No angle

The prospect of two beautiful days in short sleeves and flip flops. Cold beer and mountains of tortilla in Retiro Park. We arrived in Madrid to a cloudless twenty six degree day. I’d secured a ticket to the game without being ripped off by a tout. I was not in Milan.

 A relaxing build up, and then Tottenham spent ninety minutes tying a huge knot in my stomach.

 Just the sight of the Bernabeu gave me goosebumps. For the first time in one of the European super-stadia (San Siro. Stadio Olimpico. St James’ Park) I was not up in the gods. Our seats were secondtiertastic and the atmosphere was first rate. As fizzing as a De Maria drive into the far corner.

 Reactionary crypto-fascist oppressors they may be, but I rather liked the Madridistas the Bagel and I were sat with. Except for the constant shovelling into mouth and spraying onto floor of sunflower seeds. By the final whistle the Bernabeu resembled the bottom of a budgerigar’s cage, and not just because we were in the shit. They were good sports and joined in with the banter in our bizarrely mixed zone. They also had the good grace to leave well alone as the goals flew in.

 As for the result? Fans like to talk about where their club should be, and what they should be achieving. Most of the time it’s utter tosh:

 ‘We should be challenging for the league’;

 ‘We should be playing this [insert name of multiple European cup winning team here] off the park at our place’;

 ‘We should be buying [insert name of player who has pick of all Europe’s top clubs]’.

 Its not quite like that though. The reality is that if we go down to ten men, we should lose four nil at the Bernabeu. Especially when the standard tactic for a ten man Tottenham is to lump it up to the fella who’s just been dismissed.

 I’m writing this on the flight back and in just that short space of time, I have heard fans moaning about Harry bringing Defoe on instead of Pav. About not telling the players to get stuck into the Madrid players to provoke retaliation and a levelling up of the numbers. Of Corluka being a liability. That Redknapp should have told Lennon to shut up and get out on the pitch. I don’t agree with any of those points. Roman Pavlyuchenko would not have made an iota of difference. If there was a magic option on the bench, we’d have used it. If a player says he feels weak, it might just be that he has a bug rather than an attitude problem.

 It’s simple. Eleven men were up against it. Ten men were valiant up to a point but couldn’t live with a powerful and slick Real. That’s it. It happened. There’s no angle needed to explain it. We’re going out. We aren’t going to win the Champions League. But we were never going to. If ten men were to have a chance our striker needed to be able to hold the ball up. Defoe or Pav in the form of their life wouldn’t be good enough to do that job against this opposition. I am generally critical of both, but it’s not their fault they aren’t Ibrahimovic or Drogba.

 So we never got to properly see the eleven versus eleven that, even at one nil down, might still have produced an interesting spectacle. We have no-one but ourselves to blame. Crouch decided this tie as surely as he decided the last. Moments of madness. Unnecessary lunges that invited – demanded – two yellows. I’ll forgive him. It’s not a popular view but he’s the one striker in our squad I wouldn’t be looking to ship out this summer.

 I’m finding it harder to forgive Van der Vaart. These days our hotheaded genius is simply a hothead. I’m sure he was angry when he was subbed at half time but he needs to cut out the stupid bookings and remind us all of how good he can be. He also missed what looked like one of our only two half-chances, when a long Bale throw-in caught out the Madrid defence. Perhaps it was too tight and hard to control – but that’s why he’s in the team and an equaliser would have given us a glimmer of hope for the second half onslaught. I can forgive any player a miss, but kicking the ball away petulantly was as in character as Crouch’s tackles were out. It made me more angry than the sending off, even if ultimately it mattered far less.

 Once Crouch slouched lankily off the pitch, head held as low as it can go, we were always going to be ripped apart. Either side we conceded cheap headers. Redknapp might not be perfect. Lennon’s illness was unfortunate. But Madrid were always going to make light of us.

 Gawd bless the Bagel. he can’t quite bring himself to say it. I can. We’re out. He insists that freak results happen. Istanbul. Arsenal v Newcastle. He’s right, one in a million games by definition do happen.  There’s a chance there’s a chance there’s a chance.

