DOWN THE LANE

26 April 1998

 

As we approach the last few weeks of the season, the cruciality (copyright Gaby Yorath) of the situation finally hits home. It hadn't dawned on me that Spurs had not lost at home since December, but that is probably because they have not won many of those games. All the pundits say that you need to win your home games, so it became imperative that we won some and the Newcastle game was a start. It may still be necessary to achieve victory over Southampton. Recent results have been better with the draw against Liverpool a bonus, except after the way the game went it was disappointing. The win against Palace should have been a formality; if we'd had lost it would have been a great embarrassment with their home record. Only achieving a draw against Everton was a disappointment, as expectation was high that Tottenham could get three points and jump over the Toffees. The two games that Spurs had to win to ensure survival were Barnsley and Newcastle. A draw after having a player sent off at Oakwell for the second time this season was a reasonable result and the victory over Newcastle was welcome and well deserved . Matches against Wimbledon and Southampton will be more difficult than in seasons gone by, but with good team performances, allied to the skill that Ginola brings to the side , they should be winnable. It needs a concentrated effort for Spurs to deny opponents time and space to exploit and to move off the ball to ensure that there are players available when we are in possession.

There has been some change in personnel of late. Walker has returned from injury to replace Baardsen, who had performed admirably in the England keeper's absence. Gross stated that Walker would always be first choice, but Espen can count himself unlucky not to retain his place as his goalkeeping was of a very high standard. He certainly saved some points during his spell between the posts and it's good to know that we have two such capable goalies in the squad. Stephen Carr has been turning in some storming showings lately, despite suffering a few knocks. His crossing has improved also, which helps provide more chance for the forwards. At left back, there is still a problem. Willo was doing OK until his injury against Everton and Edinburgh is obviously out of Gross' reckoning , so what are the options?? With Clapham sold off to Ipswich, Spurs are really up the junction. While we are well off for central defenders, the alternative of playing one of them in the left-back berth might upset the defensive set-up. Sol can play there and Vega filled in at right back against Palace. Although Gross has told Scales he needs more match practice in the reserves, he may be forced into playing him in the vacancy created by Wilson's injury and Vega's suspension. However, Colin Calderwood, who has been used as a defensive midfielder, is more likely to figure in the manager's plans and the way he has been playing, deserves to.

In the centre of defence, Sol has had a resurgence in form after a dodgy period (for him) and although Ramon has been getting some useful goals from set-pieces, his defensive frailties are being exposed (i.e. the last minute of the Liverpool game) . He did the decent thing and fell on his sword (and Ashley Ward) up at Oakwell, but his misdemeanour means that the last two matches will see a new central defensive paring.

Midfield has been a bit more like we would expect. Neilson has been working hard along with Berti; their job being to win the ball and give a simple pass to a white shirt. Having said that, they have both scored goals, which we need to supplement the efforts of the forwards. Fox and Ginola have both been working harder and have been more effective.
Fox still needs to get involved in the game more, while Ginola should make more damaging use of the ball when in possession. His performances against Liverpool and Newcastle were excellent, but Christian is right when he says that he is not world-class. The amount of time he spends throwing himself to the floor and wasting good opportunities can be frustrating for fans and team-mates alike. With more consistency, he could become one of the best players in the Premier League and one of the most effective. Remember, it's not how much of the ball you have in a game, but what you do with it. His "team" performance is always more important than the virtuoso showing that leave you thinking there could be so much more. Saib has added a passing dimension to the team that has been
missing for quite some time and his contribution in the games against Palace and Coventry cannot be underrated. Now that Anderton is pressing for a regular place and can produce some of his old style, the battle for midfield places is really on. The only one who seems to be missing out is David Howells, who, for whatever reason, Gross has a downer on. Sometimes recently, a player like him who can sit in front of the back four, is what the team have been crying out for.
It was good to hear that some of our players had pledged their allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur - Walker, Les, Vega. It seems that loyalty is not dead and that players are not going to flee the sinking ship. I can also understand the frustration of players who will be out of contract come the end of the season. Talks on new contracts have been postponed until after the final game, when the club's future has been decided. It would be foolish to offer Premier wages should Tottenham be in the Nationwide and the last thing that we want to happen is for a downward spiral caused by high wage bills. There are players who desperately want Spurs to stay up and show it. Others
don't show it, but I'm sure they are trying their hardest. Those who are Spurs through and through, like Mabbutt and Howells, who can't get a look in and having been through a relegation struggle like this before, know what is required and are frustrated that they are not being called on to help out. The stories that have appeared in the English daily newspapers have no doubt been prompted by this desire for the club to pull out of this situation. Even Anderton's comments, although primarily wanting match practice to get into the World Cup squad, show that he wants to get involved in the struggle and his performance in the Newcastle match was encouraging. Staying up or going down will mean that we have to buy over the summer months. Being in the Premier League will put us in a better position to attract quality players, but it will not be a question of who to buy , but the right player in the position that we need them.
The reaction of the Barnsley fans on television after the sending off of three of their players in the home game against Liverpool was quite remarkable. There seems a real paranoia that the Southerners have got it in for them. They think that Spurs have signed some pact with the Devil (or Graham Kelly anyway) to ensure they stay in the Premier League. They probably think that Manchester United have sold their Scholes to maintain their run of success as well. While everybody has applauded the way that Barnsley have approached their first season in the top division, they have overlooked the fact that they have conceded far too many goals, some at vital times and have had disciplinary
problems as the season came to a climax to rise up the table. It is probably a desire for another team to do a "Wimbledon", but the money in the game at the moment means that there a divide exists within the Premier League and although the "big" clubs may be further down the table than they would like, they are still more powerful in financial terms than the second string Premier clubs. The game is not about financial results, but match results and therefore, like Tottenham, you can have all the money you like, but it don't mean squat unless you can do the business on the pitch. Money in the bank is no substitute for points in the bank and that is what the fans want to see. While supporters groups come out with statements about what the fans think and what they want to see, these only represent a minority of the club's following. The ones who pay their money at the turnstiles (or ticket offices) are the ones who make their feelings known directly to the hierarchy on matchdays. Despite what Tim Sherwood said in a recent interview in FourFourTwo magazine (even if it was in jest), football fans do know a lot about football. Just because they may never have played the game at a decent level, doesn't mean that spending thousands of hours watching the game from the terraces or the armchair means that they can't appreciate the finer points of the game. Fans are the lifeblood of the game and that blood is being sucked dry. West Ham raise their season tickets by 30-40%, so what price watching Tottenham next season. It is interesting to note that the season ticket reminders have failed to arrive, when they are usually sent out at this time of the year. Everybody tells me that it will be cheaper in the Nationwide, but I don't know how they work that out, because prices will rise anyway and there will be more matches involved and therefore, more home games to play. Pay rises outside of football barely meet inflation; football's chairmen may do well to remember that, if they can see past their bank statements. Otherwise, their stock prices could soon be as deflated as an old match ball.

 

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20th March 1998
4th March 1998

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