Fulham 1 Tottenham 2
Poor performance, good result. At 1-0 I could almost feel the pull of pestilence dragging down Andre Villas-Boas to the very depths of his Tottenham tenure. The important positive is that we equalised and then scored a winner. A minor miracle these days.
There was determination and desire to get back into the game and then get ahead. There was also Hugo Lloris following up one magnificent save with another. We rode our luck for sure, but we made up for the sitters with two long range efforts to claim the three points. Papering over the cracks? Some would say it's a repeat of last season.
The game wasn't exactly a pleasant experience but it was hardly the hellmouth some seem to have tagged it with.
AVB started with Lamela and Lennon on the 'wrong wings' and we didn't show signs of life until they swapped, given us far more natural balance. Inverted wing play isn't working so there's a scratch of the head every-time we persevere with it. More importantly, we need to claim some momentum and restore confidence levels across the team and playing with traditional flankers means more width which means more space in the middle and more productivity from crosses/drilled balls/cut backs. We need this at the very least what with the lack of that true playmaker in the middle. Make the most of what we got when we've got is a very talented squad of players.
Aside from the Paulinho sitter (should have slotted it away with precision but fired it high with power) and a JD chance, we hardly carved apart a very plucky Fulham side. Keep it simple, keep it basic. Allow a rhythm to play out so we can dance to the tune of victory. Then again, Fulham did their best to get in the way of a comfortable nights work by displaying some grit and pride. When you think it's going to be easy, it never is.
We set up far too defensive in the middle. I actually thought this was a bullish looking line-up pre-match. Dominate the centre, own the possession, play it out wide. Capoue wasn't tidy with his distribution. The wide bit (as explained) was fantasy until AVB swapped it around. Spurs (as per usual) doing their best to make it difficult by not taking those chances.
Still, it wasn't all grim. When that wing-switch took place we had more joy getting forward. We created, perhaps not with the majesty of a true playmaker, but we had chances. Lamela looking comfortable on the ball. Glimpses of that composed close control and vision. Nothing more though, but signs he's getting a clearer understanding of the movement of his team mates. Still lacks that arrogance to step up a further level and really take games by the scruff of the neck. All in good time. He could do with even more game time. Link him up with Holtby in midfield, players that can pass and can understand intelligent movement. Give us that extra zip to our play.
Half-time came, Holtby on for the second forty-five replacing Capoue (not looking 100%) and giving us that missing link between midfield and attack. Hindsight or just plain common sense that he should have started from the off? We had far better shape post-sub.
We also had most of the play in the opening 10 minutes, came close to scoring. So naturally, we go 1-0 down. Dawson would throw himself on a grenade for Tottenham. He'd also lose the pin and roll the grenade into our penalty box. A truly self-inflicted explosive moment of idiocy resulting with a wonderful Berbatov pass (cheeky bid?) into the path of Dejagah for the Fulham goal.
Then more of the zany from AVB followed. Lennon/Lamela swapping flanks again. Chadli on for Sandro. Then Chiriches from distance for the 1-1. Hold up, what?
Yes, Vlad saves Andre from potentially being sacked (Twitter said so) with a daisycutting sneak of a goal with Jermain Defoe finally doing something constructive in an offside decision by jumping over the ball allowing it to travel beyond the goal line.
The substitutions worked. Funny how easy it is to decide they won't seconds after they take place. Perhaps that's why we're supporters and AVB is a football manager. Chadli, not quite what you expect because what you expect is the explosive FC Twente player of last season, yet was solid when he came on. Much like he was against Man Utd.
Worth mentioning the midfield again; Sandro/Capoue didn't work. Dembele (for all of his under-stated and less offensively glamorous work ethic deeper in midfield, was sorely missed).
The rest of the game was messy. Defoe had another chance. JD is basically what Dawson would be if Dawson was small and a striker. Both so maligned. Great servants but if your servant keeps forgetting to the boil the water for that cup of tea you asked for, you're going to want to ask someone else to make it. Soldado watched on from the bench. Would he have have taken the chances presented? This game might have worked as a confidence booster for him - but then again, we have two strikers (Adebayor is never coming back at this rate) so if we do need to rotate due to fixture pile-ups, then all we can do is look at the number 2 in line.
AVB has to have confidence in the players he selects. Defoe didn't play too badly but then scoring goals is the only way most of us define success where strikers are concerned. If want to get into the mix, we need someone firing on all cylinders. Someone that is every bit as good as the players we have in other key positions. Think - keeper, centre-back, defensive midfield. Offensive mid and forward the two positions in a state of flux.
