The Blog that's not always wrong.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

I want my granny back

.You can always tell what sort of match it was by where it comes on the Match of the Day running order. I watched the Fulham game and knew we would be on last even though there was the traditional full programme, just like the good old days on Saturday afternoons.
A 0-0 draw is almost certain to be last anyway, even Hanson, a defender, still finds it hard to appreciate the qualities in a goalless encounter, though not as much as Lineker and Shearer obviously.
But to be fair to them not only was it goalless , it was almost totally lacking in excitement, had very little flair and precious little to put a warm Boxing Day glow in the stomachs of either set of fans. Sherry and mince pies this was not.
Fulham had limited ambitions but in the event could have nicked it late on but for the bravery of Gomes who had already made an outstanding save earlier on from an overhead kick by Dempsey.
We had one shot from Bentley and another by Lennon which were well saved; a glancing header by Ledley could have sneaked in and another by Modric which was just off target. All the accolades went to the back five and apart from Lennon the rest were unmemorable.
Even Modric normally our best player was wayward with his passing. Jenas played like a man who wasn't expect to play after coming on for Huddleston who turned an ankle early on. Bent seemed to be still suffering from the flu and worried about passing something on to his team-mates, including the ball, kept well away from everybody.
The Harry effect has evaporated and the players we are being associated with smack of desperation. Bellamy would be a disruptive influence on our young squad, ignoring his merits as a player which are mainly in the past. Don't let Giovani go for a round of golf with him whatever you do Harry. Downing might well turn out to be another Bentley and you can only carry so much baggage on a misfiring vehicle. He would at least give the attack a better balance and allow Lennon to play where he is most effective, on the right.
We are above the relegation zone, sorry to go on about it, on goal average only. I am beginning to be as doubtful about Harry's team selection as I was about Ramos. What does O'Hara have to do to get a starting place? Or Gunter for that matter. Bale isn't going to improve on the bench. And what about our talented youngsters and reserves? Taarabt, Ghaly, Boateng, Mason, Smith, Obika, Parratt, Rose and Dervite have only mustered about 20 minutes between them all season, although we are still in all the cup competitions.
If Harry regards these competitions as a 'nuisance' in the effort to get clear of 'The Zone' then surely we should have seen more of these players. This is from a manager reputed to be good with young players. I would give any or all of these a try before considering Bellamy. If we only get a point at West Brom on Sunday we could be back in the bottom three, having taken only two of the nine points available over Xmas.
Ledley is another worry. Not only is he only available once a week at best, his mobility looks suspect. He gave the ball away to Duff for their late winner at Newcastle with a weak defensive header; committed a series of uncharacteristic fouls against Fulham, some in dangerous positions, and was nearly undone by Johnson who fortunately tripped himself up before Gomes made the crucial save.

And so we went to W.Brom for another 'must win' game. Aren't they all? Anyway make that one point out of nine .We controlled the game without making any chances until Ekotto, trying a fancy stepover tackle with twist was given a red card for his trouble. Harry said it was a fair decision and Tony Mowbray said it wasn't.
After that the game was predictable. West Brom. slowly saw more of the ball and got a goal eventually despite a push on Dawson by Bednar. With only ten men and Bent on his own we needed to hold onto the ball instead of playing it upfield too quickly. We went for the equaliser and conceded another.
Gomes made several good saves, and a couple of flaps, and the back four were again competent: Modric and Lennon are both playing well but we didn't have an effective striker to capitalise on any chances, not that we made many today. With only ten men the team worked hard, closing down and covering, but West Brom made hard work of beating us and we should have at least held out for a draw. The game was spoilt by poor refereeing and my mood reminds me of the dark days towards the end of Ramos.
I make no apologies for saying that I still have that sinking feeling and no doubt if this poor sequence of results continues more will be joining me. We may be able to bring in some reinforcements in the transfer window but in our current position and with Harry's lack of pulling power I am not confident that they will good enough to save us. Negative thoughts perhaps but one man's negativity is another man's realism.

