Consensus round me? Hoped for something more but the draw will do. The game opened full of expectation, by the end both sides were intent on boring each other and the crowd into submission, the consequence of several factors. The unfeasibly early kick-off saps the enthusiasm. You look forward to these derbies, as always the authorities find a way of puncturing the balloon. As my son remarked, nothing says ‘modern football’ like the announcer greeting the teams with, ‘Good morning to the world famous home of the Spurs.’
CFC paid us the compliment of starting without Costa but two false nines don’t add up to one Harry Kane. Not even close, but there was barely room to breathe let alone play much football. Spurs were tired after Europe – you’ve no doubt seen the stat that showed we ran respectively 6k and 4k less compared with our last two matches.
No lack of tension however. As time passed you were thinking the same as me, come on, you know you were. Spurs on top, late Blues breakaway… Not this time. This lot are made of sterner stuff and we’ve scored our share of late goals too.
They set up in a flexible 4–3–3 to limit our space, the pace and creativity in their forwards more than compensating for the lack of a genuine centre forward. Spurs’ defence led by the admirable Alderweireld was able to handle it without too many scares. Hazard had their two best chances, heading just over in the first half then a lightening volley was kept out by Lloris low down to his left. It was over in a flash – the shot was unexpected and fizzingly fast – so I had to wait for the MOTD replay to show what a superb save it was.
For our part, Mason slotted in wide right. It meant he had an average game out of position but he was there to counter the threat down their left. We therefore had to work especially hard to make any opportunities. Despite the lack of room, we were able to consistently play a straight ball into feet towards the edge of their box but too often a combination of the absence of space plus tiredness from Europe the previous Thursday led to uncharacteristic long balls.
Kane nearly bundled one in at the near post before many had cleared the turnstile queues then his quick shot was straight at the keeper. Dembele charged bullishly onwards, his low shot turned round by Begovic. A shame he could not have done this more but Moussa is the man who makes a difference. It’s hard to see a midfielder making more of an impact in the PL right now. He faded in the second half after taking a knock and so did our performance. As well as the runs where like Desperate Dan the defenders bounce off him, his ability to hold onto the ball without losing it gives team-mates precious moments to get into position.
Best chance fell to Son. Kane nipped to the byline but Son’s unchallenged far-post header went directly at the keeper. He should have done more with that and throughout tried just a bit too hard on the ball. Better to throttle back and be patient.
I’ll say again that Alderweireld at £10m is the buy of the season. Pace plus anticipation is a real talent to have. He’s a yard ahead of most opponents and covers diligently, easing across effortlessly if a gap appears. That gives the other so much confidence. Vertongen continues to bloom although he went blank for 10 mistake filled minutes in the second half. Walker was excellent, using his speed to full effect.
Otherwise, missed passes without any catastrophes. Kane is a gem, becoming more polished by the game. Intelligent, scheming, available. He dropped back towards the end to allow Njie to buzz around up front like a dying wasp but nothing could break the deadlock.
If this match was a benchmark of how far Spurs have come, we rated pretty strong. More important however is the feeling that win, lose or draw, next week we will just pick up where we left off and take the game to West Brom. Our progress has solid foundations. The rhythm, movement and effort isn’t contingent on the previous weekend’s result. League success can be achieved on the basis of good results against the teams below us and between now and New Year we have a sequence of winnable matches on which our season could depend. We have the talent, application and momentum so let’s make the most of it. I’m not talking about winning the league for goodness sake, just rack up a few maximum points in the next five or six games. Pressure-generated anxiety can come later – remember to enjoy it while you can.
In the last 20 minutes the players were sucked into the quagmire of stalemate. For different reasons both teams were content to hang on to what they had. CFC had to save face by not losing to upstart rivals – the point is neither here nor there, they will push up the table again especially when Santa Roman brings them a little something in the winter window. Last minute, in front of us Ivanovic put the ball in touch then follows it up, whacking it high into the crowd for good measure. We should take it as a compliment. It’s some time since Mourinho set up his side because he was worried about us.
The ref didn’t help, seemingly intent on re-writing the laws of the game so physical contact is no longer permissible. I seldom comment on referees but he really irritated, especially as I’ve seen him have some excellent games in the past.
For Spurs, the weariness in their legs had spread to their minds. Just play out time, although Walker looks fit enough to play another 90 minutes and more. Lamela and Njie have no excuses – they gave away late free-kicks for no good reason and could easily have chucked the game away. The rest were done for by the Ropey League. In Poch we are learning to trust and the win over Quarabag sees us through but it was a mistake to play a full-strength side. Spurs are admirably fit but the pressing game takes a lot of energy and effort.
At the end my son and I were too agitated to queue for the train and walked off the tension back to Seven Sisters. I guess this was a taste of what it’s like to carry expectations and the players felt it too. It made for a drum-taut game that was frankly dull for long periods but we kept our shape and our concentration. That is another marker on the journey onwards and upwards, something else the side can reflect on this week with satisfaction, the ability to hang in there when inspiration has dried up.