Reluctant as I am to acknowledge it, sometimes the pithy words of that annoyingly successful curmudgeon Alex Ferguson are spot on. This weekend was such a time. And, fittingly, his beloved Manchester United played their part. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and begin at the beginning; a lunchtime kick-off in sunny Bournemouth, a team with nothing but pride to play for, with a dodgy recent home record, hosting a team they had never beaten in the Premiership with everything to play for but with an equally dodgy recent away record.
Such has been the ineptitude of the four teams chasing the 3rdand 4thChampions’ League spots over recent weeks, few could argue with Gary Lineker’s joke (born, in our case, no doubt, out of his sheer frustration) that it appeared more to be a race for the Europa League places. Given our repeated recent failings, it was a wonder that we arrived on Saturday still in 3rdplace and with our fate entirely in our own hands. That we did, we owe to how Chelsea, Arsenal and Man. Utd. have obliged us by following our failings with similar ones of their own. All four teams faced fixtures that, in another season, or even earlier on in this one, they’d be red-hot favourites to win. So, the simple ( ha ha, yes, I know) task for Spurs was, as the only team playing on the Saturday, to put Arsenal and United completely out of the picture and pressure on Chelsea.
On the way to the pub to watch the game with my son, we aired our views of the best and, of course, as us Spurs fans have learned over the years we must prepare ourselves for, the worst possible outcomes. The best would be any kind of win, which, with our superior goal difference would immediately make it impossible for Arsenal and United to overhaul us and which, you would hope, would put us in the best possible frame of mind for the Champions’ League semi-final return leg and the guarantee of another crack at it next season, come what may. The worst was a defeat, followed by the inevitable wins on Sunday of the other three, meaning that we would face Ajax as a nervy dispirited team who, whatever that result, would have to beat a resurgent Everton on the last day of the season to guarantee Champions’ League football next season, with the pressure-inducing awareness that a defeat would likely kick us into 6thplace.
While hoping for the best, I had no real confidence that we would necessarily achieve it, a mood not helped by a jittery first few minutes when even Sissoko seemed out of sorts and Dier was playing, yet again, as if his name is a misspelling. I really felt that we needed to score first and when we created some good chances that were well saved by their young keeper, albeit that the shots and header were hit just marginally too high and/or too close to him, I began to worry that we might not. Fair to say, my anxiety was such that I could even believe it was leeching through the TV screens, travelling through the ether and affecting the players. That being said, never, in all the worst-case scenarios my imagination conjured up, did Son getting sent-off for violent conduct feature. Bad enough in itself, even worse when it puts him out of the Everton game.
Down to ten men by half-time, our most likely scorer off, I started praying for a point. That would at least remove United from the equation. Had Dier come out for the second half after TV replays showed that he could have been sent off and/or given away a penalty, I would have thought Pochettino’s tactical nous had totally deserted him and I was relieved to see that he’d taken him, and also the already booked Alderweireld, off. Same as any other Spurs fan, my relief lasted about two and a half minutes. Not so much a case of ‘Foyth, what were you thinking?’ as ‘Foyth, having given away two penalties at Wolves and nearly given away penalties in other games you’ve played, do you think at all?’ A point thereafter looked like a crazy dream but we held out valiantly until injury time, and, forgetting for one brief moment that this was Spurs, I allowed hope to creep back in. Then we gave away another corner and, lacking anyone with the ability to take command and organise the defence, we allow their centre-half an unchallenged header. As they had a player taking the corner and their goalkeeper stayed back, us having only nine men isn’t really an excuse for that, in my view. Anyway, a half-hearted appeal for a penalty as Alli was wrestled to the floor apart, game well and truly over. Angry and depressed for the rest of the day, undoubtedly I would have written an article very similar to Paul Maslin’s earlier one about the sheer Spursiness of it all (with the exception that I still think that Foyth, like Aurier, who had similar early aberrations, can be a good player if he calms down and learns from this) had I done so on Saturday. And then came Sunday.
I expected all of the chasing pack to win, leaving us in 4th , a point above Arsenal, two above United and the likelihood of a nerve-shredding final weekend on the back of a mid-week defeat to Ajax. Ironically, I had Chelsea as a banker, despite them playing the strongest team by far on paper; Watford had nothing to play for and a cup final coming up, whereas Huddersfield would at least try to give their supporters something in their final home game and Brighton could at least relax now that the threat of relegation had been removed. But, come on – only an idiot could get his hopes up about those games. But, being an idiot, a romantic fool, not to say desperate for something to lift my mood, I still couldn’t help checking my phone for BBC Sport updates. And then, there it was, FT at Huddersfield, 1-1 and United facing Europa hell. I then tried to avoid doing the same for the Arsenal – Brighton game, having heard Arsenal had gone ahead with a generous penalty, but only managed to hold on to just over the hour mark, checking my phone just in time for the Murray penalty equaliser. Despite all my best instincts, I let the ‘H’ bomb, hope, in again, torturing myself. Kept checking the phone, seeing Brighton still hold out. In the end, unable to concentrate on anything, I put Radio 5 on and listened to the last ten minutes or so. Oh, the agony of hearing the commentators get excited about an Arsenal near-miss, then a Brighton breakaway, the away fans’ roar and then the words (about Gross) ‘Two yards out, how on earth did he miss that?’ And then the further agony, deep into injury time, of an Arsenal corner. ‘This is it’, I thought. ‘It’s written in the stars, by an unjust God – we concede an injury time goal straight from a corner, Arsenal score one.’ Final day hell here we come.
Only, for once, it didn’t pan out like that. Chris Hughton, I love you. Football; bloody hell!
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