Here’s To You, Christian Eriksen

Before yesterday’s match against Fulham, Spurs manager Tim Sherwood described his players as “much of a muchness”. Hardly a Churchillian call to arms as Tottenham aim to complete the season on a high. However, he rightly identified three players as rising above the average: Hugo Lloris and Manu Adebayor with Christian Eriksen the rising star. They proved to be the difference, making vital contributions at both ends of the field that made up for the deficiencies elsewhere on the pitch.

For much of a lacklustre first half, Spurs were disjointed and flat, devoid of confidence and shape. This has been a familiar aspect not just over the last few games but across the season. One big difference between AVB’s half and Tim’s half is that under Sherwood we are scoring goals. We made few chances in this one but took them. Two came from set-pieces, masterminded by the deadly Eriksen. At the other end, Lloris is finishing the season and perhaps his time at White Hart Lane in style. An athletic leap to reach up under the bar to tip over Rodellaga’s thumping header was followed by a penalty save. Just as valuable was an ungainly but vital block in the first half when Fulham were attacking vigorously.

Adebayor’s contribution wasn’t in assists or goal attempts – several shots were frankly rubbish. However, from the start he worked tirelessly, trying to lift the team. His team-mates should have done more to follow his example. Paulinho and Chadli both had good touches but never tried to seize the initiative in midfield. Parker is past his best and was injured early on but we missed his purpose and application.

At full-back Naughton and Rose were uncertain. Paulinho hung back but again without a designated DM or any intent to provide much cover, our already weakened back four with Fryers in alongside Kaboul were always exposed and vulnerable. The two centre halves did reasonably well but it was far too easy for a limited Fulham attack to get at us.

An early example was a long ball that caught our centrebacks dozing. Rodellega missed. We didn’t adjust despite that escape. Spurs went through the motions but lacked inspiration or energy. Flat as a pancake run over by a steamroller. Kaboul headed over, Lennon hit the post – think the keeper tipped it onto the woodwork – but that was it until Eriksen’s curling free-kick fizzed between a befuddled keeper and defenders facing their goal who feared taking a touch. It went all the way to Paulinho at the back post who touched it in from about an inch.

Rather than consolidating, Spurs immediately caved in. Sidwell shook off a couple of effete challenges, played a one-two with Fryers who laid the ball perfectly at his feet. The half drifted to a close. Attention wavered – vacant expressions in the stand, time to count the many empty seats. At this stage of the season we often hear of players halfway to the beach. At the Lane, that applies to the crowd. If the chairman has written off the season and the players can’t be bothered, neither are we.

If Sherwood is saying that we have too many players in certain positions, he has a point. There’s no room for all our attacking central midfielders while we are short in cover up front and at full-back. However, Sherwood’s role is to motivate the players, not to be a pundit. Not the right approach to criticise players in public before a game. Clearly there is dissention in the ranks – I was shown a tweet at halftime where Sandro announced he was fit. The undignified spectacle of a twitter and press conference spat continued after the final whistle. Rose and Tony Parks appeared to have words as they left the field.

However, Sherwood must be doing something right at half-time. The second half began inauspiciously with the team coming out late, hesitant as to who should lead them, Rose eventually taking the initiative while captain Kaboul was last out, talking animatedly to Adebayor. They were lifted by an early goal. Lennon had a good second half, working hard up and down the field. He curled in a deep left-footed cross from the right. Kane had a quiet game but showed his value as a man playing off the striker who has experience up front as opposed to an advanced midfielder. He headed home for his third goal in three Premier League starts.

You will have sussed by now that Fulham don’t like the ball in the six yard box. Eriksen took his next opportunity to whip in a carbon copy of his first half effort, only this time from the left. Kaboul was at the far post this time.

Fulham were well-drilled but rather rigid. They failed to adapt to having to come back into the game despite being gifted a penalty when Eriksen lost concentration and needlessly handled the ball. Sidwell’s penalty was too close to Lloris and the keeper pushed it away.

A goal then could have induced a typical Spurs wobble but instead we took control. Our possession football wasn’t exciting but just what was needed to close this one out. Much of our play was uninspiring and insipid, especially in the first half, but let’s be grateful for a few moments of class in an otherwise ordinary performance that gave us three more points.

