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.

Ifonly Adebayor: Don’t Rely On The Unreliable

Since Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as Tottenham manager, one man has emerged from the shadows to become the key influence on Spurs’ success or failure this season. Only Emmanuel Adebayor can unlock the potential of this able but disoriented squad and manager, coach or whatever he is Tim Sherwood has placed great faith in the striker’s ability. So far it has paid dividends but it remains a big gamble.

Manu’s disappearance from first team contention remains the most telling indictment of AVB’s stubborn rigidity. In August, it didn’t seem to matter. Adebayor was last year’s model, barely worth a mention in the excitement that greeted the new era with all the shiny, gleaming signings. Chief amongst them was Bobby Soldado, an expensive marquee centre forward for whom we had searched for years, the stuff of myth and mystery, the holy grail at the end of a seemingly eternal quest who surely would convert the chances that came his way.

Through September we waited for the spark to ignite the flame. Manu was on compassionate leave after the death of his brother, then he was unfit. Supposedly: no one outside the club really knew what was going on and frankly few were that bothered. This was what he does – one season wonder, loses his appetite for anything except his pay cheque, moves on after a sulk. Anyway, we had Bobby, and wingers, and it was only a matter of time until it all settled down.

AVB was happy to blame the fans when it suited him but frankly the flaw in that scenario dawned on us far sooner than it apparently did on him. We had a Soldier but no goals. The system wasn’t working either. We needed a change, some variety, some bloody goals, but apart from one appearance as a substitute, Adebayor remained an outcast. There are rumours of an argument over Manu wearing a beanie to a team-talk. Whatever the truth of that, Villas-Boas appears to have willfully frozen him out at the expense of the well-being of the team and that is unreservedly disgraceful. The club comes before individual pride.

Sherwood brought him back. Call his formation what you like – 4-4-2 which Tiger Tim refuted in a garbled post-match conference after the Ars***l game – Adebayor is the fulcrum. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that when Manu plays well, Spurs play well. They say you need to play to show off your skills. It’s also said that sometimes a player’s true worth is shown by their absence. Against W Ham, Adebayor managed both in a single game, transforming a dour, directionless Spurs into a free-flowing attacking force, target man and goalscorer with an eye-opening volley before coming off with Spurs apparently secure. Whereupon the Hammers took over the last 15 minutes and won 2-1.

That was the warm-up. Against Southampton he was mobile, involved and fully committed. Having a man to lead the line, who knew when to hold it, when to give it and could score too transformed the side. The following weekend, Manu had one of his static days, mooching around up front and we couldn’t break West Brom down. Goals aplenty versus Stoke, a match where the midfield excelled but they just had to look up and Manu was available for them.

Then United beaten and Sherwood coaxed even more from his centre forward. Now Manu was dropping back into a forward midfield position when we lost the ball, vital if we only have four in the middle. The importance of this element of his game and Sherwood’s tactics was reinforced in the NLD when we faded after a decent start. Adebayor was tired, didn’t work back enough and our opponents gained a grip on the centre of the park that they never relinquished.

So he’s Ifonly Adebayor again. Inconsistent, moody, frustrating. Sherwood has done extremely well to motivate him, appealing both to his sense of personal pride in his performance and to the most base of emotions, revenge. Judging by his efforts against West Ham and Southampton, if we could somehow have harnessed Manu’s anger to the National Grid, the nuclear/fossil fuel debate would have become redundant.

Sherwood sees his task as getting Adebayor to play to his best, “go out and do what you do best” or something similar were his comeback instructions. That’s fine but only up to a point. It’s a mistake to see Adebayor as an enigma. He’s a known quantity: we know he will be inconsistent. Not only that, we also know that it’s hard to predict how he will perform on any given day. It may be apparent to people within the club, I don’t know that of course, but that’s how it appears.

This has been the case since he came to this country. A couple of months before he turns thirty, he’s not going to change now. I doubt very much if there are some magic words, some pre-existing conditions, a carrot or a stick that will change him. He’s magnificent, a world-beater, he’s lazy and lacks committment. Adebayor is a contradiction you can’t resolve. That is who he is.

You can’t rely on him and that’s the problem, because that’s exactly what Sherwood is doing. He plays a key role in Sherwood’s formation. He scores goals, makes them, makes space for others by pulling out wide. He slots back deeper when we lose it, defending from the front. Giving him such responsibility is asking for trouble because he’s never been consistent and at the moment we don’t have a fall-back or an effective back-up plan.

Can I say what I am not saying? Sherwood is doing a decent job at the moment with what he has available, and he has limited options up front with Defoe on his way to Canada, so I’m not saying Tim should not play him. I would pick Adebayor and would have back in the autumn as it gradually became clear we had lots of providers of chances but no one on the end of them. I’m also not saying Adebayor should be excused criticism: there are countless times when I despair at his lack of application.

