Spurs Fail to Learn Their Lesson

The home game that’s away. The club that goes unbeaten for an entire season then demolishes the ground. This doesn’t feel right.

The Bakerloo line to Wembley Central is easy enough. Too easy. There’s nobody on the train, the dingiest of lines with old-fashioned carriages and 40-watt bulbs. Never mind saving energy, it’s sapping mine. The journey is part of the match for fans. The buzz, the chatter, rubbing shoulders with strangers who are friends because they wear navy blue and white. Smelling the booze, the sweat, the fags, all set the scene, whet the appetite. This is merely another tube, destination suburbia, our companions mostly central London workers with tired eyes going home after the early shift. Thank goodness for the bloke in the t-shirt, a picture of Bob Marley in Spurs gear, just about the sole reminder that Spurs are at home today.

Then burst into daylight and the first sight of the stadium. Both lift the spirits. The Lilywhites are here and so are we. Except it feels like a cup semi-final. 19 semi-finals this year, then. The Trust twitter feed has been fun this week with a stream of reminders to fellow supporters, at first plaintive then increasingly desperate, that this is a Spurs home game and there are no designated pubs for home and away support, so I’m not the only one.

It’s better once we’re in. Seeing the same faces and greeting them like lost long relatives gives a sense of stability and continuity. I’ve seen them every fortnight for the last 16 years, don’t know the names of most of them, but they remain part of my life. Spoke to Karen, I now know her name to be Karen, like old friends we are. Never said a word to her until now.

We have been lucky enough to move with the people we have always sat with, except oddly the seat allocation has been reversed, so the people who were on my left on the Shelf are now on my right. This is surprisingly disorienting. Football support is about familiarity, routines, they’re comfortable, we wear them like a favourite old overcoat to feel snug and protect us against the intrusions of the outside world. That’s why we go to football. Isn’t it?

Kick-off is imminent. A thought shared. There are a touch off 70,000 Spurs fans here, and we can make a hell of a noise if we put our mind to it. Not like a semi-final at all. And one thing above all else. Results, players, managers, none mean as much as being there. When I look around just before kick-off, let the atmosphere wash over me, and think there’s somewhere else in the world I would rather be, then that’s the time to say goodbye. Not yet. Not for a long time. Home is where the Hotspur play.

In the end, it felt more like a home game that I expected. The noise when it came was mighty, deafening when we scored, but this is new to all of us and there were flatspots too. The fans sort things out for ourselves and that takes time. Everyone has been moved around, from my seat on the halfway line the efforts of those at our end were much appreciated and loud and clear. The Park Lane/Shelfside thing, made me feel at home.

So the amplified drum beat – that actually happened, right? Not a figment of the dark recesses of my imagination, a fever-ridden nightmare? The Chels fans chanted WTF was that and they were right. Nobody joined in and mercifully it was substituted at half-time, hopefully never to be heard again.

Football clubs still do not get supporters. The history of fans – any club, from parkland to the Noucamp – is we do want we want. We choose when to sing and what to sing. The decision of someone at Spurs that playing a drumbeat over the tannoy is going to energise the atmosphere is on one level laughable, on another a measure of the disturbing lack of understanding that exists from clubs in respect of their supporters. They did not consult the Supporters Trust – why ask the fans what they want. It’s that simple, yet the club doesn’t get it. Another desperate moment in the undistinguished relationship between club and fans in this crucial season away from home and when we all feel discomfited.

To fulfil their true potential, this season Spurs must accomplish consistently two things that in the past have eluded us, namely impose themselves on teams and cut out the mistakes. Everything else flows from there. Take chances of course, but first make the chances. The way we’re playing, chances will always come. Stay strong in those periods, and there will always be periods, when the other team are on top.

Matches against Ch**sea, the most bitter of our rivals, the nasty game, the bring-them-on game, these games have become the benchmark of how close we are to satisfying that potential. At home, at White Hart Lane that is, we learned the knack. Two seasons ago the mistakes came only after we’d scored five glorious goals. Last season in a skintight match we scored twice from as many chances in the whole match but took it to them from the start and they was no comeback in their hearts.

Last season’s semi-final showed how much we still have to learn. Justified expectation evaporated with a free-kick conceded by Alderweireld’s uncharacteristically poor judgement under pressure and a free-kick sliced into the top corner. Uphill from 6 minutes, our efforts to chase the game were in vain and I’ve drawing a veil round that penalty and Son’s excuse for a tackle.

