Leeky defence or Dragon slayers?

So Wolves was another thwump of a performance, and here Spurs are back among the also-rans again: I read one pithy comment that our title-tilt this year lasted just under a week, and an article with the title Bottlenham Bottlespur. Ho, ho, ho. What festive fun.

Personally, I’ve never 100% believed we have the depth of squad to win the title this season, but I do still believe that maybe, just maybe, we can. Running out of steam against a well-organised Wolves outfit in our fourth game in eleven days doesn’t really change that for me – how we react to this set-back against Cardiff on Tuesday will be more indicative of where we might eventually end up, and, perhaps even more so, the result between City and Dippers on Thursday.

If Dippers win that, I can’t see the title being won by anyone else. I’d love it if it was, as I hate them, hate them so much, but that would take one hell of a collapse from a team yet to lose a Premier League match this season.

If City can beat them, though, and we can beat Cardiff, we’ll be seven points behind the league leaders. The last time Dippers came close to winning the Prem, in 13-14, despite leading the table at Christmas, they were down to fourth after 24 games, eight points behind table-toppers and eventual also-rans Arsenal (who like to laugh at us for being bottle-jobs and choke-merchants?). Eight games later, the Dippers were back on top of the pile, with their destiny in their own hands, so they’ve proved it themselves that a seven-point gap can be overhauled at this stage of the season, even by a team that had finished the previous season 7th and would finish the following one 6th.

Any more results like the one against Wolves, though, and we’ll be more concerned with what’s happening directly beneath us than what’s going on over our heads. Such a disappointing performance, especially after that spell either side of Kane’s goal in the first half where we could – though not should, as the chances we had were far from clear-cut – have been a couple more goals to the good. The longer the game went on, however, the more likely the Wolves comeback seemed.

Although it’s an understandable opinion, I can’t agree that this one was mainly down to our full-backs, especially given Alli, Eriksen and Son had their poorest games for us in a while, Kane was well contained other than his brilliant turn and finish for his goal, and there were poor performances going on all over the pitch the longer the game went on. Although their equaliser came from a free header at a corner, the phase of play which led to that corner being conceded began with a terrible pass from Eriksen under little pressure high up the pitch, and from the moment that header hit the back of our net I felt the game had home-loss stamped all over it: If there were any tactical substitutions Poch could have made – such as swapping out Trippier and Davies with KWP and Rose – it probably needed to have happened around the fifty-minute mark at the latest to avoid what eventually went on, but we’ve beaten better teams than Wolves in the past with Trippier and Davies playing the whole game and Poch does love to rotate his full-backs, so even hindsight makes that a hard one to call.

Maybe the real issue this game highlighted is that we don’t have a proven game-plan to move to if Eriksen is having an off-day, and we can’t expect Eriksen to perform at his best every single time he takes to the pitch.

Anyway, call me a dumb-dumb, but I’m not about to start being over-harsh on a team and a manager who have just given us an away-win at Arsenal and eleven goals scored against Everton and Bournemouth. As has also been well commented in the press, this was our first defeat to a promoted side in something like thirty matches. It had to happen at some stage. It’s just so gutting it had to happen as soon as we found ourselves sitting pretty in second, and like this.

What I haven’t seen commented on quite so much (or, if it has been, I’ve missed it) is that by this time last season we’d dropped four points at ‘home’ to Swansea and West Brom, who would go on to be relegated, and would later go on to lose at West Brom. So far this season, home and away, we’ve beaten every team we’ve faced beneath Watford in ninth. For now, then, all that matters is maintaining this stat against Cardiff, who, by their own standards, are not having the worst of times considering most pundits would have had them nailed on as already relegated by Christmas. At home they’ve managed to beat Fulham, Brighton, Wolves and Saints since we slightly rode our luck to beat them 1-0 at Wembley back on 6th October, with Leicester and United being the only teams to beat them at the Stadiwm Dinas Caerdydd since then – and they’ve just repaid Leicester for that with a one-nil away win at The King Power: As with Wolves, we should beat them if we play to our potential. As with Wolves, they’ll be more than capable of turning us over if we don’t.

As for where we were this time last season, we’d just decimated Saints 5-2 at Wembley in the twentieth round of fixtures and were on our way to Swansea for a two-nil win. In terms of less recent history, this will only be our second league visit to Cardiff’s shiny new stadium, the last one coming on 22nd September 2013 and ending with a ninetieth minute Paulinho stab home from a Lamela cross. That one-nil win left us second in the table, two points above Dippers in fifth. Less than three months later, Dippers would beat us five-nil at The Lane and AVB would be sacked.

Prior to that, due to the differences in divisions, we only ever got to play at the old Ninian Park sporadically – a nil-nil second-division draw in 77 and a one-all draw in 62 being the most recent league games there. The season before that, 11th March 1961, though, and I only have to shut my eyes to imagine Bill Nicholson strolling into the away dressing room and looking around at Brown, Mackay, Dyson, Blanchflower, White, all those other great players, and considering saying something crass and flip and Fergie-like such as ‘Lads, it’s Cardiff’ before deciding he had more class as a person and Spurs had more class as a club and giving a proper team-talk.

Spurs, of course, being Spurs, lost that one 3-2.

Where Wolf in London?

