Glory Days for Spurs As the Sun Slowly Sets Over the Lane

On Saturday Spurs swept aside Watford’s increasingly feeble challenge in a blur of flowing football and stunning goals. These are days of magic and wonder. Enjoy every moment, breathe it in and never let go. Another glorious afternoon at the Lane, not many left but this is some swansong.

 

A tight game. Watford depleted but determined, came with a plan. For Spurs, second in the league, the pressure filters into every pass, each stride. We were starting to need a little something from somewhere as Watford were hard to break down. 3 at the back and 5 in midfield to cut down the space. At times they pulled all 11 back without embarrassment but it was their denial of space for Spurs to work on the flanks that was doing the trick. The wide men of their five were an impediment to progress plus their two forwards often split to add their pressure. With the ball they caused a threat early on until Spurs gathered themselves and got hold of the game.

 

And we have Dele Alli. The move started from Lloris’s hands, playing the ball out of defence not kicking it, through several pairs of feet, to Dembele. He rumbles forward as he did so frequently. He’s stopped only with a foul but the ref plays on because we have Dele Alli. He’s on the ball, checks then switches it on to his right foot and curls it left to right, boot to top corner.

 

It’s an instant of daring and outrageous talent, executed with the nonchalance that only star quality can carry off. He jogs back towards us on the Shelf and, in those few moments before he’s engulfed by elated team-mates he becomes a boy again, not yet 21, fresh-faced and bright-eyed. Not the table, the TV, the crowd’s roar, just the joy of doing that with a football. World football sits up to take notice, he’s that good. To me, he’s still a kid. One of our family, let’s look after him and as we would with own flesh and blood, encourage him to be the best he can be yet not burden him with unrealistic expectation.

 

All this is becoming a bit much. I have barely caught my breath after the late goal-rush at Swansea, now four more. In normal times, each one would become a talking point, 3 candidates for goal of the season. Except these are not normal times, these are Spurs’ salad days. Unbeaten at home all season, just another Saturday. I have been transported beyond excitement into a better place, a state of heightened consciousness where celebrating a goal somehow doesn’t do it justice. Alli into the top corner after a move that began in our 6 yard box. I leapt up and saluted the sky with both hands. Clapping? How does that come anywhere close to acknowledging this gem? Later, Son galloping onto Trippier’s cross, first time, drilled into the bottom corner without breaking stride. How many times to we see players fluff their lines in similar scenes? Shanked, yes, defender’s arse of course, row Z commonplace. On Saturday we were beyond all that. Clapping?

 

After Alli’s opener, Watford folded and sank without trace. Spurs’ regaining the initiative coincided with Trippier forcing his way into space on the right. He was terrific going forward – he didn’t have to defend for the last hour – and changed the game, his first time crosses quickly becoming his trademark. He could easily have had three or four assists.

 

Dier banged in the second, edge of the box as the ball fell to him. Composed and unobtrusively influential, he’s clearly a better DM than CB and we benefit from his passing ability.

 

Son on the run, should have passed, thank goodness he didn’t. A lovely goal, low to Gomes’ right. Spurs were rampant.

 

The trials and tribulations of Vincent Janssen. Vinny’s confidence has increased, or, better, he’s playing with purpose that stems from a grasp of his role within the team. It’s less of the hold-up play, more an early touch but it’s as much the players making the runs past him as the quality of the touch itself that makes him more effective.

 

But it’s goals we would like. His trials. First half-opportunity, he’s off-balance as he receives Eriksen’s firm pass and it spins off his toe. Second glimpse, balanced now, he deceives his marker with a brilliant turn but misses the chance one on one with Gomes. Then, an awkward ball perhaps but it’s over the bar when his boots were white from goal line paint. A miss of Acimovic proportions.

 

When Spurs have been playing well over the seasons this blog has been active, I always invoke the Tottenham on My Mind mantra, enjoy it while you can. Occasionally I’ve posed another question in an attempt to put it into context – what does a top class team really look like? Think of those really top teams, Manchester United and Liverpool, who won so much over in my time as a football fan. (Best not think about the other half of north London, mind).

 

For the first time, the answer can be found at home. Outstanding flowing football, redoubtable and intelligent defence, resilience to put up a fight even if we do get beaten and to carry us to improbable, joyous victory when we win. Goals in the murky depths of the game – three wins this season after trailing on 88 minutes. Goals from nothing to break the deadlock, as on Saturday. Steamrolling sides in the first half. Or just sticking at it in the belief that goals will come.

