Pretty sure I’m not the only one of lilywhite persuasion who would have biffed up to this pre-kick with spirits a little sunnier than normal. “Complacent” is not quite the term, but there was an unmistakeable whiff of optimism in the air, which is not usually the case when preparing to break bread with this lot.
For a start we were humming the tune of six successive wins, including over the Champions elect no less, while City were licking the wounds of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of those connoisseurs of middle-of-the-road existence, Everton. Frankly every soothsayer worth her salt was urging a gentle wager on the Good Ship Hotspur ahead of this one.
1. First-Half Troubles
Naturally enough then, all that sunny optimism dissipated in a puff of smoke pretty sharpish once the whistle went and horns were locked.
The whole affair appeared to be a precise reverse of what had happened when we entertained City back at the Lane a few months back. Then we had harried and harassed our visitors from the opening minute, pressing high and not letting either their ‘keeper or defenders a moment’s peace and quiet to dwell on the ball and dreamily stroll through the North London air.
Fast forward a few months and it was Lloris and his assorted chums being hounded down at every opportunity. And by heck did the mistakes duly flow from our boots. Seemingly intent on playing the ball out of defence as if the future of civilisation depended on it, our lot did not let a minute go by without misplacing a pass, or pinging the thing out of play, or trying to dribble around every dashed person in Manchester, all the time doing so within 30 yards of goal.
Steps needed to be taken, and Our Glorious Leader wasted little time in reaching into his bag of tricks for some textbook tinkering. First of all Dier was shoved forward into midfield, and we reverted to a back-four. Then at half-time poor Wimmer was given the hook and Son was tossed into the mix, in a move deliciously reminiscent of Butch and Sundance opting to shoot their way out of trouble.
2. Wimmer Woes
On a side note, life has not smiled much upon young Wimmer this season, what? Having brought the house down last season when asked to deputise for Vertonghen, his fortunes have slid decidedly towards the iffy side of the spectrum this time round. Things pretty much plateaued for the chap with his own-goal versus our arch-rivals, since when he has generally just mooched around like an unhappy walrus, the first to be sacrificed if ever the team needs a lift.
Having ridden their luck like an entire team of champion jockeys in the first half, as City dominated the thing but shot just about everywhere but the net, in the second half the wheels came off in fairly spectacular fashion.
All the tinkering in the world could not legislate for plain dashed shoddiness from the goalkeeper of all people, and before you could fathom the thing we were just about dead and buried.
It’s a rummy old lot, the goalkeeper’s. Make a mistake in my day job, and the worst that will happen is that I will have to bash out a fairly meaningless email to some jolly on the floor above. Should the waiter take his time in delivering the gammon to my plate, I will give him a knowing eye, the meat will be hurried along and life will pretty much continue apace.
But if a goalkeeper gets his angles wrong when attempting to rush from his line and head clear, or simply take his eye of the ball as a regulation cross bobbles his way, the game is pretty much up for him. Not much margin for error, as within a millisecond Ball is meeting Net and every man and his dog are tutting with disapproval.
Now even the most fickle amongst us Spurs fans would be hard pressed to criticise Monsieur Lloris, who by and large is recognised as one of the best in the business, and regularly displays all manner of physics-based sorcery in the name of keeping things secure at the back. But make no mistake, this was an absolute stinker. (Mercifully, he seemed to get them out of his system and make a couple of saves later that kept the scores level.)
4. “Character” etc
Much will presumably be made of the fact that we came back from two down away from home, as a mark of our character, and tenacity and spirit, and other such terms as trotted out by do-gooders. Not a bit of it from where I sat. Our heroes were by and large pretty awful, to a man.
It did not particularly appear that a marked change in mindset occurred at 2-0 down. They produced a couple of marvellously slick moves to score twice (and by golly they really were crackingly put together), but that aside still looked comfortably second-best throughout. This was not one of those matches where they hammered away and piled on the pressure before finally coming good. All rather rummy, having turned in one of the best performances one could remember just a week ago, but such is life.
