The Blog that's not always wrong.

Monday, 30 November 2009

There's people all over the media

There's people all over the media. They think its all over. Its not yet. Managers; ex-managers; managers about to become ex-managers; ex-managers about to become managers are all over Spurs like a rash. The latest is Sir Alex` but as we play them on Tuesday in the Carling Cup we have to examine this gift horse with care. Does he want us to play Huddlestone , our most gifted but most vulnerable player and Palacios, who has been off form for a while? Or not?

What sort of team will he put out? What sort of team will Harry put out? Given that this Cup gives maximum benefit for the minimum of effort will we go for it? If you have a clue drop me a line. I've no idea.

In the meantime after Villa its not just the managerial ranks who are auditioning to be in our backing group. Its senior pundits too. Hold the front page! Senior pundit says Spurs are favorites to take Top Four place ahead of Man.City and Aston Villa. (But don't write of Liverpool just yet, obviously) And who was this senior pundit? Well actually it was Alan Shearer on Match Of The Day, but let's not split hairs here. Be nice to those you meet on the way up you might meet them on the way down.

Do we need 'Our Alan' to tell us what we already knew after Saturdays game? Man.City, they of the award winning seven consecutive draws couldn't beat Hull at home, and we exposed Villa as mere 'pretenders' while establishing our own credentials as the real 'contenders' as the TV. billing had it.

We were put onto the back foot for 25 minutes by their early scrambled goal and they had six corners in this time, but by the end of the match they were hanging on and we had claimed every statistic. This included an astonishing successful pass tally of over 300 to their 170 and 64% possession. We played like the home team and on the front foot which is where I like us to play.

They defended well and got a grip on Lennon but last week against Wigan everything flew in and this week it didn't. We would have taken a point before the game and so would they but in the event we might easily have won it. More importantly we played as if we thought we could do so. This without our two first choice centre halves and Modric.

Dawson was captain and goalscorer and playing for the first time in the league with Bassong they gave a convincing impression of a first choice pairing. If Kranjcar hadn't turned in another classy performance I would have made Dawson man of the match.

Gomes did not have a single save to make in the whole game. Jenas came on for Palacios to confound his critics again, as he did against Man.Utd, to give a demonstration of forceful attacking midfield play. He immediately struck up a partnership with Huddlestone which threatened to win the game for us and we pressed for the winner until the end.

I was completely fooled by Harry's pre-match interviews and thought that Keane would start and that Jenas might be preferred to Huddlestone. I aught to know better by now. Tom has started every game this season and so far Palacios has been our midfield anchorman.

This was a statement of intent by Harry and the squad and added the element of belief to our play. And why not? We've been in the top four almost the whole season, we are well into the second third and there is clear blue Lillywhite water appearing between us and the rest. We are developing an attitude and the mentality to achieve success.

The return of Lennon and Defoe and the quality of Kranjcar have given us a lift and one wonders where Modric will fit in. Only joking Luka you can play where you like mate, we'll slot the rest in around you. Unfortunately I don't think we will see the best of him until after Xmas now. What price a cameo role for him or Gio on Tuesday in the Carling Cup where even the ghost of Pavlyuchenko might get a start. He wasn't even on the bench on Saturday.

We are the only team standing now between a return to the 'normal' Top Four. It makes us an objective for a new level of player and helps to keep our own top players happy to stay. If we slip up then the bloodhounds will be sniffing around and cocking their legs on Modric, Lennon and Defoe and marking out their territory on our key players.

Tottenham supporters as always are more circumspect not to say downright fearful that we are peaking to early, getting too much attention, putting our heads above the parapet and drawing the sniper's fire. All this praise is a Trojan horse designed to swell our heads and unbalance us from the high wire. Now you don't recall the Trojan horse episode but friends I was there. Its a load of balony. Remember Bill Nicholson
' Its better to fail aiming high than succeed aiming low.'
I'm with Bill on this one and I don't intend to keep quiet about it. 'Chutzpah' covers it.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Villa preview

'Not another 'must win, six pointer' this week is it?' says Mrs JG2 casting a glance at me poring over the OPTA statistics, Old Moore's Almanac, Russell Grant's star chart for August (Spurs first game was in August 1882)and fingering my worry beads. If the August predictions are not propitious I use my birthday (February) instead.

