A Night Of Tension Not Glory

Everybody I talked to said the same thing – we were up for it like no other game in recent memory. Not just a derby, this one has become more sour over the last few years. There’s a bitter edge to it, compared with the intense but long-standing rivalry with the Arsen*l, heightened by the welcome but unusual sensation of being third and favourites. Yet after Spurs’ dazzling start, Chels*a hauled themselves back into the match as our performance gradually collapsed under the weight of expectation.

Recently it has taken Spurs a while to get going. Last night, we started like greyhounds after a live hare. Bale went for the throat and ripped apart the defence in a series of blistering, muscular runs. The Sandro/Parker platform give him free rein and how he took to his task with relish. In the end, Chels*a stopped him only by delegating 3 men to cover. By then he had set up Adebayor’s goal, great anticipation plus a long gangling leg to get in front of the defender and better judgement than Cech who didn’t think the Spurs striker could reach it.

This was one of a number of runs, wide to bang in the crosses or cutting inside to make and miss a good opportunity in the opening minutes. The volleyed cross above waist high, chasing a cause everyone else had given up, epitomised his first half.

Good times. Sandro snuffed out any moves by our opponents down the middle while Modric was always able to find space in a crowded midfield. One lovely moment when he conjured up a pass in the very moment of being dragged to the floor by a defender. Assou Ekotto found him regularly with early, accurate passes. We played like the favourites we were and ran the game. Sturridge shot over after an uncharacteristic Friedel fumble. Nothing could go wrong.

However, gradually our opponents reasserted themselves. Drogba hit the post. The goal was a soft one, the scorer unmarked in the box a few yards out. Handball? I’ve not seen any replays but it didn’t look blatant from the Shelf. The Paxton were outraged but then again it was one of those tense evenings that provoked moments of outrage throughout. I did see Benny trailing back, too late to pick up Sturridge, who caused problems for the rest of the game coming in from his wing and BAE was adrift too often. Not one of his better nights.

It wasn’t just the goal that brought them back into contention. In the comments section of Sunday’s piece, as ever more interesting than the article itself, a few regulars and I chewed the tactics fat. Tactics were always going to be crucial in a match of this significance. The Blues’ 4-3-3 allows them to break quickly and sustain an attack with numbers but also they fall back into a dense, disciplined 4-5-1 when they lose possession. To break through we needed to continue to be at our peak but for threequarters of the match we didn’t pass or keep the ball as well as we have done this season. Our opponents stifled us like a boxer hanging on in the clinches but we could and should have been more inventive. VDV couldn’t get on the ball at all, perhaps because of injury, and Parker was quieter than usual. Rather than knock it around and wait for an opening or spread the ball wide, we pushed it forward too quickly.

Harry saw Rafa’s departure as an opportunity rather than a threat. We went 4-4-2 in a bold move to take the game to the Blues and exploit their rearranged right side of the defence. It didn’t work. Pav provided some comedy value but no one was laughing. On the way home we were overtaken on the North Circular by a white Audi 6 PAV, heading off down the A12. Could it have been he, speeding away from the ground as fast as he could, which supposedly he did on Sunday?

As with Sunday, two up front doesn’t work well with this team. They are used to a different balance. It’s better with Defoe because he’s adapted his game this season to play deeper when required. However, as time went on Pav and Manu stayed forward and increasingly detached from the others, too far apart. Manu should have roamed but as it was, their back four were seldom shifted around and dealt with our increasingly rare attacks.

Also, Luka has to stay central. Despite Cole’s advances on our right, we were weak when Modric was wide right and strong every time he came into the middle. This was why we were better in the later stages: Luka was in his rightful place. He had a good effort deflected, then made the pass that enabled Bale to put in Manu for his late chance.

Our defending at set pieces was amateurish. We never got close to Terry and I was relieved when Drogba was substituted.

Our opponents were stronger for much of the half and frankly should have scored. I swore as the ball reached the head of Ramires: it sounded for a split second that mine was the only voice in the stand as a deathly hush descended and time stood still. He missed, and 30,000 souls exhaled.

We mopped up many attacks but never quite picked up their runs from deep. Gallas rose to the challenge, becoming more assertive, while King was alert and quick. He and Sturridge set off on a chase. This was more than a dangerous throughball on the right wing. It was the old master versus the young pretender.

In the blink of an eye, it could have been the changing of the guard. Ledley has learned to turn quickly and maintain a chopped economical stride to coax the maximum effort from those battered, weary bones. He was ahead but the young man pressed from behind. Eager and willing, he sensed weakness and quickened. Shoulder to shoulder at full speed now, for a moment he eased ahead but Ledley stretched one last time and came away with the ball, the master still. Long live the King.

