‘Crisis? What crisis? Though he didn’t actually use those words, that’s pretty much what AVB seemed to be saying after Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Everton in response to journalists’ and TV interviewers’ questions about Spurs fans’ concerns over our goals tally this season. He pointed to our good defensive record, very healthy league position and progress in cup competitions, where, he added, we have been making, and taking, chances.
In doing so, he echoed what neutral radio pundits had said to the numerous irate Spurs fans venting their spleen on the late Wednesday night phone-in after our spectacular extra-time and penalties League Cup (call me old-fashioned but I can’t be arsed to find out whatever publicity-hungry corporation now sponsors it and call it by its official name) victory over mighty Hull on 30th October. OK, so I know we scored two goals in that game and actually won a penalty shoot-out for the first time since – oh, I don’t know, the UEFA Cup Final against Anderlecht, perhaps? – but I struggle to recall, an excellent free kick from Lamela apart, us otherwise working the Hull goalkeeper too much. What I do recall – and I always regard this as an infallible barometer of the entertainment value of what’s going on on the pitch – is that the first ‘Stand up if you hate Arsenal’ chant started only 15 minutes or so in.
Of course, there were positives to take from both games, and take them we must. Being a natural pessimist ( i.e. a long-standing Spurs fan who understands that despair is easy to deal with but it’s the bloody hope that kills you), noting the date when newspapers would report on the Wednesday game, I had anticipated tabloid headlines of the ‘Hulloween Horror’ variety, a feeling that stayed with me throughout every one of our penalties and only disappeared after Brad Friedel’s save of Hull’s ninth. And we at least didn’t come unstuck at the home of the Toffees. Quarter finals of the cup and 4th in the league: if that’s a crisis, it’s the best we’ve had in years.
So, of course, AVB has a point. The problem is, if this continues, that’s the most we’ll be getting out of games, which isn’t going to keep us in the top four, let alone support a challenge for the title itself. Now, AVB is no fool and I’m sure he realises that too much more of this in the league and opposition supporters will be loudly suggesting we change our name to Spurs Nil. Even those whose maverick owners have changed their names (Hull City Tigers – I ask you!) or shirt colours ( witness the absurdity of red-shirted Cardiff being serenaded by their fans singing ‘come on you blues’) in some bizarre pursuit of success.
Consequently, I’m sure that, as I write, AVB and his backroom staff are working on adding the creative spark that we need to turn possession into goals. I’m sure he doesn’t need advice from me or any of the other experts who ring phone-ins or submit articles to Spurs-web.com but, for what it’s worth, here is one. From my vantage point high behind the Hull goal, one thing seemed glaringly obvious to the crowd but, sadly, not to our sole striker – there is space to be found in and around the box if you make well-timed diagonal runs rather than run in a straight line immediately in front of the team mate trying to put you through. This makes it less likely that the ball will be easily intercepted or hit the forward’s heels. It wasn’t so much a case of ‘chances going begging’ as of ‘chances to create chances going begging.’
It seems strange to be writing this just after witnessing Jermaine Defoe breaking Martin Chivers’ goalscoring record in European competitions against Sheriff tonight but the penalty was only his second real chance of the whole evening and, despite pundits always saying how great a finisher he is, I strongly feel that it’s more of a ‘was’ than ‘is.’ In recent years he has been a good striker; still with a good eye for goal and better than many. But compared with the player he was when he first signed for us, before he went out of favour during the Berbatov /Keane era? No contest. Then, you could guarantee that, at the very least, he would always find space, get shots off and work the keeper at every opportunity. Reminded me a lot of Solksjaer for Man. Utd. in that respect. Since then, particularly after returning from Portsmouth, he gets offside too often for a player with his pace and seems to have lost the knack of choosing the best runs to create chances. Like I say, he’s still better than many in the Premier but, to be honest, I now think it’s Soldado’s time. We haven’t made that many chances in open play for him but when he was one on one with Villa’s goalkeeper a couple of weeks ago, after a move, I should add, where we actually attempted some old-style Spurs first-time passes, I never had any doubt that he would score and, more importantly, it seemed that neither did he.
Watching us over the last couple of weeks, and again tonight, we keep possession quite well but still seem reluctant to move the ball quickly going forward. When we do have players playing one-twos, or taking players on, we make chances. When we don’t, it’s just lots of sideways passing while the opposition mass ranks against us. And where does this stuff about our small pitch come from? Hasn’t it been this size since all-seaters became compulsory or have I missed some other tinkering / shrinking since then?
We’re talking of balance here. I strongly feel that all the Spurs fans moaning about our inability to break down teams who ‘park the bus’, as Mourinho famously accused us of doing at Stamford Bridge a few years back, welcome the number of clean sheets we’re now keeping. But successful teams over the decades manage to do that while still scoring goals. Until this year, neutrals wouldn’t associate Spurs with resilience and good defensive practice. But they would consider us a team capable of beating anyone on our day, because of sheer skill and flair.
To return to our victory against AF Sheriff tonight, well our first half was a virtual replica of some of our Premier league struggles, threatening to spoil other pre-prepared tabloid puns based on Bob Marley’s famous song. Winning it doesn’t change my opinion. We should be able to shoot down the Sheriffs of this world. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. And, unless we recognise that there is some justification to the fans’ complaints and that we need to improve in terms of the number of real chances (not the crap definition of shots ‘on target’ the media produce ) we create, the best we can hope for next year is some group Europa Cup game in Uzbekhistan or somewhere against Fishinabarel FC.
To return to the question of whether we are in crisis, well, we need to remember that those famous words, “Crisis? What crisis?”, attributed to politicians such as Harold MacMillan in the 60s and Jim Callaghan in the 70s, and cited as significant in their respective downfalls, were apparently just tabloid press creations. So, let’s be clear – no-one is accusing AVB of using those words and I certainly don’t want him to go. I just want him to get things right. And, let me stick my neck out a bit here, I think he will.
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