Tottenham 2 Brummies 1
You wouldn’t have blamed one or two people from knee-jerking had there been only 94 minutes of play at the Lane this afternoon. Had it finished 1-1, we’d have heard a moan or two about our lack of edge in a game where Birmingham did their very best to not only frustrate but also take a professional point back to the midlands. We’ll always have days like this. When our play isn’t quite polished and we struggle to step up a gear. Happens to every team. Usually (go back to pre-Redknapp) we’d have lost this game based on that on-going quintessential Spurs problem where our heads dip and the plucky away side steal in for all three points. It’s been a while since that’s happened but looked a possibility for parts of the second half. Up until the 94 minute.
The knee-jerk that would have covered off our inability to edge ahead and consolidate our lead. After the 95th closed, the actual conclusion on the afternoons performance was more positive and about how this is the type of thing the ‘big teams do’. Win when they are far far from their best.
Let’s go back to the first minute and kick-off.
Can we live with the hype? Best start to season since the early sixties, wonderfully ironic compared to last year’s worst ever start. Haven’t lost at home since Everton beat us last November. This was always going to be a tricky game, and I wanted us to be tested for it. Whether that be the opposition taking the game to us and taking the lead or simply frustrating us with men behind the ball. It was the latter. And boy did they frustrate.
Same team that started away to West Ham, saw us dominate the opening 10 minutes possession. But you sensed there was a lack of sharpness. Plenty of play from the left-wing saw us cause the Brummies some early worries. Keane shot, Defoe in the way. Modric having plenty of success down that flank.
Birmingham countered, O’Conner with a volley easily saved by CC in goal. This was the story of the first half. Ball mostly at our feet, not quite finding a way through, and having to deal with the odd counter.
There was no shift in tempo. Even though Modric was having plenty of success against Parnaby. One passage of play was almost Hoddlesque, allowing the ball to do the running, getting away from his man on the left and finding Lennon, who’s shot was cleared. Lennon in the mood, greedy, but in the mood.
Larsson shot thankfully wide. Sloppy defending from us allowing him in with a chance. At the other end, Defoe’s turn to be greedy, shooting wide when Keane was the better option.
Ominous, that oh so familiar rude word was doing the rounds in my head. Where’s the opening goal to help settle the nerves? Not that we were overwhelming nervous, but you’d think getting into the positions we were we’d have slotted one away by now. Going on the general sharp movement and ruthless finishing of previous weeks. Possession was there. Composure wasn’t.
Birmingham’s plan was to defend deep, counter, and nick one. Dangerous, but if they allowed the game to open up, we might be more fruitful. They even gave us a helping hand, giving the ball away often. But no punishment forthcoming for the men in Lilywhite (and yellow streaks).
Too many loose touches from Keane and JD. Huddlestone lacking that extra spark we know he can produce. A shot here, a run there. That word ominous was getting a little louder.
The test was now upon us, 30 minutes into the game. Could we avoid the frustration building up and seeing Birmingham turn it to their advantage? Could we adapt and find another way through? Let’s face it, teams will not come to WHL and bend over for us. The key here is simply this: Patience. For all their stubbornness, we still crafted the better chances. Modric coming close with a curling shot. But for every 3 or 4 chances we had, Birmingham replied with half of one.
Half time, and no swagger.
The test got a little tricky cometh the second forty-five. Off went King (groin tweaked) on came Hutton. Bit of a shuffle in defence. What you don’t then want to see is Lee Carsley head towards goal dangerously (wide) and McFadden almost scoring not long after the half has begun.
And if the double scare wasn’t enough, Moddle went off with an injury. More on this later.
Plan A wasn't working and its main instigator had hobbled off. Time for Plan B. Crouch. Its a little more traditional this. Altogether a different kind of threat. Ping the ball to his head. Simple, right? With Luka off, the next 45 and some would be a preview of what life is like without him in the side (if he was out injured for a while).
Still no spark. Birmingham grew a little in confidence. Half a chance, Keane pulled back the ball but Defoe made a mess of controlling it. Crouchie is fouled on the edge of the area, not given. I guess that’s something we’ll see a lot of. Expect refs to give plenty against him. Tallism that is.
Another Lennon run, should have released JD early, didn’t and Stevie Carr cynically fouled him. Hudds freekick attempt to bulldoze the wall summed everything up.
Then a scare. Penalty shout. Was it? Wasn’t it? McFadden clipped, although Palacios had his hands up already with the Blues player a tad off balance. Personally, not a pen. But then I would say that.
Nearing the 60th minute mark, and this was now officially an unsettled performance. The test was not just unnerving, but our attempt to get through it was stagnating. Teams, as I’ve already said, will aim to frustrate us and hope to steal in with a breakaway goal.
But then we were blessed with a good omen. Crouch header, Hart save. Then a BAE cross, Crouch nodding it back across the goal, cleared away. Still a bit untidy, but the pressure turned up a little on the opposition. Plan B perking up.
Defoe then had half a chance, a sort of messy version of the overhead kick. Crouch was looming, had the ball been left. Huddlestone was quiet creatively. Missing Moddle big time at this point. Games like this where we don’t click are the exact type of games where we need to nick a goal and take all three points.
Crouch header from another sweet Keane (who improved as the game went on) cross hit the sodding bar. Followed up by a JD effort resulting in a corner. Then another Crouch header, cleared off the line by Carsley. Crouchie was getting closer and closer.
That slight tempo change evident now.