The one thing we know for certain is that Manu will always let you down and so Sherwood needs to look long and hard at plans B, C and D. This could be as straightforward as reinforcing the midfield because a player with a more defensive outlook could provide the cover for Adebayor to do his thing and to compensate if Manu isn’t working back.

Sherwood has put considerable faith in his centre forward. I would like to say to Manu that he should work his backside off to repay his manager. Sadly I know that is never enough. How often have we heard managers moan about the ‘if onlys’. I don’t want Tim to become like Allardyce, creating a team around a centre forward and having nothing left when he’s out except whinging and a redundancy package. You can’t rely him so don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

 

Spurs Maintain The Momentum

Ironic that as the minute’s applause in celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela had barely died away, the Barclays adverts flickered around the pitch perimeter. Not so long ago, or so it seems to me, we boycotted Barclays because of its persistent links with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Cashpoints were picketed, and we didn’t buy their apples. The ANC probably did more to bring down the government but it felt as though we were part of the struggle. Many still feel a deep connection with a man whose principled, single-minded compassion created fundamental political and social change, an example to all yet sadly highly unlikely to ever be repeated in contemporary politics.

Plenty of time to watch the ads in the early stages as Spurs versus Sunderland took a while to get going. Perhaps I am in sync with the team, understandable after all these years I suppose. This is the pattern lately, a slow start then build up a head of steam as time passes. I know my knowledge of male grooming products began and ended with Old Spice and Brylcreem but a skin product named Nip-Man – that’s a joke, right? And sorry to disappoint relatives and friends but you can forget the Stubhub gift certificate for this and any other Christmas. This blog does not wish its readers a Merry Tixmas. Tixmas for goodness sake.

Christmas is a time for tradition and Spurs have created one of their own in time for the festive season, the defensive cock-up. After a sedate first half-hour where our new centre back partnership of Capoue and Dawson looked unsettled without Sandro’s protection in front of them, Lloris’s horrible error put us one down but shook us out of our stupor. His feeble punch went straight to Johnson who scored easily.

From then on, we dominated the match. As at Fulham in the week, we should aim to impose ourselves on teams from the start. We haven’t got the defence to absorb relentless attacks and in this opening period we looked lousy on the break, wilfully moving the ball slowly even when we had time and space.

Having the ability to pull ourselves back from a deficit is laudable. Personally I would prefer if we didn’t make a hash of it in the first place, much more sensible. Recent victories should not obscure this fact. Never mind all the talk about tactics, formations and the merits of AVB’s managerial style, we make too many basic and costly mistakes at the back. Our early season parsimony was not due to mighty defence but our relative lack of errors.

It helps to get back quickly. After Defoe missed one opportunity and Chadli headed straight at the keeper from a corner, the value of the latter’s height and power in the box was shown to full effect. A long cross seemed to be predictably drifting wide but Chadli nodded it back and Paulinho was more alert to the loose ball. I had given it up but he didn’t, and touched home from close in. The Brazilian’s starting position was deeper yesterday, alongside Dembele as DMs, and for me he looked all the better for it.

We came out after the break with a welcome eagerness, dominating the next twenty minutes where the game was won. AVB confounded his detractors by making two significant tactical changes. The high line was notable by its welcome absence again. AVB and I still shudder at the sight of Daws stranded on the halfway line against City. Also, a right-footed winger on the right. Lennon was outstanding, and when Townsend came on as sub to play wide left, he too looked so much more comfortable.

Holtby has a painter’s eye for the angled pass and on 65 minutes with a single devastating brushstroke intended to complete this canvas. The ball sliced through the entire defence, ending at Defoe’s feet deep inside the box as he skipped across the line and free of his markers but his judgement was less certain. His diagonal beat the keeper but slid wide of the far post. It was a frustrating miss, not only because it created 15-odd minutes of palpitating anxiety whenever Sunderland hacked the ball upfield but also because a goal would have demonstrated that finally, we really could make and take a chance inside the area.

There were other opportunities for proof, mostly from players, Lennon and Walker notably, getting to the byline and crossing. I’ll just repeat that for newish supporters or those with merely normal memories: getting to the byline and crossing.

Defoe hit the post twice, coming across the defender to the near post, the classic striker’s move. One header on the right, one deft flick on the left, both were reactions, both were unlucky. These and others – Holtby’s blocked shot, Paulinho’s header – from providers cutting close to the byline. If only they had done that for me, sighed Bobby Soldier, sinking deeper inside his padded coat on the bench.

