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Tottenham Hotspur 1 Watford 0 (29/08/2021) 30/08/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- “Who’s that guy?”

“Which one?”

“Our number 31.  With the sort of bun.”

“That’s Francisco Sierralta.”

“Who?”

It’s a funny time.  Perhaps, hopefully I guess, a unique time.  Despite the fact that Daughter 2 never quite got into paying attention in any way when not able to go to games it’s startling that she doesn’t know who our mighty Chilean centre-back is.  Except of course… that despite – even when taking into account his mid-season arrival into the side last season – there are only four longer-established first team players in the eleven, this is the first League game that he’s started for us in front of full stands.

Hornet Hive was the artery that fed us that intel last season, but even Emma and Tommy will be struggling to keep up with the whirlwind of this transfer window. Indeed, given the evacuation, both planned and already realised, of established faces – for all sorts of reasons – there’s an argument for saying that our hosts are more familiar with our squad than we are.  Rarely if ever have we seen an overhaul quite like this… sometimes new money, management, ownership or circumstances mean that a whole load of new faces have come in together but not to replace popular and successful players.  Even the squad strengthening on promotion six years ago retained a core of established names.  This feels like a critical time, not just by virtue of the return of supporters to stadiums (which is obviously tremendous) but in the need to quickly establish an association between this largely new team and the stands.

Good job they look bloody great, really.

2- Whilst the ascent to Newcastle’s away end is the stuff of legend and Selhurst Park is notoriously difficult to get to (like a fungal growth down the back of a cabinet), Spurs have done a decent job of locating themselves as far as it’s possible to get from any sensible access in central-ish London.  The journey down has been rendered all the more challenging by blanket railway engineering works for the bank holiday weekend, and even our attempts to avoid them by driving across to an alternative train line at St Neots are disrupted by further late-runningness on that line.  Getting to the ground after the deceptively long slog from Seven Sisters always feels like an achievement, the more so today – the existence of open urinals at the halfway mark of that stretch betrays the wisdom or perhaps bitter experience of the local authorities as much as it appals both daughters..

It’s a fine stadium, as we’ve discussed before; the lack of low roofs hinders the atmosphere but the sight lines are good, the lean-on bars are a massive plus, the eatery options are tremendous and the stewards are amiable and efficient to a fault (excepting my niece, Sara, who is on duty at some unspecified location and didn’t tell us beforehand).  Underlying it all however is a certain snideness that’s befitting of our hosts…  the aggressive, blanket ban on food and drink coming into the stadium to compel sale of both to a captive audience for one thing.  Careful planning and selection facilitated smuggling of lucky half-time contraband into the stadium, but it shouldn’t have been necessary.  Then there’s the sharp slope that drops from just beyond each touchline, leaving the pitch on a sort of weird plateau.  At first it looks merely odd, and a little dangerous perhaps;  we’re making uneducated guesses about drainage until Dad points out how difficult a Delap-style long throw would be to achieve with no run-up.

There are a few ways to look at this fixture.  It’s difficult to judge, for one thing, quite how the HarryKaneathon affects things…  if there’s little doubt that the “one of our own” adulation from the stands rings rather hollower than it did, you kinda feel that we could have done with things still being precariously up in the air. (As an aside, daughter 2’s proclivity for concise commentary was betrayed during the Euros…. “who does Harry Kane play for, Dad?”… “Tottenham”….”Why?”). On the other hand, whilst our opening looks relatively gentle all things considered you’d almost rather get the less winnable games out of the way while we’re still getting our shit together.  Quite whether this still qualifies as One Of The Tougher Games is another question, but it spares us from some of the imperative of racking up points in our early games.

3- Any away point in the Premier League is a decent one in any case and the directive must surely have been to keep it tight early doors, stifle the atmosphere, frustrate the hosts.  So Daniel Bachmann, who was to have a mixed and slightly edgy afternoon, skewing a pass out to a Spurs boot in the opening exchange probably wasn’t part of the plan, Peter Etebo coming to the rescue by crowbarring the ball from the feet of Harry Kane in the penalty area.  The Hornets broke aggressively, Dennis starting on the left and progressing down the flank; the ball found the feet of Kucka who curled a shot to the far post where, it transpires, Eric Dier’s head deflected it clear.  And breathe.