Yesterday we were imposing for long periods but the mistakes did for us. One out of two is progress but not enough. The result was defeat, and defeat in the worst possible way. It’s one thing being beaten, but losing after being the better team, after hopes raised by a late equaliser then skewered by an even later winner, that’s bad. I still feel the pain.

The game took a while to get going then Spurs were the team who rose above the midfield morass that this match had become. But don’t make mistakes. Another free-kick conceded without undue pressure on the defence, superbly converted by Alonso. And now we’re running uphill.

To their great credit, Spurs lifted themselves and played extremely well either side of half-time. Kane it was who lead the charge, singlehandedly taking on the defence, shooting, lay-offs, dribbles, sometimes delicate, at other times stumbling forward under the weight of the tackles but always forward. He narrowly missed then hit the post. These are trademark moves from him and we expect these cross-shots to go in. Perhaps he’s falling away ever so slightly on contact with the ball.

We needed to put pressure on their reorganised defence. Despite the lack of space – everybody back behind the ball – we managed to find the gaps between their three centre backs to make the opportunities. Dembele charging forward, Eriksen looking to prise open a gap, Dele not part of the action. All the action was at the Blues’ end.

Gradually however our opponents stifled our efforts. A goal up, they could fall back to soak up the pressure. Effectively playing five at the back, those channels dried up. They forced us into the middle, broke up the attacks. We had all the ball but insufficient nouse. The selection of two DMs, Dier and Wanyama, was intended to create a solid platform against the champions. By this point, it left us short of creativity and options, compounded by Wanyama giving the ball away repeatedly.

Frankly we were getting nowhere, then a stroke of luck. Batshuayi on as sub had clearly not got his bearings. His near-post header was firm, decisive and perfectly executed, except into his own net. For all the world he looks as if he genuinely lost his head for a moment and though he was scoring for his team not against them, such was the intent behind the header.

A draw was the least we deserved. Then mistake upon mistake. Wanyama brought the ball out of defence but before we could draw breath after a sigh of relief, he gave it away. Alonso, dashing forward, shot through Lloris at his near post. If he had stood still it would have hit his knee, leg, torso, any part of his body would do. Instead, Hugo attempted to plunge his right hand downwards to push it away and obligingly moved his leg out of the way.

Positives and problems. Those spells either side of half-time showed how we can dominate matches and, without being at our most fluent, create chances against an 11-man defence intent on re-introducing the tackle from behind, without being at our most fluent. Kane was an outstanding leader.

Wanyama’s lack of a full pre-season became glaringly obvious as the game went on. Dier had little influence alongside him. And how we missed Walker and Rose. The merits of Trippier and Davies are immaterial – they’re not as good as Walker and Rose. The former should not have been sold, the latter needs to be brought back into the team as soon as he is fit, regardless of his rubbish interviews. Kyle and Danny offered stamina and pace as well as width, and how we need all three of those qualities when we were chasing the game in the second half. Without them, Spurs are far less potent an attacking force, and I worry about this in games to come. Dembele and Dele spent periods going out wide when like paperclips to magnets they are drawn to central areas, unbalancing the side and wasting their prodigious talents.

Hoodoo? No such thing. Play better is all. It will be hard. Home advantage has not disappeared but has been diminished and teams will lift their game because it’s Wembley.

8 thoughts on “Spurs Fail to Learn Their Lesson

  1. Although true that we made mistakes it’s nonsense that that’s why we lost.

    You can’t just cut out mistakes if you could then no team would ever concede a goal.

    We lose to Chelsea because we are trying to play when we make mistakes and so can be exposed. When Chelsea make mistakes there’s 8 players behind the ball because Conte plays defensive counter attacking football. Plus they’re expert at ruining a game have been since Mourinho first came.

    The combination of defensive football and doped wages mean it’s not ending anytime soon either, unless you want us to play like them.

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  2. Good write up as always. It was that drum that annoyed me the most about yesterday. Were they going to have an organ going ‘da-da-da-da-dah; charge!’ every time we got a corner or maybe we could have had a 70 min stretch? It was embarrassing. If they want a drum, get the guy back from the Shelf!

