This year Tottenham On My Mind has often been in a reflective, philosophical mood. Underneath the delights and frustrations of this or any other season lies a search for something deeper, more profound. There’s something about being a Spurs fan, a culture and heritage that connects to generations of supporters past and future. Conversations with Julie Welch and Martin Cloake before christmas around their marvellous books fermented the process, provoking more consideration of what it is to be a Spur.
There’s a tension in these pages between this acknowledged weight of history and the evidence of the four seasons that I have been writing. Tactics, players and motivation dictate how we perform. Yet on Sunday, back comes the past, a little nudge in the ribs, a prickling sensation on the back of the neck. Don’t fool yourself, I’m still around, think you can put me to one side, eh? Won’t ever leave you.
And so this is Spurs. Dead, buried and worm-ridden compost in a match controlled by our opponents, three goals from nowhere turned despair to delight in a stunning frenzy of dazzling brilliance. It shouldn’t have to be hard, but it is. Like a relationship with a capricious and beautiful high-spirited lover, there are tough times when you feel that it’s just not worth it but in your heart you know you will stick around because when the times are good, they are like nothing else on earth. The way she touches me, and when she touches me, nothing else matters. Spurs will always be worth the wait if there are are ever another seven minutes like these. And that’s how it is.
For nearly seventy minutes, the big nowhere. Then Bale, the play passing him by, pretending to be fit but not sprinting hard at any point, not fooling anyone. Bale, out wide, suddenly has some space even though City have two fullbacks on that side. Walker finds him with an idle pass. Bale, outside of the foot, bisecting defenders and keeper. I don’t know what Kompany was supposed to do because that ball was perfection. Out of nothing and nowhere, the perfect ball arcing across the box and Dempsey touches it in at the far post.
Relief and amazement in equal measure, but no time to think about getting away with it. Holtby’s perfect ball into Defoe’s stride, switches onto his right foot, a moment’s pause then the force of the shot rips apart the air and snatches the breath from our lungs. Amidst bedlam in the stands, Huddlestone picks out Bale, his pass curling between defenders and onto the Welshman’s toe, right on his toe. Confronted with Hart, Bale does not hesitate. In line with the shot, I see it beat the keeper but not hit the back of the net because I’m in mid-air already. A remarkable, unforeseen turnaround. Sometimes I long for the ordinary, the comfrotable victory, a stroll in the sun. Well hang that, give me the chance of seven minutes and three goals like that any time.
City were dull, and I mean that in a good way, in a way that Spurs can never be. By apparently doing very little, they sucked the energy from hearts and limbs. A goal down early on, Nasri criminally deserted in the box, Spurs shuttled the ball around but after a while it became clear this was not the purposeful calm of comeback preparation. This was it, as good as it would be. Nothing happened. Oh for the boredom of total superiority.
Long balls; has it come to this? Unable to move in midfield, we began to bypass the congested centre with varying results – sometimes Kompany won the ball but on other occasions Nastasic got there first. Still nothing. Adebayor worked to make himself available but could not hold onto the ball or find a team-mate. However, the service was low-quality, the link-up play worse.
But there are long balls and long balls. Tommy Huddlestone has received so much criticism for his lack of movement, we have forgotten that if he calibrates the range, he’s the best long passer in the league. Twice now Villas-Boas has brought him on to change the game when opponents have been retreating. This gives the Big Boned One that extra yard, that precious fraction of a second. He can look forward not around and behind him. Immediately on his well-timed introduction he began to pick out his man and the danger levels increased.
Bale had moved wide right from the beginning of the half, offering some width. Now he started to see some of the ball. Walker pushed on, working as hard as ever. But as Parker and the inconsequential Sigurdsson trudged off, the other substitution turned the game. This was Lewis Holtby’s breakthrough match. His energy lifted Spurs’ tempo and he sought the ball wherever it went in the centre of the pitch. For the first time in a Spurs shirt, he linked this to a real feel for the ball. His passing was excellent – that’s a fine left foot he has there. It’s the recipe for the perfect midfielder, plus he complements the sedentary, long-passing Huddlstone impeccably.
Slowly Spurs wrested control of tempo and territory if not the scoreline. City players could no longer settle and they failed to adjust to these changing conditions. Then our Andre’s masterstroke. Defoe for Manu, speed and agitation for leggy despondency. He came away from the back four, hunting for space. Together, AVB’s subs won the match and did his manager proud. He tends to leave it too late sometimes for the subs to make any difference. This time, one set of tactics were not working so here’s plan B. Width and pace were rewarded. City will ask how they lost but when faced with astonishing football like that, they shouldn’t worry too much. They won’t see the like for some time. A truly memorable game or rather, seven minutes.