Everton 1 Tottenham 0
If the Woolwich game was a choke and the Utd game a clinical mugging, Saturday evenings defeat at Goodison Park was...a disappointment. Three successive defeats, a taste we've not acquired since the hedonistic days of Juande Ramos. I'm not about to knee-jerk. Not yet. Even if the three defeats are the result of our form degrading since the new year. That gap of points we had? That's proved to be a safety net. A buffer. Once its gone there is no margin for error. Fall and it won't be pretty. Unless we end up falling on top of others who aspire to get ahead of us.
The science is simple. Stoke in our next league match where we truly find out whether our balls are the size of grape-fruits or nothing more than shrivelled grapes. If the slide persists it will fuel the belief in others whilst distinguishing our own. An exceptional season turns to disaster. From humble beginnings ("we'll do well to battle hard for 4th") to giddy heights ("we're contending at the top") this was all our own doing. Much like the unravelling is our undoing at this present moment.
For the sake of positivity (I'll hazard a guess this is one commodity that is currently lost in in the depths of our thoughts consumed by its arch nemesis) we are still masters of our own destiny. We have not been punching above our weight. Other rival clubs have not suddenly reclaimed past form. We haven't had a blip all season long whereas others have had several. We've had all of ours in three successive league games. That gap was an illusion of circumstance.
The panic button is present in the same room that we stand in but our finger is not hovering above it even though we are staring directly at it. It's crossed our mind to run across to it and thump it with anger. That's the easy way out. We all know, Tottenham never takes the easy way. It's always, unequivocally the hard way. We're apologetic at the moment. From manager to players, there is no mental strength and assured focus. No responsibility. There has to be more than hollow excuses about it being one of those days. Sure, one of those days one week but three times in succession?
It wouldn't be entertaining if we navigated our most crucial period of the season with skilled professionalism, digging deep to retain some reminisce of momentum. Using the same pragmatism that our rivals are proclaiming, from inconsistent under achievement to tenacious spirit, there is nothing to suggest we can't turn this around. The same way its been turned around by those that have spent the season chasing and falling. We've spent the majority of the season looking forwards not back. As perplexing as it all is at the moment, this is not a self-fulfilling prophecy tinged with expected failure. It's not a throwback to that side we once knew, lacking spine, bones brittle like crisps. What we are is dangerously close to reflecting that persona. The difference is we all know what we are capable of when we fire on all cylinders. That's our real persona. Even if its not one that is seasoned in close season pressure chasing a top spot (whereas both Woolwich and Chelsea have experience in doing so). It's still one capable of achievement.
Confidence can be drained out of you but it can also be won back. Just takes one game. How can I as a supporter give up on that one game when that game has yet to be played? That game has to be the next one (Stoke) by virtue of losing this one (Everton) and the one before. After that, if we're in the same predicament, I'll start walking slowly towards the panic button expecting the inevitable self-destruct.
We are out of form. Individually and as a collective. Tactically a mess. The irony? The game looked like a 0-0. Could have so easily been a 0-0. Could have also seen us win it (based on 2nd half). Moyes men, unattractive and defensive. Spurs misfiring all of the pitch. A mistake leading to the goal that would give the points to the hosts. Could have been, wasn't, was 1-0 to them.
"How to lose games and influence people to start calling you limited now that we're not winning" by Harry Redknapp.
- Don't play the best formation based on the players available
- Don't start players in their strongest positions, including your two best players
- Stick Bale on the right (lose the chance for genuine width and dynamism)
- Stick Modric on the left (lose creativity and guile)
- Start a striker based on recent form, but add him to the line-up to accompany your other striker instead of dropping him to have just the one up front. Probably because deep down you know that having Defoe up front on his own will be detrimental to that particular system, but you start him anyway
- 442 doesn't work so persist with it
- This in turn will leave the midfield outfought due to being pressed/out numbered by the oppositions midfield with lack of drop-back by forwards to support
It was a bit like that island out of Lost. Strange happenings all the time with no explanation and you never quite work out what's going on. If you took a step back from it all, as bad (in comparison to good) as we appear to be playing - it's still not catastrophic. No big explosion. We just need a slice of time travel and a chorus of a grand old team to put this right.
