Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was. The Manager

Harry Redknapp has met me. Years ago my neighbour at the time organised a testimonial for one of the Charlton players against West Ham and my wife’s family are rabid Hammers, so there we were in the director’s box at the Valley. Before kick-off Peter waves to me and beckons me down to the front. I’m happy to thank him but he says, “Where are the rest of you? Come and meet Harry. Harry!” he shouts, “Someone I want you to meet.” Harry strolls over, is as pleasant as can be as we exchange a few words and the photo, once pride of place in my wife’s daughter’s living room, is now shoved behind a cupboard in their loft but I’m there, hanging back and forcing a smile.

Peter Varney and I used to work for Lewisham Council – he was something in building – and we got to know each other better during the 5 week strike over, well, I forget now but it was important. Lovely bloke and a good neighbour. He used to cut the thick hedge that divided our front gardens and it was only when he moved that I realised it was on my side of the line but he never mentioned it. A lifelong and long-suffering Charlton fan, he did a bit for the supporters club and for charity. We’d be chatting over the fence and his wife would call out, “Pete, phone. Again!!!”

“Coming. Who is it”.”

“Kevin Keegan”

“Tell Kev to hang on a minute, I’m busy.”

Although he was too modest to speak about it, he must have been good because one day it was announced that Pete was the new CEO at Charlton. From humble beginnings on the picket line, he was in the boardroom and moved away. I, um, downsized.

I never took to Harry. I wanted to, for him to be the football man with a heart of gold who brought success to clubs in the right way. Fact is, my image of him has been tainted from the start as my wife’s family chronicled his dodgy wheeler-dealing that left him in pocket (allegedly) and successive clubs in a ruinous state financially. I refused to succumb to his assiduously cultivated persona of all-round good ol’ Uncle Harry. It was none of my business, until a couple of years ago anyway, but I don’t like being manipulated. Despite his generosity towards me, perhaps I was the first of those ungrateful Spurs fans he’s told to go elsewhere.

Never mind the man. My club comes first, last and always: there’s only one question, what has he done for Tottenham Hotspur? I’m genuinely and sincerely grateful for the progress we have made since Redknapp became manager. It’s not just about the league position, although I’m convinced those advertising boards that form the post-match interview backdrop flash subliminal messages saying “2 points after 8 games”, lest we forget. For me it’s also about the pleasure of watching wonderful footballers in (almost) white shirts playing scintillating flowing football. No trophies but everlasting memories. All Spurs fans are disappointed that we failed to qualify for next season’s competition but let’s just pause and say it out loud: “In 2011 Tottenham Hotspur reached the quarter finals of the Champions League.” Enjoy the sensation. One of the problems of the modern game is that we never stop to savour the feeling, it’s all about what happens next. Relish it, taste it, roll it round your tongue and chew it over, because these moments don’t come around that often. Then think back to February or March last year and tell me you believed that was possible. Be honest.

Yet our undoubted achievements this season have been tinged with regret. It’s realistic rather than greedy to say we could have done so much more. Our woeful lack of firepower up front has been the main problem – the strikers  have been downright dreadful for much of the time. Coupled with regular disappearing acts from our defenders and keeper (where the hell did they go?), we failed to dispatch teams we should have beaten. Had just a few draws become wins then we would have overtaken Arsenal and secured 4th place.

Redknapp has to take some of the blame for this, yet he appears unwilling or unable to do so. Win and he basks in the glory. Lose and it’s down to the players. Harry has infamously been dismissive of the value of tactics in the past. He doesn’t really mean this of course, the very last thing he can be accused of is naivety, but he likes us to think he sends the players out to, well, just play. However, he has to take some greater responsibility for our performances, good and bad

The regular selection of Crouch encouraged the use of the long ball. Earlier in the season it went straight down the pitch, often too early, varied as time went on by the player pulling away to the far post, hence the long looping ball. When Pav played, we did the self-same thing. Whilst this brought some rewards, too often it negated the advantage gained from our skilful, clever midfield. Luka and Rafa don’t want to see the ball flying over their heads. Defenders have a fair idea of where the ball will go, therefore it’s easier to handle. Too frequently our strikers were ahead of the ball, stationary and waiting for the ball at the edge of the box. Problem is, the defenders are waiting too.

Also, and as a lover of attacking style it pains me grievously to say this, we were often too open to succeed in the Premier League. Although we developed greater resilience and an ability to hang on to possession, we lost it more easily than we should have on too many occasions and the midfield did not work hard enough to tuck in and protect a lead. It’s not about outright defence, rather, it’s about adapting to the conditions on the pitch. That’s the way it is in this league. This is tactics. This is the responsibility of the manager.

Redknapp’s great strength is that he is good with players. He takes their skills, fits them into position and asks them to do what they are good at. Find a group of players whose skills dovetail and you have a fine team. That’s why players always say they like playing for him, because he plays to their strengths. Nothing wrong with that and his loyalty to some men by giving them a run in the side has meant Bale, Dawson, Assou Ekotto and latterly Sandro have developed their full potential.