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And so we welcome Wolves to Wembley, only the fifth time the Molineux outfit have visited one of our home grounds in the Premier League era, where our White Hart Lane record against them reads won two, lost one, drawn one. Hopefully their first visit to play us at Wembley will see us chalk up our first ‘home’ win against them since 2010, with their last visit, in January 2012, ending in a 1-1 stalemate. Given they were relegated that season, it’s definitely one of the results in our history we can all shake our heads over and mutter ‘if only’: Had all else stayed the same, a victory in this fixture would have seen us finish third and Chelsea take Arsenal’s place in the following season’s CL: Who knows what sort of sliding-door moments that change in results might have led to – Redknapp staying on and building the dynasty he spoke of so eloquently (once the England job had been given to Hodgson), Modric being persuaded to stay, Hazard being persuaded to sign. Maybe, perhaps, an earlier ousting for Wenger, whose Arsenal team would again keep us out of the CL by a single point the following season.
No-one can know for sure. But, almost certainly, CL qualification that season would have seen Redknapp remain manager, so it’s maybe a thought which flashed through his mind as he was knocking back fish eye juice in the jungle last month. Or maybe his mind turned to the five-two stuffing Arsenal gave us five weeks later, the three-one home loss to United the following week, the one-all home draw against Stoke two weeks later, or the two-one home loss to Norwich in April as our lead over Arsenal was wasted away in a second half of the season run of results which also included draws away to Sunderland and Aston Villa and a two-one defeat to relegated QPR.
Mixed in amongst all this was a five-one drubbing by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. Even with Martin Atkinson’s eagerness to award Chelsea a goal that never was to make it two-nil early on in the second half, it’s understandable why Levy sat back at the end of that season and decided it was yet again time for a change.
And what a change those six or so years have eventually led to: Our highest three finishes of the Premier League era, three consecutive CL campaigns, consecutive participation in the knock-out phases for the first ever time, and, now, our best ever start to a Premier League season.
Even though we haven’t lifted a single trophy in any of these seasons, this is what I used to yearn for during the vast majority of the Scholar, Sugar and ENIC years: A team that was capable of playing attractive football, a team that was capable of beating anyone on its day, but, also, a team that rarely dropped points to teams it had no business dropping points to; a team where every single result begins to matter more and more as the season progresses, and not in terms of staving off relegation or battling Arsenal for fourth or in lifting the odd Carabo Cup, but in terms of maybe just maybe winning the league – a team where you could make a comment about us maybe just maybe winning the league and not feel slightly ridiculous, because, ahead of the Poch years, in my time as a match-going supporter, I’ve only really felt we were proper challengers once, in 84-85, when an early April two-one home defeat to eventual champions Everton effectively put us out of a race we would finally finish third in: Even that season, when we still had the bulk of the team that had won two FA Cups and the EUFA Cup to call on, we lost to Villa away and Arsenal and Ipswich at home around that defeat, and Watford beat us five one at The Lane the following month.
We’ve definitely had some great sides since then – my own favourite being the 86/87 one – but rarely for back-to-back seasons, and season-on-season improvements are usually because we were pap the previous year.
Not so this season, where we’re comparing our progress against our three best premier league finishes: In the two seasons we finished third, we had 34 and 35 points after nineteen games. In the season we finished second, we had 39.
So we’re presently six points better off than we were at the same stage of our best ever PL campaign, and 11 points better off than we were following games against equivalent opposition last season.
Premier league era-wise, we really have never had it so good for such a sustained period of time, and, even better – at least as far as this season’s concerned – our performances are now regularly catching the eye as much as our results, something that definitely wasn’t the case earlier on in the season.
If City have taught us one thing over the past few weeks, though, it’s that you can’t take anything for granted. Wolves might be having an inconsistent first season back in the big-time, but they’ve drawn with City and Arsenal at home, recently beaten Chelsea at Molineux, and, earlier on in the season, drawn with United away. At the tail end of November, though, in-between drawing with Arsenal and beating Chelsea, they lost at home to Huddersfield and away to Cardiff. In short, they’re having the same sort of season we used to regularly have.
Our visit to them on 3rd November was one of our more bizarre performances of the season: Wolves had a good goal wrongly chalked off before we carved out a commanding three-nil lead with a Kane goal in the 61st minute, only for some poor defensive choices leading to Foyth giving away two penalties on his full PL debut and a nervy end to the game. Our next game after that was the must-win Wembley game against PSV, which we did, and, since then, other than the PL visit to Arsenal, we’ve notched up seven straight league wins, qualified for the CL knockout stages, and put Arsenal out of the Carabo. If we play as well as we have been, how Wolves play against us shouldn’t really matter. But, treating Swansea at Wembley as the equivalent fixture last season, we drew this game nil-nil. We mustn’t take anything for granted. We must take it one game at a time. Because, right now, we’re the invisible third-horse in a two-horse title-race. One of those two teams is trying to become the first team to retain the title since Fergie’s United in 2008/09, and, arguably, is more likely to be judged on how they do in the Champions League than the Premier League. The other team is the only team in the past ten seasons to have been top at Christmas and not gone on to win the league, a trick they’ve managed to pull off twice, which, maybe, in the backs of their minds, will compound the fact they’ve reached several cup-finals under Klopp and lost each one.
As much as we have the same sort of ‘bottle-job’ tag hanging over us as the Dippers undoubtedly do, we have a settled team which has consistently performed better post-Christmas. We also have no real right to be where we are, considering the net-spend situation and the Wembley situation, which should mean our players feel less pressure. And I very much doubt we will see the sort of opposition capitulations in City’s and Liverpool’s remaining games – or opposition players coming out and openly saying they would rather either of those teams were champions over us – that we saw during the run-in with Leicester. So maybe, just maybe… but, as we all know, there have been so many maybe moments at Tottenham, and few of them have ended up well. Maybe this one will turn out the same. But, then again, maybe not, because City have shown any team can suffer a wobble. Liverpool may suffer one too.
If we can avoid a wobble against Wolves, then take things one game at a time, we’re going to be in the mix as we finally head home to The New Lane. Who would have thought that when the transfer window closed in the summer? Or in the vast majority of the last thirty-odd years? But, then, way back in 2011/12, when we found ourselves third behind the two Manchester clubs on forty-two points following nineteen games – and six points clear of Arsenal in fifth – who would have thought the season would end with a P45 for poor Harry? Poch, mate. Best watch your step.

You want some, Grandad?

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So, other than the PL defeat to Arsenal, the fact the new stadium still isn’t open, the fact Poch is off to United or Real or only staying because he’s a limp and trophy-less bottle-job patsy, things are looking okay, just about, I suppose: We scraped a draw against Barca-B to limp into the knock-out stages of the CL, we just about scraped a win against Burnley to keep Chelsea in fourth for a week longer than anyone expected us to, and we fluked a couple of route one goals against Arsenal-lite to progress in a cup no-one is interested in unless Spurs fail to win it (in which case it suddenly morphs into a major trophy Poch is too much of a bottle-job-patsy to guide us to, and something else to beat Levy over the cranium with).

Although, as okayish as I grudgingly admit these flukey results have been, we could seriously have done without the two-legged semi against Chelsea, because, let’s face it (ignoring the fact the last times we’ve played them at theirs or ‘ours’ we’ve done them 3-1) they always stuff us. And, even if we do somehow fluke a win, we’ll only get stuffed in the final against City, which will demoralise us for the second leg of our CL tie against Dortmund which is going to happen a mere nine days later, so yeah, if you ask me, we’d have been better off losing to Arsenal or Barca or both. All this progression. It’s just papering over the cracks.

Seriously, despite the stadium delay, the lack of a pre-season, the lack of signings, the constant swirl of belittling and negative media bullshit, we’re third in the league, still in every cup competition we entered, and – definitely since the Chelsea game – have been creating a good number of chances per game and playing some lovely football (and I feel we’d steadily been improving in these respects for quite a few weeks before we took apart the unbeaten Chelsea).

And, with every passing week, we’re seeing more and more evidence that Poch has come on leaps and bounds in terms of rotating his squad and making in-game changes: Only the decision to rest Toby for the Arsenal PL game looks questionable, and even though that was a decision that obviously backfired, had Toby played in that game and not been available for subsequent games for any reason, we might not now be in the knock-out stages of the CL and five points clear of our selfie-loving immigrant neighbours, because he’s been as great as ever in all the games he’s played since. And there are still no guarantees playing Toby against Arsenal would have altered that result. As Taff pointed out on a previous bloeug, it’s not like we’ve never lost a game Toby has started in.

Elsewhere in the squad, Davies has upped his game at left-back and done a job for us in the middle when called upon. Skipp looked good in his full PL debut. Walker-Peters will not face sterner tests than he did against Barca and I felt he came through that okay, on the whole. Kane, as ever, is Kane, and Eriksen is Eriksen again after a slow start to the season: Son, too, has fully recovered from an understandable slow start. Even Rose seems to be getting back to his best. And Sissoko (if you turn away when you see he’s lining up to shoot) has continued his metamorphosis from whatever he was to whatever he is, with his performance against Barca underlining just how important he is becoming to us: Also, it was his willingness to attempt to run the ball between two defenders in Leicester’s box which created the space for Son to score the opener for us that night, with the move coming just a few moments after the excellent Dele Halli (™ – Antspurs) had caused havoc doing the same sort of thing on the opposite side of the Foxes area.

Gazzaniga looks an upgrade on Vorm, too, though two acts of distribution on Wednesday made me wonder if it was Hugo in a Gazzaniga suit. And, talking of Hugo, he’s been looking much more solid for us lately, which, maybe, is down to the fact Gazzaniga has put in strong performances each time he’s been handed the gloves, finally applying some pressure to our esteemed number one, who, for me, is still our number one and still one of the best in the league.