To pootle off with a point after that therefore actually feels rather uplifting, in a sneaky sort of way. The disallowed goal - and exuberant celebrations that accompanied it – merely added to the fun of the thing. On top of which, there was also the City apoplexy that greeted their refused penalty appeal. All marvellous fun.
We may be down to third, but four points from two games versus City is not to be sniffed at, particularly given the general dreariness of our performance yesterday.
Have you ever seen a set of players just enjoying life as much our lot did yesterday? While the pre-match prognostications had naturally been cheery thoughts of how West Brom derailed us last year, and we rarely beat them, and wouldn’t it just be so very Tottenham to follow up a win over Chelsea with a pickle against WBA – our heroes sauntered onto the pitch as if they had been having the mother of all jollies in the changing room, and were determined that nothing as irrelevant as a referee’s whistle was going to interrupt their fun.
West Brom trotted out with miserable countenances and a 6-3-1 formation, rather like a chap who sits next to you at a dinner party and spends the night complaining that he loathes nothing more than being at dinner parties. Mercifully, our lot could not have given two hoots, and spent the afternoon running rings around them. Such was the merriment that Wanyama was bursting through the middle to create the opening for the first goal; Danny Rose was racing around in the right wing position to set up the second; and a pre-injury Jan Vertonghen was lapping up every opportunity to bound forward in search of whatever glory was going spare. It was an absolute riot.
West Brom, with their hangdog expressions, dutifully chased shadows, but I cannot remember seeing a team dominate possession quite as much as our heroes, in that first half in particular. Seasons changed and empires rose and fell before West Brom got a foot on the ball. In years gone by our heroes have struggled against brick walls and locked doors when faced with these defensive mobs, but yesterday it seemed they could carve out chances at will.
‘Derided’ is a strong old term, but the chap has certainly taken the odd verbal biff from these quarters, in months gone by, for not really turning his abundant talent into the full twenty-four carat once on the pitch and in the thick of battle. But by golly there were no such concerns yesterday. If there were a whiff of magic in the air, Eriksen was more often than not in the vicinity, wand in hand.
Admittedly charging down free-kicks in his capacity as a one-man wall was not really in the remit, but in so-doing the well-mannered young bean seemed to reinforce the view that pretty much everything he touched would turn to the bright stuff. There were tricks and flicks, scything diagonals, and generally puppet-mastery of the highest order.
And it has been thus for several weeks now. The chap does occasionally seem to stumble upon these purple patches, and for a couple of months makes the game look as easy as the nabbing of candy from a minor. Which is obviously marvellous stuff, and six wins in a row smacks of us making balefuls of hay while this particular sun has shone. The nub of the thing is that Eriksen keeps up this form. The whole system is working dreamily at the moment, and there are creative options a-plenty – as West Brom will wearily testify – but an on-song Eriksen does make the various bits and pieces tick in most pleasing manner.
When up against a six-man back-line – not to mention a goalkeeper who struts around with the air of a man who knows he has in fact been sired by one of the gods – that early opening goal is pretty dashed crucial. All that dominance might have become something of a millstone if we had trundled up to half-time without a breakthrough, and as such any old opening goal would have been gratefully received.
We were rather spoiled then by a selection of goals which may not necessarily live too long in the memory, but which were classy enough to be waved into clubs with strict dress codes nonetheless. The little pinged passes and precise finish for the opener were slick enough to be presented to visiting dignitaries.
Admittedly the second had as much luck about it as guile, as the persistence of Rose and Dembele were rounded off by the umpteen deflections, but if you ping 20 shots at the opposition goal, one would expect one of them to be coated in good fortune.
As for the third, I have already sent my application for membership to its very own fan club. The accuracy of the drilled Walker pass was bona fide eye of the needle stuff; and one would have to be a particularly curmudgeonly sort – a West Brom player perhaps – not to enjoy the acrobatic scissor-kick finish.
Then there was the scooped Dele Alli pass for the fourth. Frankly, there should be a law against such stuff.
