Everybody yearns to be up there, to be a contender. Yet we’re still puzzling over what success feels like. Here’s another side of it, being the envy of other fans. Top four, playing dazzling football. It won’t be long before the negative coverage begins. Players who have been doing well for an entire season will be picked on by pundits after a single poor performance, or young men playing out of their skin will fail to be at the top of their game for one of their 50 or so performances and people will pick holes. Redknapp’s standing with the media will protect us to a large extent but things will turn.
Enjoy it while it lasts – except we can’t, because it’s not always fun. On Saturday, resisting pressure for the most part and a goal to the good, Swansea significantly tip the balance in the last 15 minutes. We’re hanging in there, then the keeper and two defenders are drawn to the near post. The ball somehow eludes them all and as it squirms free across the box, there’s the stomach-upending so familiar from the old days, that moment when you know what’s going to happen before it does. The whole game flashes before your eyes….
Swansea’s possession game and their disciplined organisation collectively pushed us back early on and we never established our domination of territory or the ball for any length of time. It was as if their collective will imposed itself on our game. They have a few quality footballers – Redknapp paid Allen the compliment of pushing Sandro on to mark him but like all classy players the Swansea man responded by doing even better. However, their midfield stifled at birth our efforts to get going by pressing high up the pitch and denying us possession. It’s amazing how few Prem teams have learned this lesson so admirably demonstrated by the Swans – however good the other team is, they can’t do a thing without the ball.
Because of this high pressing, our midfield were forced deeper. Modric and Parker never got going and Adebayor was isolated from his team-mates. Bale tried too hard to break the stranglehold. His free role works only if he comes from deep and his runs are unexpected. If he hangs around in the centre, he’s back on his heels and was swallowed up by eager tacklers. He would have been better staying on the left, cutting in when required. Benny found it simple enough to take the full back apart, not once but twice, then VDV pounced.
Although he was helped by a deflection, the goal appeared to signal the difference in class between a team at the top and the rest – sharp in the box when it matters. For all Swansea’s sterling efforts, we defended perfectly well for most of the match, restricting them to ooohs and aaahs from long shots. Pretty enough but the danger comes from what goes on in the box, not from range. Still, Kaboul had to make one timely stretch and as in previous games we looked frail at set pieces. Falling for the Sheringham corner was slack.
As the match reached its final stages, we seemed to have accepted our fate of being pushed right back but were apparently unconcerned, defending reasonably well and content to see out time until the final whistle. Moore’s surge into the box was only moment of genuine danger until Graham came on. His presence and movement tipped the balance in Swansea’s favour and although we should have dealt with that cross, they had several chances and deserved their point. Funny to see Friedel less than perfect. We’ve become used to better.
Great credit to our opponents, and few teams have scored at their ground let alone won. In the cold light of a frosty Monday morning, this looks a decent point. Last season we would have probably lost a tussle such as this one and of course we gained at least this single point on our rivals. The true value of this draw, however, will not be judged until the end of the month when we complete a run of winnable home games including the game in hand versus Everton that has achieved mythical status. Win those and an away draw when off the boil and against sound opponents will look just fine.
Parker looked unhappy and needs to look after that leg. It looked like a bump on the side rather than anything deep down. Let’s hope so.
The league will be wondering how to stop Spurs (another sure sign of how well we are doing!), so several managers will be scrutinising the DVD of Saturday’s game. As well as Swansea, West Brom in the first half and Chelsea for three quarters of the game stopped us from getting going by piling on the pressure in the centre of the pitch, so expect more of the same this month. We have to find a way of getting through this. The key is doing what we do best, keeping the ball despite the lack of space and using width from the full-backs especially. It’s another challenge and I believe we are up to it.
Happy New Year to Spurs fans wherever you may be. Supporters from all round the world read Tottenham On My Mind, and each and every week I’m so grateful. Thanks to the regulars, the cracking comments sections and subscribers. Couldn’t do it without you, and here’s to a glorious 2012 for the club we adore.