Spurs have really hit the big time – Tottenham shirts have appeared in my high street. This high street should be used as the barometer of football success, at least for the south of England. No need for surveys or polls, just wander down the road and into the park on a Saturday morning.
I live about 35 miles southeast of central London. There’s no local competition for fans keen to attach themselves to a big team. Most kids look to London for their side. Chelsea shirts are worn as a leisure brand, like people wear Abercrombie and Fitch or whatever (Duffer – what’s that about? When I grew up Duffer meant ‘idiot’ but that’s fashion for you…). Sprinkling of West Ham, but they are old school fans following well-trod paths down the A2 and A20 away from the east of the city. Arsenal won the vox pop when I first got here 15 years ago, now, interestingly, older shirts but not the current ones.
But no Spurs. Until now. Kids proudly wearing the shirt as they rush excitedly to football practice. I suspect that at the start of the season they would have been subject to the particular kind of sustained contempt only 10-year-old boys can create in the playground. Now Tottenham are the team they choose. Blimey.
I’m sure they will be undeterred after the setback against Palace. Dogged defence, devoted pressing and a bit of luck won them the match, aided and abetted by missed chances. Spurs have to sharpen up. Last week I talked about how in the last quarter of the season it may be less about the number of chances we make and much more about the proportion we take. The flow dried up against City but Eriksen took the one that we created. Yesterday we missed three good ones in a decent early spell, Onomah twice and Alli’s stabbed shot hitting both posts before being hacked away. Earlier his point blank first minute header was blocked involuntarily on the line.
Spurs play this season has had a lovely rhythm and cadence to it. Yesterday that was largely absent, the exception rather than the rule. Pochettino has done exceptional work in rotating the squad – it was good to see Onomah get 90 minutes, good for him and for the squad whatever the outcome. Despite this there are key players, the backbone of the side. Eriksen, Kane of course, Dier, Alderweireld and Lloris. Toby’s earned his rest but without him we not only looked indecisive and, at times, static at the back but also were far less certain about moving the ball forward from deep.
Dier can’t be in two places at the same time although sometimes this season it has seemed as if yes, this was possible after all. At centreback, so we were deprived of his diligent protection in front of the back four. Bentaleb tried too hard and therefore stuttered. Last season there was always a grace and flow to his performances. Yesterday he was stiff, trying to over-work the ball. Too many long balls forward therefore, easy for Palace to mop up, thus forgetting the lessons of patience, the short ball, keep it moving, that have been our pattern this season. Not helped by a lack of movement up front in the second half, with no one dropping short to pick up the ball, everyone moving up, so waiting, still, easy to deal with. Pochettino should have given Bentaleb more gametime. He and Mason can be crucial to our hopes, especially in the EL.
The other reason we didn’t flow was because Palace with great intent broke the game up with a series of fouls, never in dangerous areas, always upfield, and Spurs were never able to outwit them. To their credit they played two men up to pen back our defence and covered the space our full-backs have exploited so well. All Adebayor produced was an afternoon of comedy booing from the stands. Fan chanting seldom resolves anything. On this occasion, Spurs fans chanted something uncomplimentary at Palace about him, they roared back, “That’s why you’re paying him.” We are and that ended that debate, 1-0 to the Palace.
Their goal was a bit Tottenham too, stretching our defence too far and getting a full-back, Kelly, deep into our box. Keepers should make themselves big. Vorm is a capable deputy but he seemed to shrink when Kelly lashed in his shot at the near post. All came from one of those unsatisfactory long balls, a miss-hit cross field ball that sailed into touch and Palace capitalised from the throw-in.
On the field, it was 1-0 too when we had a good spell at the beginning of the second half. The ball whizzed across their box, begging to be touched in, but it was not to be. We then went rather quiet, unlike the ground that echoed with noise around this time, proper cup tie atmosphere I believe the phrase is. It felt good, although I can’t resist saying this AGAIN, that Tottenham Hotspur are the only club in the world that shifts its own end in order to accommodate visitors. So wrong.
Son also tried too hard, good movement and a couple of decent dribbles but yesterday one too many touches. Onomah has beautiful balance on the ball, graceful and athletic. One time, loved the way he shouted at Kane to hang on to the ball then told him where to pass it. An instinct for space. Alli, well, he’s got to play the game not the opposition. A crass dive in the box and a totally unnecessary push when a Palace player was off the field is not on, more than that it is becoming a weakness. Players have to be hard and fight for the right to play, but Alli is so good, he just has to play. The aggro works against him.
Seasons play out in little sequences. Our fate could be decided in the rush of matches in the next three weeks, starting with the EL on Thursday where we should capitalise on a satisfactory away draw. Then we look ahead to tough trips to Upton Park and Anfield, plus of course Arsenal at home. Let’s not forget three points at home to Swansea in the excitement, eh lads.