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Watford 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (02/12/2017) 03/12/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- Football isn’t supposed to be played in the summer,   that’s the maxim.  It’s a winter sport.  The mental image of condensation on your breath, scarves and hats, cups of bovril, stamping your feet to keep warm is a romantic one, the clichéd “can they hack it on a December midweek in Stoke” a derisive put-down to your fancy dan foreign types.  They can’t, is the implication.  Not being British obviously makes them inferior because they don’t make them tough wherever it is that they’re from whereas we’ve done it.  We’ve been to Stoke midweek, braved the elements and the parking and the food, and we’re tougher for it.

It’s still bollocks though.  Cold isn’t fun, cold and wet less so.  This is, admittedly, an intro that could have been more aptly stored up until Stoke away midweek in January… but the elements were an overriding consideration today as the clammy damp chill clung to your cheeks and any attempt to make a noise was muffled by suffocating condensation.  It was Spurs at home, a vitriolic bad-tempered affair typical of this fixture, and yet the atmosphere had none of Tuesday’s bravado.  Damp, cold.  Slightly sullen.

2- Our visitors have been going through a bit of a blip, which formed an interesting backstory.  This young team has been flying for a couple of years… genuine title challengers for the first time in recent memory, lively and dynamic. The acid test is always going to be when things start going wrong though, really wrong… yes, of course Spurs have had wobbles over the past couple of seasons but, arguably, not like this. Not a run that has seen them drop out of the top six, however briefly, suddenly hanging on the coat tails of the leading pack.  That’s when the test of character comes, and a side that has had plenty of peevishness about it even when things have been going well – Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose – looks, unsurprisingly, rattled.

Not difficult, either, to attribute Spurs’ vulnerability at set pieces to the absence of Toby Alderweireld.  Certainly we appeared to perceive a vulnerability or a weakness as from the off we were very happy to send the ball into touch and compete toe to toe rather than risk being pulled around by Spurs’ midfield despite our own vulnerability from set pieces.  Little surprise, either, that our opening goal came from a corner, Cleverley’s ball angled in expertly by Kabasele under minimal challenge.

3- By then another of the game’s themes had emerged. Kieran Trippier had a stormer in his Burnley debut against the Hornets in 2011 and has reprised these barnstorming outings at regular intervals since.  He escaped on the right in the first five minutes and sent in a ball slightly in advance of Harry Kane who collided with the post in lunging at it and yet another recurring theme emerged with Kane prone on the turf.

With the Hornets holding a high defensive line and Spurs closing downing our possession high up the field the game became rapidly congested.  Through the damp and cold with scrappy play, bad tempers and tackles flying in it was a mid-table Championship game, if executed by much better players.  The one reliable outball was provided by Spurs leaving Trippier hugging the right touchline and launching hail mary passes in his direction.  It’s to our credit that little came of this, ultimately, but Marvin Zeegelaar was inevitably the man exposed.  He’s done well since coming into the side but wobbled on Tuesday and was horribly exposed this afternoon both by his opponent and by his own limitations.

4- The game was stodgy, and the stodgier it got the more volatile it got.  Much has been made of Martin Atkinson’s display in the middle but in assessing anything the context, the difficulty of the challenge has to be taken into account and in slippery conditions with players clashing frequently this was not an easy one to officiate.  He got things more or less right for me – with one or two exceptions, which we’ll come to – but more or less booked players when he had to and didn’t when he didn’t.  Certainly our first penalty call, of which I was oblivious from the Rookery until Match of the Day, looks a coulda rather than a shoulda on review.  From that incident Spurs broke – down their right, natch – and Son tucked in Eriksen’s cross.  We’d been pulled apart; harsh words were exchanged in the back line and we felt slightly precarious.  It could all have gone downhill from here.

So we should take something from the fact that it didn’t.  Indeed we restricted Spurs, held them at arms’ length and if our defence were aggressive in bullying the Spurs forwards into submission then the fact that the visitors didn’t get anywhere and resorted to sulky theatrics rather justifies the approach.  Nonetheless, the impasse rather suited Spurs better than us, since However Far We’ve Come they were still more likely to pull a goal out of nowhere.

