I’ve known worse times as a Spurs fan. Forgive me if for the moment I can’t quite name them. An afternoon so utterly dispiriting, the fans, the decisions, the outcome, that heart and soul are thoroughly drained. Not anger, though there’s just cause – the referee, the way we just slipped away without enough of a fight. Instead, a cloud of gloom and doom that like a moorland mist seeps through the layers and into the marrow, leaving aching bones and weary muscle.
A feeble attempt at coherence in this particular post. I hope the points make sense even if they don’t exactly fit together. It’s not a good morning, and anyway I still have a headache from the man behind me banging his crutch on the metal roof of the stand.
As ever the comedown is worse when the expectations are raised. Not so much a heightened anticipation that we would win, I hoped we would and believed we certainly could, but any day at Wembley starts off being a good day. Never take for granted the walk up Wembley Way, the childlike thrill as you exit the station. I used to watch the Cup Final as a kid and dream of being able to make that walk, to be part of it, part of history, and despite the dampening effect of this ludicrous kick-off time, as soon as the stadium came into view I was grinning absurdly. We took the photos, even though we’ve taken them before. I saw Jackie who sits in front of us and her brother and wanted to say hallo but lost them in the crowd, wanted to share my joy at just being there.
As the players gathered in the centre circle, people around me were still singing. I and many others asked for quiet, and quiet we had. Many of us remember the Leppings Lane crush at the 1981 semi-final when better crowd control and allowing people onto the pitch prevented a tragedy. In the event, it was only postponed and Liverpool fans lost their lives, not us. By the end of that semi, I had been pushed down to below pitch level. If the police had dealt with this as they did for Liverpool fans, there’s a high probability that I would have been killed.
So when a substantial group of Ch****a fans sing through a commemorative silence, deliberately provocatively sing, it’s deeply personal. It’s beyond me. It’s not the majority of their fans, who are decent people. Rather, it’s a group who feel that because their club buys success, because the club defends its captain’s actions regardless, because their club’s preferred option when confronting alleged racism is to delay the judicial process so he may fulfil fixtures, they themselves are not bound by the unspoken but powerful values of other fans. Shameful.
The expectations of a good day out were further dulled by a stilted opening from both sides. Each made and missed chances, each had their fair share of possession without being able to take control. We were a side searching for shape and pattern and never established that natural rhythm and tempo that has characterised much of our season. For every good move. Luka’s pass inside the full-back to a rampaging Bale, Lennon underused but bright, there was an untidy unnecessary loss of possession. Bale on Bosingwa could have swung the match our way but there weren’t enough bodies in the box to get on the end of the crosses. Adebayor couldn’t hold it and Walker’s error nearly let in Mata. He lost the ball but Cudicini, who had a good game, did well to stand up rather than commit as many keepers would have done.
It’s difficult to have a balanced view of a performance in such a highly charged atmosphere. What I’m really saying is that my emotions were all over the place. Anyway, knowing we now know, there’s nothing but doom but actually, that’s not accurate. Although we never played to our potential, we had two cracking chances. I’ve not seen any replays, but the slightest touch from Manu could have converted Rafa’s ball that hit the post, then Rafa’s header that was cleared off the line. John Terry’s knee has a lot to answer for this season. It saved a certain goal both here and in the league fixture at the Lane.
Then goals that were and goals that weren’t. Credit where it’s due – Gallas may have been able to do more before Drogba’s shot but in truth I’m not sure what. Sometimes you have to say that the forward is better than the defender. A fine goal, damn him. Gallas should not have been left isolated, however.
And then the goal that wasn’t. Again I’ve not seen a replay but have seen a photo. At the time, and I’m right up the other end of course, it looked implausible as there was a scrum of bodies, so why should they be behind the line. I saw the ref pointing and said out loud, “Our free-kick.”
A Blues fan from another office just happened to be in reception this morning. Coincidence, it works in strange ways… I made him a cup of tea and placed it 2 foot away from him. “There you are, mate, it’s in your hand. Looks that way…”
Then Manu is through, a rare moment when he looked threatening. A clear foul in my eyes (I’m happy to be corrected). The keeper should have gone despite Bale being on hand to touch it in. The keeper prevented a goal-scoring opportunity. the fact that the ball rolled loose is immaterial. Anyway, even so Cech should have been booked.
Look – I’m under no illusions. We never imposed ourselves on this match and after a brief period of hope we melted away, tired and listless. Neither is this blog in the habit of banging on about poor refereeing. However, these were two crucial match-turning moments.
I’d say this took the stuffing from us but twenty minutes from the end we looked dog tired. It’s been a long season. Key men have been out of shape since around the Stevenage game and even the incentive of a cup final couldn’t enliven them. Parker was late for 4 tackles before being booked and substituted. Rafa never got on the ball often enough. Usually he rises to the pressure, yesterday he disappointed. As I commented for the Norwich game, Modric looked decent on the ball but didn’t work to get on it as often as he should.
In my preview for When Saturday Comes I felt certain that we would revert to 4-2-3-1 after the Norwich debacle. Redknapp himself acknowledged it was wrong. Yesterday was 4-4-1-1 but the significant problems caused by that midfield four remained. We were too open. Bale and Lennon did not work back enough to cover and when they did, they did not pick up the opponents. On two occasions Bale stood 2 yards from an unmarked Lampard, loitering at the edge of our box, but did not move to mark him. Parker and Modric had to both defend and attack.
As a result our creaking back four was unprotected. As the game went on, our opponents took grateful advantage. Gallas had his worst match for us, left cruelly exposed with no cover and nothing in his locker. King was pulled out of defence because there was no one in front of him and the ball was popped into the resulting gap for at least one goal and there could have been more.
Both Gallas and King made goal-saving challenges but they are not fully fit and Redknapp knows that. He should have nurtured them and allowed them to defend where they do their best work, in the box itself rather than being stranded.
Similar comments for the midfield. He asked too much of Parker and Modric, knowing that neither is as bouncy as earlier in the season. Livermore or Sandro’s legs could have helped out. As it was, as mind and legs went, we were cut to shreds. As Lampard shaped to take his free kick, the 5 year old boy near me covered his eyes with his hands, hardly daring to peek. That sums it up, from those of us who were left by then. It was a defeat that’s hard to take but the swathes of empty seats with ten minutes left paints a picture of Spurs fans to the watching TV audience that is at odds with our loyalty. I understand the emotions but it looked bad.
Redknapp’s a vastly experienced manager but this is virgin territory for him. He’s never before been challenging at the top of the league and for a cup. He’s not managing this well. More on this for another day, but he’s placed too much faith in certain players who are crucial to the side but have not been looked after properly. Parker, Walker, Modric, Bale, the season’s caught up with them. Redknapp doesn’t know about how to save players as does Ferguson the master. His famed powers of motivation will be needed more than ever as the season slips away, but they weren’t in evidence yesterday evening. He’s made some poor choices lately.
On the train home we got seats. Chels still in the ground celebrating, most Spurs had gone already. The modern marvel of twitter brought up a photo of the goal that never was. I showed it around the carriage, incredulity all round. Nearly home and we consoled ourselves with other tales of semi-final gloom. Everton, Newcastle. The 22 hour round trip to Old Trafford, outclassed by Arse**l, the last coach in the car park after two people didn’t come back after the match. I knew there were worst times. Were there?