My season starts in the same way, at the same point, every year. Take a complete break over the summer these days. No friendlies, don’t even know what the new kit looks like. Need a rest, especially after last season’s debacle. Spurs’ first game, I’m keen but slightly detached. What will be will be and all that.
We begin well enough, interesting to see how we set up, Hammers come close but I have the luxury of the TV angle via my stream and it’s going wide. Then, it begins. Our marking is poor, they have a great chance. Should have scored and my stomach turns over. The bile rises, I feel sick, churning, stamping my feet, shouting at the screen. That’s a relief. Football’s back and everything is reassuringly normal.
It’s good to win on the opening day of the season and the manner of victory with a classy goal deep into added time was sheer delight. Kane, on as sub for Adebayor, spotted the runner and slid a perfect angled ball through the hapless Wham back four. That the runner was Eric Dier, full-back, on debut, 93rd minute, was a bit of a surprise but his calm, controlled finish, rounding the keeper before stroking the ball into an empty net, was worthy of Greaves or Gilzean. If my ‘new season resolution’ is to enjoy the Spurs, that’s the way to go, gents, thank you kindly.
This came on the back of a resilient hour when we were down to 10 men after Naughton was sent off for handling a supposedly goal-bound shot. Great to win but this was a mostly ordinary match between two ordinary sides. Our goal, however excellent, was our only genuine chance in the whole game. W Ham obliged by missing theirs plus a penalty. Other sides won’t be so generous but first game, down to ten men for much of it so no real conclusions to be drawn. Like I said, let’s enjoy the moment.
The penalty incident seems the obvious turning point. After we mastered early possession, without doing anything dangerous with it, our opponents stifled us in midfield and were on top. We muddled away a couple of efforts, swarming round attackers in the box, then close to the goal Naughton hurled himself in to block a shot. It was ball to hand but those hands were held high like a goalkeeper. Penalty, I’m afraid. Cue cries of ‘unlucky’, ‘seen them not given’ but after a chat with his linesman, the ref made the right choice. Naughton saw red – blocking a goalbound shot with his hands, I guess, even though it was probably going over. Inevitable. We had a couple of ball to hand pens last season. Fine if refs are consistent with this interpretation all season. Bet they won’t be.
Bright start, no goals, opposition get back into it, cock-up. The Spurs way. New season, new manager, same old story. But wait. Fans of rival clubs have more in common than they would care to admit. The Hammers I know could describe their side in the same way. Miss a penalty, then the real turning point of this match came in the second half when Adebayor knocked the ball past centre half Collins, who duly obliged by bringing him down even though it was nearer the halfway line than the goal. Already booked, Collins was gone and if Manu did little else yesterday, he knew what he was doing right then. The man advantage tossed away.
In a match without too much goalmouth incident, the other significant moment came late on. Lloris, superb in this fixture at the fag end of 2013-4, dashed out to thwart Downing’s close-range shot as finally WHam breached our defence. It was a proper save, not just an arms-and-legs-flailing block.
So Mr Poch, what do you have in store for us? W Ham’s first attack didn’t amount to anything but our response was indicative of the shape of things to come. Bentaleb and Capoue, our two defensive midfielders, dropped back straight away, taking up deep positions a few yards in front of the back four and in the gaps between them. The midfield three of Lamela, Lennon and Eriksen fell back behind the ball, leaving centre forward Adebayor up front. That DM positioning is key if we are to overcome the huge problems of last season when the back four were unprotected and therefore vulnerable.
When we had the ball, the three interchanged positions, they seemed to know what was going on and filled the space left as their team-mates moved around. The full-backs came forward to help out and Bentaleb joined them, staying deeper than the three but involved while Capoue hangs further back.
They looked comfortable and Capoue was our best player until he dropped back to centre half. However, it was all a bit cluttered – they were too close to each other – and we didn’t have a shot on goal in this early period despite being on top. Possession is important as they shifted the ball from side to side. Repeatedly we tried lofted passes in Adebayor’s direction, which seemed to me to be tactics not desperation. What’s certain is that they didn’t work. Like all our work on the ball in the first twenty minutes, it was overly deliberate and the big Hammers defenders easily dealt with them.