All these chances yet the winner was pure good fortune. Dembele charging forward on the left and his cross/shot hit O’Shea and into the net. An own goal but one made because we attacked from dangerous angles. It shows again the value of the Moose upfield – let it go, Al, just let it go – but overall he had a strong match before he went off holding his hip.

One of my suggestions to heal our Andre’s self-inflicted wounds was to return to a few things that worked last season. Yesterday Walker and Lennon were reunited down the right. Both made a full, flowing contribution to this win. At times they looked like they were enjoying themselves almost as much as I was. Little Azza was just terrific, buzzing up and down, irritating the Sunderland defence like a wasp after an icecream on a summer’s day. He’s learned to vary his game, not only when to take the full-back on or tuck inside but also to sense the pace of the match, picking things up with a dash forward or a calming touch or two to allow team-mates to readjust position. That is the difference that to me gives him the nod over Townsend right now. Andros is still inexperienced: let’s hope he learns, just as Lenny did.

The pair helped each other out at either end of the field. Defending is not part of Lennon’s natural game, whereas Walker quickly gets bored defending, yet time and again he was back, notably towards the end of the game to prevent Sunderland from crossing the ball. Both were tireless. Walker took stick from the crowd when he stayed down after a challenge – he was knackered after several lung-busting runs then using his body strength to stave off an opponent. He’s improved his play and this was his best game this season. If only he could learn to tuck in at the back every single time to bolster his centre-backs.

Capoue did well enough after a shaky start. He could have done with closer attendance from Walker to help out but when Sunderland went longer later in the game and pinned us back into the box, he and Dawson won most everything. Daws was especially strong at the end. Back in the box not stuck upfield, it’s what he does best and his presence was reassuring. Sunderland’s one decent chance went straight to Lloris, who showed his mettle by claiming one important ball to partly banish the memory of his mistake. Capoue won a header then instinctively went to go forward to where the ball landed, pointing to his team-mates to pounce on the loose ball as he would have done, but he can’t be in two places at the same time. That’s what you get with a midfielder at the back.

Holtby did well but tired. This is one problem with all the chopping and changing. Players get gametime but seldom play for 90 minutes. Holtby has been with us for almost a year yet I would be surprised if he has played more than a handful of full games.

AVB brought on Sandro, not in the starting line-up because he does not feel fit enough yet to play three games in a week, to shore up the defence. It was just at the right time and he did well. However, it could have been our downfall. With the stiff uncertainty of a man who has just come on the filed, Sandro handballed a corner but the ref, who was poor throughout, turned a blind eye.

And on moments like that, the game turns. We fully deserved this win, in the second half playing some of our best football of the season so far, yet we win by an own goal and the penalty that never was. That momentum again, we have kept it going and players and managers know it, judging by their expressions at the end of the game.

No complaints, it augers well for the rest of this important month. Just one caveat – we have done well against three teams who allowed us to play a bit. It remains to be seen what happens when sides park the bus at home, as did Hull and West Ham. That’s for the future = the team and manager, that’s a big ‘we’, have earned our praise for their response after the City debacle, so let’s enjoy it with them.

The Long Dark Night of AVB’s Soul

The dank days and chilly evenings of winter are already with us but right now there is nowhere colder than the chilled marrow of Andre Villas-Boas’s bones. The clocks have long since gone back but for him the long dark night of the soul is fast approaching.

The six goal shambles of defeat against Manchester City violently sucked all meaning and purpose not just from shell-shocked, traumatised players but from everything our manager holds dear. Shape, tactics, motivation, the principles of team-work, the very existence of AVB’s Spurs rendered meaningless and empty. We thought there were solid foundations even if we have not been playing well. In reality, nothing beneath our feet except fresh air. The players had no idea what they were supposed to be doing and neither did their boss.

It started badly, could not have started worse even by Tottenham standards. We kicked off, they scored after 14 seconds. Barely possible but the laws of time and motion shifted just enough for Lloris to fluff a clearance under no pressure, short and straight to an opponent. He saved the shot but Navas curled in the rebound. From then on, the collapse continued, unhindered and without boundaries, the team imploding on itself until like a burnt out star in a far-off galaxy, our performance became a pinprick of the most dense and unresponsive matter in the universe.

The defining period of AVB’s reign has begun. Successive matches versus the Manchester giants were never likely to be profitable but the manner in which he deals with the games between now and the New Year will dictate the outcome of Tottenham’s season and beyond. His methods, challenged by our weakness in attack, will have to withstand the battering of outraged fans and sections of the braying media scenting blood. That’s not to mention the questioning looks from his players.

