Sunderland 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2
I really enjoyed this. Sure, it wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination. Like an average looking bird at a bar might not at first appear to be attractive, when she starts to dance to the music thumping out of the sound system she looks so much more appealing. It's all in the hips, right? I'm easy to please.
Yes, I said I enjoyed it. Problem?
I'm slowly detaching myself from the fragmentation of 'pro' and 'anti' supportology because let's face it, it's nothing new is it? There's always been optimists, pessimists, the happy clappers and the misery drenches souls. It's never changed and it will never change. If I ignore all the external emotional luggage that ends up obstructing my way then what am I left with? Tottenham and me. If we're on the ropes then I want to be there with them taking the punches, feeling the pain. My mantra has always been; the bad times make the good times better. Doesn't quite fit into our current predicament, although it can be squeezed in if you try really hard.
This feeling, this desire we all possess is the same. We all filter it in a different way because we're all unique in how we handle expectations. I'm half cut drowning in rum.
Sunderland, bottom of the league but giving it a right go to pull themselves up from the depths. Spurs nowhere near the depths yet supposedly standing on the edge of oblivion. So how does it end up playing out?
I've advocated consistency with selection several times. Looks best for me to shut up now and let the only person that knows best (our coach) to plug away with his thinking whilst I just sit back and support. You know; front seat drivers > on-line football managers.
Defence reshuffled with Naughton in at left-back and Capoue at centre-back (Vlad joining Jan on the crocked list). No Sandro or Soldado. Chadli and Defoe starting. Dembele and Paulinho in the middle with Holtby the kingpin between the mid and the attack. I cared more about my ice crushed Kraken rum with ice than attempting to play out every single conceivable scenario of the match in my head before kick off.
Stuff I remember from the first half?
A competitive match up, Sunderland coming at us. Took us a while to get a foothold in the game but when we did, we ticked at a decent rate. Passed the ball well, kept it moving with pace. Holtby high energy as per usual. I'm going to have to re-watch it (at some point) as I remember two penalty shouts (for us) but can only remember screaming expletives at the officials when Dawson was strip-searched in the box by a Sunderland player.
Just when we looked set to dominate the game we naturally went 1-0 down (again). Hugo Lloris with a howler. Plenty said about his form since his concussion. Whether that has anything to do with it or not the one thing I can relate to (having mildly played the game at super- amateur level) is that the more time spent thinking at key moments, the less luck you're going to have getting it right.
I've scored a fair few goals in my time (Hackney Marshes) and wondered 'how did I do that?'. When you're in the zone, you instinctively produce what you want to see happen. Lloris, when he makes mistakes like this, appears to linger with the hesitation in his head and loses a split second. Enough for indecisiveness with timing to fester and ruin it all.
Hugo needs a cuddle and a slap. He's still the best keeper in all of the land and we only talk about his errors because they are hardly common place. What about all the times he's saved us in the same period of time?
Still, 1-0 down and that comical irony poking fun at us (something about Adam Johnson hardly ever scoring a goal and then pops up to score one for the Tottenham Hotspur Charity Foundation - we are a giving sort).
Game creeps towards half time and I think to myself, 'perfect time to score'. Finally someone upstairs listens. Chadli, a magnificent specimen of an athlete, tall and strong nodding the ball back into the goal mouth for Paulinho to poke it in for the equaliser.
Half time. Rum. The joy of knowing the half time team talk will be about getting ahead rather than having to fight back thanks to the 'fight back' bit being squeezed in before the break.
Up to this point in the game we looked very comfortable in possession but second half took this up a further notch.
Dembele with a wonderful burst of pace into the box saw O'Shea deflect the ball in via a heel flick for the 2-1. Acceptable.
What followed was one of those purple patches which left me a little bit disappointed, not in a critiquing way. More that it would have been nice to go further ahead and possibly then see another level to our play. For all the continuous arguments about Spurs not producing enough end product or being boring, had the next chance gone in we might have found ourselves positively spoilt.
Chadli cross from the counter, Johnson getting to the ball before Holtby - DAMN!
Walker galloping into the area, cuts back, Holtby shot block - NO!
Lennon to the byline, JD connects, the ball connects with the post - HOW?
A triple threat with Spurs in confident mood, passing and pegging Sunderland. There was more. Holtby (excellent ball through defensive bodies) spotting Defoe who pulls his shot wide of the post. Not long after Sunderland show signs of existence by attacking us with Fletcher heading wide.
