Given that this season I’ve needed so little encouragement to bow my head in despair and slip into a straitjacket of pessimism whenever the Tottenham circus rolls back into town, it is strange and vaguely ironic that today’s most hopeless of situations finds me at my most optimistic. A two-goal deficit would be tricky enough for us to negotiate at the best of times. Throw into that a polyglot mix of overweight (Hudd), comically inept (Jenas) and internally-loathed (Gilberto) reserves, alongside a bunch of kids so young that they need parental permission to stay up for kick-off, and the tricky task ought to become Herculean in its magnitude.And yet somehow, I genuinely do feel upbeat. With the tie just about over already, the burdensome dread that I normally carry on my shoulders as kick-off approaches is strangely absent today. We’re two down, and sending out our kids and deadbeats – what’s the worst that can happen?
Actually, that might be a rather dangerous rhetorical question to bandy around. I close my eyes and the worst-case scenario unfolds… Start listlessly, concede a couple of early goals and the floodgates open. The heaviest aggregate defeat in our European history, or some such statistic. If it really does all go spectacularly wrong it could have catastrophic effects upon the careers of Obika and Townsend and the rest of our “triffic” kids. ‘Arry, and any other watching scouts summarily pass judgement upon them and their one chance at the big-time dissipates in 90 minutes of ignominy. They’ll go back to their academies battered shells of their former selves, psychologically scarred for life, and without a cat in hell’s chance of making the grade at the Lane, destined instead for a lifetime of ignominy in the footballing no-man’s-land that is Leyton Orient. (Not that any of this will have the slightest impact upon Spurs’ long-term future, as we never ease home-grown talent into our first team if we have the option of splashing out £14 mil on someone from a struggling Premiership side instead).
However, I really do remain optimistic that no such nightmare will unfold, and that, instead, we’ll put on a ruddy good, fearless, attacking performance tonight. Admittedly I can’t really see us winning the tie, as concession of one goal would leave us needing to score four. Nevertheless, after a season in which our underachieving first-choice rabble have been epitomised by Darren Bent – plenty of huffing and puffing without ever displaying real class – it would just be a typically illogical Tottenham thing to see our second-string of wastrels and street urchins produce a dazzling, energetic, motivated performance tonight. Before disappearing back to the substitutes’ bench, reserve team and youth league, rarely to be seen again.
Moreover, the whole attitude of the camp is a little different. Last week the game was lost before a ball had been kicked, so belligerently did ‘Arry insist that the match did not matter. The actual starting eleven selected last week, while weaker than normal, really was not the selection of inbreds and pre-pubescents many had anticipated. Gomes, Dawson, Zokora, Hudd, Jenas, Bentley – there ought to have been enough there to keep the tie alive. Rather than the choice of personnel it seemed to be the defeatist attitude that cost us. This week, inevitably, soundbites have been trotted out by the likes of Gomes and Giovanni about how determined the players are to fight their way back into the tie and so on. Vacuous untruths for sure, but, if repeated sufficiently frequently, I faithfully believe that the players might just lack the intelligence to realise that it’s all a lie, and instead go out there all guns blazing tonight.
There is no pressure upon the team to deliver. Young Three-Touch O’ Hara is likely to return, which should inject a bit of life into proceedings. And should we grab the first goal, the atmosphere will bubble up, and pressure will most certainly mount upon our Ukrainian guests…
While tonight is a chance for the youngsters to shine – aside, annoyingly, from Taraabt, inexplicably omitted from the Uefa list by Wendy Ramos – spare a thought for any older heads called into action. With Carling Cup final just three days away, 90 minutes tonight would pretty much guarantee omission from the side that trots out at Wembley on Sunday. Gunter, Jenas, Hudd and especially Dawson are amongst the likely candidates for selection tonight – and disappointment at the weekend.