Spurs Collapse So We’re Rebuilding Again

It’s official – Tottenham have ruined football forever. Sunday’s unforgivable late collapse not only lost two valuable points in this open league, it blighted the memory of some uplifting attacking football (and in these troubled times I need uplifting) and will forever undermine supporters’ confidence whenever we are ahead.

Some of us are perpetually anxious, having lived through Man City at home, 3-0 at half time against 10 men, lost 4-3, and Man Utd, at home, 3-0 up, lose 5-3. When the angst becomes overbearing, I start watching the clock. I’ve even created a hierarchy of times to match anxiety levels, a sort of league table of misery.

35 minutes isn’t up to much (you can see on bad days I begin this early) whereas 40 is getting to half time- either ahead or don’t concede, my system works either way.

Second half timings are naturally of a different degree entirely. 55 minutes, not much of a moment but we’ve got through the first ten minutes since half time. I have mixed feelings about the hour mark, initial relief that a substantial portion of the match has elapsed giving way to concern that fate still has 30 whole minutes to do its worst. 65 means nothing to me, neither here nor there, we can rule that one out completely. 70 is important as the time to avoid dangerous complacency because we’ve gone a long way but there’s still 20 to go but 75, more promising and 80, well 80 is significant because the next ten go past at half the speed of the rest, so in my head that can be twenty.

When it gets really tense, when time passes but the clock doesn’t move, I ascribe undue significance to the numbers in between, 73 is better than 72, 77 a step forward from 75. Curiously, around the 80 mark rather than levels increasing, I’ve taken lately to finding myself on another mental plane, where destiny will decide the outcome so there’s no point in worrying. What will be will be. But even I, at 82, 3-0 up, WHam have missed their golden chance early in the second half and while playing well aren’t making any impression on Hugo’s goal, even I…

We were even deprived of one of the classic moments of football crowd behaviour, late equaliser greeted with shared silent disgust so dense you couldn’t cut it with a sharp knife, the banging of seats as we rise en masse and jostle around the exit in a desperate rush to get away from it all. Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t work in a football context.

Most football fans have a healthy fatalism about their team’s prospects. It’s something that binds us, an antidote to contemporary tiresome tribalism, but we don’t think it will really happen, because actually, it doesn’t, at least not very often. But now here’s proof. It’s real, the Spurs of hardnosed serial winner Mourinho really can concede 3 in the last 8 mins. We can never enjoy football again.

Despite the ruthless destruction of the Saints and Man United defence, that feeling that Spurs have a soft centre never quite goes away. We’ll use these goals to blame whoever we usually blame when things go wrong. My hobby horse is conceding needless free-kicks, I’m looking at you Lamela even though you weren’t in the ground, but Sissoko then Aurier stepped up. It’s infuriating to give teams a free hit because it undoes all the hard defensive work and reveals a weakness embedded deep in the mindset. They just couldn’t stop themselves.

Marginal gains is a popular theory in sports these days where in an intensely competitive field, small advantages add up and make all the difference to the outcome. Spurs demonstrated the art of marginal losses. Moura has added hard work to his game but doesn’t have a defender’s mindset so he’s back to help out but doesn’t read the run outside him, leading to the second goal. Sissoko and Aurier challenges a touch too heavy. Spurs adopt zonal for the free kick but don’t respond to WHam overloading the far post with big blokes.

Where were you when Bale trotted on to the pitch? Er, making my wife a cup of tea, actually. One for the treasure house of memories there. One of my favourite Spurs players, straight into my ‘best ever’ team of the fifty plus years I’ve been going, alongside the other greats. Let’s be patient as he gets back to fitness, his body is not as robust as it once was. A tantalising glimpse on Sunday, the way he shifted that ball from one foot to the other at top speed, only to shoot wide.  

As to where we go from here, Spurs remain one big contradiction. Capable of dazzling attacking brilliance to cower hapless defences, dominating the game then folding at the slightest pressure like a house of cards in the breeze.