He’s more shaky when there’s a gap. He doesn’t adjust or enable the whole side to be as flexible and mobile as the best teams. For example, if Bale was out or he felt compelled to squeeze Van Der Vaart into the side we struggled because we did not have another man to step in to play the same role. Square pegs in round holes. Modric shifted to the left, unaccountably taking our finest player from his best position or Rafa wandering aimlessly  from the right. Also, if he has it in for you, it’s less Uncle Harry and more evil stepfather. Bent was never played in the right way, back to goal too often when he likes it in front of him, then ridiculed and off elsewhere. What we could have done with half the goals he’s scored since he left.

Redknapp is immune from criticism and has taken umbrage recently against Spurs fans who have dared to go where the media refuse to and question his tactics, selection and status. I first commented on this a few weeks ago after the West Brom game. In an age where the media unstintingly dissect their subjects like a pathologist dragging out the innards of a corpse then examining the entrails under a microscope, his protection is a truly remarkable achievement. I can’t recall any sustained critique of his era at Tottenham from a professional pundit. Any suggestion of negativity is met with snorts of derision, not even considered but immediately and forcefully ruled out of bounds. No other manager is shielded in this way, not even Alex Ferguson. Nothing sticks.

Harry would do well to remember that we the fans were here when he came and will be here long after he’s dumped us for the England job. He can’t control us the way he looks after the media. He’s done a good job for us but should also look back to his appointment and be grateful because his record as a manager didn’t merit the role. I’m sure he’s as frustrated as we are at some of the problems, so why can’t he acknowledge that and share the pain and joy we’ve felt over the past 9 months.

Redknapp must carry on as manager. Consistency is key and the process of team building should continue. Above all, he must hang on to Modric, Van der Vaart, Sandro and Bale. Sell his grandmother and his precious Sandra if he has to, just the build the team around these gems that he did not unearth but has polished almost to perfection.

This man of the football world is still learning, even in his early sixties. He’s never been in this position before. He’s had little experience in Europe, let alone the Champions League, or at the top end of the table. Neither has he previously worked with players this good nor been in a position to buy the highest quality footballers. No more bargains or cheap but useful veterans for the short-term. Never mind the team, he has to step up in quality too, like managers with 15 or 20 years less experience in the game. I have the niggling feeling that he’s an old dog who can’t learn any new tricks and shed the underdog mid-table mentality. I desperately want him to prove me wrong.

Pouring over his individual comments has little value but over time you get a broad sense of what he’s up to. At the moment he’s gone on the defensive, talking down our ambitions and dropping hints to Levy that we need the money to buy quality this summer. It’s familiar territory, as is the rubbishing of the fans. Most of us do not have over-inflated expectations. Within our frustrations we realise both the potential of the club and the work still to be done. To fulfil that potential, Redknapp has to move out of his comfort zone in terms of the players we buy, the way we play and the manner in which he relates to the fans. He has to work hard this summer. I for one look forward to August.

Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was – The Players

The second in a series this week – the Players

Rubbishing Crouch and Jenas, demanding a wholesale clear-out, insisting on bids for every striker in La Liga. If only it were that straightforward.

It’s not just about the individuals, it’s where they will fit into the shape of the team as defined by our tactics and how they combine with each other in crucial areas of the field such as up front and in central defence. It’s also going to be a busy old season, with two European games before the end of August let alone the league and two cups.

The absurd demands of the Europa League mean that we have to have a squad capable of playing consistently well over a long period of time. Old heads to steady the ship alongside youngsters who should relish the chance not only of first team experience but also of reminding the manager that they deserve a step up into contention for a league start. We have much to learn in this respect – last season we could not rotate the squad to any extent without significantly reducing our chances of winning.

Redknapp has some big decisions to make regarding our approach next season. In the previous piece I advocated a more cautious approach – reality dictates that our open formation neglectful of our defensive responsibilities will not bring sustained success.That doesn’t mean we have to be dull and boring – that’s not what I want from my Spurs and that too does not win trophies. It’s asking a lot but we have the nucleus of a team who are able to deliver, better perhaps than for twenty or thirty years. Top class players who could be the heart and soul of a consistently successful team for years to come.

Some of those partnerships are well defined. Our strikers have looked lost and lonely for much of the season, an estranged couple waiting for the divorce papers to come through. At the back Dawson’s game has improved but he’s mightier still alongside Ledley’s pace and anticipation. Other combinations are no less important, however. If our wide midfielders are going to attack, perhaps they are better off having a defensive minded full-back behind them, who prefers to stay back. Alternatively, a flank combination of full-back and attacking midfielder is potent going forward, then an extra defensive midfielder to slide across can protect us at the same time. It’s about equilibrium – change one part of the system and the rest has to readjust to maintain the balance.

Finally, one formation isn’t enough. We need not only to have  plan B at our disposal, we should be comfortable  and familiar with any changes necessitated by the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents or the need to change gear during a game.

