All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Auf Wiedersehen Paul Stalteri, another useless Spurs full-back

An early Christmas present from ‘Arry Redknapp and Daniel Levy has seen Paul Stalteri’s contract terminated, by mutual consent. That angelic melody you hear emanating from north London isn’t some choir putting in last-minute preparations for a festive performance of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, oh no – ’tis the sound of an exuberant all-action-no-plotter toasting the demise (not literally) of another one of our seemingly infinite line of inept full-backs.
 

Paul Stalteri appeared to be a thoroughly decent chap – not prone to diving, whingeing or fussing generally. He scored three goals, each of which, strangely, I remember well – a blinder in the FA Cup, a tap-in vs Man City and, most memorably, the late winner at West Ham, to cap a hugely satisfying comeback win last year. He hasn’t moped or mouthed off this season about being on the fringes and beyond – as such I wish him well, at his delightfully-named new German club, Borussia Monchengladbach.

 

And with the formalities out of the way, can I reiterate how glad I am to see the back of the latest in a long line of, at best, distinctly average full-backs. While showing sufficient co-ordination to be a sportsman, and being full of willing, the guy was of limited ability going forward, and made far too many mistakes to be a defender. Off the top of my head I remember him faffing around in the last minute v Sunderland a few years ago, getting caught in possession in his own box and conceding a goal that saw us lose 1-0. Then, when we were winning 1-0 at l’arse with five mins to go I recall him being shrugged off possession by Henry who galloped away and scored, while Stalteri pleaded for a free-kick. Those are just the first two which spring to mind, but there were several more – indeed I recall that season looking back over my fixture list and racking up the number of points he alone cost us. No plot, for sure, but not much action to compensate either. And why on earth was he wearing the number 7 shirt? The shirt of Best, Dalglish, Beckham and Paul Walsh – which idiot thought it would make sense to give it to a mediocre Canadian right-back?

 

Using the flawless, scientifically proven “who-would-buy-him” gauge of a player’s quality, it was telling that last season he went on loan to a relegation-battling Fulham, and this season is as likely to end up in the Championship as in the Prem. I reiterate, he seems a nice chap, but as we’re trying to win football matches, not host garden fêtes, I don’t think his niceness is too relevant. The sooner ‘Arry can get rid of the other sub-standard players in our squad, the better. Half-decent players may be sufficient for the likes of Middlesborough or Bolton, or any other team aiming to avoid relegation, play depressing football and occasionally scrap a win against one of the top-four. At Spurs however we want to be pushing towards Europe and winning silverware. As such we ought to signal our ambition by bringing in players who will be tempted to head off to Old Trafford in a couple of years.

 

There have been some encouraging signs in the last few days, with Gilberto already on his way out (huzzah!). Personally I’d like to see Ricky Rocha, Hossam Ghaly and Assou-Ekotto follow suit. Jamie “Three-Touch” O’Hara gets a reprieve, as he’s young enough to push on, as, perhaps does Kevin Prince-Boateng, although neither have ever really blown up my skirt over the last two years. Stalteri certainly meets all relevant criteria for ejection. He may be Canada’s national captain – and quite possibly their greatest ever player – but at full-back, being an established international is hardly a guarantee of supreme quality (Erik Edman and even Vedran Corluka spring to mind).

 

Over the last week I’ve written in celebration of the fact that Gilberto will never play for us again, and bemoaning the fact that in physics-defying fashion Assou-Ekotto has managed to cement his place in the team as a regular. What is it with Spurs and rubbish full-backs? As far back as I can remember – that’s around late-80s – we’ve always had useless full-backs. A seminal period of my youth was Brian Moore commentating – badly – on the Big Match on ITV on a Sunday, with its funky electric guitar theme tune, and  Mitchell Thomas, back-pedalling as an opponent advanced, clumsily conceding possession and tripping over his own bootlaces. Fast forward twenty years, and where Mitchell once stumbled now we have Stalteri, Gilberto and BAE. We’ve always had flair midfielders, and we’ve always had sub-standard full-backs. It just seems to be a Tottenham thing. The likes of Carr were the exception rather than the rule. The rule was Austin and Edinburgh, Gilberto and Stalteri.