The caretaker effect created by Levy seems to have engendered lethargy and cynicism in players, manager and fans alike. At least we are together in something. Sherwood seems to feel justified in criticising players – he’s off so what the hell. Many players don’t have the incentive to do well because the new man whoever he is may or may not have different ideas. Just a reminder, if any were necessary, that despite Sherwood’s limitations, this sorry situation was set up by the chairman.

A couple of days ago I pondered on the nature of one aspect of modern fandom, the vehement rejection of any player who leaves us if they accept a transfer. It’s not something I feel, preferring a haphazard, not necessarily logical balance sheet that factors in their previous commitment and contribution to the Tottenham cause. In January, Nacer Chadli was allegedly thinking about a move but decided to stay. Sherwood has rewarded him with regular starts, most recently in a central midfield. I’d suggest the Belgian has not repaid his manager’s faith in him. He’s good on the ball but is reluctant to work hard enough. Alert and active when he gets possession, suddenly his enthusiasm dissipates when he has to do something that he doesn’t want to. It’s unforgivable to see him jogging back when we need him goalside. Apparently he’s quite happy for his team-mates to put in the sweat and toil that is beneath him. In a midfield four, without a dedicated DM, it’s a derelication of duty. On my personal balance sheet, he’s so far in the red no amount of top corner swervers are going make up for it.

Bale’s Goal A Cause For Celebration? Thoughts On Watching Modern Football

On Wednesday night former Spurs player Gareth Bale scored the late goal that won the Copa Del Rey for his current club, Real Madrid. If you haven’t seen it, congratulations – your willpower to stay away from social media and the press is far greater than mine.

By any standards it was a jaw-droppingly remarkable piece of football. Picking up a pass from defence on the halfway line, Bale couldn’t get past the defender in front of him so he decided to go round him. He knocked the ball past his man and ran. However, the defender wasn’t to be beaten so easily. Turning quickly, he had the inside track. The ball was his.

That logic would have defeated most players. If not, the nudge he received as he came close would have done the trick. Most would have gone down in an imploring heap, bleating to the ref as they plunged to the turf. But Bale kept going. No way through so like Lewis Hamilton on a fast corner at Silverstone he left the defender on the racing line and put the pedal to the metal. To get round he went a couple of metres off the pitch, through the technical areas and when he was back on the field, the ball was his.

Full-pelt he carried on with the ball at his feet, the full-back forlorn, desperate and beaten. He bore down on the keeper then with the ball perfectly in his stride went from power to delicacy in an instant and touched it home.

There’s more. Here’s the context. This full-tilt 50 metres in 8 seconds with a ball at his feet and a defender in his wake took place in the 86th minute. Bale had had a good game, working hard up front interchanging with Real’s main striker Benzema. It was a final against Real’s biggest rivals, Barcelona. The score was 1-1 at the time, a tight game heading inexorably for extra time and penalties. This was no ordinary goal, this was the stuff of legend. Whatever he accomplishes in the future, he will never be forgotten by Real supporters.

Most of the photos I use on Tottenham On My Mind are of the goals themselves but the one at the head of this article tells the real story of this goal and of the nature of football itself, what it meant to the crowd. In it, Bale soars in majestic isolation, as if born aloft by the tumult. The reality is more prosaic – he was alone because none of his team-mates could keep up with him.

Like I said, remarkable. Moments like these are precious, the reason why I remain unshakably fascinated by the game as I approach my sixties. Nothing else does it like football – the shared experience, the unsurpassed passion, that unique combination of improvised skill, power, beauty and presence of mind. Being gobsmacked by the whole thing is the essence of being a fan.

Not so if you gauge opinion from social media and the comments’ sections of newspapers. Reading this, my feeling as a supporter is out of step with many. I freely admit when I’m wrong, as I often am, but there’s something here about changes in the way we relate to the game, something that goes way beyond this goal and which I do not think is for the better.

Two examples. First, many said this was a good goal but was it really all that? In several places on the net, for instance the Guardian comments section, it is suggested that this is not ‘a wonder goal’. Leaving aside the use and creation of that phrase, which we’ve all heard over the past few years to the point where it becomes meaningless, many say this goal is not worthy of that accolade.

You can call it whatever you like but it’s clear many were at most only mildly impressed, others positively dismissive. Using that term as shorthand, if this is not a wonder goal, then what is? Partly this is a rhetorical question, partly a genuine search for examples. There have been goals as good and better but I would contend this is head and shoulders above most goals we’ve seen this season, especially if you add the context. You’ve got to say it’s up there – apparently not.

