Stoke 2 Spurs 1
A referee is not meant to influence a game with such defining persistent calamity. Perhaps one wrong decision (it happens). But Chris Foy is no ordinary referee. Not even average. Poor is the word best associated with him. One mistake swallowed and regurgitated in a constant loop over the ninety minutes played. If ineptness was an art form then his performance in the Stoke v Spurs game was a masterpiece.
The rather ironic saving grace after the whistle blew at full time and we finally lost a game of football in the league was that the players can take the bitterness and allow it to fuel their emotions for the next game (Sunderland at the Lane). Whilst the rest of us (those wanting to look beyond Foy) can feel a little aggrieved that Tottenham let us down in the first forty-five minutes. Because no matter what happened in the second forty-five, the game was lost before the ref and his assistants played their part in guaranteeing it. Still, there is no hiding from the fact that we did more than enough to save the points and our response is what this new-look Spurs is all about. In the end, we were ended by the man with the whistle and not the brutal brand of football our hosts play.
2-0 down, fully deserved. We allowed ourselves to be completely bullied from the off. The formation looked uncomfortable, the players (especially at the back) seemed confused and lost out to Stoke and their physicality (do they have anything else?). I guess this was frustrating for one reason only – what did we expect? Okay, so in the past we’ve had success there but considering our form they were hardly going to sit back and let us play tippy-tappy possession play. Their football is ugly. It can be effective.
I found myself hoping Harry would instruct someone to cello-tape a cardboard cut out of Ledley King onto the back of Scott Parker, for that much needed calming influence. Parker himself, off key, lacked that edge he’s had in his play since he joined our midfield. That leadership quality went missing. We allowed the anti-football to antagonise us.
You know what, it happens. Against Stoke, the obvious actually played out. We let them get to us. Now, for anyone playing around with the words ‘we’ve got out Tottenham back’, I know you’re only jesting. Because old Spurs, that inconsistent creature we hardly miss, would have got battered in the second half too. Not the case this time.
Character. We have it in abundance and we did more than enough in the second half to prove we have spirit and guile. Harry mixed things up with a 3-5-2 formation and it worked. Well, it sort of worked but didn’t. This is where unfortunately the Foy Factor impacted proceedings. Now granted, he gave us a dubious penalty one that you might admit to being generous (and perhaps not wanting Luka to repeat). Although I’m willing to bet most would prefer to silently applaud Modric for it with whispers that certain other clubs have been doing it for years (win at any cost). Personally? Would prefer we win playing football, purely. If our players want to take that particular route of falling down easily, I’d prefer it to remain ambiguous enough for me to ignore.
The inconsistent and dire decision making however had already settled into the game during the first half and spread like the black plague in the second. Luka pen aside (slotted away by Adebayor), the rest were not in our favour. A detail the home support seemed to turn a blind eye too (insert Specsavers joke here).
Time wasting on throw-ins (I feel stupid complaining about the sewn in towel so I won’t)
Shawcross foul on Kaboul in the penalty area, no intent to play the ball, blatant
Shawcross clearing the ball off the line with his arm (straight red?)
Lost count now, there was another handball, right? Woodgate should have walked
A legitimate goal disallowed for offside when Adebayor was onside (assistant ref, anyone?)
The curious case of the corners given as goal-kicks when they were blatantly corners
Various suspect decisions on free-kicks not given, no consistency compared to free-kicks given to opposition
Most of the controversy was post-Modric penalty. Coincidence? Work it out.
He (Foy) influenced the second half. Like the final season of Lost, he had no idea how it would end, making it up as he went along. In the end, what with Kaboul adding to his yellow card for complaining with another yellow for a foul – regardless of the fact that he should have been more wise in both incidents, it almost felt like another kick in the teeth (at a point when I could see us over-running them). Wasn't really a foul worthy of a yellow, was it? Bit soft? If he only stated to the ref 'it was handball' for the first yellow, then you could start to argue that the ref really didn't have a clue how to handle it all and killed off the game completely with over zealous reactions and non-reactions.
Just how much was necessary to make amends for Luka falling over? Or was he also making amends for the Walters header from last season?
The officiating was bad. Our first half performance was bad. So to play well and not get anything after the second half, it’s gutting. But s*** happens. Our response is what I’m taking from this game and as mentioned, let the players feel aggrieved and robbed, let them take that attitude into the next match and take it out in the form of redemption. I’d be far more worried if we capitulated. We didn’t. What it proves is that we have to be far more accomplished from the off, especially when King isn’t playing. So take note chairman and manager, I’m sure they have. Activity certain in January.
This is the ilk of game we've been winning this season. We should have beaten Stoke. We didn't. Never get complacent.
To elaborate on the tactical switch, first half, too many players were isolated so the movement was ineffectual deeming Rafa and his deep deployment redundant and Adebayor without support. With Stoke being what they are we should have (easy with hindsight) started with two forwards, if anything to allow a more balanced shape to the side to deal with their style (lack of). Defoe didn’t deserve to be dropped but then I’m always keen to see Rafa start. In this case, we got it wrong. Harry who is sometimes maligned for not seeing things and changing them got it right when we returned from the dressing room. Foy got it wrong enough to make sure Stoke held on. Something they deserved based on their first half, fortunate to survive the second.
If there was one game in our fixture list that the footballing Gods marked down as the one where we would stumble, this was it.
Etherington for England
‘Unplayable’ Crouch (you just knew this would happen, right? Man of the Match, I'm laughing)
Woodgate and Palacios
No King equating to an Friedel uneasy
Still 3rd. Game in hand. Sunderland will get it next weekend. Live and learn. We lost thanks to that first half display. What the ref did in the second will mask that. Onwards, upwards Spurs. Down into the Championship for Foy, with any luck.
As for Stoke. Well done. You’re not pretty. You got the result, but I’d rather be relegated playing football on the park than survive playing whatever the f*** it is you lot do. I guess you'll cite Wigan as a reason why you don't play it on the park. You've done well against the bigger teams. I guess I should be grateful for my colours. It’s not easy down there. It’s just as hard up here.
As for us lot, this defeat, I don't like the taste of it. I've spat it out.