 

Some may argue that full-back is hardly the most important position, and there is something in that. If a good team is going to carry any mediocre player, full-back is probably the one (I should know, I was that mediocre full-back for a few years at school…). A full-back’s mistakes can be rectified in last-ditch fashion by the centre-backs and ‘keeper. However, a top-notch, defensively-sound, attackingly potent full-back can dictate the entire dynamic of the team. Whereas BAE does the bare minimum – and occasionally less – by paroling his touchline and not getting much further than the halfway line, the likes of Bosingwa and Cole bomb on, nullifying the oppo’s winger, creating width for his team-mates, whipping in inviting crosses and generally shoving the entire passage of play a good 20 yards up the pitch.

 

Such descriptions have rarely if ever been levelled at Stalteri, so I shed no tears as he wanders out of N17 for the final time. Frankly, I hope that we be the first of a number of departees, over the coming weeks.

Woodgate does his Anderton impression: Spurs 0 – 0 Man Utd

Good grief, what a productive week. West Ham away and Man Utd at home could quite conceivably have ended in nul points (and would almost certainly have done so under Wendy Ramos). Admittedly the second half vs Man Utd increasingly became a backs-to-the-wall effort, but we did create some chances, and a clean sheet against the European champions, with an attack of Berba, Ronaldo and Tevez, is no mean feat.

 

That feat becomes even less mean when it is remembered that we began without King, and lost Woodgate to the most innocuous looking injury early on. We’ve been rather spoiled by an injury-free year for Woodgate, but the manner in which he picked up his “knock” – with no-one around him – was rather worrying, and memories of the original, definitive “Sicknote” came flooding back. Whereas Sir Les would get injured every week because he’d get concussion from nutting someone’s right boot, Anderton just didn’t seem to be built for football, and his weedy little legs rarely took the strain. His sinewy frame and gaunt face gave the impression of a man built of elastic bands tied around twigs – with the result that if he strained too hard he would snap. It had slipped my mind until Saturday, but Woodgate’s history suggests that he is similarly constructed. Hence, in the finest tradition of Anderton he incurred an injury seemingly just by landing, after jumping a foot in the air, and off he went, clutching his back and grimacing, like a grandfather who’d overdone it a wedding disco.

 

The resulting ad hoc back-four of Zokora, Assou-Ekotto, Corluka and Dawson hardly instilled me with confidence at first glance, but my goodness they did well. A lot of Dawson’s recovery tackles may come about because he erred in the first place, but he still made those recovery tackles in fine style. Zokora I single out for particular place, not only because he was thrust into unknown territory at left-back, but also because he was up against the newly-crowned Ballon D’Or winner, Little Miss Ronaldo. Perhaps, with his pace and penchant for an occasional 80-yard run, right-back could become a more regular spot for Zokora, in the absence of so many other options. Assou-Ekotto had his usual perfunctory, unspectacular game, although rather more eye-catching this time on account of his new hairstyle, which looked a bit like the grid from that board game “Battleships”. Gomes was quality. I’ve been one of his biggest critics, but the lad had a blinder – the spectacular leaping saves obviously catch the eye, but I was most relieved/impressed by the fact that he didn’t fail to connect when coming for corners. Bravo, sir.

 

Elsewhere on the pitch… Modric continues to look like he’s adapting to the English game with every passing match. Thudd performed an impromptu castration upon poor old Pavluychenko, which prevented what might have been a cracking goal (has Thudd ever scored any other sort of goal?) Bentley still looks like a flashy boyband member who has yet to prove he can walk the walk. However, his early long-range volley was a further indication of the renewed confidence that ‘Arry seems to have instilled in the team.

 

So positives aplenty, but all the jolliness is rather tempered by a glance at the league table, which shows that we’re still only a point above the relegation zone. This despite an unbeaten record against the top four this season* which makes all the more infuriating our losses to Stoke, Boro, Sunderland etc. The top half of the table remains tantalisingly close, but we will require a string of wins, rather than the win one, draw one, lose one cycle we seem to have adopted. The Prem takes a back seat for a few days as Spartak Moscow are next up, which at this rate is likely to see me make my debut in defence. Point needed to progress, I feel confident.

 

* = Pedantry alert – I’m aware that Villa are actually fourth at the moment, but for all intents and purposes I’m shoving l’arse into that little group.

