Time To Hold Our Nerve

For an hour this was arguably Spurs’ best performance of the season.  United fought to come to terms with the unusual experience of being pushed back deep into their own half, of struggling to get hold of the ball, of being unable to break free. All this effort and hard won superiority was thrown away in three mad moments of shoddy defending. Ultimately the match became a sober reminder of both how far we’ve come and what remains to be done.

History will always recall the breathtaking pace, flowing movement and stunning goals that shattered Villa, Newcastle and Norwich amongst others but this was the supreme test, the champions as they peak once again for the run-in to the league title. After a sticky start when we appeared as rusty as our opponents were classy, we gradually imposed our will on the game. To see this unfold before your eyes is a rare and inspiring delight, to see the team come to terms with a few problems, work them out and then proceed to dominate for long spells against the very best. This isn’t just about good individuals. Rather, it’s the team as a living organism, one where it’s possible to peek inside and see how it adapts to new conditions.

Welbeck’s pace and Rooney’s dash looked ominously good early on. The determination of our makeshift central midfield paring of Sandro and Livermore took them forward but as they pressed, United exploited the gaps they left behind in front of the back four. However, Spurs made sure this did not last for long. Pause for thought plus some sharp finger jabbing from King and they adjusted their starting positions. Remaining a fraction deeper provided the required cover and enabled them to time their forward movement better. Modric,  playing wide left from necessity, looked for the ball and found in Assou Ekotto a willing helper. As the half went on, Benny drove us onward, teamwork and early passes of the highest order.

No Bale so Lennon had to provide the pace to up the tempo and make something of our increasing possession. He did well, pressurising defenders and switching wings to set up Saha for a glorious opportunity. For the second time in three weeks, a Spurs player contrived to get in the way and Abebayor was penalised for handball. Earlier, Manu missed the best chance of the half, clean through but De Gea saved low to his left. It felt as if Many could have put his foot through the ball rather than open himself up, which often means less force cam be applied to the shot.

The crowd were agitated by some of the possession football but it’s so hard to break United down. Livermore and Sandro showed great poise and purpose, keeping the ball on the move, never resting and unafraid to get stuck in when necessary. Although he gave the ball away in a couple of dangerous situations, Livermore once more showed his promise. He does something off, but doesn’t blink. Just gets on with it, his game is apparently unaffected by the ups and downs. He clashed with the master Scholes, didn’t bat an eyelid. No respecter of reputations, he’s in the process of making a bit of a reputation himself. As a result, Scholes and Carrick were pushed back, Rooney forced into midfield to help out. As far as teamwork goes, this was as good a period as I’ve seen this year, up there with the closing minutes of the City game where our opponents turned this way and that in frustration but could not find a way through.

Then a free kick is awarded against Sandro. I’ve not seen a replay but it looked soft at best, non-existent more accurately. Either way, I still can’t believe he was booked. Trouble is, the next time the ball left that area of the pitch was when we kicked off after going a goal down. The teams left the field at half-time to a tumult of derision directed toward the referee yet it’s not his fault that we can’t defend a simple corner. Giving Rooney a free header is naive in the extreme. Was it Walker who lost him? In the second half, Rooney protested as his new marker, Sandro, roughed him up before a corner but the damage had already been done. Walker on Rooney doesn’t seem the best match-up to me: one for the coaches to think about.

To their credit, Spurs picked up after half time where they left off. The tempo and ball-retention was good, Lennon looked promising and United seldom got near our goal. Then, one of those how-did-he-get-there-why-isn’t-anyone-near-him-surely-the-ref-has-stopped-play moments. Benny threw up his arms in incredulity even as he turned to cover Nani’s run. A moment’s doze at a throw-in but a second later the game was lost. Luka should have done more to prevent the run in the first place, Walker at least got a tricky ball away from the goal but not far enough and Young scored. Soon after, as we obligingly backed off Young had a training-ground run-up to prepare his favourite long range curler.

Only then did United fully assert themselves and passed the ball around until the final whistle.When Defoe scored I didn’t even stand up but it was well-taken. United were never going to repay our defensive generosity. So many dispiriting afternoons against United in recent years, you would have thought that I would have got used to them by now but this was utterly dispiriting because we had played so, so well. The defending was appalling: it’s pointless playing so well if we come up with that sort of cack. Nothing to do with United being able to bounce back: we should not have given them the chance. However, United are a benchmark and if we are to aspire to their status, we have to take our chances when they come and concentrate for 90 minutes, not 89 minutes and 50 seconds. That’s all it was, in total. Switching off for 10 seconds and the game we dominated for large swathes of time has gone.

