the gap

I keep harping on about it. It’s all about 4th. But maybe I was rash in assuming that this means it’s all about besting Manchester City. That might still be the case, especially if they become Tevezlezz. The news on Sunday evening is that Carlos doesntwanna Kickaball. But this year’s league has gone a bit crazy. With Saturday’s result at West Ham putting City right near the pinnacle, maybe they are the title challengers and Chelsea our 4th place rivals. I don’t think so, but I certainly don’t know so. I’m not sure anyone else really does either. There may be more than one current top four team in our race. Good news if that’s the case. The bad news, however, is that a gap has opened between the champions league places and the rest and we’re on the wrong side of it. On Sunday, Bolton closed the gap. We didn’t.

What an infuriating game this was. Partly because we failed to meet a surreally uniform expectation that we would beat the champions, partly because of how we failed. Never mind the formbook: Chelsea at home is winnable these days even when they are on fire. This game was no different from recent years. It was there for the taking even if ultimately it was nearly taken from us.

We did take the first half – but not, in hindsight, by enough. For the most part we were vibrant and sharp. We looked dangerous without quite creating that much. Chelsea had a touch more possession but didn’t turn it into anything tangible. We had more cutting edge and when we took the lead it was deserved. Good work from Defoe to set up Pavlyuchenko who cracked home a beautiful low drive right into the bottom corner.

Pav now appears to be a possible member of our first choice XI which has never really been the case before. His link up play has improved, and he seems to be scoring more in the league these days – he used to be a bit of a cup merchant. Work in progress (he always will be) but he’s done enough to merit the new contract apparently in the offing. I just feel he could still do more.  He’ll always be a frustrating player and in the second half he took it easy a bit too easily.

The first half in particular was also full of some satisfyingly crunchy tackles all over the park. Wilson looks a bit low on confidence but in general I thought he did his job today – I’m still a believer. Hutton put in one challenge that was either absolutely great or life threatening. Possibly both. Paler than the shirt he may be, but Hutton is living the dream – Tottenham and Scotland – and at the moment is just about living up to it. His final ball wasn’t quite there at times but defensively he looks a lot more solid. Not necessarily solid, just more solid. Slowly vibrating liquid. I thought Benoit was a little lucky to get away with a yellow for what looked like a reckless challenge.  Mind you after speaking to those who watched it on telly, it appears I missed that both goals should have been disallowed, so what do I know?

The second half though. I’m not happy. An out of form Chelsea is still good enough to give anyone a game, but what really disappointed was how disjointed and lacking in any sort of fluency our attacking play was after half time. Start brightly, score, fade away, concede lead, give away a penalty that someone else misses. It was the negative image of the usual Spurs display.

It didn’t take a great reader of the game to see that an equaliser was coming – I know because I could see it. Ultimately it wasn’t a soft Drogba goal that prevented us from winning. It was our sluggish failure to press home the advantage of having scored the first goal for once. Maybe we were in shock.

The leveller could have come sooner, too. Gomes brought off a fine fingertip save to prevent a Wilson og. When the inevitable arrived, though, it was crushingly simple. Long ball from Cech, Drogba and Dawson both jumped and missed, leaving our natural born central defender off balance and conceding enough space for Drogba to fire a hard shot that Gomes should have probably done better with. But hey – it was smashed straight at him and I guess when you get a decentish fist on a strike like that it can bounce anywhere. Unfortunately for us, it did. Dawson has to share the blame. I’ve missed him though, and I forgive him. I’m told there was a handball in which case it’s not safety first’s fault at all – it’s just that cheating cheat cheating again.

To be fair, Chelsea seemed a little less objectionable than normal, but only a little. Ashley Cole was doing his best to live down to his reputation though. Forget all the off-field baloney, he can’t accept a referee’s decision without moaning about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a howler or blatantly not open to question – he’ll question it, with his endearing and loveable scowl. It’s basically a nervous tic. A shame really. He’s probably the England player of his generation and no-one will care to remember. John Terry,  the best English player of any generation (in his head) had a decent game. It was fun singing the ‘Ledley Ledley he’s only got one knee – he’s better than John Terry’ song but he made his point when within seconds of it ending he prevented a one on one by block tackling Defoe brilliantly. He’s easy to dislike but there’s no doubting his quality. Like his team. They may be struggling but no point against them is ever ‘bad’. And yet… and yet.

What’s hard to understand about this game is why we were so lackadaisical once we took the lead. We invited Chelsea pressure, and a nervous and delighted Chelsea accepted. We were up to the physical challenge but we allowed them to dictate play and didn’t ask enough questions of their defence. It was as if we had decided to hold on for 1-0 against the champions. We can’t do that against chumps.

We huffed and puffed after the equaliser and Modric in particular was always busy. Both he and the team really missed Vfondevfoort. Modric drove us into the penalty area – we needed touch and guile once there to open them up and it was lacking. Maybe I should take the long view. We’ve ridden our luck precariously so often this season, perhaps it’s churlish to complain the one time we fall off. And we could have been completely derailed right at the end; a return to three point lane was avoided and Gomes has now definitely saved a penalty for us (ok – he already had). Nice to see it’s not just Tottenham who can softly waft a spot-kick near the middle of the goal at a nice height for the keeper. For a split second it looked like we might break and create a truly memorable minute. But it was not to be.

It’s a draw that should have been a defeat and right now feels a bit like one. That they celebrated like it was a win – there was even a Chelsea shirt thrown in the crowd – was a sign of where they are at this moment in time. Sadly this game also demonstrated where we are. Fifth. On merit. We need to up our game next week because even a win at Blackpool is only level par. It’s tough at the top, which is why we aren’t quite there.

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3 responses to “the gap

  1. Hutton really is paler than the shirt. In fact he is probably as pale as Iniesta….can we refer to him as The Gloworm from now on.

  2. oog, your message a few posts back about beating the Birminghams of this world is emphasised by the Chelsea result. 3 points at Brum, where we should have sealed the game and this draw wouldn’t seem so annoying. Away to Blackpool = Must win. If we are to challenge for 4th again.

    Also in the previous “not cricket” blog. The phrase that Germans use for laughing at others gag…… priceless!

    Keep up the great writing. cheers.

  3. Tough but fair assessment.
    Not a great Palacios fan, think we overhyped him when he first came, but credit to him he has performed well in our hour of need.
    We didn’t press home the advantage when we had the chance in the first half.
    The lack of guile in the penalty area which the arrival of Van the Man ended has been a problem for some time.

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