The modern game distorts expectations in many ways. Success must be instant. Supporters especially of the so-called big clubs have a overweaning sense of entitlement. Second is nowhere, success is not something to be acheived or worked at, rather it is their right as supporters to have success at the highest level to celebrate.

This distorts the nature of the game itself. Last week author Adam Powley overheard some Chelsea fans after they beat PSG saying it was a good thing that moneybags PSG didn’t get through…

This distortion has seeped into the way we perceive the game itself, gnawing away over time at the very meaning of being a supporter. If you can’t enjoy Bale’s goal because it wasn’t really that good, what can you enjoy? What are you waiting for? Because I am here to tell you after fifty years of watching the game, there’s nowhere else to go. Wait for something better to come along and you will be sorely disappointed. This is about as good as it gets.

I’ve seen all of Bale’s goals for Spurs. Some were up there as wonder goals, although I wouldn’t use that term myself. But in my time I have never seen, never, anywhere, a player like him. That fast, that strong, that powerful, that touch, those long-range shots, those deft touches in the box. This goal showed off the lot. This is what football is all about and if you’re looking for something else, it doesn’t exist. Treasure every moment. If this goal doesn’t excite, I cannot possibly see how you can get any enjoyment from football.

Bale’s goal was all the more breathtaking for me because as a Spurs fan, I’ve seen him grow up. More than just any ex-player, Bale has gone from a gawky, hesitant man-child too big for his body to an outstanding footballer. Along the way he’s provided some fantastic goals and memories. I have said before that I feel close to these wide players, these wingers and full-backs. From where I sit on the Shelf, they are 10 yards away, toiling, scared, audacious. I know because I can see every bead of sweat, I can look into their eyes.

I wasn’t the only Spurs fan who wished him well, who took pride in this goal and others even though it brought into stark relief how limited we are in comparison and how much we miss him. I openly admitted that Bale’s goal made me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside, warm in that I was pleased for him, the memories were fuzzy, generous recollections of his days with us.

Many Spurs fans were not so generous. Bale (and Modric, having a quiet moment together as the goal celebration finally ended) rejected us so we reject them. Many on the boards and twitter saw no reason to join in. Others were downright angry with him for leaving and the goal left them at best indifferent, at worst downright angry.

Unlike my first example, I do get this one even if I don’t feel the same way. An element of sentimentality infuses my writing, without dominating, because that’s part of how I relate to being a supporter. The past is important to the present. Football is 22 men kicking a ball and at the same time so much more than that. Equally I know only too well that investing in an emotional attachment is nothing more than love unrequited, doomed before it began because in the end, they all leave.

I say all. Ledley didn’t leave, he was taken from us. I don’t do friendlies or testimonials but I went to Billy Nick’s and I will go to his. But these days, they don’t hang around. This change has been mirrored by changes in supporter attitudes. Fans are quicker to reject them now, when they go. If a player indicates that he wants to leave, the anger and opprobrium is particularly harsh and bitter. Players have been agitating for a move for as long as there has been professional football but the reaction of fans these days seems much stronger than I recall in the past. Waddle, Hoddle and Gazza – I remember disappointment and sadness but not the fury provoked by, say, Berbatov’s or Modric’s departures.

Just to be explicit about what I am not saying. I’m not saying my way is better, merely that this development seems to be a part of contemporary fandom. Neither am I welcoming back every past Spurs player with open arms. The ones I don’t like are those who take it easy and don’t give us their best while they wear the shirt. All I would say about Bale is that when he played for us, he played. He gave as much as any man and his football over the years contributed to our best results, our best league positions for decades and unforgettable memories. He didn’t stop playing for us, just got a bit sulky in the close season when Levy was haggling over the fee. He was always going to be sold once Real made the offer and I can’t blame him for joining arguably the top club in Europe. In my balance sheet therefore, he is forever in the black.

So why are reactions more vehement? The answer must lie beyond the actions of individual players, although that is important of course, witness Vertonghen’s apparent disdain at the moment. Fans feel alienated from their clubs to an increasing extent. Players and clubs are distant, exploiting our willingness to come every week to the point where their praise of supporter loyalty borders on the patronising. Clubs invite us to be part of the experience but do little or nothing in return to earn our trust or respect.

