Livermore Grows Up As Spurs Ditch the Comfort Blanket

Like the child whose parents have surreptitiously removed their much-loved comfort blanket in the night, we woke this morning missing the precious consolation of a game in hand, and soon discovered that we can manage perfectly well without it. For some it provided a welcome safety net, for others the promise of future delights. Now, in the cold light of day, we don’t need it any more. Tottenham Hotspur can stand proud and tall this morning, halfway through the season and third in the league, with only goal difference separating us from second and a mere 3 points from the top. Look how we’ve grown.

After the growing pains, which some called ‘transitional years’, most were less polite, last night demonstrated how Spurs have blossomed into a side not only worthy of our position in the table, but also a team others fear. Redoubtable opponents were gradually broken down and subsequently overwhelmed by a combination of sustained fluidity, movement and pace that proved irresistible. In the process, there were moments of stunning dexterity and class. It’s not just Fergie who has noticed – the game knows that right now we play the best football in the league and it’s a privilege to watch it.

The performance of Jake Livermore epitomised the Tottenham transformation. Before the match, the talk was how we would miss Scott Parker. Maybe Kaboul would be drafted in to fill the gaping hole, because with Sandro out the rest weren’t up to it. Redknapp has shown faith in the young midfielder and Livermore did not let him down. He works hard and has a decent touch with quick feet, but what makes him stand out is his willingness to take responsibility. He’ll make the challenge and knock it off, then run some more, calling for the ball. Last night he refused to hide, taking not so much the easy or difficult option, but the right option, almost every time. His 99% pass completion rate tells only part of the story. He wanted that ball as if he were a veteran. Arthur, who sits in front of me, knows the family. Bouncers mostly, the men at least ( I assumed he meant the men), a cousin is a bare knuckle fighter. Allegedly, because that may not be legal and frankly by the sound of them I wouldn’t want them knocking on my door. But Jake is tough, ready and willing to step up when the going gets tough. In the first half he competed as an equal in the crowded central midfield against a well-organised unit. By the time second half concluded, he was the boss.

Yet such is the talent in this side, he wasn’t the best player on the field. That honour goes to Rafa Van der Vaart. Did people once dare to suggest he doesn’t work hard enough? He was everywhere last night but was particularly and powerfully effective in the way he dropped back to get attacks going then managed to come forward to be a danger in and around the Everton box. Inch-perfect crossfield balls became the norm, precede usually by that lovely little turn he does when he controls the ball and shifts away from the opponent in the same movement, thus opening himself up for a pass, typically left-footed. His first-time shot early on nearly dipped under the bar, while on another occasion he began a move with a long pass, then dashed diagonally 50 yards from right to left to get on the end of the resulting cross, deep in the area. This was the latest in a series of high class performances from a man who has seen it all and played all over the world yet is apparently enjoying the game more than ever.

Everton were neat and brisk at the start, nearly scoring from the now traditional early opening that we present to all teams at the Lane, in this instance Saha firing just wide.  They lived up to their name, which is of course Everton Hardtobreakdown FC. We did well enough, Assou Ekotto’s passing finding willing runners in Adebayor, Bale and Modric. Three times we did a neat move, a few passes creating space then Luka runs left towards the edge of the box where Benny picks him out. And they say the coaches don’t do anything.

However, Manu wanted just that one touch to many and Everton defended assiduously, crowding out men in the box and cutting out crosses at the near post. Two or three rushed to Bale wherever he was and it wasn’t until the second half that he could really work up a head of steam, bar one lovely move that set up Adebayor.

Two penalty appeals, Manu and Modric, were rightly turned down but they signalled a shift in the balance of power as the half wore on. We managed to insert players into those channels, a sign that gradually we had cranked things up. from then on, there was only one team in it.

Oddly the goal came from the Spurs player who otherwise had the quietest evening. Lennon seldom got on the ball, although he did his fair share of work off it. Pouncing on a Baines error, he cut inside. His left foot shot unsettled Howard, perhaps with the aid of the merest deflection as it passed under a defender’s body. The keeper found himself committed early and was therefore off-balance as the ball rolled forlornly into the net. Some keepers go a fraction too soon and here was an instance where Howard might have been better to stay on his toes.

