In the game threads and match reports for last night's absolute shocker against Stoke, as well as in those for the Everton and Manchester United games before that, I've noticed a trend in people saying that on the whole, our squad played well enough on the night against tricky opposition, but just either didn't have the luck, couldn't break down a parked bus, or lacked the bite or fluency to take charge of the game. The right piece are there and if we keep playing like this, it's claimed, the results will come.
I admire the optimism on display, I really do, and I wish it would rub off on to me a little bit too. But sadly I feel this claim is fundamentally misguided, on two fronts. First of all, the maxim that competent play has to be rewarded with eventual results could not be further from the truth, and to look at why this is we only have to look back to our own first half of the season at a selection of games we ultimately emerged with the results we wanted.
West Brom 1-3 Tottenham- this game, as I remember it, was one of Spurs' worse performances of the season. We were missing Modric in the middle and van der Vaart further up the pitch, and had no source of creativity from the centre of the pitch. The scoreline, which saw us come back from being behind to score two goals in the dying minutes of the game, flattered us. We did not, in short, ‘play well'. The difference? Grit and belief. We were on a streak of good results, and quite simply it just didn't look like Spurs were going to falter. Even after 81 minutes of mediocre, half-hearted play, we still had it in the tank to go out there and net two more times. This was not a win that can be chalked up to ‘playing well'.
Fulham 1-3 Tottenham- I can't remember my heart pounding much more through a game of football than it did during this one. We totally and completely deserved to lose or at the very best draw if my memory serves me correctly. Fulham absolutely dominated possession around our box, and if a Kyle Walker handball on the line had been given we'd have been sunk. But still we scraped through looking like champs.
Tottenham 1-0 Sunderland- They parked the bus but we just mustered enough effort to slip around it. No frills and nothing memorable in the performance at all.
Tottenham 1-0 West Brom- See above.
Watford 0-1 Tottenham- Nobody who doesn't absolutely love rubbish football would want to revisit this dire mess of a game. Nothing worth retelling came out of it but for a scrappy van der Vaart goal against a keeper who should have done better. But we progressed in the competition and that's all that counts.
Liverpool 0-0 Tottenham- a point at Anfield, I maintain, is always a huge result. Which Spurs once again did not deserve. We camped around our own box and blocked, cleared and frustrated our way towards a well-earned draw. In fact, if Gareth Bale hadn't blown an exceptional chance, we'd have clinched the thing.
This is only a selection, I'm sure there's other examples out there that prove the same point. So what's the trend across these games? It's certainly not that Spurs played well, because on another day all of the above teams could've sent us home wondering what could've been (even West Brom). The difference is that we had to do what we had to do to win. It got ugly at times and we had to fudge together a winning team partly from second-stringers more than once. But we got there, because we believed we were going to get there and we rode our form to secure ourselves at the summit of the table. 71% possession and 20-something shots weren't the difference between us coming out elated or disappointed.
So we can't keep getting stuck in this mindset that good play should deserve results. It doesn't. Our campaign has been built in part of gritty, ugly wins that are still wins. As the Old Master put it, "do, or do not. There is no try".
Secondly, I'd like to address the game that our opposition has been tricky in recent weeks. This is not untrue. Man U are Man U, Everton you'd never rule out at Goodison, and Stoke like to play horrible football. But my contention is that this is claim can never be shown to be untrue. A game hosting Blackburn at home can be a tricky game through some piece of logical manoeuvring- they're relegation candidates and will thus be going all out to prevent any loss of points? So again, we can't just keep saying week on week that it was a challenge for Spurs like that should earn us some respect. Wins are all that counts, and our first half of the season proved we can do that against nearly anyone.
I agree that Spurs maybe should have gotten more from our recent run of games. But I also agree that when we don't manage to crank out a result we want in nearly two months, we can't keep cutting the team slack. To finish top four, points need to come from somewhere, and they need to start coming now. We're still Tottenham, super Tottenham from the Lane, but to ensure that everyone else remembers how far we've come this season the results must follow.