 

Faith too that goals will not be easily given away. Alli and Son rightfully take the plaudits but it’s Alderweireld and Vertonghen who are our rocks, the concrete beneath our feet. Stats can be used in any way you want (so I will) but one I saw this week was that Spurs have not conceded a goal this season from a direct central pass.

 

These are the characteristics of a top class football team. The ability to win from all angles, the belief that anything is possible, trust and conviction in themselves and their team-mates. Comparisons with individuals from the Double side in the comments of last week’s piece may be unfair because Spurs have countless great individuals who have worn the shirt with pride, but this is as good a Spurs team as I have ever seen, certainly the most consistent.

 

Social media is full of the sniping of supporters from other teams, especially those of our London rivals. Tottenham have always been targets. What really irks these fans is that we’re good. They can’t bear it and find endless ways of trying to prove we’re not.

 

If we’re so easily dismissed, how come we demand so much of their attention? I’d suggest envy plays a large part if only these fans had the emotional intelligence to suss themselves. A club living within their means, building a fabulous new ground, playing attacking entertaining football with a side that costs less than Paul Pogba. Above all, and this counts for fans, they are committed to Tottenham Hotspur. Their egos, and all top players have at a least of trace of arrogance, are channelled for the greater good. They are close to us, they celebrate with us, they are us. As Pochettino says, the shirt comes first. It makes being a Spurs fan different.

 

I followed the Swansea win first through BBC London’s excellent coverage and then on my stream about 5 minutes behind. Headphones on, I celebrated quietly on the sofa as my wife was engrossed in Question Time.  A few minutes later, I wandered upstairs to take a moment to myself and I confess I was a little overcome. Unashamedly, these are glory days. Three more to go at the Lane. Just when you think the old girl has seen it all, she’s full of life to the very last. This is some swansong.

 

 

Belief and Faith and Fight.

 

Bill Nicholson’s words ring White Hart Lane as a forceful reminder not of faded glory but that Tottenham Hotspur stand for something which transcends winning and losing. They are a call to arms for fans and players alike, where inspiration from our past becomes aspiration for our future.

Those hopes, that ambition will come with us from old ground to new. Perhaps they will be joined by these words from the current custodian of our faith, Mauricio Pochettino. After Saturday’s outstanding away win at Burnley, he said, “Belief is the most important thing in football…Belief and faith and fight. In football, nothing is impossible.” He has built a team that could, just maybe, take its place alongside the great Spurs sides of the last 50 years, sat at the right hand of the incomparable Double team. But like Nicholson, for Tottenham he sees beyond the climactic end to this season. This words are the foundations of his dynasty.

It’s half-time. Burnley have an imperious home record. They fight for every ball, every square inch. Spurs are missing the mighty Dembele, both our first choice full-backs, lynchpins of our formation, and our fabulous centre forward. We aren’t playing well. Wanyama the rock is off, so is the desperately unlucky Harry Winks, a diamond in the raw.

Spurs teams of the past would have written this one off as a bad job. This side, Pochettino’s Spurs, never give up. From adversity came a huge win, a massive boost at the beginning of a month where every last second of football is utterly essential. Belief, and faith, and fight.

Reserves stepping up the mark too. Poor transfer dealings in the summer leave the squad exposed but in Trippier, Davies, Son and now at last Janssen we have able players who want to be part of all this. I wish I could say the same for Sissoko but even he appeared roused at times. These men come in and they know what’s expected of them. They know what to do, where to be and most significantly where their team-mates are.

No blow-by-blow account of this one, which I followed via 5Live and caught up with the extended highlights later. I didn’t need to see the game live to know this was a colossal win. The highlights showed enough to confirm what I’ve been saying for a while now, which is that success or failure this season turns on the form and continuing fitness of the back three. Kane is a monumental loss – we can get by if Toby and Jan stay well, that’s how good they are.

That trio’s third man, Eric Dier, hasn’t been at his best lately. Here, he became the decisive force in the game. Effortlessly switching to defensive midfield in the second half, he drove us forward and repelled the attacks. The manner in which he scored our opening goal says everything about Spurs are right now in a scant moment or two. The ball falls to him from a corner about 8 yards out. Amidst the bodies and the bedlam, rather than blast it (it probably would have gone in), he pauses to pick his spot and sidefoots it between the keeper and the man on the post. Probably is not enough – he made sure it went in and he had the presence of mind to complete. Such is the resilience of this team.