Fulham continued to retain a presence in the game but also retaining the same level of performance they had from the early stages of the first half. Which made it very frustrating from our perspective because a truly ballsy confident Spurs side would have brushed them aside. That is still the problem. Not knowing how to set up the side effectively to get the best out of the players and not knowing the best players to use means we are still plodding along.
Yes, we have depth and we should be in a position to use it but there remains a sense of uncertainty with what AVB is attempting to do. Was never going to be easy spending the money we did (£0 net spend if you want to be clever) on players that are meant for the first team. Easy enough to suggest it should click from the word go. Except it quite obviously isn't. But it could be if AVB sticks to a system that any of our players can adapt to with ease rather than this constant yo-yo between inverted and width.
Regardless, Holtby with an absolute beauty for the 2-1.
Scenes. AVB's job is saved with a Bale hit from Lewis who then spontaneously combusted in celebration. Lloris kept pulling out the saves. There was a mad scramble, the usual heart in mouth defending but it finished 2-1 when at one point nobody could quite work out how we'd ever manage to get back into it at 0-1.
Two goals from open play. Whether the formation/selection/tactics were wrong or not, once again we had chances we didn't take. Vertonghen the only negative I'm willing to allow a little depression for (if his injury keeps him out of the next game). Hardly the best place for him (left-back) when he is fit.
Football is like life. You make a decision, you do something pre-planned or instinctive and your journey takes you in a completely different direction. If we start to take these chances and we (God forbid) take a 2-0 lead in a game, we might rid ourselves of this psychological quirk. Although that psychological quirk to a fair few of our numbers is Portuguese and has a ginger beard.
Wrote a few articles back how congested December is. Perhaps AVB believes (with another away day this weekend) that he needs to swap and change. That he has faith in all of the players. I how that might be his logic that but I also think the current climate isn't one of sunshine and bare chested bravado. Everyone is hurt - supporters rather than the players. There's a sense of underachievement. Of waste. There is no time-line of evidence that is giving us visibility of tangible progress. Progress here defined by a far more assured and robust team performance from one match to the next, with players growing in stature. We are still limited to cameos and bogged down with continued stubbornness.
I'm still waiting for the season changing moment when we wake up and look like a team where you know how far up the table we'll be sitting in 10 games time rather than a team where you have to keep waiting for the next game to decide if that shift in fortune is going to play out or not.
We've had blips before and they've been dismissed almost immediately. Even when Bale was rescuing us, there was a far more solid look about Spurs. But at the time we were ascending at the business end of the season. This, what's going on at the moment, isn't really a blip, but more of a slump. Yet, somehow, in amongst all the calls for change, we are just a win or two from the leading pack. A fair few away from the leader, but we continue to look upwards. Other clubs below and above us with far more relevant question marks on their performances considering the expectations they (and their supporters) have.
As much as I desire to see continuity at Spurs, I think (if you simply look at history) that the mere fact that many actually believed AVB would be sacked when we were 1-0 down (had we lost) tells you all you need to know. The seedy underbelly where the dark thoughts fester is waiting for him to fail. So much so, that we have a section of conflicted support that perceives each game as 'do or die'. I'm always staggered by our own fans that start churning out soundbites about having to win X amount of games in X amount of weeks 'or else'.
I don't have a problem with supporters critiquing our football/tactics but the lack of any consistency with the solutions to the problems at hand leaves me thinking it's easy for us because none of us are truly accountable. AVB is. The players are. I want to fight with them rather than against them.
Maybe we shouldn't have to be in a position to get 'inspired' to come back from a 1-0 deficit away to a struggling club. Still, players looked happy, together in celebration and after the game yet more signs of strong unity between a smiling AVB and his men.
We complain when we can't score out of something and we then complain when we score out of nothing. We won. Embrace that today and even if you don't think it will work out in the end, just humour yourself. It's not like we're stuck at the bottom of the table with two points from eight games.
As for tomorrow? We need to display more bravery with how we line-up and how we push forwards. The never-ending narrative of our season. Onto the next 'must win' we march.
To reiterate: AVB needs to settle on style/formation and stick with it. Need to rest the players that need resting and allow others to blossom with responsibility. Same with key players. Need momentum. Players obviously like him, support him, react to him - no matter the commentary from the media or disgruntled fans. The spirit is there, the swagger isn't.