Faced with massive problems, players and manager seemed incapable of an adequate response. I’m not talking about the subs – the game was lost by the time they appeared – but a fatal lack of recognition that there were any problems. The midfield, flaccid and incoherent from first to last, offered no protection to the back four save for a couple of Sandro tackles. City like to get the ball wide – in Navas they play a genuine winger. yet it never for a moment occurred to anyone to drop back to protect our full-backs. As a result City took full advantage of the wide-open plains down our flanks like lions hunting antelope in the Serengeti.

Many of us want to see Lamela given a chance. Today we saw why Villas-Boas has been cautious. While his free role gave him scope to cut in and appear in unexpected positions, his team-mates did not know what to expect either. He watched and reacted too late when City created a two on one down our left and the cross was turned in. Welcome to the Premier League.

On Sky Hoddle was banging on about shutting the front door, meaning Kaboul should have dropped a yard closer to the six yard box at the near post, but that was shutting the door, front or back, after the horse has bolted. You have to cover – Lennon wasn’t much more use on the other side – and you have to keep the ball. Yet time and again we gave it away, most dangerously when the side had shifted into positions to mount an attack thus leaving us bare and exposed. City took full advantage, with Lloris, our best player this season by far, again the culprit. It wasn’t as if City were playing particularly well. They didn’t have to.

This blog tries to be fair, balanced and consistent. Annoying I know but it’s how I am and as I approach my sixties I’m too old change. So let’s be fair – I was happy with this starting line-up. Lennon for Townsend was brave, given the furore around Andros’s England performances, but the right choice. I was pleased to see Lamela – we have to give him a chance. I would have preferred both Holtby and Dembele, the latter in the advanced midfield role that suits him best, so that leaves only one wide man because City are so strong in midfield. Kaboul back, definitely, and Sandro of course. But not so different from AVB’s choice.

It’s what they did that was so poor. Wandering wide men gave the flanks no protection. Paulinho and Holtby were too far forward too often. Neither contributed a thing to this match. Paulinho’s starting position should have been deeper. You have to defend against City by denying them space and he’s able to get forward when the moment is right. He and Sandro could make a fine partnership but he was too far forward. If he stays back, there’s time and manpower to move across and cover, i.e. to provide the very platform that Lamela and Lennon need to be at their best.

Fact is, he is knackered and bewildered, worn out after his exertions coming straight to the under pressure Tottenham midfield after the Confederations Cup. He needs a rest. Send him back to Brazil for a couple of weeks, he’s no use to us now and we’ll need him fresh in the New Year.

Soldado got barely a sniff. It seemed to me that in the few moments in the first half when we approximated a football team he was moving more, both deeper and laterally. Or maybe that was hope playing tricks on my eyes. He depends on being the given the ball. If AVB is trying to find the right formation for him and the team, that is worthy of some patience. What worries me is something worse, that he sanctioned the purchase in the conviction that he knew how to play to his strengths and that what we have seen so far this season is the failure of that plan. Which begs the question, what the hell is he going to do now? And that’s why I’m worried, not just a striker failing to spark but a squad composed of players who do not do the job they were bought to do.

And so to the back four. Kaboul, my first choice but rusty. Dawson a fine warrior but all at sea today. Stranded in midfield for City’s fourth goal as a simple one two with a runner from midfield took him out of the game, worse was to come when he simply left his man unmarked. Standing near him, he did nothing. Vertonghen, unhinged by what was going on around him, nearly got himself sent off for a reckless sliding challenge. His mind was gone long before his weak and inept challenge let Navas in for the sixth. Was it just the defeat playing on his mind, as he’s a serious, proud professional, or was he wondering why the best centre half in the Premier League is playing at full-back?

George Graham’s classic drill for the back four was to get them to imagine they were tied together by a piece of rope. In Spurs’ case, it’s elastic. They wandered as if strangers on a ramble, occasionally surprised but pleased as they bumped into each other, but mostly going their own sweet way. Negredo and the fabulously lethal Aguerro don’t need the help we gave them but they revelled in the gaps between our defenders.

I have no desire to kick a man when he’s down but this was AVB’s worst effort as manager. City have a four man midfield and yet we allowed them to outnumber us and paid dearly for the consequences. My sympathy to the loyal Spurs who went that far for this stinking detritus, and if it is any consolation we could hear you singing loud and clear until the end.

If things could possibly be worse, consider one final thought. Last season, Villas-Boas succeeded in getting his message and methods through to the players. Motivation has been good, team-spirit similarly. That will be called in question after this, not just by fans or media but inside the club itself. Heads went down. I’ve already mentioned how the players did not know how to react. This is why this defeat will gnaw away at confidence and belief. Like I said, tonight will be a long dark night for our Andre.