One Touch Too Many

One touch too many, a phrase that sums up Spurs’ performance last night. A radically altered team seldom captured the flowing passing style that’s been a feature of our season and we couldn’t score against 10 men despite having all the possession and territory in the second half.

This was like a trip back in time, all the way back to, oh, last spring at least. Players wanting three or four touches on the ball when one or two would do. Turning back into their man when a simple lay-off would keep the ball moving and stretch our already beleaguered opponents. Haven’t they learned anything from playing alongside Parker the master?

As a result we were continually caught in possession and allowed PAOK time to regroup after half a break had been made. Their massed ranks meant our one-twos in and around the box bounced off knees and ankles as well as feet but they didn’t mind as long as it stayed far from their goal. Many like Defoe and Pienaar tried too hard, setting the ball up for the perfect effort rather than catching them unawares with the early shot. Pienaar in particular failed to exert any authority – let’s be kind, he was finding his way back to match fitness and leave it at that.

The fact that it looked so dire is a tribute to how far we have come since last season. We play at pace, in set patterns that rely on Walker and Bale as well as Lennon to be quick and direct out wide and for Modric and Parker to shift it swiftly and accurately in the middle. On three occasions in the second half, we played a ball wide right from about 30 yards out and there was no one running on to it. Not making excuses for shoddy passing (there was plenty of that), but this sort of move is rehearsed in training and encouraged on the night, barely look up because that’s what has been coached. Yet Walker wasn’t there, not until later. We’ve grown into comfortable patterns and couldn’t readjust in time.

It’s not so much the individual, it’s the blend. Quality players in an unfamiliar line-up are just that, individuals and by the time the worst of the shambles was over, we were two down and beaten, despite the penalty and sending off that brought us unexpectedly back into things. We couldn’t finish them off, that old familiar Tottenham. Balls into the box, no one to finish it off. Their keeper was excellent but seldom tested. Ah, the good old days.

I say it’s not so much the individual, that doesn’t excuse some of the desultory efforts on show. Rose showed why he has so much to learn about the art of the full-back, especially positional play. Corluka, a defender I have a lot of time for, was appalling. Looking to him for basics of good positioning and solidity, he failed with the basics of passing and covering all night. I realise he wants out but we looked to him for leadership by example and there was none. However, twice it was the defensive line up that left acres of space between the four of them, twice the Greeks scored. The guy with the first goal seemed almost apologetic that such a gentle header should count. Where was Livermore and the midfield cover? Where was the tracking back?

Sadly I wasn’t at the Lane last night. I say sadly – this is my foolishness, I would rather have been there to witness a defeat than stuck on my sofa. Anyway, Graham Taylor rightly picked out the ‘one touch too many’ refrain several times. He wasn’t so sure about what to do about it. When asked he chortled, ‘That’s up to Harry!” It’s a cracking gig, being a pundit. They get £2 or £3k a match, I think. I’m available. It’s true that I haven’t actually been England manager or played football at a level higher than the Oaklands Road Primary 1st XI but at least I have an opinion.

I would have played an almost full-strength team from the start. I’m old-fashioned enough to think that a European competition is worth winning and that winning something is better than coming 4th in something else. I’m also calculating enough to say that on the balance of probability, it was worth the risk, despite Liverpool’s example from earlier this week where Lucus was crocked for 6 months. I’ve praised Harry for easing us on to the outside with the minimum of effort, two furlongs to go and a clear run ahead without breaking sweat. Win this one, effectively play one match at anywhere near full tilt, and we were through to the stage where over 2 legs we could beat anyone. Get there, then take a view depending on how we doing in the league and the FA Cup. Stamina is not a problem for this team and we could have coped with this game.

Credit to PAOK. Unlike the away match, they were organised and determined, refusing to be shifted from their Alamo positions behind the barricades.

So I’m disappointed today, but onwards and upwards. Harry’s heart was never in it and in the end that was the attitude of several players. If we had been 5th or 6th in the league, maybe he would have taken a different view, but we’re third and deserve to be so Bolton it is and three points.