'Why did you score so many last week? You could have saved them for this game'.

She has a point in her peculiarly uninformed way, but I ignore her. I tell her every week that this is the crucial one, the real test, the game that might define our season, which of course it is until we lose it and then I start to explain how this one can be ignored. Just a blip.

Anyway I assume that everybody has arrived safely back down to earth and that I am not addressing an empty void. A sterner task faces us this week away to Villa. Their home record is good although our own away record has improved. We are flying after our thrashing of Wigan who, curiously, are the only team to have beaten Villa at home this year, but that was in the opening game of the season.

Where does this lead us forecast wise? I did a little in-depth research on a Villa website.
All crazy as coots: questioning the manager; criticising team selection; promoting their own favorites at the expense of team regulars. At least we we don't have that to put up with at Spurs where Harry is a God, Robbie Keane is a Saint and everyone supports the team, the squad, the club and the manager without dissent.

Anyway as result of my extensive 3 minute skim I find that although there was some reference to 'cocky cockneys' getting 'stuffed' on the whole there was sufficient nervousness after last week to take a draw if it was offered and I guess many of us would do the same.

However I am optimistic that we can get a narrow win. Even if Villa were to win by less than four goals we will remain above them and the rest of the chasing pack for another week. That's my cover story if we lose. I haven't explained this to Mrs.JG2 yet. I'm saving it in case. Both Hansen and Lawrenson predict a home win by a narrow margin so that gives us a slight edge to start with.

What team will Harry put out? Logically the same as last week, winning team and all that. But he has been defending Robbie Keane this week and decrying the hostility of the fans toward the man that he brought back and appointed captain and may well start him with Defoe as a demonstration of his support .

There is also a good football argument in playing him and Defoe up front as their mobility and speed will worry the Villa defense more than balls pumped up towards Crouch. But it must be admitted that we largely resisted this temptation last week. Villa are not likely to give us as many early Xmas presents as the Wigan back line did.

Kranjcar should keep his place and the only midfield change I can see is perhaps Jenas for Huddlestone as in an away fixture we might need his 'engine' to give us greater cover in defense and to get forward more quickly to support the attack when needed. Unless Harry has finally decided that Huddlestone is first choice in midfield with Palacios. At the back King will start if fit with Woodgate, and Bassong may well get the nod over Dawson if not.

A win will cement the gap that has opened up between us and Villa and Man.City. Everton who I wrote off some weeks ago continue to slide, losing at Hull in midweek, and look more likely to be fighting relegation than contesting the Europa places. That means that realistically there are only 7 teams contesting the top 7 places, with perhaps Sunderland and Fulham as outside bets.

It should be a good game tactically and technically as both teams try to play the right way but we have the edge in attack with Lennon and Defoe and a clean sheet might well be the key to winning this one. I am not expecting the openness that produced the 4-4 thriller of last year, nor am I expecting Harry to give Pavlyuchenko a start or even a cameo role. He couldn't even get on when we were 6-1 up with 20mins to go so what are the chances if it's tight.

For the record I predicted that we would win 3-1 last week and I got 2 out of three. Just a little underestimation of our score prevented me from being spot on. Long may it last.

Prediction: Villa 1:Spurs 2.( So that's 1-6 then in Wigan terms)

Monday, 23 November 2009

A day to remember

9-1, well played lads, 'nuff said.

Oh! The Blogmaster says I can't get away with that, check the small print in the Blogcontract. OK. then: very well played lads. Nope, still not enough. Remember, less is more, 'Brevity is the soul of wit' Blogmaster.

Anyway at half-time I was thinking 'Stoke again' even though this time we had got the early goal and Lennon was looking purposeful if not positively single minded. For 25mins. we throttled and harassed and bewildered them and could have been 3 or 4 up.

Then we relented and let them play with ball a bit and although their shooting was woeful we gave them the opportunity to get back into the game. We played as if we had forgotten what Harry had said as we left the dressing room, something about high tempo, attack and closing down the midfield.

He obviously repeated it with threats at half time because the game was transformed by Defoe's deadly finishing and Lennon's tormenting of ex-Spur Edman in his first return to White Hart Lane. He must have called him a 'hyperactive dwarf' or something at some stage in the first half because after that Lennon failed to extend him the usual courtesies.

