The Blog that's not always wrong.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Any more for the Scapegoat

Any more for the Scapegoat? OK then form an orderly queue and we'll just go once round the highlights and see if the tide is low enough for us to see the wreckage of the 'High Hopes' which sank on Saturday. Someone's got to take the tiller here .There has to be some good reason for not beating the current top three in consecutive matches for the first time in, oh ever. Only 6 points out of 9! what were you guys thinking?

First up: Harry.
He will get some stick because he disobeyed the golden rule of team sports: 'never change a winning team'. Not that I necessarily agree with this old adage. Remember if it's not perfect it can be improved
In order to include Wilson Palacios once compared to 'sliced bread' but now gone a little stale we had to reorganise the defensive set-up. Ekotto went to right back in place of Kaboul who wasn't to be trusted. Two goal Bale went to full back and Modric to the left midfield slot, which many believe is his best position.
Nothing really worked although a lot of this was not Harry's fault but caused by the poor performances by individual players, but the confidence from the previous two matches was wasted.

None of this is major reconstruction or not justified except for Ekotto to right back where he has played before without distinction.
Scapegoat rating: 6/10

Second up is Ekotto himself.
He got the wrong side of Berbatov and despite attempting, and failing, to haul him back was then bamboozled by his neat back-heel to Evra who he floored just because he could. Poor judgment as there were covering players. First goal to United from the spot.
Scapegoat rating 7/10

Third up is iron man Wilson.
He hasn't been injured so would have trained and should not have been so far off the pace as he appeared to be. Poor distribution whilst in his favoured midfield position and poor positional play when asked to replace Ekotto at right back.
He attempted to pull back Nani before he got into the area and then tried to run through him once he did which was unnecessary as once again there were covering players. Third, icing on the cake, goal to United from the spot.
Scapegoat rating: 8/10

Next up Gareth Bale the boy from left field.
Seriously astray for Nani's goal where he appeared to have forgotten that he was the full back.(Note it has been pointed out in the comments that  he was not playing Left Back at the timer Ekotto was. But the point is stillvalid because he had dropped back to cover him and Nani was his man.) He allowed Nani to run inside him, didn't backtrack or cover and left it all to Ledley. This is usually a good idea but not on this occasion. Wonderful finish though and a worthy match winner. Second and decisive goal to United.
Scapegoat factor 4/10

Lastly,the rest of the team.
Bentley and Defoe were very poor. Scapegoat rating 4/10
Pavlyuchenko and Huddlestone were just poor. SR 3/10
Modric tried but had no support. SR 1/10
Gomes ,Ledley and Dawson were fine. SR 0/10

We were set up to attack (442) tactically but our attitude was defensive and timid until they scored. We talked a good match but were content to spar with United for the first half and then even though we had our best spell after we equalised we still sat back to admire our handiwork and never really went for it against a United side without Rooney and Ferdinand who were themselves not at their best.

They needed to win this game as much as us. They won the midfield battle, which was really more of a skirmish, controlled the ball better and were less wasteful. They had in Berbatov and Nani two players with the skill to make the difference.

Harry was let down by his players although his lack of trust in Kaboul and the inclusion of Palacios proved disruptive and fatal. This is of course with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight but we had played well without Palacios against Arsenal and especially Chelsea. How was Harry to know that Palacios was going to play so poorly?

In the event Harry got it wrong but he has got more right than wrong over the season. Palacios is not the player he was and his limitations are beginning to show, particularly his passing. Ekotto has not developed much lately and his temperament and judgment are questionable at times. Do feel free to disagree.

However its still ours to lose although the field is bunching up behind us as we approach the final three hurdles. Still 4th with three to go, who would have thought it. City have to play both us and Villa who have been on a good run at just the right time but I make us favourites now to clinch the final Champions' League place having more than coped with our difficult run in.

The reappearance of Lennon to replace the painfully slow Bentley could just be the bonus we need. Bolton's away record is poor, they have lost 11/18 games and conceded 35 goals, and whilst hesitating to call this an 'easy' game if we don't win it we don't deserve anything.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Against all odds

Tottenham to beat Man.Utd. 3-1. Gomes to score first. Tottenham to be awarded a penalty and pigs to crash land in the centre circle at half time. Tottenham to beat the top three in consecutive games and Bale to score in all three games. Which of these bets is the fantasy one?

