Spurs Win Ugly. At Times This Was Downright Revolting

If winning ugly is a sign of a successful team, this was the Elephant Man of victories. Spurs v Everton should never have come out in daylight. Rather, the game is destined to slip furtively through the back alleys of north London largely covered in a hessian sack for fear of scaring the onlookers.

Nature and adventure. That’s the way to go. Something different. Exciting, innovative, all round White Hart Lane. On the advertising boards, of course. None of that on the pitch. It was that sort of first half, plenty of time to read the ads. One from Spurs encouraged us to ‘Join the conversation’ – nothing much to talk about. ‘What would you like to remember?’ begins the prompt on my note-taking app. About the first half, frankly nothing.

I’m grateful for the three points, I really am, don’t get me wrong, but my giddy aunt large parts of that game were the worst we have played since I don’t know when. Disjointed and devoid of both ideas and energy, we created very little in the way of passing moves in the first half, let alone chances.

Everton had the better of the opening period, Osman missing with two or three decent efforts from the edge of the box and Lloris making one top class save, full-length to his left. We gradually came back into it without making much of an impression on the Toffee’s well-marshalled defence. Eriksen shot over from a long-range free-kick and Adebayor stretched in vain pursuit of Rose’s one decent cross of the game.

Rose was holding his back even in the warm-up and looked sluggish throughout. Eriksen was peripheral, Lennon anonymous, carrying on from where he left off last week. I hope Paulinho is feeling his way back to full-fitness after his injury because if not, he must be mightily hacked off about something. Only Dembele provided any drive or impetus. A rock on the ball, defenders bounced off him as he went he forward but he had precious little help from his team-mates. He should have tried a shot or two.

Bentaleb kept moving across in front of the back four, tidying up and making himself available, his distribution a mixture of the accurate and misplaced but he was not alone in giving the ball away. A plastic kebab box blew across the pitch as half-time approached. Guess the defenders had the time to tuck in. It was so quiet at times, I could hear Sherwood shouting on the other side of the pitch. My highlight thus far was queuing for the toilet at half-time.

After the break Spurs emerged with a bit more purpose and bounce, though everything in this game is relative. We weren’t really getting anywhere but there were a few oohs and ahhs from the crowd, although by then winning a thrown-in might have led to a lap of honour.

The match was won with a moment of high-class football utterly out of keeping with the rest of the performance because it involved a) quick thinking, b) a pinpoint pass and c) a shot on target. Dembele toppled over in centre midfield. While everyone waited for him to pick himself up, Walker hit an early diagonal ball 40 yards onto Abebayor’s chest. Everything about what followed was perfect – a finely timed run to avoid offside and get a precious yard on the defenders, his impeccable control, his strength to hold off two defenders and above all a blinding left-foot shot that flew low to the near post. My whingeing about this game should not detract from Manu’s cracking finish, thrilling with the co-ordination and flow of a striker at his peak.

And that was pretty much that. The goal was our first shot on target. Stats show we had another one but I can’t recall it. Sherwood used his subs well, Capoue coming on to shore up the defence as Everton pressed and the bold move of Defoe and Townsend to distract Everton at the other end. Andros ended up shooting against defenders’ legs from a foot and neglecting his defensive duties as Coleman overlapped but the danger passed. Capoue came across to help but nearly undid his work by making one rash tackle, on Coleman in the box, but the ref said ‘no penalty’. We played out time without too much bother.

A few things to take from this one. People are still talking about Sherwood’s 4-4-2 when he has often varied his formation. This was 4-5-1 to match up with Everton. In the end, both sides cancelled each other out, which made for a dull game. Everton had no recognised striker and it really showed. Even so, their attitude was too cautious and they did not pressure us when it was clear we were not playing at all well.

Our main problem was the absence of movement when we got the ball. Time and again  we picked the ball up in midfield only to find everyone bar Adebayor standing still. We did not get enough players in front of the ball in those situations. One – Adebayor – is not enough. We have the players to do it, we have done it in away games to good effect, yet nothing yesterday and that could be down either to player lethargy or poor coaching.

Adebayor was our best player regardless of the goal. He kept working and was always available despite not getting any support from the midfield.

I’ve never done it myself but I could understand why many were tempted to drift away before the end. A shame though – they should have stayed to say farewell to Jermain Defoe, who wandered slowly around the pitch taking his applause from two-thirds empty stands. A mistake to let him go. He found himself a relic of a bygone age when the big man/little man combo reigned supreme. Sincere thanks for everything he’s done. I was sad to see him drift away like this and think he was sad too.

