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Spurs – Portsmouth Preview

Spurs – Pompey would ordinarily be deemed a rather tepid fixture, the sort assigned for commentary to Tony Gubba on a Saturday MOTD. Today however, the fixture carries the sort of needle more usually associated with a local derby.The return of big Sol to the Lane will have had N17’s finest clearing their throats in preparation for his usual pantomime villain treatment, and this week’s game neatly coincides with the arrest of 11 fans for singing anti-Sol songs at Fratton Park earlier in the season. While, mercifully, the homophobia will no longer be heard, rumour has it that a censored version of the Sol song is being fine-tuned in preparation for today, possibly including that most magnificent of derogatory monikers, “rotter”.

Moreover, today’s game will also be the first time ‘Arry and Defoe face their former employers, since shrugging their shoulders, eschewing loyalty and nonchalantly strolling up to the Lane with cheery one-fingered salutes at the great and good of Fratton Park, routines completed with faux astonishment at the heckling they receive from Pompey fans.

And on top of all that, just when you thought it couldn’t get any juicier, global bragging rights are at stake, as I have a mate in New Zealand who is a Pompey fan. Honestly, could the build-up to this game be any more dramatic?

While the police and clubs have officially pleaded for calm, the self-styled Descartes of the Premiership, David James, has rather stuck a spanner in the works by urging Portsmouth’s travelling support to give ‘Arry and Defoe some grief, a call to arms which will have security staff at the Lane rolling their eyes and cursing under their breath.

Ever since insisting he had Zidane’s last-minute free-kick covered and then freezing on the spot as it sailed past him, at Euro 2004, I’ve had an axe to grind with James. He probably is quite thoughtful and intelligent, but he acts in all sincerity like he’s a Nobel prize-winner. Memorably, on a Rio Ferdinand wind-up, he waxed lyrical about a painting of a house, and specifically the symbolism of its over-sized windows, before being told it had been painted by a 5 year-old. Why can’t he just stick to football? It’s like going to a U2 concert and hearing that Bono chap rant on about how in third world countries there are 18 dying kids living in a mud-hut with only a beetle to eat between now and Christmas. Fair point, but the punters are paying to hear Angel of Harlem and other late 80’s classics. If they wanted to save the world they’d stop washing and go on protest marches, not attend U2 concerts.

David James’ self-importance has rubbed off on his boss, Tony Adams, who also likes to try throwing in the odd philosophical platitude when being interviewed on his appalling managerial record. Heaven knows what the team-talks at Portsmouth are like. So in the build-up to today’s game James has gone and made the sort of remarks that would land Joe F*cking Kinnear with a disrepute charge – but being David James he’s got away with it. With his battle-cry ringing in the ears of Pompey fans, and Sol making his latest return to the Lane, the noise from the stands ought to be pretty fiery today.

Oh that the Spurs players would display that sort of frenzied aggression. How pleasing it would be if they picked up where they left off against Burnley. Instead I fear that we’ll be outfought and outfoxed in midfield by footballing luminaries of the ilk of Kaboul and Nugent, prompting ‘Arry to blame the players, stewards, groundstaff and any other remnants of the old regime.

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Wigan – Spurs preview: Selection Dilemma for ‘Arry

‘Arry Redknapp would moan about his squad size even if were able to choose from the entire population of China, so he’s not going to admit that he’s got a bit of a selection dilemma ahead of Wigan away on the morrow. Jermain Defoe will ditch the Dick Van Dyke cap, gawd bless ya, pull on the lilywhite once more and waltz straight back into the starting eleven, presumably alongside Pav upfront. After Sheringham and Klinsmann, and Keane and Berba, everyone bar Darren Bent will hope that this proves another top-notch striking combo.Defoe and Pav upfront will mean 4-4-2, rather than 4-5-1, which in turn means only two in central midfield rather than three. With Jenas back from suspension, ‘Arry has to choose whether Modric remains in the centre and Jenas on the bench, or Jenas in the centre and Modric out left.

