The case for the prosecution: another negative set of substitutions in the final quarter by Villas-Boas presented the initiative to Everton at the very point when their efforts to equalise were floundering. Anyway, Spurs always snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Part of the DNA.
The case for the defence: the substitutions gave us fresh legs in midfield. One change was unavoidable – the excellent Dembele, arguably our best player on the day, had a leg injury and had to come off. Sigurdsson’s arrival gave extra protection against Everton’s dynamic left-side duo of Pienaar and Baines. Anyway, the time Everton looked least like scoring was in the final 15 minutes.
The jury’s out, although put it to the popular vote on twitter and the boards and the prosecution not only proved their case beyond reasonable doubt, they could have called for the black cap. For me, this was not quite the usual Spurs capitulation that sadly is all too familiar, because in the final quarter we were defending well. I genuinely did not think Everton would score. Not like me at all. I can spot danger in the twitch of the opposing goalkeeper’s nose, never mind when they actually get hold of the ball in our half. That will teach me.
For much of the game, this was a contest between systems. Two well-drilled teams fought for supremacy. Both like to counter-attack so there were periods where nothing of significance took place as they waited for the other to take the initiative before decided how to counter punch. Everton had the best chances but as time passed, we held our shape better and gradually got on top, albeit without posing a concerted threat to their goal.
Everton’s attacks were met with clusters of defenders. The imbalance on our left caused by Bale’s absence created a few problems, but late in the first half, cue first Dempsey then Defoe dashing deep to defend. Come the second, we were able to release Demps from his defensive duties. He popped up in central areas on several occasions, most notably when his good shot caught a deflection and sailed over Howard’s head.
Suddenly our approach looked even better. Needlessly we gave the ball away – Tom Hud I’m looking at you – but otherwise we looked assured. We kept our shape, worked hard, blocked passionately. In the last ten minutes Siggy hit the bar and Vertonghen could not quite deliver a final ball with the same quality to match the move that set him up, a superb passage of play where the ball flowed from our box to theirs. Siggy sprinted from right midfield to the left edge of their box, then hurtled back again before Howard could clear.
The defence calls David Moyes to the stand: “We had tried everything,” said Moyes. “We put Baines out wide, Pienaar through the middle and those final 10 minutes were probably the poorest part of our play.”
To me, that augers well for the future. Well-organised under pressure is a sentence that I have seldom typed in the 4 years of this blog, at least in respect of Spurs. As for the substitutions, I’m not keen on too much tinkering when we are ahead but Dembele had a knock and Siggy played well. Falque is an attacking player so we tried to maintain the initiative rather than sit back. However, the prosecution points out that Hud is a master at sitting back and I would have removed Adebayor, who had a poor game, rather than Defoe and Lennon.
Never mind the systems and tactics. In the end we were undone by human error. Lloris called for an innocuous ball into the box so loudly that even my crackly stream picked it up. The only person who didn’t hear was the one who mattered most. For the second time in three weeks, Caulker chose to disobey.
He’s been well-taught. I suspect he’s paid attention to defender’s rule number one – when in doubt, kick it out. The fact he takes responsibility will serve him well in the future but it was this individual error rather than a catastrophic collapse that turned the game. It gave Everton possession, we failed to track Pienaar’s run and were left to ponder ruefully on about how much Villas-Boas could have brought out of Redknapp’s reject. Another ball, played in front of our centre-half so he could not challenge without risk of a penalty, a fortunate touch on and a well-taken winner.
Everton had the best of the opening quarter but the only stream I could find made everything look slow and uncoordinated. Or perhaps it was fine and that was just when Tom Hud came on. Anyway, the radio was excitedly extolling Everton’s virtues. For those of you who saw that bit, fill in your own paragraph:
Found something good after about 20 minutes, although as it buffered I thought I must be watching a replay from past glories – Spurs in white shirts and navy blue shorts. The radio commentators were right. Everton finished the half on top but we held out under intense pressure, partly thanks to sterling blocking by Sandro and Caulker but also partly because Osman’s aim was skeewhiff on the day. Lloris’ “tackle” at the edge of the box was masterly.
You’ve seen the stats: Spurs have conceded 10 goals this season in the final 15 minutes of matches, and if matches finished at 80 minutes, we’d be top of the table. There’s a problem there. Could be tiredness – in my last piece I felt that overall, the Europa League has been a help not a hinderance because it’s assisted team-building but it could be a factor, as Essexian has pointed out. Without minimising the problem, this wasn’t a typical defeat. Keep our shape like that and we will succeed more often than we fail. Sequences are significant, not individual results. Between now and New Year’s Day we play Swansea, Stoke and Reading at home, Villa and Sunderland away. Let’s see what this frustrating defeat means in that context. I read another (unconfirmed) stat on twitter that said we had the same number of points at this stage last year. If that’s true, who knows – we could be ahead of ourselves come 2013.