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Thread: Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Portsmouth
21-01-2009, 01:56 PM #1
So, a point earned against Portsmouth then..... Hmmmmm..... somehow doesn't feel like it, but considering the disaster that this result was looking a short way into the second half, we should be glad for small mercies.
Pompey, of course, have never taken anything back from a Premier League game at White Hart Lane. Other than a sense of injustice once or twice I suppose after a dubious penalty a couple of seasons ago. Given their recent form most people probably thought it was unlikely they'd take anything back this time either, but those people would have failed to count on the utterly rubbish run we've been on ourselves. Two points from five Premier League games. It was beginning to sound like the start of the season all over again!
All the pre-match build-up had been focused on action off the pitch. Sol Campbell, Harry Redknapp, Jermain Defoe..... it felt like it would be a pretty tasty atmosphere. Pompey supporters have a tendency to be fairly vocal, despite coming from a cackhole like Portsmouth. Maybe its because they come from a cackhole that they are so vocal? Regardless, plenty of them are not the most pleasant of characters based on my plentiful trips to Fratton in the past.
It was a bit of a surprise then, that it wasn't as tasty as I'd expected it to be pre-match. Having travelled up on the train I bumped into a few of the travelling support and despite their willingness to sing songs while on the underground, it wasn't like it was an atmosphere of trouble. They tend not to bring the largest travelling support down either, so while they probably sold their allocation, it wasn't like they were taking up half the Park Lane either.
By the time Saturday's games had finished we were sitting rock bottom. Again. A deceptive sort of position. Not on account of the fact that we shouldn't be there. We clearly should. Failure to pick up points leaves no excuses. No. More for the fact that any number of teams above us were within a point, never mind three. Its an unconventional Premier League this season outside the upper reaches, that's for sure.
Team news was promising - ish. King and Woodgate at the back with Defoe partnering Pav. Gomes still in goal so either he'd shaken off the injury, or there was little faith in the reserves. Oh, and Bale playing. Ah yes..... Gareth Bale. Could he shake the voodoo? Or was this going to end up being a record equalling performance? The most number of league games started without a win. He sat on twenty, I think pre-match. Madness.
As anticipated there was plenty of booing. Of Campbell, of Redknapp, of Defoe. At one stage the Park Lane even gave the "La la la la la" rendition of THAT song. Big deal. Nothing out of the ordinary.
The first chance fell to the visitors. Charlie beaten for pace by - I think - Traore (who had a very decent game indeed). He stumbled though - just as well - and the ball bobbled out for a goal kick. Which Gomes left to Charlie. Now this is something I don't recall having seen in the top flight. Ever. It may well have happened before, but leaving spot kicks to your full back? Nah, that's something that happens with teams apperaing in the World Cup for the first time, doesn't it?
Soon enough we saw a repeat on the other wing with Bale taking the kick on the left. Hmmmmm..... well, we had our answer about Gomes then. Clearly not fit, yet still playing. The mind boggles as to how bad our back-ups in that position must be, Sanchez in particular. At least Alnwick - dodgy a reputation as he had for off-the-field antics at Sunderland - made the bench! Bye bye Cesar very soon I'd have thought.
How pitiful though, that with a keeper who clearly isn't fit, we have nobody who inspires enough confidence to be played in the most crucial of positions?
Back to the match though, and Bale, possibly attemption to single handedly reverse his fortune hit one from miles out. I mean a silly distance. Further out than Bentley, further even than Beckham. It was never going to trouble James, and all it served to do was increase the humour amongst the Pompey fans. They remember well enough that Bale is a Scummer. He took plenty of stick for that on the day too.
The best chance of the half fell early to Defoe. Charlie had had a go already, but then Defoe was through after a daft, daft cross-field ball by Sean Davis, that Defoe latched on to. Into the box, left foot pile driver..... wide of the post. He really should have hit the target from there.
One problem with Defoe when he blows cold rather than hot is that he needs a shedload of chances to score. Now, I'm not for one minute saying this was a tap in. Far from it, but one of the reasons he was third choice was that Keane and Berbatov had a far higher ratio of goals to chances. Still, we must not complain given our current lack of squad depth. He will, at least, get into the positions to have a pop, and, dare I say it, needs less chances than one Darren Bent.....
We were, however, beginning to get something of a grip on the game. After a couple of slightly below par performances, Lennon was driving forward and beat two before having his shot saved low.
This is really the sort of thing that should have provided the platform to go on and dominate. Did we? No. Of course not. Absolutely shocking defending on the left - coincidentallly the same side that Gareth Bale plays - from a throw-in allowed Pompey to get a shot off cutting in from the wing. Gomes palmed it across when he should really have kept hold of it, and had to react fast while sprawling out on the ground to fingertip it away from Crouch, who would have had a simple tap in.