A propos the left flank, will Bentley be retained, or will he have to preen himself on the bench rather than the pitch? His form has been woeful, but ‘Arry has persisted, and as we’re not at the Lane  – away from the increasingly loud and frequent groans (and worse) of dismay – Bentley and his tubs of hair gel may be offered another chance. Should that happen, young Three-Touch O’ Hara may well storm out of N17 never to return – his second-half left-midfield cameo on Monday night was inspired, and he will, with some justification, feel he’s merited a place in the starting XI., one of the great propaganda machines of the 21st century, has pointed out that we’ve won every game we’ve played this year, and with that line in irresistibility how could Wigan possibly cause us trouble? Alas, the Wigan of tomorrow will be vastly changed from the Wigan we beat in the cup a couple of weeks ago. They’re in form in the league, and their impressive striking pair of Heskey and Zaki are both fit to play.

Defoe to continue his penchant for debut goalscoring, but a draw at best, I fear.

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Spurs – Burnely preview: What an Opportunity

What an opportunity this is. While pundits, players and ‘Arry will trot out one cliché after another about the risks of playing a rubbish team in a cup blah blah blah, there’s no escaping the fact that Burnley over two legs is a glorious opportunity for us to get to Wembley. Yes, they knocked out Chelski and l’Arse (kids) en route to this semi; and yes, we’re an underperforming outfit these days. Nevertheless, this is a team in the division below us. Moreover, should we have a bad day, or should they produce a particularly inspired performance, we have a safety net by virtue of the fact that this is a two-legged tie. Even at my most pessimistic I can’t see us messing this up, not over two legs.Defoe is to be paraded before kick-off, like some sort of circus attraction, which ought to whip the crowd into a frenzy. I’m also confident that this spirit of goodwill will give birth to a ripple of applause when the dastardly Hossam Ghaly’s name is read out, which ought to be sufficient to drown out the odd isolated boo. If we get a goal in the first 30 mins the roof will come off (I know, I know – there is no roof) and we’ll produce a breathtaking, all-action-no-plot display to give us a six-goal cushion for the second leg (or, more realistically, both crowd and players will settle back into a dangerous level of complacency which we’ll come to regret in the return leg in a fortnight’s time). Either way, I’m confident we can put the tie beyond doubt tonight, especially if Burnley commit men forward in search of an away goal.

Team news is that Assou-Ekotto and his blank stare and mentalist afro is suspended, as is Jenas. I can think of worse news in the build-up to a game. More worryingly, Ledley is stuck together with safety pins and sellotape again, but Dawson has rediscovered his form in recent weeks, and Woodgate completes a sturdy looking centre-back pair, while Gomes is in tip-top form in goal. The absence of Bent leaves us with limited striking options, but with Modric and Lennon looking dangerous we’ve got goals in us.

A little depressingly, this is the highlight of our season, and as such I expect a very strong performance – and hopefully something like a two-goal win. Or is that too optimistic?

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Spurs – Wigan preview: Alas, we’re a cup-team once more

I suspect I wasn’t the only one waking up on New Year’s morning with a horrible sense of dismayed realisation. As I tried to figure out whose flat I was in, and get rid of the sickly sweet taste of JD-cointreau-lemonade in my mouth, the terrible truth slowly dawned in me – Spurs have once again become a cup team. 

