The search for the lost heart of Tottenham Hotspur is over. It was there all the time, waiting to be found by three young footballers, Nabil Bentaleb, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason. They knew all along what it means to be Spurs and their performances in Sunday’s defeat of Everton not only showed their more experienced team-mates the path to follow, they ignited and inspired the crowd. Together, as one, as it should be.
This was Spurs’ best performance of the season, superior to the big win over QPR because the Toffees are a much better side. Tottenham were disciplined, keeping a shape that ensured Everton had few opportunities but flexible enough to quickly turn defence into attack. Yet what stood out was the spirit and commitment of the whole team, playing with drive, application and purpose. Regardless almost of the result, this was a remarkable transformation compared with the festering sore of last month’s apathetic and alienating efforts.
The afternoon also revealed Adebayor’s deluded whinging about how our troubles were due to supporter negativity as the narcissistic self-indulgence it really was. The intoxicating mixture of the young men’s effort and noise from the crowd punctured once and for all the smug complacency behind his comments after the Stoke defeat. Players and managers spend their careers in crowded football grounds yet they never get it. Supporters and players aren’t different breeds. We’re inextricably linked, feeding off the emotional connection between us. This reciprocity isn’t about cause and effect: sometimes they get us going, sometimes we lift them. On the good days you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends, and this was a very good day. The alchemy created an exhilarating, emotionally charged atmosphere that lifted the spirits of player and supporter alike, in particular aiding a flagging side in the final 10 minutes to resist a series of Everton set-pieces as they searched in vain for an equaliser.
And this is what matters, truly matters, long after the final whistle. Matches, players, seasons come and go, fortune waxes and wanes, but keep the beating heart of a football club pulsing and you have the foundation of future success. The form of even the very best footballers ebbs and flows but if playing in navy blue and white means something to them, deep inside, they can find the strength to overcome adversity.
Heaven knows we’ve waited a long time for Bobby Soldado to score. We’ve gone through disappointment, frustration and anger to sympathy and condolence. Scoring goals on instinct since he was kid, once the flow dried up, he’s had no idea what to do about it. He’s like an old friend who has been through such bad times that you are compelled to look away as you wish him well because the pain in his eyes is too much to take.
So when the moment finally came, what mattered more to him, the billowing of the net or the ecstatic reception from the crowd? It was the noise, the song, the shared joy of a homecoming almost that surely will stay with him, that will mean he’ll give that little bit more when harder times come along. We had not rejected him despite it all. After the genuine celebrations in the corner, he took a long time to walk back to the centre circle, savouring each step, deep in reflection despite the elation all around him. The demons were banished. The half-time whistle blew a few seconds later and he skipped off to the dressing room.
Kane and Bentaleb were outstanding throughout. Kane has been ‘a prospect’ for a few years but I did not think he could come on so swiftly. It’s like a child’s growing spurt – you see them every day yet suddenly they physically and emotionally mature. It’s part of nature but still we are surprised. And pleased.
No pace but his close control was always a threat to an Everton defence whose weakness for backing off proved to be their undoing. Spurs began the game in good order but just as it seemed nothing was going to come from our play, and a goal down by this time, Kane took matters into his own hands and ran at them. Suddenly the back four were exposed. Howard could only push his hard shot to the feet of Eriksen who with care and precision placed the ball into the far corner.
Kane began the match on the right, helping Lennon stifle the dangerous Baines. As the half progressed it became clear Azza was doing a fine job on his own, thank you very much, so Harry could drift in and be more involved. The midfield needed assistance as Everton had the lion’s share of possession – here’s Harry back to help out. Soldado could be isolated on his own but wait, Harry’s there to lend a hand. 50-50 in midfield becomes a Spurs ball because Harry’s in. Defence is suddenly attack, on the break Harry’s set Lennon free for his only run at the defence. On the break he slips Bobby in and the finish across the keeper is just perfect. Later, Barkley’s dangerous in the centre replacing the ineffective Eto, this could be trouble -wait! Harry’s got him. Outstanding.
Bentaleb was a presence throughout. He is always available, keeps the ball moving and was instrumental in establishing and maintaining a decent tempo in our play. That’s the mark of a quality footballer. He too has matured, if not overnight then at the World Cup. In his demeanour he seems 5 years older compared with the end of last season.
