What am I doing here? How did I end up in this shabby part of north London on a freezing cold night? And why are there hundreds of other people shuffling along in this queue?
It was the sort of game that by the time you get to the station, you’ve forgotten all about it. Shame really: a cup semi-final, one step from Wembley, should produce a bit of edge but this dismal performance sucked the tension from the air along with any semblance of spark or originality. ‘Enjoy the win’ became Tottenham On My Mind’s mantra after a series of lacklustre performances earlier this season produced a series of improbable victories. So I liked this win but it was hard to love.
At least Spurs were consistent: it was a disjointed, low-key start and never wavered. Taking their cue from captain-for-the-day Adebayor Tottenham were stiff and stilted. In the modern game the role of captain is becoming inconsequential and never has the honour been rendered more meaningless than when the armband was tossed to Manu. The days of little Stevie Perryman, sleeves rolled up and urging them on through deed as well as word, are long gone.
I accept Adebayor is coming back from a long absence for, well, nobody outside the club really knows, but for much of the time he remained statuesque in the middle, inviting Sheffield United’s centrebacks to mark him. With due respect to the two of them, we needed to move them around and open up some gaps. Kane should have started up front. He must be tired but this is the most important game of the week and he would have posed genuine questions. Instead, Adebayor’s immobility set the tone and shape of the evening. United were admirably well organised and worked like Trojans but Spurs made it far too easy for them.
We played into their hands from the beginning. After about 10 minutes, as we gave the ball away unnecessarily (Ben Davies I’m looking at you) and struggled to get going, United realised that we were a bit soft and could be knocked out of our stride. This gave them renewed confidence whereas Spurs should have done much more to pressure a side two divisions below them.
United had a few decent opportunities but missed. Vorm did not have a save to make all night. At the other end, Dier had two headers but neither looked dangerous. No pressure on their keeper at all. Adebayor missed our best, perhaps only chance in the first half, sublimely controlling a long ball from deep (Eriksen?) as it dropped over his head, then shooting tamely over.
Spurs upped the tempo a notch or two after the break but United, falling back even further towards their own goal, contained us for the most part. Our domination of territory and possession wasn’t translated into chances. Townsend tried hard and we should have given him the ball more often. I don’t understand why our two excellent attacking full-backs, Davies and Walker, did not get forward more often. We lacked width and hardly ever got to the byline. Overheard on the way out: “We really missed Danny Rose tonight.” Now that’s a first. It’s true – he would have worked harder to get something going.
Then we got a break. Soldado, on as sub for Skip, had been marginal. Put through, he appeared to miscontrol the pass only for the defender to do the difficult bit and nip in between him and ball then knock it away with his hand. I’m happy to be corrected on this ‘view from the shelf’ but in all honesty I didn’t fancy watching the highlights. Townsend scored emphatically from the spot, same pen as Chelsea, placement and conviction.
We should have been geed up and gone for the jugular, inspired by the example of what a bit of pressure could bring. Instead, we responded to taking the lead with our worst spell, inexplicably conceding the initiative and nearly a goal to our opponents in the last 15 minutes. It was the worst spell of the season but we survived and went to Sheffield a goal to the good. I remain quietly confident but the United fans in the station queue were delighted at the outcome. We could well rue that slack approach come next week.
Dier was our best player, not put under undue pressure but one step ahead throughout and I like the way he carries himself. Vertonghen continued his good run of form.
United fans made some fantastic noise.
So that’s over with and we have a goal to take north with us. Once again we played poorly and came away with a win. Something is working. Last night the team looked their age – the willingness of youth without the nouse of experience. Also, Pochettino has the daunting task of getting a below-par squad through a sequence of 9 games in January, 7 of them in a 22 day period that ends on the last day of the month.
I suspect he has a plan and Adebayor’s appearance and captaincy may well be part of it. Fact is, we are going to need him and while I wouldn’t have picked him, last night was part of playing him into fitness, the armband a sign of his manager’s confidence, genuine or otherwise. It’s hard for young players to keep up an intensity of performance and concentration that they have never before experienced. Kane and Eriksen should put their feet up in front of the tele on Saturday. So far, Poch is handling things well.
Good luck and best wishes to Kyle Naughton, now a Swan. Neat and willing, not the highest quality but he will do better as a regular first teamer. I admire his approach – after getting some stick earlier this season, he kept going and produced his best football under the most pressure.