As far back as I can remember Spurs had always been better in the cups than the league, but under big scary Martin Jol (blessed be his name) it looked like things were about to change. Two consecutive fifth-placed finishes, and phrases like “consistency”, “top four” and “Champions League places” were being bandied around. It was all so tantalisingly close… 

On New Year’s morning however, with the sounds of my first ever Hogamanay still pounding around my head, it occurred to me that those two seasons were the exception rather than the norm. As I gasped for water and scrolled quizzically through the photos on the digital camera (where was that? who was she?) I realised that it simply isn’t becoming of an all-action-no-plot team to boast a strong defence, produce consistent performances and grind out single-goal wins. Instead, we’ve left that approach to Villa, who have also purloined our blood-the-young-English-talent approach. For our part we’ve reverted to the occasional blitzkrieg performance amidst a slew of moribund defeats to the division’s lowliest, a habit far more typical of a cup-team. Mid-table mediocrity, and the occasional trophy – it should be our motto.  Never mind audere est facere, let’s go with “Purgamentum in medii mensae, aliquando tropaeum 

Wigan at home is a game we ought to win, irrespective of the competition, venue, year or alignment of the planets. Quite why we’re playing on a Friday night is anyone’s guess. As if I wasn’t already sufficiently confused by the whole business of waking-up-in-a-strange-flat-and-coming-back-into-the-office-for-one-day-which-feels-like-Monday-but-is-actually-a Friday. I get the feeling ‘Arry wouldn’t be entirely dismayed if we got knocked out tonight, given our current fixture list (his twitch will go into overdrive if it goes to a replay) but having seen Cardiff and Millwall make the final in recent years I’d like to see us take it seriously

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West Brom – Spurs preview: We’re doomed

Away to the team at the bottom of the league – exactly the sort of game in which Spurs will meekly surrender and die. The personnel changes, the kit changes – even the stadium is about to change, but Spurs remain the same, and I’ll be flabbergasted if we comfortably wrap up the three points as we ought to.

As we’re away from home it’s likely we’ll start with the wretched 4-5-1 again, and Bent/Pav will be starved of service, leaving ‘Arry bleating about the need for another striker. Au contraire, Mr Redknapp. My many, many years as a dedicated armchair football fan tell me that the problem is quite clearly the holding role. Bring in a midfielder with bite, who can win the ball and hold fort, and others will be freed to support the lone striker. Or better yet, if the holding midfielder is good enough, he alone can do the job and we can revert to 4-4-2. At the moment, two players (from Zokora, Hudd and Jenas) are being deployed to sit deep, and we’re suffering from a paucity of numbers in attack.

Here’s your Spurs bingo card for the traditional defeat to the bottom club tomorrow: “toothless”, “spineless”, “no confidence”, “tired”, “lacking urgency”, “outmuscled”, “no service”.

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This time next month, we’ll be pushing for Europe…

Make no mistake, the games coming up over the Christmas period and into January represent a great opportunity to push up the table, away from the drop-zone and into the chasing pack fro Europe.

In the league, Fulham at home, West Brom away, Wigan away, Pompey at home, Stoke away and Bolton at home on 31 Jan – all games which, individually, we could realistically envisage winning. There’s a Manager of the Month award in there for ‘Arry, particularly if he bolsters the squad shrewdly over January.

The table remains tight, with universal inconsistency seeing teams throughout the division picking up just four or five points from nine. As such, three or four consecutive wins will propel us up the table.

I realise that this is the sort of claim which will incur the wrath and/or mockery of non-Spurs fans across the land, exactly the sort of blind optimism which breeds pre-season mockery outside fo N17, as we babble on about this being “our season”. Indeed, I admit to making such gung-ho claims fro the ’08-’09 campaign, not least on 15 August, the day before the season began. Back then, carried away with the prospect of an all-action-no-plot line-up so attacking it forced Modric back into the holding role, I saw us beating every team in the Premiership at home, bar the top four. Instead, we promptly lost to Boro, Sunderland, Villa, Pompey, Hull and Stoke, and were bottom after a couple of months. There is therefore, a possibility that this festive fixture-list could prove disastrous for us.

However, results (and performances) such as the 0-0 at home to Man Utd, minus King and Woodgate, and the win away to West Ham, have left hope springing eternal of a points blitz over the next few weeks. It all begins today at home to Fulham. ‘Arry will continue to insist that we’re in a relegation scrap, but I see neon lights, dollar signs and all-action-no-plot, glory glory football – we’re on our way to an unbeaten run! I’m sure of it!

