We’re all the same, football fans. Turn up every week, that familiar and engaging mix of optimism and dedication at kick-off, tinged with the total certainty that the wheels are going to fall off at the earliest opportunity. “Typical insert name of your team here, trust us to have it all go wrong” Really though, is there a team like Spurs? That has created an art-form out of the cock-up.
But really. Consider this a scientific endeavour. I want to know, because I’m determined to push back once more the frontiers of human knowledge, the secret must be shared. Because it’s there. Fans of other teams, compare and contrast. Especially fans of top teams, teams striving to do well in the Premier League, never mind Europe, teams who want to challenge for the untold riches and glory of the Champions League. Teams with pretensions, who want to be something.
Here’s the model to evaluate. You’re not playing well but are still on top. Although your energetic, well-organised and motivated opponents are making it hard for you and have to be carefully watched on the break, the match is yours for the taking. It’s a corner, against the run of play. two centre halves jump. Yours is the captain, a rock, who has inspired others, made himself a far better player than most expected him to ever be, who is now an international when the guy he came to the club with several years ago, the one we really wanted, is long gone and getting fat on your opponent’s bench. Yet at this crucial moment, 0-0, as he jumps he can’t resist sticking up his hand. Penalty.
Enough for most teams but oh no. Onto centre stage strolls our keeper. We like him but he has a secret power – a marshmallow body. Moreover, he has no control over when he transforms. Up steps the taker, not even much noise to put him off, such is the gloom that has descended over the ground. Ta-dah! He saves it, plunging low to his left, a proper save to a good shot, not a penalty miss.
He does a slightly scary celebratory dance in the box, reminiscent of tribal shamen high on peyote and summoning up the spirits. Maybe he was on something
stronger than marshmallows, that would explain a hell of a lot. His joy lifts him to meet the resulting corner, he catches it but it’s not quite there, a couple of flaps and it’s gone. The opponent seizes the chance but goes a bit wide….and the keeper brings him down. For no real reason other than blind panic. A second penalty in 30 seconds, they score this time. Surely in the long annuals of football history, this is a first. Genuinely remarkable. Fans of other clubs, tell me if your lot could do that.
This was of course the second implosion of the game. Again on top, as in terms of territory we were for the majority of the time, our defence’s unerring ability to evaporate meant we almost conceded in the first half. Where do they go? Really, what are they up to? As individuals I like them. Kaboul has a lot to learn about positioning at full-back but he’s OK. Gallas and Daws are true warhorses. Not once but twice in quick succession Blackpool had chances to take it as we looked on in desperation. Credit to Gomes here for a superb save, low and one-handed to his left. That’s the thing, he’d done so well up until the penalties. That’s the other thing – this ability to fall apart is all too familiar.
You have to laugh or else you’d cry. Something else that fans of most clubs would identify with, but it was a dismal evening at the Lane that was encapsulated in the MOTD highlights, which were a) not very long and b) almost exclusively featured Blackpool attacks. Tis wasn’t a reflection of the game itself – we were on top for most of it – but showed that despite our territorial and possession superiority, the Tangerines had the best chances. We had lots of attempts but I can’t recall their keeper having to make many hard saves, or even diving come to think of it. Mind you, his outfit was so bright, looking gave me a headache so perhaps I averted my gaze. Cars on the North Circular were slowing down because they saw a warning of a hazard ahead.
We huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow the house down. Without playing particularly well, we were fine until we reached the edge of the area. Then nothing. Early on, Blackpool played a high defensive line but gradually and to our credit we broke that down by getting wide. Bale had two or three men on him but still knocked over a series of crosses, not all on target but there were more than enough decent opportunities. A couple whizzed across the box as our strikers stood back and watched from a safe distance.
The goal when it finally came was excellent, and credit to Defoe for pulling that one of the bag. This season, Spurs have scored 12 goals from outside the box, more than any other Premier League side. The end of season showreel will excite with plenty of whizz-bang moments, but that stat indicates not brilliance but our fundamental problem: our strikers are poor. Time and again Modric, Rafa and Sandro were poised at the edge of the box, looking for something but saw only tangerine shirts. The crosses came in but there’s no one on the end of the them. It’s a well-worn topic in these hallowed columns, but all three of the strikers were terrible. Pay wore his rubber boots and the ball bounced off them time and again, but it’s a basic lack of technique that lets them down, over and over again. Pav was abysmal. I feel kind of responsible because without singing his praises I would pick him ahead of Crouch but it’s got so bad, I look forward to two metre Peter’s arrival.
