Domination so complete, I have a crick in my neck from facing in the same direction for too long. Then, finally, Lloris’s bank holiday stroll around his green and pleasant area is rudely interrupted. He saves well, low to his right, two hands. Being alert after long periods of inactivity is another of his many attributes. The reading centre forward has a gaping net but heads the rebound wide. Pressure now, unexpected, unknown since the third minute when he put another bouncing rebound into the net. From the second corner, there’s an almighty schmozzle on the goal line. Legs, bodies, arms raised, accusing glances towards referee and linesman, but play on. A little while later, Dempsey’s celebration is indecently joyful as his deflected shot spirals over a stranded keeper. Spurs’ win is safe, 3-1 now and no way back.
Seasons turn on such short passages of play. Off the line at one end, a lucky goal at the other. If Spurs had dropped any points, it would have been a gross injustice in a match we dominated totally, but whoever said anything about football being fair? For Spurs, not pressing home an advantage and conceding late is not something that could happen, it’s something that does happen. From now until the end of the season, every point will be vital. The pursuit of 3rd and 4th will go the wire. Yet over a successful holiday period, 10 points out of 12 will do and in each of our three wins, we played well in the first half but better in the second, scoring eight second half goals and conceding none.
Our new year is a time to look forward. Without getting carried away on the back of three victories against frankly poor opposition – Sunderland were limited up front, Reading limited everywhere, Villa just arouse pathos – the signs are all positive. Bearing in mind the fact this team needed major rebuilding over the summer with the loss of both manager and its creative heart, we are moving ahead far more quickly than could be expected. The players are comfortable with each other and with their style of play that at its best offers an outlet for their attacking instincts and at its worst provides a fall-back position of solidity based on hard work. It’s pass and move in the Spurs tradition, easy on the eye and a possession game that’s entirely modern. The proviso is, we keep the tempo high, it’s what suits us best.
It’s significant that almost all of the players have improved in some way since Andre Villas-Boas took over. Fans never truly know what influence coaches have over their charges. However, something’s working. In no particular order, Sandro is a beast of a defensive midfielder who has responded to being his manager’s first choice by becoming an absolute rock. Lennon is having his best season, excellent yesterday. Defoe is scoring, Caulker has stepped easily into this side – I keep reminding myself he only turned 21 last month – while Bale is reaching stratospheric heights as the most dangerous midfielder in the league.
New comers Vertonghen and Dembele look as if they were born to play at the Lane. Their class was evident to whoever scouted them but the way they combine with their team-mates, that’s Villas-Boas again. The Dembele-Sandro axis could be as good a midfield paring as any in the Premier League. Dawson could have been transferred but wants to play and gives everything he has for the team, as does Gallas although his powers are waning not for want of trying but through the passage of time. Naughton has benefitted from having a few matches in a row, which also means we can rotate at the back. Dempsey has finally found his place after a sticky start, hence his celebration yesterday. All this without Parker and Kaboul, our best centre half.
Of the rest, none has been a disaster. Sigurdsson has taken time to settle, a better game yesterday but best as an impact sub to ensure the tempo stays high towards the end of games. Huddlestone has not picked up the pace that’s required. Walker needs guidance and perhaps some firm words about how to defend, while Adebayor, once the missing link up front, has become the weak link with a series of ineffective performances.
Again, his manager has kept faith in him, seeing the value of giving his choices several games to find their feet rather than chopping and changing every weekend. His patience was rewarded with a classic far post headed goal yesterday. In the first half Manu walked back to the halfway line bewildered after weakly heading wide. This time, he tucked Lennon’s glorious cross into the narrow gap between keeper and post. Strikers thrive on goals and the match was delayed as Manu milked it, eventually emerging from a heap of celebrating team-mates who also realised the value of that goal went way beyond putting Spurs 2-1 up. He looked to the heavens and crossed himself. This has got to be the way forward for religion too. Perhaps after a particularly good service the pope and his cardinals could spontaneously pile on top of each other in front of the altar.
Time rushes by as it does for older people like me but it doesn’t seem that long ago since the season began. Yet the media coverage at the time feels like ancient history. Villas-Boas was incompetent. Couldn’t handle players. Creates an atmosphere. Disharmony among the players was rife according to several tabloid journalists. They could not be more wrong. The players clearly want to play for him, for Spurs.
