Aaron Lennon’s injury time winner provided a welcome and unexpected burst of adrenalin at the end of a match defined by errors. It had no place in a stuttering second half Spurs display, but the exhilaration of his mad dash and fine finish was entirely in keeping with an astonishing week at the Lane. Beating L’arse, 5th in the league, in the knock-out stages of the Champions League. With a game to spare. It’s all downhill from here.
I say ‘downhill’ in order to get a cheap ironic snigger. It’s not worth even that, I’ll settle for a stifled chortle. But the reality is, and I’m already digressing, second paragraph in, so stay with me, in reality we’ve accomplished all this without coming close to our best team. Yesterday our 5th choice centre-half, stood next to our 4th, was replaced by the 6th choice. Two in-form central midfielders were both out, our right winger’s been off the pace lately while our centre forwards have both been criticised for their lack of ability, never mind lack of league goals. If we had accomplished what has been straightforward for most of their opponents this season and beaten the hammeroids and Wigan, we’d be second, level on points with Man U. The truly astonishing thought is not where we are but what this team is capable of.
As so often this season, Spurs did their utmost at times to keep that potential hidden. A bright opening gave way to a series of increasingly frustrating periods when we almost put it all together, but not quite. Chances were few and far between once VDV went off (give him a rest and let him fully recover) and we continually gave the ball away. Once again an opposing team comes to the Lane, not in the best of form, and finds that all they have to do is sit back and wait, because sooner or later, usually sooner, we’ll just give it to them.
Poor Palacios was the main but not the only culprit. He bears the whole world on his shoulders, judging by his demeanour. We’ll never know how much the sickening death of his brother has taken from him but at times it is as if it’s ripped out his soul. He looks a long way from home. His heart, however, remains intact, bless him. Throughout a poor 90 minutes, with missed passes and tackles galore, to his eternal credit he kept coming back for more. Never giving up is as much as we could expect yesterday, more than many players in his circumstances would have offered and frankly more than the fans in the East Stand who jeered him deserved.
Losing possession kept Liverpool in the game. Chances for VDV and then Defoe were blocked – for once a mindless JD blast would have done the trick but he kept it down and unerringly found the defender. Defoe looked sharp at this point, moving well across the line and unafraid to take the ball early, a volley didn’t come off but it was on target and showed a confidence that will bring goals in the future. JD does well when he comes back from injury – unfortunately we’ve had plenty of chances to evidence this. Not the greatest student of the game, a period of enforced reflection improves his movement and team-play. He’s not a thinker so needs his instincts to be sharp but that’s not quite enough in the Premier League.
As it was, our early promise faded and by half time it was a relief that we were down by a single goal only. Although Liverpool will be kicking themselves, especially given the denouement, Spurs defence deserves some credit. Bassong’s superb tackle to dispossess Torres in the act of shooting was matched only by a similar effort early in the second half. The Torres of last season would have surely scored or at the very least got his shot away, but he’s a pale shadow of the classiest striker in Europe that we took such pleasure in enjoying last season. I’m glad he did nothing yesterday but there’s no joy in seeing such a fine footballer in the doldrums.
Maxi had the best opportunity but again Gomes didn’t commit himself too early and made it as difficult as possible. Not that difficult, though. The goal when it came was scrappy, a ball that perhaps we should have cleared but it fell to Skirtel. For the rest of the game, we defended well. Gallas was excellent again, snuffing out attacks with well-timed excursions from the safety of the back four. His body and mind are fully functioning now and he’s on top form. Bassong did well too, given his lack of recent first team experience. His tackling was extremely poised, considering that he clearly wasn’t ready to come on, let alone warmed up. That lack of readiness could have cost us, it’s inexcusable. Kaboul had been down for a while and straight away the players signalled for a sub. Kaboul once again demonstrated his talent and I hope this latest in a series of pulls and strains does not indicate that his giant body and athleticism are not at odds with each other.
For the second week in succession we get a penalty from a handball in the wall. I’ve not seen any replays of the match but Liverpool were incandescent. They were similarly furious when BAE pulled down a player, looked a pen to me. Defoe has missed 5 out of the last 6 penalties he’s taken. This one went unerringly and firmly past the post.
We were on top at this point: Liverpool played some neat football and worked hard but never closed us down so we were always in with a chance. Nevertheless we were intent on throwing this all away when at last Modric, who had a good game but tired (injured? He was limping) in the last 15 minutes, picked up the ball and ran at a defence hamstrung by several bookings. A brilliant piece of opportunism, we should have done more of this. It forced the own goal but surprisingly did not turn the game. We steadfastly refused to take full advantage of opponents who were clearly rocking at that moment.
After a good first half, Lennon had seen so little of the ball in the second period, he must have been particularly glad of his woolly gloves. Again we should have made more of his ability to run at defenders softened up by bookings for fouls on Luka and Bale but he relies on people giving him the ball if he’s out wide. Under Jol he used to come inside to great effect. He should go and get it more when our game is in need of a boost. Then suddenly it’s a long ball, down the middle, Liverpool are thinking of the lovely warm bath, Radox perhaps, ummmm Mountain Stream or Woodland Glade, either would be nice – oh. Great to see those little legs twinkling again, just a blur, arms outstretched, and a fine finish.
Bale came out on top of his fascinating battle with Johnson. Against one of the quickest full backs around, Bale created a number of opportunities. Again we saw the danger when he came inside. I’m sure opposing teams believe that most of their work is done when he comes off his wing into the crowded midfield but he can get through anything, it seems, one particularly thrilling run in the first half.
I hope he has a good make of shinguards because he must be the most fouled player in the league. Superboy needs shins of steel. It’s not so long ago when players did not have to wear shinpads at all. When I was 10 or 11, full-back in the mighty Oaklands Road Primary School XI, I picked up a canny tip from ex-pros. The Charlie Buchan Football Monthly revealed that paperback books provided protection that was as good as pads, and no expenditure, just a quick trip to the bookshelf.
I had the perfect solution. My dad in the loving pursuit of a good education for his only boy had subscribed to one of these monthly part by part works, the Countries of the World. The books were A5, not too thick, so ideal for my purpose. In the dressing room I quietly, without fanfare but nevertheless with the assurance of a gnarled old pro, produced the books, no doubt to the hushed admiration of my team-mates and took the field against St Josephs with Albania down my left leg and Australia down the right. We lost 8-0, my winger got a hat-trick.
Whilst it’s tiresome conceding so often, it’s been a great week so excuse me if for once I impart a positive spin on the stats. Spurs have won twice as many points from games when we conceded first than when we opened the scoring and we have now recouped 16 points from losing positions. Thanks to that nice OptaJoe on twitter for the figures but the commentary is the most significant point. The latter is more than our total in the whole of last season, a season when I bemoaned our lack of resilience. Things are different now. We’re learning how to fight, to play to the last whistle, to chase lost causes . Just think of how good we could be if we didn’t need a comeback every game. Astonishing.
TOMM supports the We Are N17 campaign group to keep Spurs in Tottenham. Here’s their site, I’ll keep you up to date with the campaign and update with my own thoughts later this week.