What a few weeks ! 

The added time wins at home over Sheffield United and Liverpool, winning away  at Burnley added to a point from a very good performance at Highbury would be enough to talk about if it wasn’t for all the controversy that surrounded the win over the Scousers.

The dying embers of the transfer window saw Spurs bring in Brennan Johnson from Nottingham Forest, not as a direct replacement for Harry Kane, but a useful and pacy addition to our attack.  The Welsh international had done well for his former team who were promoted last season and survived, so it will be interesting to see how he develops under Ange, who appears to have the knack of improving players, in stark contrast to our last three managers, who wanted to stick players into positions without thinking how their abilities may be more effective within the system.  Almost getting off the mark with his first touch after coming off the bench against Sheffield United, Johnson showed that his pace (although he went a bit early) and his finishing ability will be an asset to the team.  He was only denied by a very good save from Raya in the Gooner game, unfortunately having his appearance cut short by a hamstring problem.  £40 odd million is the going price for a home-grown player these days, but the transfer appeared to be dragged out until the last day, with Forest probably wanting to secure a replacement before they sold him.

Spurs also secured the signings of Ashley Phillips from Blackburn Rovers in the transfer window.  Another deal that was supposedly delayed by wrangling over money, but the reported £9 million seems a fair price for a young defender, with only a handful of first team games.  The noises coming out of Hotspur Way about his potential are encouraging after the last View thought that snapping up younger players for more than reasonable fees may be a way to develop the squad through intelligent recruitment.  Putting him on the bench recently, along with Veliz and Donley shows that the transition from Under-21s to the first team squad is a pathway that is now open to players, whereas it was closed off in most part by Conte.  Under-21 players such as defender Alfie Dorrington, winger Yago Santiago and strikers Jude Soonsup-Bell and Will Lankshear are getting rave reviews, with keeper Luca Gunter, defenders Charlie Sayers and Jahziah Linton and midfielder Rio Kyerematen all highly rated.  While the heavy investment in the first team will continue, the quality of the youth production line but even further down, there are players such as Han Wilcroft-King, Archie Chaplin, Oliver Irow and Mikey Moore who are all progressing well in the Under-18 set-up.  Much credit for this has to go to the recruitment team at the younger age groups, as well as the coaches, who are nurturing the young talent we have at the club.  Even at the younger level, the club are bringing in players from other Academies and it proves that the desire to bring players through is something at the heart of the club, even though it might not be evident at these early stages of their careers.

The 2-0 away win at Bournemouth was achieved with little concern to our defence, with the home side only getting three shots on target compared with our modest six, but at least two of ours went in.  It was a composed performance that saw a control of the game not usually associated with us.  Admittedly, it was against The Cherries, who are on a learning curve under a new manager, but game management hasn’t been one of the strongest parts of Tottenham’s character over the last few years.  Maddison’s strike was clean and accurate and his contributions from midfield this season will be very useful to our progress.  The way that the full-backs pushed forward caused problems for the Bournemouth side and Udogie’s surge into the penalty area to pull the ball back for Kulusevski’s cute finish was indicative of how he is encouraged to get forward.

And that was also the case at Burnley, where Sonny’s clinical finishing finished the home side off after they took an early lead.  Solomon created the opening for Son to delicately chip the ball over the keeper as he came out to close him down, before Cristian Romero relied on raw power to drive a shot into the top corner to make it 2-1 at the break.  Destiny’s press on the full back 25 yards from the Burnley goal created Maddison’s opportunity to get off the mark with a curled effort and then it was down to Sonny to complete our scoring.  Manny’s involvement was key, as his measured pass in front of Heung-Min, who didn’t have to break stride to shoot past the keeper and then Porro’s fantastic pass allowed Son to score after taking one touch.  It was a little annoying to concede the late Burnley goal, but a fine away performance, even though it was against a Burnley side who played far too open and were naive in their defending.