5- That changed with the sending off of Sánchez, again an indisputably correct decision;  a flying elbow in the chops is a flying elbow in the chops, whether or not in contains Andy Carroll levels of malice.  Thereafter we did manage to get on top and to pin Spurs back a bit;  they’ll feel gratified that they kept us at bay with ten men and certainly we didn’t make enough of the situation.  The ball was zipped around, but heaviness of legs and minds maybe contributed to a lack of final ball.  Our closest calls came perhaps from balls bobbling around in the box and not falling for us… Doucouré arced a beautiful strike over the melee and off the inside of the post; Richarlíson rose to meet a deep Femenía cross at the far post and seemed to angle his header perfectly only to find Trippier’s forehead blocking the effort.  The Brazilian acknowledged the defensive effort with a handshake, but will not be sorry to see the back of Trippier who gave him little space all afternoon despite finding plenty of his own.

The penalty appeal changes your perspective a little bit, because we’ve had the possibility of finally beating bloody Spurs snatched from us by a refereeing error.  We’d been knocking on the door increasingly vigorously,  well-judged substitutions having again made us more potent through changes in formation and personnel as well as moving precarious yellow cards from the line of fire. Capoue came on for Kabasele, an extra body in midfield, Carrillo for Pereyra, as ineffective as his predecessor if more visibly so, Gray as an extra striker in the final knockings.  All positive, all aggressive.  Dier’s handball should have rewarded that, it didn’t…

But I think it’s stretching it a bit to argue that we deserved all three points.  Coulda not shoulda again; for all our numerical advantage we hadn’t put Spurs to the sword, hadn’t made enough chances, and had looked the less likely at eleven v eleven.  Nonetheless…  we’re talking about being irritated at not beating Spurs, who maybe be sulky and loathsome but they’re still one of the top sides in the country.

There are worse places to be.  Yooorns.

Gomes 3, Femenía 4, Zeegelaar 2, Mariappa 4, Prödl 3, Kabasele 4, *Doucouré 4*, Cleverley 3, Pereyra 2, Richarlíson 3, Deeney 3

Subs: Capoue (for Kabasele, 64) 3, Carrillo (for Pereyra, 67) 2, Gray (for Cleverley, 88) 0, Wagué, Watson, Janmaat, Karnezis


1. Steve - 03/12/2017

Excellent piece Matt as always.

Would be interested in your opinion on where you would fit Chalobah on his return. I see Doucoure as being first on the team sheet and Cleverley has been playing so well.

Who NC replace if it was down to you?

Matt Rowson - 03/12/2017

First, implied by your question, is that Chalobah comes back in. He and Doucouré together looked magnificent at the start of the season.

One option would be to revert to four at the back, in which case you have Chalobah and Doucouré in front of them, Cleverley central further forward, Pereyra and Richarlison wide. Since Silva seems to prefer a 3… it would be Hughes/Pereyra at the moment i think.

…though we’ve not had the luxury of a fit squad for some time, so it’s slightly moot. 🙂

2. Ray Knight - 03/12/2017

Nobody sums up better than you Matt. That was definitely the game I watched. Crowd expectations at the final whistle rather muted when we should be pleased. The games between now and Xmas will define our season. There is an opportunity to cement our position in the top half.

3. MartinG - 03/12/2017

Agree that a draw was probably fair overall though how the officials missed the penalty at the end is a mystery. Our crossing throughout, excepting the corner for the goal, was generally abysmal and we wasted numerous opportunities because of that. Also as Pererya was right off the boil we didn’t have that subtlety of passing to unlock them. Changed days though. I’m enjoying the games so much more this season.

4. Adam Cummings - 03/12/2017

What I thought interesting was that in the first half Trippier was happy to push on and whenever Richardlson stayed upfield the right sided Spurs defender Sanchez was the one to come across and mark Richardlson leaving Trippier to stay upfield in the hope of the move breaking down. Dier could cover (he played in midfield rather than as part of a back three) but generally chose not to leaving Deeney on Vertongen, something that Spurs seemed happy with
That of course led to the red card and to Spurs adopting a more orthodox four at the back.

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