We came, we saw, we conked-out. We started talking when we should have just shut up and got on with playing. We live, but rarely learn. From touching distance of the title, then the quick re-calibration of expectations to a second place finish, then only a point needed from our last home game to guarantee second place, and then down to this: needing at least a point from our last game at Newcastle while in a run of form that, however you try to dress it up, suggests yet another classic Spurs wobble once the pressure is on. Too harsh? How else do you explain throwing away leads three games in a row, conceding two goals from corners and a couple of other soft goals, an inability to mount anything like sustained pressure and create clear-cut chances when needing to turn draws into victory or, most recently, a defeat into a draw? In all three games, our forward play in the latter stages seemed curiously half-hearted, as if we suddenly lacked conviction that we can score goals. (And to anyone who points out how much we have missed young Dele Alli, I’d say: ‘Yes, but everyone has been banging on about what a strong squad we have.’).
Let’s make no mistake – we have to get something out of our last game if we are to avoid Arsenal climbing above us yet again, as they always have in the Premiership era, for ever and ever amen. There is absolutely no point in hoping that Aston Villa will trouble themselves to trouble Arsenal in the slightest on Sunday or that Arsenal will be troubled by the sort of collective failure of nerve that seems to affect us when presented with opposition that we should reasonably be expected to beat. If Arsenal do not win that one comfortably against a team that has lacked pride, organisation and motivation since early in the season I will offer to eat Gary Lineker’s underpants on the first Match of the Day next season.
Of course, we at least have 3rd place guaranteed, thankfully, and we are facing a team who will either already have been relegated by Sunderland’s result against Everton on Wednesday or will need to beat us to have even a chance of staying up. In the former case, they will be playing in front of a justifiably angry crowd and may or may not relax and play for pride; in the latter case, they will be playing in front of a vociferous but very anxious crowd – reminiscent of our own, in that respect – which could either motivate or stifle them. My worry is that we have seemingly reverted to type and become again the ‘go to’ team for teams, or players, wanting to end poor runs. West Brom had a poor away record, struggling to score goals (13 away in 17 games before playing us), before damn-nearly beating us; Chelsea had only won five home games all season before coming from 2-0 down and damn-near beating us; Southampton’s Davis scored 2 goals against us having only scored two others all season! It reminds me of how the likes of Viera and Makelele, who hardly ever scored against anyone else, could score against us. It’s so frustrating witnessing this: I feel like flinging my windows open (* A pedant writes: well, actually they’re sash-windows, so technically I have to slide them up rather than fling them open) and screaming at the world, like that Peter Finch newsreader in the film Network: ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.’
Unfortunately, we all know that I will take it some more, as we all do. But it will be more than disappointing if we slip to third. For some time, the only team with a theoretical chance to catch Leicester. A young team described, I understand, by Micky Hazard at the West Brom game as one with the potential to be ‘The best Spurs team ever.’ A young manager, considered a genius and coveted by other clubs. A manager who could finish below a manager whose own supporters keep baying for his departure. And potentially just above another, if Man Utd win their remaining games, who might end up steering Man Utd to the Champions League and FA Cup victory and be also considered a failure. It’s a funny old game as Jimmy Greaves perhaps used to say. Or ‘Football? Bloody hell!’ as Ferguson used to say.
Anyway, for a team talk before Sunday’s game, I fantasise that Pochettino starts channelling Ray Winstone (*Pedant alert: Yes, I know he’s a Hammer, but stay with me), points his finger at each player in turn, growls in a trademark
Ray Winstone gangster / Scumboy Bet365 advert voice: ‘Oy. Don’t you dare turn off. Get your fingers out, get out there and get that point nah (as in cockney for ‘now’, not ‘no’). Otherwise it’s a sock full of snooker balls for all of you.’ Or something like that.
Will they do it? I hope so. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
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