This Week In: English Football – Tottenham Do It Again

We won the league, in black-and-white
We won the league, in black-and-white

Spurs are on their way to Wembley

Tottenham’s going to do it again

You can’t stop them

The boys from Tottenham

The boys from White Hart Lane

There was a time when that chant – adapted from a Chas and Dave song and which reverberates around the stadium any time Tottenham are leading in a domestic cup tie – made sense.  When Spurs lifted the F.A Cup in 1991, it was the eighth time they had triumphed in that competition – which was then the most of any club; they were the first British team to secure a European trophy, the Cup Winners Cup in 1963; and they had won either the League, FA Cup or a European competition in every decade since the 1950s.  Once, “Tottenham’s going to do it again” did mean a trip to Wembley and some silverware but, in the past two decades, it has acquired a whole new definition.

Since that victory over Nottingham Forest in 1991, Tottenham have managed to add just two League Cups (in 1999 and 2008) to their trophy cabinet and have never finished about fourth in the league – achieving that mark just twice.  Some Spurs fans may gloat about the number of seasons that Arsene Wenger has gone without bringing silverware to Arsenal (this current campaign brings the tally to 8); but in the 22 years that us Tottenham supporters have seen just two fizzy cup triumphs, the red half of North London have claimed four league championships and five FA Cups (bringing their total all time wins in that competition to ten).  Nowadays, when pundits or fans talk of “Tottenham doing it again”, it refers to the collapse that the club suffers at some point between February and May that undoes all of the good work and expectation that has been built up in the first half of the campaign.  This year, the sudden dip in form may have come later than many other seasons, but the end result will be exactly the same – disappointment and disillusionment for Spurs supporters; while Arsenal and Chelsea fans enjoy all of the bragging rights in London.

Adebayor puts his penalty exactly where every Spurs fan knew he would, row z
Adebayor puts his penalty exactly where every Spurs fan knew he would, row z

The pain of Thursday’s Europa League exit was not caused by the performance – though the team looked flat without Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe available – nor was it the result of drawing 2-2 and holding out for penalties away from home and playing with 10 men for all of extra-time.  What the worst part for Spurs fans was the crushing inevitability of the defeat.  They were hampered by injuries, but that only proved the point that having two first-team strikers in your squad is not enough, especially when one of them is Emmanuel Adebayor, who did not work hard enough leading the line and made it look like there was no “F’ in effort.  Team selection was once again questionable, in particular the absence of Hugo Lloris – I think Brad Friedel has been a great goalkeeper, but his time has past: he makes too many mistakes; the defenders clearly no longer trust him; and he looks every single one of his 41 years  The one thing that every living Tottenham fan knew though, was that when the match went to a penalty shootout, it was already all over for our team.  An approximation of my trail of thought during the sudden death contest: “well we know Friedel will not be able to get down quickly enough to save one, so they need to miss if we are to have any chance…who is up first for us?…Tom Huddlestone…but he has not put the ball in the net for two years, why would he be up first…and he misses…Sigurdsson will score, but this is already over as they will score all of there’s…goal…Adebayor next?…where’s the remote?”  That defeat makes it seven consecutive penalty shootout losses that Spurs have suffered – two of which (against Liverpool in 2004 and Middlesbrough in 2003) I had the misfortune of being in the stand behind the goal for – with their last success coming in 1994 against the mighty Peterborough.   All of which begs the questions – even with a man down for extra-time, why on earth did we play for penalties?

In the Premiership last weekend, Tottenham’s grip on a top four place was weakened with a 2-2 draw at home against Everton – a point that was only secured thanks to a late strike from Sigurdsson, after two defensive lapses from Jan Vertonghen (yes Kevin Mirallas’s goal was a nice run and finish, but he never would have got the ball in the first place if the Belgian had not been caught on his heels) had allowed the visitors to take the lead – while Chelsea came from behind to beat Paolo DiCanio’s Sunderland 2-1 at the Bridge; and Arsenal survived a late onslaught from West Brom to claim a victory at the Hawthorns.  Because of the way that the fixtures fall, by the time Spurs next take the field in the Premiership – which is not until April 21st against the champions, Manchester City, as their game with Chelsea this weekend was postponed due to the Blues’ continued involvement in the FA Cup – Arsenal could be seven points above them, as the Gunners have three matches in that time.

