Spurs Bravery Not Enough

Spurs’ endearing mixture of bravery and naivety was enough to make our loyal supporters get behind the team and for some cushion the blow of defeat. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near sufficient to win the League Cup Final.

It was a fine effort from our young team, remember one of the youngest sides ever to play in the top division up against the might of an experienced, expensive Ch****a side. They simply refused to be overawed either by the occasion or their opponents. In the end, though, the Blues were seldom stretched and we did not make a decent chance until right at the end when the game was lost.

After an opening ten minutes of Ch****a dominance that was sobering even for those just in from the pub, Spurs admirably got a grip on the game. Driven on by the ferocious determination of the excellent Nabil Bentaleb, we fought for every ball and every inch of territory. With little assistance from Townsend in front of him, Walker used his pace to get on top of the dangerous Hazard. Fabregas was quiet.

Bentaleb was a man possessed. At 20 he was the dominant figure on the pitch for extended periods. He could not have done more for the cause. At the end he applauded the fans then dashed down the tunnel as he could not bear the pain of defeat in public.

He and others refused to give ground. Costa pushed him in the face. Mourinho had done his work well all week, bullying little Burnley and then referees and the FA over bias against his team that he has fabricated. It worked and the ref did nothing but that’s not the point. Bentaleb refused to be intimidated and made sure Costa knew that. Costa then moved towards Dier – I felt the Blues targeted our right side, Vertonghen had far less to do on his side – but Dier took a couple of paces towards him and fronted up. At the other end, Eriksen pinged the bar with a free-kick.

Harry Kane, frustrated no doubt with the lack of progress from his midfield, dropped deeper on several occasions to mount lone, heroic charges at the massed ranks of the Ch****a defence. He doesn’t seem to do very much on the ball but they couldn’t get it off him, not without crowding him out like birds mobbing a predator who strays too close to nesting grounds. In the end it amounted to little, a couple of long shots plus one or two chances at the death which were blocked, but by then the game had gone and everyone knew it.

There was pride and defiance from supporters on the way home as the songs rang out to accompany the soft-shoe shuffle towards Wembley Park. Even the Nicola Berti song made a welcome appearance. It matched the current mood, with fans looking forward to the day and keen to get behind the young team rather than become mired in win-at-all-costs anxiety. Support in the ground was loyal, loud and long, although I am told about a full-blown punch up between those for and against Pochettino.

So much to admire in such bravery but in the end experience rather than a gulf in class told. Tottenham are always prone to defensive errors. Yesterday for the most part we were better in possession than over the past 5 games, where mistakes have been consistently horrendous. However, all our good work was undone just before half-time in a couple of moments of unforgivable naivety.

As the ball dropped over his head, Chadli needlessly committed a foul instead of working harder to get back into the right position. The free-kick was a poor one but Rose at the near post flicked it into the middle when he had a decent chance to clear it. The ball was deflected twice more, first to Terry then his shot hit Kane and went in. What a waste.

The Chels second was another deflection, Walker turning a Costa shot past a wrong-footed Lloris. It was undoubtedly cruel but it enabled Chels to do what Spurs can’t, to shut the game down with a minimum of effort. Time passed slowly but we never pulled ourselves back into things. Rose and Walker were often our best attackers, using the space on the flanks well, but we failed all game to produce a decent cross into the box. Eriksen was busy, prompting and probing, but again was seldom dangerous. I recall only two proper saves from Lloris but at the business end the stats show we had only two shots on target all game despite having the lion’s share of possession.

So disappointment but no disgrace in defeat. I reject the temptation to see our exit from 2 cup competitions in 4 days as a turning point because the issues facing the club, both opportunities and threats, remain the same as they have been for several months now. The emergence of the young players has been an encouraging feature that has brought supporters and team closer and augers well for the future. However, the very fact that this has been forced on Pochettino shows the deficiencies in the current squad and the lack of long-term succession planning that brought us to this point.

