Trippier Breaks The Deadlock As Spurs Excel Again

As someone once said, of all the things in the world that aren’t important, football is the most important of all. Since I was a kid, Tottenham Hotspur have been a significant part of my life. Unlike my relationships, I’ve had the chance to leave but never wanted to. For me, a Spurs win lifts my mood and makes me a better person, until the next game comes around and the butterflies in my stomach return as kick-off is near. Shouldn’t be that way, but there it is.

My goodness me how I have missed it. I like to make up my own mind about things but having consumed Spurs through the media this past month, it’s interesting to see what they think of us. I don’t want an obsequious media, drooling over Pochettino’s views in the same way they fawn over Mourinho’s contemptuous invective, but while we get a good press, we don’t get the credit we deserve. Because Spurs are “a big club” (whatever that means exactly) there is an expectation that we will do well not shared by supporters to anywhere near the same extent. This is the youngest team in the PL punching way above their weight, full of young British players several of whom are home-grown. You’d think that would be more of a story. Leicester’s heroics have overshadowed that to a large extent, and good luck to them by the way.

However, the radio has conveyed a sense that Spurs will keep going. Listening to both the Palace and Everton games on 5 Live, we went a goal down but just kept on playing, undeterred. It’s a good feeling to have.

In the words of soul legend Solomon Burke, she’s mean to me, she’s so bad for me, but when she touches me, nothing else matters. As others tire of the game, exhausted by the shabby, dismissive way supporters are treated, by the money, the greed, the hypocrisy, the incompetence of those who run it in England and across the world, so I grow to love my club more. Being there is what matters to me and I was glad to be at the Lane yesterday. Joy and relief in the stands when the goal went in. I joined in the singing, then stopped to listen, look around and take it all in. The whole ground full of song, the noise echoing in the roof and in my ears, rhythmic clapping rippling around the stands.

The goal when it came was worth waiting for, not only a thing of considerable beauty but also an illustration of how far this team has come. Spurs clean out an untidy ball in the corner not by whacking it upfield, perfectly acceptable though that option is, but by a spot of head tennis to keep possession at all costs. Kane comes deep to help out. Still in our half, a cushioned lay-off, his trademark touch, to a stampeding Dembele who surges 20 yards onwards. Not so long ago, he would have waited and taken it sideways.

Dembele pauses, here’s Alli just on as sub, to take it further. Outside of the foot cross, confident, precise, bisects keeper and defenders. This effort takes several Spurs attackers deep and should leave us short, but here’s a full-back, Trippier, at the far post to gleefully tuck it in. He’s run 80 yards from the edge of his own box to get there. The whole thing took, what, 15 seconds.

Trippier was marked by Capoue, one of the old guard who by all accounts did not buy into Pochettino’s regime, aka wouldn’t put the hard work in. The Frenchman half-heartedly goes with his man but could not be arsed to run the extra yard or so that would have prevented this goal. That’s why he no longer plays for us.

Even allowing for their self-imposed lack of ambition, Watford were pressed back into their half for extended periods. Never mind the shot and corner stats, the number crunchers could have added ‘times in the opposition half’, such was our dominance. They kept it very narrow and tight, denying space with 10 or 11 men behind the ball. It’s something we’ll have to get accustomed to.

Spurs combated this by attacking at a high tempo from the start and sustaining this until we went ahead. Despite the blanket defence, we made more chances in this match than in any I can remember for ages, 5 or 6 good opportunities in the first half. Pochettino’s system asks a lot of the full-backs, probably why he’s sought quality cover on both flanks as a priority. Trippier and Davies, nominally the second choice pairing, did not disappoint. Three times in the first half, Davies closed in on the goal with menace and intent. Three times Gomes saved low down to his left. He kept Watford in the game and was their star man by a street. Kane and Chadli missed good chances too.

Tottenham came out after half-time and upped the pace, if that were possible. Now it was Trippier’s turn to feature. Time and again he burst down the right and his crosses posed a danger every time. Spurs launched a determined assault on the Watford goal, 15 minutes of relentless brilliance that produced several chances and a definite penalty when Gomes, reverting to behaviour so familiar to Spurs fans, clumsily fell into the back of Kane’s legs. Eriksen and Trippier excelled, Lamela, who had a reasonable game, missed a great chance and helped create others. Then the goal, significantly one of the few times Spurs shifted the defence right out of shape. It was more like an away goal, hitting on the break, which is why we have such a good away record – it’s a style that suits.