Nah. We’re out. There we go. We can’t mope about it. We need a win in the league this weekend, then let’s give it one hell of a go against Real in the second leg. Let’s get an early goal. Convince ourselves we could, possibly, maybe, just somehow pull this off. Ultimately fall well short but get a morale boosting one-off victory anyway. Then go on from there to get fourth. And do the Champions League all again, with a year’s experience and better strikers. City too far ahead, you say? That’s how we all felt after the Pompey cup defeat this time last year. I feel strangely, unjustifiably, optimistic!

The Champions League journey has been wonderful. Emotional, even. I’ve had an incredible time following my team, and doing it with good friends. But I’m getting married in the summer. We want kids. Realistically this is probably the peak of Following-Tottenham-fever for me, and it couldn’t have been better timed. I won’t ever shake the bug totally, of course. I’ll hang on to my season ticket even if I move to the other side of the world (or even if Spurs do). And my actual Tottenham fever is happily incurable. But this is the end of a great adventure. Don’t be too down, my friends. Here’s to all the great adventures yet to come.

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wake-up call

‘I find the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium’. So said uncle Monty, and he may have had more than the horticultural aesthetic in mind when he said it. 

But thats for a different blog. There is beauty in humble, old fashioned produce. It can’t all be victory over AC Milan followed by Real Madrid followed by Barcelona followed by victory over Chelsea at Wembley. In fact, let’s face it, none of it can.

The premiership may not be old fashioned. A kick off at 12:45 may still be hard to adjust to (personally I like it – plenty of the day left, no sun in this shelfsider’s eyes until the 88th minute). It’s hardly jumpers for goalposts.

But a proper grudge match against West Ham is. Solid, worthy, traditional fare. As traditional as not moving to Stratford. As traditional as police dogs on the high road and fat men covered in sweat and cheap jewellery screaming obscenities. Unglamorous but not unlovely in it’s own way. Maybe a bit unlovely.

Over the years my opinion has changed more about West Ham than about any other team. As a kid, I quite liked them. They played pretty football, had a nice strip, the occasional glamour player, the occasional nutter. In Frank McAvennie, they had the complete package. From my vantage point, the peaceful footballing backwater of Glasgow, what was not to like? 

Moving to London changed all that. We’re their Arsenal. They despise us. They think we despise them back, and we revel in seeing them as little more than an occasional irritant, a fly to be swatted away. They don’t like Harry Redknapp, which to me is, like, SO 2008. They didn’t win the World Cup, either, by the way. 

They were my wake-up call. I knew about Arsenal, of course, but this? The world didn’t love Tottenham. We didn’t love the world back. 

Today was not, and never will be, the east London derby – thank the Lord Coe. We were glad to grant West Ham that Pyrrhic victory but today the dropped points hurt a lot more.

Coulda woulda shoulda. We came close several times. Dawson early, Bale late. Lennon. Wood was worked. Green too. A couple of stingers late on from Pavlyuchenko.

Modric had the freedom of White Hart Lane in the first half, but wasn’t quite at his sparkling best. It happens. Early on Bale looked like he might give Jacobssen a torrid time, but on the left and on the right this wasn’t his day. Even superheroes need time to play themselves back into form.

Corluka was guilty of too many poorly executed passes that led to promising attacks breaking down. Fvonderfvoort sprayed some nice balls around but we are starting to see that he might not be capable of sustained brilliance. Whether through disruptive injuries or just lack of form, he hasn’t been at his best for some time now. It’s a worry.

And yet – we still created chances against a well organized Hammers, who should be safe on this showing. You just needed one to go in. You just needed your striker to show his quality.

And today he did. Defoe showed his quality. Top 8 quality, in a team riddled with top 4 quality elsewhere on the pitch. I’ve had it with Defoe. More than once, the Hammers’ chant of ‘Jermain Defoe, he’s a c***’ was drowned out by ‘Jermain Defoe, he’s a Yiddo’. I can’t be the only one who was thinking – and let’s be charitable – the truth is actually somewhere in between.