All in all, as far as this dumb-dumb’s concerned, it’s been a very enjoyable few weeks, and the best first half to a season I can remember since… since… well, I wouldn’t like to say, but definitely since Redknapp’s day. PL wise, the only team we’ve lost to who we shouldn’t really be losing to is Watford; that game – plus, maybe, the defeat to the Dippers, where I did take some solace from the fact we should have had a penalty at the death which might have won us an undeserved draw – is the only performance that’s left me totally stone cold; as unpleasant and deserved as the defeats to City and Arsenal were, we at least had a go in those games. We’ve beaten United and Spammers away and Chelsea at home. In the Carabo, we’ve beaten Spammers and Arsenal away (meaning, I think, Anfield is now the only major domestic ground Poch hasn’t led us to victory at – yet). In the CL, we’ve become one of something like only sixteen teams to ever qualify from their group having only one point from the opening three games, and, in all honesty, should have cavorted to second with an away draw against Inter and an away win against PSV, outcomes that were well within our grasp in both games. The defeat at Wembley to Barca was nothing to be ashamed of either, and other than Hugo’s howler and the score-line, I don’t see how most of our fans could not have enjoyed watching that game.
Our recent PL wins over Leicester and Burnley – games we lost and drew last year – also mean we’re now an impressive eleven points better off than we were following games against equivalent teams last season, and a still impressive eight points better off than we were after the same number of games, where we’d just defeated Stoke 5-2 and Brighton 2-0 in back-to-back ‘home’ fixtures and were seventh in the table behind Arsenal, Dippers, Burnley, Chelsea, and both of the Manchester massives. We were just about to head up to City for a 4-1 shellacking, though, which would leave us flailing helplessly 21 points in their wake in the miserable Manchester rain (don’t go up there, Poch – it’s all grey and dreary and wet (sorry, Northern Spur; only joking).

This time around we’re five points behind them and six points off Dippers, heading to Everton, who are eighth and seem to be having a bit of a mixed bag of things, with their last two home PL games seeing them draw with Watford and Newcastle, and their last two away games seeing them lose to City and – albeit unfortunately – Dippers. Slightly further back, though, they softened Chelsea up nicely for us with a nil-nil at The Bridge the weekend before we got to spank the third team out of three in this season’s title race for the second time this calendar year. Other than that, though, there’s no real scalps for the Toffees to boast of this season, and the Spammers one-threed them at Goodison following four hilarious defeats in Pellegrini’s first four games in charge.

Talking of Goodison, though, it’s yet another ground I rarely feel we do well at, but, again, recent history shows our record there isn’t too shabby, with Poch leading us to a one-nil win in his first season, nil-nil and one-one draws in his second and third seasons, and a none-too shabby three nil win in the fourth round of fixtures last season. With relatively straight-forward games for everyone around us – except, perhaps, Dipper’s becoming only the second top-six team to win at Wolves last night – a repeat of that points-return is the minimum required to help the team and the club keep on papering over the cracks. It’s a bit concerning how close Merseyside is to Manchester, though, so perhaps the club should insist that Poch doesn’t travel to this one: As anyone who’s not a confirmed dumb-dumb will (all too willingly) tell you, there’s not much chance he’ll bother to come back.

Saints or Sinners?

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Well, that thwump you all heard was probably the sound of us crashing back down to earth following the Chelsea and Inter results, as The Emirates proved an unhappy hunting ground for Spurs once again.
Two out of three, though – as Meatloaf once said – aint bad, especially when one of them was the most welcome mullering of Chelsea, and even the defeat to Arsenal was a step-up from last season’s woeful surrender.
And as both of the PL matches were defeats last season, it means we’re still better off now than we were after fourteen matches last year, where we followed up our glorious 4-1 strut over the Dippers by losing to Man U, one-nilling Palace at home, losing away at The Emirates, drawing at ‘home’ to the mighty West Brom and putting in another of last season’s least impressive performances at the King Power in a 2-1 defeat which could have been much, much worse.
All of which had us 7th in the table behind Burnley and Liverpool, four and five points behind Arsenal and Chelsea (who occupied fourth and third), spluttering in the wake of both clubs from Manchester, and perennially potless on 24 points.
Which, oddly enough, is exactly the same number of points we managed to gather last season in games against the same opposition we’ve faced so far this time around.
Now, of course, we’re on thirty points, fifth in the table, and not quite so far behind Chelsea and Arsenal. We’ve also cut the gap between City and ourselves from 16 to 8. Despite the popular conception that we’ve stood still or gone backwards, United are the ones who have really regressed, and only the Dippers have upped the ante, winning themselves an extra ten points than they’d managed this time last year:
Yet, like us up until the Chelsea performance, they too seem to be being tarred with the brush of not yet having clicked into gear.
Though, of course, following Sunday, there’ll be those claiming that what we did against Chelsea counts for nothing. There were some, even, claiming it counted for nothing before that – wind-up merchant Adrian Durham was wumming away early last week that Spurs beating Chelsea was nothing new and didn’t signal anything to get excited about, because, see, we beat them 5-3 at The Lane in 14/15 and then 2-0 at The Lane in 16/17, and won nada in each of those seasons. Which is fair comment, I suppose, if you’re determined to suck all the enjoyment from life. But it does mean the dumb-dumbs among us now have a stellar performance against a team that wandered into Wembley unbeaten to point at the next time someone tells us to stop enjoying ourselves because our football’s dull and we happily take a tummy-tickling anytime anyone half-decent turns up to play.
We weren’t too shabby against Inter, either, and can now head to Barca with our fate in our own hands – even if that fate does turn out to be getting slaughtered and dropping into the Ropey with Arsenal and Chelsea, at least it’s still in our own hands.
And talking of Arsenal, I drank just enough Peroni to feel oddly unbothered by what had gone on. And then, at some stage after full-time, staggered up TESCO express and bought me some more. Performance-wise, not great. Line-up wise, not great. Entertainment-wise, if we have to lose, even to Arsenal, let it be in matches like that: I love how up for it Arsenal’s players and fans are for our visits these days, because, let’s face it, there was a spell early on in the Wenger reign where it felt as if we were becoming a bit of an irrelevance to them. Not anymore. They wanted that, and wanted it badly, and could have been out of sight before the all-too-brief turn-around through Deir’s header and Kane’s penalty. After that, though, I thought we gave as good as we got for the rest of the first half and started the second half better than they did, only to pretty much evaporate as soon as they levelled again: Even though Son had a decent chance at 2-2, I just felt we were doomed to defeat as soon as they pulled level. I don’t know if it’s tiredness, tactics, Poch’s lack of in-game management and substitutions, whether they just bullied us out of it, but whatever it was, we were gone for the day. It was over: After recording three 1-1 draws in his first three matches in charge of us at The Emirates, it’s now two defeats on the trot. It would be nice to think we can do something about that in the quarter final on the 19th, but it wouldn’t shock me if an under-strength Spurs side find themselves up against Arsenal’s strongest possible side, in which case I hold out less than zero in terms of optimism and hope.
Long before we get to head to The Emirates again, though, it’s Southampton sans Sparky under the luminous arch, the fifth time Poch’s old side have come calling since Levy tempted him away almost as acrimoniously as he did Hoddle way back in 2001. It’s fair to say, as much as I love Hoddle and desperately wanted him to succeed as manager here, Poch’s tenure has seen us take greater strides towards where we all want to be: In the four seasons Hoddle was back at the club, we finished twelfth, ninth, tenth and fourteenth, although, of course, Hod was only fully responsible for the middle two campaigns: In the way it so often happens in football, Levy let Glenda go the day after a 3-1 home schooling by Saints, with James Beattie getting two of the goals.
As Hoddle rightly pointed out around the time he and Sherwood were publicly vying for the chance to take temporary charge following the Levying of AVB, the Tottenham he inherited from George Graham was a much weaker beast than the Spurs side Sherwood won control of in December 2013, both as a team and as a club. Personally, I’d have much rather have had Hoddle back for the rest of that season than Sherwood, and one of my major doubts about Poch being the right man for us was the fact Sherwood’s Spurs beat Poch’s Saints home and away that season, with Saints having led us in both matches. There was also an undercurrent of doubt from Saints fans which still have an air of validity today: Lack of in-game management, poor substitutions, disregard for cups. Still, though, even though I wouldn’t dismiss these criticisms about Poch and the Toby decision is up there with some of his strangest, I feel he’s the best manager we’ve had in my time as a match-going supporter, which dates back to Shreeves in 85, with Venables the only real challenger to that title: Poch has already matched and beaten Venables’ best league finishes with Spurs, though, and, hopefully, by the time he eventually leaves us, he’ll have learned a thing or two about playing his strongest eleven against our strongest opponents and overhauled Venables trophy-wise too.
As for his record against Saints, other than the penultimate game of the 15/16 season – where we followed the Battle of the Bridge with a tame 2-1 loss to them ahead of that spanking by Newcastle to gift Arsenal second – we’ve beaten them every time they’ve come calling, with last season’s Boxing Day 5-2 being the stand-out performance, and Kane’s hattrick enabling him to break all sorts of calendar-year scoring records.
And as for who we faced in this round of fixtures last year, it was away to Watford, where a Son leveller and a Sanchez sending off saw us hang on for a one-all draw in another subdued performance.
Obviously, the sacking of Sparky could put a slightly different skew on this one – potential caretaker manager / imminent new manager bounce – but if we want to be making top four and keeping some semblance of optimism ahead of Leicester on Saturday and Barca next week, that really can’t be allowed to happen. Other than their two-two draw against United on Saturday, they’ve lost by three goals to Liverpool and Chelsea and shipped six against City. Only a victory by three or more goals will allow the dumb-dumbs among us to confidently claim Arsenal was simply one high pressure game in too short a time-frame too many. A narrower victory, and the jury will be out. A draw or defeat will be the end of the world. Especially for me, because I’m travelling up to the game with two Saints season ticket holders: Anything less than a victory, and I’m skulking back home on my own.