You've all seen them in betting shop windows. £10 pays £680. Nice odds and sometimes you get tempted. The odds against us beating United are not that outrageous and the chance of Bale scoring again not that unlikely. Now the time to place the three in a row bet was before the Arsenal game but I don't know of any bookmaker who even thought of such a wager. On current form of club and player it's not such a silly idea.

We are away from home and that makes a difference but Lennon, Palacios Corluka and King might make an appearance so we are stronger in theory than for the Chelsea game. Mr.Ferguson or his henchmen in the press have floated the 'Bale for Man.Utd' spoiler just before the game but we expected that. Modric will be next and we shouldn't be surprised or put off. It's a sign that they are as nervous as we are about the game. Normally they just ignore us so we are beginning to make our mark. It's like the Tory Press muckraking amongst that nice Mr. Clegg's dustbins. Welcome to the big-time.

Villa and City are still breathing down our necks so a point would be handy. That would be 7/9 from these difficult games and should secure Europe if we perform in the last three games. We made the Chelsea game look easy and played well against Arsenal. A win would mean that we have beaten all of the old top four this season and laid a number of myths to rest. The mental strength theory would hopefully take a fatal beating.

Man.Utd need to win this too so it might be a cautious and cagey affair. But only if we let it. Lets take it to them and give it a go. Recent history is against us, the bookies are against us, the ref will probably be against us, the pitch, the weather, Old Moore's Almanac and probably some of our own fans despite the recent successes.

The 'what's the point of qualifying for the Champions League? We'll only do an Everton and get knocked out in the qualifying.' brigade for a start. Well let's call the whole game off in that case and take the wife down to Tesco's. I think the doubters are finally coming round and I firmly believe that we can beat United and make fourth. I've been under this delusion the whole season but dreams can sometimes come true if, like Peter Pan, you have faith, trust and a little bit of Pixie Dust. If that's not Luka Modric I'll stab meself with this hook!

As Danny Blanchflower might have said, ' 2-0 to Spurs and Pavlyuchenko to get a hat-trick' Now Ladbroke's or William Hill? Who shall I favour with my pension?

Elsewhere we seem to be owed £1 million by Portsmouth for a player who never actually signed. Now I understand that nothing illegal is involved just a double deal, apt phrase, for two players, Kaboul and Bercovic, one of whom didn't sign and we want some money back as we paid up front. In fact apparently we were doing them a favour as they needed the cash. The Kranjcar deal was another 'steal'. The presence of Harry lurking in the background and the faintly fishy smell that surrounds all our dealings on the South Coast makes me inclined to write this money off.

Shareholders may object but they are hardly going to vote out the Board at the moment are they. In any case Daniel Levy could probably sell them out of date bagels by the lorry load. Write it off and pitch camp on the moral high ground. We've picked over the corpse of Portsmouth enough without boiling up the bones to make soup. While we're at it why not divert one of those bagel lorries to the supporters' club. Why? Because we're Tottenham that's why. What are the odds on this happening? I'll check while I'm down at the bookies.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Don't look down

I knew I should have held something back after the Arsenal game. I've nowhere to go now with the superlatives. I got too far ahead of my team. I was so delighted with the way we faced down Arsenal for thefirst  time in a decade, that I didn't think ahead to the Chelsea game. It never occurred to me that we might win that one too. But as I rested hidden in the clouds of glory that swirl around the approaches to the peak the team climbed past me. After Wednesday I was just enjoying the moment, the bragging rights, the deep satisfaction of at least putting this bit of our shame to bed. I thought that we had reached the peak of our ambitions, but as the mists cleared I could see that there were greater heights to scale.

Against Chelsea we played even better. We defended equally well but now Modric ran the midfield and we should have won it with ease.. Bale, Pavlyuchenko, and Defoe all had good chances to administer a spanking. We weren't as dependent on Gomes who only made a couple of world class saves on this occasion. New horizons swam into view.

Chelsea, Champions in waiting will have to wait a little longer. In mid-week we hammered our crampons into Arsenal, now we've done the same to Chelsea and at the weekend we set out to scale Mount United. We couldn't could we? So much for our difficult run in. Suffice to say that that was our best performance of the season, a concerted team effort in which everybody gets 9 and Bale, Modric and Dawson get 10. Nothing over the top there then.

