The Gloom Gathers at the Lane

Last season’s home north London derby was a triumph, and not just because of the 3-0 scoreline. Driven on by relentless fervour from the stands, Spurs matched the supporters’ passion to blow our rivals away. Under pressure, we flourished as they wilted before our eyes, a spirit and confidence we then took into the next couple of games, thumping wins, exuberant football and a place in the Champions League. It was a corner turned: our manager’s ferocious will to win was now part of the team’s collective psyche too. 

How times have changed. In the space of not more than 25 league games, the red side of north London have become utterly dominant. In the first half, yesterday, Spurs were pitiful. It was nothing short of humiliating. Harsh words but that’s what it was, and I say this advisedly as a fan whose loyalty over 55 years remains cast iron and who has seen Spurs lose 5-0 at the Lane and was there as they sealed two league titles. 

Under pressure, we produced gutless, banal and inept football, riddled with unforced errors. For extended periods, we were barely able to get the ball into our opponents’ half, let alone mount a challenge on goal. At times, it reminded me of a cup game between an elite team and a League 2 side, aimless long balls that were easily and gratefully gobbled up by quick defenders, and that may be an insult to League 2 sides. I’d say we were fighting for the scraps of second balls, except we weren’t fighting. 

The foundation of their win was pressure, the very quality we learned to overcome not so long ago. We simply could not play out of their press. Time and again, they won the ball through our errors.  

Hugo, there was a time when I admired you with warmth and affection, one of ours. And no doubt that’s how I’ll feel when you return in 5 years, rounded out a little but looking well, to have a cosy pitchside chat with Coytey. Right now, I think of you and slump in my seat. Say nothing, that doesn’t help the team and that’s what matters most, but his jitters vibrate through the whole side. Clearances put teammates in trouble and the ball’s coming back our way again. 

The goal from one such moment, keeper and two men on the near post, easy to block, then there’s the ball, dropping into the net like a table tennis ball bobbling onto the floor. The Park Lane was stunned into silence. No howls of anger, just disbelief. The bloke in front turned round to me. I told him ‘it’s gone in’. He saw it but didn’t believe his eyes. It took another moment for the away fans to react, like the delayed sound from an event miles away, light travels faster than sound. They couldn’t believe their good fortune. 

When Conte tells them to create space, he doesn’t mean for our opponents. The second, their best player, again stemming from a turnover, proverbial acres at the edge of our box. Partey had earlier hit the woodwork from a similar position, and of course he scored from there in the game at their place. We don’t learn our lessons.  

The players were all found wanting, save for Harry who was head, shoulders, knees and toes above the rest of that shower. Sarr has real potential but this was not a day about potential, while Kulu was dangerous in the second half when allowed to come forward. 

Conte had a terrible game yesterday. These problems stem from tactics and shape that allow teams into the game. AFC do their business at the edge of the area – we leave it wide open. Teams create ways of beating a press and Conte is known for inculcating set patterns into his side to move from defence to attack, yet time and again those patterns failed and we were trapped. Conte is known to like a week to prepare for games. And this is what we came up with. Subs in the last 5 minutes usually come on to waste time, not attempt to win a north London derby.  

I say this without excusing the players. There were several occasions at the end of the first half when a player tried to play out from deep and his 10 teammates were virtually standing still. And Son, dear Sonny, have you ever seen a player so out of touch for so long? Even his teammates moan at him.  

To make things worse, as I write this I’ve discovered hope in Spurs’ second half revival. The pessimism I carried with me as I left the ground remains, but we really had opportunities to score without playing especially well. We pushed Kulu further up and immediately made chances. So it didn’t take much, and that’s the point, do that earlier why don’t we, but we couldn’t score. Their keeper was on good form but a couple were bad misses. So actually, we could have got something from this. Just makes it worse.

The muted reaction in the Park Lane felt at odds with the stakes of the NLD. There was no concerted uplifting let’s get at ‘em come on! that typically goes with games like this. We were only two down, after all. Maybe it was louder elsewhere but the resignation and hopelessness born of despondency spoke volumes.  

I’m proud of being a Spurs fan but there are times when that cast iron loyalty is a dead weight pulling me down. Where to from here? Losing the derby is bad enough, but that despondency is more than just about this match. As I touched on in my last piece, it’s the cumulative effect of years of permanent transition without ever reaching our destination. Hopes raised then dashed again as we discover that we have changes without any club strategy, where the fit between manager, recruitment and finance is always, always found wanting. Of high seat prices with diminishing returns. I am weary with it all, this state of institutional disfunction.  