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  3. I was/am disappointed at the result but not distraught at our manner of losing – as long as we learn how to manage games. We were the better team in most positions and deserved better. It was one of those games where we needed to accept whatever crumbs fell our way and not complain if we don’t get the full cake. But when we should have accepted a point and built on the better performance we went gonzo for the winner and all the following mistakes were amplified. For much of the match we appeared to be playing three at the back, but to discard the system that served us so well last season backfired and I wish we’d revert to the back four which gives more space to Alli and Eriksen who seemed to crowd each other at critical times. Hopefully Poch/Levy will have witnessed a powerful case to strengthen the team with proven quality instead of teenage potential. Just give us one more clinical striker to share the load with Harry and we’d be happy, for Gawd’s sake. But we are desperate for experienced cover. Our best players will play something like 35 games against the best of the Prem and in Europe and internationals and need recovery time after the travel and intensity of these matches. If we can draft in the likes of a Barkley or a Mahrez to join Sanchez then we can maintain the quality needed to maintain our challenge in the remainder of the matches.

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  4. Still a lot of positives, Alan, but you are right about Trippier and Davies. Fine full backs though they are (and occasionally better than Rose and Walker in certain aspects), top wing backs they’re not ..so an alternative system that destroyed teams last season has been diminished. A powerful 3-5-2 with two excellent pacy England wide men in Walker and Rose. Poch is going to have to change his thinking again on tactics too, because he’s been out-thought twice at Wembley by Conte in just a few short months. Sure we were unlucky, but it’s getting to the point where we can’t use Chelsea as a hoodoo team excuse. And as for Wanyama ..I was shocked how poor he was throughout. Why on earth Poch brought Dier off instead beggars belief. Although Dier wasn’t exactly influential, he might have been if he’d been allowed to operate in his best position in that final 25 minutes. Or perhaps we should have simply started 4-4-1-1 with Wanyama on the bench for this one! Wanyama will return and surely be magnificent in many games that will suit his presence, but in the eternal absence of that old chestnut (a real midfield general dictating the play around him), Dier is surely our man in games like this at Wembley (ie at home). And we risk losing Dier too if we don’t play to the strengths that Poch discovered in him!
    I thought Kane and Dembele were brilliant yesterday, and I truly felt for them (proud of their efforts and skill too) but the energy and strength they used in holding the ball up and/or running with it while surrounded by blue shirts, should have been spread throughout our whole team. Eriksen was almost as good as they, but Alli (apart from a few cameos) was off his game as were a few others. Harry needed help up front but rarely got it, creating his own few chances. And yet! And yet we still kept Chelsea in their own half for most of the game ..and we WERE unlucky not to get a point. But remember this was our first team (minus Rose possibly) and theirs was, well, a Conte concoction. That does not auger well for the Harry statement we have the best first team in the PL, when a cobbled together Chelsea side turns us over ..whether at Wembley or anywhere else. But again no reason to despair. Poch will restore order and find a way to bring out the best of his players once again ..not always by playing opponents off the pitch, but by outsmarting them too. We have to get used to countering teams that come to us with well thought out game plans. Shame we didn’t learn from the Chelsea FA Cup encounter in April/May ..but at least we know just how much our big rivals respect us.

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  5. You’re right, Al. Only Spurs could build a fortress then knock it down.

    The trip to Wembley and then home again was fine and the entry to the stadium was fast and efficient. I was half-expecting to not be able to get in, miss the kick-off or to have been allocated the wrong seat. There is much to criticise the club for at the moment, but they have got some important things right. Shifting us all over there seems to have be managed with the least amount of hassle possible. We also found the seating reversed, oddly, though we quickly put that right. Football fans need their routines and I know who should be sitting next to me. Good seats, too on the halfway line opposite the managers just at the back of the lower tier. I was surprised by the amount of legroom and having spent years with my knees by my ears this is a blessed relief. I’m sure my neighbours on either side are also relieved to not be literally shoulder-to-shoulder.

    The atmosphere was better than I thought it would be, especially when the Park Lane/Shelf Side chant took off. Glad to hear the Paxton responding to the request for a song from them too. The drum was an embarrassment. That has to stop. No offence meant to the guy who was doing it but it was terrible, a manufactured and artificial attempt to get things going. Leave it to us fans we know what we’re doing. It was reassuring to hear the old names in the call and response – it shows that whatever they call the new stadium it’ll always be White Hart Lane in some shape or form.

    The result was bloody frustrating but not a disaster. The better journalists and pundits are avoiding talk of Wembley hoodoos. On the whole we played very well and if we play like that every week we’ll win most of our games and finish in the top 4. Most teams won’t be able to cope with the sustained pressure we inflicted on Chelsea, the size of the pitch and the atmosphere generated by 70,000 Spurs fans. But this week we faced a ruthless and clinical Chelsea side. They took their chances; we didn’t take ours. In any other game from September onwards, at least two of Harry’s shots go in. He can’t buy a goal in August can he?

