Before kick-off Villas-Boas and Martinez embraced and chatted warmly. For a moment I wondered if they might turn away and find a quiet corner for tapas and a glass of white, leaving the vulgar hurly-burly of a tense top and bottom game behind them.
They have much in common. Serious, earnest students of the game, they must overcome not only their comparative youth but also the suspicion of the cerebral approach that is inbred into English football. It may be a meeting of minds yet on the evidence of Spurs’ two matches against Wigan this season, it is not a meeting of equals.
Twice Martinez has tactically out-thought and outmanoeuvred the Spurs manager resulting in just one point from six, not good enough as we push for the top four. At the Lane, his 3-4-3 stifled our midfield and constantly pressured the defence. We could not get going. Yesterday, they fell back after going a goal up. With a high line at the back and conceding space around the halfway line, they compressed the play into a twenty yard strip. Spurs barely had room to breathe let alone pass the ball or, perish the thought, mount some attacks.
We fell into the trap. Spurs had changed things around too. Huddlestone’s strong appearances as a substitute were rewarded with a start. He played well in the first half, finding his range straight away and willing runners into the channels. With more composed finishing and touch on the ball we could, should, have at least got more shots on target.
However, once Wigan went into the lead, there was no space for the ball to drop. As soon as he picked out a man, the ball was either intercepted in the air because our opponents had time to see it coming or the man on the ball was swiftly swallowed up by willing tacklers. Also, we did nothing to knock it around patiently to draw out the Wigan massed ranks. So the passes became aimless side to side rather than into the heart of the defence and our opponents could contentedly stay in formation. Hud’s long passing game became a liability.
Belated width from Bale and Lennon changed nothing. We did not give the ball to either of them. Their starting position was too far up the field, swallowed up like the rest of us. We never escaped from that stranglehold. We have the skills but not the wit or intelligence.
None of which should have mattered. On top in the first half, Hud’s raking passes looked as if a breakthrough was sure to come. Defoe was bright save for wanting the extra touch. Bale went through the full repertoire – headers, passes, lay-offs, cushioned headers in the box – excepting a flat-out afterburners run. Something is not quite right. Parker should have shot when after a fine move Defoe’s touch rebounded to him off the keeper. Quite what he was thinking of in taking a touch only he will know.
Yet it was comedy not class that brought the goal. Ten thousand times we’ve seen forwards descend on the keeper only for the clearance to sail upfield. This one hit Bale and pinged into the goal. I have seen it once before, Mark Schwartzer at the Lane, Kanoute’s backside?
Most teams would have ruthlessly exploited such good fortune, but this is Spurs. Wigan equalised from a corner within two minutes, Vertonghen beaten from a standing jump for the second time in three games. Corners and set-pieces have become a liability again. Without making a detailed analysis, my impression is how empty our box seems. The tiresome argy-bargy that comes with most set-pieces is about blocking runs, shutting down space and ensuring that no opponent has the luxury of a clean jump. We don’t have men on the posts so where are they? We need to get low down and dirty like the rest of them.
I don’t recall Lloris making a save in the first half or even touching the ball although he must have. Yet soon in the second half we were 2-1 down, a fine shot from the edge of the box. We needed a lift to get back yet there was nothing.
Pass and move is our style yet everyone was befuddled. It would have drawn Wigan out and got our dangermen on the ball. Parker was committed but failed to exert his influence, too far forward again. I know he is capable of more.
Then we have the substitutions. Last week they won the match in a frenzied spectacular of goals. Yesterday they merely added to the gloom. Not for the first time we saw a full-back for a full-back, which is such a waste especially as on the left there isn’t a radical difference between Naughton and Benny although the Frenchman is undoubtedly the better player and should start. I have advocated for a while now that we should play the same defence for the run-in rather than chop and change all the time. Villas-Boas judges Naughton to be better defensively but we know BAE needs a run of games to bed in.
As it was, we could have done with another midfielder, Siggy to get into the box or Carroll to stimulate the passing game, releasing Dempsey to get alongside Defoe. The few crosses we managed put no pressure on the Wigan defence.
Wigan were extremely good at what they did, pressing like maniacs and allowing us no time on the ball. They also kept their shape like Roman centurions. That said, it would have been harder with ten men. Gomez, who had already been booked, went in head-high on Holtby. Much as I despise players who make a fuss, if Lewis had gone down the referee would surely have reacted.
We needed more luck to equalise, a late free-kick diverted into his own net by Boyce. We are still in it, the pressure until the end of the season won’t diminish regardless of today’s results. However, we are not sparking as we should. Lennon, Bale and Dembele (who went off holding his leg yet again without making a significant contribution) are not fit and we really need that spark because we can’t keep a clean sheet. Four left, flat out now. Much focus on the attack this season but our destiny is in the hands of our defensive discipline. Must get sorted at the back.
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