Mason had less of an impact but played his part in the most solid midfield of the season. He and Bentaleb sought each other at the end and hugged, mutual congratulations for a job well done. Lennon was excellent, dutifully up and down his wing, less winging and more tackling back it has to be said but goodness knows Chiriches, a mistake waiting to happen, needs all the help he can get. Right-footer on the right, playing well – who knew?
Eriksen did well too, working hard from kick-off. Thought there was a different look in his eyes, more determination. As a unit they excelled, pressing high when required but mostly funnelling back to set up the barricades 40 yards out. Lots of calling to each other, encouragement, where to go, plug a gap. Soldado’s goal was preceded by an equally significant piece of play, where Everton had the ball for an extended period but were forced to go from side to side, unable to find a gap. Pushed back, they lost the ball and Kane did the rest.
We kept our shape and discipline throughout. This helped the back four immeasurably. Davies and Chiriches could tuck in or if they were brought out knew someone would slot in to cover. Vertonghen was clearly inspired by proceedings, visibly growing into the match and dealing with the second half pressure that came at him.
Lamela was the only problem. On for the tired Lennon and clearly given strict instructions to keep the shape, he just couldn’t resist. After a disciplined start, he left his post and charged around committing needless fouls. He could easily have been sent off rather than booked. Baines was livid with him for a couple of tackles and I don’t blame him. This weakness could end his PL career.
Much has been made of Spurs’ conspicuous lack of success on a Sunday following a Europa League fixture but the foundations for this win were laid on Thursday night. Bentaleb, Davies and Lennon had valuable game time while key pairings of Kane and Soldado up front and Fazio and Vertonghen at the back had time to get used to each other.
I’m pleased for the manager that an incredibly brave decision to play Mason and Bentaleb in the engine room came off. Also his preferred set-up needs the forward able to get into the box and drop back, a role Kane fulfilled admirably. It’s a telling indictment of Sunday’s benchwarmers and confirmed that Pochettino does not have the type of midfielder that he wants. The young players listen and respond. Not asking a lot but too much for some, apparently.
Without getting carried away – Chelsea hot favourites tomorrow – there was so much to enjoy on an afternoon that began with a conspicuous lack of optimism in the stands. They found what it takes to be a winning side. Nothing but credit all round.
Youngish Spurs manager seeking to make the best of the resources he has available without the full and unconditional support of his chairman. A squad of good players, mostly on the up, looking for direction so they can improve as individuals and as a team. Put the two together and some alchemy could result in solid in gold. Or a flask of bubbling gloop, useless to man or beast, in which case back to the drawing board.
I like the way Pochettino goes about his business. He’s centred, poised in the calm, unostentatious way of a man who is sure about his own ability without teetering over the edge into the abyss of arrogance. Which comes as a welcome relief after AVB, Redknapp and Sherwood, all of whom loved the limelight in their different ways. Tim the Temp is STILL banging on about ‘my Spurs’ whenever the Independent let him anywhere near a keyboard, for Hod’s sake.
Yesterday in the 2-2 draw against Sunderland there was much to admire in the Spurs performance. No doubt still smarting from their roasting a fortnight ago, Tottenham followed Liverpool’s example and took a high tempo game deep into our opponent’s half from the kick-off. It paid off with an early goal then despite conceding almost immediately, we dominated territory and possession with some decent football, pass and move, one-twos. The manager’s message is clearly getting through to a bunch of players who are willing to listen.
Shame then that our old pals the Feebles had to turn up to ruin the party. Two feeble bits of defending when not under any great pressure did for us. We score, we concede. They go together like a horse and carriage. I tell you brother, at Spurs you can’t have one without the other. 2-1 up, last ten minutes, stupid free-kick given away, defenders conspire to avoid the cross and Harry Kane clumsily knocks it in at the far post. Two points needlessly given away.
Woke up this morning, had those post-window blues. I don’t expect that Spurs will spunk a fortune on players, I don’t even advocate it. Rather, the end of the August window marks the start of the season proper and we’re not any further forward than we were a couple of years ago. That opening paragraph is strikingly, depressingly similar to what I was writing about AVB and Spurs after his first window ended.
