Season 2013-14 will be one to remember for Spurs supporters but for all the wrong reasons. Since our self-imposed exile into Sherwood’s caretakership, we’ve been sitting in limbo for what feels like an eternity, staggering from one humiliation to another.
For once I can’t wait for the fixtures to end: the second half of the season has really dragged. The crowds approaching the Lane last night looked for all the world like figures in a Lowry painting, huddled against the wind and devoid of enthusiasm. There were gaps in all the stands, not unsold tickets but ticket holders who simply could not be bothered to turn up. Despite having paid a fortune, they preferred to stay at home. I’ve never seen so many spares on twitter and people literally could not give tickets away.
Many of those who made it did so out of that distorted sense of duty supporters cannot shake off, no matter how hard we try. We questioned our motives or indeed our sanity as we swapped stories of the easy drive or walking straight to the bar and being served.
In the end, we had the pleasure of five goals and an easy win, straightforward enough in the second half at least after the now obligatory calamity. It took a while but in the end we had some fun. Fun – at Spurs, not why we go, now is it?
Took me a while to cotton on. What on earth has happened to me? There was plenty of good football yet I was suspicious of it. Won’t amount to anything, only a matter of time before the next defensive catastrophe, all fall apart soon. Spurs, that’s what you’ve done to me. 2013-14 has warped my senses. Hardly one to tell the great-grandchildren.
This game took place in the context of strong rumours that Sherwood’s departure at the end of the season had been confirmed. The photographers who jostled for position in front of the home dugout like paparazzi outside Chinawhite’s certainly thought something was up. Just like Spurs to sack their second manager of the season before a game. At least it wasn’t at half-time.
It all added to the lack of expectancy. As my son pointed out, the atmosphere was like that of a Europa League group game. Both teams were out there, working hard under the lights but in the absence of any tension or edge. You welcomed a couple of crunching, misguided foul tackles to remind us that it was a competitive game with a considerable amount hanging on the outcome.
To complete the scene, the heavens opened and the weather turned as gloomy as the mood. On cue, once again Spurs surpassed all expectations by conceding a goal of huge comedic value. Chiriches, back in the side for the presumably injured Vertonghen, exchanged passes with Lloris at the edge of the area. We thought this was to take the sting out of a Sunderland attack but no! It was Vlad’s cunning plan to lure his keeper out of position, then pass across goal to Cattermole who rolled the ball into the empty net. It was by far Sunderland’s best ball of the night.
It was an even game until that point. Our attacking line-up had Chadli and Paulinho in central midfield so no defensive midfielders. Lennon was on the right, Eriksen starting left but cutting in, with Kane linking with Adebayor up front. Self-destructive against better sides but it came good on the night.
Both teams had chances. Spurs probably had the best of them with Kane a fraction uncertain on two occasions and Adebayor prominent. Rose had more room on the left as the game went on. Trying to work out the frequency of decent crosses, I reckon he averages one in five. Shame really – he did well to get forward into the space Eriksen made for him.
But it was Eriksen who got us back into the match, just when we were flagging. His fine cross from the left hit Manu on the thigh and was in. Messy on one level but it was a classic ball to the far post between keeper and defenders and all good strikers have the precious attribute of being in the right place at the right time.
All that was good about this performance revolved around Christian Eriksen, head, shoulders and a pair of stilts above everyone else on the pitch. Wherever something creative was happening, he was in the middle of it. Not everything came off but more than enough did to win this game at a canter.
His best performances this season have come when he’s played on the left. Last night, two wicked left-footed crosses, quick and curling into the danger area between keeper and central defenders set up our first and second goal. He scored the third, left foot and low from the edge of the box, helped by a tiny deflection.
However, wide left isn’t his best position. Rewind to my comments on the Liverpool debacle. Coming from the left gives us an extra man in the centre of midfield and he’s harder to pick up but it leaves us vulnerable to attacks down our left side, especially as Rose has defensive limitations. It’s a balance. Liverpool, who for the purposes of this example shall be known as ‘A Good Team’ ruthlessly exploited the weakness. Sunderland however, who we shall name ‘A Bad Team’, had no idea so the balance tipped decisively in our favour.
Good teams will always spot that one unless we compensate with a couple of defensive midfielders, one of whom will therefore be available to shuffle across and plug the gap. So do that or play him centrally with a DM behind so he has the freedom to move and work his magic, because there is no mistaking the fact that he’s the future of this club.
Much to enjoy about the second half. Spurs dominated completely, exploiting the space Sunderland left us all over the pitch and making a series of chances. Kane scored the second from another fine far-post cross by Eriksen, touching the ball in with confidence. Eriksens’s shot was the third, lots of room at the edge of the box.
Adebayor had a good first half especially, noticeably prominent during the period when we played badly, trying to make things happen. He pinched the fourth after the keeper half-blocked Kane’s shot and then Siggy wrapped it up, banging in a loose ball for number five.
I don’t see Chadli as a central midfielder, particularly if we are put under more pressure than Sunderland managed, but you can see glimpses of his talent, albeit frustratingly rare. For every fine throughball there were several fluffed opportunities but he contributed to the attacks in the second half. Lennon worked hard and made a couple of thrilling runs, reminding us of what has been missing from his game for a while now.
Paulinho began well in his best central midfield role but faded disappointingly. Kane did well enough, taking his goal well and looking to link up play behind the main striker. Having someone in that forward position who has something of the striker about him, as opposed to a forward midfielder, adds to our chances of scoring.
The defenders had nothing to do in the second half. Lloris was equal to everything that came his way.
A highly enjoyable second half and the result did not flatter us. Sherwood’s attacking team without a defensive midfielder proved to be the right option. There was a vast gap between the midfield and back four that most opponents would have exploited but sadly for them, Sunderland aren’t that team. They won’t get more room in the attacking half than we gave them yet they did nothing whatsoever with it. At the back, three centre halves meant we had space around their area and with Bardsley their right back keen to get forward, it’s no coincidence that two goals came from crosses on that side. It shows why teams don’t play 5-3-2 more often. Their lack of passion was surprising given their fight for survival. I feel for their fans – that was a long ride home.