Spurs: The Taste Of Honey Bitter On The Lips

If I were a proper journalist, I’d focus on a few key incidents that altered the course of Wednesday’s night game against City. Overwhelmed early on, Spurs were only, miraculously, a goal down when Toure’s unnecessarily hard tackle in midfield confirmed the lingering suspicion that they are not entirely comfortable if put under a little pressure.

That this put some fire in Spurs bellies, that Tottenham rallied with the crowd at their backs. That Spurs nearly scored as a corner fizzed low into the six yard box, then Dawson’s ‘goal’ from an Eriksen free kick was disallowed, a close call.

That closer still was Danny Rose’s goal-saving tackle on Dzeko, tipping the ball away with his toe, only to find the linesman semaphored ‘penalty’. That Rose was dismissed, City converted the penalty and that extinguished the dim spark of comeback.

So that’s one story of the match, and it’s true. However, what worried me were the bits in between. Spurs were completely outclassed for extended periods of this game. In the first half, 11 v 11, City repeatedly scythed through our defence. I’d tell you a bit about what happened and how they did it except that it was all a blur, so swift and innovative were their attacks. For certain our defenders did not have a clue what was going on.

City’s movement on and off the ball was fluid and cohesive, a joy to behold in other circumstances. Pressing in midfield, they hunt in packs, three or four players surrounding the man on the ball. Time and again we lost possession, either tackled or in getting the ball away, thinking we had outwitted them, only to find the pass had nowhere to go except to sky blue feet.

With the ball, they could and should have scored three or four. Hugo did what he could, precious little mostly but he made one blindingly fast reaction save, hurling himself to his left to palm away a certain goal. A standing ovation, justified.

This story makes sober reading. For that opening half hour, this had a cup-tie feel with big time City slickers visiting the plucky underdogs who were hanging on for dear life in the hope that the big boys would miss a few chances then take their foot off the pedal. Spurs cast as the minnows. That’s my story and I don’t want to tell it.

There’s something wrong here and I know I’m not the only one. We sat and admired City’s play instead of urging the team back into contention. Marvelling at how they did it, as if we’d come as neutrals. Instead of railing against the injustice of the penalty, I shrugged in resignation. I bought into the minnows, no real chance but live in hope, a couple of meaty tackles, never mind playing football, come on! A sign that we were nowhere no-hopers before we kicked off. For a side as good as we might be, it’s the ultimate condemnation.

Usual rubbish on 606. “Worst team since the second division” – come on. “Sell the lot of them” – really? “It’s time to start again and rebuild over two years” – yeah right, after £100m worth of rebuilding 6 months ago. All Spurs fans these, bollo but I couldn’t identify with the anger, never mind the remedy. No solace in midnight Twitter. Those not finger-pointing were so miserable, they couldn’t muster the energy to raise a finger to point.

Tim Sherwood is making a decent fist of things in a job for which he has no experience, precious little preparation and with a squad not of his choosing. What is happening off the field at Spurs pervades the air and seeps in through every pore.

This is what I think about modern football. On the pitch, football’s fine. Football was never nine or ten months of rollicking Brazilian flair or for that matter push and run style. It’s about sweat, luck, brilliance, cock-ups and drama. Always has been, always will be, and that’s why it is compelling and irresistible. W formation, registas, heatmaps, tactics truck – the game’s the same. How team-mates players relate to each other, what they do with the space with and without the ball.

It’s what happens before and after the whistle blows that’s the problem. Spurs are not the only club to suffer but it’s the one I care about. For some time, the deteriorating relationship between the club and supporters has created a sense of alienation. Because the club makes little or no effort to look after us, we fans are increasingly distant from the reason we turn up every week. It’s us and them, not we.

No need to go over the reasons in detail. The board do lazy backstroke through deep pools of television cash yet seat prices rise year on year as living standards fall. Not that of the chairman, mind – £2.2m pa at the last call. My salary is 1% higher than it was five years ago. TV dictates we can kick-off most any time Saturday morning to Monday evening. £2 for a bottle of water. Kids priced out of it.

Alienation becomes the equilibrium, tolerated and in balance. It rumbles under the surface, omnipresent and dormant save for a few grumbles, like this one in fact. Until something happens. Then, it becomes other things – anger, resentment, bitterness, protest, resignation. Different things to different fans but the same underlying cause.

I know we shouldn’t complain in one way. Going nowhere, 12 years ago, from Pleat the caretaker (my worst ever experience at Spurs in the 45 years I’ve been going because even in Division 2 there was hope and expectation for the future) to the Champions League. I am grateful, really I am. We’re still contenders, in 5th place. At least I think we are. I don’t actually know off the top of my head where we are because it doesn’t seem to matter. There’s no plan. We all know there’s another guy lined up for the summer. We know our chairman cannot judge a manager’s ability in advance so it will be potluck. So we wait and in the meantime go through the motions.

