How to survive a Tottenham apocalypse
Oh dear Lord, how do we keep getting away with this? Not that I'm complaining especially this time of year with the fixtures coming thick and fast. How do we keep avoiding defeat when it's a far more likely outcome than claiming all the points?
Stick this Spurs squad into any given scenario and they'll find a way through it.
Stuck out in the wilderness of deep space in a craft that's run out of fuel light years away from earth? No problem, they'd soon float towards a worm hole that will suck them back into orbit around this precious rock we all call home. Granted, in this scenario they'll find themselves victims of ye old space time continuum and turn up thousands of years into the future with Harry Kane pounding the ground as he comes face to face with a half buried cockerel in barren wastelands.'You Maniacs! You still haven't built the new stadium! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell! '
Zombie apocalypse? They'd all somehow avoid both infection or being eaten alive. Although they'll likely to do so with some degree of sacrifice by sending Paulinho out as a diversion towards a herd of the undead. Chances are the zombies will find the Brazilian a disagreeable appetiser and send him back without a bite. Thinking about it zombies are not meant to have much brain activity so perhaps they'll think he's one of their own. Paulinho would probably stay with them regardless thinking he's there on loan.
Okay, so maybe this squad is only tenacious enough to battle through predicaments more suited to their specialities; on their travels away from White Hart Lane.
Win ugly, get lucky, be the only ones that remain standing at the end. The trait that gels it all together is the one that sees us not stopping to think about any of this as it plays out. Thus avoiding the age old calamity of capitulation. We have become the masters of beating the teams that don't appear capable of beating teams that are not capable of brushing teams aside. You know what I mean.
We're not strong enough in the spine to bully the likes of a struggling Leicester. I don't mind too much because I'm completely aware of this and accepting of it. It's a known issue we've navigated through like a ship in a storm by making the most of what we have and doing our utmost not to sink and drown. No walking of the plank this time either. All hands on deck.
Our form under Mauricio Pochettino is picking up compared to our early season lows. He knows what the core of his side is (out of this particular set of players). This breeds consistency but it doesn't solve the long running quirks that result with the odd mental wobble. Having two attack minded players out wide is great in theory. When it allows the hosts to take advantage of the space available when they push forward, it's a plan with hole in the flank. Add to it some erratic performances from the full-backs and you start to worry about how much the defence can contain when there's an avenue of opportunity on offer.
The long running gripe with the lack of guile right in the centre remains. It's a long running ball-ache after all. Benji Stambouli* was subbed for Ryan Mason but that didn't do much in changing the midfield dynamics. By that point it was too late, we had lost the momentum after 30 minutes. After such a good start 59 seconds in (Harry Kane finishing after a Nacer Chadli cross comfortably found its way to an assist after Erik Lamela played a sweet ball out wide to start the move), Leicester threw everything at us and equalised early in the second half. Yet there was still a positively ominous narrative playing out, one that at the time I dared speak out as to avoid jinxing it. The Leonardo Ulloa header to the post in the first 45 a telling sign of things to come even after Nabil Bentaleb allowed their attack to be a fruitful one for the 1-1.
*Worth noting that Benji is going to need a lot more game time to find his feet, as he's hardly been used with enough consistency.
In that first half they tested us and also displayed clumsy finishing when in positions of strength in around the box. We had the odd counter that should also have ended better. Kane guilty of a sure thing with a missed header towards the final moments.
In the second half (after Ulloa finally got onto the score-sheet) they hit the woodwork again (this time from a Riyad Mahrez set-piece). Then Jan Vertonghen twice got away with two potential penalty incidents.
The first was a tackle. He took the ball before he took the player and the ref confidently agreed with this viewpoint. Jamie Vardy instantly came down in the follow-through (all in the same motion/tackle). Jan nicked the ball. Well, just about nicked it. It's debatable if you believe Vardy was still in with a shout of reclaiming the ball and the fact the tackle brought the player to ground warrants punishment regardless of Jan getting his boot to the ball first.
Some one might want to throw a rule-book in my direction in disagreement.
Let's say Jan had taken the ball cleaner than he had, so much so that the ball went directly off for a corner and the player was still brought down. No pen right? Why? Because the ball went out of play. It's in the interpretation. Vardy took a touch to take the ball beyond Vertonghen so you could say the defender was lucky to get that slight nick of the ball. But then how does one define a legal tackle in this instance? You could argue Jan had to lunge in to stand any chance of winning the ball - which he did (sort of).
The ball was still in play. Ref says no. Most will say yes. We all said phew. Federico Fazio is almost forgotten about in the build up when he managed to win and lose possession in one confusing shuffle.
The second? It seems to be a lottery when an official will flag for shirt pulling. We got lucky on this decision. No official saw it. Or maybe they did and they didn't think it was pully enough. I don't know, seems that if there is a rulebook it's flexible.
There was another heart-stopping moment when Wes Morgan failed to connect with enough weight (if only he worked more on his buttock muscles in the gym) to push the ball over the line thanks to Hugo Lloris deflecting the ball away from Morgan's original sight as it travelled across the six yard box. Our keeper was kept busy with a fair few solid saves and was then elbowed in the face when sweeping up ahead of Vardy. Blood out of his mouth the only red seen in this incident. Hugo OK for the next match according to Poch. Having him between the sticks is a bit like having Rick Grimes in your group whilst fighting off the Walking Dead. He gets the job done even when the odds are stacked against you. Takes responsibility and gets his hands dirty. He's the main reason we keep on breathing.
Before the pen shouts and the Lloris/Vardy clash we scored. I should probably not leave that detail out. Christian Eriksen sneaking the ball in via the near post from distance with a finely struck free-kick that probably should have been saved.
Tottenham Hotspur? Away from home? Struggling to boss the game? With our reputation? Has no one thought of the consequences?
1-2. We do love a 1-2.
Eriksen again with the goods. Spurs again getting away with. Doing just about enough. Three successive league wins on the trot for the first time under MP. Cue a cliché about 'points only matter over Christmas period, not performances'. I agree with the sentiment but we've been playing like this since long before Santa struggled to find a chimney to climb down in. I'm still chuffed with the three points.
How do we keep doing this? It's by design. Well, sort of accidentally by design. The players, the team; there is shape and for the most part we know what we're meant to be doing. Some of the football we played in the final third was delightfully. The spirit, the belief is unquestionable. Our delivery isn't always convincing. On days like this, the fact we have that extra bit of quality sees us through it. The opposition(s), as good as their effort is, they don't quite aim the axe for the head whilst we're quite apt at decapitating them. That's not to say that far too often we are fortunate to watch powerless as the aim of their axe swings close enough to shave the stubble off our chin.
Against better quality? Check any of the results we've experienced this season against 'top four' certified opposition. No wielding here, just skinned alive.
Still, on the upside, look at the table and take note of how open this season is from 3rd place down. We need to focus on making sure the transition from defence to attack and attack to defence is supportive of the teams entire structure (so no wide open spaces for the opposing side to take advantage of). We need to muscle up in the middle and own it. Nabil, Ryan...love them, but we need so much more if we're aiming to evolve into a side that can compete rather than mug the opposing side. The latter is more fun but I'd rather be mugging off the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United and still easily disposing any club struggling with the fear of relegation.
We'll find out in the next two games if we can man up enough to cause an upset with the players we have.