With due respect to our opponents, Bolton at home is not a fixture to set the pulse pounding but the denouement of Saturday’s encounter ran through the entire emotional spectrum in two minutes flat.
First, high farce, just to soften us up. However well we are performing, wherever we are in the table, or indeed this season wherever in Europe, the farcical is never far away. Already we had ignored our opponents on two set pieces, one of which, as we gazed vacantly into space while they took a quick one, led to Elmander hitting our crossbar. Crouch, who is never more than a pass away from the eccentric, unerringly waited for the defender when clean through, twice again. He has the expressions to match the comedy skills of a Mr Bean or Lee Evans – how did that happen? Same way it always does, Pete, same as always. Nobody calls him Pete, do they? Wonder why? Oh yes, three penalties, one goal. How did that happen?
Anyway, to top that, comedy gold as Daws gives the ball away and Gomes goes down late. Playing well, on top, must mean it’s time to go bonkers. However, this was nothing compared with the reaction of the fans when Newcastle made it 4-4. A deafening roar, twice as loud as anything that afternoon. This parochial attitude that focuses more on our rival’s misfortune that our own success is totally infuriating. The ‘stand up if you hate L’arse’ chants is one thing but this was another dimension. We are fifth in the league, pressing for a CL place in the pressure cooker of the Premier League. This may be Bolton but every single game is vital from now until the end of the season, yet this truth appears not to have registered with the crowd. As the chants crescendoed we had crossed the ball into the box. I expected the centre half to clear: in fact it drifted over his head to Pav, who fluffed the fleeting opportunity with a misdirected, weak header to no one, but a chance is a chance. It’s small-minded and shows that never mind about the team, the fans have not yet registered what is important in the makings of a top four team.
From the ridiculous to the sublime in the blink of an eye. If Spurs are capable of farce then we are also able to produce the most scintillating moments of sheer brilliance. Kranjcar has looked distant, unfit and under-motivated when he has appeared recently so although I am an admirer, I expected little when he strolled on as a late sub. Fair play to Harry – we needed a win so he created a formation that could not have been more attacking. He seems happy at such moments, because having been around the block a time or two, he still loves a devil-may-care freedom of expression for his players.
We have the players to make something happen. As the game reached its conclusion, time and again they touched it into place to pull the trigger, Lennon, JJ, JD, Nico, Pav, but nothing came of it except an extra touch that gave the determined Bolton defenders that moment they craved to tackle or block. Then Kranjcar moved on to the ball, fiercely struck it kept going, curling away into the top corner. Despite the keeper’s touch it was always going in.
A fine goal that received the adulation it deserved. We knew what it really meant, this was reality, it clicked then. Three more points, six in a week, lessons learned from the Fulham débâcle and despite our faults, no lack of effort or application.
Another element of the emotional spectrum. A hard week or two for me, yet a goal like this and it all pours out, a roar from deep down, crazy jumping, hugs all round, backs sore from slapping. All better now, the release of pent-up feelings that are so profound, you don’t know they are there until they flood out uncontrollably.
It all started so well. How about an easy afternoon, just once. A penalty early on, in the scramble I couldn’t see but MOTD showed the ref was correct. The second looked sound at the time but coming so soon after the first, most refs would have thought twice but you can’t criticise Clattenburg this time. Well, not for all of 90 seconds anyway. Disallowing the second penalty for encroachment was harsh, because everybody does it and we all know that. Apparently. In the end, another example of how our players could have thought a bit harder.
I admired VDV for putting three in the same place, well almost the same place. It demonstrates a mental toughness that we need, so I thought, but on reflection he lost his focus after the disallowed goal. My imagination, or did he put the ball down and walk back just a little too fast, showing his impatience.
Before the game, Clattenburg engaged in an animated and lengthy conversation with a fan as the ref warmed up in front of the Shelf. He could have opted out but instead chose not to trot along the touchline with the linesmen but to carry on. I couldn’t quite hear what was said but it was clearly about his previous dodgy decisions, with Old Trafford coming up, no doubt. He said that he expected Gomes to ‘launch it’, presumably a reference to that free kick that never was, but I admire him for having the decency to converse with a fan.
Ironic that we looked like dropping two points on a day when we produced some of our best football for a while. Without the drive of Bale or prompting of Modric, we kept a decent tempo and kept the ball moving. There was always someone out wide to find and switch the focus. BAE stayed back in the first half, although this changed in the second period, no doubt at Harry’s behest, but Corluka’s value was on display. Little pace but he times his runs in support of the attack well, strolling up when forwards (and therefore defenders) have committed themselves, so he can use the gaps for a run or a pass. Not everything worked but enough did to offer several good chances. He deserves a run as Hutton has had a few poor matches.
Jenas was my man of the match. He worked hard from first to last, concentrating fiercely and providing those driving runs forward that can be so valuable, if only he could offer them on a consistent basis. A cracking free kick too. He and Wilson worked well together. They seemed clear on who should go forward and who should remain behind, WP usually. JJ too deserves a run, hopefully to capitalise on the absence of others, but far too early to signal the Jenas Renaissance (part 89).
Lennon had a second good game in a week. Both Bolton and Blackburn left enough room in midfield for his runs. He seems to be quicker than ever. I thought he should stay on the left in the second half, up against Elmander rather than Taylor and the full back.
Defoe was also utterly determined. He moved well and was strong in the way he held the ball up. He needs a goal and it was a shame that the header, from a beautiful move, was disallowed for offside. A shame too that those chances fell to Crouch not JD. Otherwise, Crouch did Ok until he went off, injured presumably as afterwards Harry said that once he left the field Spurs lost their focal point. It’s an interesting comment, confirming Redknapp’s preference for a big centre forward around which the team can play rather then utilising the running and movement of Pav. Still, he’s changed things around since Fulham and 4-4-2 with VDV coming off the right and Lennon on the left has produced 6 points.
Second half, we should have been coasting with a couple of penalties under our belt and excellent football to boot, but once again we did not take our chances and Bolton came back into the game. A word of praise for them: they have the makings of a fine little team there. Attacking against us works well. Sturridge was lively throughout, he has real promise, and with Elmander on the right they did not hesitate to get forward. Holden has been playing well for a year and Mark Davies is another impressive youngster. If anything, their expansive game let them down because it gave us plenty of space. And if the Cahill penalty had gone their way…
All in all, a good week and we needed the home points as we have several away games coming up. Now to the sublime: Milan tickets on sale. £59.25 plus £1.75 booking fee. My son is going to the away leg – £15 for a seat in the San Siro. Like I said, never more than moments away from high farce.