Kompany’s philosophy worked well in the Championship, racing to the title and racking up the goals and points, but against better teams they are getting found out.  It did allow Spurs to play an attacking game that brought the best out of a number of our players.  The same could not have been said about the Sheffield United match.  Coming up against a side who know that they are unable to go toe-to-toe with the established Premier League clubs, they dug in for a point and almost got a  lot more.  Spurs were finding it difficult to get through a well-organised formation, while they weren’t unduly troubled by the Blades attack.  That all changed when a long-throw went all the way through to the far side of the box and they scored a goal that wasn’t just against the run of play, it was against all expectation.  That was when came even more time-wasting than we had seen before the goal, with the goalkeeper the main culprit.  Having been booked in the first half for handball outside his penalty area, the referee didn’t have the gumption to show him a second yellow, but Spurs played their game, relying on the belief that it would pay off and while it took some time, that is just what it did.  Two goals late in added time condemned Sheffield United to the defeat their frankly shocking tactics deserved.  McBurnie was sent off late for a second card for dissent and our match reporter overheard Blades fans talking about the PL being corrupt and that he hoped they lost their next game so they could return to the Championship.  Well, I bet he didn’t want them to lost 8-0 !

The roar when Richarlison headed in was ear-splitting, but nothing compared to that after Kulusevski’s goal, once again started by Destiny winning the ball high up the pitch.  The insistent attacking wears teams down and having defended for long periods of the game, Sheffield couldn’t hang on as Tottenham’s play stretched them to create space to play in.

But that wasn’t the case against Liverpool.  Having been reduced to ten men by Jones impetuous tackle, Spurs took the lead when Son finished a really good move with Richarlison assisting with a neat ball for Sonny to run onto and slip past Allisson.  The Reds did come back with a goal just before half-time and Spurs had a warning of what was to come when Vicario was forced to save well from Gakpo as he turned on the ball in the box and then got behind Robertson’s drive from the loose ball.  This time Gakpo had space to turn and find the net, but he also turned his knee.  After the break, the game had already established the pattern of Spurs going on the attack, while Liverpool looked for breakaways.  Then Jota, who had come on at the break for Gakpo, got sent off for two stupid yellow cards and Liverpool settled down to put everyone behind the ball.  A solid tactic and one that confounded Tottenham until almost the last minute of added time when Pedro Porro put in a dangerous low cross and Matip fired the ball into the net with his shin.  Cue manic celebrations, bookings and a restart that saw Liverpool play the ball off the pitch.

Of course, there was more to the game than that.  Liverpool fans were claiming that the refereeing set-up is corrupt (the second time in a couple of weeks this word had been used) as the usual conspiracy theories against the Scousers re-surfaced.  They were pleading for a replay because it was so unfair  on them (isn’t it always ?).  Replays would make the fixture list almost impossible to organise and where does it leave fans who attended the original game ?  Do you get your money back ?  And, for away fans, do you then have to travel to the ground where the game took place, presumably on a mid-week evening ?  Replays would be ludicrous – at what point do you replay the game from (the start, when the incident happened ?); if you do start from the time of the incident, then how would you replicate the energy levels of the players – especially if it is near the end of a match ?; do you replay with a full side if you have already had a man dismissed ?;  when is the match to be played; what were the weather conditions in the original game ?; how many games would teams end up playing if replays were for every dispute, with managers already crying foul when they suffer so many injuries due to fatigue ?  Too many questions and the answer to it all must be “No” to any request for a replay.  