I have nothing personal against him. I don’t think his attitude is wanting. He obviously loves playing. He cares. He just doesn’t have enough quality. He can’t do it. At all, this season. Even in his good years he blows hot and cold. He doesn’t do it at the top level. He just isn’t top level, in the position you need it most. He always needs one too many touches. He lacks composure. When he’s good, he’s very good. But he’s never good enough for very long. He’ll score more this season, and I’ll still be right.

You can point to any number of reasons why this game wasn’t won. I’m not saying Defoe is the only one, and if Gomes hadn’t brought off a couple of excellent saves, one in each half, it could have been worse. 

But on a day where all our players weren’t quite at their top level, they still created enough chances to win three or four games. All with a front man who fails to give defenders something to think about for 90 minutes, and who isn’t clinical enough to make it all worthwhile. What does Jermain Defoe do exactly? West Ham don’t irritate me. Tottenham do.

It’s been an odd week. The excitement of the draw with Madrid has to be tempered by the knowledge that it’s probably the end of the Champions League road. And at the end of that road, what happens to this Tottenham team? We have two players who all of Europe would take in a shot. We can surely expect at best only one of them to hang around for long. A striker who can win you scrappy games 1-0 will get you back in to the Champions League spots. That’s the only thing that can keep this team together.

If we had signed a truly top quality striker in the summer or January, it might have been the beginning of something special. Instead this week feels like it might be the beginning of the end.

the hat (part two)

Shakhtar Donetsk

 Pros: Winnable
Cons: Away leg will be very tough and very expensive to watch

 If it weren’t for the ridiculous away trip to the Ukraine, one might wonder if Shakhtar would have made it as far as they have. One would probably be wrong though. The only game that they didn’t win in this year’s Euro-run was the 5-1 drubbing just down the road from us. That aside, however, and it’s pretty impressive reading. With six goals past Roma – three away and three at home – there’s no trouble in front of the net. Conceding just two, there don’t seem to be any major issues with their backs to it either.

Shakhtar are currently well clear at the top of the Ukrainian league and they’re not going to be afraid of coming to 36,000 seater stadium in North London to get shouted at by us – partly because they’ve done it before, although this time I should imagine Harry will make his team selection a little more carefully. Their squad sheet might read like a Ukrainian phonebook but do not be mistaken. This lot will be winners. Oh, and Eduardo.

Real Madrid
Pros: Great trip, massive name, occasion to rise to
Cons: They’re a bit good and they’ve got Mourinho

 Mouth-watering. That’s how to describe two games with Real Madrid. My mouth is actually watering right now. We’ve already had to pinch ourselves at seeing both the red and blacks and blue and blacks of Milan and Inter grace the turf at White Heart Lane but all white of the all time top European club that is Real Madrid would be something else. Sadly, it’ll never happen as we’d get their away strip but the meaning of the occasion would be big enough if not their shirts. Technically, of course, they’re not through until tonight but who’d bet against them?

Real would absolutely be the favourites but there’s every chance that that could work for us just as much as it would them. We would raise our game for them higher than you’ve ever seen it before. If our hearts swelled enough for us to fly when we played Inter, we would soar against Madrid. Yes, their squad sheet is impressive but perhaps not as mind-boggling as it has been in years gone by with our biggest advantage that at least we know a little about their best player and indeed a few of the others as well. What’s more, if Chelsea have got a monkey on their backs about winning this competition, Real have got a gorilla.

Barcelona

 Pros: Amazing experience for one and all
Cons: Almost certainly the end of the line

 It would almost be an honour to get knocked out by Barcelona and it’s probably as much that very mentality as anything else that would defeat us before we’d even begun. It would be hard enough to beat Barca on what is virtually home turf at Wembley in a one off game but home and away is nigh on impossible. Our only hope would be having the Camp Nou leg first. It’s conceivable that they’d take their foot off the pedal at 4-0 and face a lot more spirit at White Hart Lane than they’d bargained for. Conceivable, but just one notch away from impossible. If, for whatever reason, Pique and Puyol were out – along with Eric Abidal who’s sadly been diagnosed with cancer of the liver – we might be able to cause them some trouble in the air, but that’s presuming we ever got the ball.

