WBA 1 Spurs 1
We bossed possession. We had countless first half chances to bury them. At one point it resembled that scene in Casino with Nicky Santoro getting battered with a baseball bat. We just never quite got to the shovelling dirt part. The shallow grave left empty, with us failing to unceremoniously drag Tony Pulis body into it. For all the football violence we dished out (for most of the game) we murdered them 0-0, yet they left the scene of the crime alive. That early pivotal goal was MIA, much like the fate Nicky and his brother were given in the Martin Scorsese classic. Still, at least we got to sing along to the tune of The House of the Rising Son with our star Korean playing a key late role for the 1-1.
When we're on top, we have to make the supreme work ethic count. Running is everything but equally so, end product is everything. It was illustrated ominously with perfection by the games narrative. We witnessed our dominant opening forty-five minutes of fast paced attacking football (on the counter) only to then slow down in the second half and concede an untidy goal. Instantly, that first half display counted for nothing.
Score the goals the football produced deserves and the game will be won in the first three quarters meaning the second half becomes a containment exercise. The truth here is that their bitterly restricted expressionless football worked. They almost took it all. Pulis had a claim on resilience post-match but we can at least draw that single positive from the result too. Such is the twisted complexities of football.
We can't win every game. It's such an obvious statement that is occasionally ignored when results are isolated from context. At least the performance had positives. On another day...etc etc. Still, a quick look across the Twitter timeline and some are taking the dropped points as their cue to dance to the miserable jig of the blame game.
Before the match (relating to most of the criticism from last term):
"We need to rotate. It's a long season. We can't get to the end of it all and have another Newcastle result"
"Why did we rotate? We should have kept a winning team. Poch doesn't know what he's doing. He's got no alternative plans"
I'm beginning to think most people don't have the disposition to ever understood football at any level above playground knee-jerks.
Regarding the Pulis style of play, the quality of players at his disposal and the desperation to survive and compete no matter what - it's imperative to their long-term game-plan. Especially when facing the likes of Spurs. Open up and they'll be punished. Even with their time wasting mantra and deep defending so early in the game, we still managed to open them up. This was a game of luck. They had it in abundance, assisted with another one of those cursed (for us) goal-keeping performances with Ben Foster involved time and time again.
WBA embrace the super negativity because it can help give them hope and then have a platform to build on later in the game. It's truly basic 101 football and in a demented way showcases how brilliantly erratic football is when two contrasting styles clash and stalemate.
It's also soul crashing, more so if you follow a side that is coached by a disciple of doom (although Stoke fans enjoyed their time as the club everyone loved to hate). We can complain and bemoan but there is no escaping this and finding a way through it is better than coming away with nothing at all.
The Match of the Day highlights pretty much summarised the game (unlike the Spurs v City compression that made it look like a smash and grab from us). The score draw at the Hawthorns was all Spurs with a cameo from the home side for the 1-0. Then in the closing moments, after owning so much of the opportunities, we are the ones forced to steal back a point.
Here's some thoughts on the ins and outs of it all:
The Toby injury was one of those 'the whole season just flashed before me' moments. Thankfully, it's looking like he'll only be out for a game or two. It's no exaggeration to claim he's irreplaceable. But to accept that with finality isn't the new age Tottenham way.
Dele Alli scored our goal. Son (having been rested due to international duty) came off the bench and provided us with some much missed injection of naughtiness in and around the box. He kept the ball alive, found Christian Eriksen who was blocked. The Dane then managed to trickle the ball through to Dele's feet just outside the six yard box (there was nine WBA players in close vicinity). Dele tucked it effortlessly beyond Foster (finally) and a defender on the line.
Earlier in the game Dele had an improvised effort (acrobatic volley and kick with back to goal) along with a poke that Foster saved. The best of the lot was when Vincent Janssen (superbly holding the ball) turned and released Dele who ran at goal. He failed to open up his body shape enough when seeking to beat the plucky keeper. It was a standard save in the end. Long before that late equaliser, Dele - with baseball bat in hand - should have landed a killer blow. Clinicality and the pilgrimage to find it, now his personal Holy Grail. Perhaps he should follow Harry Kane's school of improvement and stick in the extra hours of shooting practice.