Bum fun in South London?

So, three wins in seven days following that narrow City-slicking, and off we trot to Palace for a game that’s likely to be another huge test, even though the Eagles are perched in fourteenth and have lost seven and drawn two of their opening eleven games, with both wins coming away from home (v Fulham and Huddersfield, who are, respectively, bottom and third bottom right now).

Their two points from draws have come at Selhurst, though – nil-nil v Newcastle and two-all v Goons (via two penalties – Palace are yet to score from open play in the Prem so far this season, so are no doubt looking forward to Charity Spurs rolling up and gifting a first).

When I heard Palace were gimping the Gooners one-nil I immediately rushed off to the telly to sit and gloat through the second half, then switched off in disgust eight minutes later with the Gooners two-one up: Similarly clueless, I’ve not even seen the highlights from their 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge last weekend, so have no idea if they deserved to pull level through Townsend in the 53rd minute before going on to England-Hodgson it up.

The only game of theirs I’ve seen more than a few minutes of this season was their home loss to the Dippers in the second round of fixtures: Whether it’s Crystanbul or memories of the 1990 FA Cup Semi-Final, I have happy associations with Palace V Dips games so it’s one I always try to watch if it’s on TV. Despite the nil-twoing, I thought they gave a good account of themselves: Once Palace were reduced to ten men around the 75th minute, Liverpool always looked as if they had a breakaway second goal in them, but Palace also looked just as capable of levelling the game too.

All of which suggests we’re not going to have it easy today, and Palace away, to my mind, is one of those fixtures where spineless Spurs often fail to make their quality count and, more often than not, come away with a draw or defeat because they’ve failed to work as hard as the opposition and earn the right to play their own game.

When I checked my facts, though, I found this isn’t the case: Last season, we won a very tight game one-nil courtesy of a Harry Kane header (from a corner! We scored from a corner!) in the 88th minute. The week before that, we’d beaten Arsenal one-nil at Wembley, so this was definitely one of those games I’d have looked at and thought, yep, we’re going to drop points at Palace, that’s what Spurs do after a really good win. Then, the previous season, when we were the last team applying pressure to Chelsea, a Christian Eriksen 30-yarder saw us chalk up another one-niller and keep the gap down to four in yet another game I’d have expected us to lose.

I might be a dumb-dumb, but I’m a pessimistic dumb-dumb most of the time.

As for the season before that, we travelled to Selhurst in what, to me, seemed a sticky patch of form. We’d narrowly lost to Leicester at home two games before (Kane smashed the bar in the second-half; Huth found the back of the net with a towering header from an 83rd minute corner), and then played out a dreadful first-half against Fat Sam’s Sunderland, going behind to a van Aanholt goal in the 40th minute, before promptly waking up with an Eriksen leveller two minutes later and three unanswered second-half goals. It was one of those games, on that dark pit of despair and angst flat-oeufers first ascended from, where the team were treated to dog’s abuse for the first half and like the dog’s bollocks in the second, though I thought the level of performance was pretty poor all the way through, and what was really required was patience and quiet appreciation of a young team under a young manager finding its legs after a gut-punch of a defeat against Leicester.

And then off we trotted to Palace, January 23rd 2016, where a Verts own-goal brought an end to an eight hour goal drought for Palace, their last goal having come against Stoke in the middle of December (Charity Spurs, once again – there is no way on flat oeuf we’re keeping a clean sheet this weekend – my money is on a Davies or Sanchez own goal within the first seven minutes). Kane pulled us level just after the hour, but, for Verts, to add injury to insult, Connor Wickham took exception to his shirt-pulling exploits and smashed him in the face with an elbow. Off he went, on came Wimmer, Palace hit the bar twice in quick succession, and up stepped Alli with that beautifully improvised flick and smash into the bottom corner of Hennessy’s goal from the edge of the area in the 84th minute, all topped off by a great goal from Chadli in the 95th. All in all, one of the best games I’ve ever seen Spurs involved in, and the first one post-Christmas I can remember taking a breath at the end of and thinking ‘we might actually have a chance of winning the league’, a belief which grew as we won our next four (including that two-one win at the Etihad where Eriksen scored late on) until those pesky pikeys peed on our chips and we let a two-one lead against ten-man Gooners slip in the following game, all while the rest of the league began to roll over for fairy-tale Leicester and up their game against us.

So, all in all, we have to go back to Poch’s first season in charge to find our last league surrender at Selhurst. This, though, finally fits the narrative I had in my mind when I first started typing: On new-year’s day, we stuffed Chelsea five-three at The Lane, one of the first performances under Poch which suggested he might really have something about him. In our next Prem fixture, on the tenth of January, we lost an entertaining game at Selhurst two-one, allowing them to end a run of eight league games without a win, allowing all-round smug-git Alan Pardew to celebrate his first game as Palace manager by waving that ever smug fist of his around in the air, and all despite Kane giving us the lead with his 18th goal in a break-through season he would sadly never replicate, fading away like Gary Docherty and a host of others before him: If only he hadn’t been a one-season wonder, where might Tottenham be now?

Hmm. Probably back above the Gooners (who find themselves in that usually Spursy position of having made their best start in ages and yet still somehow looking up at their underperforming north London neighbours), fourth in the league, and still in with a (faint) shout of progressing from a difficult CL group despite a lack of investment and not having had a home-ground for a season and a half: That’s probably about right where we’d be.

We’d also be three points better off than we were this time last season after the equivalent number of games and one point better off than in games against the same opposition: This time last season, we’d just narrowly squeaked Palace one-nil at ‘home’ and were about to let ourselves down miserably at The Emirates in a two-nil no-show. This was the first of a four-match winless streak in the league I trace directly back to our heroics against Real Madrid just before we played Palace – I’ve always thought the major weakness so far with Poch’s Tottenham is a tendency to follow a peak performance with a trough of sub-standard ones. So far this season, there have been no peak performances, so no subsequent trough of sub-standard results. If we can pick up all three points against Palace tonight, it’s Chelsea at ‘home’ and Arsenal away, with Inter Milan in-between, and we’ll finally be able to judge whether this team has been ‘getting away with it’ or really does deserve to be in the mix for another great league campaign and in with a better than faint chance of progressing in the CL.

Being a pessimistic dumb-dumb, I’m expecting us to blow it tonight and then coast to victories in the next three. I’m also hoping for Poch’s Tottenham to prove me wrong for the fourth season on the trot, though, with a clean sheet and the sort of nice tidy three-nil away win last week’s visit to Molineux fleetingly threatened to be.

Still hungry?

“Your ground’s too big for you”, the Spurs contingent sang the last time we visited Molineux for a league fixture, revelling in the fact the new Stan Cullis stand had opened that evening, but the stadium looked far from full.