What about Wolves (denied penalty at Man U early this season), Fulham (Man City player obscuring goalkeeper’s view when goal scored) and even the Woolwich Wanderers (Toney’s goal from an offside position last season) ?  Would it be three apologies and you get an extra point ?  Mistakes by officials have always been part of the game.  One example is from back in 1971, when Leeds were going for the title and they were at home to WBA.  Linesman flagged for offside but the ref played on and Albion scored Fans invaded the pitch, Don Revie went on to remonstrate with the ref and Leeds went on to lose 2-1.  It cost them the title and for a side like the Leeds of that time not to kick up more of a fuss lead to decisions, however damaging, being grudgingly accepted.  No calls for a review, replay or “exploring all options”.  There are numerous worse errors made, it is just that VAR wasn’t there which was supposed to stop them occurring in the first place.  Who knows where we would be now if Pedro Mendes’ shot at Old Trafford that was a yard (at least) over the line had been spotted by that incompetent linesman on the day or even if there was goal-line technology that would have got us into the Champions League five years before we finally made it.  No claim for a replay was made by Martin Jol, so perhaps we need to ask that despite the fact that it was a horrendous mistake, why are Liverpool so different ?  After all, how many teams have been disadvantaged by referees awarding Liverpool decisions at Anfield ?  Does anyone remember when the referees decision was final ?  Will football become like F1, with the final result being decided days after the event ?   

Once the audio was released, you could hear the cross-talking and that was no surprise, as the “Mic’d Up” programme on Sky with Howard Webb looking at contentious decisions with the benefit of the conversations were horrendous.  I hope they don’t play them at grounds, because all you could hear was the ref, the linesman, the VAR and VAR assistant all talking at the same time, along with the ref having to deal with players approaching him while VAR watched the incident again.  It is not surprising that a  mistake was made as the whole thing is chaotic and if the PGMOL haven’t come up with a form of words to concluded the review, such as “Decision; Goal” or “Decision; Offside”, then is it surprising that errors happen ?  That change could happen straight away without any change of the protocol, although their concern after the outcome had been wrongly interpreted may have explained why the big screen showed the VAR Check for around four minutes and well after the game had re-started. 

Sack refs called the Liverpool fans on the phone-ins.  Well, there are falling numbers of refs anyway, so to get rid of even more would mean no football, although one chippy Scouser suggested having AI referee matches !  Robot refs … just what we need !  Without VAR there would have been no uproar, as the game went on without any argument until the pictures were seen.  Are we better off not having VAR ?  Probably not, although it inspires just as much controversy as the game used to have without it.

The Liverpool pundits and Merseyside media are all incandescent about not only the VAR offside mess-up, but also the sending offs and even how we enjoyed the win.  There was fun poked at our post-match celebrations, but for such blinkered viewers of football, they would not know that we celebrate every game like this, not just when we beat a nine-man team, whoever they are.  Anyway, what is it to them what our fans do ?  We are together with the team and celebrate together as we have every home and away game this season.  They moan and groan when things don’t go the way they expect, our fans celebrate when they go our way.  Don’t feel persecuted when things go against you, sometimes you just have to accept it.

Claims that Udogie should have been sent off for waving an imaginary yellow card just stink, as Liverpool players had been asking for bookings during the game too, but are the Liverpool-centric pundits going to mention that ?  Of course not.  They wanted Biss sent off for a clash in which a Liverpool player went down holding his face, with the Spurs man already on a yellow card.  When are they going to learn that not every foul is a yellow card ?  If it was their 17 fouls might have resulted in even more Reds shown the red.

It’s not just that his foot goes over the ball, but that his studs come down on Bissouma’s standing leg with a great degree of force.  You can say that he was unlucky that his foot came off the top of the ball and caught Yves, but that is surely the indication that it was a poor tackle and that it wasn’t controlled, otherwise it would have been a block tackle and Bissouma could have walked away from it.  Frankly, the root of their problem is that whether the goal was onside or not, they lost their heads.  The bookings racked up and they will face an FA fine for more getting more than five yellow cards, with the captain not setting a great example when he was booked for time-wasting (which proved to be a waste of time) by then showing dissent.

Destiny Udogie was then the target for racist abuse, probably a lot of it from Liverpool fans, who are rightly outraged when it happens to their players.  However, in this instance Jota incited this by claiming that the Spurs left back was diving.  Picked up on by pundits across the media, it almost became a solid fact that Jota was hard done by.  I think that these people need to look at themselves, as their actions, as much as those players on the pitch, inflame situations and they have no over-arching organisation who will censor them.  We have seen some commentators being “warned” about future inappropriate comments, including Son making a tackle that was like a martial arts kick.  Nothing will come of any investigation into these social media comments and while that is the case, those people brave enough to hide behind their keyboards will keep making them.   

