As we entered August, if you cupped a hand to your shell-like, you could still hear the cheers that followed Crouchy’s winner at Eastlands in May still echoing round N17. At that point we were anticipating the signings that befitted our new status as Champions League debutants. South Africa, the vuvuzelas, tiki-taka & Robert Green’s comedy goalkeeping had been and gone and the agents of Suarez, Huntelaar & Forlan, to name but three, were doing the hokey cokey as they threw their clients into and out of the transfer ring whilst making sure that everyone knew about it. In fact our only signing before the Premier League started was the, at that point, much talked about but rarely spotted Sandro. His involvement in Internacional’s ultimately victorious Copa Libertadores campaign (which ended on August 18) meant his arrival at White Hart Lane was more delayed than a Paul Scholes challenge.
In the recent past preseason results have often led to a feeling of confidence soon dispelled once the games proper begin. The unbeaten sequence during Juande Ramos’s reign that gave no hint as to the disaster that was to unfold when the season started being the prime example. There were no such problems this year, Villareal’s 4-1 win at WHL plus Fiorentina going into a two goal lead before we pegged them back put doubts in the mind as to our ability to cope with top European teams and made the impending CL Qualifying Round games against Young Boys of Bern seem ever more banana skin like as each tick of the transfer window clock (what? you didn’t know there was such a thing?) reverberated round Daniel Levy’s office.
There was a 1-0 win over Benfica in Lisbon (where Michael Dawson lifted silverware in the form of the Eusebio Cup) to cling to as well as regular goals from Robbie Keane and Gareth Bale but the absence of fit centre halves for many of the games was a worry as well as the lack of match practice for our World Cup participants. The late return of the latter meant that youngsters like Button, Townsend, Obika and Kyle Walker all saw a lot of action.
Adel Taarabt was also given chances to show what he can do but Harry clearly wasn’t impressed and a week after he’d given a fat and lazy performance against Orient at Brisbane Rd the Moroccan was packing his ego and reintroducing himself to the falafel sellers of Shepherd’s Bush. Jimmy Walker was the only other first teamer to leave, Carlo Cudicini having apparently fully recovered after his Barry Sheene impression.
So, high in hope, but slightly nervous given the lack of obvious squad strengthening, we welcomed Sheikh Mansour’s plaything to WHL to begin the season.
Sat 14th – Spurs 0 Manchester City 0
In the first half we showed all the signs of starting this season as we finished the last (I’m ignoring the second 45 minutes at Turf Moor) as Citeh were torn apart. We turned on the style but Bale, Defoe and others were either thwarted by Joe Hart or spurned chances. It was a more even encounter in the second half but we still had the opportunities to nick a winner. In the end though, we’d either dropped a point against one of our rivals for a top four spot, or gained a point against a side who’d challenge for the top, no-one knew yet quite how long it would take for the Omani Rial to buy success.
Our eleven was the same as the one that had earned Moneybags League qualification in Manchester in May minus Kaboul and plus Corluka meaning that King started after only 68 minutes of preseason action. Giovani was a notable presence on the bench, the only one of the ‘possibles’ who featured in preseason to apparently convince Redknapp that they were capable of a place in the first team squad. He came on for Lennon after 77 minutes here.
Tues 17th – Young Boys 3 Spurs 2
A loss in our debut in the Champions League but oh it could’ve been so much worse. Harry swapped things around from Saturday with Bassong, Giovani, Palacios and Pavlyuchenko all starting. On the plastic pitch we were spectators for the first half hour as the home side speedily and slickly took a three goal lead and hit the woodwork too. Things calmed down after Huddlestone had been subbed on for Assou-Ekotto and Bassong powered home from a corner before half time. We had more of the game in the second half but created little until a touch of quality from Pav meant that the absolute disaster that had threatened early on had been averted and in the end we tip-toed away relieved and with our hopes for qualification to the group stages still intact.
Sat 21st – Stoke City 1 Spurs 2
The big breaking news in the 24 hours leading up to this game was that former Arsenal sulk-meister William Gallas had been for a medical and was on the verge of signing. For all the predicted outrage built up by the press there was little protest from Spurs fans. The recognition that more depth at centre half was needed as well as Champions League experience and that Gallas provided both outweighed to most his Gooner links.
Two Gareth Bale goals were enough to win the game, the first a joke strike as a Stoke goal line clearance rebounded off him and into the net. The second though was a much seen since sublime volley from a Lennon cross. At the death the home side thought they’d equalised through Walters but the ref and lino, probably incorrectly, decided that the ball hadn’t crossed the line.
Kyle Walker came on for Lennon during the last three minutes, his only appearance of the season. Rose, Alnwick, Livermore and Naughton were also on the bench; injuries were already becoming an issue.
Wed 25th – Spurs 4 Young Boys 0
The flags came out, the prices went up and the Champions League brand came to town for the first time. A Peter Crouch hat-trick ensured that it would be welcomed again on at least another three occasions. The group stages beckoned as Gareth Bale supplied assists for all four goals; two headers & a penalty from Crouch and a Defoe strike that involved some sleight of hand. Modric missed the game after picking up an injury at Stoke and Gomes went off at halftime with a gammy leg. We again weren’t at our best but the atmosphere was terrific and the horrors of the first half hour in Bern were discreetly brushed under the carpet.
Sat 28th – Spurs 0 Wigan 1
Modric and Gomes were still missing for this apparent definition of a Champions League hangover. Wigan had conceded ten without reply in their first two league games and given our result against them last season and the swatting aside of Young Boys during the week another Latic battering was expected. But no. Wigan defended resolutely whilst we stuttered all over the field. We struggled to create clear chances. Alcarez missed from a yard shortly before Rodallega fired the winning goal straight through Cudicini. The keeper was left totally exposed but still should’ve done better. Kaboul flicked a header just wide at the death but Wigan got the points they deserved.
Three games gone and only two goals scored. Would some help up front be yanked through the transfer window before it closed?
Premier League Table as at Aug 31st
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