The Blog that's not always wrong.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Look to the Future

Look to the future now
Its only just begun (Slade)

But first a quick look at the past.
A fourth consecutive clean sheet for the first time since 2001; 10 points out of 12 over Xmas, our best Yuletide performance for,for, well ages. This could be the crucial launch pad for the third phase of the season.

Away to Fulham, who were fresh from beating Man.Utd 3-0, Harry was clearly wary and so were they. We traveled intending not to lose and turned in a determined performance by all concerned, particularly Dawson as captain and a match saving one by Gomes. But then that's what goalkeepers are for. A year ago here he dropped a Simon Davies' shot into the net and entered Goalkeeper Hell. He became the butt of tabloid and not a few Spurs 'supporters' jokes but proved over the past year that 'class is permanent'.

Against a poorly performing W.Ham side with both injury and financial problems we scored early but didn't manage to secure the game until Defoe's powerful strike in the 80th minute. But even at 1-0 there was no real danger as we out possessed them; out passed them; out cornered them and out shot them, on and off target. For the first time in years I wasn't even edgy with just a one goal lead. Ledley completed 90 minutes and Modric returned and scored. We played some sparkling football, Lennon was magical and nobody had a bad game.

Resolutions:

1)To carry on enjoying it whatever happens.
2)To continue arguing for as little change to the squad as possible in January.
3)To continue to believe that whatever I say, or hope, or believe does not affect the results. I may make a fool of myself but it doesn't actually damage Spurs prospects.
4)To believe with Sir Bill that, 'It is better to fail aiming high than succeed aiming low'

Heroes so far:

Dawson who has stepped into the centre half breach and staked a claim for the captaincy.
Gomes for his triumph over adversity and return to top form.
Kranjcar who almost made us forget that Modric was injured.
Lennon our fleet footed flier who can now cross, chew gum, and run all at the same time.

Villains so far:

David Bentley. Never has so much been spent on somebody for so little return.
Robbie Keane. More of a disappointment than a villain to be fair.

Predictions:

This squad can certainly break into the Top Four. It has the necessary quality and depth and is getting belief and consistency of performance.
Our next 13 games in the run up to the Arsenal game are crucial as we play 3 of the usual suspects in the last five games and need to be ahead of the game by then. At least our fate will be in our own hands.
But in this next batch of matches only Liverpool away and Man.City away are difficult (on paper). The other 11 are all winnable. I know, I know 'famous last words' and matches aren't played 'on paper'.
A Liverpool late run in the home straight cannot be discounted. Man.City with a new jockey aboard are perhaps more of a threat and have won their last two outings. Aston Villa don't have the pedigree to sustain their challenge. Birmingham's early show will soon peter out. Sunderland and Fulham are unsuited to this quality of race. Everton were non-starters this time out and are rumoured to be going out to stud.

My prediction is that Spurs will challenge with Man.City for fourth behind Chelsea, Man.Utd, and Arsenal. Aston Villa and Liverpool will compete for sixth.

Would I be disappointed if we lose out in the battle for 4th place? Of course, but that would still represent real progress. We are playing attractive, attacking football with more determination in the midfield and tightness in defence. The squad is young and can make further progress next season under Harry even if we fade in the run in this year.
Modric, Kranjcar, and the return of Woodgate might just tip the odds in our favour and good luck with injuries might just allow us to claim the 4th spot.

Its a pleasant change to note that with just one more win we are safe from relegation well before the end of January. I'm not sure whether to blog this or write it on rice paper and swallow it, just in case. Nope. See resolution 3)

Preview; Peterborough (F.A. Cup )

This kind of fixture over the years has produced more banana skins than a Chimpanzee's tea party but I'm not sure that even Tottenham can mess this one up.
Peterborough are bottom of the Championship and have won only three matches in 24 games, none of then away.
I would protect as many first choice regulars as possible so hopefully young Bale will play himself in for the Liverpool match, Dawson and Bassong and perhaps Hutton or Naughton will complete the back line. Jenas and Keane will probably start and whoever plays we should keep another clean sheet and score 3or 4 as we did against them pre-season.
You can get good odds on either Pavlyuchenko or Gio starting or even appearing, but I live in hope.