It’s natural therefore that we don’t invest emotionally in players because we know they will be off soon. It’s not just Spurs. This is part of the modern game. And the consequence of not being close to players is that you are less close to the club itself. The ties that bind are loosening. There is a real danger that the nature of support is changing irrevocably and the only thing that will stop it is if the clubs begin to recognise that and treat supporters with the respect they deserve. I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, enjoy it while it’s there. That is not meant as an ironic throwaway remark. Get as much from the game as you can. See a goal like Bale’s for what it is, a sublime example of the art. Relish Eriksen’s goals or Hugo’s saves – maybe if they do enough of each they’ll stay longer because we will do well but don’t allow the certain knowledge of their departure to taint your enjoyment of the game. Football isn’t just about winning, it’s about wonder, so marvel all you can. Because if that goes, there’s nothing left.

 

 

Spurs Rabble Come Back To Draw

None of this should have happened. Never have I seen a Premier League team defend as listlessly as Spurs did against West Brom. Never have I seen a Premier League team concede the initiative as needlessly as West Brom.

First half – excruciating, mindless Spurs defending. Second – West Brom sat back and took their punishment. Draw probably fair although we finished by far the stronger. Think all the things players are not supposed to do – that was West Brom v Spurs. No pressing, no marking, little structure – even for our season this was an open mouth chin on the floor are those professionals DID HE REALLY JUST DO THAT sort of match.

Spurs began with the same line-up and formation as against Sunderland on Monday night. Eriksen was on the left, Kane just behind Adebayor and Chadli alongside Paulinho in the centre. Chiriches continued at centreback. I say centreback. Turned out he was so out of sorts, he must have picked up a dose of the plague. I say formation. What I mean is that for 45 minutes nobody knew what the hell was going on.

This crass, inept and mindless defending plumbed new depths even in a season where passing the ball to the opposition as close to goal and in as much space as possible has become a defensive art-form. Players and coaching staff abnegated collective and individual responsibility for their. Quickly it descended into farce. After half an hour, they were a rabble.

I admire Sherwood (remember this moment – not a phrase you will see often on Tottenham On My Mind) in the sense that we may as well go for a win in each of our remaining matches but surely chucking everyone forward in a formation based on the ‘gung ho’ setting on Championship Manager 01 isn’t the way to go about it. One or two defensive-minded players can hold everything together, allowing defenders some protection so they can defend and allowing forwards plus attacking fullbacks the freedom to create. This set-up has nothing to hold it together, like a perfectly assembled Airfix kit that falls apart as soon as you pick up.

Our Ledley sadly did not win much in his illustrious career but he still holds the record for the fastest ever Premier League goal. His former team-mates obviously struck a bet to see if they could deprive him of that honour. Under two minutes versus Liverpool, here from kick-off an Albion forward took on Rose in our left hand corner. The full-back allowed himself under no real pressure to be turned. Meanwhile Eriksen had wandered back then stood off and watched from a few yards away, wide not between the ball and the goal. Didn’t occur to him to get goalside. Lloris pushed out the resultant cross which was thumped back into the empty net. 26 seconds – hard lines lads, Led has 11 but still four matches left. I’m sure you will give it a go.

Two down in 3mins 50 secs. Eriksen had the ball under little pressure then obligingly fell over. Chiriches failed to reach the cross first and the whole back four had become drawn under the ball to the near post. Brunt volleyed the ball home. None of the midfield bothered to cover, natch.

Kane shot wide from the edge of the box and then from much closer in a few minutes later, a chance he should have converted. We knew then that WBA weren’t much cop at this defending lark despite the game being given to them on a plate. I predicted 4-4 at that point. Hopelessly wrong…

A penalty offered us a way back after the missed chances in this breathless, gawky game. Rose, touched from behind by the defender, reacted as if he had just lent against an electrified fence. He had barely finished his performance of rolling around when Adebayor stepped up and precisely placed the ball into keeper Foster’s arms. It was his worst penalty since, oh, the last time he took a penalty, an effort in Europe that’s still heading skywards.

Spurs had four or five men up for every attack, West Brom strolled through the wide open space at the other end. Lloris saved well before Albion went three up, the worst of the worst. Kaboul exercised his responsibility as captain by charging towards their corner flag with the ball. Bear in mind everyone else was attacking so the run was completely unnecessary. Nobody had the wit or inclination to cover. Inevitably he lost it. Inevitably despite this he still just ambled back. Inevitably Albion played the ball over his head. Sessignon was one on one with Chiriches, the only defender, and scored.

