Released from the stifling burden of his defensive responsibilities, Kyle Walker moves purposefully onto a loose ball. He’s spent a good while with his back to the wall, unable to shake free of the relentless pressure coming his way as our north London rivals dominate. Walker’s known primarily for his pace but he’s a fine footballer too, so it’s a touch then head down, eyes on the ball, it flies low and on target.
Walker has phenomenal potential but still has a lot to learn – his pace can’t solve every defensive conundrum. The thing is, this young man is tough beyond his years, battle hardened as a teenager in the Championship and now he has his opportunity, he’s absolutely determined to seize it. His eyes are cold and focussed. Ready. As the ball hits the net, the deafening sound of a seismic shift, a cracking, groaning roar as plates collide to reshape our world in a terrible rending. Rising from the dust, a fresh landscape, new typography to bury the old amongst layers of dinosaur eras. North London is ours.
When I first began to understand fully the significance and drama of the derby, the records of the two clubs over the years showed almost precise symmetry. In the thirty or so years since then, one team has forged ahead. It’s bad enough but on top of that they not only pinched our precious prize of being the only team to win the double, they did it on our ground, then repeated that feat, as well as playing some of the best football the Premier League has ever seen.
Their dominance was symbolised not by these frightening statistics but in the derbies. We just could not get near them. Every time, something happened. Controversial decisions, red cards, we score four but they get five, how can that happen? But most of the time, the fact is they swept us aside, at the Lane with dazzling counter-attacking football and a defensive line that left us like toddlers banging our fists on the floor in blind frustration. I still feel the pain.
Now the balance has finally shifted. Three wins and a draw in the last four tells part of the tale. The key is, we have rebuilt our team gradually whereas they have failed to do the same. Now it’s they who are struggling to keep up. Our blend of youth and experience represents the way forward. And then there’s the intangible but real sensation that in a tight game like this one, it’s going to swing our way. We absorbed considerable pressure in the second half especially and had a few scrapes but did not concede another. In the past, we’ve had to play at our absolute best even to be in with a shout. Yesterday we won despite quiet performances from Modric and Adebayor. Then there’s that swerving, challenging shot that no one, and let’s be honest that includes the fans as well as the keeper, thought was going in until it crossed the line and there was no turning back.
Unlike the crash bang wallop of other city derbies, this was another in the growing tradition of excellent matches, shaped by a fascinating tactical battle between one manager who lives and breathes tactics and another who likes to deny their importance. As with many aspects of Redknapp’s public persona, things aren’t what they seem and ultimately the changes he introduced in the second half proved decisive.
Harry’s instinct to attack plus our opponent’s weakness in defence encouraged a 4-4-2. Wenger countered with five in midfield, tried and trusted by him as well as covering up for his side’s imperfections. After a bright start when we had good chances, their three in centre midfield first stifled our advances then after a period of stalemate, pushed us onto the back foot. Defoe was forced deeper and deeper. To his credit he worked hard all afternoon to good effect but it wasn’t where he wanted to be.
Despite this, we had gone one up, wonderful control from Van der Vaart – no irony, there, not handball – followed by a shot across the keeper. Although the marking could have been better, Rafa made that chance by his movement, popping up unexpectedly on the left. He has the freedom to do so because of the movement behind him, Parker running the show and shifting across to cover if he or others go forward. Adebayor didn’t shine, and missed a cracking chance in the second half, but on the theme of movement, he takes defenders with him to make space for others. A special mention for Defoe in the build-up to the goal. Instead of knocking the ball off, back to goal he turned and took the initiative. That was the crucial moment. Suddenly it created danger and committed their defenders. Three passes later, the ball was in the back of the net.
Second half, the three dominated and enabled them to exploit our vulnerable left. Parker and Modric couldn’t get the ball, never mind get us going, and we fell apart for the equaliser. Too much room for the cross, acres of space at the near post to score.
Redknapp turned the tide by bringing on Sandro, a brave decision to take off your goalscorer and and dangerman, but the correct one. Chances came and went but with this new Spurs there’s another one coming along. Luka should have done better with his but he was uncharacteristically off his admittedly stellar standards. However, he and Bale had done enough to unbalanced the defence that throughout we had been able to move around. Sucked left, there was space on the right as the ball ran loose to Walker.
When the going gets tough, Scott Parker gets going. He took over and despite a couple of knocks, he was not prepared to let this hard-won lead slip. It was as if he’s been playing in the derbies for ten years rather than making his debut. He knew what it meant. Outstanding. With Sandro straight into the action and Bale raiding down the left, we could have scored again but at least it meant for most of the time we had the ball and kept it far, far away from our goal. Kaboul and King protected it well, with Van Persie anonymous. Kaboul was beaten too easily twice in the first half by RVP, once conceding a free kick. However, he didn’t repeat those errors and was commanding in the last 20 minutes, when he needed to be. King’s return is a masterstroke by Harry. He doesn’t seem stretched in the slightest. Odd though to see our rivals cross the ball so often, rather than pass it around, a sure sign that their powers are on the wane. K and K headed it all away.
We won, yet by the end I was exhausted. Relief at the final whistle, but as I calmed down, I realised that despite my anxiety, we were totally on top after we scored. Now there’s only joy, which will last a long while. This is going to be a good week.
It’s frankly unlikely that in other circumstances I’d be able to have a chat with Salman Rushdie. However, a combination of Twitter and the comradeship of being a fan brought us together last evening. A few messages exchanged, he’s been a Spurs fan for 50 years and watched the match in Los Angeles, where he reports the sun grew even brighter on the final whistle. Let’s enjoy the sun and enjoy the win together.