The positives would be a fantastic trip out there for almost as many as want to go and being able to tell our grandchildren that we saw the best football team ever play right in front of our eyes. But perhaps the best bonus of all – if Bale has a fantastic game against them, at least that will send his price up. If he has a bad one, they might leave him alone.

Conclusion

 So, all things considered, this is the order of who I’d most prefer us to play:

1. Schalke
2. Real Madrid
3. Shakhtar Donetsk
4. Chelsea
5. Manchester United
6. Barcelona
7. Inter

In an ideal world, we’d play Schalke in the quarters, Real in the semis and Barca in the final. Now that would be a story to tell your grandkids.

Let us know in the comments what order you’d like to play them and why.

Fingers crossed for Friday.

the hat (part one)

Hello, you. The Bagel just popping in for a mo while Oog’s out and about keeping the dogs fed. I’m finding it very hard to think about the league. Naturally, our next game is our Cockney friends who’ll be looking for a right old barrel of upset and a good knees up afterwards if there are any battle cruisers left on the High Road that they haven’t fire bombed.

All the same, The Bagel’s eye is very much on the Champions League and perhaps yours is too. It would be a bit of a disaster not to beat West Ham on Saturday, so Hitzlspergers and a slightly tougher looking central midfield proposition than we’d have liked to one side, let’s just consider it a win and worry instead about our irresistible route to the Champions League trophy. So. Who are we going to pull out of the hat on Friday? Who do we want to pull out? This is the way I see it.

Chelsea

 Pros: Not much to spend on travel, we have a decent record against them of late
Cons: Not very exotic and it’s bloody Chelsea

Ok, so Chelsea aren’t through yet unless you’re reading this after Wednesday evening, in which case they almost certainly are. Out of the two other Premier League clubs left in the competition, there’s no doubt that this match up would be the more winnable. Chelsea are desperate to win the Champions League. The pressure would all be theirs. It’s been their raison d’etre ever since Abramovich turned up and that’s one hell of a monkey to carry around on your back. As Oog pointed out a few weeks ago, we’re relatively monkeyless at the moment and, more to the point, this would be a tie representing only a small simian for us and one that we wouldn’t even need to remove in order to progress – an away win at Stamford Bridge.

The only real downsides to this one are that it’s not a great fixture for the travelling supporter. Yeah, relatively speaking, it’s cheap but it’s not a big stadium, so tickets could be hard to come by.

Manchester United

 Pros: Good chance of getting a ticket away, they owe us one
Cons: Not beaten them for donkeys home or away

 A sharp intake of breath will be defined as the reflex reaction of a Spurs fan on getting drawn with Manchester United. There’s not a lot of positives to take from a tie with Red Faced Fergy and his troop. I’ve never been to Old Trafford, so that’s something that The Bagel could enjoy about it but I can’t say that that’ll help anyone else.

United have a large barrel of experience on how to win these things and it’s a game where the monkeys are all ours. We haven’t beaten them since the 99/00 season and even then, if you take the return fixture into account, they would have gone through 3-3 on away goals. Not good reading. What we’d really have to hold onto is hope and fate. It’s widely accepted that United aren’t that good at the moment. They’re a lot better than people give them credit for but they’re definitely beatable. Anyone who was at the Lane for the fixture would have seen the first time that they were consistently on the back foot against us in the last 10 years.

For the hope, we would have to hope that Vidic and/or Ferdinand were out. As for fate, well, we’re going to beat these buggers one day and, kharmically speaking, they owe us big time for that goal that never was. That was 2 points that would have seen us into the UEFA Cup the following season. Add a few years of interest and passage to the semis could just about weigh up.

Inter
Pros:Already beaten then 6-5 on aggregate
Cons: Enough with the San Siro already

 What kind of a European tour would send us to Milan three times? It’s not so much that it’s a tough tie. It would be a tough tie, but, for Oog and The Bagel, that would make four trips to the San Siro in the last two years. Milan just isn’t that nice a city.