Plenty of good things to hold on to as the gap narrows, starting with 4 points, the way we played, our refusal to be intimidated and the return of Bale, Rafa and Parker. Rafa’s presence yesterday could have been the difference as Saha was largely ineffective. I sometimes wonder about the callers to 606 – yesterday in the midst of understandably exasperated Spurs fans blaming the ref, Saha, the ref again, one guy said Redknapp had taken us as far as he could and should be sacked. The evidence – the last three results. Now there are ups and downs in my relationship with Harry but I’d hang on a bit. If being the third best team in the country is the level we’re currently on, we’ve been there since about November. This guy had obviously had enough of waiting, it was three months after all, but personally I’m going to offer HR a little more of my patience.

‘One Love’ proclaimed the banner. That doesn’t seem quite right for Redknapp. The team maybe, the shirt for a lifetime, but not the manager however well he’s done. I’ve criticised him for his tactics over the last two games but he returned to a familiar 4-4-2 and we looked better for it. I would have chosen Defoe ahead of Saha but Harry had to play with his new toy. I’m not a huge Defoe fan but he’s done well this year and would have done more when we didn’t have the ball. Interesting that Walker hardly got forward – instructions clearly, perhaps to stop Evra and Young teaming up. Oh, and one more thing – dodgy keeper so we should have put him under more pressure on crosses and set pieces.

Finally, no complaints at all about motivation. That answered any queries about how the NLD defeat would hit us. We need to hold our nerve, remember what we do well and keep doing it. In the same way we effectively rote off the early season defeats against the Manchester clubs, CL qualification will be secured by how well we do in the run of tough but winnable games that follow the Chelsea match through to the end of the season.

15 comments

  1. Tony Boxall

    I agree with the review of the game and the sentiments. Like you I was shouting at Manu to, ‘put your laces through it’, rather than side foot it but the moment had gone. Dodgy decision about the handball, it came at him so fast he couldn’t get out of the way, intentional, I don’t think so. A couple of good De Gea saves, Lady Luck not on your side, lapses in concentration, things could have been different. Positives were the middle two, more than held their own against two very experienced players. The attitude was good, I described some moments as a, ‘steep learning curve’, for the younger players, Kyle Walker himself apologised to the fans on Twitter calling it a, ‘bad day at the office’. More positives than negatives though, onward and upward.

  2. Ceegee

    Well not sure what game u saw but while we enjoyed more possession (which we should as da home team!) we didnt really carve utd open no it was jus da latest instalment of tottenham fraility against those red shirts! I always knew this last month or so of fixtures would give us some answers about our team n now we can c nothing has really changed we just dont have the BOTTLE to win against da big boys!! I sit n pray we get jose to build a new Tottenham one that doesnt flatter to deceive everytime,a team that turns up in the big games n says yeah lets have it!! It wont happen of course now that AVB has been given his cards but I can dream!

  3. IoanX

    I would rather say that it is about time to address our long existed shortcomings like set pieces.
    I would like the club to make an official statement saying to the supporters who is in charge and responsible of teaching the players what they have to do during set pieces and finding the proper players (i.e. Rasmus Elm) to take our free kicks.

    • Alan

      Set pieces are appalling, although benny clipped the bar yesterday. The one that gets me is the touch to Kaboul which is as predictable as a Putin election victory.

      I’ve always thought we defended them poorly until I saw a stat that showed we conceded fewer goals from set pieces than any other Prem side. Not so this season.

  4. Ossies Dream

    Why on earth did we have our most creative player (Luka) stuck out wide when we have a left-sided, England U21 pacey alternative sitting on the bench (Danny Rose). Jones was an accident ready to happen so why not give him something to think about. Then you can’t tell me a centre M/F of Luka/Sandro couldn’t outplay Scholes (thirty f**king seven !) and Carrick. No, sorry, I just cannot agree with Harry’s team selection. The Mancs were there for the taking on Sunday and we didn’t give them enough to worry about. A lot of possession yes, but we didn’t really look like scoring – keeper made 2 saves ? Friedal didn’t make any and picked the bloody ball out of the net 3 times ! Defoe ahead of Saha all day long when at WHL. Away from home, Saha the better option (bit more bulk). We should get past Stevenage with a half decent side – Harry, please don’t risk Luka / VDV / Bale / Kaboul / BAE – imperative v Everton…

  5. Harvey The Hudd

    Harry has under-used Defoe all season and not starting him in the last two games has been shown to be a huge mistake. We had very little cutting edge yesterday.
    Defoe has worked very hard on his all-round game and physical strength and it shows. I accept that the 4-4-1-1 worked well for the first half of the season but I really believe that if Defoe had been given a lot more game time we’d be a lot better off now.
    Funny really, given that Harry is always likes to point out how good JD is and how he’s taken him with him throughout his (Defoe’s) career.
    What do you say Al?

    • Alan

      As I said, I’d have played Defoe ahead of Saha yesterday. if Rafa is fit, I’d go for him ahead of JD. Defoe deserves credit for improving his all-round game. His close control is erratic as is his chance-taking. Yesterday, one beautiful goal (under little pressure), one went out for a throw.