I’ve deliberately not mentioned Hugo Lloris, destined to be one of the finest Tottenham goalkeepers in modern times. Then, the papers had a hotline to Didier Deschamps and printed how unsettled he was even before he was actually fit to play. Now, his gradual introduction into the side appears a masterstroke of man-management and he’s been able to extend the redoubtable Brad Friedel’s contract. Lloris is sharp and agile on his line and seeks to dominate his area, which in turn means we play a back five, him included.
Yesterday we were unperturbed after that early setback, settled into our rhythm, kept the ball and kept probing. Dembele was back on top form after a few quiet games. The way he drops his shoulder and is gone is a sight of subtle beauty. This big man can disappear, at least as far as his marker is concerned. Sandro’s strength and Reading’s inability to get the ball forward – it seemed like they went for half an hour without holding onto the ball in our half and Lloris did not have a save to make until late in the second half – gave him the freedom to stay forward where he is dangerous.
Without Bale, suspended for the new offence of being too quick and too good, we lacked width. Naughton did well throughout but is very right-footed so we were narrow at times. As the half ended, we gave the Reading keeper shooting practice with a succession of efforts from too far out but come the second we upped the pace and put more balls into the box.
We begin the new year in 3rd place, albeit having played two more games than Chelsea, but the optimism is real. There’s plenty more work to do. Although we have beaten United we have lost to all the teams in top four contention bar West Brom, who I think will not quite keep up. It’s not so long ago when we were conceding stupid late goals and we still can’t defend a lead with total confidence. Nor do we convert our many chances as often as we should. We get more men into the box these days, finally answering my whinging about this problem that has gone on over the life of this blog, but on crosses especially we should pile into the six yard box not hang back.
In the window, Tottenham On My Mind will do everything in its power to retain the status of The Blog That Knows Nothing (TKN) and will stay resolutely ITK free. But we need a striker from somewhere. If Adebayor goes to Africa and Defoe is injured, that’s it! If Moutinho is available, I would buy him even if we pay over the odds. Buy two players and it will make all the difference.
We have to take the long view. An interesting piece in the papers recently suggested that Levy did not fully back his new manager in the market in the summer, preferring to wait and see how he does. Whilst I’m not entirely sure that is a ringing vote of confidence exactly, Villas-Boas has shown more than enough potential to be worthy of greater investment. He deserves the backing of his chairman. Looking ahead, this summer we will be again be vulnerable to bids for Bale, Sandro and others if we are not in the Champions League or have not won anything. The squad is young and like its manager still developing. The potential is rich and we must do all we can to see it fulfilled.
Happy New Year to everyone who takes the time and trouble to read this old-fashioned one-man no ads labour of love blog, especially those of you who add to the rich debate in the excellent comments section. You are a select bunch but I’m genuinely touched by the number of regular readers from all over the world who come back every week. I’m deeply grateful.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has been charged with many failings during his relatively short career. These include being aloof and uncommunicative, out of his depth, obsessed with tactics and worst of all, not being Jose Mourinho or Harry Redknapp. Over the weekend came the ultimate condemnation – AVB, you were seen in possession of a notebook. J’accuse!
Absurd, a manager in England should be writing things down when we all know a few sharp words of abuse in the dressing room plus an exhortation to run around a bit and get stuck is all that’s required. But this is the AVB phenomenon Few managers have ever been treated with such scepticism by the media. The problem is, some Spurs fans are joining in. The phone-ins have been full of anti-Andre sentiments on the back of the Woolwich defeat, ironically perhaps the game where he achieved the most only to find his efforts were undone by Adebayor’s moment of madness and where his brave and bold tactics after the break took the play to our opponents. Which was certainly written in that notebook.
To be fair, many other Spurs fans have praised him in defeat. There are differences of opinion so let’s take a step back and add some perspective to the debate. Here are the relevant points in, using the immortal words of Tess Daly, no particular order.
Spurs have played 18 matches under Villas-Boas. It’s hardly enough time to make a judgement and condemn him. Even Abramovich gave him more time. The demands for instant success have permeated the consciousness of too many. It was better when we had lower expectations and the CL was a distant aspiration.
In those games, Younes Kaboul has played once, Benny Assou-Ekotto three times and Scott Parker never. Abebayor and Dembele have both been injured for more than half the season so far. That’s the spine of the side and then some. Our cover has been weakened too with injuries to back-up players Naughton and Livermore. Villas-Boas has therefore never been able to select from a full squad. We don’t know what his preferred team is because he’s never been able to pick it.
If you think that’s obvious, here’s another one for you. Harry Redknapp is no longer our manager. Whatever the rights and wrongsof it, it’s pointless to use him as a reference point for absolutely everything that’s happening at the club. He’s not around.
