What have we learned from history?
Apparently nothing, nothing apparently
Apparently nothing, nothing apparently
The grass was green, the players lean, their expressions more purposeful than mean but Spurs looked ready. They had something to prove in the first home game of the season, as a unit drilled and instilled in the Pochettino Way, as individuals too. Young men like Mason and Dier, determined to make the most of the responsibility placed at their feet. More experienced players given an opportunity to keep a first-team berth – Davies at left-back, Dembele with a spot to finally show his talents have a place in the set-up. Walker, under pressure now from Trippier at right-back, Alderweireld on his home debut.
By the end, the same old failings. Bright beginnings, earn a lead only to let it slip away with a mistake under pressure just as the game seemed won, by the finish grateful for a point.
Years ago I wrote a good piece that accurately summarised a match, against Newcastle I think it was. A few paras from the end, I admitted it was cut and pasted from the corresponding fixture the previous season. Nothing changes – I could similarly choose from 50-odd pieces on the blog to sum this one up. Or pick out problems identified in the pre-season preview – a lack of presence in midfield that comes with experience, the two wide forwards set up to attack but unhappy defending, the lack of options up front. All played out before our very eyes – nothing has been done about them. The outcome may not have been a surprise and booing at full-time premature but it’s a sobering start to the season nonetheless.
Seat covered with birdturd – welcome back to White Hart Lane. Being Spurs, they lulled us into a false sense of security. In the sun, it was a busy start with everyone apparently clear about what they should be doing. Mason and Dier were solid in the centre and in front of them the forward 3 of Eriksen, Dembele and Chadli were smoothly interchanging positions. On the right Walker looked to get forward, if not with the ball at his feet then with a late run into space. He reached the byline once but took the soft option and pulled it back twenty yards instead of banging it into the box where danger lurks.
Our work was good even if it much of it was sideways. Credit to Stoke for this – they packed midfield and were hard to break down. Any goal at this point was likely to come from a set piece and Dier it was who was first to a near-post corner to head in. He scored Spurs’ first goal last season too.
Spurs had all the play, Stoke two good chances, one a header that Lloris saved well, the other when the keeper cleared a ball straight to a Stoke player on the edge of the box. Lloris persistently played the ball out dangerously close to the goal. This is obviously planned – Vertonghen and Alderweireld split either side of the box as soon as Hugo gets it – but it is so easy for the opposition to pressure us despite the latter’s ability to hit a scorching long ball.
After the half hour the game opened up and we went into the break two up. Davies got forward only once, to pick up a ball from Kane. It looked beyond him but not only did he pull it back, he found Chadli at the far post. Earlier the Belgian fluffed his control when clean through, this time his volley was deflected in.
Our best spell came after half-time. With Stoke looking to score, Spurs used the space to develop a few flowing moves. The best ended with Butland saving well from a close-range Kane effort.
Then the errors. Pochettino’s were crucial. He allowed Spurs to drop back and hit on the break. Kane came off – post-match Poch said he was tired, goodness knows what we will do if he is injured – as did Mason, who had a good game in midfield and nearly scored in the first half after a lovely take-down and shot in the box. This gave Stoke the initiative. Our attacks had come from Kane dropping short and team-mates bursting past him. Now that was gone, plus we had no out ball with Chadli at centre-forward. Stoke simply dropped deep to mop up a series of aimlessly drifting long-balls and so they could focus on attack. Lamela and Bentaleb, the two replacements, never picked up the pace of the game. Eriksen was invisible wide left as Stoke poured down our right, a familiar ploy last season against us. Walker had a decent game as did Dembele on the ball but instinctively he drifts in, leaving a gap.
Under not a lot of pressure, Alderweireld committed a foul in the box. After that penalty, Stoke seized control. Vertonghen and Toby were solid with the ball in front of them but we could not deal with a steady flow of inswinging crosses that produced three chances and two fine saves from Hugo before one finally went in.
Mark Hughes clearly had the better of Pochettino tactically. Our manager had a poor game and his chairman has had a poor pre-season. Spurs are a side with top six pretensions and only one striker. It astonishes me even though I have written it so many times. Even Coulthirst, who’s not good enough at this level, has gone out on loan. Kanemania obscures the hideous truth. Welcome Njie, Poch says, yes, he can play up front. No – I want someone with ‘striker’ on his biog. Spurs are a side with top six pretensions and only one striker.
Lamela looked out of his depth. Given a role on the right and a bit of space sometimes, he played at his pace as the game passed him by. No sense of positional discipline or of keeping the ball at a time when clear heads were needed.
Maybe the season really starts once the window shuts. Certainly for Spurs we cannot predict our prospects until we know if we have two more strikers and a central midfielder.
There’s been the usual social media infighting about Bobby Soldado, now mercifully put out of his misery like a pitpony released from the depths into the green fields above or at least the Spanish sun where he will score the goals that eluded him in his desperate career at Spurs. Rumours that he installed a barn door in his back garden just to prove to himself that he could do it are probably unfounded but never has a striker with such an appalling record been sent on his way with such fond wishes from the supporters.
The reason is that Soldado offered something precious, gold, frankincense and myrrh to supporters – hope. His goals could have transformed the side into genuine contenders. It’s hard to let go of hope and for many their belief remained unshakeable even when confronted by stark reality. It helped that he is a decent, honest bloke. His quote praising the fans for our faith and adding that he was ashamed that he could not deliver was genuinely touching, a rare thing in football these days.
I grumbled toward the end but could not find it in my heart to attack a player who has been scoring goals since he first kicked a football as a toddler and who when instinct failed him therefore had no idea what to do. His form was so wretched, it went beyond anger into sympathy. He had to go, and good luck.