Each season offers up its particular challenges, determined by the vagaries of the fixture computer, the luck of the draw in the cups plus the team’s form as it ebbs and flows, as it always does whatever standards we set. It becomes a set of sequences, groups of matches joined together by importance or chronology. The Nine Games of Christmas were not one of those connections that would have leapt out of supporters’ ritual pre-season scrutiny of the fixture list. However, as the good ship Tottenham starts to take on water and sit lower in the water, circumstance has given Christmas a new meaning for Spurs fans.
How Villas-Boas addresses the problems in December on and off the pitch will determine our fortunes for this season and for at least the next few. It’s Tottering Hotspur with the focus squarely on the faltering effectiveness of his tactics and team selection. On top of which, sections of the media are at his throat, a combination of unjustified venom festering ever since he was ridiculed at Chelsea then had the nerve to get another job in the Premier League, and indignation that our boy has the chutzpah to challenge their wilful misinterpretation of the inclusive phrase, ‘we are ashamed’.
What makes this sequence so fascinating is that it is a real mixture: winnable home games after Christmas versus West Brom and Stoke, enticing away fixtures at Fulham and Sunderland where again three points are possible but you never know with away games, and three matches against top six rivals in Southampton, Liverpool and United. Add a home league cup tie against West Ham that will played with real ferocity and it’s got everything. Anji, play the ground staff and tell everyone else to put their feet up.
It’s vital we pick up some momentum after the crushing indignity of defeat at City. Comparing AVB’s expression after Fulham went a goal up on Wednesday with his exuberant relief at the final whistle gave a hint of what this all means to players and manager. 70 minutes in he was as white as a sheet, dead eyes staring blankly as once again it looked like a decent Spurs effort had fallen apart. Shifting from first half containment to second half attack, we had the better of a belting game and playing some fine football. All undone after another defensive cock-up. In a sick and twisted replay of goals conceded this season, Dawson’s pass into midfield found everyone in place for the transition from defence to attack. So when it was intercepted, Fulham could run through and score.
Building up some momentum dictates how matches turn out, and the outcome of those sequences. Hard to put your finger on what exactly makes the difference. In games, it’s certainly to do with pressure and possession but sometimes a single comparatively minor incident like winning a 50/50 tackle or a poor refereeing decision can set the pulses racing for players and fans alike, and so the game turns again.
Goals help – that’s an understatement if ever there was one, and this goal undid all our good work and AVB’s cunning plan. he was over-cautious in the first half. The selection of two DMs did not have to be negative. Rather it gave our attacking players some freedom. Lamela took advantage. Given a more free role (or perhaps he wasn’t paying attention to the manager’s instructions), his runs from midfield and interplay were effective for a time – and he got back to defend. Not a great performance but for the first time he looked as if he was getting to grips with the English game, appearing somehow more muscular and grown up. Or perhaps my stream was playing up, who knows?
More missed chances, Defoe and then Paulinho wasting good moves that would have justified AVB’s set-up. However, we did not pressure Fulham enough – given their recent problems we should have gone at them from the start but it was half-hearted.
Second period, AVB changed things – see, he does you know – and we looked much better. Again we missed chances – I would have played Soldado for this one, he can rest later. We look good on the counter – our best efforts all came from breaks at pace. We have the players for that and it’s a set-up we should try more often, at home as well as away, starting attacks from deep rather than leaving men upfield.
The Fulham goal changed all that. We bunged on everyone to get the goal, (three wingers at one point?) but momentum shift come from unlikely sources. Chiriches kept his long range shot down but no one expected that to go through so many players without a touch. fortunately the Fulham keeper was one of those bystanders. Holtby won it with a fine long range Bale-esque effort cutting in from the right and left-foot, top corner.
We still can’t score from inside the box and this nearly went badly wrong but it worked out and for the moment that’s enough. Add this to the performance against United and the players are feeling good again. When you think things are going your way, sometimes that indefinable quality, that certain something where it all works, can mean more to fragile psyches than sustained periods of good football.
But in the end, it’s good play that counts and in that respect, Hugo Lloris excelled. Several fine saves won this one for us. It was a great second half, bonkers end to end thrills and spills. If only I was able to enjoy watching Spurs play….