WBA 0 Tottenham 1
I'm happy with the performance. No need to start theorising about how the second half would have played out had Popov not spat at Walker. You could however wish to spend a whimsical moment or two wondering what might have been had we been successful with signing Leandro Damaio (as it appears Spurs were involved throughout January in another futile attempt to sign the player). I think it's perhaps time we focused on a different tier of player, say someone like Romelu Lukaku - cheaper, potential, not necessarily someone who would demand constant first team appearances allowing for rotation with our other two strikers.
It's still probably a flawed solution. Ignoring the fact Defoe is out for 2/3 weeks and Adebayor is about to return from international duty, Lukaku himself was sent out on loan to WBA when Villas-Boas was at Chelsea and every other Spurs fan is obsessed with us capturing an already world-class finished article forward. The perpetual narrative that our chairman echoes with his apparent constant, persistent interest in the aforementioned Brazilian.
Fact is, we only have two forwards. Well, one until Jermain returns. And half of one when Adebayor is back in the side. Although expect Holtby to start a game soon (hopefully against Newcastle) and sit back and (hopefully - there's a pattern emerging here) witness a transformation in our Togo marksman in what might (that's technical hope again) be a beautiful relationship.
There are only 13 games left. That's not a lot. Three of our remaining seven home games are against Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City. We've also got Chelsea away sandwiched in what looks to be a monumental April. So whether it's a fortunate win or a lucky win or a gritty win or a master-class...I'll take them in any shape or form. More so the latter, but I doubt we'll truly see a full pelt AVB side until some point next season. Too many fragmented line-ups this term and still key positions requiring strengthening. However, this team is still more than capable of cementing a 4th or even 3rd place and all that should matter is the next game up.
As for the 1-0 win, it was the same old story in the first half against WBA (who threatened throughout). Plenty of the ball, not always clean and tidy in possession but improving as the game progressed but with only one shot on target (a wonderful Bale effort tipped over the bar by Foster). Not enough incisive movement and final third play. We lacked that crucial defence splitting ball and our efforts on goal we're hardly convincing. We also didn't get behind their back-line enough to cross in for a more straightforward cross/shot combo. Out of 14 we connected with just one.
Bale through the middle, Dempsey on the left-flank and Defoe allegedly upfront. With hefty and controversial irony, we seemed to play better when he was off the pitch. Or was that coincidental? The first half showcased why Hugo Lloris is a revelation and revolutionary Tottenham signing (easy to forget he's world class because he's sat between the sticks - then you still forget because you take what he does for granted) with some offensive defending of his goal.
Walker was having yet another erratic undisciplined display, a trademark of his season. Villas-Boas remaining faithful with his selection yet the kid desperately needs some down-time. Just, what with those 13 games remaining, we might have left it all a little too late. I don't know if this is simply a bad run of form or he's failing to understand any given instruction the coach is handing to him. Although when to defend and when to attack are basic awareness skills any full-back should possess. Walker remains a raw talent and unlike some who simply wish to hate on him, scapegoat him, for their own personal high and mighty ego driven agendas (there always has to be a player to lay blame on) I'd rather just retain some level of balance. Be constructively critical but remember this - he's being selected to play. Your questioning might better suit the coach himself who persists in playing him.
The second half saw a better Walker display which began with some relentless ball chasing with Popov disliked via a pathetic attempt at spitting. Not that any form of spitting should be graded for grandeur in terms of distance travelled and thickness of phlegm, but still a ridiculous way to get red-carded. Not that any of us cared. What Popov did is basically the worst thing you can do on a football pitch aside from wear the colours of Arsenal. It proved to be the catalyst for the game to completely change from a potential close encounter to one utterly dominated by us.
Cruised it with possession. WBA made tactical changes but all they could do is sit back whilst we passed it around. Holtby (on for the injured Defoe who went off before half-time) started to settle in with ample comfort just behind Dempsey (with Bale now back on the left wing). Lukaku was subbed early in the second half as we continued to push forward, still lacking that decisive top end play that a striker would bring to our play.
WBA fans booed Walker, possibly because they didn't know why Popov got sent off or because they're moronic. Our corners (game ended with 17 to the home teams 2) remain woeful. But still onwards we pushed waiting to see us capitalise on all the possession. Just as I scratched my head with concern that the longer the game went on the more ominous it would become with perhaps our hosts growing in confidence to push a little forward themselves, a moment of brilliance arrived finally break the deadlock. Gareth 'we're a one man team' Bale with yet another game winning sensational shot.
He plays the ball, receives it back having created some space for himself, cuts inside onto his left peg, beat a man and then curls a beauty. 1-0 ta muchly. I'm sure some will mumble on about his impact across the full ninety minutes (of any given game) but it's worth remembering that moments like these make it worth while. A goal that equates to three points. A match-winner. That's what we pay our money for, right?
After the goal we continued to hold onto the ball (post-match stats showed most of our players on over 90% pass completion, it was that comfortable). We pressed WBA making it nigh impossible for them to get into the game. Clever containment play. You can complain about slowing the pace down all you want but it serves a purpose with control. Especially if we are now restricted with options thanks to that lack of depth up front.
Gallas replaced Walker. Not sure I quite understood that sub, Walker so much better in the second half and a decent outlet getting forward. Maybe he was subbed for the purpose of rest, Gallas preferred to Naughton. Holtby displayed more goodness, neat touches and a creative mindset. One wonderful cross field pass to Lennon a delight. Sigurdsson replacing Lennon late late on. Not even the four minutes of injury time had me worried.
Another away day win. Unbeaten in nine games. One point off third place. Newcastle at home next. I think it's our best away record in the league since '92. It's a cliché, but no game is an easy game these days. Usually games are won by the narrowest of margins too and today might have been one of those hard fought occasions but instead (thanks to that red card) was made relatively easy.
4-6-0 formation (go on, humour me, humour Spurs). Holtby linking up with Bale and Dempsey very well. Defoe on crutches (ligament damage to ankle). Got to hope now that the coach and the players do enough in the remaining games to claim that CL place as it appears the chairman's tactic consists of restrained evolution. I always remember Levy (who generally never truly shares his plan publicly) stating how qualification for CL is not a vital requirement from one season to the next as the nature of the league deems that the privilege will be shared. Does he still believe in this?
There is a forceful argument that we should look for that extra consolidation to push us ahead of others. Take that fiscal risk and it will pay off if qualification is made. But the fact it remains a risk (and there are no guarantees on the field) deems it enough of a reason to 'suck it and see'. Let's hope we don't choke then. If we don't, then Bale might...might stay and those top tier players we yearn for will be far easier to capture. If we do choke, Bale will probably leave and we might find more reserved spending in the cautious world we appear to live in.
No sense of entitlement please. Let's prove we are worth our weight in gold and then pick out another diamond to sit in amongst the riches in the post-season celebrations.
On paper, we are still strong enough to compete no matter what nervous dispositions are spewed all over social media and the stands on any given weekend. And for all the want of a £20M signing, we've got an absolute steal for £1.5M and another worth around £60M.