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Sunday, 24 February 2013


We sailed away from France after stealing a draw in Lyon which gave us a smug 3-2 win on aggregate. Friedel reportedly fighting his way past the stewards to join in the celebrations with us in the stands. He loved it just as much as we did. What was more surprising than actually seeing Spurs manage to hold their nerve to qualify was seeing us score two important goals on 90+ minutes. We've finally moulded/in the process of moulding a side that plays the game for over 90 minutes. We've sought to eliminate the anguish of late defeats and disappointment that the past has presented on so many occasions.

We have the ability. We have the players. Will it be too much to ask for a squad that hasn't even had a year together to break back into the Champions League and/or finish above the neighbours that have looked below themselves at us for so many years? Confidence and self-belief is key. This is one key we mustn't misplace any time soon. Mentally we know that Arsenal can prove fragile, but they've shown they can push on just enough to scramble over the finish line.  They've almost become experts at doing marginally enough. A far-cry from regular league challengers.

The past saw us more fragile than China dolls at times. Even falling to a heavy defeat in the FA Cup Semi Final last year was poor after dominating so much of the game before falling behind. Apologies for re-living that nightmare.

We enter a notoriously anxious and nervy period. The last few years has seen us exhausted of ideas around this period. Most of the players seemed as though they're already laying on a beach, soaking up a millionaire's lifestyle under the glaring sun half-way across the world. Some argue we lost 3rd place last year when we bottled a 2 goal advantage at Arsenal last year, I feel we lost it at the Etihad. Memories of the Defoe chance and Ledley's foul still fresh and lingering, unfortunately.

We've a fresh breed of confidence. A new backroom staff, new players and a renewed belief that this *again* may be the season we achieve what we've set out to do. We've kept our feet firmly on the floor. Lead has been found present in the soles of the players' footwear. Bale's been hitting just a bit of form lately, but off the pitch he's had a blunder. He spoke of Spurs being a "stronger team than Arsenal". There's been a history of this sort of bullish chat backfiring spectacularly. Of course, the idea is to rally the players to live up to this 'expectation', but at the same time it starts to place unnecessary pressure on the side. It gives our delightful neighbours the opportunity to disprove a statement that would've been laughed off 5 years ago. A dangerous game to play.

The progression of our club in the last 5 years has been overwhelming. In the period of great expenditure from Manchester City and continued investment from Abramovich in Chelsea, we've managed to ensure our own progress has not faltered. We've built a stable side, bought better (when we have done) on the whole and financially are complying with FFP. The decline of our close neighbours has almost been just as spectacular. Such is the financial incentive for players to maximise their earnings in a short career coinciding with a club that ensures positive financial figures are number one on the priority list mixes poorly on the pitch. Despite Arsenal being close to paying off the stadium and possibly having a war-chest to spend in the near future, little would've predicted that a side whom once went a whole season unbeaten would find themselves chasing the minnows that are Tottenham Hotspur for a top 4 finish. This seemingly no longer an anomaly but a formality.

Bale's interview was an interesting one. It can be seen here. I enjoyed reading little in the papers of players talking about the final third of the season and appreciated that the talking was being done with their feet. The side need to play with as little pressure on them as possible. Regardless of whether we break back into Europe's most prestigious competition, AVB has done a remarkable job. It's intriguing to see Bale talk of the new ground also. I don't expect him to play there, not in the lilywhite anyway, so I wouldn't look to much into that.

Hopefully this breed of confidence can shine for the remainder of the season. We first need to get through West Ham's Cup Final tomorrow night and push on from that. We've a tough run of fixtures awaiting us but it's the tough fixtures that have seen us play our better stuff.

Hopefully this formality will continue.

Ben - Follow me on Twitter here.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Europa league Myth

So we found ourselves with a difficult fixture away at Lyon. Difficult for myself and two others in the sense that we nearly weren't allowed to travel to France, then delays left us reeling at missing our connecting train to Lyon, then we found the delights of not being able to check-in until 4pm. Missing the first 10 minutes of the game topped it all off. In footballing terms, I suppose this fixture would also prove just as much of an obstacle. We found sleep to be overrated anyway.

