The pass sliced a clinical arc through the hapless defence. The ruthless beauty of the surgeon’s art won the game.
If I could, I would. The dreams of a paunchy jowled man who is fighting off the strictures of middle-age are little different from those of an equally podgy fresh-faced only child pestering his hard-working parents to schlepp him across London to see a meshugenah game of football. Except now when I close my eyes, if I could have just that one moment, I wouldn’t have the top corner screamer. Sure, I can sense the satisfaction in the perfect co-ordination of mind and body, pouncing on a bouncing ball at the edge of the box, the feel of the ball on the soft leather, the thwack as it sizzles on its way into the top corner, the private fizzing as it rolls down the net that only the players close by can hear.
Now I’m grown up, for me it’s the pass. To take out an entire defence, rather than hit it, to aim for a spot and put the ball right there, to have the presence of mind amidst the tackles, the bedlam and the fear to see not only what’s happening but what might happen, if you put it there, just there, into the stride of the winger…
Luka Modric can do both, and more. Even I his biggest fan has ruefully acknowledged that this season he’s not done it either as well or as often as his prodigious ability allows but last night he helped first to conquer the midfield, ably supported by a strong, tenacious performance by Sandro, then went on to win the match for Spurs, a vital three points as the season reaches its desperate climax.
Spurs were the better side for three quarters of this match but the decisive period was in the other quarter, the 20 minutes or so after half-time where we failed to respond to our opponents’ renewed purpose. Modric toiled from the beginning to establish our pass and move rhythm. Although he was dropping deep, this enabled us to settle on the ball and build. Sandro eased forward to compensate. The duo combined well. We stuttered but it was enough to stay on top as the half went on. Lennon and Bale, staying wide mostly, were always dangerous. Walker and Petrov tested out each other’s pace in an absorbing old-style winger v full-back battle, while Kaboul restricted Davies’, and therefore Bolton’s, attacking options.
However, a series of poor touches meant we were never fluent and therefore never completely comfortable. Adebayor couldn’t make the ball stick and his overall play was below par. Rose did not have a good match, the ball bouncing wildly off his boot at every touch and he left gaps behind and to the side of him at the back.
Having gone to all the trouble and effort of taking control, capped by Modric’s lovely goal, and then profiting from a bad miss by Boyata on the half-time whistle, we proceeded to throw all the hard work away by conceding a soft goal. Dozing at a throw-in deep in our half, Reo-Coker’s sprint into the box revealed that we had only three men in our own box. It was absurdly poor, an example of the slack mental attitude that will have cost us dear if we do not finish in the top four. Harry should replay that in the dressing-room before our final two games – what not to do.
As they dithered, I raged at this apparently fatal wastefulness. Then we were transformed. Using Bolton’s pressure to our advantage, we counter-attacked from deep, rediscovering that skill that peaked away to Norwich, only to fade from view. Bale, space set up by a little interchange, drives from deep, a perfect ball to Rafa. It’s pace, it’s first touch, it’s the way to play. Then the pass, Modric from the halfway line, credit to Lennon who set off before the ball reached Luka’s foot. A perfect ball to Adebayor, it’s pace, it’s first touch, it’s the way to play. The stunning simplicity of a memorable goal.
Another interchange of passes, Bale again to Adebayor. Manu had a lousy match. Two perfectly taken goals. That will do. Bolton were sunk and we played out time, well on top. Time to chuckle at the delicious irony of Davies complaining to the referee about being fouled. Redknapp took the risky choice to have Sandro mark the man who always scores against us. For the most part it worked although Davies did set up their goal. He didn’t get the decisions, so Sandro got an elbow in his face for his troubles. That mouthguard came in handy.
Talking of decisions, we did get the rub of the green. Clear handball by Sandro before Luka’s opener and Gallas a little later at the other end. Karma evening itself up? It’s rubbish, all that…
The tension is unbearable, but it’s two down with two to go. We thoroughly deserved this one, which should be the template for struggling Villa this weekend. They are vulnerable, so we should take them. Not saying it’s all getting too much, but in the second half this podgy middle-aged man slid off the sofa, stretching to convert a cross that Manu just missed. The pressure is getting to me but let’s hope I never grow up.