Monday, 28 November 2011

Not even Phil Thompson can spoil this party


It's rarely a good thing when Phil Thompson talks.

When he's 'doing' us on Gillette Soccer Saturday, it's almost always a truly terrible thing.

When he's 'doing' us, it's injury time, we're one-up and he suddenly shouts 'GOOOAAAL!', it's borderline justification for conkicide.

This weekend though, when he did exactly that, it was an excellent thing; he spoke the words we longed to hear: "It's a third goal for Spurs, Jeff. Game over."

I'd started watching the match on an iffy internet link. The picture was okay, but couldn't really cope with movement at speed - much like our back four, initially.

We were poor. Not just bad, but Bad Old Days-bad. It was a classic 'we're away, it's cold, let's barely turn up' performance, so beloved of Spurs teams through the ages.

Somehow, though, we went in all level, then found a couple of gears West Brom didn't have and, ultimately, deserved the three points.

After JD's excellent goal, I decided I couldn't watch my buffering feed any longer and turned, instead, to Sky, and The Men Who Stare At Goals.

Which is when Phil Thompson came into play and delivered the sentence we longed to hear nearly as much as 'I realise I am an inept and inarticulate communicator and resign immediately'.

And so we won again. We gained ground on all the teams around us except Chelsea. We put ourselves in a position to overhaul Man Utd. We did it all without our best player.

Oh God, it's like a scene from a breaking down marriage: 'I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO YOU ARE ANYMORE!'.

But I like it.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Efficient, ruthless - who are those strange men in white shirts?


I'm not too sure of the etymology of the word 'ruthless', so I'd hesitate to describe previous incarnations of our beloved Spurs as 'ruth', or even 'ruthful'.

I mean, I'm no expert in the English language (oh shut your face, as Frankie Howerd would have said), but neither of those sound quite right.

Whatever. We all turned up on Monday hopeful of a win, but certain of a nervous night. I thought we might go 1-0 up early, threaten to get a second for about an hour, fail to seal the deal, then get decked by a sucker punch in the last 10.

Or, as we've done a few times, go 2-0 up, then mysteriously decide to change the way we're playing, sit back, concede and leave ourselves hanging on - to three points and our sanity.

In the end, we did the first part, then just coasted to victory. Yep, you heard/saw: coasted. It was an eerie and unfamiliar atmosphere. At one point, probably about 75 minutes in, I had a strange feeling. I have asked the stewards if I can swap seats, but apparently there's nothing they can do.

Anyway, a minute after that I realised that I was.... what? Relaxed? Bored, even. Boredom! Sweet, beautiful boredom! Spurs 2-0 up and playing with such confidence that there was a complete absence of what I believe the TV and film industry call 'peril'. Without it, no show or movie is worth watching. The audience has to be unsure about what might happen next, what might befall the characters they've started to care about.

We knew what was going to happen next: we were going to win. And what wasn't going to happen next: Aston Villa were not going to score.

And now there's talk of the title. But not serious talk, not from anyone who doesn't need their food cut up for them. We remain eminently capable of going on a bad run - and eminently capable of losing against West Brom on Saturday.

As has been noted here before, at this level, jostling for position against the very best, you have to win and win and win and win and win and win. And then you look up. And you've moved up one place, if you're lucky. So you get your head down and try to do it again. And again. It's relentless. Are we ready to be relentless as well as ruthless? Not sure.

So, City and United will finish one and two. Then it's us, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool for third or fourth. At the start of the season I though it would be us, Arsenal and Liverpool for fourth. So, mathematically, our chances have increased (four teams going for two spots as opposed to three teams going for one slot).

Plus, after this weekend, our 12 games will have seen us play every other side in the top 10 apart from Chelsea. I don't know what that proves or suggests - other than the fact that despite these ardor-cooling words of wisdom, I'm as guilty as anyone of staring at the league table for the last 24 hours.

It's unavoidable: the atmosphere around the club at the moment is a bit... giddy. And giddy's no good. Great teams do not get giddy. Let's calm down. Let's ignore the league table (because, in some ways, it's a bit embarrassing to be this excited about being third) and let's concentrate very, very hard on winning at the Hawthorns. Come on Spurs, bore me again. Bore me stupid.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Pacemakers or a right bunch of anginas?