Here’s another blast from the past – strikers, lack thereof. I am flabbergasted that a professional club in any league could leave themselves so short of striking options. Adebayor did well yesterday, kept in touch with the midfield rather than remaining isolated, but a full season at maximum intensity is asking too much and anyway he could be away for the ANC. Kane is developing well but nowhere near ready to lead the line on a regular basis. I hope Pochettino can do something with Soldado but we can hardly rely on him. The fact that Spurs have made this mistake for the last few seasons does not diminish the frustration and fury.
So how did this happen? Conspiracy or cock-up? Levy may have been reluctant to release funds, what with a stadium to pay for. I can’t believe Pochettino didn’t ask for another goalscorer. Not asking for a world-beater but there must have been someone out there. This one could well have been cock-up, however. A journo I follow on twitter, Spurs fan but not a sportswriter, said he had been told a sorry tale of mistakes made. No details of course but as his paper led the following day on Welbeck’s arrival at the Emirates, I wonder if Spurs thought he was coming and had no contingency. Whatever, this wanton negligence could prove costly. The sense of settling for a reasonable season instead of trying to make something more ambitious happen is inescapable.
The delay in the new stadium has been in the news this week. Again, conspiracy or cock- up? Archway Steel, the last remaining business on the site, have appealed against their compulsory purchase order. It’s their right and they want to play what they feel is a seller’s market for all its worth. Their intentions were made clear in a swiftly deleted tweet: after the announcement they stated “on my way to don’tgiveaf**kistan.”
Levy could pay up. Lot of talk about how poor Spurs have been in getting the job done but I’ll accept these things are not straightforward and if public finance is available, Levy had the right to wait for it to appear and the CPO has held it up. Arsenal took years to sort out the Ashburnum site.
He doesn’t like being beaten in a deal but it’s an option. Which begs the question: how much does he want to build it? There may be more profit for ENIC if they sell with planning permission but no stadium, and this week there appears to have been some interest from potential buyers. Many believe the new ground is inevitable but won’t be built by ENIC.
As ever the fans are left looking on, powerless. We are affected the most and consulted the least. Archway Steel have changed the language of the debate. We now must, repeat must, move to another ground while WHL is being rebuilt because of this delay, at least according to the press. Convenient. The original plan allowed for one season with a three sided ground, i.e. no move. I read that a subsequently amended design means the roof has to be built in one go. The fuss around Archway Steel is being used by the club to soften us up for the move, as if the club have no choice. Not their fault. But where we end up is their responsibility. Totally. MK Dons is the likely destination at the moment. THFC would be hard pushed to find a venue in the south east that would be less popular. The interests of supporters must be the highest priority, indeed in my view the only issue to consider. I’m not holding my breath.
This remains an unwelcome distraction. At the beginning of the season, it felt as if we were moving forward but the window plus the stadium and ownership questions mean the clouds of uncertainty have blown over again. Pochettino is our big positive. His organisation is seeping into the team’s rhythm. He’s already making good use of the resources at his disposal. The players are motivated and want to play decent football. The Argentinian is our key man this season.
Back to the game. Spurs took the game to Sunderland and dictated the pattern and tempo with sustained spells of controlled possession football. Eriksen was to the fore, especially in opening hour. He’s looked sluggish so far this term but in a more central role he shone, making things happen. One lofted first-time one-two into the box was a delight – Manu’s touch was blocked by the keeper. He started the move that led to our second and then ran 40 yards to finish it off. Dembele was strong, able to push into an advanced position because we dominated up front. His thumping thirty-yarder deserved more than hitting the woodwork. Lamela was similarly unlucky in the second half.
Sunderland had few opportunities but Spurs looked unduly shaky when the ball came their way. Chiriches looks permanently anxious. Johnson had too much room as he weaved his way goalwards for their first, the second could have been stopped at several points.
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.
If Spurs’ scabby season is remembered for anything, it will be for the anger and despondency generated as raised expectations were crushed by profligate ineptitude. Its symbolic moment, the peg on which we can hang our memories, took place yesterday just before half time.
Stewart Downing’s free kick was heading plumb for the centre of Tottenham’s wall. Paulinho and Adebayor moved out of the way and the Whammers had won the match. When it came to it, two of our most experienced players avoided their responsibilities. It wasn’t a powerful shot. All they had to do was stand there but they couldn’t even be bothered to do that. Any semblance of organisation fell apart at the slightest pressure.