That last visit – 10th September 2011 – was back in the dark days of Arry, long before Poch put a spine into Spurs. And, to be (begrudgingly) fair to Gary Neville, we started that afternoon bottom of the league, having been three-nilled by United and one-fived by City in our opening two games.

In the build-up to this fixture, our Arry stuck his head out of a car-window and told a BBC reporter he took full responsibility: “I could tell there were too many players around that wanted to leave. It wasn’t creating the right atmosphere going into the new season…”

This, of course, was back in the halcyon days when the transfer window stayed open until the end of August, giving Levy enough time to finish his holidays and give some thought to what the squad needed in order to focus on titles: In and around those two Manchester maulings, and in shocking contrast to the summer just gone, he sprang into action and borrowed Adebayor from City and actually bought Scott Parker from Spam for £5.5m, adding to the fortune he’d already splashed out early-doors (Friedel; free – Ceballos; free – Coulibaly; undisclosed).

Oh, on the same day he borrowed Adebayor, he borrowed Falque as well.

He did manage to cling onto Modric, though, and as for those bad-eggs bringing down the mood in Arry’s dressing-room, he loaned Jenas to Villa, somehow sold Hutton to Villa, and banked a respectable £18m by dropping Palacios and Crouch off in a Potteries car-park and returning with a flash-drive full of Bitcoins (or were he and Joe still accepting old-money duffel-bags back then?).

Those of us with a flat-earth mentality no doubt ended that particular transfer-window as happy as pigs in Arsenal kits. Not only had we made yet another profit to chip away at the upcoming stadium debt, we’d finally signed Scotty Parker as well. And if anyone could get a tune out of Adebayor, it was Arry…

And, to be fair to Arry, we beat Wolves two-nil that night, whumped the Dippers four-nil at home the following Sunday (with an absolute pearler from Modric opening the scoring), and wouldn’t lose in the league again until Stoke beat us two-one on the 11th December. We spent the vast majority of the season in third and Arry celebrated his tax-dodging acquittal and Capello’s shock-resignation from the job he really wanted by managing the team to a five-nil throbbing of Newcastle on the 11th February.

In the next-fixture, at the Emirates, the TV cameras panned in on a group of Spurs fans pre-match who’d arranged themselves so the letters on their t-shirts read MIND THE GAP on the front and something like HARRY DON’T GO on the back. We raced into an early two-nil lead and…

… to be (begrudgingly) fair to Gary Neville…

… lost five-two.

We then only picked up two points from twelve before beating Swansea on April Fools day, ended the season in fourth, and, of course, got bumped out of the following season’s CL by 6th placed Chelsea.

Arry, no doubt, will point to the unsettled squad and the six-point head-start Levy gave all our competitors by balding up our opening two fixtures.

Levy, no doubt, will point to a nil-nil draw with Villa (who finished fifth from bottom) in our penultimate game and a one-nil defeat to QPR (who finished fourth from bottom) three weeks earlier, because a win in either of those games would have seen us bump Arsenal into fourth.

And, most likely, saved Redknapp his job.

It doesn’t really matter which of them points out what, though. Between them, they screwed it right up, and yet another potentially golden era for Tottenham came to yet another shuddering stop.

That potentially golden era might also have been saved had we not suffered a one-one home draw with Wolves on the 14th January. In typical charity-Spurs fashion, Wolves wouldn’t pick up another point until Mick McCarthy was sacked following a five-one home schooling by West Brom in the middle of Feb. They ended that season bottom, suffered another relegation the following season, then, after securing immediate promotion, spent three seasons bobbing around the nether-regions of the Championship before topping the pile in Santo’s first season as manager last time around.

Now they’re sitting pretty in tenth, having won four, drawn three and lost three, which is a fairly respectable return ten games into a first season back in the PL, irrespective of how well financed they might be and how many players they might have brought in via supposedly spurious links – according to Leeds and Aston Villa and a few other Championship clubs, anyway – to super-agent Jorge Mendes.

Two of those defeats, though, have come in their last two games – two-nil at home to Watford and one-nil away to Brighton – which maybe makes this trip a little less daunting than it might have seemed just a couple of weeks earlier.

As for us, we’re still better off points-wise than this time last season, whether comparing the number of games played or results against the same opposition. Following Wednesday’s Wet Spamming, we’re also one round further ahead in the Carabo Cup than we managed last year.

Which means, if it wasn’t for the last ten minutes or so of two CL games, who knows what sort of dumb-dumb over-hyped guff I’d be typing right now, especially as I’ve been vaguely enjoying some of our football as the season’s worn on, with only the defeats against Watford and Dippers leaving me totally meh.

Maybe Saturday’s news of Glenn’s heart-attack and the Leicester City helicopter disaster also put the importance of winning on Monday into a slightly different perspective, because I enjoyed watching that game even though there were spells when it felt like City were about to give us a spanking. They didn’t, though, and the fact we created a couple of really good openings and finished the game looking the team most likely to score left me feeling more upbeat than I usually would after a defeat, especially given last season’s thwumpings from City.

Wednesday’s performance against Spam only added to my uneasy sense of optimism: I feel that was one of Poch’s best ‘second-eleven’ selections and Spammers away has to be his biggest domestic cup scalp so far – unless I’ve missed any, the only other current PL teams we’ve seen off in the FA or League cups under Poch have been Watford, Fulham, Newcastle, Leicester and Burnley (hopefully, though, we’ll be adding Gooners away to this list very soon). As Taff pointed out in his bloeug, Foyth could well be the next big thing, and as Chauvelin and The Great Ronwoldo were discussing this morning, our goals against column in the PL so far this season actually compares well to all but City and Dippers, and even compared to those two we’ve only conceded five and four more.

Fuelling my giddiness ever such a little bit more, I feel the hint of a goal-threat might finally be returning to our game, with two very good chances created against a City defence with a reputation for being one of the tightest around and Son taking his chances really well on Wednesday. Even Llorente scored, suggesting that, all in all, despite the defeat to City, despite being fifth, despite being five points off the top, despite the horror of being behind Arsenal, despite languishing in third in our CL group, despite Poch being off to Real, despite Alli only signing a contract extension so Levy can sell him for more money to Real once Poch’s got his feet under the table in Spain, despite the spiralling debt, the falling attendances, the fact we’re indefinitely homeless and our temporary home has a pitch in a worse state than Superspoz’s new allotment, it might just be possible to postpone the official end of THFC until we get turned over by Wolves.

Win, though, and we’ll either be back above Arsenal or within touching distance of Dippers again, and the earth will feel reassuringly flat until we screw up against PSV in Tuesday night’s must-win NFL Stadium game or our next PL outing, which happens to be Palace away.

Dan’s Grande Oeufre

Well, that PSV result was so Spursy even the offside decision for Sanchez’s goal seemed par for the course.

Though, of course, had the same logic been applied to PSV’s equaliser, it would have been chalked off as well and we’d have still won that game…which we would have deserved, because we dominated possession, created some great chances, reacted to giving away a stupid goal against the run of play by scoring ‘twice’ in ten minutes, still went on to take the lead, hit the woodwork twice, and generally looked more inventive in the attacking third than we have in what feels like far too long.

But we are where we are, which is probably out of the CL – though I still think there are some twists and turns to come before that’s a given – with the doom-mongers excitedly predicting footballing Armageddon against City on Monday, which is how their visit to us last April is often portrayed.

Kicking off at the ridiculous time of quarter to eight on a Saturday evening (as does the Wolves game next weekend – ffs), it was another game where Hugo sadly failed to cover himself in glory.  For Jesus’s 21st minute opener, he backpedalled when he probably should have closed down the angle.  Then, three minutes later, he rushed out as he did against Barca and PSV, upending Stirling and giving away the penalty which pretty much killed off the game.  Although Eriksen pulled one back with a deflected goal just before half-time, and although we did create some vague half-chances early on in the second half, it was one of those games where we never seemed ‘at it’, and Stirling missed an absolute sitter before finally putting the result beyond doubt in the 72nd minute.

