The Agony of Winning

A minute left and the ball drops from the sky. My eye has been drawn left following the ball as Middlesbrough mount a late, final attack. So it turns out has the Spurs back four. It falls to 14, unmarked, who appears suddenly it seems, but he’s been waiting there a for a moment or two, just as Boro had been waiting for a decent opportunity all game. In a flash it’s there, then gone. He slides it wide and remains full-length on the turf, prostrate in indignity. Walker and Dier trot upfield, trying to make out they had in all under control.

That it should come to this. We should have been celebrating another glorious victory for the twenty minutes just gone, three or four up, coasting, Hugo’s kit as neat and clean as when the kitman laid it out for him, no mud, no sweat, no shots on target. Instead it was eyes to the heavens and relieved grins. Why do we make it so hard? There are some bits of the old Tottenham I’m happy to leave behind.

You can’t escape the conclusion that with the old Tottenham, that volley would have been top corner, a MOTD goal of the month contender but even Pochettino is unable to alter the space time continuum. The plain fact is, Boro aren’t very good and that was the outcome. Spurs however were good, very very good for much of the first half and made bucketloads of chances in both halves, with only a Kane penalty to show for it. Boro brought everybody back but it made little difference. Time and again Spurs passed their way through the cover, all angles and movement rooted in the understanding that has grown up between these players over the past 18 months. It was lovely to watch. If they had scored, it would have been easier on the nerves.

The pressure’s on at the top of the table, or least for places two to six with Chelsea halfway home if not out of sight quite yet. Get used to it – it won’t change until the season ends and Spurs will be in the mix as the denouement unfolds. At Sunderland in midweek we quickly ran out of ideas, a missed opportunity to ram home our superiority, although given the other results a point was satisfactory. On Saturday evening we showed we had learned from that. Instead of pushing players up and leaving them there, the midfield rocked back and forth, sometimes right up to assist Kane while others dropped deeper. Alli roamed wild and free in front of the back four. They had no idea where he was at any given time. Around him someone was moving past if he dropped, Eriksen, Walker, Davies sometimes and Son, running from deep and hard to pick up.

Wide left, Son had a fine game and a frustrating game all at the same time. Hugging the touchline, he decisively won his battle with right back Chambers, providing a stream of crosses. This was old style wingplay, winger versus full-back, one on one. A duel rarely seen since the days of Jones, Robertson and Neighbour, flying down the touchline, pace and dexterity to tempt the defender into an error. Boro seemed content to let them get on with it because nobody moved over to cover. They have more faith in Chambers than I have, or perhaps they just enjoyed the contest. Chambers didn’t. If Rose had been playing too, he’d have spent this week in a darkened room, softly weeping.

If only Son and his team-mates knew where the final ball was going to end up. One first time move swept the ball 60 yards in three passes and Kane should have put away Son’s inch-perfect first time cross. Another from a similar spot nearly broke the sound barrier as it hurtled into the clouds. This is the way he was, is and always will be, so get used to it. Here he brought far more to the game than he wasted, above all winning a penalty when he cut inside and was taken down, a clear foul although he made sure to press every possible square centimetre if flesh against the leg of the defender.

This would have been another great performance but for overplaying in and around their box, especially on the break in the second half where Spurs contrived to miss three straightforward opportunities. The final ball was lacking, including from Kane a couple of times. However, keep playing like this and they will overcome the packed defences that even now are being drilled to ruthlessness in our opponents’ training pitches.

The run-in starts here. We have to go a long way from home because the leading pack are all around us. It will be nightmarishly tense so prepare yourself. Tense because we deserve to be up there, tense because we know we can beat anyone in this league, fraught because the margins will be slight come May. I gave Wycombe a miss. Unusual for me and I’ve had a lot on my mind hence the irregular blogs, but I needed a break. Stupid? Oh yes. Making too much of it? No sir. This is what this bloody, glorious, infuriating, joybringer of a club does to me, so roll with it and I’m back for the ride.

Keep this up and we will have the stamina to make a fight of it, and that’s all I ask. Our first eleven can take on anyone. It is therefore a crying shame that the outstanding Vertonghen and Rose are injured. For the latter, it was inevitable, such is the power that he puts into each and every step. What a player Rose has become.