We may be separated from Chelsea by only 6 or 7 league places but the gulf in experience and ability is vast, and I’ve not even mentioned money. The squad depth is shallow. Poor Soldado has gone beyond anger into the realms of deep pity and sympathy for his plight. Lamela has seemingly forgotten about his precocious talent and gets worse every game. Great credit to the highly promising Eric Dier but he has to play because 3 hugely experienced, pricy centre halves, Fazio, Chiriches and Kaboul, aren’t up to it. We have no wide players to play effectively in our forward 3. Chadli, rampant in the 5-3, was anonymous yesterday while Townsend perked up for a while before fading. Neither got into the box to support Kane, neither protected their full-backs.

Regular readers will know I take no pleasure in saying this, but despite my philosophy of Realistic Optimism, it’s a fact, jack. Can’t hide it. We have major rebuilding ahead in a summer where Levy will be saving money for the new ground and fighting to hang on to Vertonghen, Lloris and Eriksen, never mind buying new players. But like I say, we already knew that, deep down.

In the meantime, let’s carry on with the defiant pride and get behind the team. They need our help to avoid the season fizzing out completely.

A couple of random thoughts to end. Our national stadium cost £798m to build, almost as much as a burger and chips inside the ground, but too much to ask that someone sitting 22 rows back is protected from the rain.

Also, judging from the number of lifelong Chelsea fans who have “always” been supporters, their crowds must have been around 150,000 per week, not the 12600 average in 1983 or even 21000 in 1995. Surely some mistake. And to the Blues who sat with us on the tube coming home, you didn’t even stay to see the cup awarded. Frankly, what’s the point?

Spurs Fans Enjoy The Moment

Happy to stand corrected but there’s something odd around the Spurs fan community at the moment. People are having fun.

Tonight we play Fiorentina. We’re up against it – should have settled the tie in the first half of the home leg and the team cannot help but think of Sunday’s League Cup Final. Yet it seems like half the fans I know are in Italy in party mood with plans to carry on straight through to Sunday afternoon. A journalist has just tweeted that despite a heavy police presence following violence in Italy last week from Feyenoord supporters, every Spurs fan he’s seen is intent on taking in the sights.

The League Cup Final itself – most people seem to be delighted just to be there, an unexpected pleasure to be enjoyed as a Wembley final rather than consolation for an FA Cup exit and a league position that could see us finish outside the European qualification places entirely.

There’s a sense of enjoying the moment rather than planning ahead. Since Christmas there have been some fabulous moments for certain. Wins against Chelsea and Arsenal, not just victories but barnstorming performances amidst a pulsating atmosphere reminiscent of the Shelf in its pomp that many of us believed had disappeared from the Lane forever. I missed the West Ham game as I have been ill but enjoyment of a different kind, stealing a point, missing a last-gasp penalty but still scoring. Play badly, nah, something will turn up. Can’t do any wrong.

The 2008 final versus Chelsea was placed in a different narrative. Not just our first sniff of a trophy for almost a decade, this tension-filled match was about a breakthrough into the upper echelons of the Premier League. This story is about how a taste of success breeds a hunger for more. The League Cup is very much the junior competition but winning can instil a winning mentality, a belief that this is a step towards something better.

As with all good fairy-stories, there’s some truth here but this time round, I’m not hearing much about ‘moving to another level’, the curse of the modern game where every success is interpreted not as an achievement in itself but as the stepping-stone to something else, usually expressed in terms of money. Win the Europa League because there’s a CL place up for grabs, not because there’s a bloody brilliant trophy at stake. Or dump the EL, and the League and FA Cups for that matter, so you can finish 4th and get even more money. Win the League but don’t do well in the CL so what does it count for?

For the time being at least, Spurs fans are happy with their lot. In Italy and on Sunday, let’s enjoy the day, give it a right good go and see what happens. In many ways it’s a healthy attitude. Partly it has come about because expectations have become lower this season. This may be realistic or maybe settling for second best, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

For me, the manner in which we’ve reached this point is the key. I have never known a season begin with so much disillusionment expressed by hard-core supporters. Nobody was even talking about winning something. The years of disenchantment had taken their toll on hearts, minds and bank-balances. The lack of long-term planning, constant reactive chopping and changing of the manager and squad, of wasted opportunities and the huge cost of watching Spurs that created alienation and distance between supporter and club.