And – we have to face up to this however unpalatable it may be, because it is real – look at them lot. Appoint a club man but one without any experience as a manager. He’s paid a fortune to essentially learn on the job. He makes mistakes, money wasted in the transfer market, there are grumbles but he’s given time, as are the talented young players he’s brought on or bought. Maybe it was because they couldn’t spend that much, but he and they had time. Turns out, last year’s derby was their turning point, where in their reaction to adversity, they got it all together. 

This is the point where I should insist the manager shakes things up, tries something different. Except that’s not the Conte way. Past experience suggests he sticks with his formation and tries different players. Except we’ve run out of options. He’s tried everyone and this is where we are.  

These problems won’t be solved by a better right wing back. Having a fully fit squad will help – Bentacur’s return is much anticipated. Given this long-term gloom, our fanbase, I suspect, will not have the patience to wait two or three years for a younger guy to learn the ropes. One vital difference between our experience and theirs is the context. Arteta comes in with twenty-odd unbroken years of success integral to recent collective memory, including titles and cups. That gives him some leeway, however much some of their fans complained. Anyone coming to us carries the burden of unfulfilled promise as well as that of a board who don’t know what they are doing.  

So support the manager in this window, let’s see what happens. Hardly a ringing endorsement but it’s all I can muster right now. It’s irrelevant, Conte will walk in the summer if this carries on, he’s got a reputation to think of. There may be trouble ahead. 

35 thoughts on “The Gloom Gathers at the Lane

  1. You forgot to mention the new way of tackling our defender stands still puts his hands behind his back and turns sideways giving the attacker a nice gap to shoot through. I refer to Romero and Dier.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Much like yourself I have been a Spurs fan for over 50 years and I share your frustrations.
    However, keeping Conte makes no sense to me. If any other manager consistently put out a team whose performances are as bad as we’ve seen this season he would be sacked. Instead we are told how lucky we are to have him, and how desperate we should be to have him stay.
    Why back him in the January market if we don’t know if he is staying, and why we should want him to stay. Conte seems like a good guy and I admire his drive and passion, but the performances and the results aren’t there. No manager, player or owner is bigger than the club. It’s time for him to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Conte has been found out just like Jose. He is Mk2. Same philosophy “Don’t lose” No variation. His answer spend more money on other clubs work. He won’t trust youth, he relies on big physical players, that’s why Spence and Gil don’t get game time. He needs to go and a more creative minded manager, one who isn’t afraid to use the youthful talent we have, to be appointed.


      • We knew what Conte was like when he came here. Manager like him you have to back him in the market. I don’t think he’ll hang around after the summer. Another disappointment….Regards, Alan


  3. I’m with you here having supported Spurs for over 40 years , yesterday was so predictable, Conte likes a week to prepare and did nothing different so all opponents know exactly how we will set up and prepare themselves for that .

    Nobody seems to notice that end of last season set up the same way all 10 players dropped back to deny the spaces Murphy eloquently showed on MOTD2 last night

    The players don’t like it but they do what Conte tells them , that’s the big problem right now . Look at Spence came on last match for ten minutes and we all thought we’d see something special from him . No he played as he’d been told to , have the ball and play pretty shapes not drive forwards

    We can only hope our second dinosaur shows the humility to go 4-3-3 Thursday !


  4. One of the under-appreciated skills of a manager is when to accept a player has peaked and it’s time to move him on and make a nice little profit in the process. Anyone with eyes can see that Hugo has his best days behind him. The Hugo of a few years ago would have got to the second goal as well. The ball bounced twice before reaching him and he was too slow in getting down. And these mistakes came on the heels of his howler against Villa. How many more points must we squander before the obvious decision is made? Hugo is an emotional man…his previous worst patch came after his drink-drive event and now he is suffering the after-effects of being unable to stop a shot against Argentina and the disastre of French failure. I’ll always associate Hugo with some of our finest moments in the past ten years but his time is up.
    We’ve been unlucky to lose our three game changers for the past four or so games. But three missing players don’t gut the team. We’ve been saying that we are not ‘clicking’ since the third game in and the pattern continues to repeat itself. I used to think it was a coincidence that our heroes played so poorly in the first half but now I suspect it is not the players but the manager who is the mastermind behind our Jekyll and Hyde performances. The players look fed up and frustrated and the collective loss of confidence doesn’t bode well for Toni.


