Defeat maybe, but there was at least a smidgeon of honour about this one, rather like a chappie still swinging away even as his limbs get hacked off and arrows pierce him at every juncture. After the bizarre Champions League capitulation that boasted all the spine of a gloomy jellyfish, here was at least a whiff of fight.
Making Dominance Count
Rarely had the pre kick-off mood at AANP Towers been more sombre than yesterday, as I trooped to the viewing chamber with all the joie de vivre of a chappie during the French Revolution who has been reliably informed that a brand new guillotine has been rolled into place complete with extra sharp blade.
A Chelsea mob who had won around 800 games in a row, not conceding a goal in any of them, up against a lilywhite team that has looked decidedly iffy all season, and missing key personnel to boot. The omens were not good.
But lo and whatnot, our heroes started off at an absolute rate of knots. Chelsea heels were snapped at, pockets of space were darted into, and while the Chelsea mob were lazily trying to swat us away like flies we made a couple of early thrusts for the jugular, striking oil around ten minutes in. It did not stop there. To describe it as “one-way stuff” would admittedly be rather stretching the bounds of credulity, but our lot definitely held the aces during the first 45, and any jury worth its salt would have voted for 0-1 at the break as a minimum.
But there’s the rub, dash it all. Against Man City we were in the ascendancy, and we jolly well made hay while we could, sackloads of the stuff. On that occasion we turned early dominance into a 2-0 lead, and it did the trick. Here, as we snatched at chances and marginally misplaced the final ball, that 1-0 lead looked a mite wobbly – and on the stroke of half-time the whole bally thing wibbled back down to earth and that was that.
It struck me that if you peeled back the layers, the key factor in all that first half dominance, was Dembele. Like the young imp of nursery rhyme fame, when good Dembele is very good, and when bad he rather drifts into the periphery of things. Yesterday, without being at the peak of his powers, he pulled out that party trick of his on several occasions, of picking up the ball somewhere deep, and loping forward with it 20 yards. Simple, but marvellously effective.
Admittedly he drifted a long way off the boil as the game progressed, and was duly hooked off, but with Wanyama feisty in the tackle alongside him, our midfield core appeared to have matters fairly well sussed.
Nice of Christian Eriksen to treat us to a rare glimpse of his A-game, now generally adorning the side of milk cartons having not been seen since elsewhere since spring. The chap struck his goal like an exocet missile, and evidently realising the good that could come of such things he made a grab for the bit, carefully clasped it between his teeth and took the fight to Chelsea for much of the first half. Such were his efforts that his immaculate hair even started to fall out of place, and Chelsea had the dickens of a time trying to contain us.
Alas, the point remained that we simply did not make the most of these good times, and the stuffing was duly knocked out of us – and back into Chelsea – by that equaliser.
Wimmer at Left-Back
There was still plenty of the race left to run after half-time of course, but the whole bally thing had a different look about it, no doubt. Chelsea came back after the break with a spring in their collective step, and our makeshift back-four were subjected to quite the interrogation.
Oddly enough, I have never once made the wrong call with the benefit of hindsight, so I can confirm 24 hours after the event that Wimmer at left-back did not work. (In truth, Wimmer has not worked for much of this season, but that’s a different kettle of fish).
At kick-off however, the rationale was understandable. Up against Costa, and without the sweet, reassuring presence of Toby, a centre-back pairing of Dier and Wimmer had ‘TROUBLE’ daubed all over it in that giant graffiti font that one sees rather bafflingly in the most awkward spots along railway tracks.
It is difficult to imagine the conflab around this selection having taken more than around a millisecond or two, and thusly Vertonghen trotted out at centre-back, which left little option (though Kieran Trippier may beg to differ) than Wimmer at left-back. The same left-back slot that was rather woefully neglected as Moses was granted the freedom of the penalty area as he slammed in Chelsea’s second.
The Glass Half-Full Perspective
Apparently we are by and large at the same points tally as this time last season, which suggests that the thing is not dead, buried and having lilies strewn over it just yet – but last season was largely redeemed by a couple of winning streaks that seemed to stretch on for months. Something similar would be frightfully welcome this time around, and if we can perform like the first half yesterday, whilst cannily wriggling our way out of any further European commitments, the thing might just start to take shape…
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint