Title Burglars

Back in 84-85, when I was a teenager enjoying my first season on the lower East Stand terraces, I never used to understand why the ‘we will follow the Tottenham’ chant rolling down off The Shelf always included the words ‘… and Leicester…’.

It’s not something I’ve ever asked anyone, but I’ve since decided it has to be related to what went down on 14th May 1977 at White Hart Lane.  Or, more to the point, who went down.

Namely, us.

As it turned out, a Spurs team including Jennings, Perryman, Hoddle and Taylor beat Leicester 2-0 with goals from Jimmy Holmes and John Pratt in front of a crowd of 26,094 that afternoon.  But it made no difference.  Despite picking up two league cups and the EUFA Cup in the early seventies – trophies obviously being the one single measure of a club on the up – and despite finishing 9th the previous season, Agent Neill had sold off a lot of our experienced players from the last days of the Nicholson era before heading back to Highbury, leaving Keith Burkinshaw to try and revitalise our fortunes.

These days, I don’t believe there’s any way Burkinshaw would have survived that first season to go on to become one of our greats.   We lost to Third Division Wrexham in the League Cup at The Lane, 8-2 away to Dave Mackay’s Derby in October, then 5-3 away to West Ham in November, and were third from bottom at the turn of the year.  We lost to Second Division Cardiff in the third round of the FA Cup, were beaten in every single match we played in February, hardly won an away match all season – conceding fifty away goals in the process – and were virtually doomed to relegation following a five-nil thrashing at Maine Road in the game before Leicester came calling.

Our only hope as we kicked off against the Foxes was for West Ham to fail to pick up any points in their last two games of the season – away to champions elect Liverpool and at home to Man United – and for us to overhaul them on goal difference.  The Hammers got a nil-nil at Anfield, though, and we were relegated for the first time since 1935, out of the top flight for the first time since push & run saw us promoted in 49-50, and in real danger of falling away from the limelight for good.

It’s enough to make even the most devout anti-Levyite look down at his Fakinel ENIC OUT t-shirt and momentarily doubt the curvature of the earth.

Maybe.

As traumatic as our last relegation must have been, it’s a more recent Leicester visit which I find the most scarring to look back on:  Wednesday 13th January 2016 and we were fourth in the league, four points behind Leicester in second, and six points behind champions elect Arsenal in first.  We’d won three and drawn one of our last four league games and Leicester were having the wobble many of us expected would signal their slide back into mid-table obscurity, having lost to Liverpool and drawn with City and Bournemouth without scoring a single goal in their preceding three league fixtures.

Although I clearly remember watching the game, I don’t remember too many details outside of two moments which still haunt me in terms of what might have been:  Kane’s shot ricocheting off an advancing Kasper Schmeichel and smacking the bar on sixty-one minutes, and the usual unpunished penalty-area argy-bargy that preceded a lot of Leicester’s goals that season as Huth rose to head a corner home in the 81st minute.

Change that result to one-nil Spurs, and who knows what might have been?

This time around, and the stakes for Leicester aren’t quite so high.  They’re currently eleventh and, on paper, not in the best run of form having only taken one point from the last twelve available.  That one point did come against Liverpool at Anfield, though, in a one-all draw they could well have won.  The fact they beat Chelsea away and Man City at home either side of Christmas Day provides further proof they’re likely to be dangerous opponents on Sunday, as does their narrow home defeat to Manchester United in their last premier league match.

As for this fixture last season, it was the 5-4 thriller which saw us three-one down on 47 minutes in what we all hoped would be our last ever league game at Wembley.  Two goals from Lamela either side of a Fuchs own-goal saw us reclaim our early lead before Vardy pegged us back in the 73rd minute ahead of Kane rounding off the scoring three minutes later.  Somehow, despite no home ground and all Poch’s best efforts to train the lads into the ground, we’d finished the season strongly enough to consign Liverpool to fourth and Chelsea to fifth.  No silverware, though, so ultimately it all counted for nothing.  Best to forget and move on.

So, moving on, following our one-nil win over a very well organised Newcastle side – and following City’s narrow win over an Everton team we spanked 2-6 – we’re back to third in a two-horse race, but now only five points off first, with a game in hand over City.  We’re nine points better off than we were this time last season, where we had just strolled all over United 2-0 at Wembley and were about to enjoy that mad 2-2 draw up at Anfield, the last league points we would drop until we had to face runaway leaders City seven matches later.

