The lasting effects of this horrible slaughter could reverberate down the years. Not because of the score – we’ve shipped five against them before and we’ll do so again in my lifetime. Not even because the top two have left us far behind in their wake. No, it’s because after this, how we can trust our Spurs again?
Just as they lull you into some sense of security, the defence disintegrates. Media and fans alike are drooling over our attacking play but lately it’s been the low number of goals against that has really put us up there with the contenders. Last week we played poorly but did not concede, and so it was yesterday. Two goals, one a deflection, the other a dodgy penalty, then our opponents kindly miss or hit the post when well placed. We’re on to something here. At the beginning.
The people who sit behind me at the Lane are long-term fans and good company. Like many of us, they do this thing near full-time, practised comedians performing their schtick. Six up with only 5 minutes to go? Can’t possibly relax. Injury time? Do me a favour, anything could happen. Referee puts his whistle to his lips – maybe, just now, I could start to think about enjoying the game… I’m with you, Mark, every time. That’s me. Never take anything for granted. Worry about each and every permutation as the ball gets near our box. Except recently I’ve realised that without me consciously altering my attitude, I feel different. I’m not seeing catastrophe on the end of every aimless long ball or skidding shot.
But I tell you now, that’s over. I miss it already. Even went so far as to say I enjoyed Spurs matches, as opposed to enjoying the victory. Gone now, consigned to the dustbin of memory. From now on, for the rest of the season, back to the gutwrenching stomach-churning carnival that is me and Spurs. The trust has gone.
The build-up to this match was supremely tense even by the standards of the North London derby. This one mattered because it a win would set the seal on our supremacy, what I called when we won at the Lane a seismic shift in the balance of power. Two places but ten vital, gigantic, enormous points ahead, the win would mean it was real, we wouldn’t have to wait until the end of the season for the reckoning. On the morning of the game I felt so sick, I didn’t eat anything, and for a portly chap such as myself, that’s the longest I’ve been without food since that virus 20 years ago. That’s how much it meant.
As you’ll gather, I didn’t feel any better afterwards, although my chosen coping mechanism became not starvation but comfort eating. A shovel of roast potatoes and there’s still plenty of room for trifle. The whole trifle. I can’t put it off any longer. Without the benefit of any replays, as being the mature individual I am, I’ve turned off all the subsequent sports programmes and deleted ESPN goals from the phone, here goes.
This disaster was created by two related factors: a gross tactical miscalculation and a shoddy attitude from the players. The latter could have been caused by the former – the players looked totally bewildered for much of the game. My problem is, the tactics can be rectified but what has this defeat done for morale? Long-term is what interests me, between now and the end of the season. In the same way that the reds of north London were rejuvenated by just two goals in 5 minutes or the reds of Liverpool by a single missed penalty, this sort of battering can cause hidden damage. Like bindweed, the seeds of doubt could throttle the growth of healthy robust football.
We won’t know until the going gets tough, until we go a goal down and have to fight back. For much of the second half, it felt like everything we’ve achieved this season had gone right out the window, to the point where I barely recognised our players. You’re not seriously telling me that was the impeccable Scott Parker not closing down the cross for the first goal then getting himself sent off with a ridiculously impetuous tackle? Our Scott Parker, come on…
Redknapp has to accept much of the blame. I admire his attacking instincts and playing two up front could have put pressure on their shaky back four. However, it’s not if we have to have two up front in order to attack and score goals. Rafa clearly wasn’t quite fit but an extra midfielder or Defoe shuttling between Adebayor and the midfield would have been far more effective. Compounding the gaffe was the choice of Kranjcar in midfield. He doesn’t work hard enough at the best of times but in a four playing against their five, he’s a liability.
Then there’s Bale. If he stayed wide left, he would not only have been an effective attacking force but also he would have occupied Walcott and Sagna. As it was, the two of them had free rein, lining up to pressure the exposed Assou Ekotto. Our players had no idea where Bale would pop up so they seldom got the ball to him. Not that Bale knew what he was doing. He’s a superb player but not the brightest on the pitch when it comes to positional nouse. He needs firmer guidance than he received yesterday.
Wenger lapped it up. After the opening quarter, he completely won the battle between the managers. His average midfield could not believe the time and space they had. With Bale and Niko drifting forward, that’s four men committed upfield when our opponents got possession. Two of their goals originated several touches before the killer pass to set up the chance, when we naively sold ourselves in midfield and there was no back-up so we were stretched. We’re two up, away, in the Premier League, against a five man midfield. The formation was madness and we were punished.
The arrival of Sandro and Van der Vaart at half time gave the side a shape that they might have started with. However, neither were fit. Poor Sandro was desperate to impress but a yard off the pace. Rafa disappeared. Even then, with no change to Bale’s role we stayed narrow and gave Walcott the freedom of the right side of the park. They couldn’t believe their luck.
I’ve pointed the finger at Redknapp, who looked unwell on the bench. However, when Dawson came on, even before he’d put on the armband the camera caught him bellowing at Sandro. I thought he told him in no uncertain terms to stay back in front of the back four. Too late by then but I wonder if Harry’s expression was rage not sulk because his players had disobeyed orders. Clearly Sandro was too far forward too often but I suspect Bale and Niko were on the end of a mouthful too.
Enough now. I’d rather concede 5 goals than not have 7 points in hand but I don’t accept the club’s’ reaction that this was a ‘bad day in the office.’ I had a bad day in the office last Wednesday. All I did was eat too many biscuits, get a headache and work a bit late. I didn’t crash and burn in a tangle of flaming wreckage. I wish we could play right now to generate new memories and begin the answer my query about the consequences for the rest of the season.
No solace or distraction to be found in escapism either. Later, in the car, the MP3 is on random. First song up, ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’, a 60s soul belter by Peggy Scott. Why yah hurt me, baby? Even plastic and transistors have it in for me. Here’s a link, click and let’s relive my misery together.