City went on to be crowned champions the next day when the mighty Manchester United and that serial winner Mourinho lost at home to West Brom. For us, it was our first league defeat since City had traumatised us 4-1 in December and brought a six-match winning streak – including victories over Arsenal at ‘home’ and Chelsea away – to an end.  That December defeat was also the first time we’d lost to City since May 2015.  In the three consecutive victories over the Cityzens which followed, we probably played some of the best football we’ve seen under Poch; a four-one drubbing, a glorious two-one smash and grab at the Etihad, and one of the most one-sided two-nil batterings you’re ever likely to see in what was, I think, Pep’s first ever league defeat as City boss.

I feel a lot of the issues which undid City that day are similar to the issues spursying us up at the moment – Pep was insistent City play out from the back when Claudio Bravo in goal and full-backs Kolarov and Zabaleta just weren’t good enough to carry it off.  We constantly hounded those three into errors and the majority of the game seemed to be played out between the edge of their area and the half-way line because they just couldn’t get through our press.

We pretty much did to them that day what we recently allowed Liverpool to do to us.

Pep’s answer to this was to spend roughly £140 million on a new goalkeeper and two new full-backs.  Also, though, I feel he’s tweaked his tactics against us – our away game to them last season saw Ederson constantly bypass our high-press by launching the ball straight to an attacker in the way Pickford twice did to Kane ahead of breakaway goals in the recent England win over Spain, and City’s first goal at Wembley last time out came directly from a simple upfield punt from Kompany.  When we have players with Moura’s pace and Kane’s ability to dominate world-class defenders when the ball’s there to be won, it seems baffling to me that we constantly restrict ourselves to slow-build ups from the back in an attempt to draw teams out and then play through them.  It’s beautiful when it works – as it did for one of our goals against PSV, when Hugo touched the ball something like three times in the build-up and we had something like forty consecutive passes before scoring – but, at the moment, trying to play this way is constantly inviting the sort of errors made by Toby for their goal and Eriksen for Hugo’s sending off.  The same sort of malarkey also led directly to us conceding that final goal against Barca.

I’m not advocating a massive change in approach, or binning Hugo – who was instrumental in our win against Spammers – just a bit of flexibility and practicality and some evidence that Poch and the team value winning over winning a certain way.

As for where we are at the moment, we’re one point better off than we were after the same number of games last season, and three points better off in terms of results against the same opponents. This time last year, we’d just done the Dippers 4-1 at Wembley in another of the stand-out performances under Poch, but were about to head up to Old Trafford for yet another surrender to a sub-par United – Toby Alderweireld allowing Lukaku to get his head to a long-ball first and Martial running on to the flick-on to score the game’s only goal in the 81st minute.

As so often with Tottenham, one step forward, one step back, and no bugger appealing for offside.

Given the way we’ve been architects of our own destruction so far in Europe this season, and given the gulf in class between us and City last season, it’s hard to look forward to Monday night’s game with any positive expectations, but with Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all facing teams they would expect to beat (the arrogant tossers), losing this one could see us start to lose touch with a breakaway top four.  [Ed: Arsenal only drew, lol]

I’m still a confirmed dumb-dumb, though, and refuse to let Wednesday’s late equaliser completely cloud the fact that we went away to a team undefeated in their own league so far this season (five points ahead of Ajax, who are presently top of their own CL Group) and, other than a couple of self-inflicted screw-ups, pretty much outplayed them.

We also went to Wet Spam last weekend and came away with all three points, something United and Chelsea have failed to do this season.

Minus several key players, we also went toe-to-toe with Barca at Wembley and were in no way played off the park.

Are City better than Barca? They’re possibly close to their level, but better? I think not.  So, if I was a betting man, I’d be putting money us winning 3-1 on Monday, beating West Ham on Wednesday, then throwing all that good work away by losing to Wolves next Saturday night.

(Gif: Courtesy of Flat Oeuf, just having a little joke at my own expense)

Dan’s Spam Attack

 

And so to Stratford, where – other than poor sight-lines and unhappy ‘locals’ – who knows what awaits us?  The team that recently beat Everton and Man United either side of a very creditable draw at home to Chelsea, or the team who (from Match of The Day highlights, anyway) looked defensively all-at-sea while losing one-nil at Brighton last time out and also lost their opening four games of the season?

 

It’s tempting to trot out the ‘fierce local rivals / it’s their cup final / they’ve invested heavily in a squad while Levy’s been building a shopping mall line and doom-monger a potential battering for us on Saturday, but that wasn’t the case last season when we paid our second ever visit to the London Stadium: Harry Kane goals in the 34th and 38th minutes plus an Eriksen strike on the hour gave us a lead that West Ham couldn’t claw back despite Aurier seeing red in the 70th with the score at 1-3:   Although Kouyate pulled another one back in the 87th, and despite there being 7 minutes added on, the only further threats the Spammers mustered were long range efforts from Reid and Noble, both of which flew high and wide.

 

As Chauvelin pointed out when I referenced this victory as ‘strolling into Stratford’ on a previous bloeug, though, shipping two goals made this too close to comfort and maybe hinted at troubles to come:  It was only a few weeks later that we threw away a two-goal lead to the Spam in the 4th round of the league cup, and, of course, we’ve gone on to lose at least four matches from winning positions since, which is something I can’t really remember us doing on such a regular basis under Pochettino up until that point.  

Putting aside the fact we conceded two goals and saw Serge sent off, last season’s visit to Spam was definitely happier than our previous two, both of which we lost by single goaland neither of which we turned up in.   16/17, which saw our away-contingent’s first ever need to take binoculars to a premier league match, brought an end to a nine match winning streak and the slim hope of overhauling Chelsea with three games left to play.   15/16, our last ever visit to Brady, Gold and Sullivan’s state-backed retirement fund, brought an end to a six match winning streak and, had we won, we’d have gone top of the table with ten games left to play, level on points with Leicester (who had drawn that night) and seven goals superior.   As we then dropped two points at home to Arsenal in the following game, this turned out to be the last genuine chance we had to go top that season, a gut-wrenching result which hurts me to look back on even more than lasagne-gate does, even though nothing was actually decided that day.

 

To counter-balance those three soul-sapping defeats away to the Spammers, I’ll just quickly mention Harry Kane slipping Eric Dier through to score that last-minute winner in Poch’s first ever competitive game in charge of us, Gareth Bale’s 89thminute screamer in 2013, and the sheer joy of Paul Stalteri popping up out of nowhere to tap Robert Green’s fumble into the back of the net to make it 4-3 to us having been 3-2 down with 89 minutes on the clock:  If this fan-cam clip wasn’t quite so long, I could use it as a sound-track to make love to – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUyfb_5r_7o.    

 

There.  I feel a little bit better now.  And all I’ll need to keep that happy glow through to the end of the weekend is for us to finish Saturday three points better off than we started, because, as much as I’d love for us to take them to cleaners (and as much as I believe we’re capable of doing so (though our injury / unavailable list is potentially worrying)) I’ll gladly take three scrappy points.   With City up next in the Prem and the four league games following that looking tricky (Wolves and Palace away, Chelsea at ‘home’ and Arsenal away  not to mention decisive CL and Carabo Cup games dotted in and around them) dropping points this weekend and the effect that might have on morale ahead of the first PSV double-header could instigate the first truly disastrous run of league and cup results weve had to endure under Poch.

 

Though, of course, certain doom-mongers would say we’re already in the midst of a truly disastrous run of league and cup results as we’ve lost to every half-decent team we’ve faced so far this season and our performances have been utter dreck for as long as any self-respecting doom-monger would care to remember.

