It’s January 2022. The world has changed massively over the last decade but one thing never alters – A Question of Sport is still going, although this once proud flagship of BBC peak-time is now on BBC3 at 2.30 am. Sue Barker still presides over proceedings. Like Miss Haversham, she clings to the trappings of faded grandeur, her immaculate twin-set grimy and worn on the seams, her hair as immovable as always but clouds of dust fly up into the studio lights as she asks the next question.
“Which team’s title challenge collapsed when one of their players injured a team-mate and their opponents scored because only 9 players were on the field?”
The correct answer is ‘punch Matt Dawson’s lights out’, but of course that’s the right answer for all QoS questions, the grinning smug git.
It’s not so far removed from reality. Pure comedy gold worthy of ‘What Happened Next?’ After a bright opening, Spurs performance began to deteriorate after 15 or 20 minutes and has reached a frustratingly low ebb as the second half progresses. As Kaboul crashed into Livermore, who deserves credit for taking control of the situation as well as a smack in the mouth that led to a bloody exit and a trip to hospital, we reached the point of disintegration.
We needed a sub and Kaboul a new shirt. The bench is packed with coaches and physios but no one was ready. Younis eventually reappeared bulging out of a child’s size number 49 jersey, by which time we had been playing with only 9 men for a couple of crazy minutes. Fortunately West Brom had spent so much time holed up in their own half that they had little idea about what to do at our end and their finishing was as profligate as it had been at the Hawthorns earlier in the season.
My giddy aunt, we made this hard work. After Swansea stifled us on Saturday, normal service was resumed or so it seemed. Starting with a positive 4-4-2, Sandro and Modric immediately flourished despite the crowded central area. With width from the full-backs, Bale and Van der Vaart made the most of their free roles. The passing was crisp and sweet, the link-up play to match. A few early shots and half-openings, no worries, the goal was only a matter of time.
Gradually, however, the early lustre faded. Modric’s passes began to go astray and his uncharacteristically vapid effort was all more the obvious because as our tempo flagged and the creativity dried up this was a game that cried out for him to take over. Sadly he looked tired and jaded, perhaps the result of a knock late in the first half. We then looked to Sandro for his trademark surges but he was injured too.
West Brom were missing key men and their ambitions could not have been more limited. At one point they had 11 men within 35 yards of their own goal. They made it hard to play but they didn’t shut us down as did the Swans. Our wounds were more self-inflicted. Time and again we’ve seen how we play better when we up our pace and rhythm yet there was little energy or bounce on show.
Kaboul and Gallas both played well, efficiently mopping up West Brom’s feeble attacks, and Younis became our spare man, driving on with runs from deep. In the second half, Gallas found himself at centre forward on a couple of occasions, such was the time available. However, apart from one superb flowing move when Benny set up Rafa, we couldn’t unduly trouble Foster.
Bale provided some danger but as on Saturday, if he starts his runs further forward and from the already crowded central areas, he is easier to handle. He won a couple of free kicks – West Brom had 5 men booked, 4 for tackles on Bale whose shins must be bruised and sore this morning. However, that’s not much help. A succession of corners were dealt with without fuss. As Rafa was poised over a free-kick near the end of the half, about 10 flashes lit up in the crowd to capture the moment. They couldn’t have been regulars – the weak shot hit the wall, like they all do. Useless to put the flash on, of course, because it only illuminates the immediate area in front of the camera. Not that I was distracted by now, you understand…
A half-time pep talk from Harry signalled an increase in tempo and all-round effort. Manu’s cheeky backheel was volleyed just over by JD but quickly this dissipated. We were getting nowhere. The one real exception was Van der Vaart who worked throughout the match to make something happen, then did more of his fair share of defending as we were hanging on grimly at the finish. A fine all-round performance, if not quite the sharpness in and around goal that could have made this night easier on the nerves.
This was poor and uninspired. The crowd was quiet – no sense of expectation or that we are top three contenders. Then the goal. Defoe, who had barely touched the ball for half an hour, miscontrolled a ball deep in their box. It popped up head high. However, he has the strength now to hold off a defender and back to goal, he swiveled to slot home, a classic striker’s instinctive finish. Brilliantly taken.
Our opponents pushed forward, finally. Gallas and Kaboul remained on top, then Willy went off, another injury, the keystone cops episode and everything fell apart. We looked far from contenders now. Tiredness meant we couldn’t keep possession and passed to them repeatedly. This was truly dire, the worst passage of play this season. However, West Brom couldn’t make the most of the acres of space, Friedel saved competently twice and we belatedly got hold of the ball to play out time in the corners.
We missed, Luka missed, Parker’s busy prompting. The injuries leave us with no choice but to play a second string on Saturday. When we went out of the Europa League, it was supposedly OK because we had the league and cup. Now the language is about making the cup less of a priority. A team at the top of division 2 will be after blood and we shed enough of that last night.
This blog has fought against the ‘win ugly’ cliche. It’s too often used as an excuse but this was not so much ugly as disfigured, football’s equivalent of a Victorian freak show. I spent most of the match muttering under my breath about keeping the ball, passing it around and something would happen. To be fair to Spurs, eventually it did and a class finish gave us the points we deserved. We persevered despite the injuries and remain on course in this crucial month. Now over to the treatment room – our fate could rest in the healing hands of the physios.