Spurs Sweet Victory Up There With the Very Best

Last night my heart nearly burst out of my chest, I was so proud of my team. Spurs took on the champions-elect and outplayed them in every aspect of the game. Two headers from Dele Alli either side of half-time, put away with the power and finesse of a master amidst the frenzy of this derby . He’s a natural. He’s a hero. He’s twenty years old.

Last night my lungs emptied of breath, my throat turned red-raw in the chill night air. Get behind the team. Give everything. 12th man. Except Spurs, these Spurs, didn’t need a 12th man. 11 were too good for the blues.

And they needed no exhortation to give everything, because their motivation comes from deep inside. They want to be here, at our club, want to play for this manager because he looks after them, just as we look after them too. Dele scores and buries himself in the crowd. I get the safety issues, the booking, but he’ll be remembered almost as much for his reaction as the excellence of his goal. These days players bask in the adulation. They celebrate with choreographed in-jokes or luxuriate in the marvellousness of themselves. Giroud does a little dance instead of trying to win the game, because he’s just so wonderful so look at me. It’s the selfie generation oozing with narcissism. He could jump back and kiss himself.

But Dele’s first reaction is to join with the supporters and share the joy. We give to each other. Which comes, first, the fans lifting the team or the team lifting the fans? At Tottenham it’s seamless, one and the same. The players get it, get what it means to us. They are well-paid but not chasing the cash alone. It’s theirs, it’s permanent and it’s a force that could power them on to greater things, greater than even this performance, the finest of Pochettino’s era and arguably the best of the last 20 years.

Coming into this match on the back of a good run, Spurs had to lift their game to compete, or so the pre-match discussion would have it. But for this Spurs, competing isn’t good enough. They chewed up these platitudes and spat them in the faces of their opponents. They had to dominate, and they got at it from the kick-off. Our opponents had no room, no space to move or time to think. Tackling, intercepting, pressing, nipping at heels, Spurs were right at it.

Wait for it to ease off. This is Tottenham after all. Nah, not having it. It eased off only we dictated it would, in the second half when tactics changed and we cut out the high press in favour of denying space forty yards out. Disciplined, organised, alert. In control. We ran this game. We shaped the tempo, the tactics, the shape. The temperature the Chelsea kit was washed at, perhaps. That’s how much we determined the play and pattern of this victory.

This is the derby of bitterness and bile. The venom in the stands is matched apparently in the respective boardrooms. Spurs went about the act of revenging last season’s away draw with remarkable calm, their sense of purpose rising above the frenzy and foment. I can’t recall a time when they have remained so focussed when under so much pressure for 90 minutes. Nothing would get in the way of playing their very best football, all the the time. Nobody stepped out of line. There are no weak links.

It shows how far we have come in such a short period of time. At the Bridge, Tottenham disintegrated. (They still didn’t beat us, mind). After the dust settled and they washed the blood from the pitch, we said the real test was if Spurs could learn from this. Yesterday we were ice-cool in N17. Maybe though we’ll look back and see the recent away win at Southampton as significant. Poor in the first fifteen minutes, we lifted ourselves as a team and took back control even though we never played especially well.

Chelsea didn’t fancy the pressure as much. I could see it in their eyes in the second half. Hazard, world-class, missed a great early chance then drifted around in a fog of frustration rather than being consistently creative in the pursuit of a goal. Costa and Pedro had a public and protracted spat in the first half. Daniel Taylor, a fine football journalist, wrote in today’s Guardian that this showed how motivated they were. To me they looked like petulant schoolboys more concerned with being right than winning the match. I wouldn’t swap them for my Spurs.

Spurs were on top in a tight first half. Eriksen whizzed a shot past the post and Alderweireld, I think (I was there so haven’t seen a recording) failed to get his toe on the ball in the 6 yard box. Rose played a prominent part in our attacks and flew back like a man possessed to tackle and harry whenever the ball came near our box. Dembele bestrode the midfield like a conquering warrior. His run generated a stabbed pass to Kane rather than the usual blocked shot but it was a fraction heavy. More please.