City won the Manchester derby 2-1 last Monday, with the champions putting in an impressive performance to take all three points away from a trip to Old Trafford for the second season in succession.  The result will give them some local pride, but will do little to affect the title race as United still have a 12 point lead at the top and need just three wins and a draw from their final seven matches to secure their 20th English League Championship success.  In the fight to avoid relegation, whatever slim chances Queens Park Rangers had of avoiding the drop all but evaporated when they conceded a late equaliser in their home game against Wigan last Saturday, a result that leaves them seven points from safety with only six fixtures remaining.  Elsewhere, Reading’s own demotion into the Championship is getting ever nearer, as they were beaten 2-0 at home by Southampton; Aston Villa moved out of the bottom three with a fully deserved 3-1 victory away at Stoke, who may yet be dragged into the relegation mire themselves; Newcastle moved up to 13th thanks to a late strike by Papiss Cisse, which gave them a 1-0 win against Fulham; Liverpool recorded 19 shots, but their match with West Ham ended goalless; and Norwich were held to a 2-2 draw with Swansea at Carrow Road.

In Europe, Chelsea are Britain’s sole representative in the semi-finals of the Europa League, as they lost 3-2 in Moscow against Rubin Kazan, but progressed 5-4 on aggregate, while Newcastle followed Spurs out of the competition following a 1-1 draw with Benfica that put the Portuguese side through 4-2 over two legs.  The highlight of the Champions League quarter-finals saw Borussia Dortmund score twice in injury time against Malaga (though the second of those was clearly offside) to claim a 3-2 victory and progress to the next round; while Barcelona were forced to bring an unfit Lionel Messi on as a substitute to inspire a comeback against Paris Saint-Germain – a tactic that worked as the Argentine was involved in the equalising goal that gave the Catalans a 1-1 draw and sent them through on away goals.   In the semi-finals, Barca will face former manager Pep Guardiola’s next club, as they were drawn against Bayern Munchen, who beat Juventus 2-0 in both legs of their quarter-final; while Dortmund take on Real Madrid, who overcame a scare in Turkey as they conceded three goals in thirteen minutes and lost to Galatasaray 3-2 on the night, but triumphed 5-3 on aggregate.

Wigan used to be regulars at the old Wembley...in the Rugby League Challenge Cup
Wigan used to be regulars at the old Wembley…in the Rugby League Challenge Cup

This weekend, the FA Cup reaches its semi-final stage and the glamour tie pits Millwall against Wigan, as they battle it out to determine who will lose in the final to either Manchester City or Chelsea, who square off at Wembley on Sunday.  The highlight of the Premiership fixtures this weekend is the north-east derby between Newcastle and Sunderland at St. James’s Park, while the other matches see Arsenal host Norwich; QPR have an away game with Everton; Reading play Liverpool; Aston Villa entertain Fulham; West Ham travel to Southampton; and Stoke face the leaders, Manchester United.  There are also midweek games as teams make up previously postponed matches – Arsenal have another home fixture, this time against Everton; there is a London derby between Fulham and Chelsea; Manchester United are across the capital to take on West Ham; and Manchester City will try to dent Wigan’s survival hopes at the Etihad.

There is also one other match of interest to anyone who was a fan of English football during the 1990s, as Matthew Le Tissier – who everyone loved to watch score great goals for Southampton, no matter who you supported – is in line to play his first game for 11 years, as he will help out his home club Guernsey, whose fixture congestion in April I covered last week.  Although at the age of 44 Le Tissier is unlikely to be able to play more than 20 minutes or so this Sunday, it does give me a great excuse to watch some of his best strikes again – like this one against United; this sublime effort versus Newcastle; and…actually all of these.

Predictions

Last week, 5-5; Season, 142-162

Saturday

Arsenal vs Norwich – Home win

Aston Villa vs Fulham – Draw

Everton vs QPR – Home win

Reading vs Liverpool – Away win

Southampton vs West Ham – Home win

Sunday

Newcastle vs Sunderland – Draw

Stoke vs Manchester United – Home win

Tuesday

Arsenal vs Everton – Home win

Wednesday

Manchester City vs Wigan – Home win

West Ham vs Manchester United – Draw

Fulham vs Chelsea – Away win

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