The two sides of Tottenham Hotspur, the new Spurs that is, combined in adversity to produce a hard-earned 3 points. The adventurous passing, utilising pace as well as finesse these days, set up an open, bright game but after Defoe’s sending off, we were forced to show true grit and determination. Put them together and we have a little something going on.
These days we are surrounded by signs of how the team has changed this season. Over the last few years, in these circumstances, going down to 10 men would produce a familiar tale of opportunities created by good football and then dumped in the trash as we meekly collapsed under the slightest hint of pressure. For some reason, journeys to Bolton and Blackburn come to mind. On top against inferior opponents, Palacios flies in unnecessarily and gets sent off, or the entire defence is inexorably sucked to the near post under a cross and the ball is tucked in. Insignificant moments in the last decade but entirely symptomatic of a lack of resilience that persisted through several managerial changes.
Now we have Luka Modric, moving at ease through a crowded midfield, buzzing, probing,always available, a little nick of the ball here in the tackle. A touch of a pass to keep possession or the vision to not only sumptuously spread the ball 60 yards, not only take the entire Villa team out of the game in an instant, but to place the ball millimetre perfect into Hutton’s stride. That’s not enough. Dig in now, run, short passes, shield it, keep it, knock it off to a colleague and then run to get it again. And again. And again. Never stop. Point to where you want it. Point to tell them where to run, where you are going to put it. Outstanding.
By the end, this man’s hair is matted in cold sweat, socks round the ankles, crippled with cramp, counter to instincts late in the tackle but it’s all for the team. Like Steve Perryman, he works back, shoulders down, hunched in effort to get goalside, short strides because there’s another tackle to be made.
With Rafa, it’s all in the same move. A sublime, innocuous touch turns defence into attack. Then hard yards, head down, run 60 yards, edge of the box. then breathe, slow it down, not sweat but brains now, wait, the space will open up, wait a moment then strike, beautiful unerring, far corner. The crowning moment, a gorgeous goal.
Peter Crouch, on to hold up the ball and receive the mounting pressure but his first steps are back towards his own goal to cover, his first meaningful touch is a fine tackle in midfield and he’s back for more. He never quite manages to find his way forward (did he ever set foot in the Villa Box? I suppose he must have…). Back to mark Collins and he headed everything away.
Kaboul back from injury, shaky and uncertain early on, then a mighty near post defensive header, did well to be there in the first place, did better to head to safety, his skill enabled by the strength in his upper body to hold off the men behind pushing in his back. Dawson alongside him, only his second game back from a serious injury yet there is no loss of pace and none of determination. The crosses came flying in and he headed them away. Kaboul and Dawson, in their own way, outstanding.
Two full backs, committed and neat on the ground. Benny in particular, another decent game, good touches, keeping the ball and one vital far post defensive header. He takes risks occasionally but he knows the significance of holding possession. All this sweat and determination I’m going on about – keep the ball, it’s the best form of defence in the modern game. Finally, Palacios worked productively to protect his back four, although he conceded when in a great position to put Luka in, which led to the cross for Villa’s goal, but for the most part he did his job.
At the final whistle the players were genuinely delighted. They looked each other in the eye and said, ‘Well done my friend’. Rafa, substituted but he wouldn’t sit down, kicked every ball to the end. Daws, wide eyed with satisfaction in the post match interview. Love that guy.
There’s a vibrant team spirit to match the burgeoning talent. Luka’s consistently high standards are complemented by Rafa’s top class talent. I’ve seldom seen a player able to find space as he does. It was a shame that were prevented by a poor refereeing decision from seeing VDV and JD together. However, Defoe’s lack of sharpness is heightened by the levels of ability around him. Once more his control let him down at crucial moments. As they say, he needs a goal. Interesting the difference in body shape when Rafa stroked home the first goal. He’s moving at ease onto the ball whereas JD has gone too far and has readjusted his body, so he’s off balance and not in the prime position to convert the cross, should it have reached him.
So plenty to enjoy from yesterday’s concoction of graft, grit and genius. It’s the sort of win that does wonders for the fragile psychology of footballers -we survived the battle and we can do so again. It’s certainly the sort of match we would not have won 12 or 18 months ago. However, let’s not get too carried away. Poor Villa: Martin O’Neill has left them in a right state. Lots of giant defenders and precious else. They suffered with their injury list even though it’s not as long as ours as been recently. In the second half they lumped over an endless stream of long crosses from deep that we headed away. The wingers swapped over, and they lumped over an endless stream of crosses from deep that we headed away. Their young midfielders watched, stood still, as the they lumped over an endless stream of crosses from deep…
This coupled with an implacable determination to miss any chance that came their way, from whatever angle, meant that Gomes was seldom exposed. He tried his best for them – I reckon he just got there ahead of Heskey but if I were a Villa fan I’d be furious that wasn’t given. Gomes I think has been told to dominate his box more, fine, but he’s not got that balance right when the ball’s low down. That young typing error Lichaj was excellent against Bale, as good as any full back this year. Houllier, a good footballing man, was incoherent afterwards, a stream of vaguely related words trailing off into silence as he contemplated his problems. We took advantage but future opponents will not be as generous.