      I am surprised that Harry, having championed him for so long, now keeps him on the bench but for much of the season he’s been there because of Rafa.

      Regards,

      Al

  6. IKnowAlanGilzean

    I am still finding it hard to process yesterday’s events. I enjoyed the performance in the first hour or so bar three moments of I know not what. We were unlikely to make a host of clear cut chances against Man utd but we made enough decent ones to warrant getting our noses in front and not having to chase the game from 0-1.

    Excellent write up with much food for thought and insight Alan. Steady as She goes… I still fancy us for third… and the FA Cup.

    I too am increasingly impressed with Livermore. The value of giving young’uns time as I must admit didn’t rate him as a Spurs level (that we aspire to) player until the Everton at home game, when he was excellent. Yesterday, he showed he can do it vs a top side too. Though I’d have played Saha over Defoe I must say, yesterday. I remember Adebayor cracking them in from all angles and distances against us over the years, but his shooting is mostly Peter Crouch strength for us, strangely. Maybe he’s always been like that bar the volley at the Lane for Arsenal, I cannot remember. He seems to be a little awkward and lack oomph when striking the ball over any distance.

    I think Parker has looked tired and half a yard short in recent weeks. I think for this season Parker has quickly made himself impt as a presence and leader, as well as player, much more than i thought him capable of I admit, though I would keep faith with Sandro or Livermore personally for a game or two, if only to allow him to recover a little.

  7. Graham

    It just seems that we lack a bit of invention when faced with a packed defence which can do its job well. Thought Lennon was by far our biggest threat but was surprised he didn’t go at Jones every opportunity he had especially once Jones had been booked. Like most others wasn’t that impressed with United but wouldn’t it be nice to go to Everton this weekend and come away with a three one win,not having played particularly well. This is not the time to press the panic button as we are as good as anyone else outside the top two.

  8. matt_spurs

    good to see some clarity and more level headed thinking in contrast to the standard scapegoating and knee-jerk reactions that come out whenever spurs go through a bad patch…. We’ve been fantastic all season- playing scintilating football thats lit up the premier league- give the players (and harry) the chance to get it right again. Have some faith in the team that the progress we’ve made under harry wasn’t temporary. Rome wasn’t bulit in a day, we’ve been making steady progress at spurs for a few years, and I fully expect us to push forward again next season, and make a genuine sustained title challenge next year.

    Yesterday shows exactley why utd are the most succesful team in British football- they didn’t play well, created few chances, but were clinical when it mattered and got the result (and despite what some of the above posters have said about our lack of cutting edge- I remember de gea making 3 or 4 good saves, Kaboul heading a good chance over, and us scoring 2 goals-one obviously being dissalowed…. games against the top 4 and champs leagues games are like this, you won’t always get 15-20 chances, but we’ve got to learn from the killer instinct united have developed so well over the years and take the chances when they come our way, and learn that if you switch off for even a second against a top team, you will be punished).

    When you look at things with a little perspective- 3rd is still well within our hands, we’re two winnable home games away from a wembley semi-final… we’ve had a fantastic season so far- we’ve got a rested bale, parker and vdv to come back into the team. Now’s the time to get behind the spurs- not single out individuals or make pointless and counter-productive calls for redknapp to go…. lets leave all of that to the gooners hey….

  9. Alan

    This was one of those games where I could have written another, different blog and still had a valid point. It’s true that we did not make as many chances as our possession deserved, but on the other hand United massed their ranks and defended well. We didn’t take our chances when they came, and made mistakes when it mattered, as we did against City.

    I’m sticking with half-full not half empty. We controlled the match for extended periods and did make enough chances to score at least once. The disallowed goal was unlucky. I remain convinced that if we dominate during the long run in, third is ours regardless of the last few weeks.

  10. TMWNN

    I know you’ve certainly paid your dues Alan, but others seem to have quickly forgotten the years of underachievement, false dawns and misery. Makes me wonder if they’ve only recently boarded the great, but not without its holes, ship that is THFC.

    I know it’ll take a lot more than being the best of a very poor rest to make me believe we’ve finally turned the corner. This team, excellent as it can be, has been cobbled together with only the very short term in mind.

    • TMWNN

      Defoe and his largely imagined improved game doesn’t wash with me either. We keep going round in circles here; whoever has a run of games is quickly deemed not good enough whilst whoever is presently not getting a game is considered our saviour, no matter which player it is.

      For my money, if VdV was properly fit, he’d start every game ahead of Defoe, but he never is.

      With Adebayor on loan, and actually not as a good as some would have it, we’re no closer to solving the striker problem than we were the day Berbatit upped sticks.

  11. Pingback: Spurs set to offer £3.5m carrot & Levy’s No.1 summer deal – Best of THFC | Kickers.IN

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