Janssen had another one of this games. Involved, immaculate as a team player, but not spearheading from the front. At this point I'd be happy for him to score with his bum. His attitude remains consistently first class. He, along with others, the 10th Dan of professionalism. No celebrating the equaliser and looking to restart the game ASAP (Eriksen almost snatched the winner with a late late free-kick). Unlike one or two other strikers we've had and let go, Vinny doesn't look out of place with our style. We're still going to need that goal off his bum soon.
Going back to rotation, we have a busy and tricky few weeks ahead (Champs League, cup game). It's still early in the season and momentum is being carefully protected. If we don't rotate, if you think rotating will hurt us then at what point do we know if we have a Plan B and C? We have to mix it up and to be honest, we've already done that this season. The Man City game actually went a long way towards proving that Spurs can perform at the next level without first team key components. But alas, we have a section of our fanbase that live and breath in the immediate present and never dare to consider the path we are undertaking and the journey ahead. 'We're as good as our last result'. My eyes have rolled back so far, I'm staring at 1990s Tottenham.
Moussa Sissoko is still transitioning. From where and into what, I don't know. There's still that inexplicable movement accompanied with a lack of sharpness. He's like a bull searching for a china shop.
Victor Wanyama has been that surprise summer hit. We (royal) all thought he'd be a functional squad player, someone to bolster our options. He's made his role in the team his own and is displaying some brilliant defensive traits as well as leading from the middle (with acute ball distribution). Squad depth the way it's meant to work and it's one of those impossibly hard selection conundrums a coach has to manage. Eric Dier still appears to be brutalised by England's Euro campaign and ongoing international mess. Other's are also working towards rebuilding. So having a new signing slot in like he's been there for seasons is grand.
Standard 'Kyle Walker is ridiculously good' soundbite. Insert here.
Nacer Chadli. Thanks for the respectful non-celebration. Standard policy for ex-players that actually had an affinity with their former club. In this case, Chadli left friends behind but it looks like the right choice for him. He'll play every week if fit and proving his worth. That would not have been the case at Spurs - as revealed by Mauricio during the week. Some players want to play from the start and not from the bench. Although perhaps Poch was being overly diplomatic when stating 'he was in my plans'.
Mousa Dembele's post-match 'disappointing result' message was pretty much the way we all felt. It's always good to see players publicly stating the ugly truth. It matches the attitude of the players during the game, wanting to win it after Dele's goal. Spurs - whether it's beyond us or not, whether we've admitted it privately or refused to comment - have the same desire as last season. We want to win which means we want to be involved in the title race. Dropping two points hurts and it feels f*cking great (in the grand scheme of all things).
It's well worth citing the past and where we've come from after years in the wilderness. Not to directly compare results and seasons but to look back and stick two fingers up at the misery we endured - then look ahead, as far as our eyes and minds allow us. Accepting we have moved on, that we're a top side - a proper team - it's difficult because we're conditioned to expect failure. Yet our failures (what we consider to be modern day disappointments) in the last ten years have progressively improved. Echoes.
Pochettino implanted the idea that we're not that team anymore, that all the mismanagement and ills of the past have deserted us, replaced with vastly improved methodology.
He dropped an inception into the subconscious.
The whole club is gradually wiping away the remnants of prior nightmares. It's what we've always expected, right? To defeat our demons. But we've never believed we can do it. We've never really let go and that old self-fulfilling prophecy has lingered on through many managerial appointments.
The inception? 'There are no demons to fear'.
What we expected before it happened and how we got to the present day has always been light years apart in terms of lucidity. We've always desired success but never understood how to attain it as a club and how to accept we're working towards it as supporters. The City 2-0 win and the 1-1 draw on Saturday...the contrasting results, that's all part of the work. The good and not so good.
What if the dream remains a dream?
If the totem keeps on spinning we can always choose to walk away from it rather than wake up. We are ever present, no matter how questionable our reality is.