Fine Margins As The Title Slips Away

Fine margins at the top of the table. Spurs hit the woodwork three times but the chances bounced away and with them all realistic hopes of the title. After a bright start, Tottenham could not find a solution to the problems posed by a rejuvenated West Brom. With twenty minutes to find a winner, the pressure that Spurs have swatted away so frequently in this wonderful run-in finally exacted its revenge.

No signs of later problems when the game began. Right away we stroked the ball around as if there were no opposition on the field. Drop the needle, into the groove and stay on the beat. Keeper Myhill was stretched on several occasions. To be more accurate, he’s stocky for a goalie so stretched isn’t quite right, more a roll at times but effective, most notably when he pushed Kane’s early chance onto the inside of the post. It bounced away, a good chance missed, classic Kane, right foot across the keeper. Sure it would go in but he did not hit it with sufficient power, symptomatic of Kane’s least effective performance for a while now.

Myhill was flat-footed with Eriksen’s free-kick, dipping right above him but he still couldn’t get anywhere near it. It too hit the woodwork. Spurs’ artistry was far too much for the Albion, sheer delight to watch the movement and creativity. The flicks and first-time touches weren’t flash, they were simply the best way for Spurs to keep the ball moving. Mighty Dembele breaking up attacks and moving the ball on. Alli, fouled three times early and the subject of Fletcher’s and Gardiner’s incessant attempts to tell the ref how to do his job, found space despite these attempts to knock him out of his stride. As it turns out, he whacked one of their midfielders (not obvious to anyone where I was sitting) – he has to be careful and not get a reputation as a player who can be niggled into doing something silly.

Glorious moments, such a pleasure to watch a Tottenham team playing this well and under pressure too. However, chances were thin on the ground. The goal when it finally came was from a set piece – did I read Spurs have scored more goals from et pieces than any other PL team? Purring we may have been but the gaol was a right mess, the free-kick going in off a defender who, under pressure from Vertonghen, was attempting to head a ball that was approximately 3 mm off the ground.

As the half wore on, Spurs uncharacteristically allowed the tempo to drop. Before Christmas my blogs were festooned with pleas to maintain the tempo. In those days, lost in the mists of the memory, all of 4 or 5 months ago, tempo was something we turned on and off. Now, high tempo is the default setting, so it was surprising to see the drop in intensity, indeed after half-time to feel it, because our performance was palpably flat in the second half.

We waited for it to pick up, overcame a few scares as Albion missed a couple of beauts, Rondon twice I think, but for once the Spurs could not be lifted. I am not the most optimistic of watchers, truly enjoying games only when we are four up in injury time, but I did not expect us to drop any points last night. It’s not so much the quality of our football, it’s the focus with which we go about our business.

Credit to West Brom, who decided to go on the offensive. They pushed up 10 yards, got the ball up to Rondon and began to pick up more than their fair share of loose balls in the midfield. Spurs did not respond quickly enough or adequately enough. Perhaps Dembele and Dier dropping 10 yards too, a defensive outlook for 5 or 10 minutes to take stock.

At the other end, Lamela hit the inside of the post on a rare Spurs raid. A fine move carved out the opportunity and it should have been taken. Fine margins. As it was, West Brom kept up the pressure and scored from one of a series of set pieces. Dier beaten, Lloris lost and the header dropped into unguarded goal.

73 minutes gone – the next 20 to define our fate. Ultimately we capitulated meekly. For the first time quite a while, we did not know what to do. West Brom had knocked us out of our stride and we could not pick it up again. It felt as if the impact of what we have achieved finally hit the players. They became tense and uncertain as the enormity of the season sank in.

The final whistle was supporting Spurs in a nutshell, simultaneously deflating and uplifting. I tried so hard to put the idea of the title to one side. Didn’t do any of the permutations and predictions, or take on board the ifs-buts-and maybe equation that can see us into the Champions League. Like a wine-stain on the carpet that you cover with a rug, you know it’s there but don’t want to think about it. One game at a time, win all of ours and see what the other lot can come up with.

Yeah right. My heart sank in time with Kyle Walker as he fell to the pitch in front of us. My self-delusion unmasked. Of course I had dared to hope, and for once it was not wishful thinking because after Man U and Stoke we looked unstoppable.

Then, straight away, we stood to applaud rather than nip away into the cold dank side streets. (Although some left well before the whistle – beat the traffic or be there as Spurs possibly take a step towards winning the league? It’s not much of a choice, frankly.) We sang, ‘oh Tottenham we love you’ and the players responded. This uplifting moment sums up so much of this wonderful season – fans and players closer than ever before, taking shared moments at the end of games in disappointment as well as victory, of giving thanks for the good football, thanks for trying even if last night they did not quite succeed. Scenes in stark contrast to those at the Emirates as fans either stay at home or protest at finishing in the top four AGAIN. At the Lane, it’s different. My only fear is that if we do qualify for the CL, that will change because it creates a sense of entitlement, but that’s for next season’s Tottenham On My Mind.