 

Heartwarming Tales Of The True Meaning Of Being A Spur Lift The Gloom

The drabness of Spurs’ 1-1 draw away to Hull yesterday matched the battleship grey gloom enveloping supporters this week. Tottenham went through the motions but never got it together. However, we came home with a point in a match where we had the better of the play overall without ever looking particularly dangerous.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is feeling numb and disillusioned – the Lustdoctor has returned to blogging with this searing indictment of the current situation on the The Fighting Cock site. Read it if you haven’t caught it already. I have been reminded recently about the bond between Spurs supporters and the special fascination this club develops for those of us who feel our support deep inside.

First, yesterday’s draw. The dysfunctional features of our play, familiar when we’re not doing so well, were in evidence for most of the Spurs blog 108game. A slow tempo, soporific in periods where we seemed scared to play the ball out of defence, or unable to. Lack of cohesion as we tried to move the ball forward. Adebayor was the focal point throughout and our best player, holding, giving and on rare occasions looking sharp in the box. However, he looked around and found precious little going on, at least in terms of anything decisive, something or someone to make a goalscoring opportunity. Lennon missed the beat all afternoon, regularly passing to an opponent or moving to exactly where a team-mate’s ball was not going to end up.

Defensive uncertainty. So good to see Vertonghen back, brought straight into the side alongside Dawson but not yet match fit. The two centre-backs were shifted out of position too often, although this was not all their fault as the protection from our midfield four in front of them melted away frequently, and not under any great pressure. Vertonghen tried too hard early on: in trying to get in front of an attacker he sold himself. Dawson was stranded and Long ran on to a clever ball to exploit that confusion and score. We had still to get going.

Gradually we pushed Hull back. It’s a pattern that they don’t seem to mind too much. They have one of the best home defensive records in the division, plus a recently acquired strike pairing that would always keep us occupied. So without ever firing up the quattro, we made the chances and missed them. Most were fleeting opportunities, might-have-beens not forehead-clutching blunders. Manu and others to the byline, time and again the cross was blocked in or near the six yard box by well-organised and determined defenders. Almost but not quite.

Good to see Paulinho back. Needs time on the field too, his box to box drive is vital in a four man midfield but he can’t get up into fourth or fifth just yet. But class is permanent. Rose’s hopeless mishit came to him at the edge of the box. One momentary lapse from an otherwise diligent defence and he was on his own. Back to goal, he killed the ball stone dead at his feet, then turned and shot into the net in a single movement. A rare moment of quality on a dull afternoon.

Poor Soldado. Strikers more than any other player relay on instinct and when it deserts them, they wander lost and bewildered in the wilderness. When they are out of touch, defenders can whack the cover off the ball to clear it, midfielders can run around a lot but strikers have no such fallback. Soldado has no idea what’s gone wrong. It’s past the point of criticism, I just feel pity.

Now for a heartwarming story of camaraderie and generosity between strangers, united by a loyalty to Tottenham Hotspur. TNot sure if the club is worthy of such loyalty. It fails to grasp the basic fact of support – we give a hell of a lot but in the end it is a relationship, and like any relationship they have to give something back. Not much because we are patient, loyal and longsuffering, but something, yet at the moment they give nothing.

Supporters are different. Supporters get it. They understand what it means, beyond head and heart and into the soul. There’s nothing like it, the bond supporters feel towards a club. Irrational, insane, energy-sapping but as a soul singer once said, when she touches me, nothing else matters.

On Christmas Day our garden was flooded. Another six inches or so and it would have come into the house. I don’t even live especially close to a river. We were lucky the damage wasn’t greater and I’m grateful for that, but under three feet of water, inside our little garden cabin, was my collection of Spurs books, souvenirs and programmes. I’m not a collector, I just kept a programme from every game I saw since I was a kid in the sixties until the late nineties, when I stopped buying them.

I wrote about it here. Of course I did – the essence of the blog over the last five seasons is about how it feels to be a Spurs supporter, and this felt bad. Logically, rationally, really, I am so relieved the house didn’t cop it but those programmes meant a lot. But, I have discovered, not as much as the touching response I had to that piece. I’m going to embarrass a few people by naming names, because you deserve to know about their generosity.