Quickly into our stride after the break, we proceeded to dominate for the next 35 minutes, until we became careless and allowed Everton a few opportunities at the end. Ball and men were completely in unison as the football flowed unceasingly towards the Paxton and the Everton goal. The movement, the understanding between the players, the close control – wonderful, simply wonderful, and capped with a suitably spectacular shot from Benny, thirty yards if it was an inch, rising all the way into the corner.

So much to enjoy. All a blur. One move stays in the mind, Walker cleverly dummying the ball into his possession then hurtling 60 yards upfield, the chance missed. My sole regret is that goals didn’t come from those many moves that deserved a goal and I would have liked more to have emerged from the times we had the ball in their box, rather than rely on a thunderbolt. Manu was not at his sharpest and at times we overplayed in the area, Everton’s massed ranks gratefully blocking and tackling for 90 long minutes.

Our opponents have organisation and passing that no so long ago I would have envied. I’ve remarked before about my affinity for them and the parallels between our two sides. Both have an illustrious heritage and loyal, passionate fans who have suffered as city rivals have eclipsed them, then fallen further behind as the money follows money. However, we have moved on. Everton for all their hard work and good touches posed little threat in the final third. Their more attacking approach in the last 10 minutes suited them but it was too late and by then Dawson and Kaboul had mopped up their efforts to the point where the latter had freedom to join the attack.

It’s good to see Daws back. He has his limitations against pace but then what centre back doesn’t? (The correct answer to my otherwise rhetorical question is Ledley King). That chest proudly puffed out is a reassuring sight, and he was especially strong at the near post. In the second half he was felled by a shot that hit him square on the head. Toppling backwards, which is a long way, he picked himself up in time to win the header from the resulting bouncing ball. That’s attitude.

Friedel didn’t have a real save to make but made everybody feel better just by standing there. Benny’s passing and support play were outstanding, never mind the goal. Luka was busy and involved but he’s not at the dizzy heights that represent the peak of his form. Rafa more than made up for him. Bale’s runs were unstoppable, at least by fair means, and both he and Walker made good use of their pace as the space opened up an increasingly bedraggled Everton defence.

Later on, Luka picked up possession and carefully passed the ball into touch. He received a polite ripple of applause, hard lines, good attempt. Now that shows the degree of satisfaction in the stands. No inflated expectations – let’s not worry about the title. Sit back and enjoy the challenge, this team is as good as anything I’ve seen for at least 30 years. A pleasure and a privilege to watch them grow up.

Edit: I am indebted to my friend Rich who saw Benny being interviewed on French TV. The reason he wears odd boots is that he can’t be bothered to find a sponsor so he bought 2 pairs for himself. He ruined one boot so just decided to wear odd ones. He is a top man.


For any regulars mortified, nay bereft, at the lack of a match report for the Cheltenham game, I didn’t see it, couldn’t find a stream and decided not to either pretend or concoct a witty post on shopping in TK Maxx. By the end of that, I had nothing left to give.

Looking Back, This Could Be A Good Point

Everybody yearns to be up there, to be a contender. Yet we’re still puzzling over what success feels like. Here’s another side of it, being the envy of other fans. Top four, playing dazzling football. It won’t be long before the negative coverage begins. Players who have been doing well for an entire season will be picked on by pundits after a single poor performance, or young men playing out of their skin will fail to be at the top of their game for one of their 50 or so performances and people will pick holes. Redknapp’s standing with the media will protect us to a large extent but things will turn.

Enjoy it while it lasts – except we can’t, because it’s not always fun. On Saturday, resisting pressure for the most part and a goal to the good, Swansea significantly tip the balance in the last 15 minutes. We’re hanging in there, then the keeper and two defenders are drawn to the near post. The ball somehow eludes them all and as it squirms free across the box, there’s the stomach-upending so familiar from the old days, that moment when you know what’s going to happen before it does. The whole game flashes before your eyes….

Swansea’s possession game and their disciplined organisation collectively pushed us back early on and we never established our domination of territory or the ball for any length of time. It was as if their collective will imposed itself on our game. They have a few quality footballers – Redknapp paid Allen the compliment of  pushing Sandro on to mark him but like all classy players the Swansea man responded by doing even better. However, their midfield stifled at birth our efforts to get going by pressing high up the pitch and denying us possession. It’s amazing how few Prem teams have learned this lesson so admirably demonstrated by the Swans – however good the other team is, they can’t do a thing without the ball.

