NOTE: what follows is two different reactions to the game against Everton on Saturday night. The first I broadly sketched out in the immediate aftermath of the game, while I was still fuming from the sheer disastrousness of it all. The second was written a few hours ago after I'd calmed down, read some analysis and re-watched the performance on Match of the Day. Hopefully everyone should find something they agree with across both, because I'd stake my house on the fact that Spurs fans are feeling a pretty diverse range of emotions right now.
Take One: The Season Continues, But The Ambition Is Gone
Like a lowlights reel of all of the niggling flaws that have hampered our season, truncated together so all the mounting issues became a horrible blur, Spurs were left empty-handed against Everton last night with a showing from players and manager which reeked throughout of tactical idiocy and half-heartedness. As it stands, Spurs retain the chance of winning a place in the Champion's League and still have a shout of going on to win the FA Cup. Nothing except for a bit of ground on our nearest rivals, which can be made back in time, has been lost; for me, however, last night represented a very real and tangible defeat. Because the aim of our recent run of games hasn't been to challenge for the title. It hasn't been to waltz the top four into CL football. In reality, it's been to prove ourselves at least as worthy of respect. As being serious contenders at the summit of the table. Tonight, we showed that ambition is gone.
This isn't coming off the back of just one result. In the last three games, we completed an unholy trinity of sinful performances- capitulation against Arsenal, tripping up against Manchester United even when we were on top, and not even showing up initially to this last game. The triple crown of mediocrity. The individual difficulty of the matches is not an excuse. At the start of the season, we were able to grind out results from tough spots; the fact that we've not managed to get back to that place is an extremely worrying sign of regression. Generally, these three results have left us with several cold hard facts to be addressed if we're to salvage anything from the rest of the season. Ledley King just doesn't have it in him to warrant a renewed contract at the end of the season; his time, effectively, is up. Ade isn't trying hard enough to warrant a first team place. Kyle Walker is too aggressive and impetuous to avoid bench time during this crucial period. But all of these short-term concerns are masking more serious long-term issues.
We should have strengthened more in January. That fact is now flagrantly obvious. We needed a fit, healthy CB- it was madness to assume that we could rely on the fitness of King and Dawson and the reliability of Kaboul. We needed a better, more clinical, more ruthless striker, not a past-it backup man. In short, we needed players who would pick up the baton from the players who'd done so much to get us to third and take us that extra mile further. We could have gone forward, onwards to a new height at best and stronger position than we're in now. Instead, we moved sideways and stagnated.
Even more seriously, I think it's time to start asking questions about Harry. The time has come where I'm going to genuinely ask if he's the man to take Spurs forwards in the long term. This isn't a question of whether or not the England job has turned his head in recent months, because I don't want to get involved in useless speculation about motives. It's a matter of whether he's the right man for Spurs right now. I'm not calling for his head; I don't even want him to go necessarily should England come knocking tomorrow morning. But I'm getting the creeping feeling he's content to leave us bridesmaids every season where our players deserve to be the brides. Last season, we were given a disappointing late exit from the top four and told it was our best season. This year, it seems we're going to get a scrappy top table fight that might even see us dumped back into fifth again, and we'll probably be again sold the line that this is the best we'll get. Our manager doesn't switch tactics. He doesn't buy headline-grabbing players any more. Where we going is where we're going- ‘Arry isn't going to try and push us on to another level.
But the truth is Spurs deserve more. The fans do, and these players certainly do. Settling for less, for indifferent slumps after white hot streaks, is not good enough for a team with the likes of Bale and Modric on our books. What the game against Everton proved, however, is that the club's ambition to go that extra mile this season isn't there any more. We sold our golden run for a scrappy, ugly run in. We had the chance to look like the real deal this season- instead, we've ended up looking like pretenders. The drive to go beyond that isn't there this season any more, and no matter how good we do from this point onwards, I won't shake the feeling that at this point, this weekend, in one very real respect Spurs blew their season.