As well as the kind comments on the blog, several people wrote to me to say how much they enjoy the blog and felt for my loss. Thank you.

Three authors, proper writers not a scrappy blogger writing in snatched moments between chores and work like me, took the trouble not only to contact me but to offer to replace any damaged books. Adam Powley, Martin Cloake and Julie Welch – thank you. Please buy their books – all of them, now. They will remind you what it means to be a Spur.

On the Spurs Odyssey site, run by the mighty Paul Smith, my pal Rich Dickenson put me in touch with Graham Barker. His father, a lifelong Spurs fan like Graham, had died recently. Graham wanted his programmes to go to a good home and so now they are in mine. We had never met before I went to pick them up, he refused to take any money for them, he knew his dad would have wanted them to go to someone who knew what they meant. Graham, thank you.

Davey, sometime commenter on this site, writer, we’ve shared a few games on the Shelf. Not been in touch for a while, out of the blue a programme from the Pat Jennings testimonial drops through the letter box. It’s found a good home. Didn’t have to do it, but took the time and trouble. Thanks Davey.

My blogging pal Greg from the excellent Dispatches From A Football Sofa  More coincidence. I had admired his work for ages, discovered a few years ago he lives nearby. Semi-final programme, same letterbox. I told him he should have kept it for his newborn son, a hierloom. Thanks Greg.

Whatever the club do, the spirit of being a Spurs supporter will never go away.

The Sound of Sighlence

You can tell how a game is going by the sound of the crowd, a surefire soundtrack as the game ebbs and flows. The exultation that greets a goal, unrestrained singing in celebration, the contented hubbub as the fans leave after a win or the sharp, bitter recrimination of defeat or worse, a side that is not trying.

The sound of Spurs right now is a heavy, deep sigh. There’s disappointment there, some shaking of heads, plus a touch of resignation. It’s not working out as we planned and we’ve been here before, so many, many times.

Another day, another big fat zero in the ‘goals for’ column. However, this one was different. Same end product but only after the Newcastle goal was peppered from all angles in a second half bombardment where for 25 minutes we played scintillating, high tempo football to create more genuine chances than in the last half a dozen matches put together. There was a lot to be pleased with but still plenty of sighing, then as I drove home and still going as I type this.

65% possession, 24 shots, 14 on target – about right, I read them on the concourse as I paused on the way home and, well, sighed. Match statistics in games like these are the contemporary equivalent of a consolation goal, that is no consolation at all. Newcastle keeper Tim Krul had an outstanding game. More saves in a single match than any other keeper in Europe this season, apparently. See what I mean, they don’t help at all. First half leaps into the stratosphere to thwart Soldado and Sigurdsson were the best but just as valuable for his side were the outstretched boots and scrambled clearances. I’ve not seen a replay but how on earth he and a single defender kept the ball out after a deflected free-kick settled on the goal line remains a mystery.

Yet the harsh truth is that keepers can only make those saves if the ball is close enough to them. Weak finishing close in was our undoing. Krul could have remained the star but noble in defeat, such were the number of good opportunities we fashioned. Eriksen, Paulinho and Soldado made it too easy for him.

Things looked rosy to begin with. It felt as if both team and crowd had responded to recent criticism. Immediately we stretched the Newcastle with a move at pace, Walker freed up on the right. His cross was too close to the keeper but it augured well for things to come. Lots of encouragement too.

Eriksen was prominent, moving across the line and out wide rather than staying comfortable in the central pocket. For his game and that of Spurs to develop, he has to become more consistently involved.

The promising opening petered out. Newcastle moved the ball neatly out of defence and played two up front so they remained a threat on the break for the entire game. They were helped by Spurs giving the ball away. Friedel saved well on two occasions, then we were caught out. Dembele was fiddling around with the ball deep in our half. Although he eventually cleared, it allowed the Mags to pounce on a ball than Paulinho first misjudged, letting it run across his body, then was weak in the challenge. Remy was in: he rounded the keeper to score.

Newcastle and Remy in particular were dangerous. Our high line became our best protection. Dawson was stranded on more than one occasion and Chiriches came across to perfectly time a tackle that surely prevented a goal. Remy, a player we have been closely linked with, reminded us what we have missed this season, a focal point for our opponents’ attack and a target for balls out of defence.

We spluttered away for the rest of the half. Bad old Tottenham – too slow, not enough width as Siggy and Andros repeatedly came inside, too many players standing still and waiting for the ball.