Etebo and Kucka formed two-thirds of a newly robust trio in the middle with the surprise immediate involvement of Moussa Sissoko.  First and foremost, this is a no-bullshit midfield that surely allays any concerns about being too lightweight in the centre of the park…  Etebo is the veteran with a princely four competitive starts now,  and does a sterling job again making light of a harsh early booking,  but Kucka and Sissoko are welcome surprises on the teamsheet.  Kucka, whose hunched shoulders suggest an invisible but fully-laden supermarket trolley, reprised his performance from the opening day with barrelling runs and sharp touches.  Sissoko looked dynamic, athletic and efficient except when in shooting range, delighting the home support by clouting over the bar in the second half as is traditional.  Fellow residents of the danger zone a third of the way up the Rookery, beware.

Between them the trio allay fears of being overrun as at Brighton.  We’re facing a capable opponent, and on our left in particular we look vulnerable as Son, whose ethnicity is an immediate source of fascination for both daughters, is dong Son-like things with little impediment.  Wrong to lay all the blame at Masina’s feet;  as previously this season he is exposed by lack of defensive diligence from the man in front of him, Dennis on this occasion, but it’s a productive-looking avenue for Spurs either way.

We do a fine job of holding them off again though, a recurring theme.  The home side enjoy a lot of possession and a lot of energy and aren’t getting very far with it, whereas we’re providing every suggestion of a sucker-punch with King doing a decent job leading the line, mobile, tidy and persistent, whilst Dennis and Sarr are willing and potent.  Kieron, who remains neutral-ish despite thirty years of occasional visits and a healthy disregard for Spurs, says we’re “a bit ragged”, but we’d have taken nil-nil if a bit ragged at the break with both hands.  Instead Spurs get a free-kick on the left, Son swings it into the dangerous corridor between attackers and goalkeeper and Bachmann hesitates fatally as it bounces in front of him and in low to his left.

4- Residual anxiety about quite how this is going to shake out fuel a little apprehensiveness at the start of the second half.  This could run away from us very rapidly if we’re not careful.  We are careful, however.  A significant departure in strategy has seen us bring in more experience than usual this summer…  Kucka is 34, Sissoko 32, Josh King will turn 30 mid-season.  Jose Holebas (31) and Valon Behrami (30) were the veterans in 2015.  That composure saw us keep it steady throughout the second half.

In truth, Spurs came closer than we did to adding to the scoreline. Daniel Bachmann redressed things slightly by pushing out a deflected Højbjerg free kick and then blocking a point-blank Kane shot. Troost-Ekong, whose vast improvement since last weekend surely reflected the return of the impeccable Sierralta beside him, got a touch to Moura’s cross to steer it out of Kane’s path. I try not to rewatch highlights or to let them colour my judgement before rewriting the report, but there’s no not mentioning that piece of defending.

But we remained in touching distance, and we retained a threat.  As Spurs’ half-chances came and went you knew that if you were in the home stands you’d sense the sucker punch coming.  It didn’t, but the fact that we played ourselves into a position where it might have is reason for optimism.  Sarr persisted despite regular aggressive attention, not least from Reguilón who was embarrassed enough about being left on his arse to make ludicrously fanciful objections to the linesman in front of us after Isma rolled around him.  Cucho came off the bench for a willing but ineffective cameo, nearly crowned with a scissor kick to a deep right-wing cross.  It was a one-in-ten shot at best, you’d want him to give it a swing at those odds but this was one of the nine.  Dennis moved to the centre as King was withdrawn but to less effect, his rare lack of progress from a central role frustrating him into a needless late booking. The game ended.

5- The gents on the other side of daughter 2 in the congested lack of personal space provoked by sticking narrow seats on a bend had mortified her and her sister by identifying me through them as “the bloke who writes for From the Rookery End” (almost).  They reflected on this one as “a free hit” and in a sense they’re right…  The Other 14 would tell you that if you beat everyone but the big six at home you’ll end up with 39 points and will probably be OK.  On that basis three points from three games so far is no worse than par.

There are a fair few “free hits” in the Premier League, and there’s a frustration here in that having been within a slug of a mugging we couldn’t find that goal, deserved or otherwise, or better still kept that free kick out.  Nonetheless.  We’re at a stage where the team is virtually brand new;  to look so convincing so quickly, albeit without points today, is no bad thing.  We need to hit the ground running with an attractive looking run of games coming after the international break, but on this evidence you’d back us to add to our tally.

Yoooorns.