Just before half-time, we drew breath. Time to be grateful for what we had achieved and go again after the break. Then Walker pushed up on the right. His way was blocked but it gave Eriksen more space because he had occupied a couple of defenders. Eriksen crossed. We don’t do crosses well, normally. But suddenly Dele is frozen in mid air. We’re right behind the arc of the header, curling away, the keeper’s arched back in despair, trying, flailing, failing to touch the ball. In a split second I can track the ball, see the keeper and begin to think, hang on, that’s going in, isn’t it. It’s in, it’s really in.

Dele left the field with 33,000 voices singing his name at the top of their voices. Listening to Talksport on the way home, John Cross from the Mirror praised him to the hilt, adding that Spurs could not hold onto him for long. Wherever in the world he goes, however long he plays, he won’t ever hear noise like that again, never be as close to the fans as in that instant, never feel as good about himself. He knows this is where he belongs, where his potential, destiny even, can be fulfilled. So why should he leave.

Chelsea began the second half brightly, the only period where they matched us. In the past, we would have folded, and have done so against lesser teams. This Spurs, Pochettino’s Spurs, kept playing. Walker again, taken out the game but touching the ball back to Eriksen. This cross was a few yards closer to the far post, Dele rose again to nod it across the keeper from a tough angle.

And that won the match. Lloris by my count had only a single save to make. Spurs meanwhile took both the chances created. Our defending was out of this world. Vertonghen excelled, Alderweireld was masterful, Rose and Walker as good at the back as they were going forward. All man of the match performances. Normally. Except this time Victor Wanyama’s second half was out of sight, the best of the best. He smoothly dropped into the back four or timed his intervention impeccably. All this on a booking too. Out of sight.

Last night Mauricio Pochettino received the ultimate accolade for any manager, the entire stadium (bar 3000 in the corner)  singing his name. More than tactics, it is having players with the wit and in-game intelligence to perform in the white-hot heat of battle. I’ve read three match reports this morning written by football journalists. Each complimented the formation,  each characterised it differently. 3-4-3, 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1, take your pick. These apparent contradictions in fact reveal the truth, that the key is flexibility, adjusting to the position of team-mates and opponents in respect of the ever-changing position of the ball. For Poch, three at the back is an attacking formation, designed to achieve his over-riding aim to get the ball and get it forward.

As Jimmy Hughes once said, it ain’t what you got, it’s how you use it. In the second half, Spurs fell back, the high press largely replaced by a shutting down of space 35 yards from our goal. The back three rippled with movement as they covered for each other, punctuated by bursts of power as they fought to be first to every ball. Vertonghen and Alderweireld in particular were strong. Both made a series of immaculate tackles in and around the box – the nerve that takes when some of the best dribblers in the league come at you. Wanyama slipped in between them to cover any remaining gaps, late on Walker and Dier chose not to dive in, because that was the right option at that moment. Decision-making in the heat of battle.

At the same time, the three can see what’s being played out in front of them. They’re happy to take advantage of any space. I’d have been happy if Toby and Dier had stayed at home when they both made winger-type runs in the last 10 minutes, but this is what they do regardless of the time on the clock. If the chance is there, take it. If we have them outnumbered at the back, push one more forward. That’s our philosophy, push on, always push on, the new Spurs Way, same as the old way.

Give everything, be contenders, take on all-comers and give it right good go. This is what I want from my team, it’s all I ask. If they give everything and don’t scale the heights, so be it. On this outstanding showing, Spurs don’t know just how far and how high their potential can take them. A thrilling, memorable, life-affirming night at the Lane that ranks with the best of them. I love this team. Bloody love them.