The bloke next to me did say that Gomes should have gathered, and I agreed, but I also pointed out that he kept the ball out of the back of the net. Good enough for me given our current predicament!
The ref then looked like he wanted to get in on the action, failing to give a foul on O'Hara (I think - maybe Bale) that left King totally exposed. Fortunately for us it led to nothing..
The balance of chance, though, were still in our favour. Both strikers got in on the act, but James was solid enough, before we again conceded acres of room on the left, and had to be thankful that the shot ended up in the side netting.
The lesson wasn't learned, and soon after King had to be well positioned to get a foot in after we again gave Pompey way too much time on the left. Man, this left side is proving to be a massive problem for us.
It felt a bit like the tide was beginning to turn. After some really decent early Spurs pressure, we were beginning to concede space and letting Pompey in too easily. Central midfield had singularly failed to contribute anything and even when Zokora finally got the ball and ran with it - something he's usually pretty good at - the usual happened. A poor pass at the end, conceding possession with the back line exposed and it required a good block by Woody to prevent a situation where we looked like we'd be well outnumbered.
Part way through the half the physio ran around the back of the goal to ask Gomes whether he was alright. He was already leaving the kicks to the full backs, and had been a bit edgy coming to claim when he normally would. Result? Did it actually come as any surprise? No change. Fair play to the bloke for carrying on, and in a manner that was far more dignified than Les Sealey all those years ago(!), but questions really do need to be asked about how our transfer policy got us into this mess in the first place. Mind you, having said that, all things considered it probably isn't much of a surprise considering what a shambles our transfer policy has been in the last year or two!
Then we saw a super bit of skill and a chance that went closest to breaking the deadlock. Brilliant, brilliant control by Lennon on a dropping ball down the right, bit of pace to beat the defender, good cross, and Defoe connected well - yes, Defoe, connected well, on a header! - only for James to tip over superbly. It was a lovely bit of skill to work the opening, a really good connection (Darren Bent should take note), and a bit of David James at his best. Shame. So many keepers seem to do so well against us.
Sadly the good work on the right, even with Charlie's lack of pace, was not being replicated on the left. A prime instance was when Bale and O'Hara were much too close together - I mean within five yards of each other - leaving masses of space for Pompey to run spare men into behind them with only a little flick required to open up the pitch.
It was a great chance. A ball in that Gomes would normally have mopped up with ease, but hesitated in coming for, probably knowing he wouldn't make it, injured as he is. How Pompey failed to convert it..... well, it was largely down to a tremendous block from Charlie.
Then the injuries started to mount up. As if it wasn't enough to be playing with a crocked keeper, Davis went in from behind with what I can only describe as a very bad tackle. It was at the other end of the pitch so difficult to see clearly, but at a minimum it was a yellow. It resulted in Pav having to go off. Somebody around us made the remark that if Harry brought Campbell on now that would be curtains for Bent. Well, he didn't. Bent was thrown on, but he did enough of the job himself to shoot his confidence down even more - if that's possible.
Then, for some reason, it did get a bit tasty in the stands. Not exactly in a fight breaking out sense of tasty, more the awful bad taste of the Pompey fans for coming up with the chant - "Let's all laugh at Israel". So we're racist and homophobic? I suppose all they lack is intellect.
Half an hour in, it was OK, but not great. I didn't have a particularly warm feeling about things, and even a very decent Bale corner that got a flick, resulted in the ball coming back in from the left and a header that James again did well to save low, only for Bent to then be flagged offside..... Even that didn't really raise my spirits too much!
The impending despair almost deepened beyond belief when a lack of effort in the centre of midfield, not once but twice, resulted in Kaboul - bloody Kaboul! - finding loads of space to run in to on the left with O'Hara coming central to cover. Just as well he didn't have his Aston Villa, 4-4 shooting boots on.
Talking of Kaboul, Pompey were doing something I'd advocated for a long, long time when he'd been at Spurs. Play him in midfield. Not centre-half. I suppose if we'd had the 'luxury' of King and Woodgate paired there last season it might have happened. Mind you, I did think the Donkey was playing him much further forward than I would have. I still think he can make a very good defensive midfielder.
As the half edged towards it conclusion things started going really bad. Twice Charlie was exposed for pace and was left relying on Lennon to get back for cover. Totally imbalancing the side to prevent any chance of a break. Then there was the bizarre sight of a back pass to Gomes. What the hell were we doing?! A back pass to a keeper who can't kick? What do you expect? All he could do was side foot it into touch for a throw. Daft. It didn't even come from all that much pressure!