However, AVB remains in his shadow. One underlying reason is the seldom articulated view that Villas-Boas has taken over his team as well as his job, but this is not so. Rather, AVB is faced with the unenviable task of rebuilding a squad that had one major existing deficiency the lack of another high class central striker, and over the summer had its creative heart brutally ripped out. It’s hard to watch Spurs without Modric and VDV and remember the criticism both players faced. Truly you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. I’m certain AVB did not want either to go and they have not been replaced, although by the same token Dembele’s absence has coincided with a series of deflated performances. He’s a quality player.
So whilst the presence of Defoe in the middle, Lennon and Bale on the wings and Walker, Friedel and Gallas at the back offer reassuring familiarity, it hides the extent to which this team has changed in a very short space of time.
The next charge leveled against Villas-Boas is that he does not attack enough. Cue the Tottenham tradition and the ‘R’ word again. I don’t quite see this one. We’ve not had two strikers available for the vast majority of the season so he can’t play two up front. Dempsey isn’t really a striker although right now no one seems exactly sure of what he is. We’ve played Lennon and Bale all season. Starting the season with two predominantly defensive midfielders that has been reduced to one on several occasions because the magnificent Sandro can do the work of two players, so with Dembele and either Dempsey or Sigurdsson plus two wide men, that’s a midfield with attacking intent. Whether we attack well is another matter.
That said, going into Wigan at home with Huddlestone alongside Sandro was unnecessarily cautious and his preferred option of bringing on defensive cover if we are a goal up going into the final quarter has served to show only that we can’t defend well. We have to preserve the initiative. If anything, we are not defensive enough sometimes. An old fault from the previous era, that of Bale and Lennon not dropping back effectively to protect their full-backs, persists in this new age. I banged on about it all last season. It seems basic to me – as someone who cherishes attacking, creative football I want us to be more cautious because it always makes us vulnerable. Every team in the Prem does it – so should we, or change the team.
The final charge is that Villas-Boas is an inflexible tactician, wedded to his doctrine of set formations and blind to all else. Again, it’s not that simple. His preferred options should enable us to find the balance between attack and defence that has been missing over the years. Again, the Portuguese has changed things around This season we’ve gone 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 and 3-4-2. The most significant tactical option has been created by AVB, the partnership of Dembele and Sandro in the engine room. Their flexibility, movement and understanding makes a mockery of those straight line numbers and has contributed to our best football. We really miss the Belgian.
But there are problems and let’s stick to tactics for the moment. In two games this season, Wigan and Chelsea, AVB has been comprehensively out-manoeuvred. Chelsea is perhaps unfair as they were superb on the break but the ability of other sides to by-pass their weak midfield protection and pressure their back four led to Di Matteo’s sacking this morning. Against Wigan, we had no idea.
Then there’s the form of the players. Clearly there’s a good atmosphere around the place and the players seem eager to respond He’s given the younger men like Carroll, Naughton and Livermore an opportunity Caulker is now an international after regular games. Bringing youngsters through can be a painful business. Bale and Vertonghen have done very well, Lennon and Defoe in their best spells for the club.
Some have not prospered – Walker, Sigurdsson and Dempsey have been poor for the most part. Walker in particular is a serious loss because not only has he made mistakes at the back, we miss terribly the attacking options he gives us on the right. It could be that AVB has been unlucky in that on top of the problems I’ve already mentioned, he’s not had the best from these three. However, there’s always the suspicion that the manager is unable to get the best from them, that he is to blame in some way. I will never know. However, Dempsey is a shadow of the man who scored over 20 Premier League goals and contributed many more assists. Jol got far more from him than Villas-Boas. Dempsey is best laying off the striker, interchanging and finding space. He needs the ball given to him once he finds that space in the box. It’s not happening. Similarly, Sigurdsson is the guy who makes the late runs into the box to support the striker, something we’ve lacked in recent times. He seems lost, running around with a lack of purpose to make up for his lack of form. AVB has to decide what both of them do.
Talking of men in the box, it seems daft to me that we encourage Bale and Lennon to bang in the crosses but have so few bodies in the box on the end of them. If we play one striker, and a small one at that, we have to get the midfield in there. We don’t. This week I’ve watched two teams who could not be further apart in terms of their style, West Ham and Juventus. Both have three or four men in the box when the telling ball is made, be it cross or pass. Basics again. We have to do something about this.
