After a first half as ragged as the stream I was watching, Spurs muddled through against impressive Stevenage thanks to two superb goals by Jermaine Defoe and a generous referring decision. And that’s good enough for me. Playing lower league teams, that’s the way it so often is. Don’t really know why – something in the back of the team’s collective psychology that knocks them out of their rhythm plus the disruptive changes in personnel. Little things in themselves but history decrees this is how it shall be. We won with a second half that improved almost as much as my viewing pleasure. The only lasting significance of all this is that in future I’ll use my wife’s laptop.
Despite rightly fielding a very strong team, Spurs were uncertain for most of the first half. Stevenage prevented us from establishing any tempo or pattern but nevertheless we should have been bolder and more determined to impose our will on proceedings. We weren’t helped by conceding the early penalty. Nelsen has been bought to add experience but showed the naivety of a schoolboy so early in the match, stretching for a tackle that he was never going to make. Nelsen the New Zealand Naybet? Nay.
We may be seeing more of him. Dawson’s injury is a sickening personal blow for a fine, wholehearted leader: I feel desperately sorry for him. For the team, it could a turning point, the difference between success and failure this season. We could score more goals but chances are, between now and May we’ll probably score enough. Defence is the key. If Led is out, we knew Daws was there, a strong reliable international defender to step in. Now, it’s Led’s knee, Nelsen’s portly figure struggling to remember what it was like to play every week and Gallas’s dodgy ankle. For now on in, every single match is high pressure. Their experience will be invaluable, providing they are fit. There’s no guarantee and it will hang over us until season end.
Defoe brought us level with what is fast becoming his signature goal, long
range, low and looping slightly into the bottom corner. John Barnes, bless ‘im, proved how little football he watches these days by confidently asserting that JD hits the target 8 times out of ten. If only… Less the fox in the box, more like plenty from twenty. His second and the clincher was a terrific effort, freeze-frame the image from behind the goal as he pulled the trigger, all athletic power fizzing into the bottom corner past a despairing dive.
In the first game, Harry changed the tactics to match Stevenage’s long ball and big blokes up front. After last night, I wonder if he’d scouted the wrong side. It could be the influence of their new manager but Borough move the ball extremely well and we were fortunate they weren’t as sharp as Defoe in front of goal. Highly impressive and good luck to them in the future. They were unlucky with our penalty. Cliches include ‘I can see why the ref gave it’, ‘he had no alternative’ and, while we’re about it, a ‘good time to score’ but to me Bale kicked the player accidently in the act of trying to cross. Manu, I’m pleased that you scored but really, you didn’t have to make quite so much of a fuss.
Stevenage did not close us down as the game went on, understandable as they pushed men forward. Bale and Defoe took full advantage of the extra space, Bale’s crossing and choice-making were high quality, plus that incredible shot that was so powerful it came back off the bar nearly as far as the edge of the box.
Otherwise, no one else had much of an impact but equally most did their bit. Once again Cudicini looked alert and sound. Defoe was clearly man of the match but we learned nothing new. Give him an extra half a yard and he looks a world beater. He should start ahead of Saha and behind a fully fit Rafa, but I said that in Sunday’s comments. Last night had nothing to do with it.
Muddling through is the way of things in the Cup. In ‘91 we were poor away to Pompey and then Notts County in the 6th round at home before Gazza saved us on both occasions. It’s fine by me. Here we are, now take Bolton on and Wembley beckons. It’s a fabulous opportunity. Don’t waste it.