The past has seen us brandish the Europa League as almost a poison, slowly weltering our season into nothingness. A painful finale to a season that, again, offered so much promise and hope. European football once more seeping the life from the side as apparently footballers are incapable of playing two games of football a week, every other week. Athletes? Limited ones at best then.

We arrived at the "Starde De Gerrard" 10 minutes after kick-off. *Quote one Spurs fan barely able to string a sentence together*. In all honesty, the place was rocking. I struggled to pick out their family stand and stewards telling them to sit down. One goal without conceding was all Lyon needed. We knew it, the players knew it, their fans knew it. An arguable freekick just shy of twenty minutes saw Lyon grab the opportunity by the lower regions and that all-important goal they needed. Such is my pessimism, I felt we'd fall to a 2-1 defeat here with Extra-time or penalties sealing our fate. With a side battling for the French League and a renewed confidence after going 1 up, it would take a hell of a backbone to pull us back. Of course, we only ever needed one goal.

The half-time whistle was the best bit of the first half. We went in fairly disappointed. Our passing was sloppy, we didn't create too much and it looked as though the occasion was getting to us. My surprise of the second half arrived when Lyon began allowing us to keep the ball for large periods and happily sat back. Instead of seeking a second and more assurance, The French played very backs to the wall. It was almost like a very organised Stoke City side. They soon removed any recognised striker from the field and allowed us to play in front of them. Both sides keeping it very narrow. With the amount of space Benny found himself gaining out wide, it was a shame - at times- to not have Bale striking fear down the right back in that position.

On the whole this season I felt we've improved, although haven't mastered, breaking down stubborn sides. The further Lyon sat the more I felt a chance would fall our way. Would we take it? Who knew. It was very surreal to find a side of Lyon's stature and ability to be sitting in their final third and pumping the ball long. But it suited us down to the ground. Lyon reminded me of the Spurs of old, clinging desperately on to what they had to progress. They became more nervy, more anxious. I'd always gathered the impression that Lyon's 'keeper Vercoutre was a little like our own Gomes - a bit unpredictable. Strikes from range worried him.  As the game wore on I felt just a sniff was what we needed. I've banged on so much of late about the mental strength and the re-ignited belief the Spurs of the present seem to play with. In the 90th minute, Dembele gave us just what we deserved. My mate made a good point in that in a League game an equaliser is great as you go from 0 points to 1 point. In a knockout game we went from crashing out and total defeat in terms of away goals on 89 minutes to qualifying and a total win on 90 minutes. You couldn't write it. The euphoria was nothing like I'd ever imagined. Suddenly the 14 hour trip back home that awaited us Friday morning didn't seem so daunting. Words can't describe the elation in the tiers and a very vocal home support was stunned into silence.

Not for the first time, the French had bottled it.

A win in Europe breeds mental strength, belief and positivity. Physically it'll leave us tiring more, but sometimes a game can be won with enough belief flowing through the side. The longer we stay in the Europa League, the more time that goes by in which we genuinely will feel as though we can compete with any in front of us. We need to prove to ourselves we deserve a Champions League place. Beating good European sides will cement this. We've a new ray of light emerging from Spurs. The future only seems to be more promising and we're in good form before approaching a tough run of fixtures.

So no, I do not fall to the consensus that a good Europa League campaign will hinder what could be a good domestic season. Great sides are able to operate on all fronts. The players know the extra work required due to the extra games but I'd lay any assurances that they want it just as much as we do. So often has the question been asked whether I'd personally take 4th or 5th and the Europa League crown. At the end of the day, you can't lift a finishing position above your head. Football is about the glory, and I'd love us to return to London with the Europa League - more than anything.

Ben - Follow me on Twitter here

(Apologies for the poor image quality)




Saturday, 9 February 2013


After Newcastle helped stabilised the French economy, helping them to avoid recession and brimming with confidence after over-turning Chelsea last week, it would prove inevitable that the Newcastle of today looked a good 100 miles or two above the Newcastle of a month ago. Pre-match nerves? Not immensely. I'd generally accepted that Newcastle would grind out a draw, we'd look at this as an opportunity missed and sweat whilst watching Chelsea and Arsenal both play in their respective games.