Harry certainly rescued us and gave us hope and full credit to him for that, but we are still on the edge of the relegation places and the bottom clubs are closing in. I keep hearing that we would have sold our grannies to be where we are today after Ramos left, but, if we do get relegated, I want my granny back.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The return of that sinking feeling

A comment by 'Gibb' in the Newcastle match thread made me realise that I too was feeling the same disappointment, verging on anger that I felt in the days of Martin Jol when we were chasing a top four position and lost to late goals or failed to convert possession into winning scores. Seen in the light of our current travails those were indeed 'Happy Days '.

Lately I had become quite serene about the Juande Ramos implosion and was quite philosophical about the possibility of an impending nose dive into the Championship. The poor results at the end of last season were hidden beneath the euphoria of the Carling Cup victory and the 5-1 defeat of Arsenal. Finishing in the bottom half below West Ham could be shrugged off with thoughts of the season to come. 'Nothing to play for' except pride and the fans of course.

The early arrival of Modric compensated for the probable loss of Berbatov and the early hopeful signs under Juande in pre-season offset the unforeseen departure of Robbie Keane. I look upon some of my predictions pre-season with a wistful realisation that I had fallen for the hype and my own hopeless optimistic streak again. This could be the season!

What could possibly go wrong? What indeed. The start of this season was so disastrous, of Titanic proportions as the press were keen to remind us , that I steeled myself for the worst. In the meantime I adopted the Mr.Micawber defense that 'Something will turn up' . Believing that Ramos and the squad were good enough to 'gel' and turn things round I maintained a defiant belief that changing managers might further unsettle the team and the Club.

Something did turn up: Harry Redknapp. Without a doubt he has turned things round and apparently Levy's instincts were better than mine.We have hope where there was very little before and the individuals and the squad are playing better and showing some spirit. We are unbeaten against the 'Top Four' . Its a sobering thought that our reject ended up as manager of Real Madrid.

And Yet and yet. We are hovering above the relegation zone, clear, if you can call it that, by a single point. If results go badly from now until into the New Year we could be sitting in the bottom three once more. Now I know that the Premiership is very tight this year and that back to back victories could send us into the top half, but we are not getting back to back victories; its two steps forward one, or two, steps back.We have only had consecutive victories once this season.

So why am I,and others , suffering a return to these feelingsof anxiety and rage? Because, like the run in under Martin Jol, results matter again.This time its to avoid relegation: then it was to secure a top four place. Harry has given us hope and as they say 'Its not the disappointment that kills you, its the hope'.
Harry keeps repeating that we are in a scrap at the bottom, but the players, Gomes, Modric, and now O'Hara are still talking about a top six finish. The first two can be excused, they are new to the Premiership and the country, but O'Hara should know better. Take it one match at a time lad in the time honoured tradition.
Now I watch, holding my breathe and reacting to every misplaced pass, mistimed tackle on the edge of the box, failure to connect with one of Lennon's improving crosses as if it really mattered. And that's because it does. Before, I could cooly analyse Juande's tactics, smile indulgently as one of Zokora's runs petered out, or tut benignly when Jenas got caught in possession. Now I can't bear it and Duff's last minute winner brought all the old feelings and memories back.
The pre-historic cave paintings depicting a successful hunt were meant to overcome the fear of the hunted animals and influence the forces of nature to deliver up a life saving meal for the whole tribe. Thats what my embracing of relegation was meant to do. In declaring that I did not fear the Big Drop I was hoping that the Gods of Football would look elsewhere for a pathetic fan to destroy.

It worked because they took an Away Day to Manchester. But we mustn't laugh at the richest club in the world lately arrived in the bottom three, the Gods might hear us and turn in our direction again. Their fans, after all, are no different to us.

So in answer to Krafty's question 'So where are we ?' The team are much improved in spirit but have not yet successfully made up for the loss of our two strikers. There is improving quality all over the pitch but its not playing consistently well. Modric is a big step in the right direction and we need to get ourselves up the league if we are to keep him and attract players of his quality next Summer. In the meantime we need some back-up signings to make sure we continue to progress. A centre-forward at least, and in the light of the fitness worries over King and now Woodgate a centre half. We haven't got the luxury of time to bed another imported player in so they need to be home grown and experienced.