So, having upset the blue half of Manchester, it's time to get back to what I do best: depressing the lillywhite half of North London.

Seven wins out of eight, flowing football, bags of goals, new-found resilience and the odd slice of luck. It can't last. Can it?

Probably not, but can it last at least one more game, please? Because to be brought back down to earth by Villa: that'd be a bump and a half. I mean they're such a bland team. Not so long ago, they were our main rivals for the title of Team Most Likely To. Now they're... God knows. What are their ambitions? Where do they want to be in five years? How are they going to qualify for the Champions League?

You're right, of course, it's the classic Barry Davies answer: Frankly, who cares.

All that matters is that they don't find any ambition, direction or a fit Gabriel Agbonlahor on Monday evening.

Interestingly (or as 'interestingly' as you can get in the context of discussing Aston Villa), they're top of The Others, right now, four points behind Liverpool. There have always been leagues within leagues, of course; groups of teams fighting at different levels for different prizes, or for survival.

But maybe the fault lines are shifting. Perhaps the idea of a big four is fading. Will there be many points separating Chelsea, Arsenal, Utd, us, Liverpool? Newcastle even? If it wasn't for Man City, this might well be the most exciting season for years. Unless you support Aston Villa. Then your only hope of excitement is, just as a for instance, an away win at Tottenham.

But, screw that. Adebayor's been playing well lately but not notching. So, let's have a brace from him and another from Bale. All before the 70 minute mark and with nowt at the other end. Nice and boring.

If nothing else, it'll be good for Harry's heart.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Why the 'Poznan' is a wholly appropriate celebration for Man City


I'm making a list, the Wrong-Headed Buffoon list: any pundit, commentator, journalist or fan who uses the phrase 'all credit to Man City' will be on it.

Man City deserve no credit whatsoever. Man City, in fact, don't exist anymore. A collection of footballers (and 'collection' is a good word here, by the way - they could be Picassos or sports cars) play in troublingly familiar light blue shirts in a place called the Etihad Stadium because they are paid ludicrous amounts of money by someone called Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan to do so.

That's not Man City. That's, to use the club's own word, a 'project'. Or, more accurately, a pin in a map. Like Chelsea, City are a pin in a map.

They have not been adopted by an avuncular local businessman who spent his youth on the terraces, and then, when he'd struck it rich, decided, rather romantically, that he could think of no finer way to lose a hundred million or so than by investing it in the team he supports.

And they're not an obvious blue chip target, like Man Utd, Liverpool or, let's face it, Arsenal: a club known all over the world and one that leaps to the front of the mind and the head of the queue if a foreign businessman does want to get involved in all this Premier League excitement.

They're Man City, the comedy club. The y0-yo club. Manchester's real club? Maybe. But now now, now they're a pin in a map.

And I'm not having all that nonsense about 'Yes, but, you can't just win the title by spending money; Mancini's got to build a team, make decisions, etc. All credit to him.'

Nope, you're on the list. There's never been spending like this, it dwarfs even what Chelsea did. Check it out. And that doesn't even take wages into account.

Yes the manager, tactics, team spirit or whatever might be so appalling that they don't win it in the first, second or third season of 'the project', but they will. It's just a matter or time and numbers. Sheer weight of numbers.

So, when (not if) they do win the league, there's no sense in applauding them and no point in berating them. This is how the world works now. This is how success is... um, not 'won', exactly... I know 'arrived at'. This is how success is arrived at.

No, the only response is to turn our backs. Look elsewhere. Let them celebrate and celebrate and congratulate each other. Until they realise no one else is congratulating them; no one else is even watching.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Fulham v Spurs - Just what the doctor ordered?


Undeserved, unconvincing, utterly joyous.

Presumably the doctors treating Harry haven't wasted too much time trying to diagnose the cause of his heart problems. Our second half performance was basically a full fry-up covered in melted cheese.

But... three points, 22 from 24, another away win - and more than two weeks to savour a job well done. Okay, to savour a job done.

I do love winning ahead of an international break. That monumental relief at the final whistle just lasts and lasts. It's like a tantric win. A Sting win.

It will be at least 10 days before the prospect of playing Aston Villa becomes real enough to worry about. Until then, we can gorge ourselves on the freeze-frame moments: Jermain's volley; the ref (very wisely, I thought) not pointing to the spot when Kyle picked the ball up and hid it under his shirt for five minutes; the realisation that Aaron not only has a left foot, but has just used it to quite brilliant effect; Bale's bafflingly effete celebration with Adebayor... actually, no, let's delete that.

