Is It Only Us?

Is it only us? Only Spurs could go a goal up after a single minute in a crucial home match, then sit back and let the other team back into the game.

Before yesterday’s match I was listening to Jon Ronson, whose engaging fascination for the human condition makes for fine radio. It proved to be timely because his subject was confirmation bias, the phenomenon where people have a tendancy to look for information that confirms their own beliefs. We are selective in the way we interpret the mass of information that comes our way and/or we interpret it in a biased way.

Ronson’s curiosity was aroused by a throwaway conversation with his young son. He happened to remark that whenever he looked at the clock, it always said ‘11.11’. You might think Ronson is going barmy, after all he is an Arse**l fan, but turns out, many people attribute some significance to 11.11. Who else to interview but Uri Geller, who goes all the way, choosing a random series of important historical figures only to find their names have eleven letters, and so on. It’s not escaped your attention that football teams have eleven players and this is an article about a football match…

I tend to think that most football fans are pretty much the same. We squeeze our manboobs and paunches into different colour shirts but underneath that thin layer of high-tech polyester, we think the same way about the game and about our teams. We want our teams to succeed so desperately yet simultaneously fear the consequences to the point where we refuse to believe it will happen. Last month a caller to Danny Baker’s show recounted the time he visited East Stirling for a cup-tie. Playing vastly inferior opponents, the home side had gone 12-0 up when they nearly conceded. A gruff old Scot at pitchside muttered darkly, “Not again East Stirling, don’t throw it away now.’

If this blog achieves anything, it’s because it is reasonable and reasonably balanced. Which means lots of folk detest it. But confirmation bias is a powerful force. Wikipedia says that, “The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.” I think that’s supporting Spurs covered, so who am I to resist? Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Always on the threshold of success. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – to balls it up. It’s all too familiar.

So I’d like to think this fatalism is confirmation bias rather than inbred into the Spurs supporting genes. It’s about nurture not nature, after all. I’m convinced fans of other teams say the same. I’ve never met a fan yet who is totally happy about their team going one up in the first minute even though we all say an early goal will settle things down. Except Man U fans – do they complain if they go a goal down early? Really – I’d like to know. Can they actually be worried in the slightest? Do they fear this is the day it finally all crumbles after twenty or more years of unbroken achievement?

Evidence. The evidence yesterday was that not only did we score after a minute, it was divine in its simplicity. Prem player of the month Jan Vertonghen’s cross curled so perfectly round the highly organised Everton defence, so precisely in between the keeper and back four, so nicely onto Manu’s foot, even he could not miss. He was just the right man too – this would give him the confidence to play to the best of his considerable ability. We needed the edge in this most crucial of matches. With injuries, a win over an able Everton side would be our best performance of the season.

We set up well, or rather  what you now realise I mean is, we set up in the way I wanted us to. With Holtby central and Parker hanging back, we could be strong in the middle (Everton don’t have wingers) and release Dembele, our best player, to roam further forward. I would have started Carroll in place of Dempsey. Despite his inexperience, his pass and move works for us. However, we didn’t keep the tempo high or press up the pitch until later, by which time our opponents had established their rhythm and come back into the match. I can’t recall Howard having to make a save worthy of the name until well into the second half.

We can’t defend corners, but the goals we have conceded recently have been different. This one was loopy to the far post where Jagielka beat Vertonghen, Lloris was a fraction too far off his line and the dribbly header somehow rolled in. A waste but Everton were looking more dangerous in general. Belatedly we pressed higher up the field and looked better for it.

The second half – you decide. We rose to the challenge after conceding and scored a deserved late equiliser. Or, try as we might we weren’t good enough to break down a resolute Ever ton defence, our shooting from long range served only to as an indication of our desperation and we were lucky to get the break for the goal.

Dawson is rubbish – so say many on the boards this weekend. Pulled all over the place – where was he for the goals? Dawson had a decent game – made several immense tackles and interceptions and with Caulker not much of an influence, did so much to keep us in the game. Me, I go for the latter, but then again I want him to do well because he’s honest, inspiring and dedicated to my club.  I also think Mirelles deserves credit for a fine goal, although I suspect we gave the ball away to let him in, which was the truly frustrating problem yesterday and most players were guilty. Walker did a couple of crazy, mindless passes. Check for colour-blindness, I would.