This was a squad victory : no Keane or King our team and club captains; no Modric, our best player though Kranjcar was no mere understudy here; no Jenas, exhausted after marking Kaka against Brazil presumably.

But everyone stepped up including captain for the day Woodgate and especially Huddlestone, who has started every game this season. Even Bentley managed an assist and a goal in his fifteen minutes of fame. Goals flew in from everywhere and every mistake, and there were several, by the Wigan defence was punished. Palacios too although still giving away free kicks unnecessarily was more positive and searching with his passes. We were rightly punished by Scharner's goal which he clearly handled but there was not a man within five yards of him when he scored.

We go to Aston Villa in the top four as of right. No need to study the table or take into account games in hand. Even if we were to lose at Villa, thanks to Jermain, we would still be fourth(unless they win by seven goals). How much it means in terms of confidence and momentum is difficult to assess but clearly it can't be negative.

I stress a squad performance because we are approaching the perils of the January transfer window. This leads to the annual pleas for buying players to take us to the next level. Well friends at the moment we are already there, achieved by Harry buying frugally and well since he arrived and assembling a quality squad who deserve some stability, loyalty, and continuity.

Players who are better than what we have are unlikely to come to us mid-season and in any case may disrupt the team dynamics or may take time to settle into the team or the Premiership. I think that Harry should tinker and fine tune a little more, try a limited amount of the rotation which was forced on him against Wigan, recall O'Hara, and stick with the present squad. We don't need to replace Pavlyuchenko if he goes because we don't use him anyway.

The lessons of the 9-1 victory were that we played at a high tempo, had a balanced 442 formation, kept the approach play mainly on the ground, despite Crouch starting, and apart from the 20 minutes before half time closed down the midfield.

I always have that 'This could be the day' feeling at kick-off. Its ridiculous I know but yesterday was just such a day and one to remember. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 30 yrs for something similar.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Wigan preview

Seasoned Spurs fans will pick out with ease the errors in the following preview.

'Tottenham have a routine game against Wigan in the Premiership on
Saturday which should give them an easy win and three points to boost
their Top Four chances.
At home to an average Wigan side with a poor away record who have yet
to fully adapt to their new manager they will be boosted by the return
of speedy winger Lennon after injury and a choice of three centre
halves.

Prediction: 3-1 to Spurs.

Spotted them ? Well I gave you an easy one to start with; the game has been switched to Sunday by mutual agreement. But this has 'banana skin' scribbled all over it. In fact it is more like a bunch of banana skins written in 96 point font in bold and underlined.

Secondly, Spurs don't do 'easy' or 'routine'. If there is a way of making us suffer, they will find it with aplomb, in style and with irritating nonchalance. Think Stoke.

Thirdly mentioning 'Top Four' is apparently to poke the gods of football with a sharp stick and to anger them into turning their faces from us and staring fixedly in a North Westerly direction.

Fourthly 'average' sides are to us what cheese at supper-time is to a sound night's sleep. A nightmare.

A 'Poor away record' is the toreador's extravagant final pass challenging the desparate bull to raise itself for one last effort to impale his soft dangly bits on the end of its sharp pointy bits.

Finally making any guesses as to the availability of Tottenham's central defenders or its creative flankers is to indulge in the fantasy worlds of Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, and Enid Blyton all at the same time.

Wigan it should be remembered have beaten both Aston Villa (Away) and Chelsea this season and have one or two players capable of causing an upset. They were however beaten 4-1 by Portsmouth in their last game.

So there you have it. A game we should win. A win which would take us back to almost the two points per match average which would have secured a Top Four finish in the last ten years of the Premiership and in some a better finish than fourth.

If Harry goes 442, puts Defoe and Keane up front, instructs the boys to keep the ball on the floor and to feed Lennon, if he plays, all will be well, especially if we can score early. The rest, and Wigan, should be history.

But as the man said 'history teaches us that history teaches us nothing'. Following Spurs over many years leads me to agree. However this season we are beating the teams outside the Top Four rather than those within it which as a strategy is more points profitable than the other way round. So my prediction and my hopeful preview stand and I might venture a small wager on a 3-1 win. Very small though.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

If its not perfect it can be improved

(Article published on Spurs Community)

Let me start by paying my respects to Harry for all he has done for us and to Robbie Keane for the fine player that he is and his contribution to the club over seven years, off and on. Secondly I am happy with the position we are in and certainly prefer it to last season.