The effort of mind it must have taken the rest of the team to suppress their natural inclinations and years of coaching to run back and cover is only to be admired. Train that thought power and soon they will be able to move objects just by thinking about it. I headlined our abject performance against Liverpool ‘pathetic’ but this redefined the concept.

One exception to this criticism is Harry Kane, who stuck to his task and his position regardless of the mayhem around him. Refusing to be downhearted after those two earlier misses, he kept showing for the ball and was rewarded. First he came off the back four and found Lennon making a run out wide. The cross was deflected into his own net by the luckless Olsson. A complete fluke but not for the first time this season, we had a bit of luck to get us out of a hole.

Coming just before half-time, this gave us a boost. As with the Sunderland game, we dominated the second half without playing particularly well. Instead of pressing, Albion sat back, conceded ground and let us play. It was a fatal error that cost them two points and nearly the game because Spurs had more than enough chances to win this one at a canter despite everything I have said about the first half. Manager Mel said this change of approach was not due to his instructions but he didn’t seem to do anything to change it. Perhaps a relegation-haunted club’s fear of conceding another lead is too much for any manager.

Spurs took full advantage. Monopolising the possession, we spent the rest of the game trying to find a way through. Free from any left-wing defensive duties, Eriksen came inside and was much more influential, while Paulinho stayed deeper to allow Rose to come forward with a wild look in his eyes but in all honesty we didn’t need much protection at the back because West Brom hardly got the ball in our half. We pushed the Baggies further back into their half and had total control.

Our next goal came at the right time too. Just when we were flagging, Lennon to the byline, a perfect cross and Kane headed in, although three other Spurs men were in the queue for that same ball. Lennon has become a more all-round player but at the expense of his stock in trade, the run down the wing and cross, rather than to enhance it. Two assists from virtually the only two byline runs he made. A message there, I think.

Chances were made and missed by Eriksen, Rose and Lennon. The ref’s award of 6 minutes injury time seemed generous. In the second, Eriksen seemed to have delayed too much on a chance in the box but the crafty so and so just pulled it onto his right foot and shot high into the net. Spurs pressed for the winner to no avail.

Crazy to write that we deserved the draw after a diabolical first half but it’s true and it was that sort of game. Forget everything you have learned about watching top division football – the players certainly did – and I suppose it would have been good viewing for the neutral but nerve-shredding for the committed. As with the Sunderland game on Monday, we managed to lift ourselves and did not give up. That’s something at least but I can’t shift the hideous images of that first half defending.

 

Spurs Thrash Sunderland As Sherwood Awaits His Fate

Season 2013-14 will be one to remember for Spurs supporters but for all the wrong reasons. Since our self-imposed exile into Sherwood’s caretakership, we’ve been sitting in limbo for what feels like an eternity, staggering from one humiliation to another.

For once I can’t wait for the fixtures to end: the second half of the season has really dragged. The crowds approaching the Lane last night looked for all the world like figures in a Lowry painting, huddled against the wind and devoid of enthusiasm. There were gaps in all the stands, not unsold tickets but ticket holders who simply could not be bothered to turn up. Despite having paid a fortune, they preferred to stay at home. I’ve never seen so many spares on twitter and people literally could not give tickets away.

Many of those who made it did so out of that distorted sense of duty supporters cannot shake off, no matter how hard we try. We questioned our motives or indeed our sanity as we swapped stories of the easy drive or walking straight to the bar and being served.

In the end, we had the pleasure of five goals and an easy win, straightforward enough in the second half at least after the now obligatory calamity. It took a while but in the end we had some fun. Fun – at Spurs, not why we go, now is it?

Took me a while to cotton on. What on earth has happened to me? There was plenty of good football yet I was suspicious of it. Won’t amount to anything, only a matter of time before the next defensive catastrophe, all fall apart soon. Spurs, that’s what you’ve done to me. 2013-14 has warped my senses. Hardly one to tell the great-grandchildren.

This game took place in the context of strong rumours that Sherwood’s departure at the end of the season had been confirmed. The photographers who jostled for position in front of the home dugout like paparazzi outside Chinawhite’s certainly thought something was up. Just like Spurs to sack their second manager of the season before a game. At least it wasn’t at half-time.