Still, there was time for one more chance. A hobbling King couldn't make up the ground and David Nugent was clean through, one-on-one, only to shoot too close to Gomes and for the keeper to do well to save with his feet. A massive, massive let off. A chance better than either that Defoe had managed, and somehow it was still scoreless.
It got worse though. King had been holding his hamstring for a few minutes already, and eventually slumped to the ground and had to be substituted. Bad to worse. At least Dawson had recaptured some of the form he'd shown two seasons ago. The central defensive positions seemed to me to be the least of our worries. Half-time couldn't have come quicker.
We'd had a fair few chances, oh yes. We'd looked not bad going forward when Lennon got the ball. Yes again. The thing was, there was this niggle..... well, niggle suggests it was quite small, which it wasn't, that simply the game was there for Pompey to take. The central midfield was non-existent. Totally. Say what you like about Jenas, but I bet we'd not have been as anonymous with him in the starting line-up. Even Huddlestone. As for the left side..... well, Bale was having a poor game, despite a couple of OK deliveries, and O'Hara was just playing way too close to the full back. I lost count of how many times Pompey caught us out there.
Oh, and the injuries. Pav off, King off, Gomes not fit. I sent a text message to my mate Andy - ardent Pompey fan - saying if they didn't beat us they were cack. To be fair, they had surprised me. They had been so bad of late that I hadn't expected the performance they'd put in. Not world beating, but enough to beat Spurs! His response was that I was clearly watching a different game because, according to him, we were all over them! Interesting how being at the foot of the table and seeing a few chances squandered, space allowed in the middle and on the left, and a injuries to vital players starts to make you desperate!
The second half, though, started well. A ball well worked in to Bent to try to use some pace, but Campbell was just too strong.
Then, within minutes, it all went a bit blood and guts. The pace went up a notch, the tackles became that much harder (although there were also, bizarrely less stoppages), and the crowd noise got louder. I couldn't make out why this was. There was no change in formation. No ranting from the benches. Nothing much had really changed.
What it needed to prevent either side going a goal down, was strength at the back, and much as I hate to say it, that's exactly what it got from Campbell. Having already seen out Bent, he now proceeded to do the same with Defoe.
We were beginning to get on top though. The gloom was beginning to lift.
A lovely Spurs move culminated in Lennon getting the ball on the right, cutting in on the diagonal, getting a low shot away that was heading across goal, only for a deflection to turn it to the near post, and James somehow got his hands to it. Another great save. Three, four, maybe five and counting.
It would've been a lucky goal, with the deflection, but the move itself merited more.
Then, within seconds of the save the gloom was back. A swift Pompey break with Traore on the left - who I think had been their best attacking player by a stretch - ended up with a short run across the back four, a missed Zokora tackle, the ball worked to Nugent who absolutely creamed it.
Ball nestles in bottom far corner. 1-0 Portsmouth. Sigh.
It was a corker of a strike. I couldn't tell at the time that it had taken a nick off Bale, but he hit it sweetly. David Nugent though. David bloody Nugent! I turned to my sister and said - "I bet he hasn't scored since leaving Preston Knob End". Little did I know.
Here we were again. A goal down.
Mind you, the response was good. We didn't have to wait long to shut the Pompey fans up. They'd been celebrating like there was no tomorrow. Giving it large and asking Redknapp and Defoe what the score was.
Then bang! A classy, classy Spurs move - and if you don't believe me, watch the replay from the start of the move. Classy. Superbly working the ball forward where eventually Zokora slid it in on the diagonal - a really, really good pass (watch the replay, he can do it!) - to Modric, who held it for a split second before laying it off to Defoe to smash it in with his left peg!
That's what I'm talking about! For all his lack of involvement, for all his lack of finishing quality at times, when he buzzes around on the edge of the box, he can score crackers. Every bit as good as Nugent's.
The platform from which to take all three points. Man, I didn't even think we'd be looking at one!
It got the team going. We were already dominating the second half, but now there was a bit more urgency. A sense that the points were within grasp. After all, only a bit of shoddy finishing and great goalkeeping had kept us out so far. OK, that doesn't tell the whole story. There was plenty of worry, but the goal lifted the spirits!
First, Charlie let fly from long range. Just high, just wide. Then Bentley swung in a corner (he'd been brought on a few minutes earlier for Bale with O'Hara dropping back - something that my mate John had suggested would be a good idea at half-time). It looked for all the world like it was both high and wide, but James took no chances and tipped it out for a corner. The replays showed it was probably closer than we'd thought.