I am back in the emotional turmoil of Martin Jol's regime; fearful again of the threatening storms which threaten to blow Harry and the good ship 'Hotspur' off course. But I will suspend all this negativity until Boxing day and Fulham, and hope for a relaxed Xmas for myself, the team, and of course all of you.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Snakes and Ladders

Last season it was Roller Coasters: this season its Snakes and Ladders. It certainly was this week; we got four points to go up the ladder, but lost Woodgate and Jenas to possible serious injuries. We gave an excellent team performance to take a point off Man. U but with Newcastle winning at Portsmouth we slid down the snake again to hover one point above the relegation places. At least it looks as if W. Brom and Blackburn are losing touch at the bottom but we cannot relax yet. Its all bunched up in the table still with 8th to 18th covered by 5pts.
We have three winnable games to come and ladders sway into view but none can be taken for granted. Away to Newcastle is not the walkover it was when we last visited and it comes after a midweek game against Spartak Moscow which is tricky because of injuries to Woodgate and Jenas and Bent's illness and because Ledley will have to be kept for Sunday. We could come a cropper in this competition if we lose this by two goals and NEC beat Udinese. However if we win it and NEC beat Udinese we could top the group. Or something like that.
Fulham at home on Boxing day should be easier but they are an awkward team to play against as we have already found .Although they haven't won away so far this season, it is not a forgone conclusion. Away to W. Brom rounds off 2008 and should launch us into the new year with a win. I would settle for a throw of 5 on the dice. That's more of a step-ladder than a fireman's turntable but even this is welcome if it helps us climb towards safety.
The Man. U game threw up a number of positives: Gomes was widely deemed man of the match; Dawson put in a vintage performance and the whole defence responded well to the absence of Ledley and the injury to Woodgate, who could be out for some time, after only ten minutes. Modric and Lennon were skilful, both caused problems and were unlucky not to score. Bentley sparkled occasionally but Pavlyuchenko and later Bent were out gunned on their own up front against Ferdinand and Vidic.
So far we've held or beaten all of the Top Four this season, though I note that Arsenal are in fact fifth. Certainly a better vantage point than when Harry arrived but we are still only 1 point from the bottom three, and yet only two wins from the Uefa places.
It looked as if Modric was part of a 5 man midfield rather than a support striker but this was perhaps forced upon us by Man. U. pressure rather than being tactical. At least the curse of the returning player didn't strike and Berbatov though showing his talents at various times in the game was not a significant factor. Although Man. U dominated the first half we had the clearer cut chances. Gomes was the star in the second half with two fine saves from Park and Giggs and competent handling throughout.
I played Snakes and ladders recently with my six year old grandson and he didn't get it at all. He went up the Ladders and up the Snakes as well. If only we could, but then again perhaps he's not as silly as he pretends. A useful tip there Harry.

What to make of Harry's apparent 'blasting' of the current first team squad? Well looking at Harry's words in the context of our current position and ignoring the inevitable newspaper slants you cant argue with a lot of it.
We are in a relegation battle still and we need some strengthening and backup to make the team a viable top four challenger. He has certainly improved the performance of the squad but by 'proper' players I assume he means 'better' players. It sounds as if he is following the advice of Danny Blanchflower who famously advised 'equalising before the other team scores' , putting the blame for possible failure on Levy's lack of investment.
Whether this apparent undermining of the squad, a change from his arm round the shoulder approach, is wise at this delicate time is debatable. I would argue that the constant changes of manager and the consequent influx of new players has done much to unsettle the club over the past few years and might explain our poor starts particularly in the past two seasons.
Recent write-offs ,Gomes and Dawson were heroes on Saturday; Ekotto has been re-instated and is playing well and it won't be long before Bale returns to the form of last year. In fact this is a far from poor squad and is playing more to its potential since Harry arrived than we were entitled to hope. Thursday is an opportunity to see what youngsters we have on the books with Bostock and Parrot rumoured to be in line for call ups.
If we had got 12 points rather than 2 from our first 8 games, not an over ambitious target, we would be one point below Arsenal. Playing mind games with Levy at the expense of backing his players is perhaps not what we expect of Harry. But his words were in the context of where we are now in the league and what our ambitions for the future are. I'm not sure that they applied to the January transfer window no matter how much the media would like it to or in fact will try to make it.