The Curious Incident of Juande Ramos…

This Juande Ramos affair just becomes increasingly surreal. There always was an air of mystery about him and his band of merry man – primarily because they all seemed to be mute – but this was compounded by the arrival of new faces and ever-changing tactics; followed by his reappearance at Real Madrid of all places; and now the press reports that he’s eyeing up Dider Zokora of all people! What the hell is going on? With the increasing number of loose ends, bizarre sub-plots and unanswered questions this is beginning to resemble one of those ultra-complicated episodes of The X-Files, which finishes without resolving anything, leaving you mildly irritated and wanting to kick the television (or in this case Damien Comoli).

 

I don’t particularly want to re-open the debate of whether or not he should have been sacked etc. There are strong cases to be made for both sides of the argument. On one hand he steered us out of relegation trouble last year, demolished l’arse and then won the Carling Cup, with some shrewd tactical moves during the final vs Chelski, whilst generally maintaining an attractive style. Given time he would probably (maybe) have settled down, created a team he liked and made us Uefa cup regulars. On the other hand, he let the players give up the season after the Carling Cup final, was to some extent responsible for a dubious summer transfer strategy, was unable to settle upon formation or personnel after the best part of a year in charge and oversaw our worst start to a league campaign since woolly mammoths roamed the earth. Nor could he be bothered to learn the language after a year, not even to the comical-but-endearing extent of Claudio Ranieri/Phil Scolari. I’ve even heard it suggested that his success in Spain was due more to the Director of Football he had in place at Sevilla. Who knows?

 

Instead, I watch his career from a distance, with respect and a certain degree of bewilderment. Did he really think that Modric, a man who weighs less than his own shadow, was right for the midfield holding role? Does he really rate Zokora as the best player at the Lane? Has he really ended up at the biggest club in the world?

 

I suspect that even the most restrained Spurs fans, and indeed English football fans, would have raised an eyebrow at that, but if you tilt your head to one side and squint a bit, it does make some sense. It’s mutually beneficial – once Real decided to sack Schuster they needed a fairly safe pair of hands just to see them through to the end of the season, while for Ramos himself it’s a pay-day a useful CV point after the Spurs debacle, with not much to lose and something to gain. If it works the contract could be extended, if not there’s no commitment beyond the end of the season. Think Joe Kinnear with paella.

 

In a parallel universe maybe it all made perfect sense, and the Carling Cup win simply catalysed bigger and better things for the club with Juande in charge. Here and now however, I feel drunk just thinking about it. Good luck to the man, but roll on Man Utd under ‘Arry.

King reigns, Modric arrives: West Ham 0-2 Spurs

A bunch of positives from last night – a clean-sheet; cracking double-save from the much-maligned Gomes at 1-0, that was worth a goal (although a draw would have been harsh on us); little Lennon’s final ball matching the quality of his initial scampering; and the sight of the team generally bossing the game for much of the second-half. Personally though I was most chuffed with our little midfield fairy Lucy Modric.

 

Some context first – he was hardly Pele out there last night. In the first half in particular his tendency to drift wide and stay there left poor old Pavluychenko trudging around the penalty area with no white-shirts anywhere near him and only that nasty Lucas Neill for company. However, even in the first 45 Modric started to look like the flashy Hollywood midfielder we’d all heard about over the summer. A couple of neat step-overs, some twinkle-toed dribbles and the odd cheeky nutmeg – he suddenly appeared to fancy English football, and to believe that he really was a better player than Parker, Behrani et al. Then, for 20 or 30 mins in the second half, we began to dominate the game and Modric seemed to be at the hub of most things good. While maintaining a fairly central position he made himself available for a pass, and regularly took the opportunity to swagger towards goal and pull a few strings. It would be stretching it to say he bossed the game, but for the first time since arriving he seemed to enjoy conducting things, and occasionally he delivered the end product of a pleasingly incisive through-ball (we Lane regulars like that sort of thing). Finally it seems, Modric could be finding his feet in this Tottenham team.

 

Bless him, he still seems to be made of talcum powder and string. A gentle nudge doesn’t just knock him off balance, it sends him hurtling about ten feet across the pitch. At times it seemed he was sent tumbling by a gentle breeze in the East End night, or the blast of air carrying from the ref’s whistle. More cunning teams will work out not to give him too much time on the ball, and instead just kick, as he’s liable to snap, but cunning didn’t appear to be the West Ham way last night. Admittedly there was not much to which it can be compared, but I’d say Modric’s performance last night was possibly his best in a Tottenham shirt, which bodes rather well – I particularly look forward to seeing him dominate some Uefa cup games, where he has more time on the ball

 

Elsewhere on the Pitch…

 

Modric looked the sort of player that Bentley would love to become – ie a class above and he knows it. Bentley still doesn’t look entirely comfortable. It’s as if the whole business of getting stuck in on the pitch is a rather irritating distraction from living out his dream of living the celeb lifestyle in London.

