How Did He Do That?

In his entertaining and perceptive book about Spurs, Topspurs maestro Jim Duggan nails the highs and lows of being a Spurs fan. It’s all there, from eleven umissable terrace moments and ’17 goals and a miss that define the Tottenham way’ through to ’22 ignominious defeats’. There’s a delight to be found on every page but flicking through it during the international break, I kept coming back to page 186: ‘Ten Spring Collapses’.

In grotesque detail, a catastrophic comedy of failure. Hopes raised, hopes dashed. It goes back further than you might think – even the Double side tripped up in the two seasons that followed their triumph. The one I recall most bitterly isn’t listed, when in 1982 we had a chance in four competitions, including a League Cup Final and Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final, then had to play eight matches in the first 17 days of May as preparation for a cup final five days later. Key players in a thin squad were injured, others were out on their feet. Sound familiar? At least we won the cup that year.

History exerts its pull, sinister dark matter lurking everywhere, unseen and unknown but the most powerful force in the universe. Yet I refuse to accept that fate dictates the outcome of human endeavours. We hold our future in our own hands. Evidence trumps destiny every time. Victory against Ars***l was sweet in itself but it meant more than just three points and bragging rights. It demonstrated how far Tottenham had come in a few short months, a determined, able team responding to pressure with the best performance of the season.

Inter was one thing, Fulham was jaw-droppingly impossible. Was Ars***l really as good as it would get? Two weeks to ponder, the I told you so smug derision of our rivals’ fans had the ominous ring of truth. So as the whistle blew in west Wales, I looked hard for evidence. Leave the stats, look into their eyes, the bounce, the organisation, the purpose. Internationals provide little physical respite but could refresh the mind.

Within five minutes I was reassured. Better than I expected, to be honest. Our Andre had pulled them all together. Lennon’s reassuring presence on the right made a big difference. He had a quiet game but he’s essential to the shape and balance of this side. A spring in our step, we pressed and pressured. Everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing and went about their work willingly.

In the end, not our finest hour but that’s not the point. Sometimes after a bad game it’s better to plough on without time to think. That was Fulham, and it showed physically and mentally they were shot. Instead, the break gave them a sense of perspective, time to reflect on what was important and what they might have if they got it together again. I like to think they returned to Enfield and said, yep, this is allright, we’ve got a little something going for us, this football nerd with a beard, the shouty German and the other two, no one knows what their names are, them – this is where I want to be and we’re not going to let this slip without a fight.

Who knows? They got it together, most of the time, and that’s enough for me, for now. They settled quickly and did not allow Swansea to establish a rhythm. And from that base, we have stars who can make the ball sing and dance to their tune. Two goals to relish but note both emerged from the simple effort of being mentally alert, first to a loose ball, then let it rip.

Vertonghen, a class footballer who chooses to demonstrate his skill at the back, moved into a gap, to Bale, a spellbinding chip hanging, hanging in the air, gravity under his spell as it fell only when the Belgian was ready. For he kept going. Bale saw him, the defenders were mesmerised. Left foot to nudge it into his stride, left again and into the net.

Then Vertonghen again – Swansea had not plugged that hole in midfield. He shaped to repeat the feat but instead angled the ball into Bale’s feet. One touch and stroked past the keeper from twenty yards. It was not just the accuracy that left him rooted to the spot but the quickness of foot and mind. I’ve watched it over and over again, of course I have, and each time it takes me by surprise. How did he do that?

Two stunning pieces of top class football. I don’t mind a stat or two, they have their place. Replays can shed light on events on the pitch. But what I want from the game cannot be written down or counted. I want to gasp and wonder. I want to say, how did he do that?

So I’m as high as a kite, then history and fate give me a not so gentle nudge in the ribs. Spurs are two up, on top, this is the time to get really worried. We coasted for a while then Swansea came back into the game for the last 15 minutes of the half. It’s natural that a team as able as they are will have good spells but they missed a glorious chance that made us look better than we were as the half ended.

