Spurs triumphed in a pulsating night at the Lane, scoring early and then withstanding a thorough going over in the second half from a rejuvenated and rampant Liverpool side. This was a full body search but after examining every nook and cranny, the Reds failed to find what they were looking for. Thrilling attacking football and redoubtable defence from two sides on top form made this a totally absorbing encounter that filled the senses.
I have this particular thing about football at the moment. I never used to have things but it comes with getting older, although if I start ranting about how it was better in the old days and policemen are getting younger, shoot me why don’t you. My thing is that I’m fed up with people moaning about football. There’s a lot wrong with the game: ludicrous prices preventing new generations from coming to grounds, the way clubs treat fans so poorly alienates their loyal support, the demands of TV, inflated expectations from fans and clubs alike, TV coverage. I fully understand why this lot puts people off and all these issues must be addressed.
Without minimising their significance for a single second, all I’d say is that all of this takes place off the pitch. On it, where things really count, football remains rich entertainment and compelling drama. Last night was a fabulous example. Both sides refused to compromise, constantly inventive and compulsively creative. Hammer and tongs for 90 minutes, there was barely time to draw breath. It had everything – pace and power, skill and dexterity under supreme pressure, mistakes and comedy, plus a couple of controversial decisions. Both sets of players and their managers should be warmly congratulated for delivering a marvellous match. Both teams wanted to remain true to their values and do it the right way.
For Tottenham, two excellent wins in four days proves we are making progress on the pitch as well as up the table. Last night, it was not all plain sailing. We gave the ball away far too frequently in the first half and sat back too much in the second. However, we were a team. The players’ confidence and comfort within the system is growing by the match. All over the pitch the combination and support play is improving. They know what they should be doing and where they should be, and, even more importantly, what their team-mates should be doing and where they should be. In two interviews over the weekend, Dempsey and Bale both referred to how meticulous the manager is and how his ideas are getting through. Last night they all gave everything so team spirit is high. Villas-Boas was the last to leave the pitch, departing only after he had thanked each one of his warriors. In both these matches we played for 90 minutes whereas until now we performed in patches. And still we are missing several of our best men.
Tottenham began at the high tempo that suits us and we launched Gareth Bale at the Liverpool defence. This young man is a world class attacker. Relish, enjoy and remember as much as you can, because nobody does it like Bale does it. The title of Welsh Wizard has already been bestowed on another Spurs wide man, Cliff Jones, but our Gareth deserves massive acclaim.
Foolishly Liverpool expected to cope without covering the full-back. Bale at full tilt is virtually unstoppable. Repeatedly he charged towards the hapless defenders, pausing only to bewilder Reina with a swerving, beguiling free-kick from miles out that the keeper nearly missed. Now he ran 50 yards, top speed throughout, weaved through three defenders and his unplayable cross between goalie and defenders left Lennon with a far post tap-in. He scored the second himself, his free kick clipping the wall. This time Reina was fatally deceived through no fault of his own.
In this twenty minute spell, Spurs won the game. While playing well throughout, they were never again on top. As the half went on, Spurs became Liverpool’s most creative asset, repeatedly conceding possession when under no pressure. Then, Liverpool began to assert themselves and after half time, they emerged on a mission, whereupon the two sides engaged in frantic hand to hand combat deep inside the Spurs half. High speed attack v defence with Liverpool desperate to find a way through.
This was football to the power of ten. Under this magnifying glass, every run was a rich mixture of power, control and technique, each challenge a tipping point of its own, every incident worthy of a blog of its own. Win it and the equilibrium of the entire match tilted, until the next such challenge merely seconds later. For 30 minutes there was no respite for any player, save Reina the Liverpool keeper who watched from afar.
A Liverpool player, often Enrique on the left or Sterling on the right, would dart forward. The sides regrouped. Liverpool set the test, Spurs shifted around in response, the two teams as organisms, their players becoming a single whole. Liverpool probed for a breakthrough, Spurs rushed to counter like white blood cells gathering to see off an infection to the body. If one defender lost his individual battle, others moved to his aid as in the same instant our opponents already had moved to exploit any space and potential for a decisive strike.
In such an atmosphere, mistakes were made but for me the debit/credit balance sheet for Gallas, Dawson and Lloris came out firmly in their favour. Spurs may have been stretched this way and that but we never broke. Far from it; as the pressure increased so did our committment. Under this bombardment we stood firm. The bodies flew in to tackle and block. Never once did we experience those all too familiar moments when the entire defence disappears into another dimension for no earthly reason.
Gallas and Dawson did not permit themselves to be shifted out of the middle. They didn’t have to with Walker (at last!) in fine form and Vertonghen strong in the challenge.
The influence of both managers was clear and their men responded. As I’ve said, Spurs reacted ll to some excellent Liverpool pressure but we fell back into the AVB fault of dropping too deep. This was compounded by replacing Dempsey with Sigurdsson. With only Defoe up front we never had an outlet and therefore respite from the onslaught. Adebayor would have been perfect.
Liverpool dominated long periods of the match and if I were a red, on the long journey home I’d have been a’cursing and a’muttering at the injustice of it all. Henderson shot wide of a goal left bare and unprotected by a mad Lloris dash beyond his box, Dembele’s brave tackle from behind (on Gerrard I think) could easily have been called a penalty by some referees and they had a good few chances as the game went on. However, their goal was a crazy fluke – Lennon cleared off the line but our relief lasted a millisecond only as the ball flew into Bale’s face and back into the net.
In the end, Spurs did push up. A rush of pressure led by Lennon was greeted with a standing ovation from the centre Shelf. Walker told a ball-boy to hang on to it as the lad dashed enthusiastically to give his hero the ball. Even though Azza didn’t touch the ball, the pendulum had swung back just enough to make sure we played out the last 10 minutes without any serious alarms. The crowd really got behind the team and they were lifted.
Lennon had a fine match, making a mockery of the criticism I have made of his unwillingness to defend. Great nutmeg on Gerrard too. Bale’s defending was slack in the first half but he got the message after the break. Defoe didn’t touch the ball in the second half. Sandro had his least effective game this season but did his bit at the back. Dempsey needs others to give him the ball. He finds the space, you deliver and he’ll serve it up. His work is becoming more productive with each match.
And I’m still buzzing from that sense of complete immersion in a thrilling, fizzing spectacle. Total commitment from players and fans. Wonderful.