In fact, if you take our results from last season from this point on and add it to what we already have, it gives us our best ever premier league haul of 87 points, as does looking at our results last season against teams we still have to face this season.  That return would have put us second on goal-difference in 14/15, champions over Leicester by six points in 15/16, second by five in 16/17 (we actually came second by six) and second by thirteen last time around.  It almost certainly won’t be enough to see us crowned champions this season, but it would be an amazing achievement given the lack of investment, lack of a home ground, and the money and salary gap between ourselves and certain clubs we’ll find ourselves looking down on again if we do manage to harvest that many points.

Something tells me we’re going to have to play better than we did against Watford and Newcastle if we’re going to take all three points from Leicester, though.  Still without Dele and Kane, it’s not going to be easy.  But, then, I fully expected Leicester to have the better of us at The King Power in early December.  We were without Kane that day too – though he did come on in the 74th minute – but still had enough about us to dominate possession, touches, passes, and run out relatively comfortable two-nil winners.

With Liverpool having to prove their mettle against Bournemouth this afternoon following two draws and Man City having to host Chelsea, another two-niller against Leicester would be very welcome on Sunday.

It won’t see us relegated, at least.

Watford Home

Well. That was an interesting seven days without Kane, Son, and, for the most part, Dele:  Three poor first-half performances, one last-gasp winner, one brave rally to take Chelsea to penalties, and a clumsy capitulation to a Palace side we rarely threatened and yet probably should have had at least a draw against.

Which would not have been deserved.

And, anyway, can you imagine the angst a replay would have caused with the state of our squad at the moment?  Especially for the thirty-thousand or so poor souls who would have felt compelled to drag themselves to Wembley to watch it:  In fact, other than a really promising performance from Foyth, a battling performance from Skipp, and the fact we don’t seem to have picked up any new injuries, probably the best thing about the Palace game was that it wasn’t played out in front of a quarter-full Wembley.  That would have been depressing beyond belief.

Personally, I hate going out of cup competitions, especially domestics where it’s almost always to bitter rivals, so I thought I’d take a look at Poch’s record for domestic cup capitulations while he’s been in charge of us:

Carabo Cup wise, we lost to Chelsea in the final in his first season, then Arsenal in the third round, Liverpool away in the fourth round, West Ham at Wembley in the fourth round – after being 2-0 up – and now Chelsea in the semis on penalties.

FA Cup wise, we lost to Leicester in the fourth round, Palace in the fourth round (both at The Lane), Chelsea and United in consecutive semi-finals, and now Palace away in the fourth round once again.

So, all in all, one final defeat and three semi-final defeats in five seasons, no exits to lower league teams, and four exits to three teams outside the big six.  It’s not stellar.  But nor is it ridiculously shabby.  Especially for a club with our stupidly low net-spend, which, for whatever reason, over Poch’s time here, stands at less than all of the clubs to have ended our cup runs.

There’s also the fact that, during these seasons, the only teams to have won any of the eight domestic cup finals played so far are Chelsea, City, United and Arsenal.  Maybe this year will be different, but not in the Carabo, and, with three of these teams still in the FA Cup, chances are oil money or Ole will be lifting that one as well.  Money talks.  Levy… probably wishes our injury crisis had happened just after the transfer window had closed but is also probably relieved a little of Poch’s sheen has been revealed to be sweat:  Since those dizzy heights of Everton 2 – Tottenham 6, we’ve bombed out of two cups, been beaten by Wolves and United at ‘home’, and needed that very timely Harry Winks winner to secure all three points against Fulham:  Not that I thought it was a foregone conclusion Poch would go there, but Ole is starting to look the favourite for the United job to me, and the noise about Mourinho going back to Madrid is increasing.

That last-minute win over Fulham does mean we’re still seven points better off than we were after the same number of games last season, where we’d just beaten Everton 4-0 at Wembley to put ourselves on forty-four points and fifth in the league, three points behind Liverpool in third and Chelsea in fourth.  Arsenal, on a middling run of three draws and one loss in their last five matches, were busy acquainting themselves with their final league standing of sixth.  They would temporarily close the gap between us to three points in the next round of games, though, as we headed down to Saints without Eriksen and huffed and puffed to a one-all draw.

In terms of comparative games, as I said in my last bloeug, we’d just done a Spursy away to West Brom, so the game I’m swapping in against Fulham puts us ten points better off once again:  None too shabby.   And, considering the circumstances, pretty stellar, in fact.

