The Stoke that stole Christmas
Tottenham 0 Stoke 0
Been struggling to write this match report for the 0-0 against Stoke City. Mainly because I don't want to re-live it and force you into reading a deconstruction of the misery we witnessed. That and the fact that my time is better spent washing my eyes out with bleach. The world was meant to end on Friday. There was a point in the game that I actually hoped to see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride into White Hart Lane with Famine tapping his watch and apologising for the shoddy time-keeping. No such luck.
I'm going to re-live it, aren't I? Brace yourself for a repeat of the misery (or the magnificence if you belong to The Potters).
We all know Stoke are spoilers. We know what they're all about. I covered it off perfectly in my match preview. We also know (as it has remained a constant trend this season) that we lack that creative spark to aid with unlocking stubborn defensive teams.
Arguably we also lack guile and movement up front. One telling post-match statistic simply states: 45 shots in two home games. One goal. We continue to make do with what we have and sometimes get away with it and sometimes fail to get away with it. Although being overly critical of ourselves is unnecessary. It's frustrating we failed to break through them. But then so many teams struggle to do so. Nine clean sheets for Stoke this season. They don't concede many either. 0-0 was always on the cards. Defeatism pre-match is not something I like to entertain. And Stoke during the match most definitely do their best to avoid entertaining full stop. They are ruthlessly selfish like that. They're hardly going to allow us the time and space to play.
Most clubs that are considered filler in the top flight do what they need to do to survive. So they say. But that hasn't stopped Swansea or WBA or Norwich from attempting to play football. The response from a staunch Stoke supporter might include how those low budget versions of tiki-taka are just plucky pretenders that play a game of risk. Wigan, an example of trying too hard but always struggling to compete and just about escaping relegation from one season to the next.
Stoke on the other hand wind up everyone else above them. Nothing to do with transfer constraints. It's a shrewd calculated philosophy to stop opposing sides from playing football by not playing football themselves. They have money to spend they simply choose to play this way. Don't quite grasp the aspirations of both coach, players and fans but then why should I as I'm not living in Stoke. They obviously accept it and find it agreeable. Why should they even care what I think? It seems simply being in the Premier League and retaining that prestige is a good enough reason, the only reason to continue to perform like this.
They defend well but they sacrifice anything that resembles a positive by embracing every single footballing negative by breaking up play with ample elbow room. But they don't care. Look at their lofty league position and all those clean sheets. We hate them because they don't have to look good or play well to accumulate the points.
It's bitterness, no doubt, from myself. I'm not going to deny that. I hate seeing teams that set themselves up like this come away with anything. I have no intention of patronising Stoke. I'm not going to say 'well done'. **** them. Their abomination, their Frankenstein's monster of an existence is something I'll never accept as acceptable but I'll have to accept that they do.
Could we have done anything more? The line up was strong, fit for purpose in terms of dealing with Stoke's attack and physicality. Defoe and Adebayor seemed isolated although the latter was more involved but both not great in and around the box. Adebayor loves to work the channels and come deep. Sometimes you wonder whether he is better suited as the target of the cross or pass rather than the observer. The consequence of playing two forwards.
Dembele sits too deep in midfield and for all of his forward running (as mentioned earlier and most weekends) we don't have a true attacking midfielder that looks to 'assist the assist'. That's not to say Dembele isn't suited to playing deeper - it's just that without a playmaker our expectations are that he somehow produces the required difference in the middle. Again, we compare to what we had with Luka Modric and lost when he went to Madrid. We remain one-dimensional. And if our wingers don't have much luck with creativity then we're going to struggle. Perhaps Dempsey (had he played) might have had a single moment of craft to create a clear cut opening.
The game itself started off erratic and untidy for us until we slowly got hold of the ball a lot more and found a degree of fluency, be it awkward (and not long lasting). I guess if I'm going to slate Stoke and their style there has to be some admittance that even with our limitations, we didn't quite get going. Lack of focus at times (Walker's driven ball across the edge of our own pen area). Sandro's early yellow card holding the beast back. The referee (Lee Mason) didn't have much of a clue with consistency, punishing us and letting Stoke get away with it.
We still had our moments but nothing truly clear cut. Vertonghen and Bale impressing. We had possession but no penetration. Stoke defended with what seemed like two hundred men at the back. The longer the game went on the less likely it looked that we would find a way through. But then (unlike many late rushes towards goal) we did carve out a slice of two towards the end. The turkey however was dry. The sauce not within reach.
Adebayor played in Bale who failed thanks to Jerome's interference. Then there was the penalty call which wasn't a pen (although not too dissimilar to Theo Walcott's dive earlier in the day). Bale allowing gravity to embrace his delicate body and pull him down. If you turn to look up at the ref with a face of pure innocence you're never going to get any decision. Bale for the second time in the game falling over too easily. Naughty. We've been here before Gareth. There was also still time for Begovic to save brilliantly from sub Sigurdsson. That fine fine line once more having the last laugh.
For want of that little bit more quality we'd probably have found a way through. Same excuse every week. But it's a valid one. The balance in the side isn't perfect, I mention that every week too. I bet you lot can't wait for the transfer window to shut at the end of January. We'll improve and hopefully that will involve Levy backing Villas-Boas with the right signings we need to finally consolidate the losses we suffered in the summer.
The chasing pack (with us in amongst it) are displaying festive spirit, huddled together, chasing 4th and 3rd. I don't think Christmas will be that telling in separating us all, such is the nature of inconsistency from all teams involved. But that has to be our aim, to leave them all behind. Couldn't care less about whether their form settles into a stride. Our momentum is paramount.
For all the talk of that much required creative midfielder I'm beginning to wonder if we have enough up front. '442' doesn't work does it? For all those that craved it for so long. Or perhaps it doesn't work against a side like Stoke. A midfielder and a striker/attacking winger and we are set. My Christmas wish. Although the only guarantee is that the turkey I'll be having won't be dry.
Stoke are spoilers and at the end of it all, its down to us to find a way to beat them. We failed. We couldn't create the space, we couldn't find that decisive killer pass. Onto the next game.