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Spurs match reports

Assessing Assou-Ekotto – Newcastle 2-1 Spurs

Darn it – having recently mugged l’arse and Liverpool with last-minute goals, we muggers became muggees this afternoon, against the barcodes of Newcastle. Evidently we can feel aggrieved, but these things tend to even themselves out, approximately, over the course of the season, so let’s not be too despondent. It still baffles and grates me that we’re unbeaten against each of the top four this season, and have lost to just about every rubbish (or at least second-rate) team in the division, but that’s football I guess. By all accounts it was a decent perfromance – and upcoming fixtures suggest that we have a great opportunity to go on the sort of run that would lift us well clear of the relegation zone and ensconce us in the top half.

The fall-guy today was left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, apparently glaringly at fault for the first goal. While ‘Arry has steadied the ship and brought out the best in the likes of Modric and Lennon, and even Gomes and Bent,  his faith in BAE has gone largely unnoticed, but nevertheless irks me. My reasons are twofold – numero uno, BAE is mediocre at best; and secondly, we have one Gareth Bale in reserve.

BAE’s mediocrity is spectacular. He is the archetypal “solid”  full-back, where “solid” is a euphemism for “dull and of limited talent” . He rarely ventures beyond the halfway line, let alone up to the oppo area, in the style of the great 21st century attacking full-backs. His entire array of passing seems to comprise solely of whacking the ball down the left flank – and his defending, as evidenced today, hardly elevates him into the pantheon of greats. I like to judge a player according to the teams he would attract if offered for sale – and BAE seems to be in the Fulham/Wigan category.

On top of that, he has an unnervingly blank expression at all times. Admittedly this isn’t the strongest reason to exclude him from the team, but that icy demeanour makes him look like he’s formulating a plan to murder someone – with an axe – and scares the bejeesus out of me. Just made a last-ditch tackle? BAE looks blank. Just dropped a clanger? Looks blank. I suspect that even if he slotted home the Champions League-winning penalty his celebration would consist of a blank look into some distance space, before retrieving the ball and belting it up the left touch-line.

And yet BAE is keeping Gareth Bale out of the team. Indeed, BAE was the only first-teamer rested by ‘Arry during last week’s draw to Spartak, so unfathomably sacrosanct is his place in the team.

If Bale were sold today Aston Villa and Everton would have a look, and possibly even the top four – indeed, we beat Man Utd to his signature 18 months back. Now admittedly Bale has had a slightly shoddy season so far. His defending has never been his forte, reflected in the fact that he plays as often in midfield as at the back, and his distribution has been a tad wayward. However, when on song – as in the first half of last season, before getting injured – he is a potent threat. As a natural, attacking left-footer he offers balance to the midfield, the threat of an early cross, good pace and also chips in with goals. When all else was going wrong in the first four months of last season, he struck me as our best player.

The congested Christmas fixture list is likely to force ‘Arry to chop and change a bit, and I implore young Bale to seize the chance with both hands, and left foot, and cement his place in the team. He may look like he’s yet to evolve fully from our simian cousins, but he has at least previously shown himself to be a quality performer in a Spurs shirt – something I’m not sure could be said of the axe-murdering BAE.

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Spurs match reports

Gilberto – so bad he got sacked… Spurs 2- 2 Spartak Moscow

Imagine playing so badly that immedidately after the game you get sacked by the manager. It’s got to be the game’s biggest indignity, even worse than being a substitute who gets substituted. Gilberto, take a bow. I think it happened to Dave Beasant once, back in the late 80s/early 90s, but last night in his first start under ‘Arry, Gilberto was hauled off at half-time and shown the door at full-time. How badly must he have played?

Not only that, it was the third time in his brief Spurs career that he’s started and been withdrawn at half-time, for performance rather than injury reasons. Now we’re not exactly a club famed for its amazing defenders, so to be taken off at half-time, and then told he’ll never play again – the guy must have been truly rubbish last night.

Bizarrely, Gilberto is Brazilian, which ought, according to the laws of physics, to make him one of the most talented footballers around. No doubt once we get rid of him he’ll be snapped up by some European team and end up with a Champions League winners medal. However, it’s saying something that at a time when ‘Arry is moaning about the size of our squad he’s willing to jettison a player after just 45 minutes…

Bless him, Gilberto’s debacle last night occurred about a year after his debut for Spurs, when he picked up the ball just outside his own area and decided to try and dribble past the entire opposition. He got tackled by the first guy, who promptly scored. At the time I figured that after such a nightmare start things could not get any worse for him. In a sense this was true – strictly speaking they haven’t got worse – but the assumption was that things would actually improve. They haven’t. They’ve remained at a cringe-worthy inept level and Gilberto is still rubbish. He’s only played a handful of times for us, but remains about eighteenth down the pecking order of full-backs, behind the likes of Assou-Ekotto, Gunter and the good ladies of the under-12s.

To be fair to the guy, playing in defence obviously means that bad form results in goals conceded; whereas a striker in bad form doesn’t actually cause a negative goal difference. So while Postiga scored about two goals in 20 or 30, and the clumsy beanpole Razsiak didn’t score once, neither actually caused us to concede goals. Gilberto, on the other hand, and indeed Gomes, can have solid games for 89 mins and still be remembered for making one howler, with little chance of redemption up the other end.

I can’t remember how much he cost, but we seem to have made a bit of a habit of paying well over the odds for defenders who are mediocre at best. Richards for £8 mil a few years back, a good £3 or £4 mil for Rocha, now £8 mil for Corluka – even in the modern age of inflated prices these are all ridiculous. I’d be quite content if Platini, Blatter and all the other crack-pots who run the game insititued a two-tiered payment system for defenders – £20 mil for the best ones, and £1 mil for all the rest. Rio? £20 mil. Cannavaro? £20 mil. Ledley? £20 mil. Assou–Ekotto? £1 mil, tops. Lescott, Carragher, Tal Ben Haim and Gilberto – £1 mil. This would avoid any confusion brought about, and remove the need to sack some foreign defender with a few international caps for whom we’ve paid a shedload but who is actually rubbish. It will never happen, but then once upon a time we thought the same about the back-pass rule…

I can’t make much informed comment about Gilberto’s performance as I had to be content with the radio last night. Even though there are about 200 hundred tv channels available in the UK at the moment, including half a dozen dedicated sports channels, not one was showing the game. Clearly there’s not enough football on telly at the moment. There’s a niche in the market there…

So I don’t really know how Gilberto played, other than that he messed up royally for Spartak’s opener, and got sacked as a result. It’s a form of management that would strike few into a few million of Britain’s laziest in other spheres of employment. Elsewhere on the pitch – well, I don’t know. I couldn’t watch it. Apparently though, the first half was awful, but in the second half the full-backs pushed up and we were much improved. Good to see (ie hear) that Modric has broken his duck for us. Generally relieved to hear that the patched up reserves made it through, particularly from a two-goal deficit. Bring on Shaktar Donetsk in the next round, minus the wretched Gilberto.