Anyway, personal issue aside, beating Inter over two games is likely be tougher than it was before. We no longer have the element of surprise and they no longer have a manager they dislike. What’s more, there’s a matter of pride for them. Fortunately, what we would have is 11 players on the pitch for 180 minutes – we hope, anyway – not that we needed it the last time.

Schalke
Pros: We might be favourites
Cons: We might be favourites

 Objectively speaking, Schalke would be the best draw. They’re probably the weakest team, ignoring us; they’ve just fired their manager and they’re lying 10th in the Bundeslega. That said, they won 4, lost 1, drew 1 in the group stages – one win better than we did – and they only let in 3 goals. They also brushed aside Valencia fairly comfortably with a 1-1 at the Mestalla and a 3-1 result at home – the same nights as our fixture with AC Milan. I can’t say I know anything about their defensive ranks but they must be pretty good and the headline names to worry about are Raul and Huntelaar, who are probably a little scarier in name then form, and Farfan who’s probably the opposite and was probably the best player on the pitch when PSV knocked us out of the UEFA Cup.

That said, they’ll have plenty to worry about with us and it would be an excellent away trip for the travelling fan. Beer, sausages and good hospitality all the way. Just a shame we’d probably only get an allocation of around 3,000 seats which might make it tough to get a ticket.

Part 2 tomorrow!

war effort

For the second game in a row – sod the neutral. But under very different circumstances.

 It was not a good start to the evening. I arrived at the British Queen near WHL station early to find it shut with a note taped to the window saying that it had been repossessed by Admiral Taverns. Naughty Admiral, ruining everyone’s fun.

 Instead myself and Whatwouldjimbodo? were forced to celebrate his birthday with a couple of cans of cheap costcutter lager (oh ok, red stripe) by a bin in a dark Tottenham side street to calm our nerves. It’s where he always saw himself at 37. The pre-match consensus seemed to be that it would be all about the first goal. Obvious, but true. Or completely false, as it turned out.

 European nights at White Hart Lane have long been woven into the fabric of our club. Even if this year turns out to be just a blip, it’s great to hark back to the times in the 60s, 70s and 80s when our modern history was effectively written. The atmosphere was tense and crackling even before kick off. As the teams came out, the size of the occasion hit me. It was the kits that did it. The all-white contrasted with the red and black of one of the truly iconic strips in world football. In our no longer fit for purpose, but still very special, stadium. It just looked magnificent. It looked big-time.

 But whilst there was a nod to history there was a pleasing lack of respect for the Champions League ‘anthem’, drowned out by some old Tottenham staple or other. Everything felt right to me. And then the game started.

 What a strange match this was. It’s not that nothing happened. It’s just that for once this was a game more about tactics, less about incidents. Not very Tottenham.

 It was noticeable that Benoit Assou-Ekotto That’s-Who was sitting back when normally he would have been on the overlap. Harder to tell with Corluka, of course. I think Harry basically got it right. This was not gung-ho, and it didn’t need to be. But the full backs sitting back disrupted our flow. The little triangles to get out of tight spaces in the centre that usually end up out wide – they just weren’t happening as often. Whether through tactical necessity or simply not being quite on our game, our passing was not as crisp as usual.

 For once Modric of the match was simply Modric. By his own exalted standards he had a poor game but it didn’t matter so much, for lo, alongside him a new star is born. Sandro looks like the real deal. He’s got used to the pace of his new environment and is now able to impose himself on it. I mean this as a compliment when I say that I really did notice Sandro tonight. How could you not? He was fantastic. He was everywhere. It’s easy to say he’ll replace Wilson but it’s probably Huddlestone who now faces a real challenge to prove he is part of our strongest eleven.

 In a game with little incident, you can always depend upon Heurelho to come up with something. One rush of blood to the head in which he came off his line ended up with Sandro getting a head and then Gallas a goal-line boot on to a Robinho(?) shot. I had already mentally accepted conceding from open play if it meant avoiding a red card and penalty, so this was a real let-off. That, and one ridiculous schoolboy throw out straight into red and black pressure aside, it was good Gomes tonight.