Another cross, this time Lennon nearly finding Crouch who couldn’t quite get his head to it. Birmingham wasteful in possession. It was time to make the breakthrough. And it came. Crouch heading (yes, heading, would you believe it?) the ball across the goal, beating Hart to make it 1-0. All from a free-kick. Simple. 72 minutes. Plan B works when Plan A is busy having treatment.
Now, let’s close the shop.
Close the shop. Lock it up. Bring down the shutters. Park a bus in front of it. Deck it out with a Romulan cloaking device. Just close the sodding thing!
Three minutes later, Birmingham equalise.
Did we close the shop? Yes. But Hutton decided to sleep-walk to the front door, unlock it, and leave the door wide open while the shopkeeper inside was asleep at the till.
This was Spurs of old. Dither, wait for each other (CC and Hutton failing to communicate or take responsibility) and the deflected ball fell into the path of Lee Bowyer who tapped it in for 1-1. Shocking stuff. Why wasn’t it cleared? Cudicini wasn’t at his best today (far too many moments where he failed to command his area). Hutton is prone to these sorts of things. Combine the two, and we have ourselves a gift. At least Alex McLeish did.
The test had now evolved, asking the question: Can we show bottle and determination and re-take the initiative and reclaim the lead?
JD trotted off, Pav his replacement. 10 minutes left and we are struggling to overcome the Brummies. Question remainign unanswered.
Benitez caused a bit of panic in the penalty area, O’Conner should have scored. Tidy passing ending with a thankfully tidy pass into the side netting.
WAKE UP TOTTENHAM.
Six minutes left. Goodbye 100% record? The game was turning into an example of why we don’t quite have that Top 4 mentality and will need to raise our games if we have aspirations to claim a top 6 finish.
Brummie free-kick, Roger Johnson should have scored and should have won it. Suddenly the value of a point had most wanting the final whistle to be heard.
What was going through your mind? No knee-jerking from me. Just a gentle reminder that there are some weak links in the squad and that the mental strength is not quite fully charged for a real surge forwards. It’s an off day, one where too many players were off form. With Modric off injured, nobody was able to quite grab the game and shake it to its foundations. At least it’s a point gained if you compare it to last time out (where we lost home and away to Birmingham couple of seasons back).
Then we had a 5th minute of injury time.
Oh. Wasn’t expecting that. Carr slips, immediately cancelling out Hutton’s dithering, and we break. Pav finds Lennon who cuts into the box, shifts to the right of two defenders and shots...and scores.
Holy crap. 95th minute winner. 100% record retained. 12 points. 4 game. Delirium.
Let me take you back to something I said early in this review of the game:
This is the type of thing the ‘big teams do’. Win when they are far far from their best.
We did not play well from the start, and I don’t think it would even be far to suggest we can’t play without Modric pulling the strings. It wasn’t a great performance and Birmingham had a bit t to do with it, with or without Moddle we made hard work of it. And if Hutton had cleared it, we probably would have picked up the points without the necessity of injury time dramatics.
But credit for looking for it and pushing forward, be it Carr slipping.
Days like this will not be uncommon, and expecting to win every game with an avalanche of goals is simply fantasy.
Dug deep. Bided our time. Adapted play after injuries. Scored from the tactical change. And embraced luck with the returning gift that saw us take all the points (although Lennon had far more to do than Bowyer). We punished them and 64% possession, 14 shots on goal says we edged it just a little bit. I still wouldn’t blame them for being gutted....I mean, 95th minute...ouch. I guess when you play for a draw...
Importantly, it takes us into the Utd and Chelsea games with max points so if we match last season’s efforts against them, we can all smile that little wider. If we continue in the same vein, then start to polish that open bus for the parade.
Missed O’Hara today (can he be re-called?). Reckon he would have been useful out there, in what was a sluggish second half. Harry (yesterday) claiming we are not close to signing anyone, not sure I quite believe him. We should be in for someone. Simply because we’ve loaned out Jamie and got rid of KPB. CM cover is required.
I’m not going to go rate the players. Like I said, low-key day for most. Modric (was superb 1st half) has a ‘nasty injury’ to the calf and King might be out for a bit with groin trouble. This is the quote that best not come back to haunt us:
“If we lose Ledley and Modric, with Michael Dawson and Jonathan Woodgate already out, the squad is a bit short.”
Harry, I refer you to the previous quote about not being close to signing anyone. I hope you're blagging it mate. Don’t want us to be blaming squad depth if we deplete further. Others have to take responsibility and (cue broken record) we need to add another player to the squad – because it’s not just Modric we need to worry about. Lose Palacios and we are shagged.
Back to Moddle. He has broken his fibula. Damage? Two/Three months sidelined. If correct, that’s devastating news. It’s almost a certainty we would need to bring a player (Petrov?) otherwise we might be left wanting...literally. If we don't, Gio might have to impress, but I expect Keane to slot in there – which is not something I want to see personally. Still waiting on the official word. But don’t expect it to be good news. Textbook, hey? We’re going to find it tough without his magical boots. He's the brains.
Harry seems to be downplaying it (saying it's a kick to the calf). Slaven Bilić suggesting it's as serious as noted above.
JD should be ok. Ledders defo out of the England squad.
As for his match assessment, Redknapp reckons we battered them. Statistically, we did. But don’t think it was quite in the realms that Harry described it. Birmingham seemed content to park the bus. We couldn't quite roll them over.
If we start playing like this every week and riding our luck, I’ll be concerned. Still think it was an off day, and the injury to Luka has deflated me. I guess we should still bask in the glory that is 4 from 4. We are on the up with Harry. And I like it. Let’s hope we do good between now and the end of the transfer window.