The very roles themselves have been altered by the demands of success in the modern game. Flexibility has a high value, the ability to be mobile and alert physically and mentally, to play a variety of roles often within the same minute or two never mind in the same game. Midfielders have to defend whether they like it or not. A player like Defoe suffers because he’s geared to do his best work in the box but doesn’t bring other players into the game. In the crucial position of defensive midfield it is no longer sufficient to be able to run and tackle. You have to be able  to pass the ball and turn defence into attack.

Goalkeepers

Ah Gomes, you were so nearly the love of my life. Our very own cult hero, derided by many, we could see the potential. We nurtured and protected you until the world saw what we already knew – you could really do it. Until this season when you kept chucking the ball in your own net. Overall he’s not had a bad season, making many vital saves almost as a matter of course. The problem is, the high profile cock-ups have ben recent and stick in mind. Better on crosses lately, the real problem was not the soft one against Madrid or Chelsea (although of course actually that was a save because it didn’t go in) but the panic shown against Blackpool and earlier versus Inter. Mad dashes off the line are one thing but pulling down players for no real reason indicate a lack of composure essential for any reliable keeper.

Reliable, that’s all we need. Solid rather than spectacular will do, good handling, takes the crosses, cuts out the mistakes in front of a sound defence and maybe doesn’t always get into the top the corner. I’d keep Gomes unless we can buy a world-class upgrade.

Cudicini has been a capable back-up but we need more. His legs have lost their spring and anyway I’d prefer to see someone challenging Gomes for the first team place rather than just hanging around for injuries. Pietklosa came well rated but ignored, while if Alnwick cost a penny it was too much. His signing shows the dangers of buying a back-up as opposed to someone who could mount a proper challenge for the first team.

Defenders

A few weeks back i started selling the house and all my possessions, not for the Rapture but for a charitable medical foundation with the sole aim of healing Ledley knee. A true Tottenham great, I raved about him a couple of weeks ago. His magnificence radiates not just from his pace, ability to read the game and perfect timing, it’s his dedication to just playing. he’s adapted his game, using short scurrying strides when once he strode across the turf, minimising his running to save every last drop of energy for the few yards that take him into the right place at the right time. The many fans who wrote him off should be ashamed of themselves. They failed to recognise the willpower of the truly great.

However, he can’t play every game. Dawson can, or appears to want to. Undeterred by a serious injury sustained whilst playing for England. he’s come back stronger than ever. He’s learned to deal with his lack of pace and doesn’t plough in high up the field, timing his interventions with assurance. He does his best work  in the box, however, as does Gallas, so Spurs benefit from some defensive midfield protection. This was conspicuously absent in the matches where our back four were stretched. Any defender on the planet looks uncertain if left exposed and vulnerable.

Gallas and Assou Ekotto both demand special praise for outstanding seasons. Harry’s best acquisition, once fit Gallas has proved himself a fierce warrior. His performance at the Emirates was one of my highlights of the season, his goalline clearance against Milan one of the moments. No hint of the dressing room disruption that has tainted his reputation. On the contrary, everyone around him must surely learn from and respect his attitude. In two or three games he has been injured yet played on as if nothing happened. At the Lane I sit close enough to the pitch to see his pain was real, yet he simply will not bow to the pressure.

If Redknapp likes a player, he will give that man a chance. Although Benny appears not to be moved by anything much, he’s taken his chance, upped his game and become a canny consistent footballing full back, good touch, bit of pace and neat on the ground. He still makes mistakes, usually due to his welcome obsession with not conceding possession – ironically he tries so hard to hang on to it for the team rather than wang it away that he ends up being caught – but the moments where his brain checks out have virtually disappeared. He still needs to tuck in closer to his centrebacks, though.

Another player given his chance by Harry and who has taken it is Kaboul. Sometimes he still looks like an overgrown Labrador puppy but once those growing pains disappear, we have a top class centre half versatile enough to cover at full back. These things are important if we are playing over 60 games a season with squads limited to 25. Another one with a great attitude.

Woodgate’s demise seems to be premature with rumours of a pay as you play deal on the table. Only the club know his true fitness but it will have to be good to get a squad number, given that Ledley will certainly be there.

Less good news on the right flank. Corluka has been extremely disappointing this term. We’ve seen little of the positional shrewdness and strength on the ball that used to cover his chronic lack of pace, whilst his distribution has not been up to previous standards. I still see him as a centre back playing out of position. With Hutton, it’s the opposite – his pace can’t make up for his dreadful positioning. He has no future here.The speed of  Walker’s development has certainly surprised Harry but he will be first choice and vindication of our policy of armin gout young players to gain firs team experience, although from what little I’ve seen, he has work to do on his defensive play.

Bassong needed a run but never quite deserved it on the basis of his play. he had a good subs appearance marking Drogba but fatally he lets players get behind him

Danny Rose. Was he a winger or a central midfielder? No, he’s a full-back and a damn promising one at that. Remarkably good positioning and determined in the air, he’s definitely a first team squad man.