Over the years of this blog (TOMM – The Redknapp Years?), I’ve commented on one aspect of our tactics so much, I even bore myself with it but I’m sorry, here it is again – we have to protect the full-backs, especially away from home. In the second half, Swansea had far too much space on both flanks but particularly on our left where Naughton did well enough but too frequently was left on his own to deal with two players.

We kept our shape, and indeed changed it for the last twenty minutes with Bale dropping wide left, but we sat back too much and did not press the ball. Hence the stream of crosses into the box that kept us under pressure for the last quarter. Michu played further forward than he did at the Lane where by dropping deep he was seldom a threat. Here, he craftily sought the space between our two centre halves and was always dangerous. However, we should have stopped the chances at source.

Dawson and Vertonghen both played well. Dawson snaked out a long left leg on three occasions to make timely tackles. However, he lost Michu badly for the goal, a header from a corner. No excuse.

Parker had his best game for a while because he limited his horizons. In defence he tucked himself into the back four, often at the near post which cut out several crosses and he did not venture forward very often. Little creativity and a couple of poor passes at important moments but his header to deny Swansea on the break was significant, as well as earning a few bruises as Michu ploughed in.

Siggy looks like a good player who is playing out of position, except he’s played in several positions. Andre’s ploy of playing Adebayor into form failed again. His timid finish from a one on one with the keeper told its own story and once again his failure to hold the ball up offered no respite when we needed it in the second half.

Swansea missed a few but then so did we. Three points will do nicely. Not convincing entirely but I go for evidence – we have the best away record in the league apart from Man U, apparently. perhaps I should stop worrying, but let’s be honest, that’s never

14 thoughts on “How Did He Do That?

  1. Strenghten the LB position, whenever Naughton plays. Still not a good player, when going forward. We hv one of the best forward going players from defence to offence. Verts or BAE to Dembelle to Bale. Walker to Lennon.
    We need to strengthen Naughton’s position. A commander maybe Moutinho to boss the midfield, and release Dembelle to attack more. A strong striker, to benefit from our wingers. Another young versatile winger, to stand in for Bale or Lennon, to keep our pattern of Spurs attacking play.

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  2. Frankly, we shouldn’t be collapsing in spring, should we? We’re a footballing team, and the better the weather, surely the better we play? If we’re going to have a dip, it should be from early December to late February? Especially in bygone days, when the pitches became porridge bowls with the advent of winter, and affected our fluid ‘southern softy’ fooball more than most.
    It hasn’t always been like that ..the collapses in the run-in, I mean.
    As a kid following the Spurs in my first full ‘hardly missed a match’ season, 1966-7, we started brightly and hit the top spot after 10 games. Hailed as potential champions ..then, the slump of slumps, initially losing to the bottom side Blackpool at home, 3-1 (things never change) and dropping to hovering around mid-table at the start of January. Then ..the ‘glory-ous’ run-in! I saw us hold Millwall (Div 2) 0-0 at the heaving Den in the 3rd rd of the FA Cup, and then I got locked out of the replay at the Lane 15 mins before kick-off (we won 1-0 in front of 61,000) ..trudging back to Harrow at night with the prospect of school in the morning. But then the great surge! Unbeaten from then on, including right through to May and beyond where we beat Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley, and finished 3rd in the League, just 4 points behind Man U (champions) and level with 2nd placed Forest. So these final third of season dips haven’t always been part of Spurs’ make-up.
    Back to the present, however, I am amazed at our position. We are surrounded by teams who have top playmakers and strikers in abundance. We, on the other hand, have NO playmakers of note OR strikers (sorry Ade and Defoe, but your contributions have been woeful) but we do have Bale, plus a determination ..and a few other top players such as Vertonghen, Dembele, Lennon, Lloris ..with others commited to the cause such as Daws, Parker (can’t fault him because he’s had no ‘playmaker’ alongside him), and Walker (despite his mistakes)! So let’s just pray that Bale stays uninjured and one of the forwards starts to actually score goals ..but whatever happens, without a creative midfielder and one good striker it will be a phenomenal achievement to make that top four ..and yet, and yet, it will be a disaster if we don’t!! Top four, with a couple of good buys in the summer, might mean a title push next year …5th could mean no top purchases and perhaps a major asset loss, and a rebuilding process next season with top four even harder to achieve.

