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.