 

Personally – and obviously marking me out as a complete and utter dumb-dumb – I still think the United away result counts for something, especially given our previous record under Poch of simply turning up at Old Trafford with three points held out on a cheese-board.  Other victories, such as Fulham at Wembley and Brighton and Huddersfield away, I’ve enjoyed watching  though none have been vintageTottenham, they’ve been pretty open games rather than bore-fests where the other team has relentlessly sat back and watched us do little more than witlessly pass the ball sideways across our back-line.  Defeat-wise, we at least gave ourselves the ghost of a chance against Barca despite having several key-players missing.  In the other three games we’ve lost, whether we deserved anything or not, we should have had a chance to draw level from the spot against the Dippers and, as already mentioned, somehow managed to get ourselves intowinning positions against Watford and Inter despite being well below par.  

 

As for our most recent performance, against Cardiff, yes, it left a lot to be desired, but I think we played better against Cardiff than we did in last season’s 1-0 home win against Bournemouth in the equivalent round of matches, where an Eriksen goal in the 47th minute separated us from a Cherries side second bottom in the table, only two points better off than Colin’s Cardiff were this time around:  On top of that, as painful as the Cardiff game was to sit through in real-time, the Match of The Day highlights showed it could have easily ended 5-2 had both teams taken their chances, proving we did at least create some chances (we were the ones who could have scored five, btw)...  

 

And, as a final small straw of comfort for anyone else as desperate as I am for Spurs to wake themselves up and start proving the negatives wrong, we just happened to follow last season’s close-run thing against Bournemouth by dismantling the Dippers 4-1…  

Should we repeat that sort of performance and score-line thisSaturday, though, let’s not any of us dumb-dumbs go getting over-excited:  It’s only Wet Spam away, after all, so we still won’t have beaten anyone good.      

Dan Terrierorises the oppo

View post on imgur.com

Following our wanderings from the San Siro to the Amex to Stadium MK in the space of eight days, we now head to the Kirklees for 3pm Saturday, virtually a year to the day since our last visit there.

Which, incidentally, saw us record our first league victory away to the Terriers since we dished out a 5-2 thwumping way back in the black & white days of 1954 (match report from Ronwol to follow 😊).

That 4-0 last season made it four out of four on the road for the mighty Tots following victories at Goodison, St James and (as Chauvelin rightly pointed out on the bloeug last week) what started out as the proverbial stroll in the Upton but soon disintegrated into what could have been the tossing away of a three-goal lead to those pikey little Spammers in Stratford.

Thanks to our sporadic home-form, though, we travelled to Huddersfield on eleven points this time last season, with a goal difference of plus five, one point and two goals worse off than we are this year.

I’m always slightly wary of simply comparing seasons by games played, though, as so much is dependent on how kindly or unkindly the fixtures fall, so I’ve taken a look at our results against the equivalent opponents last season to see how we fared, and have smacked myself in the mouth with the discovery that our stats are still ever so slightly better, this time by three points and two goals.

Which, being honest, just doesn’t seem possible given the fact our performances since United away have left so much to be desired.

Admittedly, trying to compare like-for-like this way involves some jiggery-pokery as I’ve had to swap last season’s home-draw against West Brom with this season’s home-win against Fulham (bottom of last season’s prem compared to the team which came up via the play-offs, so, theoretically, the weakest of the promoted and relegated sides), but, still, it at least shows that our premier league results are presently better than last time around, when we finished third, no matter what way you want to compare them, and no matter how negative some of the spin around this season’s performances have been over the past couple of weeks.

Still, though, something about Tottenham’s performances in the last eight days just doesn’t seem right, even though we’ve squeaked two and narrowly pipped another: To paraphrase something Nutty posted during the Brighton game, at times it’s just not been enjoyable to watch. Our five goals in those games have been a slight fluke from Eriksen, two penalties, and two great goals finished on the counter by Lamela, whereas four of the five conceded have come late, one being a great strike from a great striker given waaaaaaaayyyy too much space on the edge of our box, another being a shoddily defended corner, and the other two coming from counter attacks where we had been pressing the opposition high up the pitch rather than sitting back trying to protect what we had.

We also presented Brighton with a great chance straight after they’d scored in a very similar fashion, so, like Watford, that game could have ended two-two.

At this point in time, as far as I’m concerned, we’ve been nowhere near as resilient as our best performances under Poch, and nowhere near as exhilarating either.

Despite this, I don’t mind admitting I’m dumb (-dumb?) enough to walk away from pretty dire overall performances such as Wednesday’s Carabo Cup game against Watford or the late scare against Brighton with a greater sense of satisfaction than I got out of last season’s game against Huddersfield, which was pretty much done and dusted by the time Kane scored our third with a sumptuous spin and finish from the edge of the box in the 23rd minute: Other than the novelty of Sissoko scoring in injury time, who really remembers anything else about the majority of this game?

It’s all context, I guess, and a stroll in the park against a team you have no real rivalry with and totally outperform on the day just doesn’t get the blood thrumming and the Peroni tops popping the way a topsy-turvy ending can, even though our topsy-turvy endings in the last few games have been caused by shoddy performances at other points in the game.

Plus, in all three of the matches we’ve played since last Tuesday, I feel there have been hints of an overall return to aggressive pressing football with a goal-threat on the counter, and – towards the end of the Brighton game, at least – some actual proof that Harry Kane is… well, Harry Kane.

As slight as these hints have been, I never got the sense any were present in the games against Watford away and Dippers at Wembley.

I’d still rather sit through a stroll in the park this coming Saturday, though, so I’ll be hoping for a repeat of last season’s performance against Huddersfield, and another welcome three points ahead of the small matter of Messi & co at Wembley next Wednesday (for anyone wanting to watch either of these games on the net, by the way, I’m reliably informed they will be streaming in high-definition on hartleycam.co.uk).

The fact Huddersfield are having a pretty miserable season of it themselves at the moment, with only two points to their name and having been beaten 6-1 by City and 3-0 by Chelsea in their last two games (compared to something like nine points this time last season), suggests anything less than a repeat of our four-nil win really will represent this season’s first true backward step from Poch and the boys: It’s unlikely we’ll be the only ‘big’ team to lose to Dippers at home and Watford away before next May rolls around. A slip up against Huddersfield simply can’t be excused the same way.

Danspurs’ ‘Never Mind the Seagulls’

Never mind seagulls – we head to Brighton on Saturday with an albatross around our necks in the shape of our first three-match losing streak since the dark days of Dimwood.

Returning to happier times, though, the last time we headed to the Amex was five months ago, on 17th April.  In the three games immediately preceding that one, we had finally won at Stamford Bridge – so were the best thing since sliced-bread – pipped a narrow squeak away to Stoke, then copped a pants down at home to City, proving that the round-earthers were right all along, and we never will thrive under Levy.

That run of results saw us third in the table after 33 games, two points behind Man U, three points ahead of the Dippers, and ten points ahead of Chelsea in the race for securing top-four.

For the football purist, though, the telling statistic is that we were twenty points behind Man City, and the seeds of that sorry state of affairs had perhaps already been sewn by this stage last season, where the equivalent round of fixtures saw us trailing the Cityzens by six points despite having just strolled into Stratford to beat West Ham 2-3.   However, we were also six points behind Man U and two points behind Chelsea, proving it’s too early to say a gap can’t be narrowed or that an early pace-setter won’t fall away as Chelsea did under Conte.

This time around, of course, and we’re in a pretty similar position, though it’s Liverpool and Chelsea six points ahead rather than the Manchester clubs.  And, of course, by the end of the weekend, we could be even further behind, because Brighton away won’t be easy, especially the way we’ve been playing:  I caught most of their second half performance against Southampton on Monday and thought they were unlucky to be two-nil down. Even so, they stuck to their game-plan of attacking down the flanks and getting numbers in the box, and although I didn’t see the end of the game I wasn’t surprised to learn they equalised at the death.

Their other results have been patchy, however, losing to Watford and the Dippers away while beating Man U and drawing with Fulham at home, while, trawling back through last season’s results, if you ignore another routine win over Man U the week after we paid them a visit, they haven’t tasted a Prem victory at the Amex since Arsenal were overcome 2-1 on 4th March.