The goal was a gift (more so than a mistake), Kaboul completely falling asleep after leaving his position to then lapse again and allowing Osman to square the ball to Jelavic to score. We continued to struggle with retaining the ball, our passing lacked fluidity. No inspiration, no perspiration. No mojo. No luck.
Why does the simple ethos of playing your best players in their best positions and not accommodating anyone who doesn't fit in not cry out for the attention it deserves?
Modric was heavily marked and unproductive out on the left. A position that is not unlike imprisonment. Bale equally ineffectual until he shifted across to the left for the last 10 minutes. Our set pieces personified our performance. Erratic and without intelligence and direction.
If we were not so limp up front we could have still carved something out of the game. In the second half, we almost did.
No immediate changes to the side but the tempo was more driven and there was urgency. Nothing special and most definitely deflated in comparison to our more bullish performances from our sparklingly back catalogue before the implosion (although arguably we have actually degraded away from home over a longer period of time if you wish to recategorise certain below par wins away from home from 'dogged' to fit into our current demoralised state of mind).
Saha replaced Adebayor. For all of the time Defoe spent in offside positions he was far more alert and more likely to craft a chance than his team mate although he remains completely selfish and suffers from lack of spacial awareness when it comes to understanding his team mates and their movement. Our set pieces continued to degrade further (so many levels of bad are conquered here). Chances presented themselves but were dismissed with disguised disdain like a heavily knitted cardigan given to you by granny at Christmas.
The flanks remained broken. If Karl Marx played for us, he'd be stuck out on the right. The gaffer would probably tell us nobody would expect him to be there, he'd say its "a bit left field" to do that and that's why it might work but it's not really left field, is it? It's right. But not actually the right thing to do because he's left.
Welcome to Tottenham Hotspur tactics 101.
Was Bale on the right because of what Everton had achieved against us and more specifically him, nullifying Gareth forcing him onto the right to escape their attention in a prior encounter? Why not simply play to our strengths than concern ourselves with what Everton might be able to do? Square pegs, round holes.
I've mentioned that the second half was far superior to the first half showing. It was. Everton continued to be reactive to us pushing forward, the home crowd no doubt saving their voice for the derby rather than waste it on the cockneys. Bale dived (because it's what he has to do from time to time - I'll blog about this separately but some of you really have to start supporting the player and stop constantly hating on him). Saha hit the woodwork. Another (genuine) highlight of the second half was the introduction of van der Vaart. Even though at times I couldn't quite work out where he was meant to be playing. Still, next time you (some of you, not all of you) complain about the luxury of the Dutchman, try changing your straitjacket to something a little tighter. Extra padding to your cell might also help you out with the banging of head on wall. In our blatant hour of need, we need our talisman out there because someone has to take the responsibility to drag us up from the floor.
Did we 'batter them' in that half? Yeah, sort of. Like I said earlier, we could have carved something out. Alas, there was no structure or style to our endeavours. Throwing everything at the Everton goal with no patient build up or plan. Don't pretend you didn't see it playing out like this when the line-up was announced. We appear to be accepting defeat rather than utterly despising it. It's all very much fragmented.
So what now?
Another cup game punctures the fixture list before we face Stoke. Two successive home games before we go to Chelsea which will allow players and supporters to unite as one again. Two games which need to be used as a catalyst. As a club we need to embrace the challenge ahead without the anxiety we've displayed in recent games and to do that we have to be at full strength. One hymn sheet, countless choruses of Glory.
If we believed the hype when we played and won games consistently then we can so easily believe the hype that tells us we've bottled it. That's the danger. This is where we need to grow a pair. At some point soon there wont be enough games left on the calender for us to rally the troops and spit out battle cries with myself thumping the keyboard manically demanding swashbuckle. Winning ways need to be reclaimed. I'd say any which way possible but I know this side is capable of winning with swagger. Whilst said swagger is MIA, any which way possible is a good place to start.
As bad as things seem at the moment, it will only take a couple of results to change everyone's perspective again. Next two are pivotal. The ones that follow might be a blessing.
So grape-fruit or grape? Get a grip of it Spurs. That includes you Harry. That includes every single one of you wearing the shirt. Every single one of you singing for the shirt. Do or die or dare. Shouldn't that be inspiration enough?
Stand up, be brave.
It's time the cockerel sharpened its spur.