However I belong to the, 'If its not perfect it can be improved' tendency rather than the, 'If its not broken why fix it?' school of thought. Nor do I regard Robbie Keane as some sort of talisman who must play every game for fear the football gods might punish us.

I don't believe in conspiracy theories: 'must play' clauses in contracts; secret love children; incriminating photos of Harry and the like. They are the result of frustration and overheated imagination. I don't believe that Harry has favourites but chooses players for their perceived effectiveness.

We are in the Top Four but are clinging on by our fingertips. Games in hand might see us slip out out the Champions' League places. Clubs that might have been above us have made poor starts, Everton and Liverpool, or slipped up recently, Man.City and Aston Villa. We were lucky to beat Sunderland who would otherwise have gone above us. Its never a good sign when your goalkeeper is man of the match too often.

More important to me though is that we are not playing consistently well, either as a team or individually. And you cannot succeed over 38 games by riding you luck as we have lately. (Portsmouth and Sunderland spring to mind) Firstly there is the Robbie Keane situation. He is visibly off form but as captain starts every game and is then subbed regularly on the hour. Effective team formation is being sacrificed to the requirements of fitting him in.

Secondly there is the Crouch problem and though much debate on here centred around the usefulness of having a tall striker as a tactical option when required it has begun to affect the way that we play, particularly when he starts. He is like Darren Bent in that the style of football that we play is altered for the worse in order to fit him in.

Thirdly individual players are off form. Now whatever reservations you may have about Huddlestone and Jenas they have both, in general, stepped up and at the moment Wilson 'best thing since sliced bread' Palacios has not. He certainly adds an element that has been missing from the Spurs midfield but of late has appeared distracted.

His tackling is suspect, he gives away too many free kicks in dangerous positions and his passing has been poor. In a 442 formation he should play in the centre of the midfield, with Huddlestone to the left and Jenas to the right. At the moment the backup widely deemed vital to be purchased in January could well be his replacement.

Without Lennon and Modric who give us width and creativity we need Kranjcar to operate on the left, with Bale as a possible substitute if we need more pace. We seem more effective when we play 442 with Keane, if he has to start, up front with Defoe. Crouch should be an impact sub alternated with Pavlyuchenko while he is still here. Defoe and Pavlyuchenko could also be tried in order to establish the most effective partnership.

Dawson and Woodgate should be the first choice centre backs while Bassong is injured and King should be backup until his recent spate of injuries on top of, or because of his ongoing condition, is sorted out.

What am I trying to achieve? A more effective team, playing more fluent football securing even greater success. The table doesn't lie, we are doing very well but in my view with the team, the players and manager that we have we could be doing better and be more secure in our challenge at the top. With Modric and Lennon to return and a better balance to the squad this should certainly be possible.

What we need are minor adjustments, a little fine tuning, far less than the wholesale import of new players demanded by some in January who may or may not integrate into the team and the Premiership. We cannot just hope for the best or rest on our laurels.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Tweak it Harry

In 1965 my late father in law, an engineer by trade and a mechanic by inclination, was the owner of an immaculate, black Rover 100. He spent the weekends 'tinkering' with the engine. That was in the days when cars lasted for ever and scrappage schemes for a mere 10yr.old vehicles would have been met with derision. He adjusted, tweaked, modified and fine tuned until an already smoothly running engine was at peak performance.

You could of course actually access the engine then and not just plug it into a computer once a year for a diagnostic analysis.The football equivalent is the six monthly transfer window.Not so much Quick Fit as quick fix

Harry has done a wonderful job and continues to do so. But he is not perfect and not making the most of his assets and the team partly as a consequence is not playing well. But Harry is loyal, or stubborn, as some might have it, and can use the 'If it ain't broke' defence. Harry's attitude seems to be 'Well its got us half way there, why bother to open the bonnet and see what that irritating rattle is.

