More than a touch of edginess around the old place come kick-off. There’s always something in the air with this lot but the source of this anxiety was closer to home. A poor run capped by the derby defeat last week. Team building and a moment of madness maybe but no excuses today.
Our start dispelled the doubts. Bright, organised and motivated, as a team we took the game to our opponents. By the end, all the doubts had gone. Our best home display for ages. Three goals (one a sparkling gem), hit the bar twice, everyone played well, lovely football for the most part building to a regular series of assaults on their goal. And an appearance at half-time from one of the finest players of the modern era at Tottenham. Lovely indeed.
Amid the attacking brilliance, my eye was drawn to the mighty Sandro and magnificent Michael Dawson. Allardyce has a glint in his stony eye when it comes to Spurs. Many times his Bolton and Blackburn sides have brutally crushed our weedy efforts to play football. In Nolan and Carroll he has the perfect pair to repeat the trick but they were roundly seen off. Nolan, a very handy player in this league by the way, was substituted and before his goal when for once a slip by Caulker left him unattended, Carroll achieved nothing.
Dawson and Sandro were having none of that. This is our patch and they shall not pass. The eastenders were roundly seen off. Daws was our leader – my imagination or has he shed a pound or two? maybe that will give him the mobility his manager wants for all members of his team. I felt his selection over Gallas for this one was crucial and so it proved.
Spine? You want a spine for the team? This is the Age of Hugo. He had little to do in the first half apart from a slightly scary punch. When called into action, he saved, he held it, he came fearlessly into the bodies as the set pieces came in and caught it when he could. All without apparently changing his inscrutable expression by so much as a raised eyebrow.
One striker – play like this and he’ll do. Defoe pretends to adopt a steely determination when it comes to these fixtures but you know inside he can’t control it. Desperately he shot over a couple of times – typically trying too hard to show them. Just let things flow, JD, take their natural course. His first goal will leave an indelible impression on those who saw it. Starting his run from only ten yards inside their half, he began a diagonal run that exposed the defence. Shifting it to his right, his finish was a stunning near post bullet from twenty yards.
And then there was Bale. Unstoppable Bale. The WH fans were disparaging about his features. Less abuse, more information for their team because all they saw of him was a clean pair of heels.
I like to think AVB tries something new every game. Yesterday he allowed Bale more freedom to roam from the wing. It worked a treat. Defenders backed away as if servants retreating in front of their emperor, bowing, scraping and scattering rose petals in his path. He charged through early on, smacked the post and down on the line. Dempsey couldn’t follow up. Slicing along the wing, he was badly fouled. No matter – crosses galore. Cutting inside the shoot or set up a chance. Second half, Dempsey chipped a clever ball – at last he’s sussed us out – and Bale stumbled a finish into the corner.
Dempsey came into the match as time passed. If his second half shot had gone in instead of thumping the crossbar, it would have done so much for his confidence, not to mention his image with the fans. As it was, he helped out with both goals in that period, conspiring with Sandro and Lennon in midfield to set the latter on a goal-bound run. He kept his head and left JD with an open goal.
Playing 4-4-1-1 with Bale free to wander established our superiority, although I would have liked JD and Clint to interchange more. A minor quibble on a day of superiority. Big Sam played an attacking set up but this left Noble outnumbered in centre midfield. Time and again there was a vast hole in front of the back four, not that I’m complaining, and we took full advantage.
Walker had his best game this season. Hud was puzzled about which way we were playing, with several considered and composed passes in the wrong direction but this was a fine team performance all round with many moments of thrilling attacking football.
To finish, rather than dwell on the sour atmosphere, at half time the King of White Hart Lane returned for the first time in nearly forty years. Alan Gilzean was upright and strong with a keen mind. He paid tribute to the crowd and was delighted to be back. he stood with his grandson. Gilly is a modest man so I suspect he’s not boasted about his exploits. I hope the young man understands that his granddad is a truly great footballer. Not great in the modern sense of having three decent games and an inflated transfer fee, but great as in one of the finest footballers the club has ever seen.
My piece on the great man is here, and buy Jay Morgan’s book for Christmas, In Search of Alan Gilzean.