Eriksen and Lamela showed glimpses of promise on the ball but faded all too easily when Wham flooded the midfield and made things difficult. They tossed a few balls into the box from deep but we did little to stop them and looked unnecessarily shaky in the box. Dier’s selection shows Pochettino is looking to the future – if ever there is a match for Dawson it’s this one as we know the ball is going to ping in repeatedly. Dier is promising but the opposition forwards got in between the centre halves and missed a couple of good opportunities.
Despite the sending off, Pochettino remained resolutely positive. Capoue was our best player at this juncture. I would have brought Dawson on and kept Capoue where he was as DM. However, the Argentinian did not want to waste a substitution, so Capoue became centre half and Dier right back.
It looked as if it was only a matter of time before the Hammers scored. After half time we were pushed back. Adebayor was isolated and detached from the midfield up front, so we had no outlet. But we discovered another feature of Pochettino’s approach, his brave, attacking use of subs, which turned the match in our favour. Holtby and Townsend for Lennon and Lamela gave us renewed industry and, in Townsend the ability to take the game to our opponents. At this stage in his development, Townsend needs a yard or two to look dangerous. Close him down and he’s not learned effective options. Yesterday he posed problems every time he took the defence on. It felt as if our manager would have made the same changes regardless of W Ham’s carelessness in dropping to 10 men.
And make no mistake, the players were encouraged to get forward. Dier’s willingness to get into opposition half seemed reckless as the minutes ticked away and we were on for a decent away point. Stay back, let someone else make the runs…hah!
Early days, 10 men, no time for judgements. However: Bentaleb had a good game and a man who did not appear in any of the papers’ ‘best Spurs team’ has caught the new manager’s eye. He keeps the ball moving and finds space wherever he goes. I wonder if Kane may have to adapt to a role similar to that of Rodriguez at Southampton, a forward able to drop back when needed. Kaboul was poor outside the box – as captain he should have set a better example.
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.
So – your first game at White Hart Lane. And we won!
We have been planning this for ages but we could not get a ticket. When I was younger, you could go with your family or friends whenever you wanted. Now we were not supposed to sit together but you sat on my lap for first half. You were very patient. In the second the man next to us did not come back so you sat in his seat. Wonder where he went? The game was not very good but it was not that bad.
Before the match we walked round some of the ground. We wanted to show you what it was like. I expect you thought it was just a busy road like the one where you live. It was noisy and dirty, wasn’t it? To us, it is special though. Our place, our ground. People have gone to see the Spurs for over 140 years in exactly the same place. Now you are doing the same. You are part of all that history. Imagine all the millions of people, wearing blue and white, looking forward to the football. You are really part of something, just like us. But you were really interested in walking on the lines between the paving stones.
Bobby Soldado scored the goal. At last! You have been practising his song, haven’t you. He is Spanish – we looked up where he came from on the map, remember? He hasn’t scored a goal for months and months, he waited for you to come to see him. I think you are a lucky charm for Spurs.
He cost a lot of money but he hasn’t scored many goals. This one was scored from close to the goal but it was very good. Townsend made a good run and passed to Adebayor. He was clever – he did not pass the ball very far but it is hard when you are close to goal, so many defenders trying to tackle you but he gave Soldado the ball. Did you see how he touched it once and the ball was right in front of him? It was just a shame that he did not do that more often. Him and the others really – they could not keep the ball close when they touched it.
Did you notice how quickly he touched it past the goalkeeper? The keeper went one way, Soldado put the ball the other side. Soldado made him do that. That’s clever, I liked that.
We are lucky where we sit, we can see the players close up. Did you notice, when the ball is not near him, he sometimes mutters to himself. I think he worries about not scoring and not doing his best for Spurs. Some players, they don’t seem to worry. Perhaps it is because they get paid so much money, they don’t really care what happens but he does. I was pleased he scored, he will feel better now and score more, I reckon. We need his goals because no one else looked like scoring. Adebayor is a good player but he was working so hard for the team, he was not in the penalty area as much as he should be. I think he should have stayed there more often.
