Winning ugly is something we’re all familiar with, despite the doubts expressed in this blog over the years that’s an over-used euphemism for a lousy performance that we’ve got away with. Call it resilience or luck if you like, one reason for Spurs’ success in this time is our improved ability to sneak a win when we are off-colour. On Saturday we saw a new variation. Not by any means at our brilliant best, we were more than good enough to dominate the game against a well-organised and admirably determined Wolves team, yet we failed to turn one point into three.
Writing early on a Monday morning is often by necessity rather than design as my weekends are busy but I’ve learned that it offers some perspective. Leaving the ground, there was an overwhelming sense of frustration – not only we were we the better team, but we had the opportunities and we need those points at the top of the table. Reading my twitter timeline, others felt even worse. You’d think we’d lost to the Woolwich Wanderers, looking at some of the entries. However, although this match threw some recent nagging doubts into sharper focus, it’s a measure of our progress if a performance like this is now the benchmark for a bad game.
All the hallmarks of the current side were there – the movement, application, effort and skill. Over 68% possession, 26 goal attempts, undoubtedly we were the better team and there was plenty to enjoy but something wasn’t quite right. It was hard to put your finger on it but it was a combination of several small factors that added up over the 90 minutes.
Throughout the game we missed a series of straightforward passes, none of them significant in themselves but unusual these days with this new Tottenham. Similarly, up front the ball didn’t stick in the manner we’ve become accustomed to. At the back, we’re used to the early mistake but we were far too open at times, even though Wolves seldom ventured too far forward. Dawson was uneasy at times and they missed a fabulous opportunity to go 2-0 up, as well as 2 more chances in the second half.
The main problem was in the box. Midweek, in the midst of my raving about the win, I hoped that we could score more goals from inside the area. Benny’s thunderbolts are all good fun but we’ve not been taking as many bread and butter chances from close in as I would wish and that proved our undoing on Saturday. Inside the area we took a fraction too much time and as in previous seasons there are no shortage of Wolves’ bodies ready and willing to get in the way. Hesitate and you will be swallowed up. The old adage is get it on target, whereas Bale, Modric and Adebayor were looking to shift it onto their better foot to make sure. That can be one problem of getting midfielders forward, that they are not instinctive chance-takers. Luka had one early opportunity from a low cross that cried out for an inelegant toe-poke, just a touch or messy deflection, but he tried too much.
Wolves encouraged us to come inside, where the massed ranks tackled, blocked, got a toe in, a shin in the way. They swallowed up so many of the one-twos and we didn’t quite have that rhythm to stretch them out of shape that has been so effective this season. Adebayor had one of his least effective matches – the one-twos were too tight. However, it looks like his offside ‘goal’ should have stood. Shades of Stoke, that’s 3 points lost due to poor decisions in similar areas, although to be fair this was marginal whereas Stoke was a street.
Overall, there was too much shooting from outside the box. Lots of oohs and ahhs but ultimately frustration. Ironically Modric scored from just such a move, a low drive into the bottom corner, but most efforts failed. By then we were a goal down. We were due one from a set-piece – our defending has been naive lately (and caused the Stoke defeat) and Dawson was beaten by a decent ball and header, with the ever-willing Fletcher tidying up the loose ball.
The goal meant we couldn’t draw out our opponents, who although they barely got the ball out of their half towards the end, were more than willing to battle it out. Wolves deserve credit for their defending, despite our failings, and their centre halves should be proud of their afternoon. Not so with their latest variant of time-wasting that broke up what rhythm we had. It infuriates me when players go down injured in order to disrupt an attack, knowing that the ref will stop proceedings if they stay down. On 3 occasions Wolves did so and positively shrieked at their physio to not come on. The game is stopped but when the player recovers miraculously, they don’t have to leave the field.
Bale had a reasonable match but I would have preferred if he had spent more time out wide. Benny wasn’t the same after his early knock. Although he ran it off, his play was uncharacteristically lacking in confidence so we missed his attacking contributions. Parker too was perhaps hampered by injury. Again he didn’t perform badly but there was no drive or power just when we need a lift as time wore on and Wolves retreated further and further into their shell.
Kaboul, the spare man at the back, often charged forward but his final ball lacked accuracy. Good but not quite good enough on the day, which sums it all up nicely. An opportunity missed but it could be worse – two seasons ago we lost a very similar game and our overall record remains excellent. That point at Swansea, another source of frustration, looks a good one after yesterday. Half listening to 606 last evening whilst cooking the dinner, Alan Green said something about a breakaway group of three at the top. I’m still mildly surprised when he includes Spurs, but I shouldn’t be. That’s all we deserve.