Because of this high pressing, our midfield were forced deeper. Modric and Parker never got going and Adebayor was isolated from his team-mates. Bale tried too hard to break the stranglehold. His free role works only if he comes from deep and his runs are unexpected. If he hangs around in the centre, he’s back on his heels and was swallowed up by eager tacklers. He would have been better staying on the left, cutting in when required. Benny found it simple enough to take the full back apart, not once but twice, then VDV pounced.

Although he was helped by a deflection, the goal appeared to signal the difference in class between a team at the top and the rest – sharp in the box when it matters. For all Swansea’s sterling efforts, we defended perfectly well for most of the match, restricting them to ooohs and aaahs from long shots. Pretty enough but the danger comes from what goes on in the box, not from range. Still, Kaboul had to make one timely stretch and as in previous games we looked frail at set pieces. Falling for the Sheringham corner was slack.

As the match reached its final stages, we seemed to have accepted our fate of being pushed right back but were apparently unconcerned, defending reasonably well and content to see out time until the final whistle. Moore’s surge into the box was only moment of genuine danger until Graham came on. His presence and movement tipped the balance in Swansea’s favour and although we should have dealt with that cross, they had several chances and deserved their point. Funny to see Friedel less than perfect. We’ve become used to better.

Great credit to our opponents, and few teams have scored at their ground let alone won. In the cold light of a frosty Monday morning, this looks a decent point. Last season we would have probably lost a tussle such as this one and of course we gained at least this single point on our rivals. The true value of this draw, however, will not be judged until the end of the month when we complete a run of winnable home games including the game in hand versus Everton that has achieved mythical status. Win those and an away draw when off the boil and against sound opponents will look just fine.

Parker looked unhappy and needs to look after that leg. It looked like a bump on the side rather than anything deep down. Let’s hope so.

The league will be wondering how to stop Spurs (another sure sign of how well we are doing!), so several managers will be scrutinising the DVD of Saturday’s game. As well as Swansea, West Brom in the first half and Chelsea for three quarters of the game stopped us from getting going by piling on the pressure in the centre of the pitch, so expect more of the same this month. We have to find a way of getting through this. The key is doing what we do best, keeping the ball despite the lack of space and using width from the full-backs especially. It’s another challenge and I believe  we are up to it.

Happy New Year to Spurs fans wherever you may be. Supporters from all round the world read Tottenham On My Mind, and each and every week I’m so grateful. Thanks to the regulars, the cracking comments sections and subscribers. Couldn’t do it without you, and here’s to a glorious 2012 for the club we adore.

Manu’s Bottom. I’ve Got To Worry About Something

It was all a bit of a rush. Fancy letting family stuff get in the way of football. What on earth is happening to me? Anyone would think it’s Christmas or something.

So when I switched on the TV it took me a moment to get my bearings. First thing – top left hand corner, read it three times just to make sure and remember to breathe. No goals, 34 minutes gone. A second or two to focus on the pitch. Then this team in white pick the ball up near their box, develop a passing move at full speed that slices through the yellow shirts, end to end in about four or five touches and as many seconds, hammered just wide. Hang on, that’s us…Remember to breathe.

This is us, the new Tottenham. Sincere apologies to Norwich fans if you did anything exceptional in the first 33 minutes but from what I saw, Spurs were stunning. Relentless pace, exceptional passing, bewildering movement. There seemed to be no end to our inventiveness coming forward, the only concern being that in the first half this did not lead to any goals. Second half, City could contain a rampaging Bale no longer. Given free rein by his manager, he was unstoppable. Out wide, teams can at least try to double or sometimes triple-team him, but what can you do if you don’t know where he’s going to appear?

A couple of interesting reflections on this that relate to the team these days. In the past, our, um, idiosyncratic players often fooled their team-mates as much as they bamboozled defences. Ginola for example was wonderful to watch but often the others didn’t take up good goalscoring positions because he hung on to it for so long and so they didn’t know when to commit to a run into the box. Yet this team picked out Bale on a regular basis, Van der Vaart excelling yesterday in another, complementary, free role and Modric, more disciplined but still alert and accurate.