We rallied in the final ten minutes but the impact of good chances for Luka and Sandro were lost in the stomach-churning emptiness of the possibility of defeat. This hideous desperation is part and parcel of success too, I guess. I thought our moment had come as Modric and Bale opened up the defence at last. Manu stroked the ball goalwards but Terry blocked it and the moment had passed. Despite this, we began the night confident that anything less than three points would be failure but ended it relieved that we had one. A good point in that we are ahead and stayed there. Chels*a are still chasing us and like Ledley, we have enough to stay ahead.

Everyone focussed on John Terry. I’ve deliberately left it until last. I don’t like the man and how he carries himself. He deserves some stick but the negativity grew tiresome after a while. The ground felt a better, more positive place for our team when the Lane was rocking with ‘When the Spurs’.

His fans gave him their full support. I question what this says about them. Terry is innocent until proved guilty but if I were accused of racist remarks I would be home under suspension rather than leading my team into the challenge of the New Year. His employers put their own narrow and selfish needs before that of the wider issue of racism in football.

The same can be said about their fans. It’s highly unlikely but if a Spurs player were similarly accused, I would support the team because I love the shirt but would remain silent when it came to that individual. Yet by their actions I can only presume that their fans provided their full backing to a man accused of racism. The tribalism of football offers no excuse. Disgraceful.

16 thoughts on “A Night Of Tension Not Glory

  1. The handball from Cole was accidental, but it could certainly be argued that he gained an advantage from it. Still, Assou-Ekotto completely failed to track Sturridge’s run, and generally had a bit of a mare.

    As far as the midfield goes, it makes me sad whenever Modric is pushed out to the left or right. What do you think about the possibility of giving Townsend a run of games on the right, now that both Lennon and VDV are out? He’s played there before, and might bring a bit more width on the right hand side.

    I also think it’s very interesting how the media are portraying John Terry in contrast to Luis Suarez. Suarez, and Liverpool’s response to the FA charges, has been widely criticised, yet last night most match reports I read were praising John Terry for ‘a captain’s performance’ when under scrutiny. All seems a bit strange…

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    • Luka has to play in the centre and stay there.

      Hadn’t thought about Townsend on the right. He has a lot to learn – needs to get his head up more and better defences could handle him without too much trouble if he just tries to take them on all the time. He could interchange with Bale, though.

      Agree totally re the media and Terry. He’s handling being an alleged racist better than most other alleged racists – it’s a dubious accomplishment…. an alleged racist, philanderer and fraudster but a decent captain. Not his fault if I’m being fair. Which I’m not inclined to be but there you go. Once again it’s football’s infuriatingly restricted view point on such a crucial area of our society.

      Regards,

      Alan

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    • Ta.

      Yeah, they played well but in the end it was in our hands and something didn’t spark. Not confident enough in the big games to hold the ball and push it around?

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    • We’re never quite sure with Harry’s pronouncements who is fit and who isn’t. He also has to think about January where we have several vital home matches, including the game in hand.

      Central defence looks thin if Kaboul is out for any length of time. I’ve wondered if Corluka’s best position is ultimately centre half but he’s not got much experience there and hasn’t done that well for us but we may see him there. Manu will have to have a rest at some point but Pav is right off.

      Step up Pienaar and Niko. Niko playing central and further forward is his best position where his lack of pace is not exposed, while Pienaar can fill in. There’s no chance to take it easy – we have to go all out in the league and the work of the trainers and physios on rest and recovery in between games is as vital as anything on the pitch.

      Regards,

      Al

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  2. Didn’t enjoy it at all. The result wasn’t that disappointing, but the collapse in confidence after they equalised was.

    I’m not sure if the players responded negatively from the tangible drop in home support after the goal, or whether the fans followed the players sudden lack of belief. Probably both, but it made for 70 minutes of football you couldn’t take your eyes off for a moment. At times it was like watching cars crash.

    I can’t see us or them troubling Man City for the league, but without Lennon or any specialist cover on the right, along with the touch and go nature of two of our other consistently injured key players, it will be a battle finishing in the top 4.

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  3. Fair result no doubt… great to 3rd Christmas time, and let’s hope we learn from this game…

    Benny for one, to always play the whistle and take no ref for granted….

    Parker quiet yesterday and his passes too lateral or backwards…not a creative day for him

    Sandro rose to the big occasion yet again, strong tackles – one leading to our goal , and burst forward on quite a few occasions – was unlucky with that header off Mod corner.. for 2nd time running my MOTM and a must-play from now on

    Ade beat his men well for the goal, but as Hoddle put it later on Sky, ‘not with enough intent’ in that final ball blocked by Terry… i wish he can be more ruthless in front of goal

    with VDV out with that hamstring, now’s the time for Niko, who is without doubt the player with most similarities, if not superior in certain aspects… with Sandro/Parker behind him he can create as much as VDV and as he did last season so crucially, can score

    untill Lennon’s back we’d better off adapting to what is our squad strength rather than sticking to having a Lennon-type of RM, i.e. Andros… i’d rather see Pienaar given a chance to prove his energetic running on and off the ball can be as rewarding as it was in his Everton days.. has yet to prove himself with Spurs, but needs to be given a fair chance to do so

    January window – we’re sorted in midfield, but still short on striker & CB positions… for all our dominating possession play, the lack of a fox in the box striker is costing us goals… at the back King & Gallas, except for a few free headers yesterday, are a strong pair, but how long will they last without further injury… so hope we get Cahill or the likes

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    • Agree re Pienaar who without ever having much of a run in the side has been written off by many already. He looks anxious when he plays, it’s getting to him, never mind trying to overcome an injury.