From that corner, Charlie stooped to get his head on the ball only for it to be cleared off the line with James beaten. Oh so close.
As the minutes ticked away, we worked another chance to Bent to use his pace, but between them Distin and Campbell were, once again, too strong. They'd both had decent games. Grudges against Campbell aside, he had played well.
Then, THE chance, and I mean THE chance(!) to win the game. Bentley displayed the sort of skill that's been so sorely lacking since he moved to Spurs. Magnificent control with a ball dropping over his head deep in the Pompey box on the left. On the turn too(!), and what a cross. What a cross to find Bent, totally and utterly unmarked, two yards out with James already seeming resigned to pick the ball out of the back of the net.....
I was ten rows back, directly behind Bent. He had to score. He simply had to score. It only needed for him to hit the target and it was a goal. No other way to describe it. He put it wide. From two yards, unmarked, the goal at his mercy. He put it wide. Unbelievable. A better chance to win a football match you could not wish for.
Still there were a couple of half chances to win the game. The best one fell to Defoe. He took it on the edge of the box and had a go at sweeping it into the far corner - a nifty trick if you can pull it off, but succeeded only in dragging it badly wide.
There were other half chances for Charlie and Bent, but nothing to compare to THAT header. It was awful.
The whistle went, a point earned.
Not much to summarise really. Think most of my thoughts have been captured in the match report.
At the end, this was a game we should have won - and comfortably. Twenty or so chances created (which in itself is a major improvement on recent weeks), and ten or so (maybe more) on target. Yet only one goal to show for it!
The deficiencies were clear. An injured keeper (who still did well), a shoddy performance on the left side, a non-existent central midfield, and strikers who needed way too many chances to score.
The positive aspects were probably just about enough - considering the result - to keep me in check. Otherwise I'd have been laying into them like there was no tomorrow! From a position at half time where I was genuinely thinking we could lose, to conceding, to managing to get a point (and let's face it, it should've been all three)..... the performance was good enough. Having said that, is a point against Portsmouth - who let's be fair, actually played quite well (miles better than their recent form would suggest) - enough? Is it good enough? Not really.
For Pompey, James was in inspired form. Watch him let a back pass bobble over the line next game! Campbell and Distin were rock solid at centre half, and I thought Traore was their best attacking player.
Oh but for those saves and chances missed. Mind you, even Bentley did well. Not often I say that!
So, there we go. Out of the relegation zone on goal difference, sat with four other teams on 21 points. It makes for depressing, and at the same time, strangely fascinating reading.
There is a long way to go yet. The hope has to be that we will have enough - particularly if we bolster the squad - to be safe, although it may well take some time. I didn't think ten years ago that I'd be put through the mill again like this, but its happening! The saving grace after a decent performance against Pompey is that there are LOTS of other sides bang in trouble.
So, League action ceases for a bit now and we have two big Cup games. Realistically I just can't see that we have a hope in hell against ManUre on Saturday. Our recent record - at least at winning against them - is poor, and although we played manfully up there at the same stage last season, they ran out comfortable winners (as far as the scoreline goes).
More importantly tonight is the second leg of the League Cup semi-final. I'll be setting off for Burnley shortly and we know we'll be up against Manure in the final at Wembley if we avoid totally humiliating ourselves by throwing away a three goal lead. We couldn't. Could we?
No complacency. With a squad short of fit players, an early goal conceded really will be hard to bear, and I expect Burnley will come at us all guns blazing. Somehow we have to hold out and nick one or two ourselves.
How amazing would it be to beat Chelsea one season, United the next in the League Cup final?!
Let's not get carried away. Plenty of work to do yet, and I've seen three goal cushions sqaundered in 45 minutes before, never mind 90!
The performance at the weekend means nothing tonight. Here's hoping for a good result, and an attempt to haul ourselves further up the table when the League games kick in again.
Oh, I should mention that on the train back to Liverpool Street from White Hart Lane I sat across from three youngish blokes who'd clearly been to the game. I began to wonder as the journey went on whether they were in any way associated with the club considering the conversation. Talking about Bostock signing a pro contract, how desperate the supporters clearly were..... One of them, I am absolutely sure having looked it up on the Spurs website, was Paul-Jose Mpuku. Couldn't make out the other two from their mugshots. Pleasantly surprised to find that they were actually having quite intelligent conversation. Talking about the merits of illegal music and video downloads online, the morality and legality. Hadn't expected young footballers to be too interested in such things. Just the money and birds! Give it time..... they're only Academy players yet I suppose!