Challenge Spurs™ 2011: Thou Shalt Not Lose
Sunderland 1 Tottenham 2
Bare bones. Three points. Saddle up.
And if you like numbers, then smother yourself in these:
32 points from 45.
1 defeat in 15.
2 points behind Man 'they were challenging for the title before Saturday' City with a game in hand.
Quietly, quietly, Tottenham. Ssshhh.
From the match preview:
Churn out a result at Sunderland. Go to Milan, keep it tight (yeah right) and come back with at least an away goal and a score draw or even a damage limited 2-1 defeat. Then drown them at the Lane in the return fixture with a down pour of glory glory superlatives.
So that's part one done and dusted.
Churn probably the most apt word although dug deep and gritty are a couple of other qualities I don't mind throwing at the 2-1 result at Sunderland. A place we hardly ever win at and not easy for most others to do the same.
First half was fairly diabolical. Even with the missing army of first-teamers (for an assortment of reasons) we still appeared flat-footed, lots of backwards going forwards. Painfully slow in midfield and harassed, allowing Sunderland to press and bully with the added bonus (for them) of conceding a goal that could only be birthed in Tottenhamland. Gallas, off the pitch changing his boots with Dawson admiring Gyan's control and shot, scratching his chin in awe.
I have this saying, a simplistic philosophy, an outlook a game that's about to start. It simply goes something like, "The first ten minutes will tells us all we need to know about the game". And after ten minutes it was ominous. Disjointed and without any signs of a coherent pattern to our play. We all go through the same journey in games like this, high and low emotions and knee-jerks as we process the threat of a loss, no matter how early in the game. Many of us are drama queens without the cool, calm, collected Clint Eastwood stare. It's more Woody Allen than Clint. But, like the players on the pitch, you persevere.
The equaliser was like a magical hangover cure. One glug and the pain is gone. Just before the break too. Another goal birthed in Tottenhamland. The two players at 'fault' for the Sunderland goal (okay, Gallas was off the pitch and you could argue he wasn't at fault because others should have covered him in defence) involved. Dawson, this time the one blessed with the freedom to connect with the ball, accepting the Keys to Bramble, headers the ball towards goal and Gallas dancing in front Gordon, his legs shifting to allow the ball to go through them and then through the keepers. Crisp. Stick that on a DVD.
Second half was for the best part a role reversal, although the home side continued to have a go, hitting the woodwork. We were far far better as a unit. Our mindset tuned into a more robust tempo. Not the best pitch, not the best performance if you picked out individuals and critiqued them in isolation. Doesn't quite work like that though, does it? There was a work ethic evident through the team that elevated the performance to a far more acceptable standard.
Defoe, will no doubt split opinions. He's forgotten how to score, probably trying to hard and let's himself down with his touch at times and his sudden reluctance to just blast the ball without that aged old footballing weakness some of the more instinctive players don't always require (thinking). Sure, he needs to pass the ball towards the goal at times but you sense he lacks edge at the minute.
But he covered ground, worked the channels. Our lack of any creativity would not have helped either of the two front men. Hence the reason why it's quite easy to compound the negative energy towards the little man based on previous games included.
Pav was also ambiguous in performance depending on how you perceived the game. Personally thought they both stuck in a hard days work. Although won't argue that at times both players let themselves down with lack of composure. But some decent link up play from the Russian with the midfield and plenty of free-kicks won makes him the better of the two - and arguably the closest of the two regarding tangible form (if Harry decides to persist with him).
Roman, by the way, is unbeaten in the ten Prem games he's started this season. Ooh. Play him more often, yah? Roman Publyuchenko on the Hackney marshes, not quite.
Interesting stat I stole about the missing man yesterday (Crouch). The Sunderland win was the first time in 63 league game he has not featured in (that's as a starter or sitting on the bench and coming on).
As a unit, we pulled together. And that's what matters. But if you wish to rain down the abuse, you sort of hope for a lot more from our two front men. It's tricky to gauge on just one watch of the game if Defoe, for example, was never in it or simply tirelessly working his way through it in a selfless way without swagger.
Regarding JD's seasoned selfishness of past glories. Has to be in a position to receive the ball. And it simply wasn't that type of match where the midfield could provide him with the chance. Pav slightly better in attempting to create space for a shot on goal.
