Too Similar to Everton
A side worthy of Champions League contention should make the most of an early goal. The old adage that a team is at their most vulnerable having just scored has reared its ugly head the last three times we’ve found ourselves ahead. We may be showing character and a never say-die attitude expensively absent from performances last season, yet recently when scoring first, we have quickly given away sloppy goals. This occurred both against Everton and Basle where instead of building upon an early lead with sensible possession as to frustrate opponents, we find ourselves at square one shortly after, another clean sheet escaping us. Having been the subject of sucker-punches, we have struggled to re-assert dominance in these games and have been picked off easily.
As fun as late equalisers are, there should be no need to rescue games in the dying embers. AVB made an effort to improve focus in the latter stages of games and needs to do the same for the period immediately after scoring. Despite our dearth of traditional striking options, we have been scoring enough goals to win matches, but do not defend well enough to do so. AVB’s game is one of attrition, something which worked so well against City, but like the Everton game, in order to get regular 3 points in the manner the Gooners do, we tend to simply leave ourselves with too much to do.
With a manager famed for attention to detail at the helm and surrounded by an entourage of Portuguese coaches some of whom I do not know the name of (plus Steffen), one would think we that our side would be prepared for the eventuality of defending corners in our football matches. Apparently not. At such a crucial stage in the season, we have conceded 5 goals from corners in the last 6 games, and it would have been 6 in 6 were it not for Hugo’s heroics from a Tevez header.
Our schoolboy-esque inability to defend corners is all the more galling when witnessing our own tame attempts at the other end. This is something that disappointingly has not improved one iota since Harry’s reign (except Caulker 3x attempts vs the Hammers). All we need is someone on the back-post when we face one, and someone on the opposition ‘keeper when we take one. This recent record is appalling, and needs to be arrested immediately. Failure to concentrate at corners cost us the Europa League and could yet put pay to another top 4 quest.
In the DW ‘marquee’ (a rare treat of an in-stadium function room with Sky, pies and pints), I let out a pre-match groan when official team news filtered through. Again, AVB had decided to part with BAE in spite of a strong second half showing against Man City, thus consigning us to the shaky back-four showings that are all too prevalent when the lesser Kyle is in the side at LB. His naïve positional sense was shockingly exposed in ITV coverage of the Basle 2nd leg, and he has been at the heart of some shocking defensive performances this season in games at Leeds and Inter. He is ok on the ball but his lack of awareness is not something he can compensate with searing pace like Walker, and it also seems to blight him when in his rightful RB position. BAE has never been reliable away from home but his inclusion does not constitute an experiment in the same way Naughton’s does. At Wigan, again it did not pay off – he was caught out leading to the corner in the first half and was beaten far too easily before McManaman rifled in Wigan’s second goal. BAE’s introduction in order to pose more threat going forward paid dividends but was a waste of a substitution – he should have started.
It is an all too familiar sense as a Spurs fan to have a glorious ‘season defining win’ such as Sunday’s, only to be followed up with crushing realities associated with a subsequent performance like that on show against Wigan. I found something strange about Bale’s contribution in both games. Where it looked like Gareth was suffering from tentativeness during his return from a nasty looking injury, he suddenly blew away Kompany & Co when it mattered. There was no such instance in Lancashire. Why was this? Bale seemed to be fine darting behind City’s defence to dink over Hart but with an extra week of recovery under his belt, failed to, and hardly attempted to beat any man at Wigan. As the game wore in, this appeared to be down to lack of effort more than anything. My old man offered a cynical explanation – Bale has been advised by his representatives not to risk getting another dangerous injury whereby he could jeopardise a big money summer transfer. I guess we shall see in the remaining games and any subsequent transfer activity as to whether his theory has any prescience. It’s a depressing thought.
Otherwise, there was lots of effort, but too much mediocrity on show. I’m not convinced Parker would even get into the Wigan side, and I’m mystified why he ended up in so many advanced positions – anyone but him. We all know that if Scott finds himself in the opponent’s penalty area, he still treats it as the centre circle, attempting to hold the ball until he has done at least one pivot. Similarly, Holtby and Dempsey provided huff and puff but little end product – the cry for the width and pace provided by Lennon should have been answered at least ten minutes earlier. The Spurs fans cut frustrated figures looking over at a ready Azza, whilst the ball stubbornly stayed in play. Like at WHL, Kone, was impressive, running Dawson particularly ragged. It looked like Daws and Kyle lost their heads towards the end – one of Waker’s many 2nd half fouls was one in which he was actually given the free-kick that lead to the equaliser. We’ve never relied on Martin Atkinson for accuracy.
Dembele’s loss was a huge blow. Huddlestone’s passing was great but we were over-reliant on him pinging it about in place of clever movement and incisive passing in the final third. Defoe must have made the same direct run off the shoulder of his defenders a hundred times, pointing and expecting Hudd to pick him out with an impossible delivery each time. Jermain found himself in good positions at times, especially in the 1st half, yet seemed to lack half a yard to pull away from defenders. On strikers, Adebayor’s omission was telling. AVB was obviously desperate to drop him as soon as the available squad personnel permitted. And quite rightfully so.
Thank you Wigan
Away from the draw that could nevertheless have easily ended up as a win or defeat, it must be said that there are few places, if any, in the Premier League with a friendlier set of staff and fans than those at Wigan. This has struck me on numerous trips to the JJB/DW, especially during a trip to the player’s lounge. The predictable bad press Wigan get due to their small status and turnout belies the fact that they truly relish their status among the traditional greats of football and they go out of their way to make the away day experience – more than ever an exercise in exploitation – as memorable and comfortable as possible. The pre-match and half time Tamla Motown hits certainly help.
On our way to the turnstiles, we were compelled to commend the atmosphere at Wigan to the ‘Marquee’ front of house Mick McCarthy lookalike who revelled in friendly chit-chat with us outsiders. Having earlier observed Orwell’s heavy-going study ‘the Road to Wigan Pier’ and a crime novel leaning out my jacket pocket, he asked ‘you’re not expecting the match be that boring are you?’. Whilst complimenting the treatment of supporters to our new Northern FOH pal, we were interrupted by another fan thanking for him the loan of a mobile two years earlier when he had ticket trouble. MM remembered. It still remains an undervalued concept by authorities in this country that if football supporters are treated with respect, they will behave.
And of course, in return for Wigan being so welcoming, we have obliged in providing them with 4 points this season. It could have been 6.