    • Agree with you. I think Hugo’s decline has come more quickly than anyone anticipated. But the big problem with him is his distribution. That’s all in the mind, not about his powers of athleticism or co-ordination.


      • If I’m allowed a nibble to your reply, after calming down after the match, the defining takeaway was that it was a tale of two ‘keepers; one not up to it anymore and the other good enough to win the three points. I’m not sure Toni deserves the criticism because it was his player who gave away the goals and after that Arsenal couldn’t get another. If Hugo did his job it might have been a draw and we’d all have accepted a point before the match. So don’t let’s pile in on the manager – he can’t be blamed for the errors of his players.


  5. I too am a very long time supporter, I have been supporting Spurs for over 65 years, I have seen us win almost everything.
    We have good players and some very good players but regardless of talent how many players are prepared to run through brick walls for a manager that wont even sign a multi million pound contact?
    I know Poch didn’t win anything but he came bloody close, the football was entertaining and no brick wall would stop that team.
    It is all down to tactics and that is all down to Conte. No team will enjoy playing in such a negative fashion, Conte is just Mourinho with a toupee.
    Please Poch come back to where you are loved. You may still not win anything but at least we will be entertained.


    • Levy’s reluctance to fully back Poch is an era-defining failure. I had hopes that Conte would shake us up and give us the winning mentality. We’ve hit a bump in the road and it’s knocked us back rather than just riding over it. Many fans agree with you about tactics and entertainment. All the best, Alan


    • 65 years of supporting Spurs.
      You deserve a medal, or a psychiatric examination, possibly both!
      I think most Spurs fans harbour a soft spot for Poch, but the season after the CL final the team’s performance was pretty DIER! Not to the same level as Mourinho but still hard to watch. Would I give Poch another shot? Sure, but not without a few reservations.


  6. The player recruitment is dreadful, if you look at the players Arsenal have signed, they were for a lot less than some of signings. Sadly the Chairman spent years playing silly games in the transfer window, missed out on good players and then fumbled around at the last minute for dross.

    The Manager is a top class Manager with the right resource and spend, however like Mourinho he isn’t a Spurs style manager and we will never be in a position to back them to how they want.

    However, look at the recruitment at Brighton, look at the spend of Brentford, even Newcastle haven’t flexed their financial muscle as yet. The difference is that successful teams now days play attacking front foot football. The negative sit back approach allows the opposition the majority of possession, they gain confidence and against a rubbish defence its inevitable that they will eventually score.

    We have some quality attackers, some terrible sentences defenders yet somehow we can’t work out how to play to our strengths.

    Levy is a clown and deserves the lion share of the blame, there is also the fact that the recent managers haven’t lived up to their previous billing.

    It’s a mess

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Spot on in a (reasonably-sized) nutshell. Your description of the first goal is very accurate. We were crying out for the arse player to be blocked/edged out of play but it didn’t happen and then there was this second or two when time stood still and you could almost hear a pin drop. Park Lane then collectively groaned as a split second later the away fans cheered. All very surreal. Nothing we can do but continue supporting as always and hope that an injury-free squad can get it together and play as we know they’re capable of. As for Conte, it must be obvious that we cannot operate with two in midfield unless one is Bentancur.


  8. It is time that we replace Hugo Loris. He is past his prime and more mistakes can be expected. Conte is stubborn with his system of play,especially when we do not have the players for that system. From the way we have been performing this season, I wonder what is going on during the training sessions. We will be lucky to finisher in 5 TH. Place this time.


    • I know. We don’t have players good enough to play his system, but he won’t adapt to the players’ strengths, so I don’t know where we’ll end up. Hugo’s problem is in his mind – I accept he may not be as agile but his distribution and recently errors on shots come from some lingering doubt. Once that happens in a keeper, there’s no way back. Regards, Alan


  9. It’s interesting to contrast this sombre report with that for the corresponding one last season which was exuberant in the extreme on a match “remembered for the emphatic nature of a result born from a level of dominance rare in the NLD”. The theme was one of renewal from Spurs darkness to a new high-water mark with “Conte getting through with tactics and mindset.”