Second, Our Gareth invoked the Champions League as an educational experience as the secret of our success. This is something I identified at the start of the season, that we should be more resilient as a team because of Europe and so it proved. Undaunted by our failure to score, we quickly re-established the dominance of our first period and turned the screw with a determined effort to retain possession. Add the confidence that something will turn up once we have that platform and you’re on to something big. Adebayor made the difference. Found unerringly through a crowd of defenders by Rafa, his impeccable control and delicate touch set up Bale who was left in too much space by the usually attentive Norwich central defence. They too were mesmerised by Manu’s dazzling feet and were sucked in like moths to a flame. Bale therefore had the room and time to score.

We kept up the tempo after scoring and nearly converted a couple more efforts before this phenomenon came into a central position and began his charge. This is a great time to be a Spurs fan – I’ve not seen us play this well for a good thirty years. But Bale on the charge is one of the great sights of my time as a fan. Someone that big, at pace, caressing the ball as if it were made of eggshell – utterly remarkable. He tore the defence asunder, then kept his poise to finish not with power but with guile and intelligence. Remember to breathe.

Rafa was outstanding, Luka a close second, Parker calm and solid, Sandro a rock. All of them jealousy guarded the ball once it was won. Another instance of the fluidity that’s possible with Sandro and Parker, Modric in front of them. It gave Bale and VDV the freedom to do what they do.

It also snuffed out any fleeting hopes of a Norwich comeback. If I have a complaint, it was that they had too much room in the last 5 minutes around our box. However, this highlighted another aspect of our game these days. We back ourselves one on one in any match-up. Kaboul knew he had the task of holding Holt and he did not shirk for a moment. Gallas covered and tackled, while Walker, well, I’m not a huge fan of stats as a way of describing the whole truth about a player or a match but: tackles won – 6/6, ground duels 8/8, aerial duels 1/1. That means he won every single challenge over 94 minutes

Norwich are a well organised side who were outplayed. They stuck to their task and there’s no disrespect in defeat under those circumstances. I can’t quite believe I’m writing this way about a Spurs team but that’s how it was – in every area we outplayed, out-ran and out-thought them. There had to be one worry. Not normally one to stand and stare but Manu’s buttock held my attention for a minute or two in the second half. He’s such an influence, we really don’t want to lose him. But he was OK and frankly so am I. That’s all I wanted for Christmas. Unreservedly superb, the perfect away performance.

A Night Of Tension Not Glory

Everybody I talked to said the same thing – we were up for it like no other game in recent memory. Not just a derby, this one has become more sour over the last few years. There’s a bitter edge to it, compared with the intense but long-standing rivalry with the Arsen*l, heightened by the welcome but unusual sensation of being third and favourites. Yet after Spurs’ dazzling start, Chels*a hauled themselves back into the match as our performance gradually collapsed under the weight of expectation.

Recently it has taken Spurs a while to get going. Last night, we started like greyhounds after a live hare. Bale went for the throat and ripped apart the defence in a series of blistering, muscular runs. The Sandro/Parker platform give him free rein and how he took to his task with relish. In the end, Chels*a stopped him only by delegating 3 men to cover. By then he had set up Adebayor’s goal, great anticipation plus a long gangling leg to get in front of the defender and better judgement than Cech who didn’t think the Spurs striker could reach it.

This was one of a number of runs, wide to bang in the crosses or cutting inside to make and miss a good opportunity in the opening minutes. The volleyed cross above waist high, chasing a cause everyone else had given up, epitomised his first half.

Good times. Sandro snuffed out any moves by our opponents down the middle while Modric was always able to find space in a crowded midfield. One lovely moment when he conjured up a pass in the very moment of being dragged to the floor by a defender. Assou Ekotto found him regularly with early, accurate passes. We played like the favourites we were and ran the game. Sturridge shot over after an uncharacteristic Friedel fumble. Nothing could go wrong.

However, gradually our opponents reasserted themselves. Drogba hit the post. The goal was a soft one, the scorer unmarked in the box a few yards out. Handball? I’ve not seen any replays but it didn’t look blatant from the Shelf. The Paxton were outraged but then again it was one of those tense evenings that provoked moments of outrage throughout. I did see Benny trailing back, too late to pick up Sturridge, who caused problems for the rest of the game coming in from his wing and BAE was adrift too often. Not one of his better nights.