Janssen did well. He fitted in. Understood his role. No goals from him but this is real progress. Son’s role may be as impact sub, although if our injury situation gets worse he may have to give us a bit more. On Saturday, he came at Burnley with fresh legs and was perfectly placed to get on the end of Alli’s improbably good pass, delivered with ease into the Korean’s stride.

Listening to 5Live was an interesting experience. It wasn’t the commentary game – on paper it was more interesting than their choice of Chelsea v Palace, not so as it turned out. So I made do on infrequent updates. I like 5Live – their football Saturdays and commentaries are informative and involved without Talksport’s hysteria or dogmatic presenters (not you Danny Kelly). I was felt aggrieved that they didn’t give Spurs a higher profile. MOTD followed in the same vein. In hindsight, they paid us a real compliment. It’s not about being under the radar, rather it is a mark of their perception of our status as true challengers that an away victory like this one is not considered remarkable.

Perhaps they have a truer grasp of what we can achieve than many of our own supporters. As for me, I can’t quite believe it, all the more reason to relish every second. In the past this game would have been not just a banana skin. This is Spurs, we would have trod on the skin, slipped and spun a triple somersault into the hole we had dug for ourselves. Pochettino has dug proper foundations. Now stay fit my lovely boys, stay fit and let’s see where it takes us.

Semi-final? Bring Them All On As Son Leads the Way

So the FA Cup is an irrelevance, a tiresome interlude between the real business of busting a gut to not win anything in the League. Yeah right. Nobody at White Hart Lane yesterday recognises that description of a competition still dear to the heart of football fans. Full-bloodied, no respect for status, both teams going out to win it and a distinct edge in the air. Proper cup football. Give it a sponsor, call the 6th round a different name, play it on any day of the week TV fancies – the fans make it proper cup football every time.

 

On the field, Spurs rose to the challenge with style and class from the outset. They stamped their authority on the game, quickly consigning any thought of giantkilling to yesterday’s back pages, today’s chip paper. Get the ball, move it around, get hold of midfield, match every tackle. Hard work and a sustained plan was the foundation, the goals came later.

 

In the stands, Spurs lifted the spirits in response to the Millwall roar. The best atmosphere outside an AFC or CFC derby for many years. What a glorious din it was. Old school to and fro. Que sera, we going to Wembley. Que sera, Millwall are going to Shrewsbury. Spurs applaud. Janssen scores his first from open play. “He scores when he wants, Vincent Janssen…” Just like the old days but it’s future too. We can do this in the new ground, if we want to. Give us room to get on with it, give us an end, we’ll make some noise. And the rubbish silenced in the best possible way – a thumping out of sight win via a hat-trick from the bloke on the receiving end.

 

Spurs got on top at the start as is our way these days at home. We passed our way through and round Millwall, set up a few chances but the final ball was lacking, Son making the gravest error when he ignored the queue at the far post and shot straight at the keeper.

 

In Kane’s absence, Son not Janssen is Pochettino’s plan B. Let’s wait for the results of Kane’s scan before we panic. There’s ample time to panic after that. My fear is that he has a long-term weakness on that ankle. Robust but otherwise legitimate tackles have done the damage, and we give that ankle a lot of wear and tear.

 

Eriksen on to sustain our midfield supremacy. I would have played him from the start as part of our strongest possible side. Without doing anything noticeably different, he has imperceptibly developed his game over the past few months to become the dominant midfield influence in every match he plays. With so much movement ahead of and around him, he turned the game decisively in our favour.

 

Just as we started to get a bit edgy, well on top but no goals, Millwall in our box a couple of times, Eriksen swivelled on a bouncing ball in the box to find the far corner. Same corner a few minutes later. Son miscontrolled the ball again, leaving it behind and taking the momentum out of the attack. This time he turned his mistake into a virtue. Left foot from the right, across the keeper, same corner. Two moments of high class finishing stamped our authority on the game once and for all.