These contradictions are a stage in normal team development. Progress is never a smooth and steady upward curve. Hindsight smooths out the undulations and bumps that are all too jarring when you’re in the moment and don’t know the outcome, where the curve ends. Since Mourinho took over, my main concern has been an apparent lack of direction. What he wants to achieve on the pitch wasn’t clear and, worse, the players did not seem to grasp what was required of them either. Transition from defence to attack was a particular problem.

The manager has sorted that now. Low block, everybody behind the ball, absorb the pressure and move it quickly when we get the ball. Players know what is expected of them. Kane, already a titan, is getting better. He drops deep, Son and Bergwijn or Moura, soon to be Bale, go wide. If the centre half comes out, they leave a gap, if they stay put then there’s space. Defences can’t cope and it brings the very best from Son and Harry, our two best players, and Bale will gorge himself on service like this. 

Moreover, Levy has supported his manager’s efforts to strengthen the squad. Doherty and Reguilon give us pace and width. While some talk of needing more creativity in midfield, this means we can build attacking play in a variety of ways. Plus, the rehabilitation of N’Dombele continues. His ability to hold the ball in central midfield and to pick out a player with precision can unlock any defence. We’re impatient because we can see his untold potential, and so forget he’s young, relatively inexperienced as a late developer and he’s getting accustomed to a different culture. He’s never going to be box-to-box, covering the runners then hurling himself forward, so we need to accommodate that in the system, and Hojbjerg is the foundation upon which we can build all this. Highly impressive, he is alert, strong, mobile and a leader. We even have another centre forward, who can either replace Harry or play with him.

Above all, this looks like Mourinho’s squad, where he can take ownership. He has the players he wants, I say that, what he really wants are the players Frank Lampard can play fantasy football with at the Bridge, but at least Levy has sprung for new blood. Hojbjerg, Reguilon and Doherty look to be good value. Rodon I don’t know, he’s one for the future and at that price we can’t go far wrong.

So with time, let’s see where this takes us. Meanwhile, Mourinho has three problems to address, as highlighted by the WHam feels-like-a-defeat-but-remember-we-didn’t-lose. The first one is pretty basic – are the defenders good enough? Sanchez had a wretched afternoon, although admittedly he was out of position on the left side. Hesitant throughout, WH targeted him from the beginning. Misjudgements are a fact of any defender’s life and can be forgiven but his effort to head that ball was indecisive. Toby has lost that spark that made him one of the very best, while Dier does not yet convince as the dominant centre back we need. Tanganga is highly promising but needs time and his injuries are a worry. On the right, Aurier does good work but a mistake is never far away. With the proviso that Dier has room to grow because he remains relatively inexperienced as a centre half, this area is a problem. Also, we still don’t seem to have a natural partner for Hojbjerg in front of the back four.

The second problem was identified post-match by Declan Rice who said he was surprised that Spurs stood off in the second half. The interviewer then asked Mourinho if this was deliberate, he replied, ‘not really’. He’s being disingenuous because we always play like this. There’s an inherent problem with it, which is that it cedes the initiative to the opposition. It allows them to come forward and gives hope that they can get back into the game. It leaves Spurs vulnerable, however well it is put into practice, to a deflection, worldie or mistake. We can’t sit back as we did on Sunday. You can be more aggressive in that formation, looking for the ball, rather than being passive.

Finally, the speed in which confidence evaporated after WHam’s first goal revealed collective mental weakness. After the game, when Mourinho had pulled himself together (he was visibly shocked at the final whistle), he said again that his team were not psychologically strong enough. True, the football world now knows it and every opponent between now and the end of the season is going to bust their gut for 90 minutes because of it.

It’s legitimate to ask again what he is going to do about it. Mourinho the winner has been here for almost a year. He wants us to be a bunch of c***s. Fine, and Lamela and Lo Celso have taken that on board, but mental strength is about clear thinking under pressure and building resilience, and the manager has to do something about this.