It wasn’t just the goal that brought them back into contention. In the comments section of Sunday’s piece, as ever more interesting than the article itself, a few regulars and I chewed the tactics fat. Tactics were always going to be crucial in a match of this significance. The Blues’ 4-3-3 allows them to break quickly and sustain an attack with numbers but also they fall back into a dense, disciplined 4-5-1 when they lose possession. To break through we needed to continue to be at our peak but for threequarters of the match we didn’t pass or keep the ball as well as we have done this season. Our opponents stifled us like a boxer hanging on in the clinches but we could and should have been more inventive. VDV couldn’t get on the ball at all, perhaps because of injury, and Parker was quieter than usual. Rather than knock it around and wait for an opening or spread the ball wide, we pushed it forward too quickly.

Harry saw Rafa’s departure as an opportunity rather than a threat. We went 4-4-2 in a bold move to take the game to the Blues and exploit their rearranged right side of the defence. It didn’t work. Pav provided some comedy value but no one was laughing. On the way home we were overtaken on the North Circular by a white Audi 6 PAV, heading off down the A12. Could it have been he, speeding away from the ground as fast as he could, which supposedly he did on Sunday?

As with Sunday, two up front doesn’t work well with this team. They are used to a different balance. It’s better with Defoe because he’s adapted his game this season to play deeper when required. However, as time went on Pav and Manu stayed forward and increasingly detached from the others, too far apart. Manu should have roamed but as it was, their back four were seldom shifted around and dealt with our increasingly rare attacks.

Also, Luka has to stay central. Despite Cole’s advances on our right, we were weak when Modric was wide right and strong every time he came into the middle. This was why we were better in the later stages: Luka was in his rightful place. He had a good effort deflected, then made the pass that enabled Bale to put in Manu for his late chance.

Our defending at set pieces was amateurish. We never got close to Terry and I was relieved when Drogba was substituted.

Our opponents were stronger for much of the half and frankly should have scored. I swore as the ball reached the head of Ramires: it sounded for a split second that mine was the only voice in the stand as a deathly hush descended and time stood still. He missed, and 30,000 souls exhaled.

We mopped up many attacks but never quite picked up their runs from deep. Gallas rose to the challenge, becoming more assertive, while King was alert and quick. He and Sturridge set off on a chase. This was more than a dangerous throughball on the right wing. It was the old master versus the young pretender.

In the blink of an eye, it could have been the changing of the guard. Ledley has learned to turn quickly and maintain a chopped economical stride to coax the maximum effort from those battered, weary bones. He was ahead but the young man pressed from behind. Eager and willing, he sensed weakness and quickened. Shoulder to shoulder at full speed now, for a moment he eased ahead but Ledley stretched one last time and came away with the ball, the master still. Long live the King.

We rallied in the final ten minutes but the impact of good chances for Luka and Sandro were lost in the stomach-churning emptiness of the possibility of defeat. This hideous desperation is part and parcel of success too, I guess. I thought our moment had come as Modric and Bale opened up the defence at last. Manu stroked the ball goalwards but Terry blocked it and the moment had passed. Despite this, we began the night confident that anything less than three points would be failure but ended it relieved that we had one. A good point in that we are ahead and stayed there. Chels*a are still chasing us and like Ledley, we have enough to stay ahead.

Everyone focussed on John Terry. I’ve deliberately left it until last. I don’t like the man and how he carries himself. He deserves some stick but the negativity grew tiresome after a while. The ground felt a better, more positive place for our team when the Lane was rocking with ‘When the Spurs’.

His fans gave him their full support. I question what this says about them. Terry is innocent until proved guilty but if I were accused of racist remarks I would be home under suspension rather than leading my team into the challenge of the New Year. His employers put their own narrow and selfish needs before that of the wider issue of racism in football.

The same can be said about their fans. It’s highly unlikely but if a Spurs player were similarly accused, I would support the team because I love the shirt but would remain silent when it came to that individual. Yet by their actions I can only presume that their fans provided their full backing to a man accused of racism. The tribalism of football offers no excuse. Disgraceful.