Contrary to what was stated by others, but I was happy to see AVB rotating the squad. It's almost a double ended sword with what I'd read from some. I was convinced some had genuinely been convinced we'd lost the game at 12:30. It was concluded last season that one of our downfalls was the lack of squad rotation. We moaned. We cried. We pointed the finger at Redknapp. We put it down to "exhaustion" and looked upon last year as a season of "what if's" and "if only's".

After an international break, squad rotation is the long-term answer. Today it got us over the line. 99 minutes played. Caulker and Dawson looked, overall, solid - despite some minor defensive errors. Hopefully the players will feel the benefit when game 34+ hits us like a train and we feel more fresh for it. It could come down to the difference between scoring in the final minute of the final game and grabbing a top 4 place or conceding and, again, reflecting on what could've been. It was almost tiring watch us "see-out" the end to the season last year. The players had already packed their bags and itching for that first flight away, some didn't return to Spurs. Parker, especially, looked as though he needed crutches come the final weeks of last season.

My oh my has Parker really struggled to fill the boots he left from last year. Barely a shadow of what he gave us last year. I understand he was out for a prolonged period this year but don't buy he's still not 100%. He is. His performances are just that of a 32 year old who plays a more defence-minded role. I've never felt Parker has looked comfortable on the ball. He stands out like a sore thumb at times when in possession. Whilst others look natural and in their element on the ball, you can almost see Parker's knees trembling - eager to shift it on as quick as possible. In this respect he's picked up where he left off from last year but looks more woeful. Him and Dembele almost look as though they're marking each other at times. Picking up the same space, ball watching on occasion and allowing Newcastle to have far to much possession in front of our back 4. There's a clear lack of understanding between the two that can only be built from experience through minutes on the pitch together.

We knew Sandro would be a huge loss, but the side have faith in one another. We've been injury-torn all season yet find ourselves in 3rd - at the time of writing - with 12 games remaining. We were in a similar position last year but in my opinion we seem to play with more belief and confidence this season. We're a shadow of our early games under AVB and this is all credit to the Portuguese and his backroom staff. AVB has shown immense belief in Clint Dempsey, despite a stuttering start to his Spurs career. He was the Woolworths of Tottenham Hotspur. I don't think he really knew the role he was suppose to play or what extra he was bringing the side. The American himself has really picked up his performance and is slowly but surely responding to the faith invested into him. Maybe I'm proving more biased but I'm becoming more of a fan. He's a great squad player to have with us. His turn to win the freekick for Bale's first was clever, his movement and interchanging with Holtby, Bale and Lennon was also smart. Those front 4 looked comfortable alongside each other without creating masses. Holtby still growing into the side and finding his feet.

Of course there's still room for improvement. Dawson seems to have some sort of disorder that disables his ability to pass the ball on the deck. Far to many long balls found their way into opposition possession when playing the game on the floor seem to be the simplest solution. Saying that, Bale's second resulted from a long-fielded knock so what do I know!

Gareth Bale's performance was a joy to behold although I enjoyed the quick pass and moving we undertook in the first 25. We looked organised and calculated before somehow losing the maturity in the middle and allowing Newcastle to put in a deflected second. We need more discipline in centre midfield. There doesn't appear to be a system between Dembele and Parker yet the latter should sit and allow the former to drive if the opportunity arises. I enjoyed our fluidity through Bale, Lennon, Holtby and Dempsey. All four seemingly exploiting their given free roles without creating too much. A lack of a forward here not helping but not holding us back I felt. Ade put himself about when he came on but struggled to get involved as much as he we'd have liked. I felt he did well for the second goal, refusing to allow two barcodes to clear the ball for Bale to nip in. His movement also opened up the opportunity for Bale to grab his hattrick but for Krul to pull out a great stop.

The game felt like a marathon but we made it over the line. I'm enjoying, at times, that we're not playing great but coming away with three points. It's what good/great sides do. I still find myself in awe at the level of transition we experienced in the summer yet the position we currently find ourselves in. AVB has brought in his own style and installed the prolonged belief in the players that we haven't seen for a while at Spurs. All we can do is focus on our own games and let the others around us do the chasing.

Ben - Follow me on Twitter here