 

Elsewhere, Assou-Ekotto continued to amble around in auto-pilot with that curious, expressionless stare of the undead, before doing his best to concede a penalty (relax Hammers fans – yes it was a pen, but we should have had a blatant one at the other end).

 

Corluka looked like a big lumbering bear, with little pace, and generally preferring to exercise pragmatism over guile whenever in possession.

 

Zokora did a decent job defensively, but conceded possession too often in the first half when going forward. Almost got his goal in the second half, mind.

 

And good old Ledley capped a solid display with a goal he can now drink to, stumble to and get in a fight at Faces to. His goal celebrations looked surprisingly sedate for a man whose celebrations were so heart-warmingly captured by the tabloids earlier this year.

 

First half we were as sloppy as I’d expected we’d be, second half we were much improved, a really impressive, controlled and inventive performance. Also nice to see us (generally) sensibly play the game out in the last few mins, just keeping possession, aside from the needless concession of a couple of free-kicks. But even those had a silver lining, as Gomes was able to enjoy his moment in the sun. Take a bow lads.

Cliches and Aaron Lennon’s leggings – West Ham-Spurs preview

I’m not a fan of footballing clichés – my dislike of them was suitably exacerbated when l’arse went and signed one (with a girl’s name) – so if you’re similarly riled by them perhaps briefly avert your eyes at this juncture: I’d rather have points in the bag than a game in hand.  However, the fixture-gods (ie the tv money-men) have decreed in their wisdom that this weekend we sat at home and twiddled our thumbs, waiting until Monday night while everyone else notched up another point or three on the Saturday and Sunday. Thus we go into tonight’s game at West Ham just one point above the drop zone. While it would be a bit dramatic to say that there is daylight between the mid-table gang and our humble selves, the three-point gap (from us in 17th to West Ham and Man City in 15th and 14th) could start to stretch if we get nothing from our game in hand tonight, especially as we’ve got Man Utd next up…

The possible return to fitness of the waif-like Modric could prove timely, as he would allow us to revert to a five-man midfield, whilst also providing a bit of craft and guile in the final third. Even if Modric isn’t fit, the return to the team of Jenas will add some energy to the midfield – and will also handily give the travelling Spurs support someone at whom to vent their spleen if things aren’t going well (http://www.allactionnoplot.com/?p=71). West Ham’s recent win at Sunderland was their first Premiership victory in ages, and while the draw at Anfield last week was also an impressive result, they’re hardly in red-hot form. They certainly look beatable – but then I think that of most teams we face… We for our part have looked sloppy recently, but I’d hope that the derby atmosphere and evening kick-off will be sufficient to impress upon the players the need for some urgency. Won’t make a prediction – the Premiership is far too tight and inconsistent this season to be laying money down – other than that Aaron Lennon will wear gloves and possibly even those dubious legging things, the big girl’s blouse…

 

 

I jest ye not – Jenas made the difference: Watford 1-2 Spurs

Hmm – I honestly think that we owed our win last night in large part to the presence of Jermaine Jenas.

Alright, alright – I’ve clearly gone mad. Too many booze-fuelled late nights, not enough sleep, not enough oxygen to the brain – these have all contributed to some severe form of dementia. I’m obviously crazy. I’m obviously talking the gibberish of a lunatic. No team on the planet can benefit from the presence in its ranks of Jermaine Jenas.

However, continuing the crazy-talk theme – I began to appreciate him once he was absent, injured. As mentioned previously on these pages, in his absence our central midfield comprised two deep-lying types, in Thudd and Zokora. Last night, Jenas was back and the midfield seemed to have a better balance. Unlike Thudd and Zokora, Jenas is happy to assume a position some 10-20 yards in advance of the halfway line, with his midfield partner sitting deeper. As such, whenever we won position we tended to have an attacking option in addition to the strikers, and this helped to drag the oppo around a bit.