In between the home games we travelled to play the South Londoners.  Expecting not a lot from the game, we got what we thought was going to happen for the first half an hour.  Defending deep and unable to work the ball away, Vicario produced a fine save to deny Jesus before being beaten by a cross that came off Romero’s knee.  It was an unfortunate goal to concede, but one that highlights we still have some way to go.  What it did do, was spark Spurs into action, with Johnson forcing a smart save before Sonny touched home Maddison’s fine low ball after he had left Saka standing.  Jesus should have put the Goons ahead again when he took the ball off Maddison on the edge of the box, but he inexplicably went for power when placement would have been the better option, so he ended up missing the goal with a shot that flew some way over the bar.  After the break, the match got a bit stale with neither side creating a lot but there was a “Lucky” penalty given to the home side when Romero’s arm was hit by a shot at close range.  Maybe we should have asked for a replay of the match ?  They scored, Saka took the piss out of Maddison’s goal celebration and a minute later they were picking the ball out of their net because James robbed Jorginho, who was almost the last man and the pass into Son’s run was perfect to allow him to guide it wide of Raya and in to make it 2-2.  Towards the end, we looked the more likely team to score and had a couple of late chances.

So many people I have spoken to were most pleased about the team actually turning up for a match against the top teams and to take a point from Highbury was pleasing, but slightly disappointing in the end.  Having to rely on a pen and an oggie meant that they didn’t actually create a goal for themselves, while out two were well crafted and scored.  A win would have been even better, but these are early days for Ange and the team.  Destiny showed great restraint after picking up an early booking and Saka was quiet after that opening half hour apart from scoring the penalty.

There was the League Cup tie at Fulham amongst these games and the least said about that the better.  Changing the team was a good idea to give players a chance to have some time on the pitch, but it didn’t work out.  The team looked a little disjointed, being unaccustomed to playing together, but Forster played well despite going the wrong way for every penalty !  However, Fulham put out a strong side, as did we and when it goes to penalties, anything can happen.  The disappointing thing about the loss was that it mane that one avenue for players to get match time closed, leaving us only the FA Cup to give fringe players 90 minutes. 

A lot of credit must go to Postecoglou and the coaching staff for getting Cristian Romero focused.  His performances have been typified by his controlled aggression that has meant he hasn’t picked up a booking every game.  Not only has he been solid in defence, but he has also been our furthest forward player on some occasions.  The partnership that he is developing with Micky van de Ven, who has been an inspired signing (NOTE : Liverpool failed to follow through on an interest in him.  He was outstanding against them), is something that Ange can build on.   Yves and Pape in midfield are hungry to cover every blade of grass and they are becoming the go-to pairing in the defensive midfield, which is great that Sarr is being given the chance that was denied him by previous managers.

It has been a cracking start to the season with more games that have been exciting than probably during the reigns. of Mourinho and Conte.  But the team is still adapting to Ange’s style, which they have done very well so far.  However, there is still much to do, including learning to play alongside their team-mates, finding the right pass at the right time, getting Richi into the game more, as he is proving that his game is not just about scoring.  Pedro Porro has really come on in an attacking sense and he has to be aware of what is behind him when defending.  He sometimes gets pulled into the middle and that leaves a lot of space out wide behind him, but what he is very good at is getting across the box to intercept dangerous passes into the area.  I am sure that the coaches will work with him to improve further and from what has been said about him in training, he is desperate to learn.

We still have to be ready to accept suspensions, absences in the AFCON and Asian Games around January and injuries, but we still have Rodrigo Bentancur to come back, with Bryan Gil and Ryan Sessegnon making training again, which will help with the loss of Ivan Perisic.  There’s a long way to go, but at least it won’t be boring.

Keep the faith.


Bruce Grove