So we are in good shape at the back. Bassong will probably depart although he has the ability to stay, and we will go for another centreback, It’s up to the coaches to weld them into a unit – the raw material is there already.

Midfield

I have never made any secret of my love for Luka and I remain besotted despite his many other suitors and admirers who belatedly have succumbed to his charms. My eyes linger for a fatal fraction of a second after the ball has left his foot, just to see him run. One of my moments of the season was against Newcastle, when as the knee-high tackles flew in, three opponents descended upon him in the centre circle, scenting blood. Waiting until he could feel their breath on his collar, he dropped one shoulder, left two of them stranded, beat the third and was away in a flash, the same focussed, purposeful expression on his face, already looking to shift the ball forward in search of an opening. World-class, he makes football beautiful. One of my favourite players of the last thirty years.

Gareth Bale suffers from being too good. Fans’ expectations reached absurd heights, then he gets criticised for not doing the impossible. This is the Premier League not Melchester Rovers. He’s marked by two or three players most games so he can’t run through the lot of them any more. To me it is astonishing how often he almost does. I’ve never seen someone as big and powerful with such pace and touch. If our strikers had been half decent he would have twice as many assists. He delivers more than enough excellent crosses despite the attention he receives now, and his exploits against Inter are the stuff of legend. Long term his best position may be full-back, where his height and pace will be handy in defence and he can make runs from deep.

Sandro is the discovery of the season. His performances against Milan were those of a man who’s played 210 games, not 10. He’s everything a modern DM should be – moves well, slots into the back four and tracks the runner, yet in a trice is up the other end, and he can pass it too. Genuinely a world-class prospect, he and Modric are already a magnificent pairing and could be the cornerstone of years of success.

Pienaar will fit in well next season: his movement and passing can keep attacks going. I’m less enamoured of Kranjcar, Jenas and Palacios. The former may be able to hammer the ball in from distance but he’s overweight and does not work hard enough. If a theme of this year has been the way several team-mates have made the most of their opportunities, he seems intent on wasting his considerable talents, although to be honest he’s had little chance to shine of late. I always liked JJ although he’s so frustrating. he seems to have the ability to do anything and everything, effortlessly, yet he’s never consistent. His arrival as sub has injected drive in the second half when we have been flagging but he’s now in Sandro’s shadow. Palacios is more of an old-fashioned midfield ball winner and does not either pass the ball well enough or tuck himself into the back four when required. We may have outgrown them all.

Lennon’s game is still developing and he’s come on again this time but his final ball, although much improved, needs further polishing. He’s a fine sight whizzing down the wing: his future to me is more about the shape of the team and whether we can afford to have so many attack-minded players in the team at once. Believe me, I hate to say this, but he and Bale have to work back more than they do.

Hud did well before his injury. We seemed most comfortable when he slotted in in front of the defence and we don’t make the best use of his passing range. For someone who once played centre half, he has little awareness of his defensive responsibilities: it’s partly his stature but mainly he does not have that sense of anticipation. A fine player, if he had that first yard in the head he’d be a world-beater.

Van der Vaart was a steal at £8m. We’ve learned enough to know that he must play in that free role between the midfield and the striker. More about this in my final segment of this series, about the future, but suffice to say I would gear the team to play to this strength, perhaps sacrificing a winger and definitely finding a striker who can genuinely play up front on his own. Rafa can play off and around him with the midfield piling through to help out.

Once again we have riches almost beyond my dreams. Another wide man with different skills to those of Lennon to prevent Luka being moved wide is on the cards and perhaps some experience for the long haul ahead. Again the coaches have to the get the formation right. If Hud could lose 7 pounds, who knows?

Strikers

This is the shortest section but has been the biggest problem all season. Shortest because I’ve been banging on about the same things all season, most recently in the previous blog post.

Crouch is immobile, his touch is dreadful and his accuracy from the balls he wins in the air is poor. We’ll always get something but I want more than a percentage game. Moreover, his mere presence encourages the high ball, thus negating the advantages presented to us by the skilful players in the rest of the team. If he hammered in towards the goal with headers, touches and deflections, that would be fine, but he doesn’t know where the goal is half the time and a nudge in the back takes him out of the equation.

Pav is great if he has the time. Many of his goals are scored when he can push the ball a metre or so ahead of him and move onto it. Sunday was the prime example. The reality is, this seldom happens in the Prem and his touch lets him down more often than not.

Also technically poor is Defoe. Erratic ball control, inadequate positioning and a reluctance to get in where it hurts in the box have led to a poor season punctuated with a few great goals, again when he has the space to move onto it. He’s worked harder than ever (not on Sunday) and his link up play is better but that does not mean it’s up to scratch. Hugely disappointing.

In this department, major surgery is required.

The rest

Some players have not been around for a while and we’re never going to see them in a Spurs shirt again. Keane has been an example to every professional footballer that the grass is not always greener. Stick to what you know, where you feel comfortable, and it will bring out the best in you. I’m sure he’ll find another club that he supported as a boy.

