Back down to earth with not so much a bump, more like an avalanche. Wile. E. Coyote, maybe, poised atop some improbably sheer mountain range, on the pinnacle of success, then his cunning plan fails, inevitably. He doesn’t just fall to earth. Rather, it’s a slow descent, each painful moment of impact freeze-framed with a resigned look to the camera. Close your eyes and in those moments, see Pav stupefied, JD glowering, Bassong vacant.
Although my mind has been overflowing with all things Tottenham Hotspur since the San Siro, I realised yesterday morning, vaguely, that I haven’t written anything since then. In my head I had, hundreds of pieces stimulated by that great day, but the week has simply flown past. No complacency – it was a feeling that I didn’t want to end and I had fallen under its spell.
It’s tempting to view Spurs’ performance in the same way but I don’t believe they were suffering from a love hangover, or for that matter were up themselves, what with Europe and that. Tempting also to put this one down to familiar failings: on a bad run? Play Spurs, soon put you right! They won’t turn up. This one wasn’t quite like that. In fact, granted we were two down, unnecessarily, but in the face of ferociously determined opponents, we picked ourselves up and attacked consistently hard in the second half, until the third when we faded away to nothing. It was by know means wonderful but past teams would have buckled totally and spent that period looking at their watches and wishing they were in the warmth of the dressing room.
What we did see were a few chickens from this season coming home to roost. Our strikers were awful. Below our best, we nevertheless made more than enough opportunities to win this match, despite Blackpool’s massed ranks. Pav unerringly found the keeper every time, when presented with a few classic striker’s crosses. He moved well onto the ball, great contact and smack – at the keeper. Defoe on the other hand was unable to control his body shape at the moment of impact, falling away in a wild spiral. Predictably the ball behaved in the same manner, flying hihg and wide. Both wanted that extra touch, JD in particular that extra fraction. Yet this implacable Blackpool defence were never going to allow him that.
The strikers haven’t been scoring all season but the midfield have got us out of trouble. That’s fine – in the modern game it’s often easier for them to find space with late runs. No saving screamers this time, however. Forced to shoot from deep and never for a second allowed to settle on the ball, they queued up to sky it.
The signs were there from the start. Jordan, donning his glasses and wiping a touch of old man’s drip from his nose, looked more like granddad from the Werther’s advert than Braveheart, scourge of Milan. More significantly, in the first couple of minutes, Bassong made an error when under no pressure and presented Blackpool with the ball. Nothing came of it but the message rang out loud and clear – Spurs were vulnerable, and our excellent opponents scented blood. Conceding the penalty was needless, absurd and turned the match. From that moment we were always chasing the game.
Bassong is a good player, quick and tackles well, whose weakness is letting players get in behind him. I thought he had turned a corner after a coupe of sound displays, against Chelsea in particular when coming on as sub. However, he likes a run of a few matches to get settled and he was never comfortable last night. The writing may be on the wall. Harry has publicly criticised him this morning: history says this is the sound of the exit door opening. With Kaboul doing so well this season, Bassong is up against it. Having said this, I would have kept Gallas and Dawson together in the centre with Palacios at right back.
It’s the first time I’ve seen Blackpool for 90 minutes this season. There’s more to their success than devotion to the cause and hard work. They move the ball forward and wide, usually through Adam (don’t suppose it occurred to anyone to mark him?). It then often comes back across the other way then is switched once more. Defence suitably stretched, in comes the cross and people coming in late (they have the time to do so because of the movement of the ball in front of them) on the end of it. Campbell for example. Probably offside but our defence had been shredded by then, not for the first or last time.
Two differences from Milan – one, we allowed Dawson and Bassong to be pulled out of their comfort zone. Unprotected by the midfield and with Gallas unsure, they were all over the place. Two, runners didn’t track back. For Campbell’s goal, three Spurs men stop running as they reach the edge of our box, Campbell unchallenged. Basic, avoidable and, again, a problem we have seen before this season. That’s inexcusable.
Without going overboard here, we did well after the break with 20 minutes at least of sustained attacking effort. We kept a high tempo and worked hard. Lennon deserves credit for supplying enough crosses to pull us back. He works best in tandem with a full back. Last night he was isolated and facing two defenders, yet he contributed a good performance. So not so much about a lack of leadership, more about the unforgiveable missing of chances, mental fragility and an inability to deal with Blackpool’s tactics.
One thing I have noticed about our opponents is the number of managers who say that they have never known a game like it, where they have had so much of the ball and so many chances without winning. Even allowing for the post-match paranoid managerial myopia, this is not a coincidence. Blackpool pack their area, lining up as deep as the penalty spot or even the 6 yard area, massed ranks of drilled defiance. We had 3 off the line, I think, but this is no accident. Blocks in the area or on the line, it’s all the same. No room and no time for our passing and touches on the edge of the box. We made it easier for them because they were defending a two goal lead. They did have some good fortune, the ball that went along the line, right to left then back again, but that’s not the point. Truly, you make your own luck. We would do well to remember that.
In the first half, Arsenalesque, we wanted too many touches in the box. In the second, we missed the ones that came our way, then Benny lost concentration and another mad mad moment. Pav scored, and to be honest, I was disappointed because he should take no credit away from that performance. Gallas shooting left-footed, 25 yards out, several men well positioned inside him, which sums up our night. Absurd and uncontrolled.