    And all of that was fired by a 3-0 home win against a team playing, through injuries, a back four that hadn’t played before, hasn’t played since and in which three of those players haven’t started a League game this season. Those visitors played without their Number 5, the best DM in the League, and without their most potent attacker, whom their coach had had the balls to fire for behavioural reasons. So, hardly a team at their strongest, and they played for much of the game with ten men. Small points of detail I recognise, and none worthy of getting in the way of a Spurs hallelujah chorus rejoicing over a return to greatness.

    But, on reflection, was that really a basis for the triumphalism?

    And it was in last year’s game where sound “then the noise got to them” (with reference to Holding’s departure) and “It’s also the only game I’ve ever been to where I couldn’t hear the opposition fans” was so remarkable. Did you hear the AFC fans this time? And did the irony of the situation in which the Spurs fans noise at every Loris howler and Dier dither “got to them” (your own team, also booed off at the end for good measure) strike you as much as it struck me?

    Hojbjerg’s embarrassing effort to win another penalty was almost as laughable as the one actually given last year.

    Yesterday’s game indicated that any mirage of a high water mark may well have been more a forewarning off the excessive rainfall we’re encountering than any kind of Spurs resurgence. Arsenal’s technical skills and competence are a mile ahead of Spurs. Their coach’s motivation skills and tactical nouse outdistance Conte’s by a similar distance. The first is critical, the second is irrelevant because Conte won’t, I think, be around next season.


    • Thanks for keeping it polite Kevin – I mean that btw, not being online snarky. Not going to defend anything I wrote last time, no need.

      This is self-evidently a Spurs blog. So I write mostly about Spurs. That NLD felt like a genuine turning point because of our reaction to the game and how we rose to the situation, and in the two or three games after that. Regardless of how Arsenal played. No need to tell you how many times Spurs have failed to do that over the past twenty years or so, I’m sure you’ve kept track. That changing mentality is crucial at any club. As I said in this week’s piece, turns out you found it, we lost it.

      And I have warned fellow Spurs fans of the rise of Arteta’s Arsenal for the last 18 months, comments that frankly at times have been met with derision, by Arsenal fans as well as Spurs.

      See you at the next one, Alan


    • As I said in the piece, we’re stuck in a dilemma of our own making. We don’t give the marquee names the backing in the market they expect as their right, and they’re not committed long-term to us of course, but would the fans hang on for three years while Mason or any other young manager found their way? All the best, Al


  10. Thanks Alan.

    I was numb after that first half. You can’t give up a half to good sides, as the game is usually over. This endless tactic makes no sense to me, and I suggest showing heart and verve from the off rather than when 2-0 down is the real sign of courage and worth. Game’s gone. It’s a cop out thereafter, imo.

    Did the same against Liverpool at home, who were struggling at the time and, aside from being given freedom of New WHL/TH Stadium first half, continue to do so, certainly by their lofty standards. Yes, we can rally, go close, be a little unlucky, but we are just asking for, and getting it. There are only two halves, seems egregious to largely cede one of them.

    We did have them at least backing towards the ropes first 15 or so second half, but even then our save it for the second half charge fizzled out quickly enough, bar sporadic moments. They controlled things quite comfortably thereafter. It wasn’t like the Liverpool second half, as Arsenal are better than Liverpool this season and I didn’t think the players even believed it was likely last 30.

    I have long felt that we have “wasted” the best CF of his generation, certainly in British football, and at times Europe/world, with Mourinho, Santos and now Conte. It is amazing how much he contributes with so very little. They are long tracts of games, even when we win, when he barely touches the ball. If I were his agent, rather than a Spurs nut, I’d have had him out of there at the end of the season Poch went. Once he breaks Greaves’s record, what’s to keep him?

    Pointless backing Conte, unless he commits to at least medium-term stay, and even then I feel, and hope, his mode of football is becoming out of date. Continuously being outnumbered in midfield is driving me to distraction, esp, but not only vs the good sides. I love Bentancur, who is a top player imo, but he and Hojberg would not have changed things yesterday with those tactics and mindset.

    Some say Conte doesn’t trust youth, and there may be truth in that, but he gave Sarr his PL debut yesterday. He played and stayed loyal to young’uns like Pogba at Juve, Barella at Inter and there are numerous other examples. If he thinks they are good and tough enough he’ll play them.