Happy New Year from JimmyG2.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Reasons to be cheerful

Reasons to be Cheerful.

We've reached the half way stage and I thought I would share some seasonal goodwill with you at this point in this exciting season with a quick look at the positives. More traditional fans of the 'Don't speak too soon' persuasion can no doubt provide the 'Reasons to be gloomy' side of the picture and you're welcome to do so.

Liverpool(H) Victory against a 'top four' side.

Hull City(A) First hat-trick of the season(Defoe). First 5goal haul.
First away win. Top.

W.Ham(A) Second away win. Came from behind to win. Still top of the
table.

Doncaster(A)Cup. Third away win. Second five goal haul.

Birmingham(H) Lennon scored late to win it.

Man.Utd (A) We scored first, but were well beaten.


Chelsea(A) Should have been two up but missed our chances.

Preston N.E(A)Cup. Third five goal win. 4th away win. Crouch hat-trick

Burnley(H) 4th 5goal win. Keane scores 4. Back in top four.

Bolton(A) Came from behind twice to get a draw. Back to 3rd

Portsmouth(A) 5th away win. Still 3rd

Stoke(H) Totally outplayed them but lost.

Everton(H)CUP Many players missing but no problems. Bale starts and
wins.(Not Prem. though)

Arsenal(A) 42mins of decent play then disintegration. Still in top Four.

Sunderland(H) Outplayed but won. Mark of a good team apparently. Gomes outstanding.

Wigan(H) Best score for 30 years. Defoe scores 5. Still in top four.

Villa(A) Came from behind to draw. Away from home against possible
contenders. 3rd.

Man.Utd(A)CUP Outplayed them first half but went in 2 down. Bale excellent.

Everton(A) Nothing positive comes to mind. Point away from home. Still in top four.

Wolves(H) Return of Modric. Brief appearance of Gio. Other results mean
we didn’t suffer as much as we might have. But I’m struggling
on this one.

Man.City(H) Best performance of the season. Lennon, Dawson, Kranjcar
outstanding.

Blacburn(A) Won with a solid performance where we might
normallylose.Clean sheet and Crouch back on scoresheet.4th
league away win

Fulham(A) Gomes brilliant. Poor game but a good point. King and Modric
made a welcome re-appearance. First three consecutive clean
sheets for five years.

Positives:
Winning away(5 total, 4 in league): goals from all over the pitch (15 different players so far): hat-tricks and more from three different players: coming from behind to win and draw: winning late on: most of the season in top four: despite key players being missing (Modric, King, Woodgate) the squad have stepped up and played with more grit and determination than previously.
Harry seems to have become more pro-active with his substitutions and to have sorted out the Keane as captain problem when he's not playing well by not making him an automatic choice.
Dawson has not only played well in the absence of his senior mentors but has thrived with the captaincy and has formed a sound partnership with Bassong.

W.Ham forecast

A win against W.Ham will start the second half of the season off nicely and we should be favourites to do so and perhaps to keep another clean sheet. W.Ham have only one once in nine games away whereas Spurs have won 6 out of nine at home. Anything can happen in a derby but I am tipping this to go with home advantage and form.

JimmyG2 official forecast is 3-0 to Spurs.

Review of Fulham and W.Ham games later in the week and my New Year resolutions and hopes.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Better than Sex

The 'Bloggers handbook' recommends using a catchy headline, so I have. We will see if it improves the hit count.

And now back to the football. Anyone who thought that their Uncle Jimmy would modestly refrain from pointing out that he forecast the two latest wins and even got the score spot on for Blackburn, and predicted the demise of Mark Hughes, does not fully appreciate the ego power of your average blogger. If we could harness it, Global Warming would be a distant memory instead of an even more imminent threat after Copenhagen.

Actually I've been saying that Hughes would get the sack for about 18mths, since he was first appointed in fact, a bit like the man who carried an 'End of the World Is Nigh' sign for 30yrs but died before his prophecy came true. It's all a matter of timing. Multi billionaires soon throw their toys and their managers out of the pram if their money doesn't bend the Laws of Nature. They haven't worked out yet that only one team can win the league.