Re: Meelan. Start Pav over JD.
The winner was sweetly struck.
The Corluka through-ball to Sandro which resulted with the Niko sexytime was understated yet majestic. Kranjčar, from the far reaches of despondency on the sidelines to hero, two games on the trot. We keep changing our minds when it comes to discussing squad depth. We say we have depth and then dismiss it when the players that are not first teamers fail to impress when given cameo opportunities.
But then on days like these, when you see the likes of Bale, Modric, van der Vaart, Lennon, Crouch, Kaboul, Huddlestone (throw in King and Woodgate to make it look even more impressive) all missing because of injury or rested because of Tuesday - you have to accept that more than a little man-management is required to get the balance and focus spot on. Even if it takes half a football match to get there.
We are still miles away from our best line-up and our best level of performance. It's still hard to self-doubt when we keep chipping away at the top to try and remain anchored there. Squad depth? Seems there's something in that after all.
If you want to pick out negatives (go on, you're Spurs you know you will), you could perhaps once more groan at the lack of set-piece quality (ignoring the goal). Talking of which, once upon a time JJ wasn't too shabby at them. And still on Jenas, loved his epic tackle (think it was edge of pen area around the 85th minute mark) and his BAFTA winning turn when he protested his innocence after blatantly fouling an opposing player. Who me? Break a leg Jenas. Yours, metaphorically, not one belonging to one of their players*.
*more of a pole-axe, granted.
Talking of acting...Gomes. Honestly, what a fruit loop. Love him to bits but it's embarrassing to watch him cry on the field of play, especially when he was hardly touched. Ooh look I'm going to almost fall over, then scream at the player who punched me in the gut then cry a little then I'll be fine.
Because Gomes is eccentric (cliché) you sort of laugh it off with 'oh look there he goes again', but you'd berate any other keeper that done that (or player) and just because he's got such a comical face doesn't mean he should be allowed to get away with it. Quiet word in his ear, gaffer.
Dawson has had a wobble or three in recent games after that outstanding return. Not sure why. I've been impressed with Gallas so there's every reason to be confident with that back two, but still...? Improved second half - but then again, everyone had to. Did win everything in the air, but at times you worry about his reactions on the ground.
Wasn't pretty, was very gritty. Three more points and further character building proving a success. On the surface, didn't look the best midfield from Harry, but it worked, eventually. Hoping all these rumours of Bale and vdV not making the Meelan game are deflections. Have to wait and see who travels. We need a far more evident buzz in the middle and more width. As well as vdV who can (word of the season) galvanise the forward play.
Positives? Sandro got better as the game progressed. He's been unfortunate at times when starting (and scarified) so glad to see him take to the game after an untidy first half. The kid has mental strength, doesn't seem to be fazed too much. Although Harry should let him know this is not Brazil and you don't tend to have 10 seconds to stand on the ball. Probably did just that at half-time.
So onwards with Challenge Spurs. Two games, six points. Perfect record.
Team cohesiveness - Non-existent first half thanks to so many erratic performances and a lack of control in midfield, but the players dug deep again to grind it out. Doesn't have to be easy on the eye every time.
Leadership - Present by virtue of belief to turn it around.
Work ethic - It's easier when eleven players are a unit. Once players pulled together to retain the ball and use it effectively, confidence grow and the more of the ball you're going to see, well...you're more likely to carve something out.
Craft and creativeness - Lacking up top which meant Pav and JD we're never going to get themselves into goal scoring opps, but no questioning Niko's movement and passing. Important when you consider we are lacking the likes of Luka, Rafa and Tom. But against better opposition, we need the keys to the front door rather than waiting for someone to leave a window open.
Clinicality - Wayward free-kicks, but when it mattered, two goals. Brilliant finish from the Croatian. Again. Not many more clear cut chances on goal.
Tactical astuteness - The second half proved there was little wrong with the selection Harry stuck out there. Need to start these types of games with the same level of commitment and composure as displayed after the HT.
Fighting spirit - 10/10. These types of results go a long long way.
Spurs. Nowhere near full-strength. Away from home. Three points. Niko and Sandro the stand-outs.
The good? Second half. The bad? First half. The ugly? You call three points ugly?
In a word, resilient. Just need the gunslingers back.