Sometimes you can feel more alive and inspired when the overriding emotion is one of dejection and disappointment. Football is dramatic, ironic and cruel at the best of times. It’s operatic with its twisting arcs. Colourful with its characters. Devastating at the finale. Yet somewhere in amongst the pain and anguish that you feel when the whistle is blown and the defeat sinks in, you can appreciate the intent and desire that played out during the game. It’s bitter-sweet, but it’s not misguided and neither is it a deflection to ease one’s self through the stages of grief.
We lost a game of football. A game we could have won 3-2, which we lost 3-2. But we could have genuinely won 3-2. The margin for error is so small, one half step too late or to early you don’t quite make it. On this given Sunday, we did not make it. We lost a game of football against the side that's most likely going to win the title.
Such defeats are always the worst kind to accept, especially when the difference in both sides was negligible. They were missing two key players, arguably the same can be said for us. There’s plenty of debate to be had concerning Lescott and Balotelli. Discussions on our defending, hindsight withstanding. For me, it was always going to be about the belief that has seen us generate so much solid consistent momentum going into this game. There is never shame in defeat if you match your opponent. Let's remember the tag this match had before kick-off and the fact our name was attached to it.
This is a Tottenham side contending. A Spurs side that doesn't lose often. Building from one game to the next. The title is beyond us now, probably always was. But the margin remains small. City have quality in strength of depth. That's their edge, much like Manchester United's is one of experience and seasoned tenacity. We still have to mature a little with what we have. And yet, if that half step wasn’t late we might be celebrating instead of commiserating. We’re simply reminded that we still have work to do.
I feel alive and inspired because we came back from 2-0 down and we displayed to all that witnessed that we are no longer this delinquent teenage punk giving it all mouth then apologising for the noise. We’re tooled up these days. We can take a punch and we can dish one out. We have the mental strength. The Bale goal, beautiful in every conceivable way when wishing to describe a goal scored by Spurs. That spirit, guile...it makes me embrace the positive emotion from the dejection and disappointment. City might have let us back in the game but you still have to turn up when invited.
If Bale had crossed early...
If Defoe had moved to attack the ball a second earlier...
If <insert City player> had been sent off...
Had we not given away three goals...
Games are full of incidents, perhaps not always as controversial or heart-stopping. The incident with Parker, regretful. Regretful that Mr Webb didn’t witness it. Balotelli knew what he was doing. Did not look like an act of retaining balance. The FA agree. Inconsistency though with the Lescott elbow being ignored, on and off the pitch. As bad as the Mario kick. In a perverse way its good that our two (recent) defeats (this one and the Stoke game) have question marks littered over them. But no point in claiming victimisation. It's just a harsh lesson that you can’t rely on anyone other than those in Lilywhite.
We were top drawer at times against the top team in the country. You don’t get any points for that, but I trust the players to take similar inspiration from the performance as I have. Confidence to fight back in-game has yet to translate to confidence to dominate this type of encounter from the kick-off. To believe that attack is the key to winning and taking three points rather than containment to guarantee a single one. Okay, so there were naive mistakes made but then I've not quite understood the necessity to slate certain players (i.e. Walker) who still have much to learn. It can cost us, but then when someone as great as Ledley King is prone to error it adds perspective to the occasion. But then you can sit and debate the mechanics of destiny that led up to the games defining moment until you've gone mad. Had the ball not been cleared in the manner it had. Very easy to point out the obvious after the fact to lay blame on the outcome.
It's also worth detaching yourself from a single game in isolation or only citing a series of performances that might add weight to your argument and thus ignoring the bigger picture. Would Ronaldo be the player he is today if he was simply left to play out wide? Gareth Bale was once a left-back. To free-roam, to play as an inside-forward...this is essential to his development. Coaching and tactical instructions equally imperative to aid his movement and effectiveness across the season and in single games when perhaps more discipline is required. We need to be shrewd in making sure the development retains cohesiveness and is not detrimental to the sides balance. The boy is a beast. But he's still a boy. Thought he was superb in the second half.
The secret to success is to hate defeat, to despise it. But also to respect the fact that it happens. No doubt the players feel devastated but this should only add fuel to push forward, harder. Thankfully for us it only seems like we’ve lost twice this season (rather than four times) because of the lack of a cohesive middle in the opening two fixtures I find myself detaching myself from those two games. Still, four defeats, 3rd, a ten point gap between us and 5th spot. That is hardly discouraging.
We can’t afford to lose focus. This unit of players are deserving to themselves and the shirt to truly aspire, to dare to achieve. I hold onto the positives because it’s easier to support and love your club if you accept the truth and embrace it. And the truth is? We’re not quite good enough. Not yet. But we are still a very good side. The best I've seen for decades. We have to continue to grow and adapt and display the team spirit we've shown in abundance this season.
When you remind yourself of that margin, this article might have been altogether a different read. Maybe next time the belief will be evident at the first whistle and cemented at the last. Another complete forward will do the trick so we can then always retain Plan A.
Football is dramatic, ironic and cruel. In nine minutes and six seconds we were left dizzy. At the death, left numb.