Life in the Tottenham Hotspur first team has not gone according to plan for Lewis Holtby or Andros Townsend. By this point, they were supposed to be starting XI locks, leading the Spurs attack, complimenting each other perfectly. Two years ago, our wildest dreams features Holtby as a classy No. 10 and Townsend as the team's most direct player in an unstoppable attack.
It hasn't worked out that way, and both players are now distinctly second choice, with a starting place looking a bit out of reach. That's not just because they're not quite good enough, but also because they don't exactly fit into the team's preferred style. They do, however, make excellent super subs, as they proved on Saturday against West Ham.
Holtby and Townsend are misfits as starters for different, though equally relevant reasons. Townsend is prone to killing off attacks with poor decision-making that's often seen as selfish, but probably just results from an abundance of confidence that no manager would ever want to kill off. Holtby, meanwhile, is too much of an indirect, possession-oriented player as a No. 10, but too reckless of a tackler to start in the center of midfield.
But Townsend's indiscriminate rips at goal and Holtby's nasty pitbull mentality aren't always bad things. When Spurs are drawing or down, in need of some serious spark, these two make excellent impact substitutes. If Holtby's going crazy for 30 minutes instead of 90, he's less likely to get sent off, and even the most defensive of midfielders could get torched on the break when the entire team is pressing forward aggressively. Townsend's individual forward runs with the ball long-range shots are inherently less infuriating when they're the Plan B following an entirely ineffective Plan A, and they're much more likely to result in something positive when he has fresh legs and the defenders he's facing have been on the pitch for an hour.
Neither Holtby or Townsend scored or set up the winning goal against West Ham, but they were incredibly effective, and their exploits might have led to a goal if Spurs were playing 11 vs. 11 when they entered the game. They're going to continue to be effective, leading to fans pushing for them to start, but those fans will be missing the point. Townsend and Holtby are going to succeed because they're in this role, not in spite of getting only 30 minutes.