You know what they are going to do. You don’t like it and wouldn’t play that way if it meant 80 points a season, but that’s what they are going to throw at us and if we’re not prepared, it’s down to us.
I don’t like it but I’m not going to go on about it because then I’ll end up like Arsene Whinger, always complaining about injustices that his precious little angels have to face when they play those awful big boys from up north. Have to rise above all that. Have to fight for the right then play them off the park, even if there is less of a park than last week.
I admit I didn’t take kindly to the refereeing. A hand in the first goal, another off the line, indiscriminate wrestling in the box at corners plus an offside miss by two yards, one of the worst decisions all season. In real time I thought Manu might be on but I was shocked when I saw that amount of daylight. But we can’t control refereeing whereas defending is down to us and if we can’t handle a ball slung into our box we’re not going to stay in the top four.
Above all, I don’t like us looking like mugs and that’s how we finished the first half. The signs were ominous from their first attack, where Etherington’s shot was well saved by Friedel who was more alert than the 3 midfielders gazing on from the edge of the box. But we didn’t learn anything from that escape.
There are different schools of thought regarding defending those throws. One says crowd the near post and the target man, Crouch in this instance, for obvious reasons. The other says that this in fact makes it easier for the attackers because it commits defenders to that one area, thus leaving room if there should be a successful knock-down, they get in each other’s way so they can’t jump cleanly and they also obstruct the keeper.
We chose the latter but with the wrong personnel. We know how to deal with Crouch – little guy on him who gives him a nudge so he can’t jump while the big guy challenges in the air. But we failed to do that. No one knows better than us, yet we failed. Inexcusable. Also, Adebayor was the wrong man to mark him. Gomes used to come, Friedel stays back. No matter, provided that we have a plan and this was absent. Down to HR this one. We changed it in the second half with Bale involved.
The second goal was lousy marking. Yesterday Kaboul needed to be on fire but ended up a smouldering wreck, a burnt-out funeral pyre for our hopes (steady on, go easy on the metaphors). I’m a big fan but on the very day we needed him to dominate, he looked lost and forlorn. He failed even to back his pace near the end and extinguished our revival with a needless tackle (the guy was going nowhere). Later, Gallas showed him how it was done, shepherding an attacker into the safety zone.
Our opponents have been criticised on the boards and twitter for their rugby tactics but in truth they played the numbers game and there’s nothing illegal about that. For those set pieces they had men in the box. That’s what it’s about, the percentage game. That’s Crouchie’s game – of course you will always get something from that and they had the men waiting for those ill-directed touches. We should have matched them. They got men back too, five or six across the box, 12 yards out. Nothing to do with the pitch, although it is plainly absurd that teams can alter the markings to suit themselves. They didn’t mind us having the spare man out wide because they backed themselves, rightly, to win the cross ball. Percentages again.
Harry sussed that and we kept them occupied in the second half with Defoe and Rafa more central, Walker offering width on the right, freed up by three at the back, a brave piece of tactics by Redknapp that nearly paid off. Should have paid off but I’ve promised not to whine.
The opposition fans were livid when Luka went down. Unrealistic but I kind of like football being played in a bear-pit atmosphere and backs against the wall suits Modric down to the ground. He was outstanding in the second half and did everything possible to get us firstly back into our rhythm and then into the match. Manu had a poor first half but worked harder in the second, his movement giving space in the middle. Unfortunately VDV was anonymous throughout, just when we really needed him, so those gaps were not used well.
Defoe struggled to get on the ball and hung back crucially on two occasions when we managed to get behind their defence: the deadly cross was wasted. A word of praise for Bassong, who did well. He’s not had a good year so some praise when he does OK.
A frustrating afternoon because of our opponents’ style, our defending and the ref, made worse by the context of the pressure at the top. City might do us a favour tonight. However, it’s one loss after a superb run. Time to start another, to take it to Sunderland from the off and then the vital benchmark game versus Chelsea. Also, the old Tottenham would have been beaten after 20 minutes whereas now we knew we were in with a fighting chance of a comeback that so nearly succeeded. No doom and despondency, then. Frustration is unsettling but I can live with it, for the moment anyway.