Did anyone, other than a media (well, Sky and BT Sports, anyway) desperate to keep up the pretence that this one was really going to the wire, really think we had a chance of catching Leicester, as their lead over us fluctuated between, at best, 8 points, and, at worst, 5 points, and as game after game passed by without our being able to eat into it, until there were only three left? Maybe Harry Kane’s tongue-in-cheek tweets or Mauricio’s touchline ground-punching at Liverpool suggested that we still believed but……..really?
Anyway, lest Leicester fans jump in with accusations of self-obsession and failure to give credit where credit’s due, can I quickly say to them: ‘Fucking brilliant – the best thing to happen since Cloughie performed miracles with Forest centuries ago. A proper team, with a proper team spirit, some journeymen older players seizing the chance of a lifetime with both…er…feet and a manager who is a breath of fresh air in his ability to take the pressure off his players by ignoring the hype until the trophy is in the cabinet, who doesn’t play stupid mind games with other managers and referees and who is able to take the piss out of himself. A real kick up the arse to the teams who thought, and no doubt still think, that they have a divine right to a top four place every year. A kick up the arse, too, to statisticians who count shots into Row Z as ‘attempts’ and possession as an end in itself. Well done, you. Hope you keep your team together and that you shake up the Champions League next season in similar fashion.’
At this point, I recall reading some surly comments from Spurs fans about how Leicester time-wasted and carried out lots of niggly fouls at our place, and anticipate a few more now. I confess, when I saw Vardy’s dive in an effort to get a penalty and a booking for the innocent defender whose legs he tangled with against West Ham ( worthy of a 1974-era West German forward, and what colour-tinted glasses was Roy Hodgson wearing when he defended it?), I let rip with a few surly comments of my own. When I cooled down, though, I thought, well, they’re not playing on a level-playing field with the big spenders are they, so why not employ a bit of street-nous? And, in any case, if we listen to the statisticians, we are no slouches ourselves in the niggly fouls stakes.
Talking of street-nous, I’m not sure if last night’s encounter with Chelski showed that we had it or whether some of our players had just taken the suggestion that they must ‘fight to the last’ too literally. I cannot believe that we ended the game with 11 players on the pitch and – I never thought I’d ever say this – have a lot of sympathy for Mark Clattenburg in his attempts to referee such a nightmare of a game. I don’t know whether it was the provocative statements by some Chelsea players beforehand that got to our boys or whether stuff was said on the night but, had the linesmen not behaved like rabbits in the headlights and acted as if their flags were velcroed to their shorts, Walker and Dembele would’ve been sent off for, respectively, a stupid kick and a piece of eye-gouging. (I’m not sure about the Lamela ‘stamping’ that Fabregas got so incensed about – Lamela may or may not be above a crafty hand-squashing, though slow-motion replays suggested that Fabregas may have tried to grab his foot with one hand and came off worse). As it is, Walker and Dembele are likely to be subjected to retrospective justice and, like Alli, can probably consider their seasons over. It’s a shame that we lost it like that, though more of a shame that we let Chelsea back in direct from a corner, failed to score a third goal when we had the chance at 2-1, and then failed to mount a serious attack for the last ten minutes or so. Maybe we were so angry ‘cause Chelsea chose to really fight for a result this time when they’ve been crap at home for most of the season, in the same way that West Brom threw everything at us in the previous game in a way that they most definitely didn’t when they rolled over away to Arsenal.
In the end, it was a relief to grab a point. As per my previous post, I’d been concerned that we were beginning to believe our own, and media, hype and had started talking about the title rather than concentrating on maintaining the gap between us and the Arse and Man. City. Last night’s point means, with those two having to play each other next, that they can’t both overtake us now, and that we are guaranteed 3rd place at least, which, as I understand it, makes us safe from the possible double-whammy of City winning the Champions’ League and Liverpool the Europa. I’m hoping, of course, that City lose to Real Madrid (come on Gareth!) and then have to turn up (unlike their insipid display at Southampton) against Arsenal. Should they beat Arsenal, we would be safe in 2nd. (Unless City score so many and we lose so badly that our 9-goal better goal-difference is overturned). Imagine that. Second place? How many of us would’ve taken that at the start of the season, eh?
Of course, not losing might be good for morale but, points-wise, three such non-defeats only bring in the same as a win and two defeats and there’s no getting away from the fact that we have drawn too many games that we should have won, hence the punning title of this piece. Draws can seem like a win when you come from behind and credit is due to the lads for the way we respond these days when going behind; we are no longer a soft touch. On the downside, we’ve thrown away some crucial points by being unable to close games out when in front, our latest two and the home game with Arsenal being cases in point. Maybe that’ll come with experience. And a few squad additions.
Which brings me on to my last point. Leicester coped admirably in the two games they had to play without Vardy. I shudder to think how we would cope if we lost Harry Kane for a couple of games. Our efforts against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League, give us a clue, I feel. Chadli, who hinted a few times last year that there may be a quality player lurking inside, hasn’t, to be fair, had much playing time this season. But, when starting instead of Harry in those games, he reminded me of a piss-taking comment directed at me by a veteran centre-half when, aged 18, I made a first team debut for my team in Saturday local-league football back in the early 1970s. Last into the dressing room after the game, I was greeted by said centre-half nodding towards me while addressing the rest of the team: ‘There you are, lads; I told you Clarkie was playing.’
Often, it comes as a shock when Chadli’s name gets mentioned by the commentator. ‘Jesus, is he playing?’ you shout at the TV. When used as a sub, he’s even less visible. Son works hard and has some goals in him, but he’s not a focal point. And there, the options seem to peter out. And that bothers me. Without Harry, we are not the same team and, if we are to be serious serial contenders, we need back-up. At the moment there is a collective intake of breath if he takes a knock. Thus far, he always gets up. But, if, God forbid, he does get injured? Doesn’t bear thinking about. Though I hope Poch and co. are thinking about it. I would also hope they are thinking about a few players who might give us a Plan B when Plan A doesn’t work. Most of our width comes from our full backs, who create space but rarely create anything direct from their crosses, and we sometimes struggle when they are pushed back. Subs coming off the bench invariably fit into our pattern of play, rather than change it. Mason, Carroll etc. can fill their roles competently – they’re good squad players. But they’re not game-changers. We need a couple of those if we are to build on this year’s success.
And, let’s not be negative and call 2nd place a success. I know we take the piss out of Arsenal for claiming that regular Champions’ League spots represent ‘success’, but, for us, serial under-performers in league terms since the 1960s, that would be a major improvement; our best ever Premiership performance and a sign of real progress. We have something to play for still – the chance to finish above Arsenal for the first time since Wenger took over. So let’s go for that. No Alli, no Walker, no Dembele, no cry. COYS.
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