Now I'm not saying that I actually caused these events, well not completely on my own obviously. The lads helped by matching their brilliance against Man.City with some determination against a Blackburn side that probably shaded us for possession. Gomes made at least four saves and Robinson made none, though he should have come for Kranjcar's cross for our first goal. Given our record up there this was a real signpost on the way to somewhere.

To put the match into perspective try listening to Sam's analysis or reading some of the Blackburn fan sites. The first goal was apparently out of time by, ooh, several seconds; Crouch fouled Nelson for the first; the second goal was offside; Benni McCarthy was man of the match and should have scored three and so on.

Now there might be bits of truth in there somewhere: Crouch is often penalised unfairly in those situations; we were deep into injury time; McCarthy played well and was unlucky with the attempt that hit Gomes and rolled across the goal off the post, but what about the other 89 minutes?

Once again this was a real team effort, with the fullbacks supporting their wing players; Dawson and Bassong covering each other and Gomes making the save when everything else had failed. We matched them in midfield for energy and grit and our attacking play was stifled partly by our inability to pass or shoot accurately and by Blackburn's covering. Nelson did play well against Crouch, apart from the goal,and they certainly had more chances than us.

But for the second time in four days we kept a clean sheet, and Crouch crowned an excellent week with two well taken goals. I have not been his greatest admirer but I am pleased for the boy. What's good for Tottenham players is good for Tottenham. He stepped up when Defoe, Lennon and Kranjcar were all slightly off key. Both Jenas and Keane looked lively when they came on and Jenas set up the second goal with an adventurous run and a nice touch through to Crouch.

I think the key is the variety of approach, Kranjcar and probably Modric when he returns, gives us balance and both are happy to shift inside when Lennon swaps wings. We seem to be resisting the temptation of playing it too long too often. Incidently I was pleased to see the return of the Gomes long throw which tends to retain possession because it is more precise than his kicking.

Next up are Fulham who are not to be underestimated : just ask Man.Utd. They have won six of their home games out of nine and only conceded 6 goals in doing so. Captain Danny Murphy is running the show and Zamora, yes that Zamora, Bobby Zamora, is now being cheered off the pitch instead of booed. He's being tipped for the England World Cup squad by his manager, but then you wouldn't expect him to say anything different. Both players failed to make any impact at Spurs. In fact some of you had forgotten they were ever here.

So, I can feel the tension out there building as you wait for the JG2 official forecast. Tottenham will win 2-0 and their manager will get the sack. No sorry that was last week. If we get a draw (1-1 is my prediction) I will tuck into the cold turkey with relish. Actually I don't like relish; make that pickled red cabbage.

And you know what, as I contemplate the events of the last week I think I was right in the first place. Two wins in a week, a sixth away win, still in contention for the top four: it is actually better than sex. Now Mrs JimmyG2 is claiming her right of reply here and I have assured her that I don't mean with her. Ah! wrong move as now she wants to know who it was with. But I 'm going to stop digging. So look out for next week's post by whichever of us survives.

Merry Christmas, have a drink for the lads as Harry has banned all alcohol until the end of the season. Yeah right. Are golf courses not open over Xmas?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Roll up, roll up.

Roll up, roll up. Please give a rapturous welcome to Harry Redknapp's famous Flying Circus.

Witness simultaneous Bungee Jumping by the whole squad from out of the Den of Wolves to the top of the Colin Bell stand.
Observe the world famous ex-clown Heurelho Gomes;
Regard the prowling tiger Wilson Palacios;
Behold the human projectile Aaron Lennon;
Observe the World's nearly Tallest Man Peter Crouch; The Stiltman who doesn't need stilts.
Clock the troupe of ball juggling Croatians;
Clap eyes on the Fighting Cameroon, Benoit Essou-Ekotto:
Eyeball the Flying Michael Dawson and his lovely assistant Sebastian;
Discern the human heavy roller Tom Huddlestone;
Spot the disappearing Irishman;
Catch a glimpse of the Welsh Boy Wonder;
Identify the fugitive Russian;
Make out the Fill-A-Skip heart-throb;
and our own, our very own Jermain Defoe the illusionist who conjures goals out of thin air.

