The Blog that's not always wrong.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

How far can we go?

Well I'm not one to gloat and say ' I told you so' but I did tell you so and I am gloating. My missis asked me if I didn't have anything better to do than walk around with a big grin on my face after the Villa game and weren't there any more important things I could be thinking about .

I gave her my famous curled lip supercilious look and asked as I left the room, 'Like what?'
I returned twenty minutes later and she was on item seventy three of what was obviously a very long list. I didn't stop to listen and went to phone my brother to go over the details of the game.

I detected things changing in the Hull victory and the performance against Man.U. Not exclusively in the performance but in the attitude of the players and the vital element of luck and in the run of the ball. Hull was the first time we have won away in the league since W.Ham in December and this time the late goal was scored and not conceded by us.

Similarly at Sunderland, a late equaliser this time. A vital contribution here by Keane who has been an important factor in our revival. He had a hand in all four goals at Middlesbrough. I have to come clean here and admit that I opposed his return for reasons unconnected to his ability and the fact that the prodigal son was made team captain. His return has been a success so far although there could be problems down the line with the return of Defoe. His attitude and effort, and his skill have made a real impact on the team.

The performance at the Carling Cup Final has been the basis of our improvement since. We thumped Middlesbrough who were a little unlucky on the day on the back of this, and the fact that we were at home in this fixture was of vital importance.

Against Villa the run of the ball was vital. Two goals early in each half, not exactly gifted but certainly at a discount, courtesy of two uncharacteristic parries into danger areas by Friedel quickly picked up by Jenas and Keane who turned half chances into goals.These could have fallen to the defenders and a similar error by Gomes was safely cleared.

Such are the fine lines between success and failure. We gave the ball away too often in the first half and put ourselves under pressure but the defence rallied very well, especially when Corluka replaced Zokora and cancelled out the threat of Young. This was decisive management by Harry and he handled the team well on the day. We conceded a late goal but played out the final ten minutes with assurance.

Even though we were put under pressure Friedel was the busier keeper and in the second half we slowed the pace and kept the ball better. Apart from Zokora this was a good all round team performance. Bent scored his 15th of the season and gave everything, running the channels with determination. He is a limited player but an effective one.

The presence of Ledley has a calming effect on the defence and Woodgate was a powerful presence even under the physical challenge of Heskey. Lennon was again our not so secret weapon and Jenas, it is generally acknowledged, had a more than good game. I am not totally convinced by Palacios but the time tojudge him will be next season when he has had time to settle in. His performance against Arsenal gave a glimpse of what he might be but his passing since has been average at best. It was his shot that led to the Bent goal and I expect him to score soon.

The signs of improvement are everywhere: from Lennon's shooting to Ekotto's defensive play Gomes too is showing an ability to catch crosses as well as stop shots. Corluka revealed that pace isn't everything, his positional play against the dangerous Young was excellent. The link up between Keane, Corluka , Jenas and Lennon especially those little balls inside the fullback were indications of some intensive training ground routines.

So how far can we go? I have been the harbinger of doom so far this season but after our recent run I am turning into the Angel of the North ( London branch) Last week I was playing down our hopes of a top half finish and this is the first week since the start of the season that I have shaken off the fear of relegation. As you can detect it doesn't take much to set my pulse racing again and as always the next match is crucial. A draw or a win against Chelsea and to be honest the sky's the limit. Well low level cumulus clouds anyway.

We are are unbeaten in six , 11pts from 15 in the league .For the first time we are closer to the Europa Cup places than the relegation zone. We are defending with resolution and playing more as a team than a collection of talented individuals, particularly down the right.

Things are looking up on all fronts and with nine games to go overhauling W.Ham to make 7th is a possibility. We require the ball to keep running for us and other teams to founder or give us a hand. We have tough games away to Man.U, Liverpool and Everton and this week at home to Chelsea. But we have beaten or drawn against all of the top five and have played our best against the better teams. The other five games are all winnable.