Take Two- Spurs Have Serious Problems. We Can Fix Them.
We're still in third place. Say it aloud, like a mantra, then take a deep breath in and out. We're still third in the league, just like we were before the match started. This wasn't a season-ending game by any standard. Results over the next week will not alter the fact that we are still third in the league.
By half time of the match at Goodison last night, there wasn't a Spurs fan on the planet who couldn't have picked out where the rot was behind the terrible display we were putting on. Every tactical and individual mistake we could be making was being made. Modric was on the wing once again, taking him well out of the game. Bale was on the right and a midfield pairing of Parker and Sandro was creating absolutely nothing. Ade and Defoe were not getting on like they used to, like the introduction of that hussy Saha had spoilt the magic between them. Meanwhile, Everton were busy burning us on the wing with the width and directness that we should have been matching. They had a good chance and they took it, something we were unavailable to do in a second half which saw us pounding away at the goal over and over again to no avail. The answers were simple. Stop messing round, get into position, get width, get a goal.
The point is that if anyone could have prescribed the solution to Spurs' problems last night, it means one existed. It remains true that when our team is lined up correctly we can match pretty much any other squad in the Premier League, and it was only the fact that the team wasn't firing on all cylinders for a lot of the game for a variety of reasons that stopped us from showing that fact against Everton. Indeed, when the squad came out of the tunnel properly arranged and with the decision in their mind to pull themselves together and play to their strengths, we looked like the better team. If it wasn't for the intervention of the post and a duff handball call, Spurs would have gone back to White Hart Lane with a point nailed down.
So this result doesn't disprove the fact that we still have the quality to see this season through. We've made it harder for ourselves than it should have been- this state of affairs is no different to how it was in 2010, when we completed our rise from mid-table mediocrity to Champions' League for the first time in our history. What I am going to propose is that we still have lessons to learn from our recent dismal streak that we haven't taken on board yet. Modric and Bale are world class in their respective preferred positions- we need to keep them there. Ade and whoever his strike partner on the day is need a link to midfield to be effective. These are things that the fans on this site and elsewhere have been saying day in and day out every day since the campaign took off properly, in good time and in defeat. If we were to play the match again tomorrow, finally bearing them in mind, we would win, because that's what we looked capable of when we play our best game.
And our quality means we're still a safe bet for third. Arsenal and Chelsea may be right at our heels but when it comes down to it, all both teams are doing is making the best out of terrible situations. The former has endured their worst season in recent memory after having their first team gutted and poorly reconstituted, while the latter is still currently without a manager. All the momentum in the world is not going to help them if Spurs tighten up and starting getting points like we were earlier in the season.
And it's still totally within our grasp to do so. Our next match is against Bolton at home- no disrespect to our opponents but if there was ever a game to get back on the horse with, it's that one. Next week, we rebuild and we start over. A week without the distraction of an FA, Europa or Carling Cup tie is time to rest our players and retain focus. If we 4-4-2, we 4-4-2, and if we FRAAB we FRAAB; tactics shouldn't matter too much because as long as we have the discipline to control a game and then and then win it we'll be back in our rhythm.
At the start of the season, I thought we were going to finish 9th. I thought a strike partnership of Crouch and Defoe, serviced by someone we'd bought in in a hurry to replace Modric, were not going to manage the 53 goals we've netted so far this season. I didn't think Bale was going to evolve his game from his found-out left wing position to become a serious attacking threat. These things have happened and they cannot be taken away. We're in a wobble right now precisely because we were in a position to wobble. We've also still completely got the power to turn it back around. No comparisons with last season please, because we don't have one eye on the Champions' League any more. Instead, we're looking down and we're still seeing teams that are traditionally meant to be pinning us back struggling to catch up. We've slowed to give them a chance to do so, but they're still just trying to catch up.
Win turns into confidence. Confidence turns into run. Run turns into finishing above fifth which none of us thought would even happen this year. We're nearly there. Just take a deep breath and think about it again. You support a top four side, life doesn't get much better than that.