No but seriously folks, our best team performance since Liverpool, including Wigan. We saw off the challenge of Man.City possibly terminally and in some style. Mark Hughes' arrogance in trying to swashbuckle away from home against the team that swashes its own buckle best against opposition that tries to take us on may have dealt a fatal blow not only to his team's ambitions but his own. One win in eleven is not likely to impress his Abu Dhabi masters.

He ignored the threat of Lennon by playing Robinho, not known for covering his defender and handed him the freedom of the right flank. Little was done to protect Sylvinho even when he was being driven to distraction by Aaron who wreaked havoc from the off.

On the other flank, Kranjcar, who gave us balance, scored two and could have had more. We didn't rely solely on the long ball to Crouch who was excellent for the first time since his hat-trick and he found his team-mates with his flick ons. Dawson was solid at the back and made another serious application for the vacant post of captain with the long term injuries to Woodgate and King and the fleeting appearances of Keane.

The third goal sums up the whole match. Three Man.City defenders advanced in a line to cut out the short corner by Kranjcar. He was ignored by them all as Lennon slipped the ball between them and he then performed the old schoolboy trick of pushing the ball past a static and mesmerised Adabeyor, ran round the other side and then nutmegged Given for his second goal.

If we could shoot we might have challenged the Wigan performance: Kranjcar, Defoe, Crouch, and Huddlestone all wasted good opportunities and all three goals were scored virtually from within the six yard box.

And so to Blackburn. Which phase of the bungee jump are we on? Buoyed up by this performance we should win but Stoke and Wolves suggest caution. Blackburn have got 15 out of their 19 points at home and conceded only 7 goals in seven games. A draw wouldn't be a disgrace but I am taking us to win and score two or three.

Last season Palacios was sent off and we then fell to two late goals having led. Chimbonda may face Lennon and David Dunn is unlikely to play. We are mentally stronger now, oh yes we are, and have the quality and the momentum to win this one. Lawrenson plays safe and predicts a draw, but, like Spurs, I'm on a roll so I am going for 2-0 to Spurs.

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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Man.City Preview

End of World probably postponed: possibly.

The popular wrist slashing kits first launched at the beginning of last season are back in stock and on special offer ( 30% off, for one day only ) in the Spurs shop in readiness for the Man.City game tonight so make sure you order early. You can get a further discount on six or more so they would make the ideal Xmas present for your Spurs supporting mates.

They are packed in an attractive box with a picture of Daniel Levy, Harry Redknapp and the team on the top. The de luxe version contains a mini dartboard and darts so that you can cut out the pictures of Daniel and Harry or your favourite scapegoat, mount them on the board and vent your feelings before making the final gesture. Who knows it might just prevent you from making the ultimate sacrifice.

Sixteen games in, we are fifth in the most open Premiership ever. But confused by our fantastic start our response to the defeats by Stoke and now Wolves is to turn, once again upon ourselves. This is not just a Tottenham thing, all supporters do it, just have a look at their fan sites, but we do seem to do it with more relish than some others.

So for now: Redknapp is unable to take us to the next level; Robbie Keane is finished; Corluka beat Huddlestone in a slow race; Palacios was never as good as we thought he was; Jenas was responsible for the defeat against Wolves even though he wasn't even on the bench, and so it goes on.

A win tonight will sweep all these doubts back into a drawer to be dusted off and re-examined when we next lose, probably to Blackburn on Saturday. A draw might suit both sides but at home we surely have the edge. I said that against Wolves and Stoke but it still remains true. City's record at WHL is dire so we have history on our side. And what does History teach us? Correct: History teaches us that History teaches us nothing.

The back five picks itself as Woodgate and King are still not available. Modric definitely won't start according to Harry and the midfield depends on whether Jenas has recovered from the food poisoning that laid him low on Saturday. Up front Crouch will probably start with Defoe after Keane's poor display.

Personally I would like to see Defoe and Pavlyuchenko start. Why? To see if they can do better than Defoe/Keane or Defoe/Crouch did on Saturday. Another suggestion is for Kjranjcar to play in the hole behind Defoe, then Gio or Modric could replace Kranjcar at some stage. This is all a bit radical and while it is a bit premature to stock up on the wrist slashing kits in anticipation of the doom to come, we haven't quite reached the 'lets try something completely different' stage either. I have no doubt that Harry will proceed cautiously, for the moment anyway.