Buying and selling over the years, buy young to build them up, stick with them to develop a team, against the odds, the admiration of football because we haven’t broken the bank, do it the proper way. Reality exposed – no plan. Buy a team for a manager, sack him, bring in another guy, he’s not happy with the squad, buy and sell. And so it goes. But Levy’s still here. As the immortal Smokey Robinson says, a taste of honey is worse than none at all. If we seem ungrateful, Mr Levy, it’s because Spurs supporters know the game. We know good football, we know how to get it, and this isn’t the right way. Sullen silence in the stands is that resignation palpable, in the air, real because this isn’t right. We know the potential and time and again it’s been wasted.

This is hard. It feels a bit like that caretaker horror year, marking time, twiddling thumbs, the loftiest ambition was just to get it over with. At least we have much better players this time and are at the other end of the table. Poyet, Anderton and Redknapp to get us through a 38 game season – hah! We are expected to be bothered when Levy isn’t. You might want to remember these last few paragraphs, these last few games, when you want to fill the new stadium, dear Daniel.

And so to the game itself. This week we had a rare insight into the tactical approach taken by Tim and his management team. I’m referring to Les Ferdinand’s interview where he talked about the role of a holding midfielder. What he said has been discussed as if he doesn’t like them but his actual meaning was admirably nuanced. Midfield defensive cover is essential, it’s just that having a midfielder in a purely defensive role is a waste.

This is something that ‘ahem’ I’ve talked about every now and again. These days we need midfielders who are flexible, who are mobile and alert, with a highly developed positional sense that is more effective a protection for the back four that the old-fashioned hard tackling destroyer, who can get a toe in but who can also pass the ball to turn defence into attack. That’s why AVB persisted with Dembele in a defensive role, the wrong position for him in my view but he fitted the bill. It also explains why Sherwood prefers Bentaleb to Capoue, whose passing range is more restricted.

Good stuff. It requires flexibility and an understanding between players, an awareness of when to go forward and when to cover depending on where the ball is, where the opponents are and the position of team-mates. We had a brief glimpse of how this works when Sandro and Dembele formed a powerful midfield axis in AVB’s first season, one goes forward while the other covers, before Sandro was injured.

Trouble is, it takes time to build up that teamwork and time is one thing Tim hasn’t had. After City sliced through what passed for our defensive cover for Aguero’s  opener, Les leapt from the bench and he and Sherwood berated the midfield. Dembele and Bentaleb looked sheepish: I guess it was primarily directed at them.

This is what happens when a manager takes over. Chopping and changing. The new moves may be better but they take a while to learn. Another example: City pressed as a unit, we as individuals. Outcome – City dominated the midfield with only Dembele escaping every now and again – twice leaving Toure for dead – the nerve of it. I forgot Lennon was playing in the first half. Eriksen was invisible throughout, Siggy ineffective. It was just too quick for him.

Much of the match passed Bentaleb by. It was a brave selection and wrong for this game, but paradoxically it was confirmation that he is a player of rich potential because he never gave up, never once shirked any responsibility and did not hide. He did no worse than several more experienced men around him.

We were torn apart by stunningly beautiful attacking football. The irony was that for all their enterprise they scored only once as the fans looked on in silent envy. There was no sense of expectation that this would be anything other than the shape of the match. We expected it to turn out like this. That dull, flat mood says all you need to know about life at the Lane right now.

Dawson desperately tried to stem the flow, singlehanded. He hurled himself around the box and outside, in position, out of position, ineffective at times, heroic at others. You have to admire him – beaten for pace and he knew it but when the going got tough, he got going.

Then a tackle or two changed it. Toure’s blemish got the crowd going and you sensed that there was a soft centre underneath the hard tasty City shell. Rose made waves down the left, shame his crossing was poor because we had men over. City can’t defend set pieces either. A low corner was nearly stabbed in on the line then Dawson had his effort in the net but ruled out for offside.

Relief at half time that it was only one. Capoue on for an injured Dembele. His first touch was on a player not the ball as he ploughed through Silva on the halfway line. Then the penalty and the lingering hopes of a revival and a decent match ruined by a lousy decision. I am in a minority of one it seems in saying I have some sympathy for refs. I sit fairly low down and can assure you that you have no idea how quick Premier League football is from watching on TV. Here, the ref looked to his linesman, as he should. All I would say is the linesman is not a ref because they are not good enough, yet this crucial decision was taken on his say so.

