Unknown territory tonight – a three-goal lead with 90 minutes remaining is a thing unheard of at N17, where we’re more used to desperate attempts to retrieve a one-goal deficit with 20 mins (or indeed just injury-time) to go.A 4-1 lead from the first leg against lower-league opposition means that we could do things the simple way – adopt a professional attitude, match Burnley’s work-rate and aggression, and score once or twice before half-time to breeze through. Yes, this would be a delightful means of securing a route to Wembley, and would be adopted by most teams with a modicum of common sense, the merest concept of sanity and any inclination to inject plot as well as action into its doings.
However, this is my beloved Tottenham. This is the team that lost an FA Cup Final through an own-goal the first time I ever watched them; the team that began a season with a 5-0-5 formation; that went 3-0 up against ten-men at half-time and lost 4-3; that sacked big scary Martin Jol (blessed be his name) and that paid £16 mil for Darren Bent. Common sense and sanity renewed their passports and left the premises long ago. No plot here, just action.
So, I apologise, but the penchant for under-achievement and self-destruction displayed so far this season (and indeed, on a general basis over the last two decades), have left me fearing a nail-biting, cardiac-arresting drama tonight. Whereas our normally reticent and unemotional American cousins have not stopped babbling on about hope and optimism for the future, I foresee only a lethargic and complacent performance, until, perhaps, shaken out of ineptitude by the concession of goals.
Across the pond, the newly-canonised one has been recommending that I adopt a more positive attitude towards tonight’s game: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” Evidently St Obama did not catch the first 45 minutes of our first leg vs Burnely.
We’ll qualify, probably, but we’ll do it the hard way. I can certainly see us scraping through on aggregate by losing 3-1 or 4-2 on the night – it would be the Tottenham way. Burnley showed in the first half of the first leg that they can produce a decent performance, and in front of their own crowd, an early goal or two would be a nightmare. You can barter for a mortgage and then bet the whole lot on the fact that Spurs will need to concede at least once before they wake up and start playing.
The injury front is also a cause for concern. No Ledley is par for the course, but the absence of the increasingly-dependable Gomes and Corluka leaves the defence looking vulnerable, while Lennon, one of our likeliest match-winners on current form, is also out. Crikey, I’m even ruing the absence of Jenas.
However, once we’ve conceded two goals, woken from our reverie and the contest actually begins in earnest, there will be grounds for optimism. The injury to Lennon means a start for Bentley on the right, his natural home – this after a highly encouraging cameo at the weekend. Three-Touch O’Hara on the left will provide balance and graft, having produced arguably his finest performance in a Spurs shirt in the first leg against these same opponents. Unbelievably I find myself welcoming the return of the absurdly-coiffured Assou-Ekotto at left-back, on the grounds that human-simian hybrid Bale was run ragged last time out by Burnely winger Eagles. Indeed, even the absence of Corluka is likely to shunt Zokora into the right-back berth, a position in which he excelled vs Man Utd a few weeks back.
Fingers crossed that debutant Alnwick can cut it in goal, and that Hudd, if restored to central midfield, has discovered hitherto unknown capacities for tackling, sprinting and generally beavering away like a man possessed, because otherwise Burnely will swamp us in midfield.
I doubt that even we could implode to the extent of letting slip a 4-1 semi-final lead, but equally, I’d be amazed if we make light work of this.