Spurs v Bolton. Our Saviour Cometh

Couldn’t  get on WordPress this morning, so here is the delayed report. Just so you know, I got up early for this….

Thanks to everyone who popped down to Pav’s Cafe in Westgate yesterday in response to my match preview. I wasn’t able to make it myself, work commitments, you know how these things go. If I could, I would have, but the prayers of the pilgrims did not go unheeded. Our Saviour returned to the Lane and all is well in this troubled land. If a few loaves and fishes should be on hand on Sunday….Mind you, knowing Spurs, I’m certain they would charge £6 per loaf.

Pavlyuchenko’s first goal settled any lingering nerves after a sedate opening in which Bolton had a surprising amount of space in front of our box. From the very beginning, Ricketts anxiously followed Modric’s every move. Clearly Coyle identified him as our danger man. Luka came in search of the ball as his colleagues had until then largely left him peace. He moved forward with purpose and delivered a penetrative pass to Pav, who turned and slotted the ball home, his natural finisher’s instincts flooding back as the shot nestled into the corner. Right behind the line, it was one of those that you knew was in as soon as it left his foot, the perfect judgement of a class player.

Afterwards Ricketts remonstrated with the referee and with some justification – we won possession only after Luka had blocked him off the ball but the indiscretion went unnoticed. This ref was odd – he didn’t want to blow his whistle. Only 8 free kicks in the entire match, refreshing in many ways, not least because the result depended on open play rather than rehearsed training ground moves, I suspect Ricketts was not congratulating him on his generosity.

This showed also the character of the game, pleasant and enjoyable (for Spurs fans) without the bite and bile of a cup tie. Bolton moved the ball well but ineffectually. Coyle’s coaching abilities are evident in the ease with which he has transformed his team’s style but with nothing much up front their good work was wasted. Bassong hindered their casue with an excellent first half display to mark their pivot Klasnic out of the game. We know about Bassong’s pace on recovery but here he steadfastly refused to allow his opponent to turn or to have a clean touch.

After Pav’s opener the result was never in doubt. Another fine ball from Modric gave a Defoe a good chance but more goals were certain. Bale revelled in the space and evaded the attentions of the two defenders ahead of him with his darting, incisive strikes and excellent early crossing. Not all worked but as a sign of his ever-growing maturity he varied the final ball, at times picking out a man rather than going for the far post ball. However, the second came from the opposite flank. Hud shaped to shoot but preferred to precisely lay the ball to Palacios. He in turn used the time at his disposal to deliver a great near post ball. I credited Defoe with a fine finish but in fact in the tangle of legs Jaaskelainen did the job for us.

Bale was not to be out-done and his low near post cross was turned in by O’Brien. Although both could have been avoided, we are pressuring defences with hard, accurate balls delivered into the danger areas from on or near the byline. Without Crouch, the long balls have suddenly disappeared, unless you count the succession of excellent passes over distance from Huddlestone. This is Pav’s real contribution. His movement encourages others to play and to keep passing. In order to make this work, we must of necessity retain possession and be more creative. Wigan and Bolton put us under little pressure, so Everton on Sunday will be a truer test of the new style but the players seem more comfortable with this shape and the pieces are fitting into place.

After this the game petered out. Bolton looked more dangerous with more attackers but they were three down by then and on the few occasions when they broke through, Gomes was in good form, as is the norm these days. He’s done so well for us over the last three months.

Although Palacios did not have an especially good match, his value was evident as soon as he was substituted. His absence left gaps in front of our defence but as I say, Bolton could not take advantage. Bassong did not duplicate his first half form – this was because he was moved around more by the strikers and so here is a vulnerability in his game, his positioning. Dawson compensated and dominated the box, still moaning at the ref and fully motivated deep into injury time when we were four up.

The fourth goal was again well-worked and Pav took full advantage of the space in the box at his disposal. This was an odd goal for me. For what seems like the first time in forty years, I missed the moment that he struck the ball because the bloke in front of me stood up and blocked my view. He had no need to – he had a totally unobstructed view of the pitch – but standing is not the sort of thing that bothers me. I picked up his movement early, born of my vast experience as I now enter the veteran stage but suddenly he became so wide, I couldn’t see round him. I blame myself – are my reactions finally becoming so dulled? This is a worrying development.

Of those I haven’t yet mentioned, Eidur’s interaction with his team-mates was good but the passing became all a bit flicky. BAE looked so calm, as usual, and first match back, late on he recovered after Elmander stampeded through and sweetly removed the ball from his toe. Bentley did little.

In the quarter finals, the field is not as strong as in previous years and suddenly there’s real excitement in the Cup.

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