I was all for the signing of David Bentley – he worked hard and his crossing would be just what we need, so I take no pleasure in identifying why it’s not worked out. The signs were there early on. Suddenly he began to appear in the media, opinion pieces and interviews. His agent was shaping him to be the star he was in his own head but he failed to realise you have to work at it. He didn’t have the nouse to realise that alongside Modric and others, he could cover up his inability to beat players and his lack of pace. A real shame.

Dos Santos never showed any consistent talent. To be fair to him, he was always stuck on the wing (small and skilful, see) whereas for Mexico he has a freer role across the pitch. Levy will have to take the hit on all three.

Next – the manager

New Dawn? Just That Same Old Feeling

The media have taken a solemn and binding oath never to say a bad word about Harry Redknapp. He’s teflon-coated, surrounded by a legion of sycophantic pundits who at the slightest hint of a problem adopt Roman strategy and surround their man with an impenetrable wall of shields. Spurs fans ringing the phone-ins who dare speak his name in vain are showered with ridicule, for example.

I was going to write about this at the end of the season, when we can properly and soberly reflect on a season of wildly fluctuating emotions, but suitably deflated after West Brom’s equaliser, this seems as good a time as any to bring the subject up. It’s a remarkable achievement in an era where the media covers football as never before, not merely examining their subjects with a fine tooth comb but individually picking out each and every head-louse, then sticking that under a microscope. If they can’t find a louse, they’ll invent one.

Yet Redknapp is immune. I can’t recall the last time I read or heard any sustained critique of his managership at Tottenham from a professional pundit. Any suggestion of negativity is met with snorts of derision, not even examined but immediately and forcefully ruled out of bounds. No other manager has such protection, not even Alex Ferguson. Nothing sticks, rather like Pav trying to trap the ball yesterday.

How did the ball get over there?

I am genuinely and sincerely grateful for the progress made by Tottenham Hotspur under Harry Redknapp. Harry bless him has obviously been told to stop intoning his mantra but for once I’ll save him the trouble: I have not forgotten that we did have 2 points from 8 games. To me that seems like if not yesterday, then only last week. The tilt at fourth place, the Champions League, the players, the football, all of this I’ve loved and will never forget. Building  a team takes time and I’m not impatient. I’m not expecting overnight success. However, Harry’s mantra can’t hide the problems and in the midst of the final few games that will define the season as one of success or failure, the old problems that we hoped had gone away have bubbled back to the surface.

Redknapp had a bad game yesterday. Starting with the team selection, he ignored the evidence that the pairing of Crouch and Pavyluchenko had worked pretty well. Now this was Harry’s selection in the first place and he deserves the credit: TOMM regulars will know that whilst I love each and every one of my lovely boys, Crouch is not my favourite son. Yet it’s been good so unless there was an injury, I saw no reason to break it up.

Harry will say, of course, that the job of a striker is to score goals and both did yesterday. However, there is no hiding from the reality that both were downright awful. Our problems stemmed from the fact that JD was never in the game (if he touched the ball at all in the first 20 minutes then I missed it) and Pav’s ball-control was a comic tour de force worthy of top billing at the Edinburgh festival. Leading the line is not his game, there’s been plenty of evidence over the years. He’s fine if he can push the ball a metre ahead of him. Do that, suddenly he’s a world-beater, as he was against Chelsea at home and yesterday he took his chance superbly. Then, as West Brom closed us down and left us no room in the box, he and Defoe looked so ordinary and ineffective. Time and again we played the ball to him, only to see it ping back from his rubber boots. When they call strikers ‘spring-heeled’, this is not what they had in mind.

It was odd not to see Benny up and down that wing. He’s been injured before but his presence is reassuring somehow. I missed him after he went off and so did Gareth Bale. He was at fault to some extent for the early goal, giving the player too much room inside him. However, he managed to get back, as he so often does, and the slip/injury did us in. Well-taken but so much room. Old failings.

Pav's boots are made of revolutionary new material

Sandro came on and had an excellent game, adding attacking drive and bounce to his defensive work. However, to fit him in required our two best players, Modric and Bale, to move out of position. This weakened our team more than if we had brought on Bassong, not a full-back and certainly not ideal but a quick and competent defender. Luka’s body language when he heard the news was a picture. He visibly slumped.

Taking of body language, an expert on Radio 4 said that tugging or touching the neck was the surest sign on a person that something was up. Feel free to use that in your next poker game or contract negotiation. As the game wore on, my neck resembled that of a turkey in early December. We never kicked on after our equaliser. It was one of those ‘nearly’ performances. Lots of good passes or touches that nearly came off but not quite. The pass looked a good one but was just cut out, or the flick opened up the defence – almost. In games like these, what begins as promising and inventive becomes over-optimistic and downright naive, as time after the moves broke down. Credit to West Brom here. Even though we pushed them further and further back towards their own goal, their defensive shield did not crack and they were always able to break quickly.We ended up trying to pass through the eye of a needle. Nothing to aim for up front because nothing was going on.