In any case its not cool to get too excited. Anyone would think that beating Arsenal and Chelsea in the same week was something out of the ordinary. We might just have to get used to this level of performance. All this within days of Portsmouth and Sunderland. That surely wasn't us: that was some inferior Spurs Tribute team; imposters on the Premiership circuit, cowboys using our branding iron. Trading Standards should investigate. Well the real Tottenham roped themselves together and left those charlatans sleeping in their tents at base camp

Chelsea are our favourite whipping boys at The Lane, that's three wins in four games, not to mention the Carling Cup. 'Can we play you every week?'. We matched and beat them all over the pitch. Dawson had Drogba for breakfast and Bale lunched and dined on whoever was put in front of him: Ferriera then Ivanovic and finally Terry who was sent off for yet another ugly challenge after being outpaced while Bale was still in third gear. Modric showed once again that he can play effectively wherever he is put. Huddlestone was immense in every sense of the word.

There were some curious similarities with the Arsenal game: same score line; Bale scored the second goal; and a late goal conceded from a cross along the ground from the right to make it interesting. We should have been out of sight by then but decided to do it the Tottenham way with our hearts in our mouths. Climbing without oxygen.

Who amongst you didn't cringe when Defoe stepped up after missing 6 of his last 10 penalties? What gave him the idea that he could score this one? Who told him he could take it? He cracked it high into the net having sent Cech the wrong way. All questions answered. That boy's confidence borders on the edge of insanely dangerous. Ice to be tested? Crevasse to be examined? Send for Jermaine.

We concentrated on Bale's speed and strength down the left but even Kaboul after a dodgy start found the space and time to support Bentley on the right. Bentley himself almost caught Cech out with a delicate chip. The movement of Defoe and Pavlyuchenko exposed the Chelsea back line which looked cumbersome. Dawson even without Ledley was as solid as the rock we are scaling. Capello, given the chance to compare the two centre halfs, must surely come to the same conclusion which we all reached weeks ago. That boy and his minder Mr. King deserve tickets to S.Africa

The referee, Phil Dowd, was more than fair and had sent Terry off before today. The penalty was not clear but Bale had gone down heavily in the area minutes before so justice was done. Mr. Dowd was firm and followed through, booking Alex for dissent. My theory is that referee's are increasingly unhappy with the abuse they receive, 'Respect' agenda or not. A team like Tottenham who on the whole behave well, and Harry too, will eventually reap the rewards of good behavior. It certainly seemed to work on Saturday. Perhaps next week's game at Manchester will test my theory to destruction.

I targeted 3 points from these three allegedly tricky ties and so far with one to play we have six. Utd. beat City and we are back in front for the 4th spot, two points and a goal ahead. Arsenal lost at Wigan which perhaps puts our achievement into perspective. It's certainly still on. There is no reason to suppose that we won't maintain this standard of performance or this level of concentration for the last 4 games. We have Palacios and Lennon to return and Ledley waiting in the wings. Will Palacios get back into the team straight away? Probably; at the expense of Ekotto; Bale will return to fullback and he and Modric will be left free climbing on the flank.

Only Tottenham can turn football into an extreme sport with the variety of their performances. We abseil, one handed, down the sheerest rock face with nonchalant ease and trip over a tent peg at the bottom. We have been a staging post for aspiring climbers for too long; a bivouac on a windswept ledge half way up the mountain. Time to push on up.

. As all mountaineers will testify the golden rule as you approach the top is, 'Don't look down'. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the summit ahead. Look out Arsenal: Spurs are coming.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Another Dragon slain

And great was the tumult along the High Road of the King at the sign of the White Hart. 

Young Sir Daniel of the Rose and Sir Gareth, 'The Baler', carried aloft by the jubilant crowd.
The Infidel Flying Dragon 'The Emirate' mortally wounded and its hired foreign mercenaries laid waste by the young knights after many years of sore plague.

Sometimes the world just comes right: occasionally the sun shines when you want it to and the rain falls when you need it; from time to time something happens that renews your faith in whatever it is you believe in. Wednesday night was just such an occasion. After ten years of league struggle we beat the Arsenal in a game crucial for both our aspirations.

