Spurs’ Spirit Rises In Portugal

Was that the smoke from flares drifting across Benfica’s Estadio da Luz or incense accompanying the incantation of the last rites of Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League campaign? 3,000 Spurs fans turned up for the wake but in truth this was a passing that was little lamented. The EL has a remarkable ability to suck the joy out of the game of football for both fans and players. Like poor Walter Williams in downhome Mississippi, the 2013-14 campaign was pronounced dead and safely zipped up in a body bag when astonishingly signs of life were detected.

Two late goals from nowhere and a penalty denied could, should have seen us into extra time in a tie where until then we had been second best. It was a pleasure to feel disappointed. It proved that the anomie and apathy created over the last few months or so was merely superficial. Back in the game and suddenly the heart beat fast again.

This makeshift team had toddled along nicely enough, plenty of energy and application without ever looking like making a breakthrough, save for one chance badly fluffed by Soldado. A goal and Spurs were transformed. We scored two, could have had two more plus that penalty. A rousing final fifteen minutes showed fans and players alike that we could go for it. Delight in that disappointment. Maybe these days being grateful for small mercies is more the size of it. Whatever, it was fun while it lasted and we could do with some fun.

Let’s stick with the fun part. Chadli had played down the middle. At least he had run around a bit. With Kane on to replace a toiling Soldado, the Belgian was set free! Free to be the man he has always wanted to be!! Yeh, he moved to the left, where he looks much more comfortable. First effort was the right footer into the opposite top corner, which after his belter in the dying moments of the Newcastle game he is now contractually obliged to attempt. It dribbled ineffectually into the keeper’s arms.

Next one was very different. He drove towards the box and this right footer, low this time, curled away from the keeper into the side of the net.

A few minutes later, Lennon stood up a lovely far post ball for Kane to head back. Chadli pounced, ungainly contact but obeyed the basic law of a striker, get it on target. Benfica fell apart. They weren’t used to this from a Spurs side they thought they had caged in docile captivity. Lennon should have found his man when deep in the box, this from a stunning weighted ball inside the full-back from the excellent Bentaleb. Kane was pushed over from behind in the box, surely, certainly a penalty to everyone save the three officials in close proximity. Siggy heading a far-post cross too softly – great chance! Never thought I’d be writing about any might-have-beens in this article.

I had anticipated most of the action being at the other end but in fact after carelessly running out of centre halves and finding the shops were closed, our makeshift back-four did very well. Fryers responded to the pressure but credit to the full-backs Naughton and Rose for cutting out the supply of crosses. Benfica were restricted to only a single on-target goal attempt, their goal where the lack of cohesion at centreback showed. Garay got between the two of them to power a header past Friedel.

However, Spurs did not cave in and applied themselves throughout. Benteleb responded positively to being a deeper lying midfielder with the dual responsibility of breaking up the Benfica attacks and starting our own. Given a fraction more room than our players had in the first leg, he made good use of it, starring in that final frantic last 15 minutes with three stunning passes. A prospect indeed.

Siggy did his Tigger thing in the middle (Tiggy?), bouncing around energetically. Two wide men, Lennon and Townsend, but we could have made more of the width. Soldado on his own up front, hacked a great first half opportunity into the ground and over. He could have shot, he could have rolled it across the goal, he certainly and inexplicably had the time to make up his mind, but instead another bad miss. No chance of his confidence rising. Poor man-management to leave him stranded after scoring versus Cardiff.

Sherwood chose to spend the entire game in the Director’s Box. I understand this was his choice – he wasn’t banned – following his spat with Jesus at WHL. Odd – what exactly was he afraid of? That he couldn’t keep his temper under wraps? That he would look weak if he went in for more gilet-throwing? It drew attention to himself. His team needed him and he was a long way away from them. He didn’t sit next to Levy either. Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought I saw him smile and wave on the way out just before the match ended. On the way to a defeat – not the way to go. He made sure he was seen, though.