Returning to sanity, Jenas’ return to the team did also remind us all of why he is so reviled by his own. Bless him, he works his socks off, makes lung-bursting runs, occasionally dribbles past midfielders, generally does the difficult part – and then always, always messes up the finish. This would also be why he doesn’t have his own song (http://www.allactionnoplot.com/?p=65). There was one notable jinking run in the first half yesterday which ended in a shot so tame you wanted to feed it berries from your hand. Then in the second half he caused panic in the oppo ranks by picking up the ball from 20 yards and determinedly burrowing towards goal – only to scuff his effort into a pathetic dribble that barely had sufficient momentum to make it into the arms of the goalkeeper. Honestly, to paraphrase from Bruce Willis’ wife in the first (and best) Die Hard, only Jermaine Jenas can make you that angry. Bizarrely, the only time he’s complemented the effort and determination of the build-up with a suitably successful end-product was away to l’arse earlier this season, when he scored an absolute peach. Any other time, that shot would have been so mis-hit and weak it would have stopped rolling out of embarrassment.

However, his presence and positioning improved the shape of the team. I assume that ‘Arry hastily read my last blog posting just prior to kick-off, because as well as addressing my concerns about the midfield balance he also addressed my point about resting key personnel, by picking a pretty darned strong starting XI.

They began with all the energy and verve of a moribund sloth, and the nightmare scenario of conceding early and away from home to a lower league team duly materialised. (The goal encapsulated our early sluggishness in a microcosm – Lennon beaten to the ball by a far hungrier opponent, Jenas and Woody wrong-footed and lumbering with the turning speed of a pleasure cruiser while the oppo striker swivelled and buried it). However, this had the pleasing side-effect of sparking us into life, and also prompted Watford to give us possession on halfway and sit back in their own half. We duly attacked, Lennon in particular looking good, O’ Hara not so, and the goals duly came. Pav, Bent, yadiyadayada, job done.

Is this really a "revival"? Spurs 0-1 Everton

Curses. Two steps forward and one step back is a painfully slow way of progressing, but it appears to be the route of choice for Harry’s Hotspurs. (Incidentally, the name “Tottenham Hotspur” was, partially, derived from the character “Harry Hotspur” in Henry V.)

With the Premiership table so tightly packed, a string of wins would have had us perched on the the ledge of the European places. Instead, two defeats in three leave us level on points with the relegation zone wretches. The game was not televised, but the frustratingly amateurish BBC London radio commentators generally gave the impression that, aside from our desperate final 15 minute barrage, we were pretty insipid. This bothers me somewhat.

Even allowing for a wide margin of error, given that I’ve only seen one of ‘Arry’s games at the stadium, and most of the rest only on TV, it seems to me that we’ve rarely played particularly well or looked particularly comfortable during our revival. Draw vs l’arse – dead lucky. Win vs Liverpool (league) – dead lucky. Win vs Man City – generous amount of luck. Win vs Blackburn – uninspiring . Add to those the insipid defeats vs Fulham and Everton, and the so-called “revival” begins to look a tad misleading. Now the media in particular seem happy to indulge in a Harry Redknapp love-in, and we’ve definitely improved since the Ramos era. However – whisper it – I’m not convinced that we’ve been playing particularly well, despite some good results. The only impressive performances were 4-0 vs a poor Dinamo Kiev and the Carling Cup win vs Liverpool’s reserves.

Losing while having played well is undoubtedly galling, but it at least gives hope of better things to come. We, by contrast, seem to have been picking up wins without playing particularly well, and therefore perhaps papering over cracks. Results have been good under the new boss, but performances have only sporadically sparkled. I still don’t doubt we’ll avoid relegation with ease, but with the tightness of the league table allowing us to force our way back into European reckoning on the back of a few consecutive wins, we ought to be aiming higher. If Harry really is the right man for us he’ll have us playing an attractive, effective brand of football fairly sharpish – if he does this results will take care of themselves. As yet there has been the odd sign of this, but we’ve more often been sloppy. Performances need to improve in order to push up the table, as we won’t win luckily every week.

The absences of Jenas and Modric, our supposed creative sparks in central midfield, haven’t really helped the cause, but there remain enough flair players in the squad for us to cope with this. In the first half hour vs Blackburn our attacking quartet of Lennon, Bentley, Pav and Bent looked particularly impressive – but 30 slick minutes in three games isn’t good enough. With West Ham away and Man Utd at home next in the league, it’s time for Harry to prove his worth as manager and turn up the performances a couple of notches.