And so to Thursday against Spartak Moscow where all sorts of permutations of young or fringe players are possible. Whatever he might say I don't think Harry will want to miss out on another round of Uefa matches and although he wont risk Ledley he might have Lennon and Modric nicely placed on the bench in case. A one nil defeat would see us through, whatever happens between Udinese and NEC, but we should be alright to go through without too much difficulty by winning our own tie.
Oh and thank you Santa for the little extra Xmas present I asked for last week. It came on Saturday. I suppose the large size was out of stock but never mind I don't want to be greedy.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Relegation: its behind you.

I'm not sure how I got cast as Scrooge in the Tottenham panto and I take no pleasure in it, but I still feel the need to ask the question 'Are we making any progress under Harry?' In terms of league position a little but every time we have the opportunity to climb out of danger we slip up and slide back down again. Who asked Santa for 'Snakes and Ladders' for Christmas?
At Fulham we were very poor and at home to Everton we were merely poor and perhaps a little unlucky with their goal. In the meantime we avoided a banana skin dressed up as Watford, in what could be portrayed as a patient, professional performance but which looked a scrappy affair in the cold light of day.
Away from home on a cold night, on a hard pitch, 1-0 down, it had all the makings of an upset but Spurs are more resilient under Harry and show more belief and in the end our better quality ground them down.
Without Jenas and Modric while Huddleston is playing poorly or being crowded out in a five man opposition mid-field we are short of attacking guile and dependent on the trusty boot of Bent and solid defensive performances. Lennon is the star on the top of the Xmas tree at the moment in attack.
It cannot be denied that we have more spirit and the expectancy levels under Harry are considerably raised in both players and fans. We have certainly benefited generally by the largess of the Fairy Godmother and a better run of the ball, apart from the Everton goal, but in part that was our own fault for switching off the fairy lights before the party was over.
We beat Liverpool, but no-one can really explain how, and the comeback against Arsenal was equally inexplicable by the known laws of nature. I think they posted their Charity cards well in time for Christmas. However I cannot deny that the players showed tenacity and resolution and many of those other qualities that usually get missed off Tottenham's Christmas list.
But we have given ourselves a chance in the League, when we arguably had none and should make the next round of Uefa cup and the finals of the Carling Cup assuming we beat Burnley. No doubt Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal thought the same. I think that this will be one London scalp too many for them.
This all makes tonight's game at W.Ham even more important than usual. A win takes us above the Hammers in 15th place. A draw or a loss ,with Man. U at the weekend, leaves us possibly in the bottom three again in the run up to Xmas. Not a festive place to be. I have written to Santa , and provisionally booked the wishbone on Xmas day so as to cover all the angles but Tottenham in the bottom three at Xmas is not the novelty item I want to find in my cracker.

However we won! W.Ham were short on ideas and although they held their own in the first half, only Bellamy was a threat. Actually he was more of a nuisance than a threat. Actually he was more of an obnoxious irritation than a threat. We cleared the ball aimlessly out of defence at times and allowed W.Ham to put us under pressure. We also persisted with the long ball down the middle which was ineffective against Everton and similarly so tonight. It usually concedes possession and puts us immediately on the defensive. If we are going to play with two wingers then we need to work the ball out to them more consistently.
Even so Modric had a good chance after a couple of minutes and Pavlyuchenko was unlucky just before half time when he hit the post at full stretch from a driven Lennon cross , one of several chances that he created. We could have easily gone in at half-time 2-0 up.
Then Ledley scored his first goal in three years with a coaching manual downward header from a Lennon cross and Gomes preserved the lead with two excellent saves before O'Hara finished it off with a fine shot from 25 yds. We played out time in style.
In truth W.Ham were poor and we improved as the game went on. Jenas was better in the second half and there were good performances from Zokora and Corluka. Bentley gave an improved performance but is not quite there. He spends too much on flashy wrapping paper at the expense of the gift.
It was a toss up for man of the match between Lennon and Modric, who though out for several games returned to play a central role. In the first half he was forced too deep and was unable to give Pavlyuchenko the support he needed. Our second half performance in which we passed with more precision and kept the ball well was a glimpse of what the Ghost of Xmas Future might look like with Jenas and Modric playing well.
I am slowly undergoing the change from a miserable 'Humbugger' to a relaxed, benign and contented white whiskered old gentleman on my way to Bob Cratchitt's with a turkey in one hand and a 'get out of relegation free card' in the other. The answer to my original question as to whether we are making progress under Harry is a qualified 'definitely'.So I hope that relegation is well behind us and not still just behind us.
So thank you Santa for the early Christmas present. Any chance of another one on Saturday?