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Anyone fancy a game? Spurs – Spartak Moscow preview

The build-up to tonight’s game with Spartak reminds me of our office 5-a-side team. We too would reach the day of the game with only four guaranteed players, from an initial pool of several dozen. And so it transpires that Darren Bent can’t play because he has a cold, Ledley and Woodgate are injured, Pav has a prior engagement with his missus, Corluka is helping a mate move into a new flat, Hutton is probably too hungover, Giovanni will no doubt have a deadline looming and can’t get out of the office in time, and as a result ‘Arry is going to have to phone around the players’ mates to try and find a couple of ringers.

As in fact he has already done – step forward Bostock and Parrett. I watched Bostock come off the bench to become our youngest ever player vs Dinamo Zagreb, he seemed to have a decent touch and was left-footed, which is pleasing, but he looks like he should be wearing a hoody and sitting at the back of the bus playing his music out loud. As for this Parrett chap –  I saw a photo of him in the paper and he looks about eight. Maybe the picture is actually 12 years old and he’s really 20, but this still annoys me. I’m not old, but people like him make me feel old. It seems like five minutes ago that I was a teenager, and dreamed of being the young kid thrown off the bench at Spurs. Admittedly I couldn’t even make the school starting XI, but still, I dreamt that dream because I was young enough. It was about the same era that Southgate and Ince were playing rather than managing.

And now? Now Southgate is a manager, Ince has just been sacked from his third managerial post and some damn eight year-old who hasn’t started shaving is going to play for Spurs tonight. How can someone born in the 90s be a better footballer than I am? How can someone still at school be better than I am? I’ve got over ten years on these kids – surely I must be fitter, and stronger, if not necessarily faster? Go back to Pokemon and recorder concerts Parrett, leave the football to grown men. That kid is going to get a right kicking tonight. I’d kick him if I were playing – even if I were his team-mate – just because no-one ought to be a better footballer than me if they’re not old enough to remember Thundercats. There’s a natural order of things here, sonny. Still, as long as Ryan Giggs continues to play, I’ll always feel young. He represents a whole era – my era. Don’t you ever dare to retire, Giggsy.

We only need a point to progress tonight. Fingers crossed for Bostock, Parrett and the rest of the High School Musical cast.

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Berba the pantomime villain: Spurs – Man Utd preview

So it looks like Berba is chickening out of a return to the Lane tomorrow, the big girl’s blouse. There is also some talk of Carrick possibly missing out through injury, although I suspect he’d be due less vitriol than the Bulgarian swine. Loyalty means nothing to players, nothing new there, but everyone loves a pantomime villain, especially at Christmas, and should Berba play he can expect to be roundly booed for the manner in which he upped and left. Of sulky demeanour at the best of times, his departure was conducted in such a surly manner he didn’t even bother to make the usual polite utterances about how grateful he was for the opportunity and support at Spurs etc. There’s probably a sense in which his honesty is refreshing, but I missed it in the midst of my indignation that anyone would dare to leave the amphitheatre of N17, or that, contrary to the song, there is actually another team around which is by far the greatest the world has ever seen.


Some players will always be warmly received at the Lane – Waddler, Ginola, Klinsmann et al. Guys, mi casa su casa. The criteria are pretty straightforward – play the sort of champagne football that the Lane regulars love, show that you care for the badge and, possibly above all else, don’t leave acrimoniously. Getting shunted out by an unscrupulous chairman/manager tends to assist the returning player in the popularity stakes.


By contrast, declaring that you’d rather leave Spurs and join some other lot, who have handily become the club you supported as a boy, will grant you the sort of treatment that even Emmanuel Eboue would consider a tad harsh. And leaving to join l’arse on a free, after you’ve been club captain for years – well, suffice it say that ten years on and that’s now become a matter for the polizei to investigate.


