The rumble of the seats on the Shelf echoed around the girders of the venerable old stand, growing into a roar as this tense derby tumbled headlong towards a climax. The rumble as the punters rise in expectation to catch every last fraction of a moment and their seats slam into the backrests, the clatter of anticipation as Bale, Luka, Lennon launch themselves onward. It’s the classic sound of the derby that took a while to appear but later, in the second half, as we freed ourselves from Chelsea’s pressure in a series of high speed counter attacks, was heard every few minutes, stilled as we stayed upright for the last five or so, the penalty save offering fresh optimism.
Although it’s a familiar sound, its character seems to have changed of late. No longer in hope, more of expectation. Chelsea were beatable: we entered this as slight favourites and have players who not only thrill the crowd, they are matchwinners too. Bale again, bursting 70 yards in the first half. I refuse to take my eyes off him. I want to savour every stride, full tilt at the opposition, his expression focussed but full of expectancy. I never want to get used to this. He’s so special, it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time, such is my delight.
Yesterday he did well but was cleverly marshalled by Chelsea. Fereira used all his experience, including a gentle bodycheck in the first half when Bale would have been clear, that failed to merit a booking but took him out with ruthless efficiency. His effectiveness can be also be measured by the space he gives others, notably Defoe who drifted wide left several times, into the space vacated by Fereira’s close marking. One pass from there led to our goal.
We have others able to step into the limelight. Modric was outstanding throughout, painstakingly making himself available time and again to pick up the ball from colleagues and either move it on or burst through the centre himself. As both sides attacked in an expansive game, Luka revelled in that space and where none existed, he made some with a swivel and close control. He’s a top quality footballer and an absolute pleasure to have in a Spurs shirt. In the past I’ve compared him to the great Ossie Ardilles, hunched skipping run, ball close to his feet and dictating the pace of the whole game as others move to his promptings. Modric has better stamina and a better shot, while he’s starting to approach the influence the Argentinean could exert.
This was a match that was finely balanced throughout. Both sides had spells on top but neither dominated for extended periods. Certainly both Spurs and Chelsea could have scored at almost any point. In the first half, Chelsea looked the most likely. Kalou and Malouda are perfect in turning 4-5-1 into 4-3-3 and although we had men back, the midfield and defence failed to pick up their runs from deep. Last week Birmingham scored from such a run but Chelsea wasted several good opportunities.
The feeling was, Drogba and Lampard would have taken one of those. Much has been made in the media of Chelsea’s injuries to key players but little significance has been given to our much larger casualty list. It shows how well we are able to compete that the media are barely noticing.
In the end, we scored first, a superb finish from Pav but his gorgeous first touch laid the foundations, taking the ball away into space despite a crowded box, then a fine swivel shot to the neat post.
Unfortunately as far as the strikers are concerned, and we tried all four of them, that’s about the last time I can talk about good control. Defoe was especially poor. At least three decent opportunities to make a break were wasted due to this deficiency, one in particular where he let Terry in with a chance when he should have been clean away. As it was, Terry and Ivanovic were consistently too powerful for our lot, brushing them off the ball with insolent ease, far, far too simply. We should have tried to get them on the turn more often and when we did, another recent failing, the poor final ball, appeared again. Hutton to Pav is one example that sticks out from the second half but there were others.
Second half, Drogba on, crank up the tension. Yet our back four came into their own in the second half. Palacios covered assiduously in the centre but he and Luka could have come back a few yards to shield their defenders, while again Bale and Lennon were adrift too frequently when Chelsea had the ball. Hutton and Benny, especially Benny, defended expertly. They too sit a little too far from their central defenders as a result of the lack of protection in front of them but both used their pace to deal with the many balls into the channels.
Hutton’s passing could have been more consistent but he linked well with the attack, giving us an extra dimension. He had space because the threat of Lennon and Bale kept Cole and Fereira penned back and that’s where Chelsea have to seek their width as the midfield are fairly narrow. Although our two wide men open up space for the opposition as well as us, their presence curbed a key offensive area that Chelsea usually employ.
Inside them, Dawson was immense, as if he had never been away. I was pleased to see him back but feared that a tough game such as this was a game too early – do this one when he’s match fit and has Gallas, fast becoming indispensible, alongside him. As it turned out, no need to worry. A towering performance. Finally, credit to Bassong for taking Drogba on. The Ivorian drifted onto Seb, presumably because he was seen as the weak link, but right from the first challenge, Bassong did not shirk from the physical contact, buffeting him about, refusing to let him turn and making the interceptions. Not everything worked, and he gave the ball away on three occasions in dangerous positions, but he refused to be over-awed.
The equaliser came from the other side, the left. No danger, Daws there and the angles sorted, but it squirmed over and through. There was great power in the shot but Gomes should have saved it. Ironically it came at a time when we had got on top again. I thought we had dealt with Chelsea’s pressure and were coming out the other side. Confident of our defence, a goal would come only through a mistake. I felt utterly deflated.
He made a couple of other good saves, notably from WP’s skimming header, then late on, as we pressed on the counter for a goal, another error at the death. I’ve not seen any replays of this or the game but it looked like another rash challenge. He’s a fine keeper who does not deserve the ridicule he received on 606 last night but diving at feet is becoming a weakness.
Then the hero, and be honest, you thought it had to be us with the winner as we dashed upfield, freshly invigorated. No repeat of Liverpool.
Before then, Keane had been rushing about in what could well be his last home appearance, earning cheap applause but doing little positive. Actually, that’s unfair – we need some energy, particularly as Harry’s strange substitution to have both Crouch and Pav made Chelsea’s task in defending that much easier. I really don’t see what that gave us.
A point in the end when we could have had three, or just as easily none at all. However, the lasting impression is a positive one. We took on the champions, were never overawed and certainly not outplayed. On the contrary, in another terrific football match we bravely and continually took the game to them. Sharpen up and the goals with come, and with them points and glory.