Pochettino has been forced to turn to the young men but they have repaid us in spades with talent and wholehearted commitment. They can’t keep it up week in week out – the performance against West Ham showed their tactical and mental limitations rather than physical tiredness – but they feel the same way about the club as we do. Others, most notably Vertonghen and Eriksen, have rediscovered a pride in their performances. As a result, fans feel closer to the team than has been the case for many years.

The news this week that the building of the stadium can proceed, subject to another possible appeal, has helped the mood. It means the club can move forward.

So it feels good to be here in the moment, enjoying Spurs play football and anticipating the spectacle at Wembley on Sunday. No one is under any illusion, however. Let’s enjoy it while we can because the mood could change. On the field we are seeing the start of something not the end product. It will be another wasted chance if we do not invest in the team in the summer, never mind the fact that the real test will be keeping key players like Lloris, Eriksen and Vertonghen, especially if we do not qualify for Europe.

The much-anticipated stadium will be a huge drain on funds over a period far longer than the few years it takes to build and if prices, sightlines and atmosphere are not right then supporters will rightly question the whole point. We matter – the club need to show they have a better understanding of that fundamental point that has apparently been the case in the past.

Meantime, Fisher’s Fitness Battle will come down to the wire. Coughing, spluttering and rattling with pills, block 108 may be infected but being there is all there is. Enjoy the moment and get behind the team. I’ll bring my own oxygen tent.

Still time to download the Final song Hotshot Tottenham by Ledley and the Kings, including a good friend of this blog. And Chas and Dave. All proceeds to the Tottenham Tribute Trust helping ex-players.

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Looking for something to wear on the big day? The Art of Football have some snazzy styles on display here including a competition to win an Eriksen t-shirt. An offer you can’t refuse.

Spurs Come Off Second Best

Just a few more days in the warm glow of derby glory. Would that have been too much to ask? Spurs gave it a good old go up at Anfield last night and there was plenty to admire, especially in their sustained attacking intent and flowing forward interplay. We ran, we pressed, we created chances but the zip wasn’t quite as zingy and in the end some familiar defensive frailties did for us in a close contest.

Once more time stood still as the ball went goalwards. This time however it wasn’t Kane’s header floating into the net. Markovic shot, Lloris dived – and my stream froze. In twenty or thirty seconds of freeze frame, I had time to compute the ball’s trajectory in relation to Hugo’s dive. Conclusion: Hugo saves it. Show your working: Hugo saves everything and this low shot is well within reach. Eureka.

Buffering over and the ball bounces over our captain’s outstretched hand. Furiously Lloris picks himself up and admonishes the culprit, a little bump around the penalty area. He knows he should have had it, though. This came after an opening quarter of an hour that saw both sides have chances. It gave Liverpool the edge and there was often a frantic element to Spurs’ efforts to catch up.

Two teams with different formations but similar strengths and weaknesses. Both are very open at times and look better coming forward rather than defending. Both wanted to go out and win the game. The resultant lack of caution will have given both managers a sleepless night but it made for a brilliant exhibition of high-octane end to end attacking football that would have pleased the neutral DAMN THEM! What good are neutrals? Spurs drew level twice but could not hold on to take the shine off a decent performance and an excellent few days.

Spurs have suddenly become opponents to respect. You could tell for two reasons. One, a few people in the crowd booed Kane as soon as he touched the ball. Because that’s what fans always do these days, isn’t it, boo any opposition player who is any good irrespective of any grievance or other reason to do so. English talent? We don’t have much so let’s abuse what we do have!!

