Is this what success feels like? A flat atmosphere at the Lane, the team taking a while to get into their stride, arguable if they ever did, yet still coming away with the points. If this was a routine win then I’m not used to the concept so I can’t recognise it when it comes along.
Chatting. During the first ten minutes. About football, sure, but not about the match itself necessarily. Although some fans appear happy to pay forty or fifty to gossip with their mates, I prefer to focus on the matter at hand, yet here I am, ten minutes gone and there’s a game going on.
Fulham made it anything but routine. Because the rest of the team did not follow Luka’s admirable example – get on top, take over, stay on top – Fulham gradually hauled themselves into the contest. By the second half, despite being a goal down, they moved the ball around more efficiently than we did. Murphy, Davies and Duff kept things flowing and Dempsey’s movement meant it was difficult to pick him up. However, they lacked a cutting edge that a pair of quality strikers would provide them and most of their efforts foundered once they reached the box.
Once there, they encountered Dawson and Gallas in imperious form. Pressured, they rise to the challenge. Dawson suddenly grows two inches taller and a foot wider, blocking shots, flying in for tackles and winning everything in the air. His return has been remarkable precisely because it is as if he’s never been away. Three games back from injury, none of this easing his way back business, he has retuned, refreshed, eager and more dominant than he was before what was a serious problem. No hint of any loss of pace, if anything he appears more flexible and bouncy than before. Dawson’s back and we have two clean sheets, Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Alongside him, Gallas continues to be quietly effective. Timing and anticipation is his thing, plus a willingness not to give ground. Seeing him at close quarters, I have nothing but admiration for his impeccable attitude. Now he’s match fit, and he took a while despite his many years of experience with these matters, his pride in his personal performance betrays not a hint of a professional looking for some easy money in the twilight of his career.
Nine points out of nine over Christmas, 11 games unbeaten and some thrilling football along the way. However, the media has been full of one thing ever since. 606 took the lead. Listening on the way home, it was all about David Beckham. Good idea or bad idea? A taste of things to come perhaps. Everything revolves around him, even in his absence. Not what Spurs have achieved or how the existing squad could raise their game, but what Beckham might bring.
The presenters, Robbie Savage and Darren Fletcher, couldn’t see what the fuss was about. A no brainer, of course he should be signed. Their scenario was a reasonable. Twenty minutes left, Spurs a goal down, on comes Beckham, just one cross, or he could settle things down in the middle, keep a lead.
Worse things could happen than Beckham’s arrival but there are fallacies in these arguments. They made football sound like gridiron, where you bring on a specialist for a set play then they toddle off again to bury themselves in padded jackets three feet thick to keep warm. But football, our football, is not like that. It moves and flows. If Becks’ cross is headed away, he’s got to get back because there’s a big gap behind him. Something he will have to do again and again, because that’s what the Premier League requires.
In our midfield, Becks could do a decent job, although I have to point out that he’s seldom played there effectively for any extended periods. We need midfielders who can hold, cover and protect the defence. Beckham can do so but others can do this much better. The whole scenario is predicated on an assumption that Beckham is not only fit, he’s match-fit. How else would a short-term loan be effective? Yet of course he isn’t. One of his reasons for coming is to gain match fitness. One thing I don’t grasp in the debate is that this is the Beckham of old. It gives me no pleasure in saying this, because I respect the man hugely, but this is a highly questionable assumption.
Off the pitch, he’ll be helping Lennon with his crossing and generally being inspirational, and all that. A small point, but actually he and Lennon have different games. Becks has never been a flying winger and corsses from deep, as opposed to Lennon who is best when he strikes at the heart of defences at full tilt. Lennon’s distribution is improving anyway.
The deficiencies in the team were made more obvious by the lacklustre performance. Pav’s control and awareness were poor and he posed little threat to a potentially cumbersome Fulham defence. He doesn’t like having his back to goal too much, yet to be fair to him we did not offer him decent service, too often striking long balls from the back (yes you Benny) that were easily mopped up. He was caught on his heels – the only thing he anticipated well was his substitution.
Crouch had a better match, holding the ball up well, but once he faced goal then his weaknesses were on display, tamely shooting at the keeper when given a decent opportunity. A striker, pacy, mobile, intelligent, sharp in the box, is what we need. It’s what Rafa and Luka need. They look up, there’s nothing on. As I’ve ruefully commented before, we are searching and so is the rest of Europe, but it will make the very best of our style of play and two of the most talented midfielders in the league.
Beckham remains a distraction. Lots of ifs and buts boil down to two simple things, one he’s not going to be around for long, two, he’s not good enough. A third maybe. I don’t want anything to distract us right now, for this is our moment. There will be others, because of our valuable long term team building, but the right striker in this window will be the making of this team, now and in the seasons to follow.
Everton tonight – the pressure is on but we should not fear it but feed upon it. Use it to drive us on. A tough team but this is winnable. Get used to the pressure because it won’t go away.
Although the long term strategy has been hard to discern, Harry’s panic-driven arrival was the catalyst for our revival. He’s taken the raw material bequeathed to him by his predecessors, added a mixture of experience, grit and latterly high class talent and shaped the whole mess into a potent attacking force. His are the hands at the potter’s wheel, slapping down a dollop of gloop and from the grey wobbling mess emerges, gradually, painstakingly, a creation that is solid to the touch, resistant and lasting. There’s still room for further embellishments to create a work of art.