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    • Good point worth restating about how Spurs could be seen as massive over-achievers not slumpers, if that is a word. I’ve joked about doing this without a striker but it feels like we are playing with 10 men sometimes.

      Didn’t realise you go back as far as I do Chris, ’67 my first game at the Lane.

      Regards,

      Alan

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  3. No…….we dont need to sign all these players…..we need one position improvement and its been the same position for 4 years….A STRIKER

    I would go and sign Michu and Benteke

    Let Rose challenge at LB, and Townsend who has looked great at QPR, challenging for the positions out wide

    Sandro will be back next season and Carroll should be used more

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  4. Yes, Sandro will be back and Carroll and Holtby should develop. And maybe Rose and Townsend WILL step up. We also have some fine defenders, and good cover in those back positions. BUT, we DO need a creative midfielder (as well as a top striker). Like it or not, the heartbeat of a team like Spurs is central midfield ..creativity (think Hoddle, Gazza, Modric) ..and when we’ve had those players we’ve challenged for things ..although our squads then, and even a year back, were perhaps not as strong in depth, or potentially, as the one now.
    That is why we must not waste this potentially massive time for Spurs!
    Bale, and to a lesser extent, Dembele from deep, look like brilliant individuals pushing forward in midfield, but there’s no ‘heartbeat’ ..as, for example, we had with the Modric/Parker axis.
    We have Sig, Livermore, Hudd, Carroll, Dempsey, Holtby, Parker, Sandro … some in decline, some on the up, and some ‘good cover’ at best ..but NO creative playmaker at present to keep us at the top level! Fact. We are winging it! ..or rather Bale is ‘winging’ it for us by simply coming inside and driving thro the middle. A top playmaker will free Bale up even more (outside or inside), and Lennon. He will bring a new lease of life again to Parker. He will compliment Sandro, if not Parker. He will link with our forwards, who at present link with no one, and he’ll link well with our defense. We’re not asking for the earth here ..simply TWO good signings (not loads) who can create in midfield and score goals in the box!!

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  5. Can anyone explain why AVB might prefer Naughton to BAE? Staggering in my view.
    For the rest of this season, I would “do a Spain,” by jettisoning Defoe and Ade (how much more time can we afford to give them? We have the worst strike force in the PL, by a country mile) and relying on our nippy “in the hole” crew- Dempsey, Siggy, Holtby- to support Bale, plus Carroll and Hudd to add extra guile.

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    • I heard that Benny came back late from international duty (which was expected, he wasn’t moonlighting) so wasn’t considered as a starter. I have also heard that he is definitely leaving in the summer, which may or may not have a bearing.

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  6. Lets keep winning boys. Beating Man City and results going our way could mean 2nd!!
    I agree with everybody about BAE. He must be sleeping with the managers girl friend. Would be the only reason he is left out!!
    Our strikers are awful. Two class ones in the summer will let us challenge for the title.
    COYS.

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  7. I also watched both goals over and over again. Our ‘strikers’ should be sat in front of a monitor and forced to watch them over and over; that’s how it’s done. What a pity Bale couldn’t finish off his run near the end of the game. When he received the ball and started to run at goal, the collective hush of the crowd anticipating something special was audible. That only happens to the greats of the game.

    Can Bale carry the attack side of the team over the line in the PL and the EL single handedly?

    He’ll deserve a chest full of medals if he can.

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  8. To be fair Defoe was going well for a while. Though Adebayor is best suited to the make up of the side, yet he’s been largely dreadful. I’d start with Defoe over Adebayor.

    I’d choose BAE over Naughton at left back too, though BAE’s been a bit shaky at times for me this season, too.

    That was a very good win at Swansea, after 3 defeats on the trot and an international break. All to play for, never dull as they say.

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