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.