Finally, I’m also disappointed with how many people on the boards and on twitter have written off a few of our young players. I know we all get grumpy after a result like this but to dismiss Harry Kane’s chances totally as many have done, or Livermore’s for that matter, is ridiculous. Kane is just 18 years old, our central striker in a key European game, he worked hard and could have scored on two occasions, would have if it were not for a handball on the line.  It’s hard enough as it is for young players to make it, never mind a reaction like this.

14 thoughts on “One Touch Too Many

  1. i expect a good touch from youngsters maybe not the confidence to do much after but the difference in walker and livermore is miles of class.
    These players (rose, Livermore and others ) are supposed to be on standby waiting to grab their chance just as Walker did at QPR, Bale did when BAE was injured and Sandro did but no Bassong , Rose , Cordukla were just not good enough. I know some were rusty (gallas improved as match went on) but eagerness to impress not just Harry but the watching world just was not there.
    It worries me that our squad is not great but our first team is fantastic,

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    • I think there were men who played last night who will fit in, once they are fit. Agree that players didn’t show that desire to impress, as Walker, Kaboul, Sandro and, further back, Bale have done. I had the feeling Pienaar tried too hard at times but mostly he was on the edges.

      Regards,

      Al

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  2. great article, with 10 behind the ball, as they played for the second half we needed to get the ball to the by-line and only managed that when bale and walker came on, i certainly wouldnt criticise any one from last night, they all gave plenty of effort but it does leave us a great chance in the new year, only the FA cup as a distraction, now it looks as though citeh will take our place in the europa, thur/sun matches for them, and they will stay in for a while, and playing catch up as we,ve done, tyhe other contenders staying in the CL will really help us, only pool, and they have a cup final on the horizon, i think we,re in a great position to challenge for the prem, villas next 3 home are manure, pool and arse, well i dont think they,ll lose all 3, so we have to make hay while the sun shines COYS

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  3. I think it’s unfair to dismiss our young players chances but equally there has been little in this campaign to suggest that many of them are near to the first team. Most would benefit with loan deals and I expect Spurs Lodge is going to see some lockers cleared out in the next few weeks.
    What was more disappointing last night were the performances of seasoned professionals looking for first team action. Were it not for the shirt names and sponsor, it would have been easy to imagine the entire back line in a Christian Gross / Gerry Francis team enduring a night of ignominy in a League Cup match. When Bassong went up front in Gary Doherty fashion, the picture was truly complete. We ought to give some credit to PAOK though. They were well organised, defended well and their fans were fantastic in their support.
    The only thing that was good about last night is that it provides a sense of realism about our current form in the Premiership. The ‘first’ team is a match for anyone but a few injuries to key players in certain positions and our form could dip dramatically.
    I don’t like dropping out of competitions either but unless we get into the CL, this squad will break up. We need to wrap people like Bennie, Walker, Bale and Adebayor in cotton wool and the fewer games we play the better, in my opinion.

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    • Good points Pete and I can understand what you mean about looking after the players. Will there be even more pressure on them, now we only have the league and cup to go for? Mind you, the league is so pressured these days, it’s hard to see a way of making it worse.

      As I’ve said before, most of the best youngsters are out on loan, some of the ones who have played in the EL are one stage below them but the old hands could and should have done much more to hold the team together. That’s in a way more worrying, because they are the ones who are going to step into the team as cover. However, playing in a totally new team is different from slotting into a side that’s comfortable with each other, and I’m confident that we have back-ups who can fit in to cover one or two first team absentees.

      Regards, Alan

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  4. Terrific write-up, which I suppose means (a) it’s extremely well written, & (b) I agree with everything. Especially the poke at Graham “there’s no doubt about that” Taylor.

    Your last para is very fair to young Kane – they can’t all announce themselves like Jimmy Greaves I suppose. But you do look for a touch of star quality, don’t you, the odd flourish on the ball, and that wasn’t on view for the first hour. ( Apart from Modric, who absolutely ran that midfield the whole time – hope he has a good lie down before Saturday.)

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    • Oaklands Road taught me all I needed to know about football. Especially about losing. Heavily.