      Cahill looks like he’s off to the Bridge so Levy’s gamble in the summer window has failed. Targets are no different from the summer – centre half and striker.

      Regards,

      Al

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  4. I don’t think we are sorted in midfield at all. I think that we need a wide right player, an out and out winger, for a start.
    If we could sell and replace Pav I think that would be a good move and if we could tempt Cahill then great.
    From what I saw last night though we can’t keep pushing modric out right when Lennon doesnt play. It simply doesn’t work! We need an alternative to Lennon, a dedicated winger.
    Let’s see what January brings.

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  5. A good problem to have?

    sandro was immense last night, his work rate phenomenal and my motm- he has a big future ahead of him. Parker has been a revelation this season, taking many a game by the scruff of the neck and is a proven leader out on the pitch. While modric is a magician, a master on the ball- but his game curtailed if he’s put out on either wing. I’d love to find a system that suits all 3, but the only conclusion that I can come to is that 1 of the 3 has to miss out. Modric HAS to be in the middle, his talents are wasted out wide, and we ultimately end up looking unbalanced. I don’t see the point of turning down these 40m bids we had for him, to not play him where he can be most influential- to put it simply the team should revolve around him. And either Sandro/Parker (but sadly not both) should play alongside him in the middle. We’ve got to third in the league playing this way, play the system that works not to fit the individual in. Talking of which, we really missed Lennon last night. He has his detractors, but he’s really bought his game on this season, and taken a step up. Our style of play thrives on two pacey players on each flank, it gives balance to the team that was sorely missing last night, and doesn’t allow the opposition to double up, like chelsea were able to do last night on Bale. I know people were calling for peinnar/krac/townsend to play right wing last night, but ultimately they’re all left footed. I don’t think we need to spend big at all in the jan window, but a back-up for Lennon would be an essential buy in my opinion- Hoillett or nathan redmond at birmingham would be good potentials.

    I also agree with the above poster in regards to Terry. He’s almost being celebrated in the media today, like some conquering hero, overcoming all odds, like he’s battling through some personal tragedy bestowed on him, not yet another disgraceful act of his own doing… I know in my job, to be accused of racism would lead to my suspension pending review, and shunned by everyone. The fact he’s still england captain just shows how low football has sunk in England. I’d say his ‘self determination’ and ‘ability to play under such high scrutiny’ says more about his own lack of conscience and remorse and his selfishness, rather than anything else.

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    • Thanks for this Matt.

      See above re Terry. Football’s problems getting to the real meaning of discrimination have been revealed not by Terry but in the reaction.

      Re transfers, Cahill to the Bridge looks likely so we must look elsewhere. Hoillett has promise, I don’t know Redmond, ta for the tip.

      I still think Sandro, Parker and Modric fit in a flexible 4-2-3-1 as we played the second half versus Sunderland. Sandro’s presence allows the full-backs to advance. Luka must stay in the middle.

      Regards,

      Al

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  6. We seem to lack something when modric, sandro and parker play. Parker has been great next to modric, but sandro has been great too. Would 4-5-1 work with 2 holding and modric in the middle too. Not sure myself since modric tends to occupy the same space as the holding midfielder

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    • I reckon this would work and have written about it a few times, including at the start of the season. All 3 are different players but they are multi-skilled and intelligent, so they can be mobile and flexible, adapting their positioning to the demands of the game and, most importantly, dictating the shape.

      Regards,

      Alan

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  7. Agree with your comments in principle, however, I think it was a game of two parts. The first half we were brilliant and and deserved at least one more goal, our passing and ball control were fantastic, in the second half we came out playing the long ball game, which is not what we need at all. Pav should have remained in the dressing room, as he was useless and we must get shot of him and replace him with someone else. I realize this is proving very difficult, but it is a must. I think we were fortunate to escape with one point, and we must maintain, or improve on that performance if we can expect to get into the top four.

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  8. Thanks for a well written article – much appreciated. In Lennon’s absence Walker could be pushed forward with Corluka at the back again. That surely solves that problem.
    My other thought – one I’ve had many times over the years. Why are our players constantly getting injuries, even during pre-match warm-ups? Surely something is badly wrong with our medics/physios/trainers -someone is not doing their job properly.
    I know of no other top team that consistently gets so many players hobbling off the pitch or sidelined for months.
    Are the warm up routines too rigorous? I have done a lot of gym work and we always warmed up and warmed down (gently) to prevent all these strains etc.

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