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