We should really remember to start playing from the first whistle, not half time. Galvanised by the team-talk, we emerged fresh and new. Newcastle were well-organised but did not present as much of a barrier as Hull or West Ham. It was everything the first half was not, pace, movement, support for the man on the ball and above all, chances. Eriksen missed the best one, a lovely intricate move down the right put him in, he had time to take a touch but tried to place a ball to send the keeper the wrong way rather than putting his foot through it.

Driven on by substitute Sandro, his energy and power reverberated through the team even though he was the deepest midfielder. Vertonghen fizzed the ball in from wide left. Soldado headed weakly to the keeper, Paulinho missed, that scramble on the line.

Defoe came on at about 70 minutes, the right choice but as we gathered ourselves for another effort, his arrival had the reverse effect. Sandro stayed deep and Newcastle brought on another midfielder. Their 5 outnumbered our 3 and the momentum disappeared totally. Tactically outsmarted by Alan Pardew…not AVB’s finest moment.

Vertonghen hit the bar from a corner but otherwise that was that. Dawson was thrown forward late on but we couldn’t even whack the ball forward properly.

So what to make of this? This was different from some previous games where we hardly got into the box let alone make a chance. We can put a lot of this down to the keeper and should not be too down because if we play like that for an entire match, we will do well.

However, it comes in the context of an inability to score and some of the same patterns were on display. Soldado needs service – through-balls and the ball in front of him in the box. Without it, he contributes little and did not play well yesterday. We have to have faith and gear the team around his needs. AVB knew that when he bought him but he’s not so far achieved that aim.

I’m boring myself with the inverted wingers, done to death in previous columns. Suffice to say we saw more of the edge of the box log-jam that has stifled our attacks almost as effectively as the opposition back four. We are doing their job for them. Siggy and Andros ran into trouble, while Paulinho and Eriksen prefer it on the outskirts of the area. Problem is, there are few cut-backs because no one is going to the byline, no one in the box to help Soldado.

I will break a long-held golden rule and just this once make a comparison with Barcelona, which is normally the refuge of those who don’t know the game. They are one of the best club sides the world has ever seen so no wonder Spurs aren’t that good. The point I’m making is a simple one, however. For their third goal yesterday against Real Betis, Iniesta chipped the ball into the box and 4 of their players ran through to converge on it. I’m not sure we have 4 men in the box for corners let alone from open play. Regardless of the result, AVB has to solve this problem.

Also we have too many men whose instinct is to run with the ball. Good players, just not the right blend. It slows everything down. Add the fact that we have right-footers on the left and vice versa, they too want that extra touch or two. Not much in itself but add it up and it extracts the pace from our attacks.

We have a number of men playing out of position, and if AVB is sometimes accused of stubbornness then this is the point where I agree. Dembele is not best employed as a DM. His strength and passing ability have tempted AVB but he is the wrong choice. Sandro made a huge difference when he came on and should start, if he’s fit. Paulinho made his reputation as a box to box player but he’s being used elsewhere. I said last week that he needs a rest as he has become less influential as the weeks have passed. So it proved yesterday, admirably willing but a mixed afternoon and at fault for the goal.

Eriksen worsened as the second half went on but could be the creative hub with the right players around him. The wide men are not going wide and are not the men you want on the end of a chance in the box.

Townsend’s honeymoon is over. Opposition defences have sussed him out – two men and push him inside – and by the end his frustration manifested in wasted, hopeless long-shots. he still has a lot to learn. On the other side, Siggy was ineffectual.

I hope the squad are not getting fractious. Defoe gave Kaboul a right mouthful after an innocuous misplaced pass, and kept on going. This season he’s been hitherto completely focussed – this felt out of place and different.

Finally, all this money spent and no plan B. A number of quality players who are looking as though they can’t provide an alternative. Whatever Adebayor has done to hack AVB off must be the most heinous sin since Judas turned in Jesus. I enviously watched United, Arse**l even, Southampton with their central strikers as focal point and really missed Manu. We need him.

AVB needs more time to work this through. By now though, he would have expected to be much closer to his best team than he is. Or to be more accurate, the team and set-up he thought was close to his best is not working out.