Monday, 1 December 2008

Icebergs ahead

I have one word to say to those amongst us that are getting carried away with the Redknapp Revolution. As President Elect of the Getting Carried Away Fellowship I am having it tatood on my arm in that new semi permanent tattoo process, guarranteed to disappear when we get out of the bottom half. That word, fellow sufferers, is 'Fulham'.
We were awful and it was obviously designed to give Harry a 'heads up' as to the real nature of the task he has taken on. Since then we have easily beaten, but only just, two weak sides or sides that could have tested us more but didn't. More than that we kept two clean sheets, which has cheered up Heurelho no end and led to an outburst of optimism amongst fans and players alike.(See official site for evidence)

However I am not so easily fooled now and nor is Harry. I burnt my boats in the pre-season Vox Pop predictions and am still up the creek without a paddle. Do we have enough petrol to keep the Redknapp outboard motor going until we are safe in mid-stream or will the fresh impetus splutter and die and leave us in the shallows? I think that this image has taken us as far as it can and I'm going to jump ship now. I reserve the right to return to it later.

We are playing OK, better defensively, and just doing enough to pick up the points or make progress in the UEFA cup. But even that is an improvement on our form since the Carling Cup until the arrival of Harry. In the last 6 Premiership games we have secured 13 points out of 18 but we are still only 1 point from the relegation places.
So put the champagne on ice for a few more games and lets see what happens today at home to Everton, who have beaten us twice at The Lane recently. Am I just a miserable old sod that insists on looking a gift horse in the mouth or a time served Spurs fan that has experienced gift horses turning round and biting us on the bum?

Old I may be but miserable sod definitely not. I am always anticipating that the next game will be the one where we thrash somebody 4-0 or 5-0. However when we do score 4 we seem to let our opponents score four as well, Cup games excepted. I note that only once this season, in the league have we been beaten by more than a single goal (Portsmouth) and only once have we won by more than a single goal (Bolton)

And yet in those silly prediction league thingies I rarely predict a close encounter and have us down for 3-0 even away from home. Obviously I won't be winning a season ticket or David Bentley's boots. Its just the old hope over experience syndrome.

Now please don't blame me for the Everton result, I did warn you all to calm down.. The defence was sound including Gomes and they won with a lucky deflection that gave him no chance. But Everton were strong at the back and Bent and Pavlyuchenko didn't really get a look in. They soaked up the long ball and without Modric or Jenas we lacked ideas in trying to break down a packed midfield, a tactic which a lot of clubs will adopt at The Lane. Zokora worked hard but Huddleston was out of sorts again and we gave the ball away too often.
We are out of the relegation places, just, on goal difference so the excitement that is the 08/09 season continues. Do I hear 'roller- coaster' anywhere? Or even Yo-yoing? In the next ten games we've got Arsenal and Man. U but both at home and a run of fixtures against beatable teams: W.Ham, Newcastle, W.Brom. Wigan, and Bolton away: Fulham, Portsmouth, and Stoke at home. If we can get 15 points from these we will be nicely placed to get out of trouble in the run-in. But that's as far as I go. A cup run or two would be a bonus and Harry is rightly focussing on avoiding relegation.
. We were a bit unlucky today with the goal, although both Lennon and Corluka turned their backs on the ball as the free kick was quickly taken, but I can't say that we played well, or that we have played well even under Captain Redknapp. The odd game maybe, an occasional passage of play, individuals have shone fleetingly but as a team its been a faltering set of performances. Bent has gone off the boil and Pavlyuchenko showed poor control today.

And so the proud ship 'Hotspur' sails into choppy waters. Indulge me. Its off the bottom, successfully re floated but there are icebergs ahead and other dangers to avoid. If we can make our home port a fortress and repel boarders at sea we might make it to the promised land me hearties. But that means staying in the Premier-ship and nothing more.