Sherwood then showed his inexperience again by not thinking quickly about the substitution. After Rose was sent off for depriving City of a goal scoring opportunity, inevitable once the penalty was given, Capoue moved into the back four. This upset the centre back paring, moved Chiriches to left back and further unsettled a jittery and uncertain midfield. City scored quickly, Dzeko picking up a loose ball in the box. Sherwood then brought on Naughton as left back with the other reverting to their positions, but the damage had been done. Game over. Perhaps it was at kick-off.

City’s final three goals were all a bit scruffy – two loose balls in the box and one deflection. This is the stuff in the penalty box that ten men can defend as well as eleven but we were all over the place. Luckily for us so was Dzeko. We played out time wondering how many it might have been had he been on form.



12 thoughts on “Spurs: The Taste Of Honey Bitter On The Lips

  1. We already have QPR and West Ham needing about 15,000 more supporters each for their new stadia. Spurs will need around 20,000 more, if the new ground ever gets built. Where will they all come from ? The bubble may burst just as the grounds come on stream. Spurs are particularly careless with their Saturday 3.00 games – far worse than other teams what with TV and the Europa. One day they may learn about really communicating with the fans. Just seems to be a blind spot with our owners.


  2. Lovely article Alan.

    Thought Hugo got it right with his statement after the Man City game. It is simply unacceptable to keep losing like this, let alone at home. The guy has had to pick the ball out his net 11 times against Man City alone.

    His indignation was better than TIm’s approach which seemed to be along the lines of what can you do, they are a great team.

    They are but they have put 11 past is this season. Even Real Madrid didn’t manage that when they played us.

    But I’ve realised this year that there is no point speculating about who we’ll buy or sell, or who is going to be the manager next year. t it doesn’t matter who is in our squad.

    None of these things matter while there is such chaos and constant upheaval off the field.

    Say we appoint van Gaal as our next manager. Will he be in post for any longer than 18 months or two years? I doubt it.

    If we buy a handful of decent or better players there is every likelihood they won’t play or we’ll sell or loan them out in the next transfer window.

    Constant chaos. And for a moment there I thought we were being taken seriously again.


  3. And another thing…..

    We get lots of emails from the club about credit cards, merchandise, tickets and so on.

    It would be nice if every now and then those who run the club made even a basic attempt to communicate with the fans about something that doesn’t involve asking us for more money.


    • Russell and Alan:

      I was there for the first time since Klinsmann dived at almost the same seat. Given what I saw I think it might be a couple more decades until I can be arsed (sorry) gain. No doubt you all remember what Keith Burkinshaw muttered as he left. I think that quite a few of us “nobodies” are beginning, belatedly, to agree.

      I was shocked at just how third world Tottenham High Street has become. I was saddened at the whole rape-me stupid commercialism of the whole deal. The adverts of the shirt are now possibly more valuable to ENIC than what’s inside them. Stewarding was straight from Soweto. Tottenham town is a toilet and if they ever get around to building the glorious JPEG stadium, what are they going to do about the neighbouring 1970s Calcutta/Lower East Side/Katowice?

      Alan: as usual your take on the event says it all, but after sharing twelve goals with the best team in Britain what the heck are MCFC going to do next? Jeez: I’m glad we’ve done our quota.

      Hull? God knows.


  4. Well written article Alan.
    To be honest, not happy with the whole Tottenham owners situation, regarding their greed and no new stadium has left me somewhat deflated.
    This stubhub deal is the final nail in the coffin for a lot of fans like me. I get to go to a few games with the help of my mates who have season tickets and because of commitments they let me go at a small charge on their tickets. Now one of my friends was warned about letting his ticket out, and now has to show identity for home games. Yet they don’t mind said person being a legalised tout.
    Remember the Fabrice Muamba situation. That very doctor was not the owner of the season ticket, it belonged to a friend or family member. Did not hear Spurs have a say to the ticket owner, because they would have lost respect from people if they had, given the fact the Dr was a life saver.


    • Spurs have lost an awful lot of goodwill due to stubhub. I wonder how much money it has earned them.
      You often have to pay more for the ticket, you cannot see the precise spot as with the box office, and you can’t use your membership card, have to queue up for a paper ticket. What a rip off.
      Especially as it replaced ticket exchange, seemed fair, and via the box office so could use membership card and see precise seat on the plan.