Social media is awash with suggestions, including mine of course, and all of them different. These days everyone’s a manager and we’re all like Alex Ferguson – never wrong. AVB is in danger of becoming one of us, which frankly is a nightmare. He has so much potential at his disposal, he’s chopping and changing, which will create an unsettled side. He has to send a message to key newcomers, Soldado and Eriksen in particular, Lamela too, that for the next ten or so games, he’s going to stick with them and build the side around them. Let them make mistakes, allow them to learn. We’re in this for the long haul. They need time and that’s the best way to use it.

“One Nil To The Tottenham…”

Sometimes you take control and smash your opponents into the middle of next week. Sometimes you have to get your head down and just keep on going. This season’s model, the AVB Mk2, keeps on rolling along. Creating chances at a steady rate throughout yesterday’s match against Cardiff, in the end shot number 29 went in, well worth the wait as the supporters in the ground celebrated as madly as the players.

If there are any non-Spurs fans reading this, forgive us if we think what is after all a basic requirement of a football team, to play for 90 minutes, is remarkable in some way. It’s just that we’re not used to it. Over the years the defence has had the concentration span of a hyperactive Tasmanian devil on acid. However well we played, it was only a matter of time before someone would go for a wander, suddenly entranced by the hidden mysterious beauty of the preformed concrete walls of the nearest stand or gazed longingly into the sunset over N17.

Villas-Boas has instilled a rare focus into his side. They not only keep going, they stick to their shape and pattern of play, retaining possession and pass-and-move towards the opponents’ goal. It proves that this system suits the players and they are responding admirably. As I’ve said before this season, it enhances their individual strengths, makes them feel comfortable and confident. Put that together with their philosophy and commitment, you have a little something going there. Their celebration of the goal was natural and ebullient, shared by the coaches and the subs – no sulking resentment at being taken off there.

And let’s not forget another basic – they are very fit. There is no noticeable dip in the levels of effort in the last 15 minutes of a game, but that’s carrying on from AVB Mk1, something he sorted out in the second half of last season.

This was a match we dominated for long periods without ever dazzling. None of the forwards had a particularly eye-catching game yet the chances flowed. Marshall, the Cardiff keeper, was undoubtedly the man of the match but without taking away any credit from his fine performance, many of our shots were very straight. Still, I would rather Soldado carry on taking the ball early because on other days those efforts will find the corners or a worse goalkeeper.

The goal was effortless class, the sort that makes the difference between winning and losing in tight situations. Holtby’s fine cameo when he came on as sub gave our late efforts renewed impetus, busy on the ball and early angled passes into the channels. In injury time he found Lamela on the right, whose cross with the outside of his left foot was touched home by Paulinho with a sublime improvised backheel-come-sidefoot.

We deserved the win but understand Cardiff fans’ frustration. They missed a couple of good chances when very well placed, missed by a fair distance if truth be told. They also could have had at least a free-kick and quite possibly 11 versus 10 when Lloris handled marginally outside the area as he rushed out at the feet of an attacker. Much as I admire him, that’s the second game in succession when Hugo has lost his bearings at the edge of the box. It’s a vital aspect both of his game and our tactics with the sweeper-keeper, he can’t afford to have a faulty sat-nav.

Second in the table, one solitary goal conceded. I’ll worry about scoring only five but leave that for another day and I’ll settle for the current 5:1 goals scored/conceded ratio at the end of the season. Twitter tells me this is the best defensive record in Europe. Remember readers, this is Tottenham Hotspur we are talking about. George Graham tried but failed to bring his ‘one nil to the Ars***l’ mentality to Spurs in the late nineties. All of this with plenty of attacking play, overlapping full-backs and Walker still going walkabout.

There’s no single reason for this. Lloris makes a huge difference – we have a back five now – and Vertonghen can cover up for the errors of others. We seem better defending set pieces and this may be my imagination but I get the impression we are conceding fewer unnecessary free-kicks in our own half. Linked to this is the value of retaining possession better, thus giving the opposition fewer opportunities.

The main factor, however, has got to be the formation with two defensive midfielders. Paulinho hasn’t dominated so far but he gets through so much work, snuffs out problems in midfield before they become serious and gets a tackle in. Finally, we don’t attack rashly these days. We don’t over-commit and there’s always someone staying back to cover. Add up the little things and you have something greater than the sum of the parts.

So that’s settled then – Villa 5 Spurs 0 tomorrow….There’s plenty of work required as I said at the start of the season but to my mind we are way ahead of schedule. In the meantime this solidity and strength is gaining us points that we would have dropped in, well, all the years I’ve been watching Spurs pretty much covers it.