Spurs have become the team to beat. Opponents seem to galvanise themselves when they play us, whereas Leicester, champions elect, do not seem to such a scalp. West Ham excelled themselves against us, Liverpool turned it up a notch or three as did the Baggies, who didn’t put heart and soul into last week’s efforts at the Emirates. Meanwhile Swansea at Leicester were in their shorts and flip-flops, sipping cocktails and hiring a pedalo. We’ve also had to chase Leicester by playing after them and while this is no excuse, it has given us a harder task, no question, because they have been able to set the pace. Week after week of chasing takes a toll but Sky are allowed to dictate football so the PL will never say, well, it’s not quite right. But of course the fixtures on the final day kick off at the same time so that no team has an unfair advantage.

23 thoughts on “Fine Margins As The Title Slips Away

    • Philosophical, I suppose. I was disappointed, really thought this game was winnable and surprised given our recent form that we could not respond to WBA’s changing tactics. But put it in the context of a wonderful season and I don’t feel too down.

      Regards, Alan

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  1. Hi Alan

    Came away from the game deflated.
    One minute, pure elegant free flowing football, next half totally lost it, as if they were a different team.
    Just hope we can turn it round against the Cheatskis and wipe that smirk of Hazards face.

    Still proud of the team this season as we punched well above our expectations and hopefully we can improve on this for next season.

    Keep up the good work Alan👍

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    • So proud of this team. No doubt that like you my heart sank at the final whistle, well before then to be honest as it became obvious we weren’t going to pull it out of the fire. But the atmosphere for much of the game was superb and the final chorus of Tottenham we love you was as much for us as it was the team.
      Regards, Alan

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  2. Such fine margins indeed. A rather sublime to the ridiculous evening. We were so good to watch for much of that first half. Before the game we felt that our bench was ‘wrong’. What if we needed to hunt for a late goal? Gamble, put Njie and Onomah on the bench we said, I wish Poch had.
    I couldn’t agree more that Kane was off his best and our lack of an alternative cost.
    I felt that the great atmosphere may have helped WBA in the end. They capitulated at home to Woolwich, no atmosphere really at that game. The roar of our crowd seemed to lift a typically horrible Pullis side, four centre backs, loads of niggling fouls a better ref would have stopped. Alli in need of protection. As the other half says it’s almost like the refs decide ‘well that’s how a Pullis team plays so we’ll let them’. Rather like Leicester maybe. Leicester who as you say nobody raises their game against. Oh and finally don’t get me started on Fletcher who clearly still thinks he’s at Utd where you just keep telling the ref what to do, a decent ref wouldn’t allow it.

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    • Thanks Jill. At the time I mentioned how Alli had been targetted. Fletcher was constantly angry with the ref when he gave obvious fouls, and of course now we know it worked, 3 game ban which everyone seems to be OK with when in fact we have so much to play for. Alli’s responsibility in the end but the old pros have got one over on him.

      Regards, Alan

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  3. Very frustrating last night, but we have to be proud of our club, and this young team. Sure,we ran out of ideas after 60 minutes or so, but after we hit the woodwork for the 3rd time I sensed that indeed the footballing gods were destroying our hopes (if not making us ‘mad’ first) and finally ensuring the fairytale ending for Leicester. I think that the pressure which hit us was inevitable. Even if we’d won, and the Foxes had lost next weekend against United, the pressure on our young side winning the final 3 games was still immense. And if Leicester had further slipped against Everton at home, then that club in West London, with no apparent regard for integrity (Chelski), were waiting, who, through their players and fans, have already implied they’ll roll over for the Foxes to prevent us winning the PL. To think I used to go to the Bridge as a kid sometimes, when Spurs weren’t playing at home, just to watch a ‘football game’ ..a game fought out between real men of integrity and dignity in blue who genuinely loved their club, and played simply to win for the fans, their club and badge, as well as their own honour, and bugger what anyone else was doing. Not like today’s petty and spiteful implication from ‘Chelsea representatives’ who concern themselves with the lives of others, rather than their own existence, in the hope it may appease and distract fans from their team’s own miserable failings. Anyway, despite the bad taste in the mouth, it matters little now (although we shall remember it for next season and beyond).
    As for the match, it did remind me of just how many times we’ve drawn games this season, matches we dominated and should have wrapped up long before we were pegged back. Too many to mention.
    Poch, if he CAN improve, has to work on being able to alter our shape during a game if needs be.
    As brilliant as we are with our Plan A, when that Ferrari is spluttering a Plan B is temporarily and often desperately needed. We don’t seem to have one. So let’s work on that for next term .. .plus bring in a good striker to complement Kane, along with a few other ‘cover’ positions; keep the levels of fitness, desire and commitment, and don’t lose our manager and best players. All in all, I believe Tottenham are again at the top to stay!