Two, Liverpool closed Bentaleb down early. As a result he was seldom a force in attack and was often caught in possession. He wasn’t the only one. At times Lamela was Liverpool’s ball-winner – after he got it Liverpool always had the next touch – and in the first half in particular we constantly gave the ball away, unable to pass forward from our own half. Vertonghen and Dier had to be alert.

Liverpool are open so you always think you have a chance against them. However they are difficult to pin down so our pressing game wasn’t as effective as against a more compact Arsenal side. Tiredness is the other reason, understandable after Saturday up to a point at least but we kept going extremely well. The physical aspect is one thing, sustaining that intense mental focus is quite another, particularly for this young side, the youngest to appear in the Premier League this season.

Maybe this was part of learning how to do precisely that. That we came so close says a lot about how well these young men are doing. We weaved some beautiful patterns in attack. Dembele, Lamela and Eriksen interchanged with effortless fluidity. They’ve developed a fine awareness of each other and don’t end up running into each other, the inevitable end to many of our attacks earlier in the season. With Rose and Walker dashing up on the flanks plus Vertonghen and Mason charging forward when they could spare the time it was lovely stuff, unthinkable even a month ago. The move between Lamela and Eriksen to set up Kane for our first was quick invention at its best. Harry’s blast was straight at the keeper but went between his legs.

In the end, Liverpool won a crucial tactical battle on the flanks where the midfield offered less and less protection for the full-backs as the game went on. Rose was vulnerable. His performance was a mix of tenacious, brave tackles and impetuosity. Sturridge had him spellbound and Rose tripped him in the box when there were several team-mates to cover. Gerrard scored the penalty.

Eriksen’s free-kick once again brought us back into the game again but not directly. Kane pounced on the rebound as Mignolet saved low down to his right. His cross was bundled in by Dembele who had another strong game, Liverpool defenders literally bouncing off him at times.

Both teams went for the win when most others in the PL would have shut down to keep what they had. Liverpool edged it through better use of subs. One, Ballotelli, scored the winner but it was the other, Lallana that made the difference. He’s good at surging into the box. Chadli however, on for Eriksen on the left, is not good at tracking back. The Belgian didn’t stay with his man and Lallana’s cross left Marion with a sheepish tap-in.

Shame really. Our standards are higher now, I thought we could keep that point. However, we never tightened up enough at the back and our opponents were too good not to take advantage.

Good signs – Vertonghen is a man transformed, back to the form we saw early on his time with us. Dier, a young man who should have got more plaudits after the derby win, is fearless in the tackle and takes responsibility, an attitude that could lead to a long and successful career with us. Not so good – Lamela mixes pure class – three passes plus a shot that was well saved – with sheer mindlessness. He puts in the legwork but with no positional discipline, and he cannot resist running inside straight at defenders.

Kane Makes Time Stand Still

Thump thump. The cross, as sudden as it is unexpected, flies into the box.

Thump thump. The header. Kane, twisting backwards, it loops. We are right in line.

Thump thump. Towards the goal that despite Spurs’ frenzied pounding, their midfield dominance, their unceasing creativity, has been breached just once. Time is trickling by. For the first time in the match the level of intensity has dropped, a fraction maybe, to a level that a few weeks ago we could only have dreamed of but today represents a falling away such has been the ferocity of our performance.

Thump thump. This soft header has no place here, amid the fervour and ferment of this dear old ground which has seen it all but seldom seen something like this, the bedlam in the stands, the shaking, the rocking that has energised navy blue and white for one last effort.

Thump thump beats my heart against my chest. This is the game, my club, my team. The Arsenal, the derby and we have taken them on. Umpteen years they’ve finished ahead of us but today, no more. Today, two young men from close to home led the way. Two others came from equatorial heat and Scandinavian chill, a manager from far away, they pulled on a white shirt, looked at the red and fought like the cockerels on their hearts and said: enough.

Then nothing. At the top of the arc, the ball is still and so are we. Not even the ringing in our ears from the noise, the perpetual accompaniment to this most thrilling of occasions. Everything stops, there is only the ball, shining in the cold north London air. We watch, spellbound.