I question whether we have the right midfielders for a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Loathe though I am to question the presence of player I like, Lennon is not right for this set-up because he is not good defensively (although he has improved or in the box (although he has improved).
At the back, I will never have a word said against Friedel, whose ability and phenomenal focus is an example to every footballer in any league. However, Lloris must play. He’s the future. While his punching and desire to get off his line will always cause anxiety in the crowd, it works far more often than it fails. He can dominate that area like a sweeper, allowing the back four to concentrate on their man and also, when we have the ball, to get forward and make use of any space in the centre that our opponents concede. In that back four, I’d shift Vertonghen inside and play Dawson over Gallas.
And finally on players, Villas-Boas can only work with what he’s been given. Levy needs to back his manager in the transfer market. Once again the window ended without another striker and going into a long season with only Defoe and Adebayor was foolish I suspect this was not of Andre’s doing. Where he did want a player, Moutinho, that fell through. Levy should have swallowed his pride despite the agent’s last minute demands and paid up. Think of the long-term.
In the summer I speculated that the purse strings might ease. We had income from VDV and Luka. Also, with King’s sad retirement all the big earners had gone so perhaps Levy could have raised the self-imposed salary cap without putting several noses out of joint. Bale is allegedly on £100k plus.
However much I respect Levy’s prudence, he has to give our manager more time in the same way our fans do too. The best way he can support him is to allow him to buy his players. Even the purchase of Sigurdsson appears to have been sorted by Levy, before AVB came to Spurs and without Redknapp’s knowledge. This is not about breaking the bank. Rather, it’s an investment because if we do not get close to achieving anything this season, the vultures will circle around Bale and Sandro, replacements and/or reinforcements will turn us down and we’re back to square one. Only then can we judge how good AVB is. In the meantime, let’s get behind our man.
Reinvention is survival. It’s one of the most often quoted aphorisms in business because complacency can be as fatal to any enterprise as a economic downturn. Any leader knows that change is necessary but painful. The best way forward is to establish a clear goal that’s mutually agreed by everyone and build on existing strengths so that development is gradual rather than a transformative shock. However, there’s no escape from the harmful side-effects as adjustments are made before a new equilibrium is reached. Change is hard.
I missed Saturday’s match as I was at the Olympic Stadium for an evening of Paralympics, tickets bought a year ago before a disappointing but inevitable fixture clash. Although I’m never one to turn down an opportunity to watch sport, I wasn’t aware that shopping was part of the athletics programme. The fact that come kick-off I was jostling for space in a hideously heaving Westfield Shopping Centre could become the latest in the Life’s Great Mysteries series, coming soon to the Discovery Channel.
The Paralympics is a remarkable event, not merely for the heroic efforts of true athletes but for the interaction between these performances and the crowd. Every single effort is greeted by waves of genuine warmth and appreciation, win or lose, first or last. From what I’ve heard, there couldn’t be a greater contrast between that and the atmosphere at the Lane, where frustration turned into toxic bile at the finish. Still wish I’d been there, though.
Without going too far on the basis of Football First highlights, the irritating international break that provides a false start to every season also offers a pause for reflection and reassessment. It’s a pity AVB doesn’t have more time with his players to create the blend that will turn frustration into fluency. The growing pains of our new Tottenham are hard to experience. I just hope the players are hurting as much as we are. However, it is only to be expected. My pre-season predictions have sadly been proved accurate. I wish I was wrong but this team needs time to settle. Brace yourselves for a rough ride early season. Hopefully calmer waters lie over the horizon.
Spurs had a decent transfer window. I’m disappointed that Levy did not produce a top quality striker out of the hat. Again in the interests of consistency, whilst I appreciate his financial prudence, I stick with my pre-season comments that he has room to manoeuvre regarding fees and salaries now, not just because we have the cash but also because the high earners have all gone so he can increase the top salaries without alienating the rest of the squad. Moutinho is a loss, very impressive in the Euros and I would have gone the extra mile for him.We’ll never know where exactly negotiations reached and should take no notice of the bilious tabloids on a Levy/AVB search and destroy mission but the aftershocks of Ch**seas’s CL win are still being felt.
However, we have a 20+ goals a season man in Clint Dempsey, by no means Plan A but an absolute steal at £6m, and Dembele is a high quality footballer I have coveted for a while now. Lloris is good value – we undoubtedly needed a new keeper and competition can be nothing but good for us as Friedel proves once more that he is a wonderful professional. The squad has more strength in depth too. In keeping with policy, Spurs is a step up for all of the new guys so they should be bursting with ambition.
