Domination so complete, I have a crick in my neck from facing in the same direction for too long. Then, finally, Lloris’s bank holiday stroll around his green and pleasant area is rudely interrupted. He saves well, low to his right, two hands. Being alert after long periods of inactivity is another of his many attributes. The reading centre forward has a gaping net but heads the rebound wide. Pressure now, unexpected, unknown since the third minute when he put another bouncing rebound into the net. From the second corner, there’s an almighty schmozzle on the goal line. Legs, bodies, arms raised, accusing glances towards referee and linesman, but play on. A little while later, Dempsey’s celebration is indecently joyful as his deflected shot spirals over a stranded keeper. Spurs’ win is safe, 3-1 now and no way back.
Seasons turn on such short passages of play. Off the line at one end, a lucky goal at the other. If Spurs had dropped any points, it would have been a gross injustice in a match we dominated totally, but whoever said anything about football being fair? For Spurs, not pressing home an advantage and conceding late is not something that could happen, it’s something that does happen. From now until the end of the season, every point will be vital. The pursuit of 3rd and 4th will go the wire. Yet over a successful holiday period, 10 points out of 12 will do and in each of our three wins, we played well in the first half but better in the second, scoring eight second half goals and conceding none.
Our new year is a time to look forward. Without getting carried away on the back of three victories against frankly poor opposition – Sunderland were limited up front, Reading limited everywhere, Villa just arouse pathos – the signs are all positive. Bearing in mind the fact this team needed major rebuilding over the summer with the loss of both manager and its creative heart, we are moving ahead far more quickly than could be expected. The players are comfortable with each other and with their style of play that at its best offers an outlet for their attacking instincts and at its worst provides a fall-back position of solidity based on hard work. It’s pass and move in the Spurs tradition, easy on the eye and a possession game that’s entirely modern. The proviso is, we keep the tempo high, it’s what suits us best.
It’s significant that almost all of the players have improved in some way since Andre Villas-Boas took over. Fans never truly know what influence coaches have over their charges. However, something’s working. In no particular order, Sandro is a beast of a defensive midfielder who has responded to being his manager’s first choice by becoming an absolute rock. Lennon is having his best season, excellent yesterday. Defoe is scoring, Caulker has stepped easily into this side – I keep reminding myself he only turned 21 last month – while Bale is reaching stratospheric heights as the most dangerous midfielder in the league.
New comers Vertonghen and Dembele look as if they were born to play at the Lane. Their class was evident to whoever scouted them but the way they combine with their team-mates, that’s Villas-Boas again. The Dembele-Sandro axis could be as good a midfield paring as any in the Premier League. Dawson could have been transferred but wants to play and gives everything he has for the team, as does Gallas although his powers are waning not for want of trying but through the passage of time. Naughton has benefitted from having a few matches in a row, which also means we can rotate at the back. Dempsey has finally found his place after a sticky start, hence his celebration yesterday. All this without Parker and Kaboul, our best centre half.
Of the rest, none has been a disaster. Sigurdsson has taken time to settle, a better game yesterday but best as an impact sub to ensure the tempo stays high towards the end of games. Huddlestone has not picked up the pace that’s required. Walker needs guidance and perhaps some firm words about how to defend, while Adebayor, once the missing link up front, has become the weak link with a series of ineffective performances.
Again, his manager has kept faith in him, seeing the value of giving his choices several games to find their feet rather than chopping and changing every weekend. His patience was rewarded with a classic far post headed goal yesterday. In the first half Manu walked back to the halfway line bewildered after weakly heading wide. This time, he tucked Lennon’s glorious cross into the narrow gap between keeper and post. Strikers thrive on goals and the match was delayed as Manu milked it, eventually emerging from a heap of celebrating team-mates who also realised the value of that goal went way beyond putting Spurs 2-1 up. He looked to the heavens and crossed himself. This has got to be the way forward for religion too. Perhaps after a particularly good service the pope and his cardinals could spontaneously pile on top of each other in front of the altar.
Time rushes by as it does for older people like me but it doesn’t seem that long ago since the season began. Yet the media coverage at the time feels like ancient history. Villas-Boas was incompetent. Couldn’t handle players. Creates an atmosphere. Disharmony among the players was rife according to several tabloid journalists. They could not be more wrong. The players clearly want to play for him, for Spurs.
I’ve deliberately not mentioned Hugo Lloris, destined to be one of the finest Tottenham goalkeepers in modern times. Then, the papers had a hotline to Didier Deschamps and printed how unsettled he was even before he was actually fit to play. Now, his gradual introduction into the side appears a masterstroke of man-management and he’s been able to extend the redoubtable Brad Friedel’s contract. Lloris is sharp and agile on his line and seeks to dominate his area, which in turn means we play a back five, him included.
Yesterday we were unperturbed after that early setback, settled into our rhythm, kept the ball and kept probing. Dembele was back on top form after a few quiet games. The way he drops his shoulder and is gone is a sight of subtle beauty. This big man can disappear, at least as far as his marker is concerned. Sandro’s strength and Reading’s inability to get the ball forward – it seemed like they went for half an hour without holding onto the ball in our half and Lloris did not have a save to make until late in the second half – gave him the freedom to stay forward where he is dangerous.
Without Bale, suspended for the new offence of being too quick and too good, we lacked width. Naughton did well throughout but is very right-footed so we were narrow at times. As the half ended, we gave the Reading keeper shooting practice with a succession of efforts from too far out but come the second we upped the pace and put more balls into the box.
We begin the new year in 3rd place, albeit having played two more games than Chelsea, but the optimism is real. There’s plenty more work to do. Although we have beaten United we have lost to all the teams in top four contention bar West Brom, who I think will not quite keep up. It’s not so long ago when we were conceding stupid late goals and we still can’t defend a lead with total confidence. Nor do we convert our many chances as often as we should. We get more men into the box these days, finally answering my whinging about this problem that has gone on over the life of this blog, but on crosses especially we should pile into the six yard box not hang back.
In the window, Tottenham On My Mind will do everything in its power to retain the status of The Blog That Knows Nothing (TKN) and will stay resolutely ITK free. But we need a striker from somewhere. If Adebayor goes to Africa and Defoe is injured, that’s it! If Moutinho is available, I would buy him even if we pay over the odds. Buy two players and it will make all the difference.
We have to take the long view. An interesting piece in the papers recently suggested that Levy did not fully back his new manager in the market in the summer, preferring to wait and see how he does. Whilst I’m not entirely sure that is a ringing vote of confidence exactly, Villas-Boas has shown more than enough potential to be worthy of greater investment. He deserves the backing of his chairman. Looking ahead, this summer we will be again be vulnerable to bids for Bale, Sandro and others if we are not in the Champions League or have not won anything. The squad is young and like its manager still developing. The potential is rich and we must do all we can to see it fulfilled.
Happy New Year to everyone who takes the time and trouble to read this old-fashioned one-man no ads labour of love blog, especially those of you who add to the rich debate in the excellent comments section. You are a select bunch but I’m genuinely touched by the number of regular readers from all over the world who come back every week. I’m deeply grateful.