 

Millwall had nothing in reply. They tried to play football and were keen to shift it forward but even two goals to the good, Spurs weren’t about to let them back in the game. Less about Millwall’s deficiencies, much more about our clinical approach to finishing them off, further evidence of the winning mentality that has become part of our approach since Gent.

 

These goals were class but not classy enough for Son. Long ball, running full pelt into the box, drops over his shoulder and volleys it home. I trust BT showed it on a loop instead of their post-match analysis.

 

Good fun to be had. Dele at the far post on the end of a fine cross, made by Winks. On the ball, controls, it, changes direction, spreads an inch perfect 30 yard ball to the full-back. He plays as if he was born to it, natural, eager, fearless, oblivious to the bedlam around him and in the stands. He’s a real craftsman and a tremendous prospect.

 

Janssen has been humiliated by his manager over the past months, either staying on the bench or not making the bench at all. Pochettino knows how to get his message over. But he’s on and he scores when he wants. A glimpse of what might be, the ball only a foot or so in front of the defender yet instantly and accurately turned low into the corner. Let’s gloss over the previous shot that just missed the corner flag and the one after, a point blank header straight at the keeper.

 

The keeper threw it into the net for Son’s hat-trick. It was all there – through his legs, the irresistible reflex to desperately drag it out of the net even when you know it’s already over the line. The indignity compounded by three replays and huge cheers. Is this what the big screen is for?

 

Fine performances all round. Davies again prominent going forward, Trippier did well too. Winks excellent, polished and mature. The drive from the back three is the key though, yesterday and for the rest of the season. Vertonghen is in the middle of a purple patch, reaching heights that seemed beyond him a couple of years ago. Pushing up into the space the midfielders leave behind is crucial to our attacking play.

Dier was the only doubt, I guess there has to be something. The ease with which he was left standing on several occasions by League 1 forwards was a little bit of a worry,  something to work on in the weeks to come.

Just like the old days at the Millwall end too. Abuse of Son, which I heard but couldn’t make out at the time. Anti-Semitic abuse too, or so I read today. Singling a Korean out for abuse is a new one on me. Abuse for abuse sake is low.

 

Dan Kilpatrick from Spurs ESPN said on twitter last night that this was the biggest police presence at an English football match in a decade. These days the police have sophisticated tactics to keep an eye on potential troublemakers. Which is why I don’t understand the reason their fans weren’t kept in the ground after the match to clear the streets. We nipped up Bromley Road, a cut-through between the High Road and the Park Lane, only to find it had been blocked off first at the High Road end then, as we turned back, behind us too, so we were stuck in the road for ten minutes, no info, then were let out into the middle of the Millwall for the walk back to Seven Sisters. I didn’t see any trouble and it felt safe. They weren’t looking for any bother, indeed the most noise came from a football kicked all the way along the route, but how can that be safe crowd control?

 

Anyway, nothing gets in the way of a fine win, fabulous performance, wonderful football. Semi-final? Bring them all on.

 

 

 

 

 

Kane The Master As The Future Calls

Ledley King, Spurs captain and leader, introduces himself to our new signing Edgar Davids, who is sitting quietly in the training ground canteen. Davids shakes his hand, looks him in the eye. There’s not greeting. His first words are, “Can we win anything?”

 

Ledley told this story at the SpursShow live event before Christmas. I regard him as Spurs finest centre half in half a century. He had nothing to prove but merely being in Davids’ presence impressed him. The Dutchman was past his best when he signed for Tottenham but that aura rubbed off on a team struggling for identity. Davids is a winner.

 

This Spurs side must discover that mentality for themselves. To my mind buying in experience in the summer would have strengthened the squad but that’s not the current Tottenham way, so the players must find that resilience and bloodymindedness within themselves.

 

With progress comes pain. Spurs produced another fine home performance to deservedly defeat Everton. We scored three, could, should have doubled it, then there was a wobble or two just when the match should have been dead and buried. Typical Spurs to be well on top then concede. Typical Spurs to restore a two-goal lead in injury time only to give away firstly a needless free kick then a goal during time added on for nobody except the ref knows quite what for. More like typical of a side that’s almost there but still learning a few tricks of the trade.