This season was always about the manager and his system. The focus remains on AVB to make the team greater than the sum of its parts and it’s clear he’s not sure what his best team is at the moment. Hardly unusual for any new manager - I said the same about Redknapp – but he’s been given a good squad and has to make a few tough decisions when the break is over. Up front, I don’t see Defoe as a starter. Dempsey was highly effective for Fulham playing around a central striker, with the freedom to come late and move across the field rather than being restricted to hanging around at the edge of the box. Therefore Manu must have a run alongside him. Further back, Dembele provides the vital link between defence and attack. Quick feet, sharp shot and a fine passer, he’s key to our fortunes.
I don’t know enough about Siggy just yet. However, I’d be inclined to play him in midfield. This could either be at Livermore’s expense, so we have one DM (Sandro) or keep the defensive solidity of two DMs and let Walker offer width at Lennon’s expense. It depends on who we play.
One problem with those two DMs is that they are not defending well enough. They should protect the back four better, that’s what they are there for. Although we are hardly leaking goals, Friedel has had to be on top form and both goals conceded at home came from similar situations, plenty of men back but not clearing the ball and it’s loose at the edge of the area. Kaboul’s injury is a blow – this was to be his season and he’s getting hurt too often for my liking. I anticipate a long and prosperous Spurs career for the excellent Vertonghen, which leaves AVB with a decision to make about Gallas. Unfair to blame him but I’d opt for Caulker or Dawson with a reminder to the full-backs to tuck in tighter when we don’t have the ball.
Regular readers will know that I tend towards mild optimism but above all I’m a realist. So despite the frustration, it’s not wildly out of order to say that our possession is good and we are making chances, both signs of promise. Dempsey, Dembele and Siggy could all make an impact in the box to convert just one or two more chances each game. If we tighten up at the back and do not give away unnecessary free kicks, then we can move forward. Tweaks rather than major surgery. Let that run for a while and we can take stock.
That and get off AVB’s back. He’s ours and he gets enough stick from the media. Luckily Liverpool are falling apart so some of the negative attention is directed their way but if we don’t give him a chance, then he has no hope whatsoever.
Finally, a belated but none the less fond farewell to Rafa Van der Vaart, a fine player in the Tottenham tradition, whose touch, skill and eye for an opening enhanced the team whenever he played. It’s a risk to let a man of this quality go – I wouldn’t have sold him but I guess he wanted to move. He wanted to win and could maintain his form under pressure, and that combination of motivation and ability is hard to say goodbye to. Although he arrived so unexpectedly even the manager seemed surprised, he quickly became a Spur, showing genuine delight when he scored in big games. The long shots and chips make me smile at the memory but I loved those sweeping diagonal passes, 50 yards right into the stride or the chest of the receiver. But here’s one to cherish, from his last game. In front of the Shelf, under pressure he takes the ball on halfway. Bale is on, simple 10 yard pass then peel away to see what happens. For Rafa, that’s not enough. He holds it for half a second, looks Bale in the eye and gestures with a tiny move of his head. Bale’s off, down the line and Rafa knocks the ball between two defenders and perfectly into his stride. Endless possibilities. Class, Rafa, always class.
The better team, dominant indeed for extended periods. Friedel has a quiet afternoon. That superiority isn’t converted into goals. Sure we come close, hit the woodwork maybe, but all the flowing football means little if the chances aren’t taken. Time passes, we fade, our opponents take full advantage of rare but significant errors and we are punished, albeit with at least one excellent strike.
A cursory glance at that summary of yesterday’s game and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the new season but the same old Tottenham. Yet there was plenty to admire in a good performance characterised by movement, pace and possession, which augers well for the months to come. Cut out the sort of unforced errors that cost us dear and invest well in the market, then we have something to look forward to.
The speculation regarding our style under Villas-Boas became substance. This is what we know.
We know that as expected, AVB’s Spurs play an intense pressing game, hunting in clusters to restrict both time and space not just for any opponent on the ball but also for any team-mate he seeks to pass to. This left a weakness on the flanks, however.
That the famed and feared high line helps to compress the space still further when we do not have possession but it was not really in evidence too much. Newcastle never stranded our defenders.
That we’re offering a 4-2-3-1 with two predominantly defensive midfielders, Sandro and Livermore yesterday, and that frequently one of them drops into the back four at the earliest sign of attacking pressure. Bale, Sigurdsson and Lennon were the three further forward, swift and eager to support lone striker Defoe. Those runs from deep created opportunities because we had numbers forward far more swiftly than last season. Our totals of attempted and successful passes in the final third were very high, double that of Newcastle.