After the Portsmouth fiasco and facing the three top teams in the league, without Lennon, Corluka, Kranjcar and Palacios we dug in and without assistance from the pitch or the ref. beat our closest rivals to upset their Premiership hopes and enhance our own assault on the Top Four. That their team included Sol Campbell was an added joyful twist to the plot.

So, another hoodoo confronted; another jinx defeated; another myth deflated; another dragon slain. This was one more step on the road to the re-ascendency of Spurs. Perhaps they are, Mr. Hanson, a team that does not always let you down in the end.. Arsenal are a very good team but on the night we were better. They had more than 60% possession but Gomes didn't have to make a save until the 75th minute. We scored the goals at the right moments and Harry called it right from the off. Danny Rose made his first start, trying on the mantle of Lennon another Leeds' Academy graduate, and scored the goal of the season and possibly his career after ten minutes.

Everyone worked hard to cover and close down. This was an organised and disciplined team effort. We were ragged and careless with the ball in the first half but gradually composed ourselves. The 'King is finished' brigade will have to think again as will the 'Modric can't hack it in centre mid.' sceptics. We needed to hold onto the ball and Modric and King rarely give the ball away. The later introduction of Bentley, who surprised us again with his work rate, and Gudjohnsen helped us to retain possession. Gomes was on hand with three top class saves when all else had failed. 'Just doing my job' he says.

Bale again was a revelation and what the hell was he doing there to score his first goal of the season from a Defoe assist? This was probably another first. The quality of the ball from Defoe defies analysis: perfectly weighted and conceived on the drawing board of a space scientist from NASA planning a moon shot. It bisected the two defenders and allowed Bale to coolly pass the ball into the net. Almost game set and match.

Some fans would rather have won this game than the F.A.Cup or qualify for the Champions' League but in fact it opens up just that possibility. So we can have our cake and eat it. Life is very sweet sometimes.' Mental toughness' was very much in evidence even without the suspended Palacios to 'stiffen the sinews'. I prefer to think of it as confidence and belief with a dose of concentration and application. All this the result of having a settled squad with quality players ,playing well and challenging at the highest level. A more down to earth analysis than the the pseudo psychological, semi mystical mumbo jumbo implied by 'mental toughness'. A thoroughbred called Progress out of Stability and Confidence.

. After this performance and result whatever happens in the run in this will go down as one of the best seasons for years and Harry now has an option on the job for life. I have no particular wish to ruin Arsenal's season and if I was offered the deal that Arsenal win the league and we come 4th I would take it. However beating them was essential to our own progress.

The average age of the Tottenham starting eleven was less than that of the Arsenal team and we had two players, (Rose 19 and Bale 20) two years younger than their youngest. So much for the kids. Our first team injury list matched theirs, and they had the oldest player on the pitch.(Campbell 35).So all in all a good night for Spurs fans who can now cite last night as well as the 5-1 Carling Cup victory when the Arsenal fans get uppity in the next few years. Bragging rights secured for the time being, but most important another step up in our own confidence.

Our current points total of 61 after 33 games has already beaten our previous highest Premiership points total at this stage (58 in 2005/6) and we still have 5 games left to beat our final tally in that year of 65pts. With Man.Utd we have the meanest home defence record in the Premiership (11 conceded in 17 games)

You don't need statistics to know that we are having a good season. But sometimes they help you to understand how far we have come. Once again we defeated a team that came to play and took us on. We now have to work out how to beat teams that don't come to play but to defend and snatch a point. That's Liverpool, Arsenal and Man.City beaten at the Lane and next up is Chelsea who won't be relishing the trip across town at this point. I have absolutely no idea which Tottenham will turn up, the Portsmouth or the Arsenal one so anything can happen and probably will but at the moment I don't really care.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Now the Titanic, that was a disaster.

The loss of SS Titanic,

So what do you want me to say?
'There there, let Mummy kiss it better. Did that nasty referee man disallow your goal? Did he give a lollipop to those Portsmouth ragamuffins and ruin your weekend.? Was that naughty pitch too slippery for you?' If you're looking for a comfort blanket; somebody to commiserate with you at your painful loss; a fellow fan to join you in a howl of pain at the injustice of it all you've come to the wrong place

Do we really believe that there's an International conspiracy to stop English teams reaching the Champions' League final or even the semi-finals of the World cup? That there's a code of conduct hanging in the referees changing room that says 'top four good; everyone below, especially Tottenham, to be penalised; protests ignored, appeals turned down, claims waved away; entreaties discounted?

