I watched the Sunderland game with the same friends I watched the Arsenal game with. There was the same dampening down of away day expectations, countered by the same blindly uninformed optimism and bets on a Tottenham win. Then came the same self inflicted handicap – this time via Billy big boots indulging in his occasional tendency towards farce. But ultimately it was the same show of character, and the same result. Thank you friends, you tolerated my swearing and my pessimism and my angst and more importantly you made me some money.
I hadn’t even put this game in the ‘must win’ category. United did what needed to be done, and a mere point would have represented some progress. So it feels like a freebie, all the more so given that it was ground out with a starting eleven missing our six first choice midfielders from the last year or so.
I’d dismissed our squad strength as a myth given Redknapp’s reluctance to actually ever use the lesser lights, but this game showed otherwise. Sandro had his best 90 minutes in a Spurs shirt. All of a sudden we have a tidy player on our hands who will only improve further. Jenas continues to look like a man reborn. A man with a destiny. A man who has found his niche. A man sent to this earth to be a very useful squad member. He no longer suffers from having that dreaded quality ‘potential’. He isn’t ever going to be the next Frank Lampard. He’s just going to be quite a bit better than Jamie O’Hara, who must be fuming to see his role in life usurped.
But, of course, the star of the show was Kranjcar. It may be more luck than judgment on ‘Arrys part but when we’ve really needed it he’s stepped up to the plate. It’s easy to forget but last season around this time Bentley had a mini-run of form, and of course Pavlyuchenko went on a scoring spreeeeeee (that’s a really good scoring spree) round about the same time. I guess this is what squad strength means. It’s not about mixing the starting XI week in week out. It’s about keeping players happy enough so that when they finally get their chance they perform. Not happy. Just happy enough. I still don’t think Nico will be around for long – he looks great when the goals are flowing but anonymous when they aren’t – but it’s nice to see him get his moment in the sun.
Fourth with a bullet (until tonight, at least) and it’s almost squeaky bum time. For the first time in a while the league table looks good rather than just potentially good. I’ve already looked at the remaining games for ourselves and City (and Chelsea too) and predicted us into a heart-breaking fifth. But that’s fine, I did the same last year and this team has a habit of surpassing my expectations. When will I learn? Tottenham really have changed. Tottenham won’t let you down like they used to. Tottenham won’t ever leave you again. You’re safe now. I love you Tottenham, on this day of all days, I love you.
So when we are four nil and a man down at the San Siro at half time on Tuesday night, I will be keeping the faith. Looks like Bale won’t be there although a tiny little bit of me thinks maybe ‘Arry is engaging in mind games and that he’ll make a miraculous recovery. But actually, he’s just crocked. It looks like Modric will also be out, and Van der Vaart hasn’t looked spectacular for a while anyway. Jenas is suspended. Devastatingly, Crouch (the king of limbs) is also a doubt. No matter. We just need to keep this one tight and I’m feeling unusually optimistic. Ibrahimovic and Robinho scare me but no more than Eto’o and Sneijder. They will be missing Pirlo, Van Bommel and man-of-the-moment Cassano so they have their problems too.
This Milan team may be topping their league, but we’re not doing so badly in ours, and it’s a better league. We have more experience of the Champions League, and of the San Siro, than we did when we lost 4-3 to their flatmates. If Gomes, Dawson and Gallas can keep their heads I expect it will be everything to play for on March 9. And we can cut almost anyone down to size at the Lane.
A few weeks ago it looked like this might be the last hurrah of a fading season. Now it looks like Fulham in the fourth round could be this year’s Pompey semi final, prompting an inspired run. Once again I will be reporting back from Milan. It might not be 4-3 but there’ll be a sense of déjà vu about this one too.