Even after all these years, you do wonder. Is it just us that so totally dominates one half then disappears so completely in the second? Or can other teams perform the Halloween Jekyll and Hyde routine? Spurs eased past all Southampton resistance in the first half, playing some gorgeous flowing football in the process but halfway through the second period we were wobbling like a Weeble on speed. Thanks largely to our two central defenders, Gallas and Caulker, we held firm when in the past we might well have crumbled. We wobbled but didn’t fall down and there’s a lot to be said for that. Not straighforward, never is, but 4th in the table is a good place to be this Monday.
This is Tottenham On My Mind’s 300th post. Not one for anniversaries really but those lovely people at WordPress remind me how well I’m doing, adding a quote from a well-known author to give this slave-to-a keyboard a boost. I preferred the 298th post but not even the BBC would celebrate that. Perhaps for a change I should ask a fan of another club to blog about matches like this one. Their perspective might be fresher. They could answer my question – I suspect it’s not just us but that’s how it feels.
They say it’s a sign of a good team that they win when playing badly. Another indicator is when sides notch routine victories without much of a fuss, in which case we still have a lot to learn. As against Maribor on Thursday, we failed to generate momentum from within when under a little pressure.
Centre-backs were the eventual stars of this game but at half time they had barely touched the ball. All eyes were on Bale and Lennon. Against his old team Bale lost his first challenge against a young full back then proceeded to shred his confidence into tiny, tiny pieces, first heading in at the far post, an unstoppable late run onto Huddlestone’s perfect cross, then producing a series of tantalising crosses that others should have made more of. On the other side, the Saints defence was largely absent and Lennon made the most of it.
Defoe missed the several beautifully crafted chances that came his way but it is a measure of his improvement this season that as he cocks the trigger, you expect him to put them away. But a goal up and the pleasure of enjoying the way we were moving the ball around, fluent and effortless football at times. Dempsey remembered how he plays the game, one or two touches then move, in stark contrast to last week where he held onto the ball for an age each time he had possession. It just confused him. He was effective but has yet to build up a partnership with Defoe – they could be good for each other. He popped up for the second, though, reacting quickest to a loose ball after Defoe’s fine run and shot had been cleared off the line. We’ve missed those poacher’s goals these past few years. Now he and JD are in the right place, right time.
Southampton were awful – they left too much space, the ref probably counted how many men they had on the field. Second half, they decided to turn up finally and quickly our possession game broke down. We shrivelled like shrink-wrap exposed to a flame, curling up until we were pressed back to our own box, seldom emerging except for fleeting moments of promise that disappeared as quickly as they came, as we generously presented the ball back to our opponents.
Saints banged over the crosses and pinched a smart goal from a corner, another rebound, this time from Friedel’s save, but he had an unnecessary amount of room. For 20 minutes we could not keep hold of the ball at all. I intended to comment that Dempsey and Defoe disappeared but then realised the same could be said for most of the team at this point.
Livermore epitomised the problem. I like him as a player – quick feet, willing to take responsibility, decent passer with a good engine. Last weekend AVB brought him on to pep up the tempo – win the ball, pass and move. He tried the same this week, replacing the ponderous Huddlestone but it was a complete failure because Jake showed the other side of his character, giving away possession and unnecessary free kicks, one of which began the passage of play that resulted in their goal. I’m disappointed – he simply must put that aspect of his game right.
They had a few more chances but the majority of their efforts were headed away by the excellent Gallas and Caulker. Big Willy is one of those players I would not have picked for yesterday’s game but I’m glad to see him there, and if that doesn’t make sense it’s intentionally contradictory. He was poor last week but he is so shrewd and determined in the box. He misjudged a bouncing ball early on then did not put a foot wrong, winning virtually everything that came his way. He’s also a fine tutor for young Caulker, who grew stronger under pressure. They won the game for us. Despite the pressure (and my anxiety), Saints made few chances and Friedel few saves in the final quarter and we ran the clock down well enough towards the end.
Hudd was in and out, some good, some not so good but never quite finding his range for his long passing. Lovely moment for the goal, though – if you see it again, watch how he’s looking for bale without looking at the ball yet he knows exactly where it is and delivers an inch-perfect ball. Sandro was strong defensively, culminating in a headed block that knocked him over but not out. He rose immediately, brain scrambled but his mind on one thing, stopping the next attack.