Vertonghen Injury Repurcussions
Alas, there was a blot on this particular escutcheon, in the right-angled shape of Jan Vertonghen’s ankle. The beauty of this current all-conquering vintage is that the entire XI seem to play their roles to perfection and gel with one another absolutely dreamily. Remove one part, and… well. One rather wonders.
Ben Davies performend the role commendably enough during the Euros, and the alternative would presumably be Kevin Wimmer, whose performances so far this season have not quite matched the impressive heights of last season. I rather hope that the last cab on this particular rank is reversion to a flat back four, because unless Vertonghen and Alderweireld are at its helm this is not a structure exactly oozing infallibility from its every pore. One for the Brains Trust to ponder over.
The injury to Vertonghen does also direct a little attention towards what is, if not exactly an elephant, then certainly a mammal of relatively conspicuous proportions. This starting XI has an all-singing, all-dancing and frankly all-conquering feel about it. However, once the reserves are called upon – and the Europa League soirees kick off once more – I fear that cracks might appear in this thing. Worries for another day perhaps. This was arguably our finest, and most enjoyable performance of the season.
From the sublime of the markedly, almost scarily professional dismantling of Chelsea, to the pointedly less sublime of an FA Cup 3rd round win against lower league gubbins. This looked every inch the performance of reserves that was advertised in the trailer.
1. First Half Snoozing
The first half was marvellously soporific stuff, as players, fans and the viewing public alike settled in for a gentle Sunday afternoon nap. Naturally enough our first-reserves could not be faulted for effort, but for all their busy scurrying the product tended generally to be little more than a pass to the left, followed by a pass to the right. Even Mike Dean seemed rather uninterested by events on the greenery.
The most notable element of that snoozy opening 45 was the sight on the Villa bench of one Stephen Clemence, a man who once had the pleasure of sharing a nightclub urinal with AANP back in the 90s heyday. It was that sort of half really.
There was a dreadful lack of that neat trickery just outside the penalty area that Messrs Eriksen and Alli have turned into such a dreamy artform. The quick shifting of the orb, and busy off-the-ball buzz, was woefully absent. That Villa fielded literally a back-six did not really help matters, but that was almost the point of the thing, for they were hardly about to rock up to the gates, wave a white flag and politely request to be butchered.
Amongst those given a rare chance to flaunt his wares was Cissoko. One moment in the first half rather captured the chap in a microcosm, as he picked up the ball just inside his own half, surged past two or three opponents like some sort of warrior buffalo, then trod on the ball whilst running at full pelt, squirting it onto an opponent whereby it flew straight back off his shin and catapulted fifty yards forward into touch. Not something you or I could have done if we had practised for weeks.
Credit where due however, and the chappie’s day improved a notch or several in the second half. He will probably never be the subtlest bean on the counter, but that head-down/chest-out/limbs-everywhere/charge-right-through-you approach reaped a dividend or two as the game wore on. On a couple of occasions he managed to burst right through the Villa defence like a fist through a paper bag, and while he fluffed his lines after fashioning for himself a one-on-one, he did nifty job of setting up Son for our second.
3. Janssen. Sigh.
It was case of the old plus ca change and whatnot for poor old Janssen. Everything we have seen before, from the plodding attempts to outpace his man, to the well-weighted lay-offs, the look of a man who won’t score if he plays for another thousand years, right through to the early withdrawal. Nothing a seasoned watcher would not have predicted. Poor egg.
4. Alli and a Change in Fortune
Insult duly toddled along and positioned himself next to injury, as Janssen’s replacement, Dele Alli, promptly brought with him a change of tempo and fortunes. Alli offered oodles more movement and creativity on the ball, and the win pretty much took care of itself.
5. Other Semi-Bright Spots
On an underwhelming afternoon, there were a few half-decent performances. N’Koudou as ever looked like a lively sort of pup when he was flung on; young Winks gave another mature and feisty performance; Carter-Vickers at the back did little wrong, albeit without enduring the most testing afternoon.
Frankly, the point of the exercise was probably three-pronged: avoid a replay; avoid injuries/suspensions; win the dashed thing. As such, and with a welcome break for the regulars, this can go down as that most curious of beasts – an eminently forgettable, unqualified success.