“Stirring comeback” – most of today’s media. “Two nil and you f**ked it up” – The Park Lane, yesterday, approx. 3.10pm.
Spurs did well to drag themselves back into a game they appear not so much to have lost but to have chucked out the window well before half time, only to take it at the last with a lovely long-range winner from Sigurdsson in injury time. In truth, much of the performance was a mish-mash of the good, the bad, and the hideous that has typified much of our season.
There was one difference though – the good gives hope for a future that otherwise looks uncertain and dark. Christian Eriksen’s outstanding performance lifted the side and ultimately proved to be the difference between the two sides. Scored two, made the third but his major contribution was his link-up play, especially with Soldado, that provided almost all of our creative moments and as such frankly stood out from an otherwise ordinary display.
Talking of the future, there’s hope for poor Bobby Soldado. His most consistent offering yet, his movement in a lone striker role due to Adebayor’s injury was the fulcrum around which our best attacks and movement hung. Twice I’ve typed his name so far, both times the pre-spellcheck result was ‘Booby’. I know my typing is primeval but Freudian slip or what? He did well today when the ball was kept on the ground, setting up the second goal and celebrating the winner as enthusiastically as any fan in the stands. Unfortunately he didn’t get the ball put in front of him in the box, otherwise surely a goal would come. He flicked a perfect ball to Chadli early in the game but the Belgian could not reciprocate, placing the cross behind him when time and space compelled him to do better.
Sherwood has handled him poorly since he scored the winner verses Cardiff but the Spaniard is admirably resilient and was well supported by the fans. Trouble is, for periods we were bogged down in the malaise that has undermined much of our recent football, no one available and tight pressing/marking by our opponents so resorting to the long high ball.
It’s an indictment of our development as a team that after almost a full season we know so little about the true abilities of most of our summer signings. Injuries have played a part in that – they’ve all had extended periods on the sidelines bar Soldado – but it’s an indication of the disruption that has undermined our efforts that we have seen only Paulinho and Soldado have extended runs in the side.
At last we have a sense of what Eriksen can really achieve. He’s taken time to settle into the pace of the league despite being endorsed by his previous manager as being able to adapt to anything. Now we know. He has been touted as the number 10 but to me, play him in the heart of the midfield where he can be more involved and have a greater share of the ball. He’s the guy who holds it all together. Players can work off him and he makes them better because he can deliver the type of pass they want – slide it through, curl in a cross and his speciality yesterday, the neat little touch, subtle, instant, perfectly weighted.
His combination play with Soldado appeared instinctive but was carefully thought out. Bearing in mind he was nominally left midfield, he popped up, right place right time, far too often for it to be coincidence. He knows what Bobby S. needs and is the only one who comes remotely close to giving it to him. One sublime move in the first half showed speed of foot and thought that I thought had deserted us several long months ago. Shame it could not quite be converted into a goal.
Look – I may be a simple man but if Eriksen is dynamic in the centre, play him there. Chadli started there again in a forward position, despite his game-changing performance on Thursday when he moved out left. So why not start him left, coming inside on his right foot as he tends to do. Eriksen coming in gives us an extra man and it’s hard to mark him, I get that. I can see what Sherwood is trying. Redknapp did he same with Modric, but look at Luka now, flourishing in a central role for Real Madrid. Eriksen is the only man at Tottenham around whom a team can be built. Play him in the centre now, for the sake of this season and those to come. He is our future.
The first half began with optimism then swiftly degenerated into a familiar story of disorganisation and disenchantment. Southampton are keen on pushing men into the spaces between our back four, as they did in the match at St Mary’s. We responded by keeping those gaps as wide as humanly possible, doing nothing to prevent he flow of passes from midfield or to track willing runners. Saints have no shortage of men more than happy to take advantage of an invitation and it was open house for much of the opening period.
Five goals in a free scoring Premier League weekend, four of which came from crass defensive errors. Spurs first with the cock-ups. Naughton totally misjudged an innocuous long ball from the Southampton keeper – really, nowhere near it – and Rodriguez took the chance extremely well as crowd and team united in stunned bewilderment. Then Naughton did it again. Last man, he knocked the ball sideways instead of clearing, Lallana the grateful beneficiary this time.
Saints looked like a team, we a collection of individuals introduced to each other for the first time in the dressing room before kick-off. Chadli looked eager but lost, Lennon did not manage a run with the ball for 40-odd minutes. He and Dembele were invisible. Cue some hoofing upfield. At the other end we were vulnerable to any bobbly ball through the middle.
This had all the hallmarks of disaster, a meek capitulation would surely follow. But now it was Southampton’s turn to make a hash of it. A cross to the far post just eluded Soldado but the full-back (Clyne?) mis-cued his clearance. Eriksen, lurking hopefully at the far post, suddenly found the ball right in his stride and he slotted home. That cross came from Naughton: it says a lot about his determination that he was there. Despite making two horrific mistakes he didn’t hide.
The second half turned on another error, this time from lumbering centre half Loveren. He could have easily cleared an aimless ball into the corner but instead allowed Soldado to nip in and pinch it. A perfect cross found Eriksen dashing in on the far post to equalise. Spurs were the better side from then on, keeping Saints penned in without making too many chances. By now Eriksen had the freedom to be permanently stationed in the centre.
Sherwood timed his substitutions well. Last week they took the sting from our revival, this week Townsend and Siggy’s energy kept the pressure up. The game was meandering to a draw when Saints failed to clear. Siggy ran on to Eriksen’s weighted touch to slam it low and hard into the bottom left hand corner for a win that on the half-hour seemed highly improbable.
One other player to mention: in the second half Kaboul took his role as captain seriously, to the point where he was driving the team on from the back in a display of infectious determination.