Or do we manage to do all this entirely unaided; achieve it by our own incompetence? Perhaps it's too soon to look ourselves squarely in the mirror and admit .' God your ugly!'. Well perhaps not 'ugly' exactly but not quite as handsome as we thought.

The pitch and the refs certainly affected both semi's. But that happens in virtually every match and to believe in conspiracy is to let ourselves off the hook. You don't need to be Maigret to spot the signs of a serial offender here. That offender is ourselves and once again we won every statistic going and lost the match. We had better players, more possession, more accurate passing, more shots, more of everything except goals. We had 20 corners and several free kicks in dangerous areas but rarely threatened from any of them even though the dead ball kicking was generally good.

Only Bale shone although Modric worked hard on a pitch that made running with the ball and short passing treacherous. But we were too leaden in the build up and Huddlestone and Palacios treated the pitch like a mine-field so cautious was their approach . Not for the first time this season we were confronted by a packed, hard working defence that we were too slow of thought and movement to break down. We had better get used to it and get back to the tactical drawing board because, even though we are only on the fringes of the elite, more and more teams will adopt these tactics against us. My fear is that come the summer Crouch will be retained and Pavlyuchenko 's chips will be cashed in.

We had several chances unfortunately falling mainly to Crouch whose rapier like skills are still in the box unopened.. We had one knockdown from the front pair which Defoe put straight at James. Otherwise lunging Portsmouth bodies prevented any clear cut chances. James saved a header from Crouch and a cunning chip from Huddlestone. Crouch scored a perfectly good equaliser which was ruled out for a foul by Kranjcar on James. James' face afterwards showed the true story: Kranjcar had pulled out of the challenge and James dropped the ball. This was clear on replay but refs. don't have the benefit of replays.

We weren't sunk by these external factors but scuppered ourselves by our inability to finish or create clear cut opportunities and by defensive indiscipline which enabled Piquionne, Boateng and Dindane to break with menace. Eventually Dawson slipped and they scored. But we could and perhaps should have been home and dry by then. The penalty was debatable but if it had occurred at the other end we would have been screaming for a 'nailed on' spot kick. It is a myth to suppose that if you get the ball first it can't be a foul.

It's effect on the game was minimal, we might still be playing and not have scored. However the fact that Palacios picked up his long expected two match ban will impact on the Arsenal and Chelsea results. Elsewhere Man.City thrashed Birmingham, no mean feat, and unlike us are ona goal fest.. If you don't score you can't win. Liverpool could only draw at Anfield with Fulham and it might just be a two horse race for 4th.

Last week we blamed injuries, this week it's the pitch or the referee; or both. The so-called 'lack of mental strength 'which is the accusation that the fans level at the team is no more clearly evident than in the attitude of the fans who cry 'foul' or the rightly ridiculed lament of fans that 'we wuz robbed'. This turns teams that came second into genuine 'losers' .Portsmouth had a game plan and they were disciplined enough to make it work.

Arsenal come to the Lane on Wednesday without Fabregas and others and this again is winnable. The iceberg sized pack on Huddleston's ankle after he was subbed makes his fitness unlikely but Ledley might make a comeback for this one which will steady the ship although he didn't play well at the Emirates. Lennon and Jenas loom on the horizon. Three points are the only antidote to our suffering now. They will quicken our pulses again, the veins in our foreheads will stop throbbing and it will be all on for 4th. which is a real prize rather than a bauble, proud Cup tradition or not.

I know, 'you don't get any prizes for coming fourth'; apart from the voucher for a gold card entry ticket to the rich man's club; the promise of an introduction to the elite players of the world; a more secure grip on the best of our own players and visits to WHL of the finest teams in Europe. Nothing to play for there then.

This was not our best chance of winning silverware; that's next year now. Nor have we blown our one chance in a lifetime to get into the Champions' League; that's still on. Nor was Saturday a 'disaster': hopes were dashed but nobody got killed. We just lost a football match we probably should have won. Now the Titanic, that was a disaster.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Travelling hopefully

                As long as they don't moor it in their goalmouth,
                              Victory should be ours!

In the great debate over whether this season has been a success; a huge disappointment; a disaster, or a step on the road to Glory, Glory, Sunday is the first of seven or hopefully eight games that will help us establish exactly where we are on the great Spurs Happiness Matrix.