An abridged version of this badboy can also be found on the letters page of football365.com:
http://www.football365.com/mailbox/story/0,17033,8744_4579281,00.html

‘Arry ‘Ates The Uefa Cup? NEC 0-1 Spurs

Woooooooooooaaaaaaaaaah there ‘Arry, what’s all this about? The most striking thing about Old Twitchy’s post-match comments yesterday was his seeming assertion that he rather wished we weren’t involved in the Uefa Cup! It involves too many games, apparently! To quote some of my punctuation-and-text-obsessed lady-friends: “OMG!!!???!?!?!?!?”

Now the guy has made a massive, positive impact upon the club, there can be no doubt – but that is not what I as a fan want to hear. We want to win this cup. We want to win every competition in which we’re entered. We have a fine tradition in Europe. Well, that probably needs some qualification – our European history isn’t exactly trophy-laden, but still, we do have some history: first British team to win a European trophy, back in the ’60s. We’ve twice won the Uefa Cup, particularly memorably so in ’84, and we’ve only lost twice at home in the competition.

Plus, a trophy is a trophy – winning one is important and fantastic. Just ask l’arse, who’s barren run is partly to blame for the current rumblings of discontent. Winning the Carling Cup back in March was one of the greatest footballing days (and nights) of my life.

And playing every season in Europe is important – it’s what we strive for for nine months! Would ‘Arry really prefer us not to qualify next season, just so that the fixture list is less congested? European football helps attract big players, excites the fans, improves the team, brings an added avenue for silverware and presumably swells the coffers.

However, there is a basis to ‘Arry’s argument, and it’s only fair to consider it. From his point of view, the priority is to avoid relegation. Personally I think that’s nailed on, and with such a congested table we’re practically pushing for European qualification (much to ‘Arry’s chagrin, presumably). Nevertheless, it’s an understandable attitude from the boss.

He also presumably wants to avoid injuries in such games, as the squad has already taken a few hits (Hutton’s broken foot, Ledly’s balsa-wood physique, Modric’s tissue-paper frame), and two games a week will only exacerbate niggles, especially on dodgy pitches like that of last night.

Maybe he was quibbling about the slightly drawn-out league format, in which three of five teams progress anyway, and which therefore barely even succeeds in separating wheat from chaff.

However, whatever his reasoning, I as a fan heard him say words to the effect that he doesn’t like playing in the Uefa Cup because it involves too many games. I firmly disagree, and I strongly hope that come next May Ledley lifts that funky mis-shaped silver badboy.

Spurs Uefa cup preview – a crazy foreign manager rants

Well this should be entertaining. Tonight we play Randomdutchguysh FC, or someone, and their unknown manager has taken advantage of the 15 mins of fame this affords him to denounce us as “predictable”, “long-ball” team. I love it when random foreign lads get a bite at a (relatively) big-name English team, and take the oportunity to go off on one like a madman, offering wildly deluded tactial insights with the most delightful, straight-faced insistence. It’s like when one of the Absurdistan teams is about to play England, and their boss insists for half an hour in a press conference that Rooney wouldn’t make the Kazakh under-17s women’s XI. Because he’s not aggressive enough. Think Comical Ali, but in football terms, and you get the idea.

So Mario Been, coach of NEC Nijmegen, has been fighting his corner, insisting:

“Tottenham is Tottenham. They play a type of football that is predictable. They play the long ball, then the game will start. We know that because we see English football every week. We are prepared for that.”

Erm, thanks for that Mario. Now admittedly I’m playing a dangerous game here, because if anyone can complicate the uncomplicated it’s Spurs. I should really know better than to patronise the charming little Dutch outfit, and ought to avoid complacency like the plague, given some of the results we’ve had this season. But irrespective of how the game pans out, that sort of chat is hilarious because it bears so little resemblance to reality. We certainly do have enough weaknesses in our team, but a penchant for long-ball tactics? Sounds like one Dutchman’s been spending too much time in the coffee shops. Been’s patter is vastly more intimidating when he offers an opinion that loosely corresponds to life on earth, such as the rather dangerous observation about our goalkeeper Gomes:

“Maybe he doesn’t have confidence in this moment.”

Dammit, Been’s done his homework. However, he rather spoiled the intimidatory effect, by then adding:

“It’s maybe a different way of playing for him – always the long ball.”

Schtop, schtop – Mario, we don’t play long-ball! We don’t play anything resembling the long-ball game. We may be allergic to tackling, and pass as sloppily as mushy peas, and treat the ball like a hot potato in defence, and spurn chance after chance, and have a goalkeeper who can’t catch and have in our ranks Jamie “Three-touch” O’Hara – but we definitely do not play long ball.

