So far this season Spurs have been all feline grace and power, leaving the fans purring with delight. Yesterday all we could do was retch and heave, coughing up a giant spittle-ridden fur-ball that covered north London. We were heavily defeated and deserved it.
The Hammers completely dominated this match, not in terms of possession or territory – they were pinned back in their own half for extended periods – but the manner in which their tactics dictated the game’s shape and pattern. Spurs spent 90 minutes trying to catch up. Like some sadistic episode of the Crystal Maze, the boleyn boys set us a series of puzzles to which we could never find the answer.
Big Sam is fond of his equally large centre forwards. Poor man, he’s never quite got over the fact that Kevin Davies has got older as the years passed. As the Hammers struggle for form and goals, I swear he wakes at night in a cold sweat screaming, ‘Just give it to Kevin…’ before sheepishly realising he’s had to make do with Carlton Cole. Maybe he’s discovered the way out of this recurring nightmare. How about passing the ball? Worked a treat yesterday. Bereft of centre forwards, he packed his midfield and told the front men, or rather the least defensively minded midfielders, to close down in our half. We couldn’t play out from the back and could never settle on the ball. They seldom allowed Vertonghen to hold the ball so it ended up at Dawson’s feet, which in turn meant it was only a matter of time before they got the ball back again.
Elsewhere they closed down ferociously and funnelled our wide men into the middle where they were gobbled up by hungry defenders. We spent most of the time trying to thread the ball through non-existent gaps before giving up the ghost and just cut out the middle man by passing it directly to them. Eleven men back within 35 yards of goal is hard enough to overcome even on a good day, which this most certainly wasn’t. However, the hammers made it more difficult by playing the ball out of defence and then in the second half becoming increasingly adept on the counter. They certainly have a better grasp of the offside law than the Chel**a players demonstrated last week.
From Spurs’ perspective, this performance was devoid of any redeeming features. Lloris did all he could, Dembele was the best of the outfield players, a dubious honour, and Townsend at least occasionally took the game to our opponents although without end-product. Tottenham are a work in progress and there will be bad days. As I said recently, the surprise has been how well the squad has settled down. What concerns me most is how easily we forgot the lessons that apparently we have learned so far. They showed little movement and less patience. To break down defences like this, you have to move them around, stretch them with a bit of width and break that up with some direct running. Against Cardiff we scored in the last minute with our 29th goal attempt, yesterday we ran out of ideas or invention well before half-time.
Also, a few of the niggles that had been around, things that needed more work, became ruthlessly exposed as major faults. In response to the pressure, Villas-Boas rightly pushed up another midfielder but it should have been Dembele not Paulinho. I understand why the manager wants some passing from the back and the Moose did well enough but his shooting, ability to pick out a pass and above all his strength with the ball at his feet surely could have been better employed around the edge of the W Ham box.
There was no leadership or direction. Eriksen, lofty and aloof, played the game at his pace, oblivious of the fact that the game left him way behind. Sigurdsson and Townsend provided little width. Siggy failed to take up dangerous positions in the box to support lone striker Defoe while Townsend’s reluctance to cross with his right foot meant he was running inside and across the back four, where he was less dangerous. We get width from our full-backs. The lacklustre Walker did not exploit the space out wide while Naughton, a right-footer, also comes inside by instinct.
At the back, Dawson was exposed on three occasions, two around the half-way line and was furiously backpedalling for Morrison’s third but although every goal links to a greater or lesser extent to defensive failure, this blog will stick by its rule and praise good play when it happens. It was a shame the talented but dissolute Morrison should come good against us but that was a fine goal, weaving into the space left by Vertonghen as he rightly tried to do something different further up the pitch.
After a dull first half, we upped the tempo at the start of the second. This was our best spell, but when the chance came, Defoe, one on one, failed to lift the ball over the keeper’s legs. One further chance was cleanly hit and well-saved but straight at the keeper. And that was that. A corner at the other end, not for the first time in his Spurs career Vertonghen was drawn underneath a set-piece cross and Reid headed goalward. The ball rebounded to him from a team-mate and he slotted home. Then Lloris saved Vaz Te’s shot but the rebound hit the W Ham man as he fell. He knew little about it but in it went as Hugo threw his hands heavenwards. Morrison finished it off.
Good fortune in the first two goals – MOTD replay also showed Vertonghen being pushed in the back as he leapt, two hands but not picked up on in the analysis because it did not fit the chosen MOTD narrative of tough West Ham – but a win that was completely and utterly deserved. Time for reflection during the international break but I suspect AVB would like play again tomorrow, just to get this out of our system.
If Sandro is fit, he has to return to offer much-need strength and drive in centre midfield. Rose could find his prospects improved by his absence – there’s been nothing down that left. Of the rest, Soldado, Paulinho and Eriksen need more time to get used to what’s being asked of them. I would rotate the squad for at least three cup games – some are being overplayed. The biggest question is this: Villas-Boas does not yet know his best eleven. He thought he did and he’s allowed this side time to gel, but the balance is not right yet. Plenty of time to ponder in the next fortnight.
The Y word debate overshadowed the build-up to this game. Fans responded in typical fashion – they ignored everything and did what they wanted. Plenty of chants with the Y word, although I can’t vouch for the suggestion that 10,000 voices shouted, “Pid” or “Mid” in unison. I could not hear any abuse from the opposition, although I read some reports of this on twitter and I’m not sure that the chant of ‘Paulo Di Canio’ late on was purely a vote of sympathy for the ex-Sunderland manager.
I’ve written about this before and so I’ve not repeated myself recently. I am probably in a minority of one as a Spurs fan who takes Baddiel seriously, it’s just that I don’t agree with him. I was around in the mid/late seventies when Spurs fans embraced the abuse they received in most away grounds and thus neutralised the hate. As a jew myself I understand better than most just how complex an issue this is. Instinctively I never use the word – not a thought-out position, I merely noticed last season that I’ve never used it to describe myself as a Spurs fan. Context is everything and in our hands it is not a term of abuse.