Wigan 2 Tottenham 2
Philosophically, I played around with the notion that four points out of six from the last two games was pretty much the most likely scenario prior to the games being played so we should be content with what we have and seek to win the remaining fixtures. Not that easy though, is it? Not so much the winning of the remaining fixtures but rather dismissing that chance of claiming six out of six points. Two dropped doesn't sound bad but in the grand scheme of the way this season's finale is shaping up, a single point (again) might be decisive.
We didn't expect to beat City. Fact is, we did. So there is nothing more than frustration lingering into Monday, its stench still strong from Saturday afternoon. It wasn't a terrible performance. Wasn't even a terrible result. It just wasn't the right result (even though we could have snatched all three points at the death...as undeserved as they might have been).
Roberto Martinez sharing the points with Andre Villas-Boas but winning the contest on a technicality thanks to his containment tactics working a treat for the hosts and leaving us dysfunctional in midfield, unable to grip the game and dictate.
The first half was fairly decent if not quite rock'n'roll. Confident line-dancing with occasional clinking of Spurs, only to then be replaced with clumsy cowboys in the second half. The moment the game began to change was when Dembele went off injured and we lost his composure on the ball, in possession. By 'changed' I'm exaggerating his influence a touch, but even if he's not outstanding he remains reliable and disciplined. Very few in Lilywhite displayed crisp and tidy play.
Wigan defended resolutely, pressing all over the pitch and not allowing us time to settle with ball at feet. Tottenham hassled and unable to take control. Rather than be the ones trying to own the tempo, we were left struggling to compete against the one they set. Cruel irony that the one they sat had us fruitlessly trying to play the ball through them, only for them to stand their ground.
Much is made of both Lennon and Bale's performances. Both key players so we expect them to influence. Key players won't influence if the rest of the team is too busy defaulting to what Wigan are guiding us towards. A game with no space or time, just a black-hole ready to suck up that Champions League place.
Whilst both Aaron and Gareth stood in offensive positions as our main attacking outlets, the lack of any cohesive flow from our midfield meant the ball never reached either of them. Isolation for both the result.
Tactically, whatever instructions they we're given, they we're nullified and we didn't react with urgency to alter the passages of play. AVB and the players lacked endeavour. Ironic that we had an abundance of it (if only in seven minutes) last weekend against Manchester City. Football once more not following the obvious route and instead taking you on another which on this occasion had most of us with head in hands. This isn't even taking into consideration that neither Bale or Lennon are on top of their game after returns from injury. But that's not to say they could not have done more, if only the team as a unit could have done more to support them. We are running out of time to have time to do more!
That's where the frustration truly festers. The fact that we - from coach to players - impacted the game with such determined guile and belief against City but couldn't muster enough courage and craft for a similar reaction against supposedly lesser opposition. It never plays out how you expect it to. And this isn't just a Tottenham trait, so don't be lazy with your accusations. It happens. It's just far more costly now than it would be at any other point in the season.
Last week, AVB's inspired substitution to bring Huddlestone on meant City (due to the nature of their formation) left the big man alone to collect the ball, look up and ping it around the Lane. On that afternoon, they failed to react to our change. With Tom already on the pitch, Wigan left us exhausted of ideas in how to best use his vision. There was no outlet. In possession, there was no clever precise movement. Nothing we did sparked a forced reaction from Wigan, a commitment that would lead to a mistake which would lead to space and the potential for that much sought after pass.
Most of all this was found in amongst the second half shrugs of despondency. The first half saw us take the lead (a gift) and then give up that lead within minutes thanks to another gift. We defended a corner by not defending it. Literally, either the players criminally switched off or...they switched off. There can't be any other reason, right? I can't believe AVB instructs them to leave the posts unmarked and then sit back and watch opposition players attack space and the ball without an ounce of physicality from us to deter them. Mental fatigue? We looked so good early on in the season. We settled into defence maturity. We've lost that edge in recent weeks.
Defoe might have had a shot, he didn't (great work in the build up to the chance). Of all people it fell to Parker who fell and failed. Not to blank Wigan's second goal, a quality finish.
Gomez should have been sent off for his effort to kill Holtby. Wasn't. I guess the referees do require players to drop to the ground and prove they're hurt. Stand your ground and it isn't a big deal, even though the 'tackle' was hardly legal and warranted a card.
Benny came on for Naughton which dismayed some. I guess this week our coach doesn't know what he's doing with substitutions. Hindsight would have had Benny start the game meaning we'd have had more options after Dembele went off injured. Maybe next week Hindsight can start up front. It's easy this football lark. Can we also look to implant a flux capacitor into Steffen Freund's frontal lobe?
Until that final frantic last minute or so, Wigan looked to have kept us firmly in our box until we claimed a point with a mistake in their box. Our equaliser, an own goal. But had Huddlestone's effort been a few inches higher or to one side in that final flurry of chance-madness, he'd be having his head shaved now.
2-2. That wasn't meant to happen. We were meant to take the initiative. Apply further pressure on others and not on ourselves.
I know I've stated it already and I know it's not a great way to look at things, but most would have predicated four points in the last two games. The City win was a bonus. The pain is that we have wiped the shine off the bonus. Considering some of the hurtful results in recent weeks (Fulham at home is the one that has us in this position of uncertainty), when we gallantly accept a bonus, we should consolidate it with extra fight. We failed. It's disappointing. But onwards again this tired army with two...with one striker...still clinging onto hope.
I know this is another tiresome excuse, but losing the players we lost, then losing more to injury, and having a pseudo-transitional season...sort of makes everything we do warrant a fairly decent positive slap on the back. Could still do with a slap around the face. I don't mind lucking out. I don't mind fluking it. If we truly don't possess that missing edge, then go for broke.
I think it's a good thing we are disappointed, angry, upset. It's because we know we can do better. Even with changes and problems that have anchored us at times and held us back, we should still be doing better. But that extra bit of required something contradicts the previous excuse that we just don't have enough in the tank.
Might be we do it by the skin of our teeth. Might be we don't and this has been yet another emotionally draining learning curve that will desperately require chairman monies in the summer to avoid another roller-coaster ride next season where we fail to strap in accordingly again.