The defeats against Stoke and Wolves are worrying because of our inability to open up packed defences and to take our chances when we make them, but setbacks happen and we have time to overcome them with 22 matches to go. Defensively Man.City are as error prone as ourselves. They play attacking football which leaves them open to the rapid counter attack game which suits us better than playing against 'smash and grab' defensive outfits.

My feeling, is that we will edge it, possibly 2-1 and I am really looking forward to the game which promises to be fast and open. They, like us, have injury problems; Bridge is out; Wright Phillips is doubtful; Bellamy is suspended.

But if we should lose its not the end of the world. That's penciled in for after Xmas.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Blip-A-Dee-Doo-Da, Just a bad day

Blip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah
Just a bad day
Blip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah
Just a bad day.

(With thanks to Walt Disney's 'Song of the South'

Music hath charms to soothe the frenzied breast of Tottenham supporters who are starting to fear that the best is behind us and that the worst is yet to come. I find that Walt Disney is a great comfort in situations like this. Mickey Mouse outfits anyone? But let's not get carried away. Only a fool would think that we could match our starting sequence of games for the whole season. Well as we are on a musical theme here, as Elvis Presley put it:

'Every now and then, there's a fool such as I'

Realistically, I suppose, we were bound to have a sequence of poorer results. Every team seems to be doing it this season. We outplayed Villa who beat Man.Utd. at Old Trafford yesterday. Bolton scored three against Chelsea. We beat Wigan 9-1 who beat Villa and so on. We couldn't hope to maintain a 2 points per game average through the season. In our first 8 games we gained 18 pts. (five wins and two losses.) In the second 8 we got 11pts. (three wins and three losses ) 'From rags to riches' or visa versa. Another Elvis offering as it happens.

You will find the Wolves' result in the Desk Sergeant's book along with Stoke under 'muggings'. It puts the away draws against Villa and Everton into a brighter perspective. These teams came to spoil and not to play, and there will be others. We are going to have to devise better formations and strategies to overcome this 'park the bus tactic'. Once again we dominated possession( 70%/ 30%) and shots (18/4) but if you don't score, you can't win: and if you don't keep a clean sheet you might just lose.

Ideally we will escape this decidedly average run against Man.City on Wednesday or they and Aston Villa will threaten to leave us behind. The challenge from Liverpool is delayed by the Arsenal win today.

We had chances to win it. Kranjcar uncharacteristically missed a good one after some slick passing between Corluka, Lennon and Modric; Huddlestone drew a good save from Hahnemann; Defoe and Crouch could have done better with their opportunities. In the end we were not clever or sharp enough around a packed box to create enough clear chances.

Until Modric came on there was little buzz or inventiveness in the midfield. He allowed us to play the ball shorter and quicker and provided a link that Huddlestone and Palacios seemed unable to provide. It was good to catch sight of Gio again as he also offers some hope of quicker thinking although ten minutes was too short to see whether he might make a difference.

In general we passed the ball well but our build up was slow, deliberate and somewhat ponderous. Some very poor passing amongst the good ceded possession at vital moments and these stick in the memory. Keane, who made some good runs, seems to have completely lost his confidence and touch. Crouch was slow of thought and movement and not one of his flick ons reached a Spurs player. In the end we went route one with little success. Defoe seemed to be in a world of his own. Lennon was well marked again and rarely made the by-line on either flank.

Our next 17 games in the run up to Arsenal in April contain Man.City at home and away, Villa at home and Liverpool away. The other 13 games are against what you might consider 'easier' teams. You need to put the Stoke and Wolves results to one side at this point. That's a bit like saying that apart from the blizzards, the hurricane and the floods the weather has been quite settled.

By then we need to be more than in contention because our last five games involve 3 of the usual top four suspects. The way its going it might be all over by then. One game at a time Jimmy, one game at a time.

I finish where I started with Disney lyrics this time from 'Snow White' and this time in honour of our one true great, Luka Modric.

'When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true.

Modric is my star and my dream is of a top four finish, this season. In true Spurs fashion we are making it harder and less likely and the rest of the season is becoming unnecessarily exciting or perhaps depressing. I'm off now to browse the Walt Disney songbook again to find some cheeringful material for future columns. You have been warned.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Wolves preview.