That was a good run from Townsend and Lennon did some good runs too. When they started, they were our two wingers, one wide on the left, one on the right. That was exciting but, trouble is, they did not pass it to the right Spurs player. Over and over, they did the same thing and the ball was blocked or they were tackled. You would think they would learn after a while and change, but they didn’t.
That meant we had Paulinho and Dembele in the middle but they did not play very well. It was too easy for Cardiff to get the ball because they had more players in the middle. Paulinho comes from Brazil. The way he has been playing lately, I think he wants to get the next plane home. Luckily for us, Cardiff weren’t very good. Did you notice how often they gave the ball straight back to us or passed it into touch? Did you cheer? They were blaming each other and Bellamy was rude to the referee. He was booked but we thought he might be sent off. I reckon that’s because they are unhappy because they are not playing well with their new manager. He has not organised them well. It is bad for them, at the bottom of the league.
You enjoyed it when the players kicked the ball really high. It shines in the floodlights as it slowly spins. One time, we thought the goalkeeper was going to kick it out of the ground! When it hit one of their players on the head, we could hear it, it sounded really loud. We laughed! Those big kicks look good but let me tell you, Spurs should not have been doing that. We should be passing it along the ground, not doing a big boot up the field.
We could hear the Spurs manager shouting sometimes too. It was very quiet sometimes. When I was your age, well a bit older than you because my mum and dad would not let me go on my own and they worked on Saturdays so they could not take me, back then the crowd used to sing a lot more. You could not hear the managers shouting then. We sang some songs though.
We both wished Spurs had more shots. We should have scored more goals because we were the best team. At the end we were worried that although we were on top, Cardiff might equalise because we only scored one goal but in the end we were OK. It would be much better if we did not have to worry but with Spurs, it always seems to be like that. I wish I knew why. I wish they would change but they never do.
Dawson was our best player. He won all the headers and made some great tackles. We learned that defending is as important as scoring goals.
You really enjoyed the match but it was a shame that all the Spurs players often passed the ball to Cardiff or got tackled. The crowd were getting a bit angry towards the end. Why are they giving them the ball?! Why are they giving away corners and free-kicks when they know Cardiff are good at those? They hit the bar just after we scored. Phew! I was shouting at them too, towards the end. Sorry.
Afterwards we walked back with the Cardiff fans. They were singing some very rude songs about their chairman. Aunty Kirsty explained them to you. He changed the colour of their shirt from blue to red. You thought that was terrible. You noticed all the fans wore a blue shirt, not red. The Spurs fans sung that they should play in blue and the Cardiff fans clapped us.
It’s funny – you are only 9 but you know how stupid and wrong it is to change the shirt colour. You know more than the chairman. These things are very important because supporters understand the history of the club.
We have told you how much supporting Spurs means to us and now you are part of that too. It runs in the family. Jackie who took our photo, her dad and sisters and brothers sit next to us. They were late because they come all the way from Oxford. Arthur has been coming longer than me, since 1964. All his family are Spurs fans too. It was nice of him to have a chat at half-time.
Glad you enjoyed it but shall I tell you a secret? Spurs did not play very well. If we play like that next Saturday, Chelsea will score loads. But we won and you had a great time.
We told you our stories, all the things we have loved over the years from watching the game. How exciting it is, how it makes you feel special wearing the navy blue and white. I have been going for nearly 50 years and there is no feeling as good as when Spurs play well and win. About how good it feels when you celebrate with your family. You felt it too.
And in the end that’s what football is all about. I usually write about tactics and formations, or where we are in the league but that does not seem to matter today. We sat together in the ground and supported our team. We told you our stories and showed you round but actually, the best thing was that you taught us what really matters.