 At half time I was adamant – Bale must come on. Fear of Bale is like a player in himself, but really, you have to have Bale on the pitch for Fear of Bale to truly do his stuff. Which is unfortunate, as otherwise we could try to flog Bale for £50m and just play Fear of Bale instead.

 But in fact, nothing very much changed. The game only had one gear. They applied pressure, we took everything they had. The only difference was that our passing was slightly crisper in the second half, but not by much. Even when Bale finally came on things just stayed the same. Apart from one late shot deflected over, and one that the Milan fans thought was in when it hit the side netting (is there a more enjoyable moment of schadenfreude in football than that?), it was always nervy but never nail bitingly so. Their attacking players were disappointing – Robinho, Ibrahimovic, the artist formerly known as Kevin Prince Boateng – they all had plenty of the ball and moved it smoothly, but to no real effect.

  It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Our best players were our central defenders and our defensive midfielder. That sums up the game – they huffed and they puffed but our house was made of brick. It’s an odd thing to celebrate a nil nil. Even on the final whistle, you don’t quite get the release that a bulging net provides.  But it can’t all be 4-3 thrillers. This was a war effort. It has a glory glory all of its own.

mala gente

Just a quick one ahead of tonight’s game. In fact, after last night’s game.

 A few years ago (before blogs, dear children) I briefly sent out a group email called “very bad people”. The name came from a Reyes quote “muya mala gente” in which he discussed his Arsenal team mates in a refreshingly honest (probably just stupid, looking back) light with a Spanish radio station.

 I would watch Arsenal games and record every single dive. Every over the top tackle and every time they surrounded the referee, pant-hooting. That was just Martin Keown, to be honest.

 Then I’d listen to Wenger’s post match interview where he would reel off the indignities his angelic dream team had suffered at the hands of the referee.

 I would then match this up with the behaviour of his own team and record for posterity what a hypocrite he can be.

 After a while it ran out of steam. Because I realised it was a little bit creepy. But, hey, it was fun for a while.

 Of course, it could have been any team. It could have been our own. Every team rages at perceived injustices and ignores their own good fortune. Sid Lowe tweeted a nice quote this morning from Andoni Zubizarreta “We demand precision, accuracy and neutrality, but with one caveat: that it’s in our favour”.

 But I’m i) biased against Arsenal and ii) genuinely believe they are a bit more graceless when having a moan than most other teams. So I do notice it more, and enjoy it more, when they lose the plot.

 So when they keep moaning about the sending off – here are some other observations.

  • Definite penalty for Messi in the first half – not given
  • Definite red card offence by Van Persie in the first half – he put his palm in Alves’ face. He did it slyly as well, and whilst he may not have connected as well as he would have liked – connect he did. He should have been off in the first half
  • The red card was harsh because I don’t believe the referee can really know he heard the whistle.
  • On the other hand – I believe he heard it. How many other times did the referee blow his whistle last night? Was there an issue with people not being able to hear it at other points in the game? No. So he was timewasting. That’s what I reckon. I just wouldn’t have booked him if I was the ref.
  • No shots on target. None. Nada.

 Well, that’ll do. What a very small man I am to waste my time and yours with this. What a very small man I am to break my ‘not banging on about Arsenal’ promise. But sod it, sometimes it’s fun to wallow in the misery of others. I’m sure there will be plenty of people doing the same if we mess up tonight.

 Ah, tonight. I don’t really go in for previews because that would suggest I had some sort of tactical insight. I don’t, I just like writing about stuff wot I’ve seen. I hope and expect Bale and VdV to start, with Crouch up front. If Corluka is fit I think he has to play. For once we haven’t got a ridiculous injury list – not as ridiculous as theirs, anyway – so there are no excuses. It’s far from done and dusted. There are butterflies in my stomach. Moths. Dragonflies. The occasional armadillo. It’s nights like these that we’ve all been dreaming of.

 Let’s just hope it’s not ruined by the referee, like last night’s game wasn’t.