Do I think that it will happen? None of the teams below us are showing signs of making a good run in. The teams above us, outside the top four are faltering or just ticking over .Can we sustain our present run? On form we are well placed, fourth over the last eight games and fifth over the last six. I wouldn't put alot of money against it but then I have learn't over many years not to put too much money on Spurs. But given two points from eight games and all that, this would be some turnaround made possible by the tightness of the league this year: from 7th to 18th covered by just eleven points

I explained all this to the missis but she was on item 185 on her list of more worthwhile things that I and other Spurs fans could be doing. At least we can follow the relegation battle with detached amusement again.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Enthusiasm returns

The time for boldness has arrived. We definitely won't be relegated. We just might get into the top half but its by no means certain. Its not all over yet by a long way; the fat lady hasn't sung, but at least she's standing in the wings.

A lot of fans have gone from desperation to over enthusiasm but I'm just sticking with not being desperate. Aaron Lennon on the back of improving performances over the whole season culminating in a mini master-class against Middlesbrough and the presence of Capello in the crowd twice running is not only being tipped for an England recall but is talking up our chances of qualifying for Europe again this year. As Michael Winner would say 'calm down dear'.

But the signs are there: the return of Keane who scored and had a hand in all three goals on Wednesday; the excellent team performance against Man. U; the late winner against Hull even though the impartial observer would have conceded a draw; The thrashing of Middlesbrough who might have gone a goal up early on ( the Tuncay offside was very marginal); the acceptance of 'Little Luka' as a creative force; even Zokora and Jenas have had good games by almost common consent.

So we're on the up: team wise, individually wise, league wise and every other wise. We're getting the run of the ball and I've forgiven Harry for prioritising the league, but only because it seems to be working. But that's only the second time we've won consecutive Premier league fixtures this season and the last success against Liverpool and Man. City in November was followed by a dire performance against Fulham.

However you're only as good as your next performance and although a draw would probably do against Sunderland what are the odds against a third win running? However football is a game played in the head as well as on the grass and it seems to me that fans, myslf included, will see this as one of Harry's five wins for survival. Lets hope that the team agree.

It will partially depend on tactics and Harry has been somewhat conservative in this area. We need to play at a higher tempo, defend a little higher up the pitch and play 442, although Harry might say 'If it ain't broke why fix it'. We definitely need to compete from the start and not turn up 15 mins late as we did against Man. Utd. and Middlesbrough. We could have been punished in both games but got away with it.

Now that the boys are showing signs of throwing off their mental shackles Harry should encourage them to play. We have quality all over the pitch, Palacios has made the midfield more secure, with Gomes back to form and Dawson playing to his best, Ekotto much improved and plenty of cover along the back four we can indulge ourselves and play good football, and that's what we should do.

Now we don't know what would have happened if we had gone for it on all fronts. Just as we don't know whether Ramos might have turned it round. We do know that replacing Jol didn't work and that the constant turnover of players and managers doesn't work. 100 players in ten years, 9 managers in 12yrs. I know I've said it before but we don't seem to stop looking for that missing piece of the puzzle.

We might just have it our hands already as my grandson did the other day. We searched everywhere for a missing piece and when we gave up he had been holding it all the time. The second team played well at home against Shakhtar and we have talent we haven't fully explored yet, Taarabt and Giovani for starters. There's Bale to come back to form and hopefully Bentley, Gilberto has suddenly risen from the dead.

The more I think about it the more enthusiastic I become. This is usually the prelude to a return to earth a lot faster than the take-off, but I've just got a feeling that the mood in the club has turned, that the Carling Cup performance rather than the result might be the turning point. I can see stirrings of belief on the pitch and not just on the terraces.