Lose to Portsmouth and the doom sayers will be out in force excitedly predicting the downfall of Harry (notgoodenoughfor thenextlevel) Redknapp and his merry band of ex-pro's, lifelong media chums, goal scoring wife and all. Not that it's likely given the state of Pompey who seem to be constantly in a new state of crisis.. However beware of wounded wild animals and enumerating chickens before they emerge from the shell.

The fact that we have to play three of the 'Top Four' means that we haven't played them twice already. This might be why we are still breathing down City's neck in fifth. I think we need to get three points from these games, somewhere or somehow and beating Arsenal would be the most enjoyable way of doing it. Beating Bolton at home, Burnley away and drawing at Man.City would give us ten points and a total of 68. Liverpool would have to win all five of their games to beat this and since they have to play Chelsea this is unlikely. Man City have to play us and United and on the magic predictor I make them fall one point short of our likely total.

So it's still on: 4th and a Cup Final. We need to get some of our absent friends back, Lennon, Dawson and Huddlestone would be nice. We need to play well in all our remaining matches to achieve undeniable success but even if we fall at the last hurdle in the Cup and miss out on top four by a point or two this has been a hugely enjoyable season and for me progress along the Glory Glory trail.

Does this make me defeatist? A loser? Lacking in ambition? A bottler? A typical Spurs supporter lacking in mental strength like our team? Obviously I think not. First of all achieving either of these goals through fouling and kicking our opponents, by moaning after the match and trying to intimidate the ref during it invalidates for me the joy of any success. On the whole we have not taken this route and have played good football in the right Tottenham spirit and tradition .If we can't achieve it the right way then the prize is worthless.

Sir Alec moaning after Man.Utd's elimination from the Champions' League about the Bayern players clamouring for young Raphael to be sent off brings to mind pots and kettles. Where were the templates for such behaviour fashioned if not at Chelsea and Manchester? And Arsene Whinger and his inability to see his own team's shortcomings is an example that I am pleased to see that Harry avoids. I am a big admirer of Wenger but, like Harry, he is not perfect and though I blame league regulations for allowing Arsene to field a team and a bench without one native player at times his one eyed take on matters Arsenal makes him look ridiculous: loyal but ridiculous.

So the first step on our campaign for glory is against a Portsmouth side laid low by financial incompetence, or worse , which has affected their ability to field a team worthy of the occasion. O'Hara, probably their best player, is again ineligible and several are injured. We should win by two or three goals again, whoever from our depleted squad manages to limp onto the pitch. The folly of bringing back players before they are fully fit was well illustrated by Ferguson playing Rooney, probably just to get up Capello's nose, and I hope that Harry is not tempted to do so. We shouldn't need to resort to desperate measures against Portsmouth.

Apparently Modric and Lennon have only played five times together this season. Tellingly we won all five . But all teams get injuries and all teams win games that they are not expected to and lose those that they seem certain to win. At the end of the 38 games wherever we finish will be our just deserts and I won't be looking back wistfully at Wolves, Stoke or Sunderland to find out where we blew it, if indeed we do.

I hope that Modric seizes the Wembley occasion to showcase his abilities and establish himself as not only our best player but a contender in the World Class stakes. He has suffered this season firstly because of our injuries he has been sacrificed for the sake of the team. He is not playing in his best position, linking with Bale on the left. He has been forced to play as a central midfielder which limits his creative talents and cramps his style. He flourishes when given a free role but circumstances have ruled this out .

Secondly he has taken longer to recover from his injuries than we hoped and has not been at his best at all times. Lennon is our only other nominee for 'world class' status but he too has had his season disrupted by injury and we need to see if he makes as much progress when he returns as he made prior to it. Bale will be another potential contender as he matures and we will do well to hold onto these three if we don't quite make the Champions' League.

Such is the apparent spirit within the club, Ekotto's and Corluka's little tiff not withstanding, and the panache of some of our play makes me reasonably sure that we won't lose any of our best players whatever happens. We can make more sure by winning in style on Sunday and I am confident that we will. Ekotto may play at right back as Kaboul and Walker are cup tied and Corluka is not expected to return for another week. Ledley might be back for this although if Dawson is fit he might also be saved for the Arsenal game. Up front Harry might revert to Crouch and Defoe but I hope not. Five players are on late fitness tests so the defence and midfield in front of 'el pulpo' is anyone's guess really.