    We desperately miss Rose and Walker. Dier had an off game. He played like he was waiting to sign the contract at Manchester United. I like him enormously, as a player and a personality, but he needs some competition for a place in the team. If we sign Sanchez from Ajax then hopefully it’ll be a straight fight between him and Wanyama for the DM role. Both will benefit from that. Poor Victor. So immense last season and so impressive. He struggled against Chelsea being clearly unable to play the full 90 minutes. If only Poch had subbed him for Winksy in the last 10/15 minutes it’d be a different story.

    Dembele, Kane & Eriksen were excellent. Whenever Harry got the ball three Chelsea players were on him, which is a great compliment. Trippier and Davis were creditable but, as you say Al, they aren’t Rose and Walker. Not sure they ever will be.

    We need to talk about Hugo. Some idiots on social media and radio phone-in programmes are suggesting he isn’t good enough and we should sell him. Having this view disqualifies you from the conversation in my opinion. He is a world-class keeper and we will not be able to improve on him. Nor should we try. He has stuck with us in spite of the nonsense he has had to put up with over the years. He has earned the right to make mistakes and still be loved by the fans. When a player like Hugo makes a mistake we should chant his name louder not boo him. That’s disgraceful.

    Burnley next. What could possible go wrong?

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  6. Thanks Alan,
    As a once upon a time historian, I know that history is written by the victors (and that what we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history – see last season’t SF). For all the hindsight and retrospective plaudits for Conte’s tactics, and doubts about Poch’s we ran them over for 25-30 mins either side of HT and were the most progressive and likely to score throughout, after the first 10 mins. Courtois, somewhat fortuitously, got just enough on Kane’s shot and Hugo didn’t on Alonso’s, for example. A draw was the very least our play warranted. We created a fair few chances too, more than in the 2-0 win at The Lane last season I shouldn’t wonder, but a ricochet here or there changes everything. We didn’t make any errors defensively then, I know.

    I would also take issue with the seriously weakened Chelsea narrative. Only Hazard was a big miss, as was Rose for us. Fabregas over Luiz or Bakayoko would have been a boon for us imo. They didn’t need 25 players for a side on the day.

    Any given result conditions the analysis of a match; I am as guilty as any here, of course, but we need to take a much longer view if poss. Otherwise one lapse conditions a team’s worth, which is silly. We still look a very good side able to go toe to toe with anyone that has its own problems at present with squad depth and injuries/not fully fit players. I was actually buoyed by Sunday’s performance given the issues we have and quality of opposition. It didn’t go our way, but will 9 times out of 10.

    UTS

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  7. Alan: as ever, your thoughts on the proceedings that you witnessed first-hand against my own conclusions gained from a dodgy online stream are invaluable. (If it’s any consolation, on NBCSports, I never even heard the drum – and that’s the one incessant row that normally gets right up my nose!).

    To lose to Chelsea in our first “home” league game at Wembley was disappointing but – substantively – not tragic. All this mystic hoodoo/bogey chat is radio-static interference. For years at the Lane we played on one of the smaller PL pitches while away games were on those at or approaching Wembley dimensions. The outcome…? A record that in recent years was no materially worse away from N17 than on home turf. And if anything getting accustomed to exploiting a larger playing surface 38-ish games in a season is not going to be a negative given the larger NWHL pitch. Although perhaps a more closely mown – since its rebuild, Wembley always makes me think of Aintree rather than Anfield.

    Like a lot of people, I drew encouragement on Sunday from our frequent almost intuitive (possibly instinctive?) rapid and accurate passing as a plus and indicates that bonding and understanding are advanced and will only develop with practice.
    I have no real feel for what’s essentially needed to move on and make 2017-18 as exciting and successful as the past two years. Maybe that’s why I didn’t even get an interview and Poch walked into the job!!

    There may be
    • obstacles (long-term injuries to key players),
    • mysteries (Sissoko, anyone?) and
    • apparent transfer insouciance,
    I think we should all remain confident that this time next year we’ll have a firm foundation to build on between the touchlines just east of Tottenham High Road.

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  8. Fair play for such a decent piece after such a cruel loss.
    Quite honestly at 87 minutes I was disappointed to be only getting a point – so one minute later I was devastated to give away such a dreadful goal which signalled another loss to them, of all teams.
    Played well enough I thought but didn’t land enough punches to put them out. Hopefully this week we can get back on track, the team can nail the tiresome hoodoo talk, and Harry can put the even more tiresome talk about August to bed.
    A bright note to finish – Wembley looked, and sounded, fantastic as the teams emerged.
    Thanks
    DB

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