When one of your own is in trouble, you reach out a helping hand. Despite his achievements, Harry Redknapp has never found a place in the hearts of the Spurs faithful. Last night it was more than an outstretched arm for support. No, he was firmly clasped to our bosom to feel safe and warm. We stroked his hair and soothed, “There, there.”
It’s taken this little misunderstanding with the revenue for him to become one of us. For the very first time the prolonged chanting of his name echoed loud and long round the whole ground. Last week I wondered in these pages how his risky defence of being a loveable cockney scallywag would play with the court. There’s no doubt about the verdict of the White Hart Lane jurors. ‘One Harry Redknapp’. ‘Harry Redknapp’s blue and white army’, ‘Harry Redknapp, he pays what he wants’.Listening to the people around me, views ranged from the apathetic (Tax? So what?) – to the downright supportive. ‘Just like me’ chuckled one regular. I don’t know what he does for a living but I strongly suspect he’s not in high finance, yet there was identification and common ground. Backs to the wall, we’re there. He’s done so much for us, 2 points from 8 games then 3rd in the table, now it’s our turn.
And how Harry loved it, at one point in the second half leaping from the bench barely a moment after the Park Lane’s opening syllable. Bit too quick off the mark there, H. Successfully combining the personas of streetwise East End geezer made good and yer loveable uncle who slips the kids a fiver on his way home from a family Sunday lunch, Redknapp is in reality hard as nails. That’s not a criticism – I don’t want a shrinking violet running my club. Rather, it’s a major element of what makes him a good manager. Yet there’s always been a kernel of truth in Harry the football man. He wants his team to play football, proper football as Spurs do, and he relishes the aesthetics of the art. Sure he wants success but not at any cost. Clubs across the Premier League do all they can to alienate supporters, yet we are integral to the game and Harry knows this. Being a football man, he understands that to be truly a part of a club, to have really made it, you have to have the warmth and support of the fans. That’s why last night, a routine win not without its problems, meant something special to him.
So to the game, which was by turns business as usual and one of the most unreal that I have ever seen. Notice how cunningly I’ve avoided the cliché ‘game of two halves’ there, but it was. The first was bursting full of inventive movement, crowned by two top class goals that thrilled us on a chilly night without ever quite reaching the heights of a few of the pre-Christmas performances.
The second was decidedly odd, the closest you will ever see a professional team doing the stroll. Spurs were unable to increase the tempo or establish any rhythm, even after Bale’s goal, mooching around at the edge of their box then a single touch to shift the ball into place and the shot sliding across the keeper from an angle, fast becoming his trademark. For a time, we did nothing. Kranjcar was hopelessly ineffective, Adebayor loitering without intent, the crowd murmuring in polite conversation like the interval at a West End play until the Park Lane broke the tedium with songs for each player (two for Scott Parker, who’s worth it), just like the old days.
Wigan eventually sussed that they might be able to do something here. It took them a while. We were going through the motions and created little but the disruptions due to Walker’s and Rafa’s injuries meant that although there were good players on the field, there was some uncertainty about their positioning that even a side as poor as Wigan got round to exploiting. Hence the air of unreality. It felt as if our opponents could have played for a week without scoring. Yet my brain was trying desperately to tell me that after their deflected goal, any of those crosses whizzing across the box could have easily gone in. ‘Worry damn you worry, like you have done for the last 40 years!!’ but no, we sailed serenely on. Never going to score… Back to reality – a comfortable win but we should never have let them have a sniff of so much as a shot let alone the goal.
We opened brightly, our movement, passing and interplay made much easier by Wigan’s mistaken set-up. Five at the back meant they sat back and waited for us to come on to them rather than scrapping it out in midfield where a five could have restricted the space. Their only tactical success was keeping Moses wide left where he prevented a less energetic than usual Walker from going forward too much. Walker had several intense conversations with the bench about his approach, so staying back was probably on advice from the coaches.
Without Lennon it was down to Benny to provide width. Many of our attacks came down the left with Bale and Kranjcar roaming free as birds to and fro. Despite their back five, it was straightforward to get the ball into the box but we could not quite find our man with a series of crosses. Modric and Kranjcar were prominent. This game suited Niko because he didn’t have to concern himself too much with defensive duties and he duly delivered in this 45, always a threat although as ever there were a few too many flicks.
Just when it seemed Wigan had weathered the worst, Modric conjured a wonderful goal. His curling ball to the far post was a pass, not a cross but a precisely judged arc of beauty and danger, precisely finding its target in a packed penalty area. Bale off the ground and the ball on his chest, one touch in mid-air past the keeper. No wonder Luka looked so pleased with himself as he trotted back. Bale scores great goals, but let’s never, ever take this thing for granted. Instead, marvel in awestruck stupefaction, then leap about with joy unconfined. Breathtaking.
Luka’s goal was not so bad itself. Marvellous too, one touch, swivel then bang into the corner, a foot above the ground all the way and seemingly defying the laws of physics by gaining speed as it flew. Kaboul had a couple of headers from corners, one saved, one off the line. Adebayor headed over, others lined up to take a turn at shooting just over. At the other end, Friedel tried to keep warm. Kudos to the loyal hundred or so Wigan fans who travelled. True fans who ironically started the ‘ole’ when their team put four passes together. Their team were hopelessly demoralised and will have to transform themselves if they are to stand any chance of survival. Some comfort therefore in the distinction of bringing on a second half sub who was smaller than their mascot, surely the first time this has ever happened in the Premier League and I was there.
Kaboul dominated at the back. Ledley looked slightly off the pace in the first half but reminded us of his brilliance with a superb saving tackle/lunge in the second to prevent a gilt-edged chance. Cameron Lancaster came on for his debut, bouncy without touching the ball much. Good luck to him in the future.
Parker was busy and solid. If anyone needed reminding of his understated leadership and influence, in the middle of the second half Walker was hurt. Parker alerted the bench then whilst play had stopped for a Wigan man to have treatment, he told Walker that if he was injured, he should go off. Walker wasn’t keen – he’s so motivated, that lad – so as play restarted Parker told Livermore to tuck in right side to protect him. A few minutes later, Walker saw sense and saved himself from further injury. Parker sorted that, a on the field leader.
I can’t say that I’m overwhelmed as the transfer window closes. Saha and Nelsen both bring short-term experience to the run-in. I had hoped for more but no one was selling. For us it’s top class or nothing and none of the top teams have done any serious business, surely indicative of a stagnant market. Redknapp will get the best from Saha, who will be able to play in sharp bursts and have good service rather than being flogged to death as the sole recognised striker. Pav had to go – he was as disenchanted with the club as I am with him and we’ve obtained a decent price. Although he’s not playing well at the moment, I worry if Adebayor has a bad injury.
Nelsen was a real surprise. He brings experience, not a commodity to be sniffed at, but no pace and he will be well down the pecking order if King stays at least half fit.