I’m pathetic at cards. I pick up the rules easily enough but then it’s pretty much all a blur. So few numbers and colours, frankly it’s not that complex, but if you waited for me to work out what to do, you’d be there all night. And people round the table, staring…Whatever the opposite of a poker face is, I’ve got it. A fishface? Derren Brown could read me in a second, then use his spare time learning how to spell his name properly. Bluff and I’d be quivering like an electrocuted jellyfish. Might as well hang a neon sign round my neck with my hand showing.
But even I know there’s a variant of poker where you have the opportunity to keep the cards that you believe to be the strongest and discard the rest in the hope of replacing them with better ones later on. Luckily for Spurs, Harry’s obviously better at poker than I am. Kazan away was his throwaway. Defeat still leaves us in a strong position as the chips hit the table and the brave hold their nerve.
This stage of the Europa league is all about getting out of the group with the minimum of effort. Playing a weakened team is not a sign of a lack of priority for this competition – on the contrary, we should be aiming to win it. It’s about doing just enough to get through without wrecking the rest of the long season to come. I detest writing about football in this manner. As anyone who’s read this blog before knows, or indeed has read my report of the QPR match, football is something far more entertaining, profound and beautiful, whichever team you support. However, that’s the way it is. Not Harry’s fault: point the finger at UEFA’s wretched money-grabbing blazered accountants who understand balance sheets but not the power and glory of the sport, thus creating tournaments with matches that have no meaning and where failure in the Champions League is rewarded with a place in the final stages of another cup.
Redknapp has to play the game and he’s done so superbly. Not only was this our first defeat, he’s successfully bloodied young men like Carroll and Livermore, kept Gomes and Cudicini on their toes and generally made the whole squad feel involved. Yesterday we had the added bonus of Pienaar and Gallas playing their way back to fitness.
When Harry announced at the start of the season that he was going to play the kids in Europe, I thought he meant men like Townsend and Livermore, Kane too, who are young but have played in the Championship and I still suspect Redknapp didn’t wish to go as deep as Fredericks. However, we’ve managed just fine.
As soon as the draw was announced, this was the discard. A long trip into the unknown versus the team with the best pedigree in the group was never a priority. Win the home games and pick up a couple of away points, that’s it.
At this stage, he always wanted to be right where we are, our destiny in our own hands. This may sound like limited ambitions but not only are they totally realistic, they are not easy to achieve as Villa and Manchester City have found out to their cost over the last couple of seasons. I would play a full team at home against PAOK, a Wednesday game sandwiched by Saturday fixtures against West Brom and Bolton, to make certain of 3 points, then see what needs to be done in Ireland.
Last night we put in a reasonable effort but did not deserve to win. Having said that, it’s a shame the goal came in the manner in which it did, a fine free-kick but needlessly conceded by Bassong, who had one of his concentration lapses again.
Carroll and Livermore impressed me again. Not perfect by any means but they both have an exemplary attitude and appetite even when things don’t always go the right way. They take responsibility, which can’t be said for players like Pav, who could have done more. Cudicini is a veteran but has same enthusiasm even after all these years. He was the pick, several fine saves to keep us in the game. Otherwise, we should have kept possession much better but that’s the problem with a scratch team in Europe.
We ended the game with a side so young, it’s a good job they’re aren’t being sponsored for Movember, they wouldn’t earn a penny. As I’ve said before, this isn’t a reserve team. Our best ‘age group’ youngsters are on on loan so we’re on the brink of qualification with our 10th choice midfielders. Given this stupidly structured competition, Harry’s played his hand to perfection.
I know you’ve had sleepless nights worrying about the Gazza competition. To put you out of your misery, when he signed for Spurs, Irving Scholar threw in a house for his parents, a BMW for his dad, a sunbed for his sister and fishing gear for the great man himself. Allegedly the sunbed and fishing rod came from Scholar’s own pocket.
Thanks to everyone who entered and congratulations to Dave Spurr, who won. That appears to be his real surname – impressive.