My neck

We needed a change but were treated to a mystifying substitution. For better or worse, usually better, throughout the season we’ve played with two wide men, Lennon and Bale, and this is the shape where we feel comfortable. Not only that, the combination of width and extra pace was ideal to stretch and break down the resolute WBA defence, so for the life of me I can’t see why Lennon stayed left. I can only presume that Harry wanted to double-team our opponents who had Brunt filling back to protect the full-back from Bale’s runs. Instead, it cluttered everything up and neither player was half as effective as they might have been.

Moreover, it left Kaboul unprotected on our left, as VDV was cutting inside at every opportunity. Several times WBA exploited this themselves. They found it easier to get two on one than we did. Kaboul did well enough in the circumstances but WBA had several opportunities, scoring from one, an admittedly excellent shot from deep but still Cox had plenty of room. He may well never score another like that in his career but that’s not the point. We were unbalanced by the formation.

On 5Live, after the obligatory ‘it’s been a great season’ Harry muttered something along the lines of, ‘I suppose we could be more defensive but that’s not how we are’, then he let the sentence trail away. This isn’t a precise quote as at the time the topical storm over east London had turned the North Circ into a tributary of the Ganges, not the best moment to discover that there was something wrong with my windscreen wipers. Well actually Harry, that’s precisely how we should be at times like that. Fair play again, in the bad old days we would not have fought back to go 2-1 up and that is much of the manager’s doing. However, even if we had had Lennon back on the right we would have been not only more solid to protect the hard fought lead, we could have still attacked on the break.

Rafa had a fine second half. Coming off his wing he worked tirelessly, prompting and probing, looking for an opening. Much more effective when he doesn’t drop deep, this is his position, in the area in front of the back four. However his and the runs of others were too often lateral rather than penetrating. The West Brom midfield shield pushed them across. No width and they weren’t stretched out of shape. Kaboul could not attack because he was occupied with defensive considerations. Luka had a decent rather than commanding game. Tiring towards the end, even slightly off colour and out of position he remained inventive, but there was so little room.

So Rafa ran hard but he did not run back. Two up front plus Rafa, that’s three out of the reckoning when they had the ball and that’s too much, especially at a time when we were a goal up. I enjoy the cavalier football but there is a time and a place for caution. Unbalanced and unprotected, West Brom could get at our back four all too easily. One on one, Dawson did very well and Gallas was OK. However, left one on one, unprotected, they are left with an invidious choice. Dive in and there’s no one behind. Stand off and our opponents have space to create, or in this case line up a curling shot that they wouldn’t have the time to do in training. The midfield are there to protect, and survive, but they were absent. Redknapp should have reorganised.

Same old story. Weak up front and not converting our superiority into goals and points. midfield not defending. Without taking anything away from a well-organised and determined West Brom team, these points dropped against teams we should have beaten have virtually done for our hopes of the CL. Never mind that, now we are looking over our shoulders and the key match of the season is now the trip not to Manchester but to Anfield. What a waste.

Spurs v Arsenal: One of the Great Derbies

Gone two and there’s no sleep. A long day, 6 hours driving, in between people needed me, lent on me, drained me more than the queue on the Purley Way or the Blackwall Tunnel. The Tunnel. Please let loose from your grip, just let me through, always the Tunnel, it’s holiday time, people are away for chrissakes, for once let me through. Just want to get there, is all, just once.

The sedative of choice, stress, has no effect. 2am and the adrenalin rushes through my veins like a flash flood through sewers. I stare at the ceiling. When i was a kid and couldn’t sleep, I lay in my parents bed and stared at the ceiling, watching the headlight beams from the busy main road reflected through the prism of our window as they danced across the cracks in the ceiling. Comforting but tonight the memory has lost its soothing powers.

I close my eyes. I feel every splash of blood touch the side of my veins as it pumps onwards and round my body. Listen hard and there’s the sound of my heart, reverberating loud enough to wake the neighbourhood. My fingertips tingling, harness that charge and there’s all the alternative energy the Greens or anyone else requires.

I close my eyes and I’m right there, back in the bearpit, the noise, the glare, the sweat and the passion. This head-spinning swooning tumult, extravagant skill and unstinting commitment thrill that is the finest of derbies. This is football, this is the game, the stuff of hopes and dreams, of legend, of ‘I was there’. Of the game I adore. So why sleep when I have this.

These are the things I said in the car. The car. It’s Bill Nick’s brain, the tactics truck and the Anfield bootroom all rolled into one. A myth some say but it’s real. The car on the way to the ground. One, Harry, be brave, take the game to them so pick Sandro to defend and based upon that platform play Lennon instead of Rafa. They don’t like up’em, Mr Redknapp sir. Love Hud and Rafa, don’t get me wrong, but in the car, I’m master of the universe. Play Pav and Crouch together up front. Two, speculation about Arsenal’s frame of mind may have kept the football media in business this past few days but it’s out the window if they score early. So don’t let them do that. Us? We’ll be up for it, we’re past the stage of taking it easy, of waiting for things to happen rather than making them happen, of sitting back early on.