What does our last game teach us? That there ain't no justice. We outplayed Stoke and lost. We were outplayed by Sunderland and won. The three points puts an end to the losing run, papers over the cracks and puts us back in the top four. That is mainly because other results continue to go our way particularly those of Man.City who got their fifth consecutive draw and are two points behind us with a game in hand. Aston Villa are closing in. That's two six pointers before Xmas.

'What cracks?' Well we can't rely on Gomes to dig us out every time for a start.
You can't continue to start your captain in every game and then substitute him in every game because he isn't doing the job. You can't assemble a squad of decent footballers and then lump the ball towards Crouch and hope for the best. I know its not supposed to work like this but it seems to.

Meanwhile a successful International striker is ignored. You buy a quality player like Kranjcar as cover for Modric and then sit him on the bench, leaving the side unbalanced and without width. As soon as we went to 442 and Kranjcar came on the quality of the football improved and we made a few chances of our own.

Harry wonders why we don't play in a match like we do in training. Probably because training consists of short games on restricted pitches with the emphasis on limited touch and plenty of movement and passing. I would guess that they don't practice hoofing the ball half the length of the pitch onto Crouch's head very much. Even Dawson has cut out the 40yd heat seeking missile stuff.

Of course the return of Modric and Lennon promises both width and creativity and with luck we might just maintain our position until then. But in the meantime as we approach the lead up to the period, prior to the pre- mid season transfer window, fans and possibly Harry and certainly journalists start to link us with young hopefuls and old has- beens who might just fit in somewhere. For anyone decent we will have to wait until Chelsea, Man.Utd, Man.City, or any other team here or abroad who have money to burn have inspected its teeth.

At Portsmouth and Sunderland we came up against players we have discarded who might give us pause for thought; Reid, Malbranque, Boateng, and perhaps O'hara whose future looks uncertain before we plunge our hands into the Lucky Dip again. Bent, who we used poorly was replaced by Pavlyuchenko who we have treated in exactly the same way and who it seems is to be replaced in his turn.

Now Harry resisted the temptations of the summer sales and bought frugally and well. I argued the merits of stability before and after Harry's appointment and continue to do so. What we need is a tune up, Harry not a major overhaul. A little tinkering would probably do the job. My father in law would certainly approve. You might find that you already have a classic machine in your hands,check the spares. Recycling is the new shopping

Friday, 6 November 2009

A bad day at the office

A bad day at the office, is sometimes known as a ´blip´. I assume that this is a PR ointment designed to soothe the wounds sustained after a public humiliation. Both phrases have been uttered by the players and manager this week and I have used it myself on occasions to keep my spirits up after a loss or a disappointing performance.

But even as I say it I am aware what a pathetic get out it is. It is meant to conceal the true extent of the collapse in performance. In fact it suggests that there are no lessons to be learned; that except for an individual error by a player or the referee; a bit of bad luck; an own goal against the run of play, or an injury to a key player, we would have deservedly won. Just a blip, nothing happening here; nothing to see; move on.

Now Stoke maybe, but Arsenal? Now I'm not usually one to pick at old scabs but when Jenas, a player that I rate, acting as official mouthpiece, comes out with the 'bad day at the office' line I feel cheated and worry that no deep level probe in the true traditions of the Gestapo has not swung immediately into action complete with focused angle-poise lamps and dodgy foreign accents.

I can imagine JJ at the office, pinstripe suit and briefcase, neat and tidy, but he is no more likely to survive a week there than any other top level footballer. Especially when he discovers that he has to work for a couple of years for what he's getting now every week. At the Tottenham office last week it was more like going into administration than just minor mishaps which conjures up an over run on the weekly paper-clip allowance, a mild headache and the discovery that someone has not replaced the paracetamol in the first aid kit, and a shortfall of £1.89p. in the petty cash.

But on this particular bad day things were much, much worse: the head cashier, a loyal employee,with the firm man and boy, left the vault wide open and his password on a post-it note on his computer screen; the whole of the back office went home early; the security guard gave his pass keys to a well know local pickpocket; the Chief Executive Officer got his staff rotas mixed up, and his deputy spent so much time trying to check that everyone else was doing their jobs properly that he didn't leave himself time to do his own.

Now it seems to me that there is plenty to work on here for most of the training sessions this week and that 'Just a bad day at the office' is company speak for a code red swoop; a right roasting behind closed doors and compulsory viewing of the whole game, daily, with each player explaining exactly what he thought he was doing and in addition what he thought he was meant to be doing. And then writing out several hundred times 'I must not switch off'.