Not so long ago you would have had more chance of convincing me that the earth is flat, people can walk up the side of buildings and next year we’ll all get around by using jetpacks than persuading me that Spurs have the best defensive record in the Premier League. Yesterday, for all the sustained attacking, Alderweireld showed once again that he is the main reason why. Alert and strong, he snuffed out most of Watford’s efforts before they got anywhere near Lloris, who did not have to make a save all afternoon. He’s in charge, of the opposition and his own defence, organising and pointing. Wimmer looks promising, in the same mould. He accomplished the best single piece of defence, stretching to intercept a curling cross and heading it back to Hugo.

Dembele was outstanding in the first half. In terms of the extent to which he lifts the team’s performance, he remains the most influential midfielder in the league. Trippier wins man of the match. Eriksen as I said was excellent too. Dier was not only strong as usual but kept the attacks moving with a series of firm, straight first-time passes from the back. I prefer Son to Chadli and Lamela because of his greater impact in the box, and I would have started him/brought him on sooner.

Talented though these individuals are, the team’s the thing. I’ve not seen a Spurs manager have such an impact on the team since Billy Nick. Burkinshaw deserves great credit for his achievements, more so than he receives. His is a lasting legacy, Pochettino’s short-term (so far) but more transformative. His ability to organise and motivate has transformed Tottenham Hotspur from a bunch of underachievers plus youngsters into a dynamic, purposeful aggregation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

As I write we are second in the league. Think I will type that again. Tottenham Hotspur are second in the league. We deserve it, but whatever happens from now on in, it is a heart-warming experience that lifts the spirits and restores the faith of jaded supporters in the beauty and glory of the game. The soul-sapping spectre of the Europa League looms in the background. Tiredness could be our worst enemy. For now, enjoy every moment. I wonder if this is how it felt in 1959, when supporters starved of success watched a largely untested manager assemble the pieces of the greatest side of modern times. This lot won’t be as good as the Double team, of course not, but we are watching something special come together nonetheless.

Fortunes on the field are subject to the vagaries of the game – loss of form, tiredness, poor decisions, bad luck. However the season turns out, Pochettino’s side have achieved something that seemed impossible in the contemporary history of Tottenham Hotspur, bringing the club and supporters closer together. The problems and potential problems have not disappeared. Lest we forget, prices deter many and exclude many more. The club is more responsive to fans than they were 18 months ago and the Supporters Trust have had a lot to do with that but let’s not kid ourselves. In many respects at senior level they do not understand what fans want and even less about how to give it to us.

But this team have transcended that. They give everything they have. They care – about each other, about winning, about the supporters. They understand what the club means to supporters, what it stands for. After the Norwich game, instead of dashing off after a perfunctory wave to the Park Lane, spontaneously they stayed on the pitch as if they did not want to leave it after playing so well. They shuffled round in a semi-circle of honour, all of them, applauding the crowd who sang ‘happy birthday’ to Hugo. Instead of rushing home to the warmth of families who wanted us to be with them on Boxing Day, many stayed and clapped back. It was the same yesterday. It’s different, it’s wonderful.

 

I am deeply touched that so many people have missed the blog over the past month and have said that reading it is part of their Spurs routine. Sincere thanks to everyone who has wished me and my wife well. She doesn’t understand why so many total strangers have hoped she gets better but she is grateful. She also doesn’t understand why I sat at her hospital bedside and watched a vine of Alli’s goal at Palace for 10 solid minutes, but you do.

And Now, A Short Intermission

I don’t always get my priorities right when it comes to football. Easy to say Tottenham comes first, it trips off the tongue, you can all laugh along, but in my case the obsession has led to a few questionable decisions. I went to the game when people close to me would have preferred I was somewhere else.

As somebody once said, of all the things that don’t really matter in life, football is the one that matters most. I missed the Southampton game and since then Mrs TOMM has been in hospital so time to write is short. This was our bedside view for the Leicester cup-tie on Sunday. Think of the last few weeks as Tottenham On My Mind’s winter break.

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This is the longest break on the blog during the season since I began seven years ago. I’ve missed writing about Spurs and apparently some of you have missed me. Sincere thanks for the messages and comments, deeply appreciated. The number of subscribers has gone right up even though there’s no content – readers don’t want to miss out.

I missed writing about the Norwich win. We played so well, so wholeheartedly, supporters and players felt closer than has been the case for so long now. A major theme of mine over the past two seasons is the yawning distance between supporter and club. This lot have bridged the gap. We and many others lingered in the warm glow instead of rushing away to Boxing Day families impatient for our return. The players felt it too, staying on the pitch, a semi-circle of honour if not quite a lap.

So I’ll see if I can make a late entrance on Wednesday night, Saturday if not. Keeps me steady, on track. Being there is more important than win or lose, helps me be the person I want to be. Winning’s nice, mind.