Last season, we ended up coming away with a 1-1 draw, with Kane scoring on 48 minutes following good work from Son and Pascal Gross equalising from the spot two minutes later following an Aurier trip.  I remember watching the game but don’t remember much about it, except that on the blog I used to read back then (but was banned from contributing to) both the result and performance were taken as a sure sign we would get no points from our remaining four fixtures and drop out of the top four. Which, obviously, would serve Enic right and reveal Poch for the Levy-pet fraud that he is.

We actually won three of those games to finish third, although the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Man U which immediately followed the Brighton game soured that achievement and took the gloss off an otherwise excellent season, more in the limp manner of the defeat than the fact we had lost yet another FA Cup semi-final – plus it was yet another key game we lost after taking the lead.

This time around and, for some, we’re verging on crisis again, while, for others, we’re wallowing in it: No new stadium, no new signings, and no clue what Poch’s going on about with all his guff about cows.  His substitutions on Tuesday didn’t make a lot of sense either.  As far as I’m concerned, Watford could have been a blip but the performance against Liverpool was woeful, even though we should have been awarded a penalty at the death which would probably have seen us steal a point.  I don’t feel that performance was entirely out of character for a Poch team, though, as I felt we hit similar lows away to both Arsenal and Leicester last November, a month in which we also narrowly beat Crystal Palace and drew 1-1 against West Brom at Wembley, all of which followed our 3-1 trouncing of Real Madrid.

This, for me, has been the most frustrating aspect of the Poch era (on the pitch, anyway):  We seem to follow a great result such as the ones last season against Dippers and Madrid at home and Chelsea away or the recent win at Old Trafford with a run of shoddy performances which completely undo the milestone results.  I don’t know if it’s squad size, form, formation, or a Hoddle-like smugness that sees players and management sit back on their laurels after doing something special, but it’s something that Poch’s going to have to find an answer to if he wants to take himself to the next level without having to jump ship to a club that has oodles of cash to cover up this flaw in his teams.

On Tuesday, in the second-half, and especially after our goal, I did feel there were signs we were playing ourselves back into some sort of form until Poch’s tactical changes handed the initiative back to Inter.  On Saturday, no matter what formation and team he sends out, it would be nice to see a performance which shows some evidence of our pressing game, a return to form for Christian Eriksen, signs of life from Harry Kane, signs that we have a functioning central midfield, and an end to Poch’s worst ever run as Tottenham manger:  The sort of performance, in short, his Spurs teams have been delivering for us more often than not.

But, it’s also got to be said, the sort of performance it feels we haven’t seen over ninety minutes in a while now from Tottenham.

Dan’s Stat Attack

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danspurs writes:

Stats, stats, stats.  We all have differing views on how useful they are, and we all know the vast majority of them can be skewed to fit the narrative of the person producing them.

As an example, off the top of my head: Spurs are shit-hot at corners because we scored from 50% of the two we won at Old Trafford; Spurs are utterly shit at corners because we gurned our way through all ten at Watford with zero end-product.

For me, the two things I think about ahead of every premier league game are pretty simple – how are we performing points-wise compared to the same stage last season, and what did we do in the same fixture last season, irrespective of when that fixture took place – so I asked Flatty if he’d mind me having a go at producing a weekly post ahead of each Premier League fixture reminding the good ship Flat Oeuf of these two things and any other random snippets of nonsense I can manage to cram in:  Just the same as my wife around midday on any given Valentines Day, he said ‘you have a go and we’ll take it from there.  Definitely no promises, though.’.

So here I am, having a go.  As it’s still pretty early on in the season, I thought I’d also look back at where we stood following the fourth round of fixtures in each of Poch’s seasons in charge to date, and whether or not our fabled slow starts really have cost us title-bids compared to the teams who eventually triumphed.  Putting this first one together has been a bit rushed, though, so apologies in advance if I’ve mucked up my research on any of the results, or, even, got my seasons mixed up.

In Poch’s first season, 2014-15, our fourth game ended in a 2-2 draw away at Sunderland which saw us in sixth with seven points, already five points off the pace of eventual champions Chelsea.  A welcome away win against the Spammers in Poch’s first game and a battering of Arry’s QPR saw us all dreaming of glory and a truly brave new dawn until the Dippers did us 0-3 at the Lane back in the day when the only titles we were dreaming of were the deeds to Archways premises.  Despite already having given us that battering, though, Liverpool ended that fourth round of fixtures two places and one point behind us.

In 2015-16, a slow start saw us with only three points from four games, wallowing in sixteenth, following three draws and a loss, again five points off eventual champions Leicester, who we had drawn away to, along with home draws against Stoke and Everton and a narrow defeat at Old Trafford on the opening day.   Our dippy mates from Scouse-land ended the same round of fixtures in 7th with seven points.  We followed that by winning a scrappy game against Sunderland one-nil away, with Ryan Mason getting injured in the process of scoring our winner and rarely featuring for us again.  Two games later, though, we took City apart 4-1 at the Lane.  When Liverpool turned up at the Lane two weeks later, in the 9th round of fixtures, Jurgen Klopp’s first game spent on a touchline worrying about his car tyres saw honours shared 0-0.

Following that flash-in-the-pan season where all the big-boys had a year off, we were widely tipped to slide back to our Europa League status again, but 16/17 saw us sitting pretty in fifth after four matches, having won two and drawn two, only two points off eventual champions Chelsea, though four points off early pace-setters Man City.  As in Mo Po’s first season, those pesky dippers were lurking a point behind us, having already visited the Lane for our second home-game, securing a 1-1 draw.   Despite the fact White Hart Lane’s missing corner would surely ruin our season and cause weird winds to disrupt the flow of our game, a single Kane strike on 59 minutes would see us extend our unbeaten start to the season against Sunderland at home in the next round of fixtures, and, of course, we finished our last ever season at The Lane unbeaten and with our highest ever Premiership finish, second.  Wembley would see us slide back to our Europa League status next time around, though, for sure.

So on to last season, and the dreaded Wembley curse.   Following a painfully narrow home defeat to defending champions, Chelsea (I was there, and it was narrow, and it was painful) and a home draw against Burnley, we were sitting fifth on seven points following away wins over Newcastle and Everton.   Liverpool were in seventh, on seven points, having just been torn a new one away at the Etihad.  Despite this, those pesky dippers picked themselves up, brushed themselves off, and took the footballing world by storm, proving once again that they truly are the greatest club-side in the world.  Well, if that’s how you want to spin being ripped another new one by us five weeks later, finishing below us for something like the eighth season in nine, and winning exactly the same number of trophies as we did.  And, rightly or wrongly, at least we stood by our goalkeeper when he started to act a bit drunk.

Which brings us to now, our zero spend zenith, the season when Levy’s chickens will surely come home to roost…

It’s obviously way too early to tell whether the summer’s (lack of) transfer shenanigans and our attempt to break the world-record for home venues in a single season are going to spur us or scupper us, but this is our best start under Poch with nine points from twelve.  However, the dippers have also had their best start over the same period, with a perfect return of twelve points, although neither side can be said to have really hit anything like their best form from last season yet, with our lapse against Watford leaving that bitter taste of Spursy in the back of the throat and Liverpool perhaps having to dig in more then they would have expected for results against Palace and Brighton and their expensive new keeper gifting Leicester the sort of joke goal Hugo likes to keep back for when he feels a world cup final has got a bit one-sided and someone really should do something to distract the world from what a tool Dejan Lovren is.

While it’s weird that their visits to us over Poch’s tenure have consistently come early, the tale so far is one trouncing each and a couple of very close draws, though it’s also (hopefully not) worth remembering that the last time they visited pre-Poch resulted in another pants-down for us and the sacking of AVB.

I’ve got the feeling with this one that it’s one of those games where either team’s capable of giving the other a right pasting, with both equally capable of producing an end-to-end nail-biting nil-nil, which probably means it’s all going to come down to how we do with our corners, and, as the stats show against Watford, we’re fricking awful at them.