Europe used to inspire Spurs. Now it just brings out the mediocre. Since we got back into the Europa League, we’ve never got to grips with the away leg. The mantra is familiar – keep it tight, keep the ball, no need to take any risks – but unfortunately so is our response. We seem desperately compelled to do the opposite, every time. Against Dnipro on an admittedly treacherous pitch, we were wide open at the back and wasteful with the ball. Add some missed chances and all in all, this was another one to forget.
Half-time, one goal down with the home leg to come, could have been worse – all of that. I’m looking forward to next week – with the goal to catch up, there will be expectation and tension under the lights and we will have to go at them. Perfect European conditions, in fact.
There’s nothing of any significance to take from this match except for the fact that it took place at all. Played against a backdrop of violence between protesters and police in the capital Kiev, the expectant faces of the fans were in stark contrast to the images of a government opening fire on its own people that played simultaneously on the evening news as we kicked off. UEFA should have postponed it until next week at a neutral venue. It was incongruous to see supporters in their scarves, cold blue jackets and silly hats, but football has always been an escape from reality. As the camera dwelt on the crowd close-ups, you sensed their minds were elsewhere.
We fielded a strong team and left at home the players who could most do with a break, bar Bentaleb. This young man relishes a challenge but needs a rest, mentally as much as physically and this was a trip too far.
He and Capoue failed in their mission to protect the defence by simply being bypassed by the Dnipro attack. Capoue was nowhere for much of the time. Naughton and Rose strayed as far as they possibly could from the two centre halves, creating inviting space for the strikers. Unfortunately for the Ukrainian team, they suffered a collective loss of muscle control and capability once they got into the box. I can’t recall a series of such feeble finishing efforts over 90 minutes. A couple barely had the velocity to reach the keeper from 12 yards out.
Friedel was excellent throughout. Part of being a keeper is working the percentages. Get the angles right, make it hard for the striker, don’t commit too early, don’t go to ground. hH doesn’t need the spring in his legs to achieve all if that and he presented a formidable barrier throughout the match. I suspect as the game went on, the mere sight of his approach from his line was enough to put off the Dnipro forwards. Without him the result could have been a lot worse.
At the other end we more than had enough chances to settle the tie then and there. In fact, some of the game was enterprisingly open. But we wasted opportunities, usually with a poor final ball or shooting when we should have passed it. Andros, you know you’ve got to sort that out but he was not the only culprit. Townsend looked really shaken when he was taken off. Usually, players on the bench obey the unwritten laws of substituted players – cursory pat on the back/high five, then leave them be. Yesterday, the unused subs looked anxiously along the line as Andros was hunched and lost, praying almost, comtemplating something.
Soldado missed the big one. An uncharacteristically fluent move involving Paulinho and Naughton put him in front of on open goal, a few yards out. He missed. By a long way. Any sort of goal will change his whole approach and at least he’s working still to take up the right positions, and still for that matter looking heavenwards every time he doesn’t get the pass he expects. Right now, as he shaped to kick the post in frustration, you expected him to miss it.
As the game was petering out, we contrived to set up the winner for Dnipro in a piece of football in keeping with our overall performance. Capoue had three or four players clustered ahead of him at the edge of their box. Clustering is not good but we’ll leave that one. He managed to miss all of them with a ten yard ball, whereupon Dnipro countered. Daws sold himself inside their half when there was no need, Verts was exposed, had no help and brought down the attacker. The penalty was converted.
Can’t shake that lingering sense of betrayal around Ramos. As soon as he arrived, I printed up the t-shirt: We can be heroes, just for Juande.” That’s genius that is. Then he’s gone: wasted, all wasted. Good luck to him and I’m sure he’ll get a ripple next Thursday at the Lane, although Ledley King won’t join in. In a biography as mild as camomile, he’s critical of Ramos’s lack of understanding of the players and the English game, or more precisely of his lack of effort in trying to understand the game, including insufficient preparation for games other than against the big teams. Led sees the good in everyone, so by the standards of the book that’s cataclysmic.
In injury time as we hurriedly pressed for an equalizer, the ball came to Sherwood at the edge of his technical area. Unerringly he sliced it straight into the dugout. You never lose it, son. One to forget for all concerned.