Tim made his way down to the Spurs fans after the game and fair play to him. His side showed spirit and focus in defeat. The last-kick-of-the-game penalty conceded by a tired Sandro made it a draw on the night. ITV anchor Matt Smith described it as “a moral victory of sorts”. Not even a moral victory then, talk about faint praise. For us, it was a relief and pleasure to see the players work hard for each other and for the team. That they so nearly pulled off an improbable comeback is a bonus.

12 comments

  1. iknowalangilzean

    Rousing stuff all round Alan, at the end there. Bentaleb was excellent, as you say, and to be fair he rarely suffers too much if at all by comparison with his midfield chums most games.

    As I remember it, we were 2-1 up when Sherwood was raising his thumb and smiling broadly as he gambolled slowly yet regally out of the stand to go pitch side and take his (sorry the team’s) applause. I imagine he was somewhere in the bowels of the stadium when Benfica were given their pen straight after. If it didn’t hurt so much you’d have to laugh …

  2. Harvey The Hudd

    Alan, I was expecting you to raise the issue of why Eriksen was on the bench. I for one, and many others on Twitter before the game, were furious at his omission. And then Sherwood adds insult to injury by waiting until 15 minutes from the end to introduce him. Arguably our best player, in our most important match of the season, and when we were forced into fielding a makeshift side. I never thought for a minute Eriksen would not start.
    And the proof of the pudding is in the eating. He comes on and hey presto, starts to run the show. Can you help me here? I just can’t get it out of my system.
    I like Sherwood’s passion but, honestly, he is too loose tongued, almost makes “Arry seem taciturn!! I thought, for example, the papering over the cracks remark about the Woolwich was uncalled for. They also had a lot of injuries.
    All the best chief.

  3. Russell Child

    Finely written piece Alan. Your blog just gets better and better. And it was very good to start with. Loved the Walter Williams reference. Brilliant.

    It was a good performance from the Spurs players last night. Bentaleb was excellent and Naughton had another good game, which is pleasing as he gets so much stick. Chadli was impressive, too. Over the next few years he could be a revelation – and a bargain. Great to see Brad in goal. The year we bought him he was the buy of the season. Hope he sticks around the club. He has been good for us.

    Individuals aside, what was most pleasing was watching us move the ball around quickly. We are at our best when we ping the ball and make the opposition feel like they are stuck in a pinball machine. I recently heard Jamie Carragher say that for a period of time, WHL was the place he feared going to the most for this very reason.

    As usual the away support was terrific. All the songs coming through loud and clear. We do have the best away support.

    The negatives?

    Feeling relieved that we didn’t get hammered in our last two games. Why has it come to this?

    The management of poor Roberto Soldado. He scores his first goal in ages against Cardiff then is unceremoniously dropped for the next couple of games. Only brought on as a sub in the last 10 minutes against the other lot. Is anyone surprised his confidence is on the floor at the moment? I bet he’d rather be anywhere but here.

    Tim’s antics in the directors box. The team needed him at the side of the pitch. Interesting that he didn’t sit next to Daniel Levy. It was like he was at the cinema with his Dad and wanted to show he was all grown up now by siting away from him, but close enough to still be seen. The professional and adult response would be to (a) sit on the bench calmly watching his team play and then (b) graciously offer to shake his opponent’s hand at the end whatever the result. How he actually behaved shows he isn’t cut out for management at this level, definitely now and maybe not at all. He is a god hater.

    Can we play even better that this for the rest of the season and win every game, please.