It all added to the lack of expectancy. As my son pointed out, the atmosphere was like that of a Europa League group game. Both teams were out there, working hard under the lights but in the absence of any tension or edge. You welcomed a couple of crunching, misguided foul tackles to remind us that it was a competitive game with a considerable amount hanging on the outcome.

To complete the scene, the heavens opened and the weather turned as gloomy as the mood. On cue, once again Spurs surpassed all expectations by conceding a goal of huge comedic value. Chiriches, back in the side for the presumably injured Vertonghen, exchanged passes with Lloris at the edge of the area. We thought this was to take the sting out of a Sunderland attack but no! It was Vlad’s cunning plan to lure his keeper out of position, then pass across goal to Cattermole who rolled the ball into the empty net. It was by far Sunderland’s best ball of the night.

It was an even game until that point. Our attacking line-up had Chadli and Paulinho in central midfield so no defensive midfielders. Lennon was on the right, Eriksen starting left but cutting in, with Kane linking with Adebayor up front. Self-destructive against better sides but it came good on the night.

Both teams had chances. Spurs probably had the best of them with Kane a fraction uncertain on two occasions and Adebayor prominent. Rose had more room on the left as the game went on. Trying to work out the frequency of decent crosses, I reckon he averages one in five. Shame really – he did well to get forward into the space Eriksen made for him.

But it was Eriksen who got us back into the match, just when we were flagging. His fine cross from the left hit Manu on the thigh and was in. Messy on one level but it was a classic ball to the far post between keeper and defenders and all good strikers have the precious attribute of being in the right place at the right time.

All that was good about this performance revolved around Christian Eriksen, head, shoulders and a pair of stilts above everyone else on the pitch. Wherever something creative was happening, he was in the middle of it. Not everything came off but more than enough did to win this game at a canter.

His best performances this season have come when he’s played on the left. Last night, two wicked left-footed crosses, quick and curling into the danger area between keeper and central defenders set up our first and second goal. He scored the third, left foot and low from the edge of the box, helped by a tiny deflection.

However, wide left isn’t his best position. Rewind to my comments on the Liverpool debacle. Coming from the left gives us an extra man in the centre of midfield and he’s harder to pick up but it leaves us vulnerable to attacks down our left side, especially as Rose has defensive limitations. It’s a balance. Liverpool, who for the purposes of this example shall be known as ‘A Good Team’ ruthlessly exploited the weakness. Sunderland however, who we shall name ‘A Bad Team’, had no idea so the balance tipped decisively in our favour.

Good teams will always spot that one unless we compensate with a couple of defensive midfielders, one of whom will therefore be available to shuffle across and plug the gap. So do that or play him centrally with a DM behind so he has the freedom to move and work his magic, because there is no mistaking the fact that he’s the future of this club.

Much to enjoy about the second half. Spurs dominated completely, exploiting the space Sunderland left us all over the pitch and making a series of chances. Kane scored the second from another fine far-post cross by Eriksen, touching the ball in with confidence. Eriksens’s shot was the third, lots of room at the edge of the box.

Adebayor had a good first half especially, noticeably prominent during the period when we played badly, trying to make things happen. He pinched the fourth after the keeper half-blocked Kane’s shot and then Siggy wrapped it up, banging in a loose ball for number five.

I don’t see Chadli as a central midfielder, particularly if we are put under more pressure than Sunderland managed, but you can see glimpses of his talent, albeit frustratingly rare. For every fine throughball there were several fluffed opportunities but he contributed to the attacks in the second half. Lennon worked hard and made a couple of thrilling runs, reminding us of what has been missing from his game for a while now.

Paulinho began well in his best central midfield role but faded disappointingly. Kane did well enough, taking his goal well and looking to link up play behind the main striker. Having someone in that forward position who has something of the striker about him, as opposed to a forward midfielder, adds to our chances of scoring.

The defenders had nothing to do in the second half. Lloris was equal to everything that came his way.

A highly enjoyable second half and the result did not flatter us. Sherwood’s attacking team without a defensive midfielder proved to be the right option. There was a vast gap between the midfield and back four that most opponents would have exploited but sadly for them, Sunderland aren’t that team. They won’t get more room in the attacking half than we gave them yet they did nothing whatsoever with it. At the back, three centre halves meant we had space around their area and with Bardsley their right back keen to get forward, it’s no coincidence that two goals came from crosses on that side. It shows why teams don’t play 5-3-2 more often. Their lack of passion was surprising given their fight for survival. I feel for their fans – that was a long ride home.