Sometimes there’s no alternative. Admit you’re beat, take it on the chin and move on. Yesterday against WHam it was Spurs who had to suck it up. Never in the game, from first to last.
Tottenham did not play well but were not allowed to play, never able to find a way past or through Bilic’s tactics. Pochettino simmered on the touchline throughout, muttering darkly to the bench. Whether this was because he was angry with his team or angry that he had been outmanoeuvred we will never know, probably a bit of both. It was a surprise to see WHam line up with three at the back but the real damage was done further upfield where they did not allow us to play out from the back by pressing the centre halves and denying fullbacks Trippier and Davies any space. In midfield they always had at least one extra man. Never mind three at the back, we hardly got anywhere near them and when we did, Kane was one versus three, an unfair fight even for him.
A theme of the past few weeks is that word is getting around – break the game up, disrupt the flow and Spurs are nowhere near as dangerous. We fell back into bad habits and for extended periods were our own worst enemy. We tried to beat a player and lost it countless times. We went long to try and loosen the stranglehold in the middle, in reality we just went aimless. Kane alone up front was easily picked off, but most of these passes went either straight to an opponent or into touch. Ahh, AVB, those were the days…
In my last piece I praised Pochettino for playing to Nacer Chadli’s strengths. He doesn’t take on the full responsibility of MP’s regime, so the manager has freed him, using him either in games where the team has a little more space (Colchester, Fiorentina) or as a sub when we need a goal and are pressing forward. In other words, not as a starter in a London derby.
Less than ten minutes in, Chadli’s pass back towards Davies put the fullback under unnecessary pressure and he had to concede a corner. It flew to the near post where the man Chadli was marking, or rather the man Chadli was nowhere near, headed it home. It was a vital goal. Ultimately it proved to be the winner but at the time it set the tactical tone. WHam did attack but they were under no pressure to open up to seek a goal. If you’ve gone with three at the back, perfect in fact.
Erik Lamela was also back to his bad old ways. He worked hard but held onto the ball too long and was frequently tackled. In one particularly irksome phase, he expertly wriggled clear only to stop and then pass to our wide man without spotting the two defenders in the way. All that hard work wasted. Meanwhile he got wound up and put his foot in late, breaking up the play and giving WHam the ball. Just what they wanted. Thought he had got past his brat phase – this was a big game and he did not cope at all well.
But they were symptoms not the cause. This was collective failure. It started early and spread from the back. Hugo has set an example for the whole team this season. Yesterday he missed a cross early on and then nearly dwelt too long on a ball at his feet in the box. We generated few ideas and forgot the movement and possession game that has served us so well. Might have done better to take a deep breath and knock it about for a bit. The only time we looked at all like scoring was after Alli came on and became a focal point for attacks as well as sharing the burden with Kane. He missed our one chance, miscuing a rebound after Toby’s fierce shot. It looked bad but the defender just did enough to cramp his room for movement as he shot. Kane looks really out of sorts. He looks knackered.
Enough. I’ve seen every NLD at the Lane bar one since 1968. Without question this is the biggest of them all. In my time the title has never been at stake, not for Spurs at any rate although in my time I’ve seen them win the league not once but twice. We are still second with everything to play for. Take the game to them from start to finish. Take them on. Don’t leave anything behind, play without fear. This is spellbinding stuff. The Derby will provoke every emotion known to woman or man then suck it dry, spin it around and rearrange the very atoms before we come out the other side. It’s what we live for.
Tottenham On My Mind has readers all over the world. The New Zealand Spurs Supporters Club are full of proper Spurs. They are running a Q&A with Don McAllister, who I think lives in Oz these days, before the NLD and you can watch it live on some new-fangled social media platform that I have never heard of and you can contact them if you want to join the club. Good people.
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Hope to see you guys Saturday