The only man I know with a gloomier outlook than me on these things (he's basically Eeyore in a Spurs shirt), texted me straight after the game to say he wished to report a robbery that had just taken place in South West London.

I know what he meant, but told him to sod off and cheer up anyway. We've been robbed plenty of times. And perhaps afternoons like that are as much a part of progress as taking Liverpool apart or feeling genuinely confident going into games against Arsenal. Maybe there's something in that old bollocks about the importance of winning when you play badly. And maybe the late nineties/early noughties were just our way of really nailing the 'playing badly' side of the deal.

Maybe. Or we were rubbish and lucky.

Who cares. Let's just enjoy two weeks off. And get well soon, Harry.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Just what the doctor ordered?


Undeserved, unconvincing, utterly joyous.

Presumably the doctors treating Harry haven't wasted too much time trying to diagnose the cause of his heart problems. Our second half performance was basically a full fry-up covered in melted cheese.

But... three points, 22 from 24, another away win - and more than two weeks to savour a job well done. Okay, to savour a job done.

I do love winning ahead of an international break. That monumental relief at the final whistle just lasts and lasts. It's like a tantric win. A Sting win.

It will be at least 10 days before the prospect of playing Aston Villa becomes real enough to worry about. Until then, we can gorge ourselves on the freeze-frame moments: Jermain's volley; the ref (very wisely, I thought) not pointing to the spot when Kyle picked the ball up and hid it under his shirt for five minutes; the realisation that Aaron not only has a left foot, but has just used it to quite brilliant effect; Bale's bafflingly effete celebration with Adebayor... actually, no, let's delete that.

The only man I know with a gloomier outlook than me on these things (he's basically Eeyore in a Spurs shirt), texted me straight after the game to say he wished to report a robbery that had just taken place in South West London.

I know what he meant, but told him to sod off and cheer up anyway. We've been robbed plenty of times. And perhaps afternoons like that are as much a part of progress as taking Liverpool apart or feeling genuinely confident going into games against Arsenal. Maybe there's something in that old bollocks about the importance of winning when you play badly. And maybe the late nineties/early noughties were just our way of really nailing the 'playing badly' side of the deal.

Maybe. Or we were shit and lucky.

Who cares. Let's just enjoy two weeks off. And get well soon, Harry.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Unpicking the pecking order


In the last three months I've made two pretty confident calls.

Firstly, I was grumpily and publicly underwhelmed by the arrival of Scott Parker.

Then, I consistently questioned whether or not Van der Vaart contributed enough on an individual basis in relation to how he disrupts the pattern of our team.

So, let me start by predicting a thumping win for Fulham on Sunday.

That should guarantee us three points. And probably a hat-trick for VdV plus another man of the match performance from our granite-jawed '50s throwback.

We'll certainly need the points. This weekend's fixtures look pretty tame for Arsenal and Liverpool. But, here's the thing, who else to keep an eye on? Chelsea? Are we going to end up two or three points either side of them now? Man Utd, even? If we win our game in hand, we're a point behind them.

Do I dare follow that brilliant piece of maths with a quite devastating slice of English: and they've still got to come to White Hart Lane.

I mean that's ridiculous, right? Using 'got to' as if it's some kind of threat, challenge or even inconvenience.

But these are bewildering and exciting times. Only City seem to soaring clear of the confusion - borne aloft by a stranger's billions. If it wasn't for them, in fact, this would be the most exciting and open season for years. Thanks Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan! (Crazy name, crazy guy). Thanks for sticking your golden pin in a bloody map and screwing our season (our sport?).

And what about Newcastle? Do I have to start worrying about their results now? I mean that's just embarrassing. And, again, confusing.

So, best just resort to cliche. It's what the proper pundits do. Which means some old blather about concentrating on our own results and letting other teams worry about theirs.

Utter nonsense, of course. Like you I will be watching this newly expanded group of five or six rivals whilst praying for red cards, injuries and upsets. Worry isn't a finite resource for me. I've got enough for our results and their results and probably have enough left over to have a panic attack on behalf of Ebbsfleet United, if called for.

Let the nail biting and number crunching begin...