The season’s turning point? Straight after the goal, Dembele’s low shot took a deflection and Howard saved well, pushing it up on the bar and away. It seemed to represent a portent for things to come – so near yet so far. Safe to say I wasn’t at my brightest at this juncture.

Wingers aren’t a necessity but goodness me how we missed Bale and Lennon. No pace, no wit. Siggy can’t beat anyone – not his fault, not his game but hugely frustrating as we lost the ball time and time again. Instead as Everton circled the wagons, we huffed and puffed around their defensive shield without ever breaking through into the box. Back and forth, ending in impatient and invariably inaccurate long shots. I haven’t checked but I bet our attack stats look excellent – anyone who watched the whole match knows the real story. The half was conveniently summed up by two impeccable passes from Huddlestone, 50 then 40 yards, both to Siggy, both were miscontrolled and the ball lost.

Dembele was taken off to general astonishment. He had been our best player by a street and that street was the M1. Our Andre had lost it, or so it seemed, but it emerged he had a had a knock/was knackered. Hud’s cameo was chock full of Hoddle-esque long passes. If only he could pick up the pace of the modern game, As it was, he had an extra yard because Everton did not press him, and he looked a world-beater.

Walker got a lot wrong but in the second half did the job of two players, a full-back and a winger, and he played himself into the ground. If Everton had won the game through the needless free-kick he gave away late on, I daresay I might have been less charitable, but he set up our second and Baines seldom got at us. On the other flank, Vertonghen should have attacked more. After early promise, Holtby has not been able to influence games to any great extent but we need patience, a quality in short supply when it comes to Dempsey’s performances. A while ago I thought he had turned the corner but lately he’s been appalling, unable to get anything right andplaying with little connection with his team-mates. When he played for Fulham, he didn’t used to panic and shoot aimlessly from long-range.

Manu had his best game for I don’t know how long, excellent in the second half. If there were to be a breakthrough, it had to come from him and so it proved. He pulled away from his markers and hit the post, the rebound falling to Siggy who tucked it in coolly.

Not sure how this came over to you at home but very frustrating at the ground. Still, while they should not have been in this situation, the players kept going for a deserved draw, and that could not have been said about many Spurs of the past. We know the truth about this side: if everyone is fit we are a match for anyone in this league. But they aren’t. The break after the Basle return is welcome. Perhaps we Spurs fans find some skewed, distorted comfort in the frustration of what might have beens but I for one am happy for the team to come up with some cold hard evidence to the contrary.

17 thoughts on “Is It Only Us?

  1. Did not go to the game, but was told we played well considering key players out .
    Good assessment of the the game and players Alan, lets hope we can turn it around like we did when we last made it to the champions league place. That was a hard run in and we still beat Arse!!l Chelsea and CIty, lets hope we can do it again.

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  2. Frustrating day which, apart from the early goal, panned out pretty much as I imagined it. Without Bale and Lennon, there doesn’t seem anyone who can open a defence up and the weakest bench for a few seasons. Ade stepped up a gear (we can debate which gear) but Dempsey, shot aside, looked woefully short of talent.

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  3. “…but I for one am happy for the team to come up with some cold hard evidence to the contrary.”
    I wouldn’t hold your breath. I think we have done well in the main, but are clearly running out of steam, again.