Pochettino has assembled cover in every position. It is therefore a worry to see him apparently lose confidence in at least three of those men, Davies, Wimmer and Sissoko. Davies had a decent match on Saturday, released from defensive duties. He loses the ball through uncertainty though, but then again comparisons with Rose are unfair in the snese that Danny is the best in the league. Wimmer can’t repeat his form of last season, while Sissoke appears indifferent to the chance of playing in a top four side, preferring to wait until all the other players slow down to play at his pace. You can’t even say he keeps the bench warm these days, what with heated seats. He has real talent with pace and weight of pass if he chooses to show it. Take your chance mon ami.

To sustain us we have the midfield might of Dembele and Wanyama. From my seat in the Shelf you can feel the power they exude as they rule the centre of the field. I used to envy our opponents who had this aura. Keane, Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard, not so much playing as owning their territory. Now we have these two and its supporters of rival clubs who are envious.

12 thoughts on “The Agony of Winning

  1. Nice piece Alan I know what you mean when you say you needed a bit of recovery time that’s exactly how I feel at times Tottenham sap my energy and emotions always have probably always will , I kick every ball head every cross and crunch into tackles all in my head of course , I should know better really . Up the Spurs 👍

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  2. Good analysis Al. Sorry to hear you have stuff on your mind. I find an afternoon at the Lane helps blow out the cobwebs.

    Our defence is exceptional at full strength. Thought we wobbled a bit there. On saturday. Davies is a decent player who seems too anxious to play at full throttle. I like him tho and hope he stays and gains confidence.

    Games against teams like Boro are always a challenge. It feels like if we aren’t 3 up in 15 minutes the tension grows in the stands and this transmits to the players.

    On Saturday we lacked ruthlessness and clinical finishing up front. Sometimes we are too nice. Our team needs to develop a nastiness the best players and teams have. Nothing excessive but a sheer determination to get the bloody ball and put it in the damn net. Once saw Eiður Guðjohnsen score one like this for us and it was great to watch.

    Our first XI is (I think) the best team in the league. We need to get some real quality behind them pushing for first team places to cover for injuries and bite the heels of the guys playing.

    On a side note I am getting heartily sick of TV and radio pundits ignoring the team in 2nd place (us). Discussion flows naturally from Chelse to Arse*al then Liverpool and the Manchesters. Hardly a mention of us. And they wonder why viewing figures are in free fall. Football punditry is worse than ever, with some honourable exceptions.

    COYS

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  3. Russ puts his finger on it: we have a first rate team, but second rate subs bench, and that may come to bite us in the run in. Two games without a goal from open play despite 490 attempts on goal. Against Sunderland the game cried out for N’Koudou to bring extra width and pace but he’s injured I believe and we don’t have any extra attacking threat to call on. Without Lamela to moan about, my attention turns to Eriksen, who flatters to deceive. Apparently he’s among the first names on the team sheet but he should have made way after two bloodless performances. With Eriksen you find out early on if he’s going to make a difference but these past two games he’s been indecisive and slow to make any sort of telling pass, be they misplaced or ineffective. More often than not, both. I’d whip him off sooner rather than later and let the excellent Winks have a better run. Winks is just as good as Eriksen in connecting the different moving parts and he also isn’t afraid to get stuck in, or make decisions more quickly. Too often pacey defensive approach play withers on the vine, or at the feet and mind of Eriksen. We need more threat and attempts on goal from the edge of the opposing box, rather than the dicking about we have at the moment, to use a common footballing term. We have plenty of ideas and invention in all the other parts of the field, instead of the part where it matters. (I haven’t forgotten Alli’s feed to Harry the other week).
    Alan, good to hear Jimmy Neighbour’s name – that brought back a few memories. Don’t forget Waddle and Ginola!

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    • Dave, you didn’t see Eriksen’s superb pass through a handful of defenders to Dele who just hit the side netting? Sure, Poch and us all hope he can become the best in PL, and up his set piece efficiency, but he’s on his way there. He was second in assists last time I looked. And since he came into PL, he was second only to Hazard in total goals and assists. We’re only going to get better. COYS!