      Kane’s come to the team with a reputation as a tip for the top. True he’s seldom sparked but over the few games I’ve seen, he’s powerful, quick feet and an eye for what’s going on around him. There’s something there. Maybe I just read the wrong tweets but after writing the article I went onto another board and sure enough, there was the ‘Kane will never make it’ thread. Grossly unfair.

      Regards,

      Al

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  5. “It’s not so much the individual, it’s the blend. Quality players in an unfamiliar line-up are just that, individuals”

    This has confused me from the start of the competition. In training don’t they have some idea who the Europa team is going to be, for the most part, and can’t they be scrimmaging *as a team* against the Spurs first team for, I don’t know, the duration of the competition? What a great day of practice for everyone! In American high school football (which I once played, not terribly well…) the junior varsity squad practiced against the varsity squad so that both teams can gel and be ready for their thursday or friday games. The point is that the players are familiar with each other and can play together and are not complete strangers on game day. Maybe Spurs and other teams do in fact operate this way, or is that too structured for English football? I’m not being snarky, I really just want to know.

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    • We’ve all wondered that over the years, Will…

      I suspect the EL team is finalised late on, maybe not until the day of the game. One advance at Spurs has been that the EL team has tried to operate in a similar shape and style to the first team – formation, passing and movement etc – so there’s a pattern set for the whole club. Real teamwork takes a while to establish – our first team has taken, what, the best part of 3 seasons to bed down?

      Having said all that, they could have done a lot better last night, especially the back four in the first half.

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  6. as bobby gould said on talksport, some of the players would play better in a better team i.e. the 1st XI, and I think that must be true of Rose, Gallas, Livermore, Corluka, Bass coz they were all pants last night. Kane and Piennar – not impressed whenever I’ve seen them. not dissapointed to be out, in fact quite relieved. It’s a 2-bob competition for “big/biggish” clubs like ourselves. Sure it was great that 1st year under Jol and we had great fun on those Euro trips but since then the Europa campaigns have been terrible. It’s Champs League or bust I’m afraid, times have moved on. As Arry said, Europa is harder to get out of than get into!

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    • While you make some good points Dixta, even if I don’t agree with them all, Harry seems like he may have managed quite easily to get out of the Europa 🙂

      More seriously, I am disappointed, it’s (still) a major trophy we could have a short at winning. Though the issue of the break up fo the side if we don’t get CL (as Peter Domican says above) is the key one this season at least.

      I’d have played as near as dammit a front side too, last night, I think they could manage two game in a week just this once? Though PAOK Salonika played well and heads as well as names of the team sheet would have needed to be right to beat them.

      Oh well. Let’s hope we beat Bolton eh.

      Agree about writing players off, young and established. Though Rose and Bassong have really dipped in recent times.

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  7. I am flabbergasted by the decline of Bassong. I think he was 4th on the team in minutes in 2009 when Spurs qualified for the CL. Granted, he wasn’t dominating but he was good enough (and alongside Dawson & Corluka most of that year).

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  8. The Europa league isn’t the UEFA cup, it just doesn’t have the same kudos nor the financial incentives to warrant a serious tilt at it, especially when our league position is as healthy as it is right now. The simple fact is, we’ve neither the depth or desire to put out a really strong side, but I still felt Harry thought he could qualify and then review the situation end Feb if we were out of the FA Cup or looking at 5th place in the league. I’ve no problem with our philosophy regarding the Europa League, but equally there are no acceptable excuses for poor or mediocre performances in the remaining league fixtures either, it’s the end of May not November to say whether our season’s been good or not. As for the youth/fringe players, they’ve gained invaluable experience and those senior players on the periphery are clearly not good enough if we’re to progress to greater heights.

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  9. You’re not seriously suggesting that we should have played our first team.
    I wouldn’t have risked Modric and Lennon, or Bale and Walker myself.

    We should have stuck with the youngsters; Carroll, Fredericks and Townsend as well as Livermore and Rose. This was their competition and Harry hasn’t quite worked out his strategy here.

    Three of the back four were returning from injury and as a unit have never played together before.

    Why is Piennar excused and not Rose or Gallas or Corluka?

    Generally speaking this was a cock-up hard on the heels of a mess.

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