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    • Excellent Blog, again, Alan. Read another blog somewhere where the Spurs fan/fellow writer wrote, “Good…but not good enough.” After my family emigrated from Wales to North America and as a young journalist, I wheedled my way into the 1987 FA Cup Final, visited the FA’s head office, interviewed the FA Secretary, got special treatment as a “foreign” journalist, got private tour of Wembley, saw the Brazil-England friendly, had a drink with the England lads after the game, and to top it off, sat in the Press Box as Spurs lost to Coventry, ouch! After coming back across the Atlantic and all that effort, big ouch! Truth is, since UEFA Cup win in 1984, almost 30 years, we have been exactly that — good…but not quite good enough. Two League Cup wins and one FA Cup win, some undeniably glorious games — Milan and Inter in CL run, and OT, NLD, and Inter (at home) wins this season — but that’s been it. For the most part over this period, Spurs have never failed…to disappoint us. I still love the Club, I think I always will. Managers change (Jol, HR, AVB) — but how is this year’s potential 7-point “mind the gap/AVB’s Arsenal in negative spiral” implosion any different than last season, ultimately? And players change but as the French say, plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme chose. Nothing changes. It cracks me up because you have to laugh or you’d cry. As many of us are now sensing, we’re running out of steam again — thin squad, not quite the right mix, major injuries with perhaps Sandro and now Baler/Azza really being the KO blows. We could be out of Europa come Thursday, and by the time we play our next league game vs Citeh, Arsenal could be 7P ahead of us. Huh, how did that happen after we won the NLD in March and then blew Inter off the pitch? I fervently hope we are not out of Europe by Thursday, and even though it is now out of our hands that we still somehow manage to finish top-4. But it could be written in the cards, Spurs continue to be good but never quite good enough. But guess what, COYS!

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      • Good to hear from you, Ashley. Great stories, blagging your way into a cup final as a foreign correspondent. Masterful.

        Always good to have some perspective. We go on supporting them come what may and it’s not mere confirmation bias to say Spurs’ epitaph is indeed ‘good but not good enough’. Shame though – my head knows you are spot on in your analysis, my heart hopes we can stagger on to the CL and in Europe.

        Enjoy your interviews by the way and try to gather a few tips when I do mine, especially the way they flow, like it is a conversation rather than something formal.

        Regards, Al

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    • I fear you may be right, but still some hope if Bale and Lennon can recover and Manu scores a few between now and the end of the season. It’s not much to ask – is it…..?

      Regards,

      Al

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  4. We will not finish top four this season and will go out of Europe on Thursday. AVB has taken a top four side improved with five big summer signings and taken us backwards. He was out of his depth at Chelsea and is no better with us. A career football manager who has never played the game and fundamentally fails to understand it.

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  5. Another magnificent effort from Spurs this season. Well done the players and AVB. Really good game at the weekend and looking through my eyes (which have seen the glory of the cups at WHL) I thought we just about merited the win, though a draw was likely the fairest outcome.

    While we were not very clever with the goals we conceded (a catalogue of errors in both cases and Jagielka holding Verty down and fine skill by Mirellas) I did not stop believing an equaliser would come, and neither did the players. I was proud of them. Good to see Huddlestone and Carroll get some game time. I thought Parker had a very good game indeed and Ade did much much better.

    I thought Dembele, while very good on Sunday, had gone into his shell for 10 mins before being subbed, or at least he was a little too content to knock it easy rather than drive at Everton, which he’d done so well for most of the game. I wouldn’t have taken him off, but I felt Parker to be the stronger and bigger driving force at that point of the game.

    Get Bale, Lennon and Defoe back by man City and we’re going to take it to the wire. I wouldn’t rule out a turn up vs Basel either.

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    • Good to have your perspective, which balances out the frustration in the ground on the day. I certainly felt we were never going to score, and take the positives re Parker, who I acknowledge has disappointed me this season, but having said that I would definitely pick him every time from now until the end of the season.

      Regards,

      Alan

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  6. Having had 36 hours to reflect on the game I have to agree with most of your comments Alan. However, I feel you neglected to mention the fact that although we had a lot of possession in the 2nd half and failed quite miserably to create many openings, why was it that our manager took 75 minutes before he contemplated any changes to the shape and tactics and had this forced on him by the slight injury to Dembele. For someone who is meant to be very tactically aware I got the impression that AVB really didn’t have a clue on how to break down what was a very hard working but not very good Everton defence. This does leave me feeling concerned for the future

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    • Good point. I guess I was left uninspired by the options available, Carroll excepted who as I said in the piece, I would have played and certainly brought on earlier. I would also have brought Siggy inside and pushed Vertonghen further up. Siggy is a passer not a runner and can’t beat his man.

      Andre tends to wait until making subs. My view – subs who come on for less than 10 mins can have little impact if we need to change the game.

      Regards, Al

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