THFC1882 presents guest writer Ralph Dixon’s match report:
Chickens 1 – 2 Cockerels
The previews for this match, the chat on Twitter and the fan forums were all spot on and the match hardly needs a report from me at all. You Spurs fans know it in your hearts already, even if MOTD manage to edit their highlights to give a different impression.
So yes, we did look unsure and un-coordinated in defence without Ledley and Sandro. Yes, when played in central midfield Luka Modric looks more like a £50M playmaker again. Yes, Van der Vaart is an extremely clinical finisher. Yes, there is something amiss with Gareth Bale. And, yes we should have wiped the floor with Blackburn Rovers ….. but we didn’t.
There are now two schools of thought amongst the 4,500 noisy away fans: one says that 3 points is what we required and is what we got, we’re in 5th place with a game in hand, there are no big games ahead for a while and the manner of today’s victory was unimportant. Newcastle won’t last the pace, Arsenal rely on Van Persie too much and Chelsea’s brittleness was proved at QPR today, so 3rd or 4th place in the PL is eminently achievable this season.
The other school, to which I belong, says that if we play like this Spurs won’t deserve, and won’t achieve, that all important Champions League place next May.
Blackburn Rovers FC have a funeral service as a major sponsor, and are by any standards a moderate side with something of a death-wish. Man for man (or by value) they bear no comparison with the world-class talents of Adebayor, Modric, Van der Vaart and Bale etc. Robinson is a competent keeper and as popular with Spurs fans as ever, deserving his serenades of “England’s England’s number one” from the away supporters and applauding us at the start and finish of the 2nd half. Junior Hoilett looked a good prospect, a fast, tricky and skilful forward, and Chris Samba – one of several impressive physical specimens in the Blackburn team – was unbeatable in the air in either penalty box. When he came on Yakubu, another huge presence, troubled our defence. Otherwise, despite some endeavour and occasional efforts at playing a passing game, Blackburn were in a word ” average”. Very average indeed, and when we were on song they couldn’t live with us at all.
Everyone at the ground would agree that Spurs would have won this match – just as at Wigan – by a margin of a least 3 goals if we had played to our potential. And we need those goals to repair our feeble goal difference from the mauling it received at the hands of the 2 Manchester clubs at the start of the season. As at Wigan we started well, playing quick intelligent football with all the movement we should expect from such a talented bunch. Van der Vaart scored neatly (it was at the home end, so I couldn’t see it closely & I’ve yet to see MOTD2) from a Walker cross after only 15 minutes, and that big win for us looked to be on the cards.
But then the tempo dropped (does this sound at all familiar?) we defended deeper and Blackburn started to come back into the game. Even Parker, full of industry and determination as always, made mistakes and seemed less influential. Our wing play was frankly awful, with Lennon only noticeable by his luminous green boots and Bale apparently incapable of running past a defender, any defender. Even the players who started so well, Adebayor, Modric and VDV, somehow drifted out of the game and lost impetus. There was too much shoulder-shrugging from the players, showing that they themselves realised that the quality of their play had dropped. Assou-Ekotto seemed distracted at times, even by his standards, possibly wondering why he didn’t think of staging a fireworks display in his bathroom before that even more eccentric player Mario Ballotelli tried it.
As Blackburn came back into the game it was no great surprise when Mauro Formica, unmarked on the penalty spot, volleyed past Friedel on 28 minutes following some disappointing defensive work when Samba beat two Spurs defenders in the air. Friedel had no chance of saving from that distance, but to leave a player unchallenged in that position was almost criminal. Same old same old with no King Ledley in charge.
The first half continued in a disappointing vein, with neither side looking likely to score again. Half time came as a relief and the general hope was that during the interval Harry Redknapp would re-organise and re-motivate the team.
In the second half the exact same pattern repeated itself. We started with more urgency, looked the better side by some way and once again Van der Vaart scored, this time with a precise unstoppable side-footed shot into the corner of the net after 53 minutes. Then little by little the same old failings manifested themselves: lack of energy, imagination and little movement, defending too deep and a complete lack of penetration on each flank. For a team which until earlier this year had the most exciting wingers in Europe it was incomprehensible that our only worthwhile attacking options were through the middle of the pitch, with Adebayor, VDV and sometimes Modric making sporadic efforts. Overall though we weren’t playing well, so much so that one voice amongst the away fans behind me shouted “you’re like cavemen, play some football”. I knew just what he meant.
In passing I must pay tribute to Adebayor, although it’s hard to find words which aren’t either a cliche (what a good first touch for a big man) or a comparison with Crouch (he so rarely falls over). I felt that he worked hard, made good runs and showed just the sort of attitude we need from our “centre forward”. He’s prone to being caught offside, although of course not as often as Defoe, but otherwise he is the business in my view & seems to enjoy playing for us.
Van der Vaart proved once and for all today that a 4-4-1-1 formation with him lurking behind Adebayor is a better option than 4-4-2 with Defoe alongside Ade. I think that debate is now ended. He is, probably along with Rooney & Van Persie, as clinical a finisher as any in the Premier League.
Kaboul played well, as did Walker, and Bassong was better than I feared. Assou-Ekotto was always available as an outlet and – allowing for his lapses as we must – did well enough. The sooner Scott Parker is made captain the better by the way, he’s ideal for the role: a tough, determined and intelligent player and a genuine leader. Modric? Good at times but not consistent enough. How much of his mind is still at Chelsea I wonder? Despite the fans calling for Sandro to come on (was he injured?) to shore up our defence the ineffective Lennon was replaced by Danny Rose, who after a time took up station on the left leaving Bale to play out of position on the right – not popular with the away fans Harry! VDV, whose movements looked uncomfortable to me from the start of the second half, was replaced late in the match by Defoe, and was deservedly cheered off the pitch.
Both sides had chances in the second half, and every set-piece was a worry for the Spurs defence, but there looked little prospect of a third goal for us. The fans were restless, shouting to Harry to “sort it out”, although opinions differed on exactly how he should have done it.
The away fans also contributed in our own way to the anti-Steve Kean protests after the end of the match by chanting “there’s only one Keano”, not that we would want him back from the US, but it’s hard to see this Blackburn side surviving in the Premier League on current form, so their manager’s days look numbered unless the Venkys chicken barons are unusually forgiving.
It was interesting to see that tickets for midweek matches at Ewood Park sell for £20 though, and even those for Chelsea on a Saturday are only £28. Don’t we wish White Hart Lane costs were comparable?
Finally, on a culinary note I yet again missed out on my choice of pies by being slow off the mark. The chicken balti and steak ones were sold out & I avoided the meat and potato ones, having learned from my Wigan experience. Buy your pies early!
Ralph Dixon ( Follow Ralph on Twitter @SpursDiver )
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