Next up its Sunderland where old Tottenham players go out to pasture, and where Darren Bent in particular has scores to settle. Lets hope he doesn't. He will welcome a direct comparison with Defoe in the competition for an England place. If we're hoping to at least threaten for honours, you would expect us to win a game in which we are faced by several players judged not good enough to play for us. If we do it would compensate for the loss last week in terms of points and demonstrate that lessons had been learnt and that a bad day at the office had turned a profit after all.

I am curious as to what the actual line-up will be, particularly at centre half, midfield and er...up front. Gomes, Keane, Defoe, Jenas, Dawson, Ekotto, Corluka and Palacios will probably start. Kranjcar, Bentley, Woodgate and Hutton are possibilties, Bale and Crouch are likely to appear at some time. We will hopefully play 442 and go out to win the game. Confidence returned, heads up once again. A loss is unthinkable, but I expect I'll cope.

They say that each game teaches you something and that you learn more from a loss than a victory. I hope we don't end the season with the most knowledgeable set of losers in the league.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Are we nearly there yet?

Whatever you can prove on paper about the relative strengths of the two squads, on the day, on the pitch we were out played, outfought, out thought and exposed as mere pretenders to the higher reaches of the league. We were not in the same league as Arsenal. Actually that is the problem: we are.

Now let's not get carried away. This was not one of those must win games on the points chart on the back of the kitchen door. That was last week against Stoke. We have two winnable games at home coming up and six points would put us very much back on track with 25pts from 13 games, only one off the magic 2pts per game tally. As I write we are still in the top four although Man. City could overtake us this afternoon. I said that last week when once again results went our way. But the pack is bunching up behind us.

But the manner of the defeat was disheartening. We came for a point and hoped to do a Stoke. We played O.K for 42 minutes and then led by Ledley King auditioning early for pantomime villain didn't just shoot ourselves in the foot but performed ritual hari kari. I'm not sure what Panto that is. We didn't get a shot on target in open play during the whole game and but for an early Gomes save from Fabregas and poor finishing from Eduardo it could have been much worse.

Fabregas was absolutely fabulous and ran the show. He scored an inspired solo goal when gifted the ball by Palacios, nipping between Jenas and Huddlestone, evading a trademark Palacios lunge and tempting Ledley into a uncharacteristic wild, last ditch tackle 30yds out to leave Gomes helpless. All this within 11 seconds of our own kick-off from the first goal, another tale of slack defending; no Bassong in place to cut out the cross and Ledley slow to respond to the near post ball that Van Persie converted.

We played the ball too often hopefully towards Crouch who only managed to lay the ball off twice and nothing came of anything we did. In midfield we were slow of thought and movement but with little signs of life up front there were only limited possibilities. The full backs were rarely able to make progress down the wings and crossed from too deep towards Crouch who was always marked by two or three strong defenders. Bentley forgot that he was our new saviour, again.

The third goal was the result of our defenders disobeying the first rule of football: ' Play to the whistle' and Gomes and King confused each other and gifted the ball to Van Persie. A catalogue of horrors right on cue for Halloween. Just as the lads were anticipating hot mugs of cocoa and warm words from Harry at half time the Nightmare on Ashburton Grove began. The villain is usually some extra terrestrial or malignant force but in this new age of computers this was more like an internal virus.

Blame who you like; Ledley, Gomes, Huddlestone, Bentley, Harry or pencil in your favourite scapegoat. We were without Modric our most inventive player and Defoe and Lennon our quickest and most threatening forwards. Draw what comfort you can from this but against the Top Four in four games we have lost three and scored three goals against ten.

'Are we nearly there yet?' Three errors do not a crisis make. Our season will be defined by the results against the teams beneath and around us but our performances against the top teams used to give us reasons to dream and hope. We will probably get into Europe this season which will be a sufficient sign of progress for me but Top Four is clearly revealed as a fantasy too far too soon.

Are we nearly there yet?'
We've clearly packed the car and filled up with petrol; we are heading for the motorway. But the SatNav is on the blink, the traffic is building up and according to that last signpost we have further to go than we thought.