As he left the field a minute or so later, Hugo Lloris shook his head slowly and puffed out his cheeks. Paulinho and Adebayor’s instinctive reaction was to turn their backs on their ball and in so doing on their team-mates. They had let him and their team-mates down. You may be playing well or badly, in our case very badly, but you stick together. Apparently not at Tottenham Hotspur.
The impact on Hugo was greater than on any other Spurs player. Leading from the back, he was outstanding throughout, giving his all in a game that to most of his colleagues appeared meaningless, judging by their lack of effort or application. He threw himself to all four corners of his net and of his area, fingertipping low shots round the post, holding the straight ones and fearlessly venturing into the muscle and elbows of a packed penalty box to punch the danger away. If he is planning to leave it didn’t show but frankly after this, who can blame him.
The turning point was Kaboul’s dismissal on 25 minutes. After a sedate opening when Spurs played some decent football, it all fell apart when the centre half pulled Downing down as he rushed towards our box. Last man so was gone. Personally I would have backed Hugo against Downing so Kaboul was at best clumsy, reckless more like. Lloris saved Carroll’s thundering free-kick, of course he did, but Carroll headed in from the resultant corner via a deflection off the top of Harry Kane’s head.
In a season where we’ve seen some rubbish, Spurs formed a rabble and stank the place out to high heaven. Having no idea is bad enough, they had no inclination to do anything about it. Paulinho, such a disappointment, sauntered around. I swear he kept looking at his watch to see how long he had to put up with it, or maybe he was checking the times of the planes to Rio. He certainly wasn’t interested in playing for Tottenham. Dawson tried his best, Siggy was in headless chicken mode and Eriksen tried to make sense of how professionals could play this poorly. I couldn’t work it out and neither could he, but at least he did something about it. Otherwise, I would rather be locked in a broomcupboard with Piers Morgan, John Terry and a box of two-week old rotting fish than watch this.
In contrast, Wham were totally committed. I’ve seen them a lot this season and despite their muscular approach they can be vulnerable. Instead, they were first to every tackle and loose ball, although they didn’t have to work that hard because we gave the ball away so frequently. Bear in mind they have had their troubles too, with the added pressure of being sucked into the relegation places, yet they took on their challenge rather than run away from it as we did.
Sherwood’s half-time talk had a marginally beneficial effect although it’s hard to imagine how we could have played any worse. He moved us more centrally, sacrificing width for more bodies in the middle. Lennon stayed busy. Eriksen stood out with hard work and a couple of superb runs but his skills provoked a feeble response from the rest. He was excellent, while Lloris continued to excel too. 10 v 11 is hard enough but this was 2 v 11.
Couple more things to make you feel even worse, if that’s possible. Carroll is Wham’s dangerman. Kaboul was marking him at set-pieces. When he was sent off, Spurs failed to react quickly enough. Kane seemed to be marking him for the corner that followed the free-kick. That was a mistake that led to the goal. Daws tried to get to him but too late. It was always a mis-match. No one on the field or on the bench reacted quickly enough. There was time to bring Chiriches on after the free-kick but before the corner. Sherwood was too slow and by such margins games are won and lost.
And then there’s Danny Rose. While the focus was on Kaboul’s foul, moments before Spurs’ back line pushed right up to the halfway line. As Downing ran through, Rose let him go. Before Downing’s free-kick, Rose gave the ball away when under little pressure in his own half, misdirecting a simple pass. Inexcusable on both counts.
On Friday I questioned the emotional commitment of the current squad. I doubt that playing for Spurs means as much as it should, therefore when it comes to giving that little extra, they are found wanting and that the way forward is to build regular, personal links between supporters and players so they understand the heritage and meaning of being Spurs.
This game exposed the yawning chasm between fan and player. This may be the end of the season but it’s a derby, it means something. Because of this, the fans give more but most of the players couldn’t give a hoot. The supporters who went not only paid a lot of money but took some massive stick. That’s what happens at a derby. The players could at least give something back. Disgraceful. No wonder we get angry.
It comes from the top. Levy’s appointment of a caretaker signalled that we had limited ambitions for this season but this blog has effectively been about that dereliction of duty and nothing else for the past few months so no more about it now. A few paragraphs above, without thinking about it, I wrote ‘they’ not ‘we’ when talking about the club. Slip of the keyboard maybe but it’s a small but telling example of how many supporters feel about the current situation. We’re not all in this together.