With such a tactical mastermind at the helm, I suspect we’ll be ok tonight. Maybe I will have to eat humble pie – after all, we’re without the ineligible Pavluychenko and Corluka, while Modric, Giovanni and Hutton are all injured and Ledley is being rested again. However, the stats suggest that we’ll cope – this lot stumbled to a 3-2 defeat against Dinamo, a week before we stuffed the same Dinamo 4-0 in the most one-sided game I’ve ever been to. Should we prevail, I’ll be intrigued to hear what Mario makes of it in the post-match interviews.

“They didn’t deserve it. They had no skill. They just kept hitting long balls at us…”

A good pair up front: Spurs 1-0 Blackburn

After the famous revelation of erstwhile coach Gus Poyet that Bent and Pavluychenko couldn’t play together – just a couple of weeks after signing the Russian for however many million pounds – I was intrigued to see if and how the pair would combine today. In the absence of the injured Modric to play in the hole behind a lone front-man, in a 4-5-1, ‘Arry opted for the two strikers in a 4-4-2 today.

Watching on tv rather than at the ground somewhat limited my ability to observe them, but the plasma screen in the pub suggested that as a partnership they did little to indicate an innate understanding. The theory that they can’t play together is presumably based on the fact that they’re so similar (that’s playing style, not physical appearance). In a nutshell both seem happiest when playing as the furthest forward; neither seems inclined to drop deep. At times a couple of weeks ago, in the Carling Cup v Liverpool, Pav and Frazier Campbell showed the odd sign of instinctive awareness, playing cute passes to each other without needing to look up etc, but alas there seemed to be little of that this afternoon.

However, the “two-forwards-in-a-4-4-2-rather-than-one-in-a-4-5-1” drum is one I’ve been banging for some time on these pages, particularly for home games, and I reckon it paid dividends today, not least for the goal. This occurred when we gained possession by accident rather than design (although much credit to Lennon for robbing the snoozing defender). Lennon found himself in possession unexpectedly, and looking up there were two Spurs bodies in front of him. The combo of him on the ball plus two forwards appeared to scare the bejeesus out of the Blackburn defenders, who back-pedalled and doesy-doed before Pav evenutally finished. Had Bent been on his own up-front I suggest that the Blackburn defenders might have been able to marshall the man on the ball and the man in support more successfully. Credit also to Pav for checking his run, while Bent and Lennon pushed forward, which again dragged the Blackburn defenders around.

Generally, Bent and Pav made some similar runs, but the mere presence of two dedicated forwards plus the man in possession seemed to give the Blackburn defence enough to think about. Playing two forwards does require the midfield pair to be particularly bright and energetic – but then playing just the one upfront generally requires the midfield to make sure they’re supporting. Another counter-argument is that 4-4-2 when we’re struggling for possession leaves both strikers starved of the ball and out of the game (as Blackburn’s front pair were today). However, too often this season I’ve seen a high ball lobbed towards Bent playing on his own, and for all his willing chasing it’s often no avail. My vote is cast in favour of 4-4-2.

Elsewhere on the pitch – great stuff from Lennon, who showed that an inability to cross need not hinder a winger if he’s capable of using pace to beat his man and then drilling the ball in low. Not only did he set up the goal, he also caused the sending off by beating the same man twice, enticing the two late tackles. Bentley by contrast seemed a little too eager to impress against his former side, although he delivered the good occasional set-piece. Jenas, as we all know, is a willing worker with a good attitude but isn’t good enough and therefore will never have his own song. Hudd has a lovely pass on him – and therefore has his own song – but with the pace of an anaethetised sloth is hardly the complete midfielder. Woodgate had a blinder, aside from his missed header in the second half. Generally there was a a touch of sloppiness in our play, both in passing and finishing, esp when against ten men. Need to be a bit more clinical there chaps, although we did create a number of good chances.

And the Daily Gomes Report. Inevitably, he dropped his first cross, but thereafter did the basics adequately. While his defenders (Woodgate in particular) did a sterling job in front of him the stats don’t lie – he kept a clean-sheet, and also sported an impressivley colourful mouth-guard, the first I’ve ever seen on a football pitch.

All in all – a home win against Blackburn is what I’d have expected before the season began, but something I wouldn’t have envisaged during the Ramos reign in August/September. Good work chaps, keep it up.

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