Bolton Wanderers vs Tottenham Hotspur, Wednesday 2nd May, Reebok Stadium, 8pm kick off, SSHD1 & SS1
Another game, another win a must. No letting up now. Adam Nathan is back for the preview and some other thoughts.
Another quiet week at the Lane. If only! After the fairly dull win over Blackburn on Sunday afternoon, most Spurs fans will have focussed their attention on three things; the Premier League table, the remaining fixtures of our rivals and the crucial game at the Reebok against struggling Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday night. The decision of the FA to announce Roy Hodgson as their number one candidate for the England job of course changed all that, and as the dust settles on the new national team coach’s press conference, the game against Owen Coyle’s men draws quickly upon us. For what it’s worth, I am fully behind the FA’s decision from an England fan’s perspective to appoint Roy Hodgson, even though the Spurs fan in me is disappointed at the prospect of another season under Harry Redknapp. Many will argue that Harry’s apparent ability to get the most out of his players would have seen him prosper in the international arena, but in truth, these summer tournaments are becoming less and less about the individual stars and more about the ability of a manager to turn his array of talent into a cohesive unit. Whilst nations like Spain, Germany and the Netherlands undoubtedly have a wealth of world class players, it is unlikely that they would have succeeded to the levels they have done without being extremely well organized; for evidence, read the relative failings of Argentina, France and Brazil in recent competitions. In my opinion this suits Hodgson’s drill-mentality to a tee, and whilst Harry’s England may have had a couple of rousing Wembley victories in qualifiers, I doubt that he would have the nous or tactical interest to lead a country to glory.
As a result, we find ourselves in a position that no one expected. He’s going to stay, unless we take the decision to get rid of him. Now is not the time to go into why I think Harry should go, but the match against Bolton ties very nicely in with many of my reservations. Tomorrow night, we face an opposition with very little to lose, and an awful lot to gain, just like Queens Park Rangers last Saturday. With three games remaining, the Trotters will see the match as an opportunity to win some bonus points before their make-or-break last week of the season; take points off Spurs and we’re all but there will undoubtedly be the sentiment of Owen Coyle’s team talk as he sends his side into battle.
Battle. Probably the most important word in the Premier League dictionary as sides enter into the month of May with their hopes for next season up for grabs. It’s also the word that we have shown least of since commencing our disastrous slide in February. We all know the facts; from third in the league and ten points clear, we have capitulated to the extent where not only do we have to win our last three games, we might well be reliant on the mother of all favours from Bayern Munich to secure Champions League football. Can we do it? If you base it on talent, of course we can. Will we do it? That is a completely different question, and one that will be answered by the skill of two groups. We will be reliant on the manager and coaches’ competence in picking the right team for each game and the players, who not only owe it to themselves to succeed this year but to the supporters who have suffered most through their heroes’ inability to show the required fight to succeed at this level.
Sunday’s game against Blackburn showed signs of recovery, and no incident was more indicative of the way we will succeed than the first goal. As the ball bobbled around outside the box, the imperious Sandro cleaned up the mess and swept the ball out to Lennon, on the right hand side. Receiving the ball on the edge of the box, Lennon dropped his shoulder, beat his man and stood a cross up to the far post where Bale was situated, on the left. As his header looped towards goal, it was cleared off the line and fell to the reliable left foot of Van Der Vaart, who forced the ball over the line, from the middle. It really is as easy as that. Fans are often made to feel stupid by ex-players and journalists, who scoff at the idea that unless you have played or worked in the abhorrent world of football, you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about. Well let’s get one thing clear. We are not idiots. We watch our team play week in, week out (unlike the number of journalists who turn up once a month, see Ekotto dally on a ball and label him a clown) and as a result, I’d like to think we know what we are talking about. All year, we have craved balance. The forums, twitter, the chat on the terrace, all of it has been about playing with a balanced team that has its best players in their best positions, the most important of these being Gareth Bale wide from the left. If we persist with a team similar to that which played on Sunday, we will have every chance of achieving our goals, and salvaging what looked like an unavoidable train wreck into a season where our targets in August are met in May.
