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Thursday, 30 October 2008

Seems Messrs Ross & Brand Should Have Some Company In The Apology Queue

Prior to tonight’s derby, I am sure that I wasn’t alone in thinking that it wouldn’t be such a surprise, under the circumstances, if Spurs got something out of the game. However I don’t think there could’ve been a person in the stadium this evening who, with the score standing at 4-2, could have possibly dreamed that they’d be capable of such a dramatic comeback at the very death (especially the eleven players in red & white, which was probably a major contributing factor!).

What bothers me most is that ignoring our defensive aberrations, there were periods during this game, where I was left feeling incredibly proud of the way we pressurised Spurs and the manner in which we wove such intricate patterns with our passing, that our opponents were left positively chasing shadows.

If this game was a boxing match, either Harry Redknapp would’ve thrown in the towel, or the referee would’ve stopped the contest, when we had them on the ropes in the eighth round, for fear of us doing irreparable damage. As a result, I and I imagine everyone else present, was left feeling devastated because of that awful feeling that our obvious superiority was more than deserving of all three points

Obviously there was an element of good fortune to the timing of our first two goals, with almost the last kick of the first half and the first kick of the second half. But our efforts to pull ourselves back into the match were so relentless that we earned the right to take the lead.

On the radio, Lee Dixon didn’t stop singing Gael Clichy’s praises, absolutely in awe of our full-back’s boundless energy. On a night when there were several equally impressive performances from the likes of Nasri, Fabregas, Van Persie etc., it’s extremely sad that we are left bemoaning the individual (and collective) mistakes that were ultimately responsible for our inability to see the victory out, instead of marvelling at such a fabulous game.

Let’s face it, our failure to put weaker opponents to the sword, in matches where we’ve dominated, is a perennial problem. Yet rarely have we ever managed to shoot ourselves in the foot quite so spectacularly, in a match where we should really have been able to cruise to victory in some comfort.

The only slight consolation was that the vast majority of Spurs fans missed their team’s unbelievable return from the grave, having long since left the ground. However when Spurs escape relegation this season (and escape relegation they will!), they will owe us a massive debt of gratitude for gifting them the sort of spirit on which their survival will be founded. Instead of sending them back to their dressing room feeling disconsolate, knowing in their hearts that they just don’t have the necessary quality to cut it with the big boys, they’ve ended up strutting back there, feeling seven feet tall, after we’ve gifted them the sort of positive team spirit and the confidence, which can be developed from just such a comeback!

Some might question Almunia, thinking that if he managed to get a palm to Bentley’s speculative effort, he should’ve been able to turn it past the post. However as (sadly!) we know only too well, even the greatest keepers are capable of being caught off their line every now and again. Perhaps Manuel was somewhat more culpable for Spurs second, as if Huddlestone’s effort was too hot to handle, instead of presenting it to Lennon, he should’ve turned it away from the danger zone.

Yet personally, I am far more pissed off at our defence, as I get really angry when they switch off in this fashion and end up guilty of the sort of schoolboy error of failing to follow a shot in. If a defender gets beaten to a rebound by a nippy striker and ends up throwing himself in vain to try and block a shot, fair enough. But if I’m not mistaken, Sylvestre was more of a spectator than I was, watching Huddlestone’s shot and while Gallas was perhaps also caught on his heels somewhat, I think he was at least going for the ball, while his partner just stood watching as Lennon was presented with a tap in.

Still if our captain hadn’t handed Huddlestone possession in the first place, the score would’ve stayed at 3-1 and neither of them appeared to going hell for leather to win the ball back . Then again, it was almost worth conceding, for Spurs fans to get a sniff of a comeback, only for us to go straight down the other end and snuff out this glimmer of hope (or so I thought), with Adebayor putting one on a plate for Robin to rifle home our fourth.

I can see where Wenger was coming from with his substitutions, as it was such an end to end game that there were bound to be some tired legs out there and Arsène wanted to wind the clock down. It’s easy to criticise in hindsight but after Eboué had stood on the touchline for about 10 minutes, waiting for the ball to go out of play, thereby completely defeating the point of his warm up, my first thought was that this was the worst possible sort of game to come in cold and to immediately attune oneself to the incredibly frenetic pace.