    • That’s interesting about the Italy experience with Conte. He certainly doesn’t seem keen to bring young players through. There was talk of Sarr moving on, now Conte appears to like him, although maybe dropping him into an undermanned midfield in the NLD is not a sign of liking someone. I watch his team now and wonder what he sees. With WBs and the midfield, what is he seeing as time and again, it’s not working. All the best, Al


  11. A typically fair and balanced piece Alan, that ends (ssuprisingly?) on a note of optimism, which is far more than I’ve had since Sunday’s debacle. Up to now I’ve been fully behind Conte, while still far short of many of the Levy out brigade (much as I have personal history of antagonism with DL and his regime), but Sunday left me doubting Conte for really the first time, in terms of whether he actually has the capacity to get it right whatever players he gets. Like you I am not excusing the players themselves, far from it, so many of them failing to show any semblance of form for the 95 minutes we played. Nor can I excuse Craig Pawson, an unbelievably poor ref in a league of poor refs, who seems to have an inexplicable built in hatred of THFC as well as no understanding of the laws of the game, especially vis-a-vis time wasting. But the bad day started with Conte’s team selection: Sessenngon instead of Perisic made no sense, and for me Davies is not only better than Longlet (I accept many would disagree with that) but he clearly has more invested in a so-called NLD (it’s not north London if you originate from Kent!). Two against their three in. Infield was always going to be a struggle, although I though both Hojbjerg and the 20 year old kid making his full debut did their best. So tactics for the match were hugely devateable at best, and I doubt you’ll find a Spurs fan in the ground who didn’t think Perisic should have replaced Sess (and I’ve defended Sess for a long time, but no more after a truly awful display) at HT. not to make that switch was unfathomable in the extreme. It all showed Conte had learned nothing from the dismal defeat to Villa two weeks earlier. Csimilarly the other subs. Doherty was one of our better players on the dAy so he took him off and then consigned our chief attackin* threat alongside Harry, I.e, Kulu, to pla6 RWB for the rest of the game. Sonny stayed on throughout despite another terrible showing and bringing Gil on with two minutes of normal time to do was an insuting (to him and us) waste of time. Bissouma on the form he’s showed this season was never going to change the game, nor did it, and even Skipp disappointed when he came on. You’ve expressed the views of so many, me now included, in your comments about Hugo, both goals came from his blunders – the first more obviously so but the second flowed from the sort of poor clearance he’s had 10 years to work on and improve. Watching the World Cup 8 felt we should sign Morocco’s Bono (accepting I’m a bit biased towards Morocco because if my wife) as a long term replacement for Hugo, but I now think we should go all out to get him fromSeville in this window and play him as first choice for the rest of the season while we see if Wakeman or Austin can make the grade long term. If not Bono , then the Croatia keeper would be my 2nd choice and hopefully Perisic might have some sway there Clearly we need Bentancur fully fit and fighting again soon. But again Conte just has to go against his natural instinct and start playing an attacking midfielder in. three (maybe one of our forwards or defenders could be converted a la Paul Stewart in the 90s or latterly Bale). Failing that lets buy someone good.

    I do think Conte has had his chance and flunked at the most important moments this season. Sods Law well. Ow go and win at Cuty on Thursday to boost the goons’ title chances even further and fir. Me the only thing that could redeem this season is the most far-fetched, to win he Champions League – even winning the FA Cup won’t offset a gooner PL win this time.


    • Not sure ending on a sentence ‘there may be trouble ahead’ is a sign of optimism, my friend, although things seem so bad, perhaps it is.
      Agree with your detailed match analysis. I assumed Perisic was injured, why else start Sess, and putting Sarr in an outnumbered midfield is odd, however good he may well turn out to be. I would have played Davies. Cant really judge the ref because in order to claim my senior’s discount, I’m half way to bruce grove in the south stand, and I’m not going to watch it back on TV!

      Like I’ve said to others, it has reached the point where I don’t see what Conte sees. We make the same mistakes over and over again, now on top of this we have individuals losing their form. Hugo makes the whole side shaky. I doubt Spurs have advanced plans to bring in several players as you suggest. So yes, we’re stuck. Hope you’re well, Alan


  12. I would play with one striker and pack out the midfield with 5 players like the late eighties with Clive Allen on his own up front and supported by the midfield 5 can’t be any worse than the way we are playing now.


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