In terms of selection tomorrow, it will be interesting to see what midfield we line up with should Parker return from injury. I make no secret of the fact that as a defensive midfielder, I don’t think there are many better players than Sandro in this country. As he showed on Sunday, when his role simply revolves around getting the ball, giving it to more creative players and winning it, we play much better football. Personally, I’d play him in his best position in every game and accommodate others around him as opposed to some recent games that have seen the Brazilian shoved out wide, and tomorrow night I would be amazed if he didn’t start next to either Modric or the recovered Parker. If Parker doesn’t make it then Lennon will of course start but should it be the latter, I would probably play Luka narrow from the right hand side, giving Walker licence to get around the outside as he did with such success in the first half of the season, as it is imperative that Van Der Vaart plays behind Adebayor. It may seem harsh on Lennon to leave him out, and to be honest I would have no qualms in playing him instead of Modric, but I’m still not convinced by his partnership with Walker. Providing that the full back can overlap when we attack we remain a balanced side with Modric in the team, whilst Lennon becomes an attractive option off the bench against a tiring opposition in the second half should we need him.
On the left, well, you don’t need me to tell you who should be there. Whether he is or not will have to be seen, but it is classic black comedy that not only has his team suffered since he decided to play in a freer role but so has his image across the league. He has probably lost 20% of the fear factor he once had, and for his and our sake, I hope that either he or the coaching staff pull their head out of the sand and realize what has to be done with regard to his positioning. Again, we aren’t idiots, and if everyone watching can see it, it seems fairly obvious what needs to be done to remedy Bale’s poor second half of the season. At the back, I would expect us to be as we were on Sunday afternoon, when it really was wonderful to see Kaboul, my player of the season, back steadying the ship again.
In conclusion, I don’t mean to be negative. It gives me absolutely no pleasure to be unenthusiastic about the team I adore. All I want is for the players to look like it means half as much to them as it does to us. That isn’t the case with all of our players of course; Parker, Kaboul and Van Der Vaart have been consistently good all season and have never shirked responsibility, and we will be reliant on that attitude to carry us over the line in our crucial next ten days. We can do it. We have the talent to do it. All we can do now is get behind them to the best of our abilities and hope that for the first time in a long while our undying support is repaid in points.
Come on you Spurs
*PS-it is being reported that Fabrice Muamba may be in attendance tomorrow night. If so, I’m sure he will be received with a spine-chilling reception, and on behalf of us all, it will be great to see him back in a football stadium after the horrors many of us witnessed a few weeks ago. It’s good to have you back Fabrice.
Adam ( @adamdnathan on Twitter )
THFC1882 is delighted to welcome back our Bolton friend Dominic Walsh to the opposing teams corner for his take on a vital game for the trotters in their bid for Premiership safety.
Bolton and Spurs meet for the 3rd time in just over 6 weeks at the Reebok. Both teams are needing the points for their respected quests in the Premier League, but obviously I think we need them more!
News that Fabrice Muamba will be in attendance at the Reebok should serve as a great source of inspiration for Bolton after the very traumatic events of the past few weeks. Bolton and Spurs fans forged a bond that will live for a long time after the events of that awful game in March.
However, the game in question tomorrow night is going to be another roller coaster of nerves and emotion from the outset. Bolton have been in fairly decent form. A win and two draws in our last three games has seen us keep pace with the teams ahead but sees us still in the drop zone courtesy of our inferior goal difference.
At the weekend Kevin Davies seemed to be back to his old self. Bullying defenders and showcasing his under rated finishing skills. He put in a true skippers performance on Saturday. I think he will keep his place on Wednesday evening due to his recent better form, but he also seems to have a little bit of the ‘midas touch’ when it comes to playing Spurs. He scored in the FA Cup replay last month, and has a good record over the years.
As for the rest of the team line up, Martin Petrov has to start. His form has been great over the past few months. Whether he is playing for a new contract or really has grown to love and care for the club, I don’t know. Whichever way it’s fantastic to see him grafting and supplying crosses for the forwards.
In midfield, Bolton are a little thin on the ground and we seem to be scrimping to get to the end of the season. 18 year old Josh Vela replaced Nigel Reo Coker at the weekend and may be in the reckoning. If he is not in the first XI, he will be on the bench.
At the back, Tim Ream and David Wheater seem to have struck an ‘ok’ partnership, flanked by Sam Ricketts (who has had a slight dip in form) and Gretar Steinsson (although Dedryk Boyata started at the weekend).
I am finding it hard to predict the score for the game tomorrow. I am firmly behind Owen Coyle and believe he is the right man for Bolton Wanderers. I think we are going in the right direction, so I am going to go for a 2-1 Bolton win that will nearly get us over the finish line and lead to a good summer of rebuilding and the start of something great for Bolton.
Dom ( @bwfcDom83 on Twitter )
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