Three, and I despise myself for saying this, but of all the great strikers in the league, there is one I fear: Van Persie. He’s seldom been fit against us of late, but he’s dangerous. Four, risk Kaboul at right-back? He’ll attack, I like Kaboul. Too much of a gamble? I would have.

We’re off and I confess, my mind or part of it is elsewhere, still processing the day, not quite up for the derby. Most unusual. In the old days, the fans would be packed in early, had to get in, queue and stand, not the maroon bar stuttering across the screen. So we would sing to salute the combatants and pass the time. The atmosphere established way before kick off. None of that now. The whistle is the switch, it’s still there, just have to hang on, it’s a proper derby after all. The analysts bray about league position and next season but we know this is about about white versus red, as it should be, as was ever. Nothing else matters. First tackle, muscle and pain, noise and anger. It’s the whistle that starts it, it’s this first tackle. A proper derby.

We’re off and we can do it. Take the game to them and we can do it. Don’t concede possession and we can do it. We’re self-confident, bright, rested after a week off. Take the game to them. Tonight the streets are ours.

Now hang on, just get hold of it. keep the ball, don’t them get hold of it. You know what they do when they have it, knock it around like they own the place, so keep it. I said keep it, keep it Tom, Tom keep it. Where did he come from, where’s the defence, so much room. Only Walcott, showpony, can’t finish….

All over us. There’s only red, passing around us. This can’t be happening. never mind keep the ball, can’t get it in the first place. There, from nothing, great ball, Charlie was it? Bang, what a shot, Rafa top class player, first time on the run, made for him by an inch perfect pass but so much to do from there. So much for the car.

A relief, we’re back now. But this isn’t right, can’t get it never mind keep it. Ref, oi ref, stop the match, count them, they’ve one extra man. Tom, TOM don’t give it away, pass to a white shirt not the crowd, for goodness sake, Tom, we need you tonight. Close him down, he’s brilliant tonight, christ he has more pressure in a training 5-a-side. Where is everyone? Where’s the midfield, the defence had the best view in the house and for free. This can’t be happening. Come ON.

Harry, Arsene’s mugged you tonight, old son. You’re sitting there, arms folded, maybe Arsene can lend you a water bottle ‘cos the pressure must be building up. Let off a bit of steam for once, he’s done you good and proper there. Nasri and Walcott wide, then they come in so we’re outnumbered. Rafa, get back, Bale, back. Rafa, this is the derby, not a night for strolling, we’ve two up front so you have to come back even if you don’t want to. Fabregas unmarked and untroubled, running things. Luka and the Zeppelin against four or five. Out-thought and outnumbered.

Walcott again. I’m right behind the line of the shot, it’s in until a late curve, like a misread putt at Augusta. Benny – somewhere. Daws looks around in bewilderment and despair. Me too. Bale offers hope, always with Bale, some hope and a chance or two, but Sagna has him more often than not. A cock-up, no danger then it’s three and no hope. never mind the tactics, where the hell was everyone? Van Persie and the car…

It’s getting nasty, the crowd are fractious and appointing blame, Hud especially, Gomes comes out and does little wrong but there is a gasp of anxiety accompanying every sortie from his line. Then some hope with a clean crisp strike from Hud, he’s not had a good one but there’s some redemption, first time and unstoppable.

How did that happen? A Gallas cock-up. Haven’t written that before. I think, wasn’t watching fully to be honest, glanced elsewhere, in my head Gallas, so danger cleared. There, on the scoreboard at half -time, the damning evidence. Like the rest, trooped off, only one down but lucky to be only one. This professional, like the rest of them, knew we had been given a hell of a going-over. Like the fans, they knew. Battered like a Scottish Mars Bar.

The story of the second half is about Spurs in the ascendancy, of Lennon flying as if his feet never touched the ground, of Modric driving on in the centre, of Huddlestone finding his range, of Crouch occupying their back four. But I close my eyes, and amidst the bedlam I see William Gallas. I see a face I loathed. I see a man who in the twilight of his career could have taken a pot of cash and an easy life somewhere in Europe, sun on his back,  in leagues where players strolled rather than clashed and clattered. I see a man who played the match of his life against Arsenal at the Emirates, yet now makes a potentially catastrophic error, who surely is on the way down.

I see a man, a real footballer, who absolutely refuses to accept defeat. Not only that, who refuses to give of anything less than his best. Where others collapse and feel sorry for themselves, a man spurred on to atone for his error. A man who played most of the half in pain but carried on. Who limped away late in the game after treatment, a man who could have been forgiven for taking it easy at the end of an exhausting match, but who when late danger appeared dashed across at full tilt to cover and tackle. As he had throughout the half, alone almost, stretched at the back as we pressed onwards, he dug out a header facing his goal, two, three, four times a toe in the box and away. One on one, he won them all. Who would not give up. I see a real footballer.

