As Ed and the family headed off to Halifax for one birthday I headed down to London for another. When he was wandering round to find a pub in which to watch the game I was sitting in White Hart Lane’s West Stand watching the warm up.
I stayed for two and a half hours. I don’t think Ed ever found the game, although I’m sure he’ll have found a pub. If he managed two and a half hours in the warm, with a drink in his hand and something else on TV, he’ll have had the better of it …
The TV pundits might tell you that we had a plan and that it almost worked. You’ll read that our strategy frustrated Spurs for 40 minutes. Read between the lines, however, and you’ll realise we had a plan that was destined to fail and a strategy that was bankrupt.
Do you think we can defend for 90 minutes, giving a team like Spurs space and possession, and not concede? We’ve let in over 40 goals, with only three clean sheets since August. Do you think Jermain Defoe will do his magic when the ball is lumped forward in a high loop and he’s the only one upfield – apart from the two or three 6ft defenders surrounding him? Considering the circumstances he did well and never stopped trying but his only chance came from a breakaway by him and Jonno and he put it just wide.
Or do you think van Aanholt’s the answer to our problems? He’s one of a number who can score and at Spurs he was found a few times by the likes of Jonno. Consequently, he did make some runs down the wing. However, most came to nothing although his goal was very well taken. He also got back to put in some effective tackles but not always, and I often had to look for him when Spurs came at us in numbers. Play through the highlights on the SAFC website at the point of Spurs’ first three goals and you’ll see what I mean.
Contrast Van Aanholt with the Spurs No 3, Danny Rose, who challenged, won possession, broke up play consistently and still managed to support coordinated and concerted attacks by midfield and forwards, to the extent that he drew Catts and Jonno into bookings. Rose got forward enough to have a couple of efforts blocked; one led to their second goal, and he was fouled for the penalty at near enough the spot from which Patrick scored. Patrick, for all his speed and lovely goals, is nowhere near as complete a player.
In order to give Patrick space without compromising defence Sam played Danny Graham wide, in some sort of hold up role. I say some sort because I couldn’t work out whether it was holding, defensive or attacking. Mainly that’s because he lost a lot of his battles for possession and his passes went awry. I thought he was poor but maybe I’m being harsh – he didn’t get a lot of support from midfield, where Lens showed some good touches, a reluctance to track back and more than a little petulance, and M’Vila, having a subdued game, showed little creativity. Nor was Danny boy helped much by Catts, who had a quiet game by his standards, or Jonno, who was an enigma. He gave some good touches, some top-rank crossfield balls, a sublime weighted pass to van Aarnholt and some fighting for the ball. Everything you might want, yet not enough, and not for the whole 90 minutes.
So there we have it. One lone forward on the end of hoof and hope, one wing back leaving holes to be plugged by a can’t-score centre forward, and a largely ineffective midfield without a dynamo or passion.
We’ve been lacking in midfield since God knows when and games like Saturday’s make me realise just how much work Seb’s been doing over the years.
That we held out for forty minutes was down to an excellent young keeper and the pairing of O’Shea and Brown, who put their experience to good use in protecting him from all but long range shots. Ably assisted by Billy Jones, they put in a mighty shift and O’Shea, particularly, was everywhere. I did think Brown was losing his legs after about an hour – he must have been knackered – and that he needed to be subbed. As others have said, why not a straight swap with Coates?
That would have been the second change. Catts had been replaced by Rodwell a few minutes earlier. I was close to the play that saw Catts booked and couldn’t argue with the decision. It wasn’t dirty but it had a cynical edge, as in “taking one for the team”. Such plays won’t always result in a yellow but there you go. It did put him at risk, not because he was losing, it as he once might have done, but because Spurs were pressing and he was tiring – his body language was telling. I thought taking him off was the right thing to do. His replacement did nothing to convince me it was the wrong decision; Rodwell did OK and I think he’ll continue to improve.
By the time Cats had gone Danny Graham had been crocked and needed to come off. Maybe that’s why Sam decided to keep Wes Brown on and throw Kirchoff into the mix. It went wrong but I’m not certain it cost us the point, we’d been looking likely to concede for a while. Still, I have to agree with anyone who thinks Coates was the sensible choice. It’s the one I’d have made for Wes Brown, and as we’d been missing Borini all game I’d have brought him on for Danny Graham.
As it was, the third substitution saw one increasingly ineffective player replaced by another and didn’t affect the outcome one jot. After that second goal, with the team we had, it was always going to become a routine win for Spurs although, in truth, they hadn’t looked their best despite all we’d done to help their attacking play.
They continued to press, we continued to let them, and mistakes occurred where they could hurt us. With a better strategy than kick it up the field and watch it come back, a bit of guile and bite in midfield, not to mention communication, and some forward passing and holding to keep them from camping on our doorstep we might have got something from this game. That’s not too much to ask of a premiership team, I think, but do we have players who can do it? If not, Sam has two weeks to get them.
I’m keeping the faith, but negative play is making demands on it.