  5. Hurts hard doesn’t it Alan?! I felt the hurt in your article, a microcosm of the ultimate sagging of once cheerful albeit critical optimism that has prevailed over the past 4 or 5 years. Ironic, therefore, that the highest optimism that most fans have had has been at the very start of this season (not I ..he smartly says, although it hurts even harder to be proved right). Title contenders at last! New stadium start must be imminent! We’re ahead of Arsenal now! No more CL near misses! Bale? Who’s he? We’ll get third at least with this squad! ..and so on. But you can’t sell game changing world class players two years running and expect to pick ready made replacements up as though they’re apples from a tree ..no matter how much you money you throw out there. You know, for the past 3 seasons (since the Crouch sending off cost us hugely in the glorious QF against Real in the CL) we’ve been a CL club in all but name. Only cruel luck, wasted opportunities in front of goal, poor judgement and purchase decisions by Levy and others, the sale of our best assets, a manager who took his eye off the ball at a critical stage in our near-rise to the top, and another who would not learn from his mistakes, or adapt to the other team’s set-up etc., have stopped Spurs from being in the CL for 4 seasons running. And yet our squad has been THAT good enough to grace the competition.
    NOW, however, we can no longer claim even that blurred honour. The squad, while having depth, has the look of too many utility players – those who can fill in gaps, or cover, but aren’t masters of any position, too many young players with ‘potential’ only (including our record signing), too many players played out of position, and so on. We have some fine players and a strong squad but with no great players any more and therefore no serious game changers, as we’ve often had in the past.
    We are no longer that CL team in principle, as we have been for 4 straight season before this. I thought, before the City game, that a w9 d4 l3 finish would, with 74 points (and a new club PL record), actually and finally get us CL football after these hurtful near-miss years, but I now know that even that hope is beyond us. City and Chelsea are light years ahead, with all their creative players. Liverpool and Man U (why couldn’t Mata have come to us?) will not let us wrest that 4th spot away from them.
    It’s their battle, and Arsenal won’t do for us, what we did for them (ie collapse a lead by 9 points or more) over the past two seasons. So we’re looking at a probably 6th or even 7th ..the worst season since 2008/9.
    I’m not just hurt. I’m angry. Angry that Levy only acted, and then not too brightly, when Bale was on the brink of being sold. That he didn’t bring in a box striker 3 seasons back when we really could have done with one, considering the chances we created back then. That he never moved quickly to replace Modric two seasons back. That he loaned out BAE without first getting cover for Rose ..who’d only just established himself anyway in the first team. That he bought two extra DMs to compete with Dembele and Sandro when we were crying out for a playmaker (Eriksen was almost an afterthought, and although a fine player you can see the burden he’s carrying alone in that position). I’m angry with greedy Harry who could have had it all with this club, and yet managed to snatch disaster from the jaws of victory (for himself, his club and us). I’m angry with a young intelligent replacement coach who proved so bigoted in his aims that he would not ultimately learn from his mistakes either here or at Chelsea. So come the season end the hopeful wait will continue, but the disappointment will be far greater, because a realization will have sunk in. The lack of a hoped for CL position will make Verts, Paulinho and Lloris consider their options, and fine players will be reluctant to come here on another empty promise of CL football being just over the horizon. And Spurs will no longer be hammering on the Big Boys’ doors, they’ll be scratching at it like the rest!


  6. Excellent piece Alan.
    I remember some great times with Tottenham.The Double years and some wonderful times here and there after.We have never quite been there again.Along we way we have had some great players.Ginola,Ardiles,Hoddle,Klinsmann,Gazza,Lineker to Berbatov that all showed us that even if we always were not Supreme that they could touch our souls with some brilliance at least.
    We own quite a few quality players now.Paulinho is silky smooth,Sandro is THE BEAST,Soldado looks the business but hasnt been and Lamela pomises promises promises. None of them could make it to this one for whatever reasons. Instead we had one of those teams you usually see against the Harlem Globetrotters.Stooges. Sherwood talks of respect of Manchester City but puts out Benteleb as our engine room.Its ludicrous.The money should have least been on Capoue who could have in for a Sandro who might have not even got a game had he been fit.
    This Sherwood is headed for the same place as AVB.Stuck in a weak ideology.
    We are Tottenham.Its been this kind of life.
    Does it have to be like this?
    It looks like another dream to return has been shattered.Not so many points behind but world apart while the other teams strengthen I think its coming to a time when it would be better for us to sell the club and find owners that just want to compete.


  7. This season has been a real struggle for me for many of the reasons in the article. It’s clear that there is no long term plan whatsoever in terms of tactics and how individual players fit in to that system. The loan of Holtby demonstrates the lack of direction. He’s a perfectly competent PL player but we’ve no idea how to use him.
    Individually we have better players than we’ve had in previous seasons but I just can’t see how they fit together with any conviction.


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