22 thoughts on “Spurs Sweet Victory Up There With the Very Best

  1. blockquote, div.yahoo_quoted { margin-left: 0 !important; border-left:1px #715FFA solid !important; padding-left:1ex !important; background-color:white !important; } Loved this Alan. I was there last night and felt the exact same.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

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  2. Thanks Alan, as insightful as ever; a piece that leaves the reader as breathless as when a spectator watching the game last night. I hold my hand up as one who was concerned about the possibility that Poch could play only one way. Now we have a veritable cornucopia (ooooh, I’m sounding like Leonard Sachs on The Good Old Days now) of systems to choose from! But as you say, it is the understanding and nous of how to play within any given system that counts and these players are not only talented and determined, they are intelligent, and increasingly game-clever, too.

    I saw Kane got a 5 in one of the broadsheets, and one thing I still think we can improve on is creating some decent chances for him on a more regular basis. I know it’s partly because of how Poch wants the apex of the attack to play, and certainly the newspaper in question underestimated or misunderstood his role and energetic leading of the line that occupied their defence and created space for Dele, and Eriksen too. I thought he did fine, though I cannot remember one chance that he had last night?

    Always a pleasure and a public and humanitarian service to beat new or old chelsea. Great support from the stands. The truth and value of your and Martin’s fine book writ large in Poch’s Spurs. Onwards and upwards.

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  3. Strange feeling not really feeling any nerves during the game. For years this was always the case but faith is finally manifesting itself in a team that plays as one with the club, management and supporters. It is quite clear that these boys have become men and fully intend to see the club through to the new stadium and beyond. What a great thought!

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  4. Outstanding piece about an outstanding performance in a memorable match.

    I agree with the bile and bitterness comment about Chelsea. As one of the older fans who doesn’t feel the need to ‘hate’ any club I remain mystified by how we have ended up as the main enemy of West Ham and Chelsea, as well as our North London intruders. Personally I find it much easier to respect the Gooners than the other two clubs. But accept it for what it is. We lost the ‘battle’ last season by losing our cool at the Bridge and allowing them back from 2-0. But the bigger picture is maybe we won the ‘War’ ? Chelsea learned we don’t back down like previous Spurs. We simply learned how to maintain our composure and hold onto 2-0. The game management under pressure was, for me, more impressive than anything else last night.

    MOTM ? That’s the other thing. How can you choose between 11 players (and subs) who ALL did their jobs magnificently ? Yes Alli scored and Eriksen created and Wanyama was a beast but this was a team performance where the unity and sense of purpose and individual focus on your job was the real contrast with Chelsea’s talented players.

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  5. You had the feeling that the whole footballing world was taking notice of what happened at the Lane last night. Glory can cover both success and failure, but yesterday it came home to us in all its triumph ..embodied in the form of young talented footballers, forged into a ‘team’ of a quiet Argentinian’s making. With echoes of the brave and glorious Ardiles/Villa days, Pochettino has created a new glory incarnate at the lane ..fit and determined young men who could have stepped out of the pages of the Knight myths. And yes ..we love them dearly. To a man you feel they will not let us, the club or themselves down. They may not always dominate, they may not always win, and they may individually screw up from time to time ..but you somehow know it’s just a blip and that the way this young team play will forever be remembered in the annals of Tottenham Hotspur history. So let’s enjoy these times and hope that a deserved trophy (for this team and manager, let alone the club and we fans) does come soon …FA Cup or Europa would be wonderful, if not the PL or (quell my beating heart) the CL itself (that European Cup we so deserved at the height of our glory in the early 60s). Either way, Spurs are allowing us to dream again!

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  6. Alan
    Thanks for the thoughtful and considered synopsis of one of the most satisfying Spurs performances of recent years. Satisfying – but probably not the most skillful or exciting – but still most memorable, due to the debunking of all the one-eyed pre-match media bias before kick off! Just wish I could have been there.

    I am now quietly certain that the developing confidence displayed last night will surely add to the team’s collective personality as well as its perspective and attitude. Strikes me certainly enough to boost them through every game (after Citeh, possibly, in a fortnight) to enjoy a goal-fest in every fixture up to and including the Arsenal at the end of April.