Well, now its official: 'Spurs lack mental strength'. Despite my brilliantly argued and eloquent paper on the alternatives to the 'mental weakness' theory,( See previous blog) Mark Lawrenson has decided to abandon reason and go straight to bald assertion. In his Tottenham v Wolves preview he deals a mortal blow to my ideas by his pronouncement that we do, in fact, 'lack mental strength'.Fact.

So there you have it. Any waverers out there who were almost convinced by my arguments can stop worrying about it and relax. Clearly I was wrong, and any of you that subscribe to the 'mental' theory can bask in the knowledge that you are on-side with Mr. Lawrenson and that you correctly identified the root cause as to why we are only in fourth pace with long term injuries to three of our senior players and are having our best and most promising season for years. We lack mental strength and if we had it we might be, er, third.

However both he and Mr.Hanson predict a win for us on Saturday and there I think we can say that this is not controversial and I agree with them. You don't get to be a well paid pundit by sticking your neck out.

Spurs are 4th; Wolves are 18th. We have 27 pts from 15 games. Wolves have 13
Our goal difference is +14; Wolves is -14. We are strong at home, Wolves are poor away. A cast iron, nailed on, copper bottomed win then. But by how many shall we say? We are bound to concede one but we should score three or four. So let's make that a 4-1 home victory.

But 'Wait!' I hear you cry, ' What about the mental weakness factor?' Ah I forgot, sorry Mr. Lawrenson. Difficult one that. Nope, I spit in the face of 'mental weakness'; I expectorate in the countenance of the pundits; I......well I think you get the general drift.

Spurs to win then 5-1. Modric might get half an hour. Dos Santos might get 10 mins. And if Pavlyuchenko is sold Dos Santos could save us £10 million or more on a replacement striker.

Keane will probably start with Defoe; Captain Dawson and Bassong at the back with Lennon, Jenas, Huddlestone and Kranjcar across the middle. I assume that even 'Iron Man' Wilson will not have recovered yet. Three points and we go above Arsenal who might well get beaten at Liverpool, although a draw would suit us better. That draws a line under Everton and puts a smile back on all our faces.

So don't let me down now lads, I've gone out on a limb for you again. Don't saw the bloody branch off between me and the trunk. Stick your 'mental weakness' up Wolverhampton Wanderers and the pundits.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Mental weakness

'Mental weakness'. Can it be the cause of all our woes? It certainly seems to be gaining ground quite widely as the comprehensive explanation for our failure to hold a winning position, most recently at Everton. It is not a new accusation and we seemed to have overcome it recently. When we were constantly losing to late goals a couple of seasons ago it was the subject of some debate.

However as a theory it worries me, especially when so many people take it up like a slogan with such enthusiasm. As soon as people seize on any theory: Comolli or mental weakness or Gareth Bale or Harry or whatever to explain everything I get doubtful. Life thankfully, is never that simple.

This season we seemed to have overcome many of our previous hang-ups which is why we are doing so well. I list a few: scoring the second (and on occasions the third, fourth, fifth and even ninth) goal: coming from behind to win and draw; holding on to win; scoring late to win; winning five times away from home.

In general, keeping our nerve and seeing things out. Stoke and Everton were the exceptions rather than the rule. The games against Manchester Utd. Chelsea and Arsenal might be said to show mental weakness but it could be that we were beaten by better teams, or shot ourselves in the foot by individual errors.

So why this sudden attack of mental weakness in a season where we have generally been mentally strong? The idea that Spurs are mentally weak seems to suggest that it is something in our genetic make-up at Spurs. Even players that arrive mentally strong succumb. Is that the reason why a promising player like Gareth Bale loses it? Or why Wilson seems so jaded?

Easier explanations are available; injuries or personal problems in these two cases. If it is mental weakness its a difficult problem to address. Again I list some possible remedies: the appointment of a more uncompromising and experienced captain; the appointment of a team of sports' psychologists; late goal electric shock aversion therapy; severe fines for poor passes, tackles, and missed opportunities. If its a long-standing Tottenham problem then I am not hopeful of a cure.

