Tottenham v Sunderland. The view from the Upper West Stand

John McCormick:
John McCormick
Filling in for Pete Sixsmith

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.

The view from the Upper West Stand
The warm-up, from the Upper West Stand

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.

Seb Larsson As Joni Mitchell said "you don't know what you've got till it's gone"
Seb Larsson
As Joni Mitchell said “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”

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.

Lens: I question his committment
Lens: I question his committment

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.

Impact player? Not at Spurs
Impact player? Not at Spurs

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.

8 thoughts on “Tottenham v Sunderland. The view from the Upper West Stand”

  1. I agree with most of that,Van Arnholt compared to Danny Rose stood out for me too.But we cannot get anyone like Danny to come here.Shame, as he made all the right noises when he was here,but good luck to him.

    Yes I think we would have lost this game regardless of who played.But what happened was a disaster.Catts has to stay on for me,we are a totally weak team without him.I can’t see what Rodwell offers at all so I completely disagree there.He has not shown any improvement either since he came,I am afraid he will never amount to much at this club.
    I do agree with you on the Larsson issue,and M’Vila hasn’t quite got to his standard as yet,maybe he will,but I dont think so.We need Larsson back too.
    Rest of the bunch are really also rans, as you say.

    • Someone possibly KenG, posted a couple of months ago that the team plays badly when Catts plays badly. I can’t disagree. He is crucial. Nevertheless, there are times to bring him off. I think Saturday was one of them. I don’t think his staying on would have changed the outcome and if it kept him fit and/or available for next Saturday it will prove to be the correct decision.
      Still think Roswell did nothing wrong

  2. I don’t understand how a team that scored more draws than any other team lastcseason can’t grind out one now. Against Everton we worked our way back into the game then our gung-ho attitude allowed them to score another 4. We need to have a plan to hold onto a winning situation or keep a draw at least. Draws will keep us up but we haven’t had one under SA.

    • We were not good but we were reasonably solid until the substitutions. Also, our goal was the best footballing move of the entire game.

      • Agreed Colin, but John has a point. Apart from Arsenal at the end of last season we rarely seem to be able to hold out for an entire 90+ minutes when we set up in a defensive mindset.

        It doesn’t always work but I feel more comfortable when we are playing higher up the pitch. That said I have nothing against the tactic per se providing we have the right personnel available. Billy Jones is not a centre back and that is what I feel was wrong at Everton.

        Borini for Graham, if he had got a knock, would have allowed us to keep the shape. Whether he could have prevented the goal is a moot point. Rodwell for Catts the same. As soon as Sam brought on The Hoff fro Graham the balance of the side went. No-one adapted quickly enough to the change of shape when Sam tried to shut up shop and within a minute we were two down.

        I wasn’t expecting us to win this one but I feel things were looking OK until Graham went off.

      • I’m not so sure. We never looked comfortable, in my opinion. We had managed to keep them out, thanks to some good saves but Wes Brown and Jon O’Shea were tiring and they were coming at us time after time, through a very porous midfield. I thought they’d score a second within the hour and they did, after which they had the game won.

  3. Interesting article and I’m a spurs fan. Was at the game and it was everything I expected from a Big Sam team, Long ball, defensive for long periods and the obvious ploy of wasting time when having throw in’s. fair play, as we have seen all season Ref’s don’t seem to care about time wasting so a ploy that has to be used when you are fighting at the wrong end of the table.
    Totally agree with the comment that spurs were not even at their best, very dull game actually considering there were 5 goals. Will be a long hard season for you guys but you do have this habbit of going on a run in the final third of the season so might be some excitement around the corner for you guys. Again, great article and very good assessment of the game. Good luck for the rest of the season.

    • Thanks. Our dilatory behaviour with throw ins isn’t a time wasting ploy. It’s been happening since the start of the season because there’s never been anyone to throw the ball to.

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