Bachmann 2, Cathcart 3, Masina 2, Troost-Ekong 4, Sierralta 4, Etebo 4, Sissoko 3, *Kucka 4*, Sarr 4, Dennis 3, King 3
Subs: Ngakia (for Cathcart, 51) 3, Hernández (for King, 65) 2, Cleverley (for Sissoko, 71) 3, Rose, Louza, Fletcher, Sema, Kabasele, Elliot

Comments»

1. iamthesunking - 30/08/2021

Can backs of cabinets get fungal growth? 🤢

Matt Rowson - 30/08/2021

Difficult to know cos they’re hard to get at. But yes, I was teaching gor a metaphor and didn’t quite get there.

iamthesunking - 30/08/2021

No, you succeeded in conjuring up mental images!

2. The hornet's sting - 30/08/2021

Having been at the game, you felt this was not a great spurs side, which makes it all the more disappointing that the ‘orns were not more adventurous.

Also, on at least 4 occassions, they resorted to hauling our players down, when potentially we could have made a breakthrough. The Sarr incident in front of me being a case in point.

Once falling behind, and midway through the second half, I felt this was how it was going to end, spurs applying gamesmanship to get the three points. Although keeping Kane and Son quiet is an improvement on previous visits I suppose.

I felt Kucka and Sierralta were immense. Having just seen the fairwell message from Troy, the removal of some deadwood, the acquisition of players like Kucka and Sissisko, you feel this could be a successful new chapter and the suggestion that we are certs to go straight back down a folly. Looks like some more masterstokes from the owners.

Keep up the good work.

Matt Rowson - 30/08/2021

Thx. “More adventurous” is a bit harsh. I think we were set up to attack on the break and looked reasonably convincing in doing so given the formative nature of our midfield and attacking options. “Gamesmanship”… can’t believe I’m defending Spurs, I promise not to do it again… but we’ve seen worse. They got away with a bit, that’s all.

And I dare you to call Troy “dead wood” to his face…

The hornets sting - 30/08/2021

Sorry. Certainly would never call Troy dead wood at any time. Have great respect for him and all he achieved with us.

Matt Rowson - 30/08/2021

Sure. I think I knew that, was being slightly facetious given the accidental structure of your post.

3. David - 30/08/2021

I’m remaining positive but I don’t sense there are more than 45 goals in this team this league season.

Matt Rowson - 30/08/2021

We haven’t seen Tufan yet, but there’s perhaps a concern over the goal threat from the middle of the park, only Kucka perhaps. Up front though we have lots of options, and I think defensively we should be OK. I’m more optimistic than you sound.

4. NickB - 30/08/2021

From row 2, the lean-on bars were a massive minus. Claustrophobic and completely involvement-destroying for young children, who were left relying on the big screen. I saw a comment from another club describing it as the best PL ground for home supporters and the worst for away fans: think that’s pretty near the mark.

Matt Rowson - 30/08/2021

Unfortunate. I was with two young kids and my two pretty much teenagers. The younger kids were able to sit on the bars with support (given that I was sat behind them) and stood on their seats. The lean bars take up space but make it much much easier to stand for the entirety of the gane (which most did whether through choice or otherwise). There is an awful lot of competition for worst away end. I don’t remember trips to Leeds too fondly for one.

simmos - 31/08/2021

Strange that you should single out Leeds as I enjoy trips there (especially the recent results). I think you highlighted the worst views at away grounds when you mentioned Palace and Newcastle in this division.

Matt Rowson - 31/08/2021

View at Arsenal is pretty shocking in many areas. At Man U you’re treated like cattle. I love going to Chelsea, the view is OK but the catering is abominable.

I love Leeds as a city. I studied there, my brother and sister both live there and as you point out we’ve got a decent record. My recollection is of officious stewarding and no leg room (I’m 6’2″ so this is an issue) but hopefully the charm offensive in stewarding that has reached most grounds has gotten to Elland Road.

Newcastle is an appalling view but SO weird and unusual – plus the view of Newcastle and, you know, Belgium from the crow’s nest, plus Newcastle is a great city, that’s one not to miss if possible.

5. Harefield Hornet - 31/08/2021

Selhurst Park is surely the run away winner in the Premier League for worst away end. The view from some parts of it are an absolute disgrace and I’m six feet tall.

PEDantic - 01/09/2021

At least it’s football ground – unlike the hateful ‘London Stadium’.

Matt Rowson - 01/09/2021

Good God how did I forget? Blanked it out. I need to find the stat on how far the back of the away end is from the far corner flag… have a feeling its something like half a mile…


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