Tottenham On My Mind doesn’t get a mountain of page views but I’ve discovered the readers are phenomenally loyal, and that’s all right with me. Spurs are part of of our lives and I’m amazed and touched that some of you live it with me. Thanks for staying with me, a belated Happy New Year and stick around because this is going to be an interesting year for the blog. You might well be able to help. After the intermission, stay tuned.

The Day The Light In Dier’s Eyes Went Out

Kyle Walker takes a throw-in towards the end of the match in front of the Shelf. Whatever his faults, he always finds some energy if Spurs are chasing the game late on. Eric Dier is in front of me, in space, about 10 yards away from the thrower, but the midfielder is looking at the ground. His eyes are weary, his expression pained. He doesn’t want the ball. Despite his relative youth and inexperience, all season his broad shoulders have carried the weight of expectation and the burden of performing in the clatter and clutter of a Premier League midfield. Such is the fierce strength of Dier’s intensity, when he came near the Shelf you could almost warm your hands by it. Here it had become a guttering candle. Eric Dier had reached his limit.

I’m not blaming Dier for the defeat against Newcastle. He did not have a good game but that can be said for half the team and after all, his near post header from a first-half corner put Spurs ahead. Anyway, after what he’s put in lately, I’d forgive him anything. But this apparently insignificant scratch to the veneer of Spurs’ polished season summed up the team’s performance in a nutshell.

Newcastle forced their way back into the match, repeatedly slicing through our midfield with a series of fast, direct counters. In a five-minute period, four last-ditch tackles denied clear goal opportunities, two by Alderweireld, one by Rose and one by Vertonghen. The game was turned on its head after Tottenham’s first half superiority.

This was the moment when Spurs ran out of steam. Tired legs and tired minds, exhausted by the strain of relentless decision-taking and the pressure of being really quite good. When the legs give out, it’s usually because the mind has gone first. The pressing game requires countless by-the-second decision-taking – where should I be, where is everyone else, do I go or sit tight? That’s before you get the ball and switch instantly into attack and create mode, let alone think about moving into the top four with a win. You could almost hear the rush of the wind as the season caught up with us.

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. Since August wave after wave of opposition attacks have foundered on the rock that is Eric Dier. The magnificence of his contribution showed up in stark relief by its absence. A couple of weeks ago I described Dembele as the most influential midfielder in the league right now. My goodness me how we missed him, not just his strength or touch but also the way what he does makes the team so much better. He holds to give others a precious second or two to get into place, his barrel chest a counterpoint to Alli’s lithe skills, Kane’s touch and intelligence, Eriksen’s movement. He makes us better.

This season I’ve frequently used the word ‘drive’ to describe the big difference in midfield when we have possession. Dembele, Mason and Alli look to get the ball forward, to make something happen, to impart impetus into our tempo. Yesterday, we had too many players who did not make their mark on the game. I like Tom Carroll, the way he scurries around, always makes himself available and looks to pass early and forward. His ball inside the full-back for Rose in the first half was typical, that exaggerated body position, the care and precision of the pass. Yet as the game went on he made no difference and was substituted into anonymity.

They all faded. Alli full of flicks – ‘I won’t bother breaking my stride, I’ll just volley this pass 20 yards to Kyle over there’ – but little influence. Eriksen too, Kane not in the game enough although he had a couple of decent shots. Lamela’s EL hat-trick against Monaco was fun, the third was particularly sweet. Yesterday he drifted infield where on Thursday with more room he was so effective, here he became clogged up with the others as Newcastle cut down the space. Time and again our one-twos were easily blocked and we passed through gaps that didn’t exist. Width would have helped but we never did anywhere near enough to shift the Newcastle defence out of position.

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Fans were muttering darkly about this return to the Spurs we know and love, always doomed to fail just as we think we might have turned a corner. In reality this failure points up how consistently well we’ve played up until now. It also proved what many of us have felt so far. We have a fine, highly promising side capable of taking on the top four if everyone is right on their game. There’s little margin for error, although the defence have been resilient of late. Dier off the pace, Mason and Dembele absent and that left a big hole. Kane was isolated. Son came on as a sub to show why Poch did not pick him as a starter. He looks stiff-legged and anxious, trying too hard and so failing to do anything much. Kane remained isolated therefore.

And much as I love him Hugo was off yesterday too. The first goal found him back on his heels so he could only watch a long cross then push out a tame close-range shot straight to Mitrovic. Late on Perez shot from wide, from that angle I was certain the ball would go wide as Lloris parried his low near-post shot, only to see it roll in. It was a fine effort from a tight angle, low and hard in the spot close to their bodies that keepers dread, but Hugo has saved so many of those in the past….