Diaby’s appearance proved a masterstroke in Istanbul and with his long legs, Abou managed the odd mesmeric moment again tonight, but instead of running at their defence, I would have rather seen him run the clock down, taking it to the corner flag. I felt the introduction of Eboué, Diaby and Song, all in such a short space of time, had a negative impact on the rhythm of our play.

At the very least you would expect the players with the fresh legs to be putting themselves about, but coming into this cauldron late, I don’t think it’s easy to immediately appreciate the levels of commitment required. When Gael Clichy had his tragic slip (considering the last time he fell over in this fashion was at that disastrous match at St Andrews, I don’t want to witness Gael losing his balance ever again!!), watching a replay, I simply cannot understand why Song was not gaining ground and closing Jenas down, when the Spurs player had to take the ball with him and Song had only just come on. At the very least Alex should’ve been trying to exert some pressure on Jenas, so he wasn’t able to take his potshot in such a composed fashion
Then for the fourth and final act of this tragedy, I seem to recall seeing Diaby loping along in the wake of Darren Bent, when of all players, I’d be expecting all three subs to be simply busting a gut to catch up with play. However often in these circumstances I get the sense that instead of adding something to the flagging energy levels, the subs get dragged down to the same fatigued state of those who’ve been on the pitch for the entire ninety. Myself I would’ve much preferred to see the likes of Kolo Toure being introduced late on in tonight’s game, as a player who only knows how to play at 100 per cent, with plenty of experience of the steel needed and the potential costs of losing focus in these high octane encounters.

I seem to recall hearing it said that a ref should allow 30 seconds injury time for every substitution, but I can rarely recall any other refs applying this provision so precisely, if at all. And even then, this would only account for three minutes of injury time and considering I can’t remember either of the physio’s making a single appearance on the pitch (which itself is quite remarkable in such a hotly contested derby match), I don’t know where he found a further minute from? Yet it would sound too much like sour grapes, to be having a pop at the timekeeping, especially when, by and large, the fact that Atkinson was so inconspicuous suggests he had a blinding game.

In truth it was a breath of fresh air to have an official who seemed happy to keep his cards in his pocket, preferring to have a quiet word, rather than saddling himself with the rash of early bookings that have all too often ruined these derby games, when they’ve inevitably resulted in a sending off or two.

Considering the recent crack down on virtually any physical contact involving a sliding tackle, it was great to see a ref use his discretion, showing some appreciation of the fervent circumstances and attempting to let the game flow without unnecessary interruption and the customary need of all too many Premiership officials, to impose their authority.
So it would be a travesty to take our ire out on him, when we should be pointing the finger of blame at those who patently failed to play to the final whistle, whenever it was!

Personally I don’t really care that we’ve gifted the enemy such a much needed boost to their confidence, as I was already of the opinion that Harry’s arrival might enable Spurs to stave off the looming shadow of relegation. Far more significant a consequence of our somewhat naïve failure to close out this derby match, is the fact that we’ve blown two, possibly crucial points.

What have we learned in the process? Well there’s nothing revelatory about the propensity of our defence to be so porous and like I said, despite our miserable failure to “take it to the bridge” as far as the win was concerned, I remain nonetheless quite proud of the sort of commitment and fighting spirit shown for the majority of the ninety.

However, sadly, when you think it should’ve been oh so different and an overwhelming victory over our neighbours should’ve left us feeling that much more optimistic about our prospects, instead of which it has only managed to reinforce my feelings of foreboding, that when it comes to the Premiership prize giving in May, we will once again be left with our faces pressed up against the window, watching enviously as the silverware is handed out to our rivals, principally as a result of the fact that neither Chelsea or Man U would be guilty of the gift of mercy, once they’ve got a vice like grip around their opponent’s throats.

Still I suppose from a glass half full perspective, the one thing we’ve got to look forward to is how much sweeter it’s going to taste, so long as there’s no repeat performance of this sort of reprieve, when we give them a right royal stuffing back at White Hart Lane. Although I’ll be lucky to maintain my presence on this mortal coil, if we have to suffer many more similarly stressful matches in the meantime!

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