Andre made some changes. Sandro on for Dembele. Round about this stage in the game we surrendered possession enough for the hosts to start reintroducing themselves to the ball again.
Sandro grabbed it with both hands in the penalty area and cleared it out. Not quite but there was a bit of arm to ball but you know what? I don't care. I'm still bitter about the Dawson non-pen and that other one that I appear to have completely blanked out of my memory.
Townsend came on for Holtby. I did wonder how both subs would pan out. They panned out perfectly. Andros very instrumental in creating more chances and giving us another avenue of attack in offensive positions. With the game in its latter stages it gave us another injection of pace whilst Sandro did his thing marshalling the midfield.
Defoe with the woodwork. This time hitting the bar, something that wouldn't be frowned upon in Buckhurst Hill and other Essex haunts.
Slightly nervous last ten minutes. I think a life time of watching Spurs means you still think the worse even if it's just a quiet whisper in the back of your mind.
Borini had a shot straight at Hugo. That might have been Sunderland's life line. Paulinho had a header fly wide, should have hit the target. Townsend again with the cross.
Sigurdsson replaced Chadli.
Another moment of concern in our box.
Then some nice to see compact football down the other end. Tidy, crisp passing. Players moving into space for options and moving to receive the ball. Townsend with an effort (saved).
Defoe with yet another goal scoring chance, this time remaining static when the ball was pulled across the six yard box. An easy tap in when you watch it over and over again on the replay. Not his day but without a doubt, Tottenham's day.
That's six points and four goals in four days. Six goals including the Utd game and seven points from nine. Pretty certain this won't be covered in the media what with their attention diverted to the crisis clubs; Manchester United and Chelsea. Shame we didn't beat Moyes miserables considering how poor they've looked but then attempting to backwards analyse results is another irrelevant exercise by those trying to justify why Villas-Boas should still be a target for abuse.
Even though both Fulham and Sunderland are struggling, we completed the job and more importantly reclaimed some of that battered self-esteem. AVB's celebrations do suggest he shouldn't take things to heart but then again, I was punching the air the same way when both goals were scored.
Remember the criticism aimed at Kyle Walker? Remember how (this happens all the time) a fair few had decided he wasn't good enough and we should get rid? Do you understand why it would grate me (in comparison to defending other players or the coach) that sometimes you need to work through it to come out the other side better and that people don't appreciate the journey or have patience for development?
Walker. Outstanding lungs and effort, controlled with his positioning and responsibilities.
Chadli continues to embrace the under-stated hero that does all the non-glamour poses. Nothing graphic but enough to get the job done. Another player with a good combination of the physical output required and clearly understanding that team work over individual freedom gives us balance. Would still like to see a more creative outlet from his boots in the future.
Capoue, had very little to say about him during the game so I've taken this as him playing very well. Looked comfortable. Did the job (it's turning into a trend) he was asked to do. Naughton also up for it.
Against better opposition, I'd hope to see us with a more traditional back four but I don't have a clue how far away we are to having this.
Dembele Unchained. I want more of that effortless gliding in forward positions. I'm going to roll out one of those nonsensical percentage things by saying we're only ever seeing 60-70% of what he's capable of. Past few games there appears to be a strategical change in how far forward he's getting compared to early in the season.
Holtby is electric. Like a Duracell Bunny fused with Nikola Tesla's engineering, he was every where all of the time. What with our maligned lack of a creative hub, even if he's not quite the perfect number 10 having someone that demands the ball and attacks space means the ball is always moving and there are always options. Absolutely pivotal if we want to retain any genuine pace to the way we stroke the ball around the pitch.
Defoe, involved, productive and looked far more complete than what we have come to expect from him.
Special mention to the 'Sunderland Moan'. They really do know how to make some noise when they feel aggrieved.
We are scoring from open play. We should have had more than the one (discounting the own goal if you want to be really picky) today. We need to find that ruthless, clinical touch in front of goal. We're building up to it. Shame it's taken 15 games but if we want to kick on, we need to start kicking it in.
Once more - confidence breeds a winning mentality which breeds more confidence and belief that gives us momentum which is the key to awakening that extra level of play we've yet to experience. Character is something we have and I hope to see us continue to display it. Say what you like (you will) but our away form is top tier standard when compared to a decade or so of being utterly dysfunctional on our travels.
Sorry pessimists. But if you're going to go loopy when we lose a game or two then I'm going to get smashed off my face when we've won a couple.
A superb start to to the hellish December fixture list. The next two games, arguably, the true test of this winter period.