Actually I am. The first cure is success: winning games breeds confidence and I think that this is true of this season. All the other remedies are football ones which are easier to implement than attacking 'head' problems even on an individual basis let alone as a team or club neurosis.

Lets start with better tactics. Trying for the third goal when you are 2-0 up on 59mins. is not unreasonable but the game plan changes when you are 2-0 up with 10mins left. If the players don't know this from their own experience then better and more comprehensive coaching is the answer.

Better and quicker substitutions in response to the situation and the tactical changes of the opposition. Giving the team a clearer understanding of what is required of them collectively and individually at different stages of the game depending on the situation. 'Visualizing possibilities and outcomes' I think they call it in modern coaching theory.

All these apply to the Everton game and they are down partly to Harry and the coaching staff not just the players. We dropped points at Everton in my view due to purely footballing reasons; poor positioning (Kranjcar Bale and Bassong) poor clearances (Palacios) failing to retain possession of the ball(everyone more or less), dropping too deep when under pressure( a perennial Tottenham habit). Was all this the result of 'mental weakness'?

These are all deficiencies that can be cured by better coaching at team and individual level, after all even Aaron has learnt how to cross. Better players and a new manager might cure most of these problems but I do not advocate either. We are, as many point out frequently, doing very well, so wholesale changes are not required.

Lack of leadership on the field is another possibility. The first step might be to appoint Dawson as captain given the uncertainties surrounding Woodgate and King's injuries and now Keane, who has been regularly subbed and has not started the last two games.

He is likely to become first choice centre half and plays with wholehearted enthusiasm and has improved as a player. At the moment he is fifth choice captain, after King, Keane, Woodgate and Jenas. He might lack experience but would grow into the role and certainly give leadership. He has scored twice in two games as captain and a settled back four pairing would certainly help.

Is it the answer to everything? Obviously not in the same way that even if there is an element of truth in the accusation of 'mental weakness' it is not the whole problem. 'Mental weakness' doesn't do it for me: it has a somewhat mystical element: 'The Ghost in the Woodwork at White Hart Lane' and ignores many more basic problems.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Match of the Day(2) test

Let us apply the 'Match of the Day(2)' test.
Did you watch it? I didn't for the first time this season. Arsenal, Chelsea, Man.Utd: no problem we were beaten in the end by better teams and were never really in with a shout. Stoke: I decided that we played well enough even though we went down to a sucker punch. My disappointment for that match had worn off by 10.30.

But Sunday night? I'm afraid not. When I fall out of love with Tottenham I fall out of love with football. I still have that little knot of anger in my stomach two days later. I couldn't bear to watch the missed chances again, or the patronizing tone of the pundits patting ambitious little Spurs on the head and hinting that they doubted us all along. Perhaps they didn't adopt this tone. Perhaps they praised the grit and determination of Everton, all qualities that they would be implying we don't have. But remember I don't know because I didn't watch it. I couldn't run the risk of any further damage to my emotional system.

I knew, like every time-served Tottenham fan, that Defoe would miss the penalty and in truth by then we didn't deserve to win. We had been sidetracked in the first half into a physical confrontation and instead of playing football we attempted to show that we are 'hard enough'. Much to the delight of Everton who clearly had more to gain than us from such a battle and possibly from an element of our own supporters keen to show that we are not soft, southern, milk sops.

However this is to lose sight of the planet for the sake of a blade of grass. As a consequence of this diversion and Crouch and Defoe missing three good chances we went in level without a goal being scored.

In the second half we cleared the 'red mist' long enough to go two up and restored some sanity to the situation. But then we lost it again by not holding onto the ball and conceding possession at every opportunity. The fought and battled for everything, made it again a question of will, manufactured a couple of chances with help from Bale and Palacios and that was that.

Harry was slow again to make the changes we needed: Jenas for Kranjcar, Keane for Crouch perhaps. In the event Jenas came on after 88 mins. I'm not sure what that was about, to save the game perhaps. The penalty was a lifeline that we didn't deserve at that point but if it had gone in I might have watched Match of the Day but with a slight sense of shame.

