other top contenders don’t play like this, because it doesn’t work. Brainless.