Down to the wire
Three points away to Stoke. With Kaboul in midfield. And Pav off injured.
Now that’s what I call digging deep. Was not a perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination. And even though we lived dangerously at times, we deserved it in the end. Crawl, walk and then run.
Massive selection gamble but one that Harry was forced into thanks to Wilson Palacios and his collection of yellow cards. Younes Kaboul slotting into central midfield. And it worked. Wouldn’t want to see it that often but with no other obvious options, YK did a job and did it just better than okay without it being exceptional. Less said about his shooting boots the better.
With each game, we seem to lose a player and yet we continue to overcome.
Losing Pav early on (having lost Defoe to injury in the week) has me thinking that somewhere in the upper regions of the stands hides a sniper, with a rifle armed with bullets forged with disdain for our beloved club. Fired by a crack marksman from a clandestine organisation. His mission objective? To shot down Tottenham players to aid the retention of the Sky Sports Four. So enter the Iceman, Eidur Gudjohnsen. Bullet-proof. And once more, we overcome.
First half was a little non-descript. Delap throwing the ball in from distance. Gomes dealing with most of them by scrambling them away (cue missed heart-beats) which made the game a tad more exciting - although quite clearly the wrong type of excitement. Bale had a decent run at goal, defended well by Stoke (Faye getting the tackle in). I can’t say I remember any other worthy goal mouth incident for us. It was crying out for some sort of breakthrough to kick-start the game. It was physical, as expected. Just needed to see us do more than what we were doing. Which at half-time was simply dealing with the home side. Stoke were textbook, set pieces their main weapon.
Second half, different story. 20 seconds in and Eidur thumps the ball in having received it from a Crouch assist (yes, Peter Crouch, don't playa hate) showing strength to make it 1-0. Fantastic effort. That was the breakthrough moment.
Inspired we changed gear and tormented Stoke, piling on the pressure. Whitehead goes off for a second yellow and we continue to dominate play. This is more like it. Playing the game to OUR tempo. Eidur in the hole, looking the part. Modric showing similar guile and influence in the middle that we are usually accustomed to seeing from the left. It was now quality V effort and we were destroying them.
Then a commercial break interrupted proceedings.
Corluka has words with BAE, something about leaving his defensive duties behind whilst going forward. There’s a few expletives exchanged, and Benny pushes Charlie in the stomach. Obviously not accepting the criticism/advice from the Croatian. A man must have a code. Assou-Ekotto’s is ‘don’t mess with me’.
Thankfully it ended there. Well actually no. Seems it was still playing out in Bennys head. Having failed to take down Corluka, BAE decides to go one better soon after, giving away a clumsy penalty by climbing all over Kitson. Obviously our left-back was in need for more touchy-feely action. The ref points to the spot. It's a balls-up, Spurs style.
Up steps Etherington (the git), and it’s 1-1. Having absolutely battered them since going one up we're pegged back. ‘We’re gonna throw this away’, the collective thought of thousands of Spurs fans no doubt. I had such fuckin’ hopes for us.
'It's all in the game'
Here is where there is still room for improvement. Call it a crisis of leadership. We – the fans – can see the quality of the players we possess in the side, injuries or no injuries. Add to it the fact that even at 1-1 we were the better team, so composure was required. Take the ball back and control the game. I just think we're still missing a player of the ilk of a true captain. Someone to just shake the players up a bit and get them to react instantly, rather than perhaps live on the edge for a bit before finally (sometimes) rediscovering the stamp of authority to win through.
Better than Stoke and yet it could have been 2-1 to them had Ricardo Fuller scored. Don’t care how he managed to spoon the ball over from six yards out, but well done that man. The 10 men started to look the ones more likely to edge ahead. So much for that extra bit of quality in our side, another obvious collective thought shared amongst plenty.
And then, as if by magic. 2-1 Spurs. And the game changes again. BAE released by Bale, crossing it in and the superb Gudjonsen, full of Viking strength and smarts, steps over the ball allowing Niko Kranjcar to smash it into the goal. Happy now, bitch? No idea if Benny shared a smile with his team-mates, but I wasn’t alone in punching the air and grinning from ear to ear. Don’t matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin’ the same. Faith, patience. It pays off in the end. Right?
So into the final 10 minutes we go. Tuncay on for the home side. And I’m begging Spurs to play intelligent keep-the-ball football. Instead we give free-kicks away in and around the box. Defended well – how great was Crouch in stopping the bombardment through-out the game? – but we still managed to almost fuck it up again. Sidibe failing to get to the ball before Gomes, Dawson and Bassong the culprits who seemed to forget the art of defending in what could have been a soul-destroying few seconds. The Gods will not save you. But at least on Saturday they smiled in our direction.
2-1, full time. Three points. GTFI.
There was character and heart and some tasty football – as a unit of players and from individuals. And we rode our luck, as you need to on occasions. That’s now four wins on the trot with around five or so guaranteed first team players out. Credit where it’s due. Well done to Harry and the players. I’m proud and you should be too. If I hear music, I’m gonna dance.
I did enjoy seeing the players celebrate at the end. They knew how important it was and how tricky the Stoke away fixture is. The big plus was Gudjohnsen. We finally got to see why he was signed. And just how effective he can be, dropping back and allowing the midfield to push forward. The clever interchanging of passes between Eidur and the midfield adds an important dimension to our play. He's like a refined version of Robbie Keane without the countless boyhood clubs and pointy shouty antics.
Going by Harry’s points-required-total, we now need 13 from the remaining 8 games. Four wins and a draw. Let’s just round that off to five wins then.
It’s a thin line between heaven and here. Liverpool lost, Villa stuttered. Tottenham, still 4th. Two points ahead of 5th spot City (winners today at Fulham) who have a game in hand and are probably considered the favourites to claim fourth. No doubt, with each passing week - it will keep on changing. Pressure on them. Pressure on us. Pressure on us all.
Dope on the damn table.