 

The progress we’ve made is evident in the way we try to stamp our authority on games from the start. At least we do at home, this approach was sadly lacking away at City and Anfield recently. Pochettino likes three at the back to increase his attacking options. It suits us. Because we have ball-playing defenders, we can drive forward. Vertonghen was outstanding in this respect on Sunday, as well as being adept and alert in defence. From my seat on the Shelf the power and influence is tangible, spreading through the side. Full-backs can take up attacking positions, and it was good to see Davies reveal in the freedom, he had a fine match. Dier, Verts and Toby take it in turns to move forward according to the ebb and flow of the game. It’s simultaneously strategic and opportunistic.

 

After a tight opening, it enabled us to gain the upper hand. We wrested control from the Toffees and largely kept hold of it for the rest of the match.

 

Harry Kane at his finest. His first to break the deadlock from an improbable distance, the thrill in the unexpected. Nothing on, preparing to pass but he saw the shot and it dipped away even as the keeper stretched towards it, determined to drop into the bottom the corner. There was nothing on and Spurs were a goal up.

 

His second came from half an Everton error, half a pressing success, drilled low for 2-0. His best moment came in between, however. Right corner of the box, he pulled Vertonghen’s long, firm pass out of the air, one-two with Eriksen, then, surrounded by defenders, he had the presence of mind to slip two of them with a shimmy to the left. He banged the ball into the keeper, a shame, the gem that got away but it was the moment of the match. True class runs a game and Harry had time under his spell as well as the ball.

 

Not rating Kane says everything about the judgement of the fan in question and nothing at all about the player. Harry doesn’t have the swagger of a star, he’s not quick or graceful. Sometimes as he runs, ungainly and stiff-legged, you can almost hear his joints creaking. That’s why the superficial, the unthinking, those who don’t understand the game, don’t get him. Kane’s quality lies in the moment before he makes contact with the ball. The body shape, the way he ensures his foot is in the right place. Technique, application, concentration, for that millisecond of impact.

 

Harry Kane: decent bloke, not flash, doesn’t seek the limelight or a salary that matches his market value. English, scores goals. Like we’re spoiled for choice. You’d think he’d be popular outside the club but this is not enough it seems for many who expose their opinions on social media. Hate isn’t a word anyone would use about him, yet many opposition fans can’t bring themselves to even accept him. What they really hate, if only they would admit it, is how he’s proved them wrong. ‘One season wonder’ echoed round the ground to salute him. I hope he enjoyed it.

 

So to that wobble. At the time I had other words for it but wobble it shall be for now. Verts made a single error, falling as the fearsome Lukaku had his first and late run at goal. Then Hugo, who should be rock solid at moments like this, nearly cocked up a headed clearance. Walker, excellent once more, made his one mistake and nearly gave it away while dwelling on the ball. They got away with it but must learn not to put themselves in that position in the first place.

 

We score again. Winks is young but has been here since they cut his umbilical cord. He knows his Spurs people. He saw Dele’s run, Dele touched it in, victory assured deep in injury time. Except don’t give away a fee kick, don’t let it curl so far to an unmarked forward.

 

3-2, a win under pressure and we’re still playing with great style. Unbeaten at home, please believe this football is outstanding, please enjoy it despite the, er, wobbles. Because this is almost as good as it gets.

 

But it’s hard to stay mindful and in the moment. In the north east corner, a monolithic concrete block marches into the stadium, overshadowing everything. Its time will come but it’s not content to wait. Change is coming and our future intrudes on the present. Suddenly the Lane, our dear and precious Lane, looks small and insignificant by comparison.

There’s a sense that despite our achievements, we’re waiting. Waiting for news of next season, of seasons to come. The pre-match talk in the queue and in the stands is not of Kane, Dele and Toby, nor the gap above and below us in the table but of Wembley, or where exactly, of seats, of prices, of where will we be in the new ground. Less of outstanding home form, more a fear of how it will be if Kane, Toby or Jan are injured, of new players needed to maintain momentum and secure the future on the pitch. Second in the league and not the finished article, we will know at the season’s end but Spurs’ transfer policy has allowed too much room for what might have beens. And that stadium don’t come cheap. Face up to the lack of cash for the team next season.

 

Wembley will be confirmed at the end of the month. There’s no alternative, bar not knocking the Lane down. Details on the Trust site. The club have focussed on the premium seats at the expense of us mere mortals, the ordinary punter. All about revenue streams no doubt – the expensive seats have to pay up front. The rest of us need to know something soon, if only so that we can make the most of the last few games and of this wonderful creative football. It’s important to enjoy the good times.