Despite Spurs’ defeat, or perhaps partly because of it, this weekend conclusively demonstrated that the F.A. Cup is a vibrant, precious competition. At a time when the suggestion to do away with replays is being actively considered, the F.A.’s absolute priority should be to safeguard its future. The impact of the defeat sank in as the draw was made. I’m an old-fashioned fan who believes in the pursuit of trophies, of something that lasts, of moments that last a lifetime. Spurs weren’t part of that draw and it hurt.
Lax and lacklustre, this was the worst performance of the season. Our familiar weaknesses up front were cruelly exposed by lousy defending. Leeds lapped it up with two fine finishes and they worked hard to limit our opportunities, but this was largely down to us.
Misguided team selection was the core of the problem. Although we’ve done well lately, this was a painful and stark reminder of how far we still have to go. We cannot handle making too many changes all at once to the core team. Yesterday’s back five are all good players. Put them together for the first time and they were all over the place. Naughton and Caulker are still learning – it was all too much.
Remember when everyone was trying to second-guess how Villas-Boas would play? The high-line was the thing, the back four defending high up the pitch to cramp the space and style of our opponents. They didn’t like it at Chelsea, bound to go wrong at Spurs. We’ve not seen so much of it because our Andre has learned a few lessons the hard way. Yesterday afternoon, it went wrong, so very wrong. At least three times the trap was sprung. Long ball, one touch, well-timed run and two beautifully taken goals, one Friedel save.
That wasn’t all though. Vertonghen and Caulker were as poor as I’ve seen them. For the second, Caulker took the scenic route to the tackle and by the time his tour of the area was complete, Leeds were two up. Friedel and Lloris have two completely different styles of goalkeeping. The high line needs a sweeperkeeper (new word there, today TOMM tomorrow the OED) and the Frenchman should have played. In passing, several teams came to grief after changing their keeper. No consolation but it shows the value of a settled back five.
Villas-Boas also took an unnecessarily cautious approach with two defensive midfielders, Huddlestone and Parker. Leeds can play a bit but were most effective with the long, straight ball. This not only unsettled the defence to a ridiculous degree, it took them both out of the game. They were simply bypassed, taken out of the equation with no role to play. Warnock is a master at this level – his tactics were just right.
So we were found wanting when we tried to attack. Hud kept the ball moving but lacked targets up front. Parker worked extremely hard – I had hoped his motivation would rub off on the others, but apparently not. Parker needs to make the tackle or the drive forward, then offload to someone who is more creative or can make a decisive effort on goal. This is not a criticism, just a focus on his strengths. As I said last week, it’s disconcerting to find him as the man furthest forward, yet there was little else going on ahead of him.
Demps’ movement was decent but he missed a couple of good ones, Siggy invisible when he should have been hanging out in the box. Lennon dashed, Bale got going in the second half but to no avail. Both attacked in isolation with little support. Leeds worked hard in midfield with Brown nibbling at heels just as he did all those years ago when he toiled to keep us up in that dreadful season of Pleat as caretaker. However, when we looked for room in and around the box, we could usually find it. Did nothing with it, mind, but it was there.
We were trying to close a two-goal deficit with two DMs, Siggy doing nothing and no dedicated striker. Dembele came on but played too deep. In and around the box he’s our most creative midfielder – he can pick out his man with a pass and he has a fine shot. It’s imperative that we find a way of enabling him to play further up the field.
Strikers – we learned nothing new. We need one, a good one, or else all our efforts will be in vain. Obika moves well, he’s been well-coached clearly, but he was another who found the play passing him by. He too missed a chance with a poor first touch but that’s not the point – we should not be going into a match like this with an unproven young player as the only sub striker. If the rumours about Defoe’s injury are true, we are in plenty schtuk.
Striker and midfielder have been on the list since the end of last season. The damage was done in August, now it’s the worst time to buy but no more about the transfer window until it’s over. In any season I want Spurs to have a right good go at the cups, especially the FA Cup. Another opportunity wasted by self-inflcited wounds.
Cheer yourself up: The Tottenham Shop sell all manner of interesting and unusual Spurs memorabilia and have kindly offerred an exclusive 10% discount for Tottenham On My Mind readers http://thetottenhamshop.com/ and code tottenhamonmymind. Very kind of them to be sure.