Right at the first half’s close Sandro realised the real problem. Twice he surged forward at pace, knowing that we had to up the tempo and Harry took the hint in the second half by bringing Lennon on. He and Bale banged in the crosses – to a strike force composed of JD and VDV. If one stood on the other’s shoulders, they would barely be taller than the Blackpool centre halves, yet still we crossed it. This plays to our opponent’s strengths. One of their tactics is to withdraw into their box and the massed ranks repel all boarders. Not a criticism, it’s just what they do and we made it so easy for them.
Good luck to Blackpool. Their fans look and sound as though they actually enjoy football rather than being obsessed by money and league position, and their manager has done a fantastic job, my manager of the season. However, they are the dirtiest team I’ve seen at the Lane this season with several ugly fouls, late and high, when not under any pressure. In the first half Rose rode a dreadful tackle, then Bale was singled out for special treatment as Adam came across and cynically and calculatingly took him out. That ended his threat for the last 30 minutes (and as it turns out for the season), yet the referee did not even give a foul, let alone display a card when red could easily have been appropriate.
Mind you, by this point the ref appeared to have given up, happy to let the players get on with in the manner of a lunchtime playground kickabout. Fouls from both sides, with many from Spurs, went unpunished. I’m all for letting a game flow but this was bizarre. At one time, Crouch, Rafa and Evatt were on the floor clutching their heads and the ref gave a bounce-up after we deliberately stopped and kicked it out of play. He was probably still chuckling as in a moment of comedy gold increasingly in tune with our performance, Crouch had been pushed in the back and went flying into Rafa. Head met head and both lay prostrate. He even got the bounce-up wrong. Adam let Modric have it, thinking clearly that it was supposed to be uncontested but the ref meant it was a competitive drop, presumably to cover up the fact that he couldn’t decide what was going on so left it to the players.
Crouch on and the ball is launched high into the evening sky. A few half-chances but mostly a waste. That’s what happens when Crouch is on but we’ve done that one before, too. The guy behind brought his young son. He’s trying to teach him the finer points of the game but as with any 6 year old, he’s majorly impressed when they kick it as far and as high as possible. Suffice to say he enjoyed the last twenty minutes more than I did.
A few other things to say, in no particular order. Luka Modric was once again outstanding, when we play like this he does so much to get us going, it’s downright criminal to see it go to waste.
Never mind all this samba football, the best Brazilian teams always has a tough defensive midfielder or two at their heart. Sandro will that man for years to come. He’s that good.
Danny Rose had a fine game. He looked composed and purposeful throughout and his defensive positioning was satisfactory. At the start Holloway pushed Taylor Fletcher right up on him, big experienced guy versus the slim newbie, but Rose easily had the beating of him on the ground and, surprisingly, in the air. Although he might have used his pace and linked better with Bale in attack, that’s only to be expected as they haven’t played together much. Rose is one of those players who came with high hopes and doesn’t seem to have moved on. From all accounts he’s not been ripping up trees when he goes on loan but this performance at least showed plenty of promise and it will be interesting to see what plans we have for him next season.
A great goal by Defoe, no question, but it was virtually first time that Blackpool allowed him any space. Give him a second to compose himself and he looks dynamite. Except that in the Prem, that seldom happens.
Our last 12 games: won 1, drawn 7, lost 4. Opponents include whammers, Wolves, Wigan and Blackpool twice. It’s a lousy anti-climax to the end of the season. The lustre of the Champions League is fast fading. At the match I was mystified as to why a guy as experienced as Dawson should throw his hand into the air at a routine corner. I don’t usually get the chance to watch replays if I’ve been to a game but MOTD perhaps gave us a clue. it was a great ball and Evatt had him beat. No good moaning about a push, Daws, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Beat and knew it. An ordinary incident but it revealed the pressure he and the whole team feel right now, and if he can’t cope then there’s no hope for the rest of them. Or for wins at City and Liverpool in the next 7 days.
Cheer yourself up – the club can’t be bothered to do much to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the greatest side we’ve ever had, unless you believe Paul Coyte talking to someone who wasn’t in that team to be enough. Fear not – wear the shirt with pride. Celebrate in style. The Double won the Spurs way, beautiful passing football. A superb high quality t-shirt featuring the team and the pair of trophies. Completely unofficial from Philosophy Football. Click the photo above or visit them here: http://www.philosophyfootball.com/view_item.php?pid=700
More about the Double? Read my interview with John White’s son Rob and the co-author Julie Welch of the Ghost of White Hart Lane, the book about John and the Double team that’s a must for any Spurs fan. It’s the next piece down, go on, just scroll down a few centimetres…there it is, see it now.