Hugo’s distribution was poor when we need our captain to exude confidence from the back. I get that he is trying to pass the ball out rather than just kick it away. That succession of efforts to the left were probably a pre-planned tactic. It’s just that if he’s going to pass the ball, then he has to be judged as you would his team-mates. Part of that is all about making good decisions, and he didn’t.

Newcastle played well in the second half, discovering a pressing style and purposeful movement that has been missing under McLaren. They should move up the table if this and their excellent reserve keeper are anything to go by. However, Spurs should have put this one to bed in the first half with Kane, Rose and Lamela failing to capitalise on our superiority.

Plenty to be optimistic about. 14 games unbeaten is a start. So far this sequence of winnable matches between now and the New Year has not gone well but it’s very close at the top of the table and the quality remains. We’re learning, let’s not forget that.

For Pochettino, this is a step into the unknown. How will this relatively inexperienced squad cope with the physical pressure of the Christmas and New Year period (including 3 games in 7 days in the second week of January) and the mental pressure of the expectation of success? Dier, Kane and Eriksen need a breather but of course we are short of cover, especially up front. This harks back to my concerns about our business in the last window. Inflexible at the best of times, his squad gives him limited opportunities to freshen it up.

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Spurs Resilience As Valuable As Two Points

“Out on the wiley, windy moors, we’d roll and fall in green…” Never liked Kate Bush. My loss, and I get how significant she is in the history of women in pop music, only woman to have a top 5 album in each of the last 5 decades, sold out Hammersmith nights. Her videos were hugely influential in the 70s – she danced and sang AT THE SAME TIME kids! Except where her fans saw deeply meaningful interpretive dance, I just saw a lot arm-waving.

Windy up at West Brom on Saturday, highest ground in the league and all that, and some of the football was pretty wild but don’t worry, no more WBA/Wuthering Heights metaphors, although according to Hugo, the wind was to blame for Spurs failings. Too many missed or overhit passes. The montage of same on MOTD was a montage of shame, it looked bad and most players were at fault.

Truth is, we never established the consistent fluency that has been the hallmark of recent games. I’m certain it was hard to play good football but we managed it well enough for a time in the first half. The tempo and ingenuity up front that has become pleasingly familiar went missing and we lacked the bite and sharpness to turn a draw into a win. We ended up trying to thread passes through gaps that existed only in the minds of desperate midfielders.

Yet unbeaten since the opening day of the season and I’m buying Christmas presents already, and that’s not because I am a proactive shopper. It’s a record to be proud of. I’m not at the stage where I’m thinking about the what-might-have-beens if draws had become wins because Spurs have exceeded all expectations. These are opportunities we are making not missing. As I have said for several weeks now, let’s enjoy our football while we can and worry about the table in the New Year when patterns emerge and we complete a run of games against sides below us.

West Brom played well, meeting pressing with a high level of activity. Pressing used to be called ‘closing down’ and that’s what they did, in the process counter-attacking at pace, dangerous at set pieces and scoring a good goal. We have Lloris’s point blank reaction save to thank for keeping our point. Lightning reactions and strong hands pushed a close range goalmouth stab up and over, brilliant.

Time was when we would have lost this one, bowled over and brushed aside by the Albion’s physicality. These days there’s something more. The resilience to hang on, the nouse to do enough. All good teams need it, few have. A draw and this precious quality, that will do for one Saturday.

Spurs started better than they finished. We settled into our period after scoring. No one appears to suggest the wind was a factor as Alderweireld’s long pass was judged to perfection, in between the two centrebacks and right onto Deli Alli’s foot. Of course he hit it first time on the volley – as if he’d consider any other way of dealing with a high ball looping from over his shoulder, running at full tilt with two defenders breathing down either side of his neck. He kept it down, through the keeper’s legs in fact, a stunning piece of nonchalant audacity.

Toby’s ability to hit long, accurate passes paid off. It’s good to have in the team locker, a counterpoint to our pass and move. Otherwise we did not impose ourselves up front and as time went on, looked forlorn in attack and shabby at the back, giving the ball and free-kicks away too often and Hugo’s poor clearances putting us under unnecessary pressure. In the first half Alli pushed on past Kane, it led to the goal, but Son might have given that extra punch in the box. Mind you, when he came on for Lamela, who worked hard to little effect, he barely touched the ball.

Pochettino made substitutions to keep some pace up front, as he’s always keen to do. Njie was put through in a rare moment of clarity, the offside was marginal. Poch looks after him well, directing him like a schoolchild with a remote controlled car. There’s raw talent there but a lot to learn.

And anyway, what is a ‘wiley moor’?