It floats, gravity defied, no longer subject to the laws of the universe but in its own time and space. For the last 85 minutes, our world has been within these four high grandstands, shutting out the rest, there has been only this. Nothing else matters, only white shirts and navy blue shorts.

Hanging in the air. The cross came as a surprise because Tottenham had been reluctant to cross the ball even when well-placed to do so. After all, there had always been other options. Tirelessly Rose and Walker dashed eagerly into the gaps out wide, to exploit any space and take the game to the Arsenal. Inside, Eriksen bobs like a hungry sparrow, head down to the ball up to find the runner, move because being still means danger, down again ball to feet move it on to me down and move it head up and who’s in the space. Alongside him, Dembele, a hunched giant take it off me go on take it I dare you knock me down and I get up go on take it I dare you.

Nabil Bentaleb struck the cross. Before kick-off he looked at his team mate Ryan Mason and said, you know what, we’re going to show that lot a thing or two. A couple of World Cup winners, a team of internationals, we’re going to show them how to play. Never gave them an inch.

It floats. We had waited for it to stop, the running, the pressing, the passing and the moving. We would have been grateful, thankful for what we had seen and what they had already given. The tackles, the blocks, the running always the running so Arsenal had been penned back in the own half for much of the game, immobilised. Delighted with the movement, not so many chances but the final ball was hard to thread through a disciplined defence. They were all back. After all, they had nowhere else to go. Had to be.

Except it didn’t stop. It floats and the game is a blur of creative energy, it was exhausting to watch. They never let up. Never stopped trying something, and I’ve not seen anything like it for many a long season.

The ball is dropping now, so slowly it is bound to be saved. Such a shame. We couldn’t truly enjoy the first half performance because it was tainted. Tainted Tottenham, never get it quite right, always frustration souring the mix. Always a stupid mistake at the back. Vertonghen and Walker argued furiously as they trudged back to the halfway line but it was an old familiar problem, Walker drawn across and leaving his man. Ozil had all the time in the world. Spurs back in it so the second half was rocking and rolling after the ball fell to Kane from a corner and he obliged from a few yards.

Dropping and it must be saved. Dropping and we are in line. Dropping and there’s only crossbar, post and a wide open empty space, what was once as big as the eye of a needle but right in line and suddenly it’s as wide as the Grand Canyon. The goal rushes towards the ball.

Kane places the ball into the corner of the net with the tender care of a jeweller replacing a diamond into velvet. The silence hangs in the air for a moment.

It’s in it’s gone in it’s bloody in stuff them it’s in it’s gone in Kane you beauty have that it’s Kane it’s in. Thump thump.

I’ve missed one north London Derby at White Hart Lane since 1970 although for the life of me I can’t remember why. I couldn’t have been doing anything better because there is nowhere better to be. I can’t recall a better day.

I’m afraid you will have to go elsewhere for a tactical analysis. Spurs Fanatical is my favourite. Sorry but this one transcends analysis. Having said that, I must mention Eric Dier, a callow youth in this company yet totally composed on the day, and his manager Maurico Pochettino who was brave enough to pick him when Fazio and Vertonghen were essential to us turning the corner a couple of months ago.

You don’t watch the Derby, you feel it. What I recall is the complete and utter absorption in a game that overwhelmed the senses. The noise level was astounding, I could not hear myself think at times. I’d say it was like the old days except it was better. Constant.

At the end the players did an impromptu half-lap of honour. The moments a few seconds after the whistle blew and they begun to realise what they had achieved were a joy to behold. Harry Kane cut a solitary figure, slowly walking past the Shelf to receive his applause, taking it all in. He was clearly emotional, close to tears of joy. Supporters and players together. One influences the other, on the good days you can’t tell where one starts and the other ends. The greatest achievement of these young players and their manager is to banish seasons of growing alienation and close the gap between fans and the club. We’re in this together and we the fans have every reason to be proud. It’s been a privilege to be at, to feel, some great games at White Hart Lane. This is right up there with the best. Very proud.