As for how we did at Wembley against Watford, we beat them 2-0 in our fourth from last game as they gently flip-flopped their way from 9th in the table after 29 matches to 14th in the final standings, only winning one of their last nine games.    Right now, they’re 7th.  Depending on how you want to spin it, they’ve either only won one of their last five games, or they’ve only lost one of their last five games.  Either way, they beat Palace away in their last but one game (but followed that up with a nil-niller against Burnley), have just knocked Newcastle out of the FA Cup up at St James’, and have already beaten us in the reverse fixture earlier this season, which, up until recent developments, was galloping away in a two-horse race for our most disappointing result and performance of the season.

Oh, and last season, when we beat them, our goal scorers were Dele and Kane:  Do we have the Troy Deeneys to take Watford without them?  I’m not overly confident we do, but desperately hope so, because, Premier League wise, this game is followed by Newcastle and Leicester at ‘home’ then Burnley away.  Win these, and we could be the only team in the top six to have taken all twelve points from our next four games, because Chelsea and Arsenal have away dates with City, and Liverpool are off to Old Trafford.  So, as disappointing as the two cup exits have been, whether this season turns into a mad tumble from the top four or a very interesting run-in – potentially at our new home with Kane and Dele back to full speed – is still very much in our own hands.

Witch Cottagers await us?

So here we are facing crisis again, losing Son, Kane, Sissoko, and three points against United.

Such are the slender margins seasons are shaped on, when you look at some of the points Liverpool have picked up or clung on to compared to some of the points we’ve thrown away or narrowly missed out on.

But this is one of the gifts Pochettino and this Spurs team have given us these past few seasons:  after years of relative mediocrity interspersed with the occasional promising season, we’re finally in a position where slender margins matter, where setbacks have the potential to damage so much more than a single weekend’s bragging rights.

And Sunday can be viewed as a setback – our first home Prem loss to United since the days of Sir Alex, another reverse in a game we won quite comfortably last season, and injuries to two key players further depleting a squad that some people insist was already starting to look thin.

I prefer to look at the positives though.  Following a first half where we gave as good as we got but often looked vulnerable to breaks down the flanks, we really gave a good account of ourselves in the second half and did more than enough to win comfortably, creating chance upon chance as we did against Everton.

If only we’d managed to finish our chances the way we did that afternoon, and if only Phil Jones wasn’t such an utter donkey, how giddy would we all be feeling right now?

Instead we’re mulling over more questions about Kieran Trippier’s fitness for purpose and wondering how we’re going to cope without Kane.

For me, the Trippier mistake is one of those things that will always happen to a defender in a team trying to play passing football.   Yes, it was sloppy, yes, it’s not the first time he’s cost us this season, but it’s the sort of error Walker always had in his locker.  As much as I loved Walker and prefer his all-action style to Trippier’s, he made 8 more appearances for City last season and made one more assist, forty-four less crosses (with a 9% accuracy rating compared to Trippier’s 19%) and, in a team that was head and shoulders above any other in the land, had yet another Bonzo moment which contributed to City being dumped out of the FA Cup by Wigan.

Back to Trippier’s own Bonzo moment against United, just like the one he made against City, it was seized on ruthlessly by the opposition, compounded by Verts being undone for pace and, if you agree with the Match of the Day 2 analysis, Hugo positioning himself slightly too far outside his near post.  Against many other teams in the league, it probably would have ended in a covering tackle or a comfortable smother for Hugo, and I don’t see it as any more criminal than Eriksen’s loss of the ball against Wolves which eventually led to the corner they equalised from.

It’s still the sort of error we need to seriously cut down on if we ever do plan to keep pace with whatever teams are setting the pace at the top of the league in the future, though, no matter who it is making the cock-up.

As for the Kane injury, my impression at the time was that it was a definite foul, but it was no surprise Dean missed it.  The guy was useless all through the game, missing what looked like obvious pull-backs all over the park, a potential red-card for Pogba, and, even more infuriating, doing utterly nothing to stop United’s blatant second half time-wasting.   I also wasn’t impressed with how poor our physio team’s response was, with only one blue-glove finally going over to him and then allowing him to hobble off alone, even though it seemed obvious he’d knackered something.

Despite all this, I’m looking forward to how we line up and perform against Fulham.   Against Leicester, when Kane was rested for the majority of the game, Dele was either deployed as a front man or decided to play as one for the fun of it, and really looked the part.  At Bournemouth last March, we were one down after seven minutes and looked leggy until their keeper knackered Kane thirty-four minutes in.  One minute later, Dele equalised, and we eventually ran out 4-1 winners.  Reports back then suggested Kane, and, therefore, Spurs, would be knacked for a month.  He actually made his return in the 74th minute in the 1-3 win against Chelsea on April Fool’s day, missing only our emphatic 0-3 FA Cup quarter final win against Swansea.

