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.