  4. Chris B Waters

    Perhaps we can build on this ..but (injuries aside) it was simply all about ‘send out a team and hope they can play well together’.
    There were positive moments, and Chadli, for one, may well kick on from this (shame that Soldado couldn’t from his Cardiff goal), but let’s be honest here.
    It was still dire (and quite depressing) watching us insofar as ‘creativity and imagination’ were concerned. Benfica no doubt relaxed after the hour thinking they had the tie won, and they also, like us, played a weakened side (or maybe it was our BEST team! Ok, a little levity there, but who knows WHAT our best team is!). It was great to give them a fright in the end, and another referee may have given the Kane penalty, but apart from a little bit of desperately needed ‘entertainment’ from our side, there was little we could read into it all, and we are left to reflect on yet more depressing under-achievement in the final third of a season (a bit like our ‘final third of the pitch’ performance in most games).
    We are still no nearer, after almost one full season together, of knowing who plays better in what position and with whom.
    I genuinely feel we’ve gone as far as we can with Sig. He’s no playmaker OR winger and it would be better for us and him if he moved on. Townsend had a chance to show that he could be lethal (pace and crossing wise) on the left, but blew it!
    Bentaleb had one of his best games, but I honestly do not see him as either a top DM or creative player (at present) who can influence the bigger games. I like Fryers, and I’m gaining more respect for Naughton. Kane had a good cameo appearance, and boy, I hope he makes a few rapid improvements to his game because we could really do with his presence up front next season.
    One more playmaker, a cutting left winger (the Dnipro guy?) and good left back cover (no point in bringing BAE back in the summer even though we could have really done with him in place of Rose on many occasions this term, instead of upsetting the sensitive Verts, and the non-left back Naughton, by asking them to cover there). Those 3 signings will do it (against two or three sales)…plus sort out the mix of Paulinho, Dembele, Capoue, Lamela, Chiriches and so on ..and try to establish some semblance of a team! A team where players know exactly what their team-mates are doing around them. A team with genuinely frightening pace again on BOTH flanks and the ability to cross a ball with regularity. A team with vision/imagination/creativity (or just some sort of damn cutting edge) in the final third. A team that en masse presses to get the ball back from the opposition. A team where defenders know what their fellow defenders are doing, and who they’re covering, better even than what they themselves are doing. A team that only needs ‘tweaking’ in the event of injuries/suspensions and the odd rest.
    What we DON’T want anymore is possession for the hell of it ..the constant slow, dull, frustrating build-up from the back and retention of the ball at all costs, with easier back and sideways passing replacing risk, movement, readability and forward motion.
    Barcelona possess, and their opponents normally die by a thousand cuts! Tottenham (this season) possess, but it’s we fans who die by a thousand cuts! ..or so it bloody feels like.

    • TMWNN

      Agree with most of that, particularly the last paragraph (some of our passing is telegraphed 5 mins before it’s made). As you pointed out, Bentaleb isn’t the answer just yet, but he has shown some real heart along with a lot of composure for a 19 y/o. I expect big things from him in the future.

    • ashleycollie

      IMHO, Chris, the difference between Barca’s possession (and they show a lot of their games here in CA) game and anyone else’s is that they have superior players. They don’t pass to the other team. They have great touch and don’t lose possession. The ball doesn’t run away from them (Townsend, Rose, Walker). Their crosses are accurate and find a player. They play it simple — not 40 yard bombs like our lovable captain that have a 10% accuracy rate…or less! They have great body control so the ball is always, well, under control. And then when they pass it about a bit, they find that seeing-eye pass (Bentaleb to Lennon was in Barca style but obviously not enough all season) to the player in the box for a shot or killer final pass. And when they shoot, it’s on target (erhh, JD’s blasts over, Ade’s weak shots, Soldado’s total misfires). Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating but the basic flaw is there. We don’t have the players of great technical skills that Barca or indeed Bayern, Madrid, etc. have. So it’s no use crying about it, we just don’t have it in our locker, right now. Be great to foster it early, bring it along like Bentaleb (Lamela, Eriksen are young enough to still learn and grow), and hope they stay…until they leave, like Berby, Modric and Bale. COYS!