Time then to get serious. Eight games to define the season.. They say that, 'It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive'; 'the journey is the reward' but that depends on how you travel. Personally I'm enjoying the ride and it's not quite over yet.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Catastrophic ninety minutes at the workplace

Don't cry Darren. I'll swap you the three points for a hat-trick.

'Bad day at the office' doesn't quite capture it. 'Catastrophic 90minutes at the workplace' is closer. This was the day that half the staff phoned in sick, and the rest performed as if they were all going down with something catching: the dreaded lethargy probably. Head Office decided that our recent application for a branch upgrade was 'premature'; the water cooler had been filled with piranha fish; the Sunderland branch had not been notified how important our delegation was, and they just didn't realise who we were! Ricky Gervaise clearly wrote the unlikely script.

In all fairness we can't complain about the reception we were given as ex colleagues crowded round to give us a very warm welcome which we found a little overwhelming and which made the rest of the trip uncomfortable. Darren Bent an ex- employee scored the fastest goal in the Premiership all season and, no doubt, spent the evening 'tweeting' like a cage full of budgerigars. Not that I begrudge him his revenge after Harry's out of order public remarks about his abilities. He has scored goals wherever he has been, including Tottenham, and does what he does extremely well. He has been more prolific than Defoe over the last few seasons, generally playing in inferior teams. A one-trick pony perhaps but scoring goals is not a bad trick for a striker.

He should have scored four. Gomes gifted him the first goal. A header from an unmarked Cambell from a corner in the first minute was ineptly palmed straight to Bent who whacked it into the net. He would have set off on a rapturous tour of Sunderland and the North East had the pitch barriers not confined him. Young Cambell who came to us for work experience last year has added a disconcerting ability to his CV which involves falling over in the main reception area.

The rest is mystery. Walker was unlucky to handle a ball that bounced up from a Gomes save. Bent scored his second from the spot. Modric and Palacios, two of our senior executives, conceded two more penalties from elementary errors: an uneccesary tackle when Cambell had lost control of the ball and was heading down the back staircase to the 'Smoking Zone'; and a once trademark Palacios (Security) lunge when no real danger threatened. Gomes saved them both to partially spoil Darren's celebrations, but not completely.

The absence of Dawson, (Back Office Manager: Acting) proved an injury too far. Without him the back four performed as if they had never played together: which they haven't. Their average age was 22 and it showed. Tom Huddlestone, Creative Director, was sorely missed and Palacios playing 'through the pain' could not stem the tide of Sunderland's lively midfield.

Apart from Gomes nobody had a good game. Neither Bale nor Walker could get foreward with any threat: Bentley and Pavlyuchenko vied with each other for worst employee of the day award, although there were one or two more contestants for that: Ekotto and Kaboul were among the front runners.

Gordon confirmed his reputation with a couple of saves and Gudjohnsen was unlucky from a close range prod from a Bentley cross that hit the keeper's arm. Defoe rolled one wide and that was about it. They had a goal disallowed which appears on the next meeting's agenda under 'contentious issues outstanding'. Crouch's goal could easily have been ruled out of order for 'unfair working practices'. We are fortunate to be still clinging onto hopes for the prestigious European contract which has been a major concern of the management.

What does this all mean?. Primarily that our fate is no longer in our own hands. City have 4 out of their 6 remaining fixtures at home, including us. There will probably be more twists and turns and it is a difficult choice between them and Liverpool who we would prefer to qualify if we don't quite make it ourselves: the return of the old order, or the power of money.

As we play the current top three and City we could decide not only our own fate but that of the Premiership title. We each have to decide for ourselves whether a Cup Final appearance and fifth is just reward for an excellent season. A single loss away from home doesn't change everything but many fans have gone from euphoric to suicidal in 90 minutes. It doesn't mean that we have blown our 'once in a lifetime' chance to make the Champions' League as some assert; we can improve and make progress as we have done this year.

It was not all bad news. A counter bid for our European contract by a Liverpool company foundered when their bus en route for Europe broke down at Birmingham and they seem to have missed the deadline.