    Fifty-seven years a lilywhite and the future looks as bright again after a long, long wait.

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  7. Wanyama is stringing together some outstanding performances that make him Prem Player of the Year worthy. The old lags tell us that every game starts with having to fight for the right to play your stuff, and Wanyama is almost single-handedly doing that job. I expected a tougher contest at Watford but he was almost faultless. I counter one error and even then he went after his misplaced pass, bounced the player off the ball, and got it back. The dejected look on Conte’s face said it all – sometimes you just know that you’ve been bested all over the pitch and there’s nothing you can do about it. Life is good on Planet Poch at the moment.
    Good stuff, Alan. It’s not easy finding a way to articulate the emotions and sense of ‘being’ at these times but you manage it. Old man, very happy, etc.

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  8. An almost perfect performance and even better, in a perfect situation and against a perfect victim! Everything already said that can be said, my only tuppence worth being that , if all fit and available I’d have wanted Dier and Dembele to start in midfield, but after last night I have to say, on that form, Wanyama is undroppable and unstoppable! I didn’t think him bad, but I thought him guilty of slowing down play a little and also conceeding needless free kicks in dangerous areas , both things that detracted from his undoubted ability.
    Last night blew these thoughts out of the water, he was truly the giant among a team of giants. I’m delighted to be proven wrong.
    A terrific night and outcome, and pretty terrifically summed up by yourself, if you don’t mind me coming across as a bit of a brown noser!
    Cheers, DB

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  9. Still on a high 🙃
    Very proud of the boys. Bill Nicholson will be smiling down on us watching that performance .

    Great read and keep upset good work Alan 👍🏻🙌

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  10. What a great game by the mighty Spurs team. Confidence is oozing. Let’s win the league and the FA cup. Might as well win the Eoropa league as well.
    We are all on a buzz. Thanks Alan and continue your fine writings

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  11. Lovely write-up Al. Thank you.

    A thrilling evening at the Lane. On a night like that there is nowhere I’d rather be. We are going to miss that wonderful old stadium when it is gone however good the new place is going to be.

    What struck me was how nerveless the last 30 minutes were. Often with Spurs we’d win a game like that hanging on by our fingertips. This was a professional unit seeing out a 2-0 win against hated local rivals. Very impressive.

    Wanyama was my MOTM. He was a towering presence in midfield and seems to play best when on a yellow card. An excellent signing who will be a key player for us in the coming years. This game was won by us in the midfield battle.

    Dele is majestic. He may well leave but not yet. We’ll have to endure press rumours for as long as he plays for us. Ditto Kane. But this is the price to pay for having good players and doing well. As long as we hold onto Poch (he’s magic you know) I reckon the team will stay together.

    My favourite crowd moment was after the Chelsea fans had been hounding Danny Rose, we sang back ‘Would you let him on the train?’ Quite. Chelsea are a terrible club with terrible fans. Always have been, always will be.

    COYS

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  12. This game to me , was like Ricky Villa’s cup final goal ,Jimmy Greaves perfect hat trick and Glens last goal at W H Lane . You are simply the best , well done Spurs , I’m very proud of you .

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  13. Great piece highlighting what we all felt. I was buzzing for 48 hours and 50 years after I went to my first game. A week back I was critical of Wanyama but in this game he was massive. So great to be able to eat humble pie.

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  14. And let us not forget, this is the second time this season we had the nerve to shoot down high flying/undefeated log leaders by two goals to nil! NOBODY can match that!
    Proud Spur in Zim(babwe)!

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  15. I was on hols during this match. Hanging on every byte of scratchy net access. Scoreline and info updates came in dribs and drabs as I worked the area to get better phone reception.. It died before half time and didnt reconnect until we were 2-0 up.. WHAT! I launched a few other sites to confirm as I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not till I returned home and watched a recorded copy did it really start to sink in.Holiday memories, just like Chelsea, were outclassed and soon forgotten, replaced by N17 glory days.

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