I thought he was getting somewhere, that the penalty shoot-out versus CFC and, lest we forget, scoring twice late on to beat Plovdiv marked the turning points that build confidence in adversity. Now it’s one step back again. In his first match as Spurs manager, Mourinho saw us go three up against Wham only to concede two late goals. 11 months later, it’s three late goals. Mourinho the motivator has to get through to them.

14 thoughts on “Spurs Collapse So We’re Rebuilding Again

  1. Absolutely nothing wrong with this team or performance that can’t be fixed by removing Aurier from the squad. He is almost negligently casual and opponents focus on this. The equalising goal is directly attributable to Aurier. The corner was repelled and Aurier got to the clearance first but he inexplicably dallied on the clearance and allowed a Wham player to smuggle in front of him, resulting in the inevitable needless nudge and free kick. He is a stone cold dud.

    It’s only October but I have the gut feeling that the four points given up to ‘Toon and now Wham will come back to haunt us when the European places are sorted out.

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    • To his credit he has improved this season but with Aurier, you’re never far away from an error. Reliability is an underrated quality in a defender. Confess he infuriates me. Stay well

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  2. What a shame we didn’t manage to sign Skriniar! We need a strong, dominant centre half in the Van Dijk mould to organise the defence and cope with set pieces.
    But if Kane’s shot against the post had gone in, if Bale hadn’t been barged as he shot, if Lanzini hadn’t scored a worldie he would have missed nine times out of 10, we could have won 5-2.
    I’m still not convinced by several of our players: Sissoko, Winks, Aurier. Both main goalkeepers are not getting any younger.
    And I am sick of hearing negativity about Harry Kane. If he doesn’t play well he’s past it, if he does he has to leave Spurs asap to taste success….
    I think we have to remember that we have seven new players to bed in with no real pre-season and must give Jose more time to settle his squad.
    We have also had a bit of bad luck: playing Everton on opening day before our side was settled, the Newcastle penalty, Lo Celso getting injured on international duty, the Lanzini worldie. We could easily be sitting second now. I’m confident we will get better and better.

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    • Thanks for this, I agree, signs of real improvement but Mourinho has a lot of work to do with a squad with several new men. Fine margins as you say but these margins make the difference. Also, we have a few players not in their right position or we don’t know their best position, Dele and Winks being the foremost talents. Ignore if possible the aggravating noise that surrounds Harry. One of our greatest ever players, criticism inspired by lack of knowledge or envy. I will try to follow my own advice! Stay well, Alan

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  3. Yes Alan. We should have been sitting pretty. If we hadn’t been robbed by the officials against Newcastle (yes I know we should have been more clinical in that game long before those last seconds of injury time, but even so) and if we hadn’t robbed ‘ourselves’ against Wham in the last 10 minutes, we would have been one point behind Everton in 2nd. Long way to go, so time to get things right, and hopefully even win games we don’t deserve to win, but that result stung even more than the Newcastle game ..and I’ve been stung many times by Spurs over the decades!
    The football gods were not with us, either.
    We shouldn’t have made the last 20 minutes a Bale procession, however, because that’s what if felt like.
    Bale entered, our old new messiah, effectively shoved everyone aside and said ‘don’t worry lads, I’ll make it 4-0 with my first kick for Spurs after seven years!’ The portents weren’t good. I’m optimistic he’ll get up to ‘good’ speed and form soon, but even when he had the chance to make it 4-2, he almost looked surprised to be in that position, hence the panic with his finish. Mourinho wasn’t to blame for the overall substitution choices, though he missed a trick. Ndombele, whom I’ve often wondered ‘what is his function in the team?’, is beginning to show the type of dominating display we paid hugely for. My affection for him is growing, but he needed to come off, as did Bergjwyn and Son, if only for rest/recovery for the next match. But perhaps then was the time to put on another defender like Doherty, not Moura, shore things up by pushing them up to the half way line, while only hitting on the occasional counter. That should have been the Mourinho way. If it had been Ardiles as manager, with his ‘famous five’ forward line, but little in way of defence, back in 1994/5, you could understand it, but you have to gauge how the other team is playing, and there were no Hammer heads down throughout that 2nd half! You could see West Ham were never giving up and continued to press us, so we really trod dangerously ‘dropping off’ as we did. We gave them hope because of that, and that hope, and lucky blast at the end. eventually did for us.
    A word about Alli. I believe he had a slight injury, but I really hope he gets incorporated into our best team formation again soon. He’s a genius of a footballer who is gifted at creating space for himself and others around him. Another John White (The Ghost), or another Martin Peters, endowed with a brilliant football brain. Either way, at his best (and he WAS world class at times) we all knew it was Alli, not Son, who Kane (and Eriksen) loved to work with, but both Kane and a much improved Son, along with Bale and others, CAN still rely on, and benefit from, Alli, once he gets his game aligned with the way Mourinho wants to play. Don’t give up on this still potentially world-class 24 year player!