Some, though, would argue he didn’t look the same player until earlier this season.  While I don’t agree with that, I’m not overly keen on the fact Kane plays virtually every minute of every game he’s available for, and only really gets sustained rests when his ankle ligaments give out.  He’s definitely a world-class player – on Sunday – and at plenty of other times this season – the occasions he dropped deep to win the ball, turn, and pick out an overlapping player, he really did highlight the strength and vision of the sort of midfielder who would raise this team’s level yet another notch – but the performances against Bournemouth and Swansea last season show we’ve enough options in the squad to blow away many of the middling Prem teams without flogging our talisman to death or depleting Uncle Joe’s retirement fund.  Even without Son to call on, properly utilising Llorente or Moura – or trying something slightly different with Alli or Lamela up top – should give us more than enough goal threat to see us through against Fulham if the rest of the team are on their game:  Despite Ranieri’s mid-November appointment, they’re still deep in the mire, second from bottom, five points from safety, having lost their last two games, 4-1 away against Arsenal and 2-1 away against Burnley.  They did beat Huddersfield in their last home Prem outing, though, and also had a better time of it against Wolves than we would three days later, holding them to a 1-1 draw at the Cottage.

As for our record against them, we’ve won our last four games – three prem, one FA Cup – and have to go back to December 2009 since we last dropped points at the Cottage.  We did lose a shocker of a third-round FA Cup tie 4-0 there in Jan 2011, though, with Redknapp no doubt gutted not to have an FA Cup semi-final debacle against Pompey or Chelsea to worry about that season.  We’ve dropped points to them in the Prem since then, too, with a one-nil home loss in March 2013 helping Arsenal reduce a seven point gap to one point just two games after we’d beaten the immigrants 2-1 at home and AVB had made his negative spiral comment:  Although, to be fair to AVB, his very next words were ‘Seven points is not big enough in the Premier League, because this time last year Arsenal came back (from a similar deficit)’, so the statement wasn’t really the premature gloat some Arsenal fans are still banging on about now.

As for us this time last season, we’d just drawn at home to the Spammers in a laboured performance and were about to thwump the Toffees 4-0 at our temporary home.  We were seven points worse off than we are now, fifth in the league, and obviously doomed to miss out on CL football in our first ever season at our new home; Levy out:  Blah-blah-blah.

In terms of comparative fixtures, we’d just strolled to a 2-0 Wembley win over Mourinho’s United.  Swapping Fulham – who came up via the play-offs, so were arguably the weakest of the promoted teams – for West Brom – who propped up the Prem at the end of last season, so were definitely the weakest of the relegated teams (or, at least, the only ones managed by both Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew in the same season) – we did a Spursy and donated three-points to the Patron Saint of Lost Causes in our last away game of the season, conceding the only goal of the game in the 92nd minute to Jake Livermore, of all people.   This left us fourth, only a couple of points clear of Chelsea in fifth, which was yet more proof we were chokers, would screw up our last two games, and obviously doomed to miss out on CL football in our first ever season at our new home; Levy out:  Blah-blah-blah.

Of course, with only sixteen Prem fixtures left to play, there are rumours swirling this won’t be our first ever season at our new home.   When Fulham came to Wembley on 18th August for our first ‘home’ game this season, it was less than a week after the club had confirmed the Liverpool and Cardiff games would be held at Wembley.  We won that game 3-1, a lovely Moura goal being cancelled out by a Mitrovic leveller in the 52nd minute before Trippier and Kane goals in the 74th and 77th minutes secured us the points and our 100% start to the season.

This time around, with Liverpool facing Palace at home and City playing Huddersfield away – and Chelsea and Arsenal playing each other – three points is utterly essential to make sure we keep within wishing distance of the two at the top and capitalise on whichever one of the two underneath us drops points: Potentially even better, a draw in that game and a win for us would see the gap between us and Arsenal up to nine points, with the gap between us and Chelsea slightly extended to three ahead of next week’s second-leg semi at The Bridge.

Lose, though, and we could find the gap between ourselves and Arsenal in fifth ominously dropping from seven to four, well and truly in a negative spiral, doomed to miss out on CL football in our first ever full season at our new home…

Levy out!

Blah-blah-blah!!