With Rooney and possibly Evra also missing from the Man Utd line-up tomorrow, and our bizarrely impressive record against the top-four so far this season, there may even be grounds for optimism ahead of the game. I think we’ll get stuff myself, but personally I’d rather lose this one and win the Carling Cup final against them.

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Please don’t blow this opportunity… Watford – Spurs Carling Cup preview

I’ve got a bad feeling about tonight’s game away to Watford. At stake is a place in the semi-finals, alongside such luminaries as Derby and Burnley, and in our way today stand a team near the bottom of the Championship, who have just sacked their manager. It’s a cracking opportunity to progress, and the route to winning some silverware and securing European qualification is as well-lit and sign-posted as any competition will ever be, with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, l’arse and even Villa, Man City and Everton all having fallen by the wayside. There’s no doubt we’re good enough in theory to beat Watford away, and either of Derby or Burnley should we draw them in the semi. (The other quarter-final, tonight features Blackburn and the under-strength Man Utd). However, I’m already resigned to the fact that Watford will raise their game, while we’ll trot out one of those perfunctory, sloppy, mind-elsewhere performances. That would be one hell of an opportunity blown, especially having done the hard work of beating a couple of Premiership teams to get this far. With the chances of European qualification via the league table still looking a long shot, I’m already seething at the thought that we’re going to blow it tonight.

In particular the lack of energy from our central midfield is a cause for concern. Who’d have thunk it, but I actually lament the absence of Jenas at the moment. Zokora and Huddlestone simply aren’t good enough to boss a game as a central midfield pairing, certainly at Premiership level. As a pair they seem to possess neither action nor plot – both sit deep, neither supplementing attack and neither forming a particularly strong shield for the defence. They seem to need the presence of a third body alongside them in central midfield, and with Modric and Jenas likely to be out injured this looks like a luxury we won’t be able to afford. (nb, while he’s got the right attitude I broadly stick O’ Hara in the same “needs-two-people-alongside-him” category). Thudd in particular seems to need a couple of minders – or a two-goal lead – in order to be at his best, and while his passing, long and short, can be superb when he’s on song and the team is on top, too often he’s a slightly lumbering passenger when the chips are down. In a cup-tie away to a lower-league team I fear we won’t show stomach for the fight, but instead be out-muscled and out-bustled.

The other worry tonight is ‘Arry’s attitude towards any game that isn’t in the Premiership. He keeps banging on about how we’re in a relegation fight, and last week suggested that he rued our progress in the Uefa as it meant more games. I hope beyond hope that this is just the line he’s feeding the media, and that in the privacy of his own twitchy head he appreciates quite what a good chance this is for silverware. I appreciate that avoiding relegation is our priority, but I really don’t see that as a reason to surrender our places in the Uefa and Carling cups – especially with the draw for the latter looking so inviting. Besides, there are mantras such as “Winning breeds confidence” to be trotted out at moments like this.

Redknapp’s team selection tonight will speak volumes. As mentioned, without Jenas and Modric the midfield already has a dubious look to it. At the back Ledley is likely to be rested, understandably enough. Beyond that I hope to see Woodgate, Corluka, Bale (despite his current poor form) and Lennon involved from the start. What I’d be rather wary of is half a dozen or more changes, with the likes of O’ Hara, Gilberto, Taraabt, Rocha and Bostock all flung together. Even if the players brought in are of a half-decent standard, changing more than half the personnel is inevitably going to result in an unsettled and unsure starting line-up. Presumably the reality will be somewhere in between – ie maybe four or five changes, with the core of players all members of our Premiership squad, and a couple of kids on the bench. It still fills me with pessimism. The Carling Cup might be the smallest of the trophies, but a lot of teams (not least l’arse) would trip over themselves to win two trophies in two years. It’s a cracking opportunity – Arry, please don’t blow it through your team selection.