That whatever we call the formation, flexibility is the key. Lennon and Bale swapped wings, Sandro often went forward. So did Walker, who searches with masochistic relish for any opportunity to make a lung-busting 50 or 60 yard foray forward to turn defence into attack. Benny’s caution meanwhile was conspicuous by its contrast. That whatever the formation, possession is precious. That it’s tiring – we were noticeably less effective in the final quarter and that was not just about Newcastle’s improved second half performance. We cannot afford the luxury of going behind in games in the second half.
That Sigurdsson is an important player. In that central role, he put in both hard yards and clever touches, linking up with Defoe every chance he had. He’s been given license to shoot often. That he and Rafa may not be compatible in this line-up. Rafa has less energy, although he works much harder than many Spurs fans give him credit for, but he has the passing range to unlock defences. Several times we saw his long diagonals trying to pick out a man in the box, but this was not the way with our lack of power and strength up front.
That AVB is capable of surprises. Leaving Vertonghen on the bench in favour of Gallas was most unexpected. It could also signal the fact that we will not be after another central defender in the foreseeable future.
That AVB can clearly get his message through to his players. In a very short space of time they have become comfortable with the new system. It suits their skills and physical attributes, and there was an air of confidence from front to back.
That some of AVB’s decisions will frustrate and bewilder. Bale and Lennon were less effective after they swapped wings yet we persisted with that set-up for too long.
That we need a striker. But we knew that already.
Despite the defeat, there are genuine and lasting positives to take away with us. There’s plenty to show that the formation suits us, the players are motivated and we can play attacking football without forgoing the defensive fortitude often lacking last season that will serve us well in the long haul between now and next May. At times the movement and pace stunned the Geordie defenders.
Having anther striking option would not necessarily have won this match,
although it might well have done so, but it will win games in the future if we play like this. Defoe did well yesterday, using his brain rather than shooting on sight, or even when he can’t see anything but the centre half’s backside in front of him. He took up excellent positions, moving into the channels in tune with his team-mates. He certainly applied himself for the whole game even though he had some quiet patches where we did not find him. But we need more. We know that, AVB knows that and so does Daniel Levy. Expect business this week – maybe the defeat will hurry things along.
Last season we did not see the best of Newcastle against Spurs and for the first half that’s the way it carried on. Their back four was easily isolated as we made full use of the space in front of them. Siggy, Bale and Walker galloped into the gaps. Lennon had the beating of his full-back. Because we could pull the ball back into the space in front of their defensive line, the lack of an authentic centre forward wasn’t so apparent. Lennon set up Bale beautifully but he hit the bar, while earlier a better choice of final ball could have produced a goal. JD hit the post after a brisk, flowing move, starting from deep.
Friedel had little to do despite the Geordie’s much vaunted striking duo and Krul was much the busier keeper. Sandro and Livermore were booked by the over fussy referee. Hearty congratulations to Jake for his England cap. He was too enthusiastic today – he must learn than you can press without tackling. Today his timing was off.
Newcastle were better organised in the second half and their resilience and team-work born from a season together proved its worth as the game went on. The same can’t said for their off-field organisation. With Pardew in the stands, his efforts to communicate with the bench turned to farce. We found out that the radio doesn’t work and no one in Newcastle has a mobile so the coaching staff waited patiently in line to take messages downstairs like Roman centruions along Hadrian’s Wall.
In the end, despite our overall superiority, one mistake and one example of being taken for mugs won the match. Walker’s poor header was picked up by a proper striker, who did nothing throughout except turn and plant his one opportunity firmly in the far corner. That’s what proper strikers do, after all.
Defoe and Spurs deserved the equaliser. After our incisive, clean play, this was a messy one, with first Defoe’s header then his follow up hitting defenders, the keeper and the post before going in. The shame was, we couldn’t hang on. We gifted Newscastle penalty winner. We were tiring and they had used the space we left on the wings well, something AVB will have to address, but Ben Arfa played us for mugs, darting for a gap between VDV and Lennon. We fell for it and he toppled, a clear but avoidable penalty. A disappointing end when we deserved more from the game but there’s plenty of good things to take away. I’ve predicted a stuttering start then improvement in the longer run. Let’s hope that ‘it’s a long season’ gives us something to anticipated rather than dread.