The incidents


I promised myself before we played West Ham United in our season opener that I would not go over the top with tactical analysis and individual performances, mainly because reading too much into the first 90 or so minutes is a redundant exercise. It's the first proper game after pre-season. There are still key players missing thanks to an extended summer holiday. Others are regaining full fitness and from a tactical perspective there were changes to the way we lined-up compared to the breeze of  friendly victories we've achieved during the pre-season. Momentum and form won't arrive for another 10 games. If it does. Which it will. Because if it doesn't I'll slowly descend into uncontrollable despondency.

So in some ways I'm thankful the game had a major incident or two so that I could focus on and distract myself from looking to deep into individual performances (especially as one of two players looked out of sorts and lethargic).

The incidents? It was mainly the Kyle Naughton handball and preceding red card that had me looking up at the skies and screaming, 'Why always us?'

It's not bad enough that last season we were so poor, lacking so much self-pride that we allowed ourselves to fail three times against West Ham that we would once again make it comfortable for them by obliging to ghost write another chapter in their glorious history (which amounts to beating us occasionally).

The game wasn't a classic up to that point of the incident. The Hammers hoofing it around whilst we displayed glimpses, mostly slow mechanics, with our tactical engineering missing a screwdriver and some bolts. We dug deep to defend against a more energetic home side. Eric Dier was the only new player in our starting line-up with a few missing, but another gentle reminder that we've only signed kids (excluding Vorm) during this under-whelming summer.

So what of the incident?

Kyle Naughton handled Kevin Nolan's goal-bound (looked it) shot and everything changed.

There's been plenty of discussion on this as to whether the red card was harsh. Common sense should have prevailed said some whilst others waved around the rule book that explicitly details the harsher punishment without an escape clause. Did the player stop a certain goal? Did he do so on purpose? Does it matter if he did it on purpose or not if the fact remains he stopped a certain goal?

Ignoring the rules, which is obviously something aggrieved supporters love doing, on the face of it you'd have to say Naughton was still desperately unlucky. From that range he had no chance of getting out the way and had he done then Nolan might have scored from the shot.

The fact is, he instinctively raised his arms. Therefore it's deliberate. When I say instinctively I don't think he had time to process gamesmanship (although in this case no advantage is won by giving away a penalty). My point is, he immediately - as a reflex - raised his arms. It's a stretch to say he was attempting to protect himself, but these are details that are no relevant. He raised them, he blocked the ball. The rulebook will always win, as it did when the assistant referee flagged for the spot kick.

In the context that he was so close to the Nolan shot that he hardly had time to do anything but place his arms upwards (due to reflex) a yellow would have been a fairer decision. The penalty punishment enough. That's context that has no relevance for Chris Foy or his assistant.

So up stepped Mark Noble who never misses a penalty, to miss a penalty. Rejoice! This was not playing out to the script. New celebratory t-shirts for the Upton Park club placed on hold. Still, down to 10 men you have to worry that the game, already not going the way we wanted with 11 v 11 was now shifting ever closer to more discomfort. Dier shifted from centre-back to right-back. Spurs had to dig even deeper.

There were more chances for the Hammers. Thankfully, for the most part, reminders that they were not clinical in and around the box.

Then James Collins got himself a second yellow after Emmanuel Adebayor cleverly set him up for a foul as he looked to run past him at pace. That's all you really need to do for Collins. You on a yellow mate? Fancy another? Trip me up.

Game on.

Well sort of. West Ham again had a glorious chance to score but the brilliant Hugo Lloris made an absolute beast of a save to deny Stewart Downing who was through on goal. Another game-changing moment (should have been 1-0, wasn't), to follow on from the handball and the penalty miss (shouldn't have been 1-0, wasn't).

Then in injury time, the youngster Dier - on his début - calm and composed adventured forward into attack and found himself accepting a wonderful pass from Harry Kane to then round the keeper and pass the ball in, to the delirium of the away support. It's happened again, another last minute winner.

Hate losing to them if anything because of that monotonous bubbles song and the fact it always feels like wasted points. We gifted them three times last season in three very different defeats that said far more about our deficiencies than it said about their own abilities.

Three points in the bag on the day Manchester United lost at home was pleasing as someone else can take the back-page heat for a week or so. Pochettino can tag this win with character building rather than anything decisive in terms of strategic harmony.


Spookycup final