A point away from home is never to be dismissed and in that sense this was not a 'must win game'. But on the day it was a 'should have won game' and they are the most likely to cause the Match of the Day audience to be at least one short. My head is telling me that we have gained two points from away matches against potential rivals for top four. That for most of the first game we played well, deserved to win both and that we are still on track

Nope. It doesn't work for me at the moment. This was four points that might just be useful during our difficult run in: two lost against Villa and two gift wrapped with bows and dropped into the skip against Everton who are more likely candidates for relegation than Europe.

Defoe's goal was well taken from another fine Lennon cross to the near post and captain Dawson scored a 'Boys Own' diving header from a Kranjcar corner. The first half was the poorest in football terms I have watched in a long time and we need a fight promoter for the next Everton game. What football there was we played it. Lennon was head and shoulders above everyone else which is quite hard when you're the smallest person on the pitch. Crouch was the tallest: draw your own conclusions.

Arguments over whether Keane, Pavlyuchenko, or Jenas should have started are irrelevant when you have done enough to win the game but throw it away by playing poor football. Results, apart from Liverpool, went against us for the first time recently and the gathering pack is poised to overtake us, especially a resurgent City. We remain in the top four and have a winnable home game against Wolves which I will preview when I have recovered my composure.

So the running order on 'Match of the Day(2)' is an evaluation of the quality of the game and the audience figures a measure of my emotional state on a Saturday night. Not bad for a football highlights programme. Were we on first? I didn't watch it, as I think I told you.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Now we can concentrate on the league

Plenty of moments of truth, turning points, markers, crossroads and possible jump-starts this week. Will Everton's progress in the Europa Cup jump-start their season? Was Liverpool's win at Everton a turning point? Could Chelsea's Carling Cup defeat at Blackburn prove a crossroads for both clubs? Will Man.City's defeat of Arsenal be a marker for a new assault on the top four? All of these are unanswerable questions, at this stage, and only determined in the long run by 20/20 hindsight, that crucial piece in the pundit's and blogger's tool kit.

How does Tottenham's defeat at Man.Utd in the Carling Cup fit into this speculative whirlpool? Well, a game of two halves really (is it too late to take out a patent on that phrase?) and you have to ignore the two superb strikes by Gibson that settled the match. We can take heart from the first half where we played confidently and imposed ourselves on a side prepared to take us at our own valuation: third in the table; nine goal winners over Wigan. They began apprehensively and allowed us to play, if not to score.

In the end we showed the ability but not the desire. Harry's declaration that the league was a priority before the match didn't help but our second half display was poor bordering on the abject. It lacked pace and belief. Checking through the box marked 'positives' only Bale's name leaps out. Hutton and Bentley combined well at times in the first half; Lennon is a threat whichever wing he plays on; Dawson was competent: Gomes was a bystander, even for the goals. The rest flickered like the flame of hope in the cold Old Trafford blast and went out. Bassong was slow to close down for at least the second goal, and for the Cuellar header that led to Villa's goal on Saturday.

In the 'If only' file Defoe's failure to convert Bale's cross or to roll it across the six yard box for Keane is the key exhibit. If he had scored then perhaps the psychological boot would have been on the other foot. Or the psychological foot would have been in the other boot. Whatever. The stress on golden boot awards makes strikers even more selfish than they already are by nature. Perhaps the big award of the season should be the 'Golden Shoehorn' for the most assists.

But we were not outplayed. We lost it in our heads rather than on the pitch. So as usual you can make of this what you like. It probably depends on your temperament. Take the positives from the first half and look forward with confidence, or take the negatives from the result and the lacklustre second half and fall into gloom and depression at the thought of a newly energized Everton at the weekend.

Personally I am a positive depressive and will quickly recover from the Manchester result. But its not really about me is it. You have to feed into your predictive computer the fact that Everton sustained further injuries, to Distin, Gosling and Jo, to their already depleted squad. We have already beaten Everton 2-0 this season and they are worse placed now than when we beat them. Crouchy says that the defeat to Man.Utd was a 'one off'.

So there you have it, almost certainly we will win but I await confirmation that Woodgate and /or King are available. Kranjcar will be back even if Modric doesn't quite make it. Defoe can't keep missing chances and we cannot fail to improve on our second half performance at Old Trafford.

At least we can fall back on the straw- clutcher's last hope that 'now we can concentrate on the league.'