Relapse to recovery
One swallow doesn't make a summer but three points does make me smile. Tim Sherwood certainty knows what he wants - the Tottenham job, be it with some caveats which is the suggestion every time he states it has to be right for him to take it. I actually found myself gravitating towards him a little after seeing us win 3-2. First interview he's given where I was smiling along with him (when talking about Spurs rather than potential contract offers).
There is no validity in looking back. We could do this all season long - compare the past with what's playing out now. What has happened, be it the good and the bad and the ugly, it's now history and what we do today will shape tomorrow. Or at the very least point towards a new beginning to replace the one that ended abruptly.
I was desperately disappointed Andre Villas-Boas failed - regardless of the reasons be it footballing or political (depending on what you believe relating to transfer targets) and there are one or two clues towards another less discussed theory which I wont be visiting out of respect. It's the past, right? Like so much of our past, we have to re-group and dig in again and start over. We're hardly lacking potent weapons. We just need to set them to destruct.
Sherwood isn't someone that I've had a good vibe about in prior seasons when his name has been touted as a potential future Spurs boss. Not because of the recent videos and associations with Arsenal but because of other negative comments made towards Spurs. I can't be holding that against him if I proclaim to only wish to look ahead. So look ahead I will.
This squad we have is damaged, confidence wise, but not beyond repair. The long running saga of no clear defining identity means that players are again now having to settle in and gel. However, unlike the methodical approach they've been accustomed too - Sherwood has gone back to basics. A straight 442 (it actually played out more like a 4132 hybrid that morphed into a 433 at times with forwards out wide and players attacking centrally) isn't exactly the modern days answer to progression, but it worked against Southampton. Might not work against the top sides but then I doubt we wouldn't line up with 5 in the middle and 1 up front on those occasions. We took a risk today and it paid off.
It worked because players were allowed the virtue of more expressive football starting with the two forwards playing off each, supporting each others runs and linking. That and Southampton we're particularity special.
It's not so much about how it looks on paper (formation) and more about how it plays out - for example, when we have the ball and when we're attempting to win it back. Both Adebayor and Soldado ran the channels and attacked the penalty area, knowing that one will attempt to find the other. Bobby is still thinking too much about the process of scoring and lacks that instinctive killer touch he oozed in Spain. Adebayor displayed all the quality and traits we always hope to see from him. When he's this focused, he does everything a complete forward should do - leads the frontline, drops back, links up, holds up, passes.
The team selected included Rose, Eriksen, Lamela, Soldado, Sigurdsson and Adebayor. Dembele in the middle the single central midfielder. When he went off, I was impressed with Bentaleb who was strong and committed. A ballsy decision by Sherwood not bringing on Capoue instead. Or just a logical one when you consider Vertonghen and Kaboul are unavailable - along with Lennon, Townsend, Sandro, Paulinho.
Our performance (overall) wasn't solid and by any means dominant (the midfield was hardly a battlefield and we gave Soton plenty of the ball) - but we have players out injured/suspended and players seeking that long lost confidence along with returning players trying to find their way back into a system that has been overhauled. Once more, all about finding our feet again.
For all the things that didn't go AVB's way, the one vital ingredient that will be his legacy is the instilled spirit and determination that we've grafted towards (away from home especially). So after Soton started the better and took the lead with a tidy goal from Adam Lallana with a supporting role from having no defensive midfield, we got ourselves into it more and equalised with a superb assist and finish. Roberto Soldado with a beautiful deep cross, Emmanuel Adebayor with a kung-fu finish.
I found myself reclaiming some confidence myself (not so much at the back) in offensive positions and for all of the home sides pretty football I sensed there wasn't that much more from them.
Second half was far better, more measured and controlled if still sometimes untidy. Nothing extraordinary, but good clean football with tempo and pace when it mattered - in the final third. We attacked the channels, players looked for the ball. Positive play. Messy at times at the back, with Southampton playing some excellent passes with subtle invention. A reminder that this is more than enough to punish us if we don't finish the other end. Luckily we got away with it. Dawson with a few decent tackles, and Lloris quick to attack the ball although not always punching it with good effect.
I felt like Spurs were sparring again, finding that rhythm with their footwork, throwing a few jabs. Regaining their strength.
The build up to our second goal with Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose involved (aided by luck) deserved someone at the end of it - Jos Hooiveld the unlucky player. Rickie Lambert made it 2-2 with Lallana again involved, this time Dawson caught out as that pretty football left us feeling ugly.
Then up steps Adebayor once more, continuing his triumphant return and owning the headlines with the winner by taking advantage of some sleepy defending to curl us 3-2 up. Cliché: he was unplayable. Did everything right, was involved in everything that was good up front. Worked hard for the team, worked hard for himself.
If he keeps this up, then we'll keep scoring and just as importantly Soldado and his season of solitude, isolated alone without a clear instruction of where to be and what to do will finally have some purpose - as displayed in this game. His finishing is way off his best but that will come. Especially if the tempo played by the two forwards continues at this pace.
Soldado's hat trick of chances couldn't give us that killer fourth goal. The home side still asked questions towards the end, but we held on. Not exactly back to walls stuff, we just saw the game out. A game of end to end football. We probably looked less likely to concede under AVB (before the end of his tenure) but we're more likely to score at the moment. A middle ground will still have to be found as attacking football and hoping the opposing side don't take advantage of the space/mistakes isn't going to work consistently enough if we (the club and supporters) harbour the same ambitions as before.
Louis van Gaal linked as I write this, so it could be all change again soon. That's Louis van 'gets his balls out in the dressing room' Gaal.
The performance wasn't ground-breaking and over analysing can be skipped, but we don't need anything complicated at this precise moment. Good footballers complimenting each other with good passing movement and quick (not always) sharp through balls will do as it simply allows players to show off, to varying degrees.
We've had our relapse. This is our recovery.
Once that groove is found and we settle with our starting eleven we can aim to improve in other areas and we'll have to work on rediscovering how to boss games. Not just reclaiming some of the lost possession but actually retain an attacking presence when we do have more of the ball - something that didn't work previously.
Be it with Sherwood or someone else, we are four points off the top four (ignoring goal difference), six off the top spot. Absolutely everything to play for.
For now, our identity crisis is over, with a rejuvenated and hungry to impress Adebayor leading the charge - when he's hungry he's superb, when he attains comfort he goes off the boil. Hopefully his hellish year is over and he can kick on and (finally) live up to the hype.
Rose and Eriksen fit and available and playing another step in the right direction - Rose, for balance on the left and Eriksen for more cultured, composed creativeness in the middle, looking to attack space ahead of him (rather than the box to box enforcement of Paulinho). Lamela back in the mix and eager to impress. Bentaleb really impressive on his début. Chadli again strong (when replacing Lamela).
Players performing with less constraints than before. Can't afford to waste what's left of the season.
So in conclusion, an excellent three points and three goals scored, two from crosses. Sixth away win in the Prem (better than anyone else this season so far). Football much easier on the eye. A merry Christmas indeed. In fact, that away record - tells you a lot about how over-rated the rest of the league is. If our home form was 2/3 games better off we'd be top (even with AVB holding us back etc etc).
Once again - perception is everything.
Two home games now and two more wins will once more flip this season around. Another pivotal moment in our season (we keep having them).