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    • Good to hear from you CB, thanks as always. Dele needs to work with JM to reinvent himself. The Poch role is no longer available for him but he is talented enough to with the right guidance become a top class midfielder in a role deeper than Poch gave him. Stay well, Alan

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  4. Thanks again Alan, very interesting points although, for me, I think that Mourinho has to recognise that he replaced the wrong player with Winks. Ndombele should of stayed on and Sissoko gone off. He was on his last feet gave away the free kick then had no energy to jump giving the westham player a free header. Without that first goal we wouldn’t of lost ( 2 points).

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    • Hope you are well Mal. I think N’Domdele was always going to come off late in the game, agree re Sissoko. Although we clearly were prepared to counter attack (i.e. Moura and Bale) the tactics conceded the initiative too readily. Stay well, Alan

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  5. Was so despondent I really was down. Your analysis is fantastic as usual Alan and I predicted you would have to break your silence, which seems to come either from elation or intense football grief. But it helped !!

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    • Ha, I’m obviously so predictable! I write less mainly through time constraints but also because after 10 years I seem to be repeating myself! So there was something to say about this game that related to Spurs and JM in general as well as letting off steam! Stay well, Alan

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  6. Hi Alan & thanks again for such eloquent and instructive writing to this late in life Spurs supporter (only since 1992)! I also appreciate those who respond w further comment and insight. I learn a lot from you all. Sunday’s ending hurt. Still, I see growth, potential and Spurs are such a great distraction from the pandemic and our crazy election over here in the states. Hope USA politics & Spurs will change for the better in the next few weeks. COYS and best wishes to all!

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    • You’re very welcome Michael, lots of opinion in the comments section as you say. Hope you are staying well and that the US does the right thing. Alan

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  7. When Wham were retaking their freekick at the end, I just had a jolt of bad feeling, and said to myself “Damn they are gonna break my heart” it’s like I could feel it deep inside me, something was gonna happen… After the game I was not even mad, no feeling… maybe coz I saw it coming, and somehow galvanized myself… but damn what a nonsense.

    If you look at it, there just a sequence of events leading up to it all(okay maybe my own analysis and also a coping mechanism of why and how we lost the game)-I think someone lost their man for the first goal, then not really sure if we were 3-1 when Bale misses that chance, then an own goal from Sanchez*, then trying to pump it forward on a number of occasion at 3-2 when we should be holding on to the ball and play some possession, and then the needless foul(s)… just a mad sequence of events for me

    Take a sigh, take a deep breath, this is our team and we will continue to support, but my God if we ever have to go through that kind of calamity again…

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    • You’re right David, a sequence of events. Poor marking at a set piece after conceding a needless free kick. It’s all avoidable, that’s what gets me, but look out, it’s happened so often before and will do so again! Stay well, Alan

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