We need to put down a marker for next season in this year's run in and give ourselves a boost rather than the depressing let down of last season which raised doubts in my mind over the magic of Juande. Sunderland is a winnable game and we should win it on the back of our most recent form.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

An excellent week

Two points off 'The Zone' again and a proverbial six pointer against Middlesbrough on Wednesday. How will Spurs react to the Carling Cup loss on Sunday? Last year we won it and switched off: this year we lost it and if we repeat last year's run in we will be in the Championship.

Now everyone from Alan Hanson to my mum knows it can't happen but we all know actually that it could. Not because we are not good enough, because we are; not because we don't have the players to win matches, because we clearly do; but because we don't regard ordinary, everyday matches in obscure places north of Watford or against obscure teams from north of Watford at The Lane, worthy of our high flown opinion of ourselves.

But lets take the positives. This has been an excellent week for the club. Some will scoff and say 'yeah right' a win against a team that's in free-fall after a impressive start; a miserable two legged fixture which we could have won if we had taken it seriously; a loss in a vital fixture for our European future that we didn't ultimately have the bottle to win.

I hear you, but can clearly discern the green shoots of recovery at Tottenham. Can you clutch at seedlings? Hull was an improvement in the sense that we competed up North. and though Hull were worth a point they didn't get it. We infected them with the 'last 10 minute virus' and won the game.

The Uefa was a disappointment but we went down to two late goals and Harry's strategy nearly came off. At home the second eleven played extremely well and with a little more composure and experience in front of goal in the first half could have been well placed to win it. This against an experienced, tough and skilful Champions' League team.

At Wembley we lost on a technicality. We actually drew the game and extra time in a team display of graft and no little skill against the leading club side in the world. No-one except Pavlyuchenko let themselves down and there were performances throughout the side to put in the bank, or perhaps under the mattress in the present circumstances, to bring out later.

All the often maligned players turned up: Ekotto, Jenas, Zokora, Gomes and even Bale. There was a vintage display by Ledley and an outstanding one by Dawson to wipe out his disappointment of last year. Modric and Lennon were our outstanding players and Bent ran himself ragged and even managed two shots on target. There was much to admire all over the pitch and after the first 20 minutes we matched them in every department. They didn't have their strongest team out but neither did we.

But for me the week was a pointer on the road to recovery. Now I understand that you are only as good as your next game but the realisation that this awful season is almost over should concentrate their minds for the final push.

We started the final countdown with the run of the ball at Hull and though Liverpool were surprised by Middlesbrough on Saturday I think that we will take a renewed determination into the match . Fortunately its at home and the goodwill from the supporters generated by the performance at Wembley should feed into the players' psyches for the match.

Team selection could be a problem if Woodgate is still unfit and Ledley not able to make it. Dawson and Lennon could be doubtful. But as we proved against Shakhtar there are plenty of bright second stringers eager to step up and that's not including Palacios, Keane, Chimbonda and Huddleston whose qualities are not in doubt.

So if you think that the club are in disarray because Harry has disrespected our European tradition, or that the team bottled it on Sunday then this could be the beginning of something bleak.However having been borderline despondent for most of the season I'm getting that feeling that the bad times are behind us and looking forward to next season. But as a Spurs fan and supporter I would say that wouldn't I?

The details you may disagree with but its the underlying feeling that I'm trying to get at. For some reason, and it may not be rational, I think that the performance on Sunday could be, and should be the turning point. Now 'Spurs fan' and 'rational shouldn't really be in the same sentence. If we were rational we'd all be doing something else on a Saturday, something that gave us peace of mind, or made us money. But I am getting optimistic stirrings from the performances and attitudes this week.

I'm not accepting second best and belittling our great tradition and past, a subject on which I can bore for England and do regularly on SC threads. This season has been a disaster even if we stay up, and we need to salvage something from it, if not in terms of results, then in terms of team outlook and belief. This could be more important in the long run.

Just the little matter of avoiding the drop and playing out the season in style now. If we can keep hold of Lennon and Modric and stick with the manager for a year or two we might just have the basis for something good at White Hart Lane. And it all started this week.