      • Chris B Waters

        I agree to an extent, Ashley, and we wasted our Bale money on the wrong sort of players last summer. It proves my point from earlier comments about how we’ve regressed this season (and, to a lesser extent, last season, a fact masked by Bale’s performances). Of course we’re currently nothing like Barca, and few teams are. But many are closer to that ideal now than WE are ..and we were closer to it a few seasons back.
        It is almost uncanny how each player for Barca slots in and seems to know exactly what his colleagues are doing, and what is expected of him. At their best, Barca are (were) the best team there’s ever been, and that includes the Brazil side of 1970.
        But you need a couple of great players in a team to bring out the best in everyone else around you, plus a totally committed smart coach with some longevity. The truth is, however, we simply have no great players anymore, and no experienced coach building his team around such players. I believe we DO have many gifted players with excellent technical ability, tho’, and some could probably slot into Barca’s set up and play the type of football that is unrecognisable to us.
        I believe that, because we have (to some degree) let a number of our players down by not providing them with certainty of position and tactics, and the right players around them, Maybe one or two of our squad will be great one day, if they stick around, but we’ve done the opposite of progression (and I thought progression was the point of Levy’s plan).
        However, I would simply be happy now with some kind of a return to just over two years ago, when we played the type of football that was thrilling to watch, up to late Feb/early March 2012. When we were genuinely challenging for the title too. When just one great chance missed in the final minute by Defoe against City in February away cost us 3 points, and the near summit of the PL, as City went straight up the other end and won a penalty, scored by Ballotelli.
        Back then, with 12 games to go, we had a ‘team’, and a nailed on 3rd in the PL, at least, until Harry cast his eyes and focus elsewhere! Even Fergie himself said we were playing the most attractive football in the PL. We had balance, pace on both flanks, creativity in the final third and a DM in Parker who knew exactly what Modric was doing and vice versa ..and when we kept possession of the ball you had the feeling always that something wonderful might spring from it (this season we’ve just dreaded the inevitable mistake).
        For a period of two to three years we created as many chances for our forwards (which unfortunately were not taken as often as they should have been) as any team in the PL. I would give anything just to see that type of football again from us.
        Soldado would have been a boon back then, but he’s a lost soul now, because he’s been so used to the LACK of creativity around him all season. Right ‘buy’ .. but at the wrong time.
        It’s all just been such a dreadful waste but, as I said after the Arsenal game, at least we’ve been freed from the chains of unfulfilled hope and expectation for the first time in five years. We may never be like Barca were at their best, but we must move on as quickly as possible from what’s happened to our club, especially this season, building up fresh hope as we go, learning properly from our mistakes, and ensuring our vision is forward (and not sideways or back like our passing)!

        • Harvey The Hudd

          Chris, that Defoe chance at Man C is a microcosm of so much of our history (on and off the field), especially since the end of the halcyon days under Burkinshaw in 1984. So near and yet so far, one false dawn after another, two steps forward one step back etc etc. No one does self-destruct with quite as much consistency as we do.
          It has been a catalogue of errors and mis-management. Under Irving Scholar, we took too many risks, got into big financial trouble and ended up having to sell the likes of Gazza and Waddle. Under Alan Sugar (who used to think our name was Tottenham Hotspurs), we were out of step with the new realities and while Arse signed Bergkamp for seven million, our chairman lamented the ridiculous sums of money spent on footballers. Our myopia in that era was a disaster. And under ENIC, it’s been even worse because, over and over again, just when you think “ok, we are finally going about things in the right way” we shoot ourselves in the foot. You are right, Harry took his eye off the ball, but sacking him has proved to be a monumental mistake, as was the winter 2011-12 transfer window when, if we’d been bold (instead of selling Pav and bringing in Nelson and Saha – surely the most disastrous window ever) we would surely have secured third, at the very least.
          And here we are again, at yet another crossroads, who the hell knows which way we’ll jump.
          I’d like to see new owners at some point but, as far as next season is concerned, let’s have Mr Van Gaal. He’s a proven winner and has the required gravitas. Plus his name alone might be enough to attract one or two top-notch players. I would build the team around Eriksen and refuse to let the likes of Lloris or Vertonghen leave. Plus, if we still can’t entice Benteke, I think Remy would be ideal.

  5. Peter Domican

    At last a spirited performance and great to be there. I was at the museum the day after and the Benfica staff I spoke to thought they’d blown it. If only we’d have got that penalty!

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