Not the Referee, Not the Manager—This One’s On the Players

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Parental duties and, yes, some familiar ennui kept me away from any instant commentary about last night’s 2-1 defeat at Selhurst Park. A few additional hours of contemplation plus a belated MOTD viewing of the highlights “crystallized” for me what happened to Spurs in South London.

As at Burnley last weekend, a side in supposedly fine form—on the heels of one of their biggest victories in several years—simply allowed a match to slip away. Poch said it, Alan Shearer said it, I saw it: no sooner did Harry Kane run to our supporters with the now-familiar arms-outstretched pose than did Spurs relax, and not so slowly but ever so surely let Palace back into the game and, ultimately to a victory they might not have fully deserved but one I can say with confidence they deserved more than our lot.

Let’s dispense with the Anthony Taylor story. Stambouli penalty? He got it spot on… Kane non-penalty? Probably the wrong call but Harry’s theatrics didn’t help matters and one hopes the otherwise brilliant Citizen Kane is not headed to a Balian reputation for simulation… Remainder of the affair? Fazio could have easily been booked and a free kick awarded just outside the box, Walker the same for handball, Vertonghen might have dodged a penalty though it has become very clear that, whatever their overall performance level this season (not very high) the men in yellow are going out of their way not to award easy goals for ticky-tacky hand balls. So the overall verdict is Taylor may have helped Spurs as much, if not more, than he hurt us.

As for Poch’s selection, my only quibble is Rose over Davies… Maybe the terrific Chelsea performance deserved another start, but I think the Welshman has been our toughest and most consistent performer at left back and I would have preferred him tonight. What choice did the manager have in the midfield Lamela and Mason still injured, Bentaleb in Africa and Capoue somewhere in the bowels of an Argentine doghouse? And the same could be said for the center back pairing—Fazio and Vertonghen probably each could use a rest, but it’s not as if the alternatives are all that appealing.

No, the real culprits today were ten men on the pitch who a) demonstrated their shortcomings and b) failed to put the hammer down just when that sort of action was most needed. Andros Townsend was lax with the ball—far too often—and rarely produced a chance from his efforts. Christian Eriksen cannot be faulted for missing his best chance of the game given the awkwardness of the ball’s position, but a greater player would have found the back of the net. Harry was Harry, but it must be said that he failed to find his teammates on occasion or to recognize that barreling in 1 on 4 is not always a recipe for success. And his acting might have caused us the equalizer that his effort almost gained. Moussa Dembele had perhaps his best game of the season—but he does not seem to possess the spark or commitment that could break down the type of bus Palace were parking the entire first half.

The two chief villains today were, of course, Benjamin Stambouli and Kyle Walker. The former showed us just how important it is to foster the duo of Mason and Benatleb that must unfortunately await Algeria’s exit from AFCON for reunity. At his best, this Frenchman is a puzzlement—a little bit of everything but nothing done par excellence; and at his worst—well, we saw it in the 69th minute. A rash play that turned the game– would Ledley have scored without the attempt at tackle—15 yards out and moving parallel to the goal? Maybe—but I’d like to give Lloris and a central defender the chance to find out. As for Walker—if this is his response to the arrival of DeAndre Yedlin from Seattle, we may have a very spirited competition for starting right back. It was Kyle’s worst game since his return from injury—his little dipsy-do that led to Lloris being stepped on was strange—his defending on the build-up to Puncheon’s winner was nothing short of miserable.

Yet it is too simplistic to call out Stambouli and Walker—the entire team (outside of Lloris) dropped their guard—and what do we/they expect will result when they take such a breather? And particularly with the emotion of Palace trying yet again to avoid relegation in the first Premiership game with Alan Pardew at the helm.

Thankfully 17 games and plenty of cup competition remain. I expect two convincing wins this week at the Lane over Burnley and Sunderland. I expect wins in the Sheffield United and Fiorentina two-legged ties. And most of all—if this team is, in fact, what we saw just 10 days ago vs. Chelsea—I expect a win on 7 February in the NLD. Top Four? Who knows? Off of last night—no. But plenty of time for redemption remains.

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Paul is a respected U.S. political pollster (Democrat) based in Madison, Wisconsin and Los Angeles. His love for Spurs began when the Premier League games started appearing regularly in the U.S. and an American lover of football had to choose a side. Bale, Rushdie, Adele, Shakespeare, the Spurs faithful, The Lane, etc. were all irresistible attractions and have made Maslin a Spur for life.


  1. So many young (and not so young) players now seem to be playing for penalties that the diving that was predominantly the province of imported footballers a few years ago is now well and truly established as part of the English game, and Spurs are as guilty as anyone else, I'm sorry to say. Once he reaches the box, Kane seems to lose all the strength that has carried him that far, and does a very passable impression of Maris Pipers in bulk, and enough people have spotted it for it to be costing him and the club decisions, goals and points, like yesterday. Sadly, the great players (including Gareth Bale) can get away with the occasional dive, but Kane isn't in that league, and being bracketed with Ashley Young as an habitual cheat would be a shame for a promising footballer.


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