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      • Yes, yes, yes, Ash and Anon, I’m not suggesting that Eriksen is not worth his place, just that he’s been a bit ‘off’ recently and could be contributing more to the effort. He drifts in and out of games too frequently for my liking and needs to ‘own’ games more, bearing in mind his talent. The tricks and flicks are great but, over 90 minutes? He tends to shift responsibility to others around the box and with those two great feet should score more goals. I share your opinion of him but think he has reached the point where product should match potential, consistently. Anfield’s the place to do it!

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  4. So hard to watch us play brilliantly, yet become so frustratingly awkward in the final third.
    To still win, however, when we’ve lost plenty of games that were lilywhite dominated, is a comfort, and a welcome change from past tendencies. .
    I look at our front four (or so) and I know they’re capable of banging in goals from all angles.
    Almost as good as City’s (and Chelsea’s) but we have better balance. We have the best defense in the PL but we rarely look like we’re hanging in to defend …that’s how good we are. Oh, but we so need to be more clinical! How many times have we said that, and heard that too from Poch. Once we become MORE clinical, keeping fingers crossed on injuries/suspensions, then everyone needs to watch out for the new mighty Tottenham Hotspur ..because we will have a side then that matches the best seen at the Lane (last season in our wonderful old ground, that would be the true icing on the cake). And I don’t mean in terms of individuals such as Mackay, Blanchflower, Greaves, Gazza, Ardiles, Hoddle and Ginola etc., but in terms of a TEAM..more like the ’50/51 side.
    Changing track, Alan …Liverpool next Saturday!
    Forget their form. They will be massively up for this game. So the point is we MUST show that we want it as much, if not more, than they do. I know the atmosphere will be intimidating, and whenever we play Liverpool, we’re taking on history itself, with not a great series of results against them, but if we WANT it as much as they do, then (all things being equal) we should get a damn good result (even with Rose and Verts missing). The balance in our team, currently, is far better than it is in theirs ..so let’s play with determination, and press hard throughout, have no fear, keep our discipline and shape, be patient …and I expect many chances to come our way! But if we allow them to gain the upper hand from the ‘off’ then ..we’ll lose. Like a cornered and partly injured tiger they’ll attack us vehemently. We have to deal with it and push them back, slowly gaining ground and wearing them down, so we can exploit the spaces they’ll no doubt leave.

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    • I agree, Mr. Anonymous, Christian does make our team tick and his contributions in goals and assists since he came into our team rank up there in the top-3 overall (including Hazard and Ozil). Some of us, unfortunately, get an idea about a player and then stay fixated on it, reality be damned! COYMFS!

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  5. I was only explaining to my non Spurs supporting work colleagues after the Boro game how a couple of years ago that last gasp effort from them would have been ruthlessly smashed into the top corner to leave us all heartbroken! You explained it so well, great article! Anybody else believe that our curse has been broken somehow?

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  6. Small point but important. When that late ‘boro effort missed, Eric didn’t just turn and trot up field, he turned, noted that Walker was still trotting back from attack and gave him a mouthful for being slow. On such matters is our general solidity based. This time, however, it could have been different!

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  7. Thanks Alan,

    I too thought Davies did fine; there was a short period in the second half when his kicking up the line was hurried and poor otherwise i thought he came in seamlessly. Mind, he;ll need some help with mane at the weekend.

    It may be because i love him so, but I thought the cross for Kane was just a little high, but he’ll have been disappointed not to have scored, which is a better barometer than me.

    I thoroughly enjoyed that first half, made all the better, like vs WBA, as we carved open sides looking simply to defend.

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  8. That missed chance at the end of the game was just that, a missed chance, by suggesting in days past it would have been a top corner goal surprises me, am quite sure we have escaped worse before… What happened to the winning ugly mentality, this was it right here, they were solid, us missing chances, playing well. Its not a disaster yet, it was frustrating at times, when it wasn’t all clicking, then the penalty goal bringing a sigh of relief… and of course their late chance..

    But on the flipside it’s understandable, we want the spurs of last season, minus the four last games, we want spurs that outclassed west Brom, out tacticed Chelsea, the spurs that put City to the sword…

    But on we march, dare I say,, watch out Liverpool.

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