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    • I have tried hard not to let any bitterness or paranoia intrude on a hugely enjoyable season but Hazard’s comments when they have to play Leicester as well as us stuck in the throat. Players aren’t allowed to antagonise a crowd with gestures etc but what’s the difference between that and remarks like these, which will inflame fans of both sides, yet no one will do anything about it.

      Cheers, Alan

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  4. Thanks Alan,

    I was quite moved by the rousing chorus of We Love you Tottenham at the end. I was also moved by Hugo’s interview, when he said that there is massive respect for the fans in the dressing room because they love Tottenham and the backing the team gets. Easy to say, but I feel like the players genuinely mean it.

    If we can’t get first we must, and thoroughly deserve, to tie up second. Winning at Nu Chelsea and finishing above Arsenal would be a fine way to end the season, too.

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    • I think the players really do mean it. I’ve remarked on this throughout the season. They’ve responded to the fans at the final whistle in a humble manner, none of these flash displays of celebration that are more about the players than they are the supporters. Let’s push on for an upbeat end to the season.

      Regards, Al

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  5. With the woodwork hit three times, we could’ve been up 4-0 and their comeback wouldn’t have happened. And we’d still be in with a shout at trukke, trukke. A game of mere inches this way or the other. But former ManU’s Fletcher made an interesting point that hopefully we’ll learn for next season: “”Passing the ball out from the back is nice and it’s pretty on the eye but when you’re winning 1-0 against West Brom, you shut up shop, see the game out and hit on the counter-attack.” COYS!

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  6. Fair play to you putting together an interesting and reasonably uplifting piece in the circumstances, I’ve been unable to look at any football on tv or read anything football related since Monday night. All along I’ve had a gut freeing we’d win the league but this was all but put to bed on Monday. Actually, I admit to a feeling of deflation the moment Ashley Williams sportingly played the ball to Mahrez after 10 minutes to open the scoring on Sunday.
    No blame from me , the players have done almost everything asked all season and even on Monday, while few and far between, some of the moves were breathtakingly brilliant, especially those leading to the post hitting chances of Kane and Lamela.
    I think Myhill may have put in a similar performance at WHL a few years back for Hull on an equally frustrating day. The rotter!
    So it looks like my intuitive powers of a league win were false, and yet there is still that pinprick of light……….even though I’m now looking down a bit more than up the league.
    Thanks for cheering me up. Good job really as the book I’ve lost myself in since Monday is nearly finished now so I have to face up to reality!

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    • Pleased it was a therapeutic piece, danny 😉 My therapy was the dash back to Seven Sisters instead of waiting for a train, work off some of the frustration. We’ve not done that well versus WBA at home in recent years but I was surprised at how easily we succumbed to their unsophisticated tactical change. And I can’t hide a tinge of bitterness at the way Swansea played – teans have not raised their game against Leicester, odd how more long-standing reputations are fair game but apparently not that of the league champions elect.

      Cheers, Alan

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  7. Yet another excellent piece, Alan, which sums up everything I felt as we made our way quietly home on Monday. Whilst there is still a mathematical possibility, I’ll not concede the title but the reality is that our (slim) chance evaporated during the week of the West Ham and Arsenal games. We have been looking up for the last few months, trying to close the gap. I hope that we will not now start looking over our shoulder.

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    • Cheers Pete, as you know I’ve been saying for weeks that I just want Spurs to do their best, then see what happens. Hence Monday night’s disappointment and I reall yhope we can lift ourselves for the final three games.
      Regards, Alan

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  8. How can we be disappointed? Another point is in the bag and we consolidate our position against any blindside run by L’Arse and City. The top spot was always a mirage, a cup of possibilities that shimmered, just out of reach. I’ll take second place, thank you, and be delighted with that. Interesting that Leicester are able to hang onto slender leads while we always try for another goal. I felt that a stronger referee would have resisted the constant moaning by Albion players who realized early on that they could intimidate him. Next season will be different. We’ll have one or two more experienced midfielders practised in the dark arts of Big Cup action to take the load off Alli, Dembele or Eriksen, who will be glad of some protection. Alli’s punch was in frustration at the ‘professional fouls’, i.e. cynical cheating, by Albion and all three officials were increasingly selective as the match wore on. Never mind, we’re ticking over nicely and the game at Chelsea should be a cracker.

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    • The shimmering image in the distance may have been a mirage but we needed to go towards to it just to make sure. I will be overjoyed with second and as you say the potential of the side is enormous. I believe Levy will invest so we are stronger.

      Regards, Alan

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