On the left, Cesc probes, searching for a weakness. Luka, alert, comes across, parries and takes the ball. Cesc is having none of that, won’t allow Luka to escape. And so they slug it out, the two masters of midfield head to head, oblivious as others look on, first Luka then Cesc, then Luka. Eventually Spurs scramble it away, but in that moment, Luka stole his powers. From then on, Luka reigned, gimlet-eyed focus against weary hope. From then, energy flowed from red into white. Sure there were times when the balance momentarily tipped the other way, how can there not be with a player like that, but Fabragas and his lieutenant Nasri were drained.

Fabregas versus Modric in the middle. two of the best midiflers in Europe, a deul under the lights. First half, Luka labours while Cesc glides. Second, Luka has it. Luka, born to have the ball at his feet, the picture of Luka incomplete unless the ball is at his feet, spindly frame hunched over the ball, he moves it it on back to me, first touch moves it on, now see I’m here, now back again. watch me now, lost it but get it back all in the mind run but run here, here to where the ball will be, here, where I am, and I’m away again. Watch me, do as I do, watch me play like me play to me and we will be victorious. The boots fly in on the shins, up and over, pick yourself up and take it, take it to them. Bring them on, take it to them.

Rafa’s on the ball now, looking for it higher up the field, not dropping back where he is wasted. This is where he’s dangerous. Defence? Go for it now, this is what you do, this is your game. The reds are pressed back now, minds occupied with other matters. The fouls come in. Cards don’t matter, they’re rattled. Get at them, rattle a few cages. Crowd baying, seeing foul play everywhere, baying for free-kicks. baying for blood. Fans scent weakness better than a tiger on the prowl.

Tom’s found his game, first touch and on, lovely touches. Lennon’s brightened it all up and we don’t miss Bale, injured in a legitimate clash, heavy but the keeper played the ball first. I think. Head’s in a whirl, it;s so fast, frenetic but there’s method here. Pass and move and it’s us now, not them, playing at the tempo that suits us.

Modric releases Rafa, what a chance. perfect ball, so close. Long ball Benny, Lennon has them beat, from nothing, into the box, keeper comes he’s late going to be late too late, lovely late too late. Lennon arms and legs, Rafa outwits the keeper, puts right not left as per usual.

A blur, it’s all a breathless blur. Kaboul on the right, cross and the keeper has it. Someone swept it goalwards, Luka I think, I don’t know it’s all a breathtaking thrilling stomach churning wouldn’t have it any other way blur. Crouch’s header saved, go for the corner Crouchie, the corner not straight ahead. Sandro on, picks up the tempo right away, bursts forward,keeper sits on it, he had little idea. Shot from someone else produces a flying save. Dizzy with exhilaration, can’t remember the precise order, just know these things happened.

Know that now I’m and screaming, deep deep down lungs full of great gusts of air, a roar to carry our team onwards, a roar to exorcise the ghosts of a bad week and bad times, Lungs cleansed, emptied of decades of the detritus of city living. Missed and I twist backwards, contorted in the despair that only being so close that close can bring. Acclaiming every last challenge, howling in rage at every foul. This is the game, this is football, this is my Spurs.

Know that Arsenal pumped it forward, know that Dawson would win everything, and he did, for the whole of the second half. Benny, much maligned Benny. 5live saying we had a problem with our full backs. Dixon has said this before. Benny’s problem is that sometimes he is isolated from his centre halves. Part of this is because of the way we play, not his fault. We attack and he’s left isolated, no midfield cover, so he has to come out. Last night he let Walcott get inside him, hence the goal and the chance. Then, he altered his positioning, tucking in so Walcott had to go wide. Second half, Benny was left one on one, and he came out on top every time. He was everywhere down that left, passing superb, long and short, twice late on he ran back and did enough to stop the shot. Brilliant Benny, just brilliant.

Arshavin and Bentdner on, on the ropes but the enemy won’t lie down. Wenger’s shrewd – going for the win. I’m worried but I know this is in keeping with this bedlam harem scarem hold it give it run have it back game. Arshavin  in front of me, tousled hair and reddened cheeks, like a 5 year old rushing out to play after a bad day at the barber,. but there’s danger here. Kaboul galloping down our left, there are gaps. Wenger knows, he knows. First tackle Kaboul pinches it. It’s on its way, it’s first time or no time now and Younis is on his game. First touch and it’s away but my gaze holds the Russian’s for a fleeting second. I look him in the eye: it’s Ok, he doesn’t fancy it, not this frantic spellbinding game. Could be the best game he’s ever played in but he’s not up for it. We’re OK.

So many chances, we could have, should have. We needed the points, after all. This morning, let’s leave the analysis, the tables, the Champions League, just for a few hours. For this was one of the great derbies in the forty plus years I’m been watching them. Thrilling, riveting, unpredictable dirty brilliance. This is why I love the game so.

6am, can’t sleep, have to write. But where to begin?