I properly celebrated Eriksen’s winner for Spurs last night. Proper big celebration from deep down. Elation at a late winner with so much at stake in the league, a great goal in itself and a huge dose of relief thrown in. That’s a combustible mixture and I took off.
Each year the Championship play-off final is touted as the world’s most valuable match. We’ll only know come season’s end but the worth of that goal to Spurs could be incalculable. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of this, the best Spurs side in decades led by the finest manager since Bill Nicholson, could hinge on Champions League qualification.
The costs of the stadium are vast but manageable and budgeted for. The cost of rebuilding this team is a very different matter. Tottenham can’t continue to challenge for honours across the board with a squad with as many holes as the Huddersfield defence, on top of which key players like Eriksen and Alderweireld are tipped to leave. Put these two together, remove the incentive to play for a London team in the CL, and it’s football quicksand, irresistibly sucking the life out of the team. Make no mistake, this year the stakes are sky high. With rivals stuttering, how we needed that goal.
Plus, I want to show the league what my Spurs can achieve against the odds. This thing about not winning trophies pales into significance against the pride and joy I feel in this Spurs side. They are completely genuine. There are no shirkers, only triers. Play for the shirt and for the fans. Injuries, no transfers, low salary budget – show the league what we can do.
Play terrific football at times, and if football is about memorable moments, we’ve had a bucketful of those over the last four years. Here’s an honour – 1982 cup final winners. Remember that everyone? Only because the final and replay were two of the worst finals in living memory. Man City home and away. Remember that? You will until your dying day. So, I celebrated.
Eriksen was the key figure as we remorselessly tried to break Brighton’s resolve. He’s not been at his best this season. Much of what he tried last night did not come off, partly because his touch is not quite there, although that first half pass to put Moura in for a rare goalscoring opportunity was a gem, and partly because our opponents shut down his angles in and around the box. You can’t play into channels if there aren’t any. You can’t chip into the space between the back four and keeper if there isn’t any.
The point is, he kept trying something. In the second half, Pochettino pulled him deeper so he became our busy creator, always available, always on the move, always trying to make something happen. It’s the only way to get through a defensive barrier like Brighton’s. In the end, he succeeded.
So many Spurs sides I’ve seen over the years would have given a collective shrug after 80 minutes and rehearsed their excuses. This lot just keep on playing. It’s this attitude and application that I admire and value so much. They really kept at it in a controlled, purposeful manner. Perhaps it could and should have become more frenzied and gung ho, but lobbing crosses into the box, tempting though it is with 10 minutes to go, had only provided heading practice for Brighton’s centre halves until then, so no reason to think it would change. This approach implies self-belief without arrogance, a conviction that the right way of playing will bring rewards in the end.
Please support the bike ride to Amsterdam in aid of the fight against prostate cancer, as advertised at half-time last night. Two good friends of Tottenham On My Mind, Bruce Lee and Kevin Fitzgerald (talking to Paul Coyte), are taking part, so if you enjoy the blog, click on their name and bung them a few quid. Thank you. COYS!
pic by Justin Ford via Pete Haine
Danny Rose is fast becoming my favourite player. He put everything he had into last night’s match, a man of the match performance of total commitment. His first half tackle in the box to deny the Brighton 10 was expertly timed as he came from nowhere. He’s come back from the wilderness because he’s earned his manager’s respect. Now, with this and his stand against racism, he’s earned the respect of the crowd too.
Praise also for Alderweireld and Vertonghen. They kept pressing forward, seeing the gaps in front of them without over-committing and leaving Spurs exposed. This was a performance of sustained intelligence, giving team-mates the freedom to commit to attack and nearly match-winning as Toby’s shot came off the inside of the post and scudded along the goal-line.
Third in the league with Llorente and Janssen up front, Wanyama in midfield, a bench with a keeper, four defenders and an 18year old midfielder, yet somehow Poch fashioned something out of this misshapen squad. Janssen’s name wasn’t even in the programme, that’s how far away from the first team he is. Was.
Llorente was fairly static throughout. Perhaps the plan was to keep the two centre halves occupied while others moved into the space that, in theory, created. In practice, the Spaniard’s flicks were easily blocked. Moura pushed in tighter to him in the second half but got little from it, a tactic not helped by the full-backs’ poor crossing.
Dele had one effort cleared off the line, a sublime right-foot take down of a high ball then perfect balance onto the left for a shot. Otherwise, 80% second half possession brought few chances.
Brighton’s ultra-defensive tactics were deathly dull but I can’t blame them given their league position, although it’s not the best approach against Spurs because it allows our ball-playing back four to get forward without fear of punishment. I do blame the ref for taking no action against their time-wasting keeper. The ref added on one minute in the first half. Teams will keep doing it if refs let it go.
The main reason why the battle for third and fourth is to tight is the late goals conceded versus Southampton and Burnley. It appeared we were running out of steam, understandable perhaps with the injuries and a thin squad. Then we looked tired, now Spurs are refreshed and rejuvenated. I guess a champions league semi-final can do that. I think the new ground has a lot to do with it, not just the home support but the sense that the club is finally moving forward. Momentum is vital at this stage of the season, especially as our rivals are stuttering. Chelsea and United’s players have been criticised for not all giving everything and pulling together – not the case at the Lane thank you very much.