Apparently in view of the injuries at both Portsmouth and Spurs Harry is offering to play next week's semi as a five-a-side game on a half pitch at Wembley. Avram is not certain that they can raise a squad even for this and permission is not yet forthcoming from the authorities. You couldn't make it up.
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Friday, 2 April 2010

Nothing to fear

    Eleanor take this Sunderland flag away

If you can all tear yourselves away from the statistics and data for a moment and stop playing with your 'predictors' I can bring you welcome relief . I can offer you all a breath of fresh air. The race for 4th can be more or less sorted this weekend. Liverpool play at Birmingham and realistically will get a point. We play Sunderland and will get three points.

Now go back to your lonely rooms, your overheated computers your dog-eared predictors and feed that in. Liverpool will have six games left, an inferior goal difference and will need to make up six points and we have a game in hand. Checkmate, game set and match to Spurs. Just Man.City to beat and its ours. Ours I tell you: all ours. Remember that a couple of weeks ago City held a two game and theoretical points advantage over us but are now two points behind with an inferior goal difference. Villa are 7pts behind us and look as if they've blown it for the second season running. O'Neill is even threatening to resign at the end of the season if the fans are not nicer to him.. 'Heat', 'Kitchen' anyone?

How do I know this? Common sense and faith: not necessarily in that order. Sunderland have a decent record at home but are too nondescript a team to play any part in robbing us of our destiny. Any team whose goalkeeper is their best player is only a fumble away from defeat. We are striding confidently towards the Champions' League looking for our 6th consecutive League win for the first time since since the Premiership began; our first 3rd consecutive away win since 2004; our points total of 58 after 31 matches is our best we have ever had in the Premiership. Sunderland on the other hand are dithering about between mid-table and the relegation zone after a good start.

We have players returning from injury: this week it's Defoe following Bentley and Huddlestone. Sunderland are mainly composed of reject Tottenham players who logically cannot defeat their betters ( Malbranque; Reid; Hutton; Bent; Taino, currently loan at Birmingham, and reserve keeper Fulop. If they look carefully round the place they might find Chimbonda lurking somewhere unless he came back to Spurs again when we weren't looking. Rumour is that he is at Blackburn. We have lost once in our last 15 games in all competitions and have defied lately our tendency to mess up at crucial, and even non- crucial, moments. If we can beat Stoke , a much more formidable team than Sunderland away from home then Saturday shouldn't be too difficult..

We are led by Harry 'Lucky' Redknapp and they are under the management of Steve Bruce, one of that whinging crew of ex-players who play musical chairs with the managership of average and below average clubs: Allardyce, Reid, Mc'Carthy, Megson, Laws, Coyle and company. Their contribution to the joy of football is to berate their team on a regular basis with the words, ' That performance was unacceptable' or ' We were playing 12 men out there this afternoon' or even 'If we defend like that we don't deserve to win' and sometimes offering the fans their money back.

Feeling better? I bring you Good News. We can do this. We are on a results roll: we have a quality squad which is actually improving as injured players return. We are clear in 4th place already where we have been for most of the season. Sunderland do not pose a serious threat to our progress. Cards and I-pods are banned on the journey up where Laurance Olivier's 'Henry Vth ' will alternate with the 'Dam Busters' on the wide screen vistavision on the coach.

As Framklin D. Roosevelt said in his 1933 Inaugural Address ' We have nothing to fear but fear itself' but I have arranged with Harry to have the 'Oingo Boingo' version blasting out of the loudspeakers. A New Wave (1982) rabble rouser that will get their blood coursing. It contains the appeal to the team to 'Make an old Man Happy' (so that's me and Harry covered) and I'm confident that they will .(Available on You tube)

So backs straight, heads up, stomachs in and go out there and just do it. Get this suspense over with boys; don't let's leave it until the last minute. We've shown that we're good enough and now comes the moment to show that we believe we're good enough.

We have nothing to fear at Sunderland except you know what. I reject the 'mental strength' argument for our inability to close matches down or to challenge the Big Boys. We are one of the Big Boys and we have the momentum and the confidence to finish the job. I know many of you have been expecting the end of our challenge for some time. Who believed that we would repeat our five game winning sequence again this season? Good start: even better finish.

JimmyG2 official forecast 2-0 to the boys from White Hart Lane.
And remember the JimmyG2 motto: 'I'm not always wrong'.