 COYS.

a stretch

Rafa Benitez was recently on TV comparing playing Arsenal to sleeping with a short duvet. If you pull it up your feet are uncovered. If you cover your feet, your head is exposed.

Personally, I’ll cover my feet and allow myself to breathe – problem solved. But you know what he meant. Concentrate on attack and you leave yourself exposed at the back. Try to shut them out and you won’t have any firepower yourself. One way or another, you’ll spread yourself thin. At the moment, we are wrestling sleeplessly with a duvet of our own devising. For months our defence has remained strong enough to just about cope with impotent strikers. As soon as our frontmen finally pull up the sheet, our defence… goes to sleep.

The game was preceded by a tribute to former Spur and former Wolf (?) Dean Richards who has sadly passed away at a horribly young age. He always seemed a whole-hearted player, Richards, and he was for a while a fans’ favourite. If memory serves me right his Spurs career and the esteem in which he was held by the crowd faded as our hope turned to frustration during the Hoddle era. He wasn’t helped by a remarkable price tag which came about after much drawn-out wrangling with Rupert Lowe (already peeved to have lost Hoddle).

I was at his debut, where he scored against Man Utd. At half time I sent a text to a friend saying “I don’t care if we lose 5-3 [and yes, I did say 5], that was the best half of football I’ve ever seen from Tottenham”. We lost 5-3.

Dean Richards was probably a hero at some other clubs – he was the type of honest, committed player who would be – but at Tottenham he perhaps unfairly became a bit of a symbol of a difficult, disappointing era. A footballer’s life is made of such ups and downs, and they are put in perspective when tragedy strikes. Hopefully the events before the game will be of some small consolation to his family.

But football goes on, and whilst a 0-0 might have been a fitting tribute to a defender, perhaps a rollicking good game is better still.

The neutral will be happy. Mind you, how happy can a neutral really be? Theirs is a life lived without passion, on the sofa, or the Clapham omnibus, or wherever it is they hang out, with their neutral pals. Do they even exist? I’ve never managed to watch a game of football and genuinely not care who wins. Even if I haven’t made my mind up at kick off, I’ll have it worked out within a few minutes. Point is, it was a humdinger. Frankly though, it stressed me out after a very relaxed weekend away in the new forest with lady Oog.

We don’t like to make it easy for ourselves against Wolves. And we didn’t today. Early on we looked comfortable but as the game wore on the men from Molinieoueuxx were quicker to the fifty fifties. I don’t think it was due to a lack of application. We knew we had to battle, and battle we did. It’s just that when it comes to battling Wolves are in their element. I genuinely mean it as a compliment to Sandro that I didn’t really notice him too much. He’s starting to look like a classy defensive midfielder, someone who breaks up play and keeps the ball rolling with efficiency. If he isn’t already he soon will be first choice ahead of Wilson.

 After a ten minute flurry of pressure from Wolves we lost the opener. A weakly defended cross from the right and a free header for Doyle. At times we looked as if we struggled with the sun in our eyes and that it may be a case of Blackpool revisited, but you know how it is. You wait ages for a bus, and then two Jermain Defoe goals turn up one after the other.

We may yet see this game as the one where either Pav or Defoe – hopefully both – set off on a real wave of form that the whole team were able to ride. I liked Defoe’s celebrations. A bit cocky, a bit relieved, a bit aware that he owed us one. Or lots. A bit like a mental block might just have been firmly unblocked.

But in the short term, today was infuriating. And yet it should have been so much worse. I do not like the rules about red cards for goalscoring opportunities, but Halsey got it badly wrong. It was another soft penalty but a correct one. A red card would also have been soft but correct. The penalty was dispatched and you felt that the second half would bring another gloomy onslaught.

 Instead it started brightly. Lilywhitely. A lucky break to Pavlyuchenko and for the second game in a row a deflected effort went in for the relaxed Russian. Once again we were at a stage where the game was being stretched and it could have worked in our favour. Lennon and – joy of joys – Bale came on. Our tactic was to soak up pressure and hit them on the break. A good tactic too, but it didn’t quite work.

You always knew there was another goal in this game and in fact there were two. Luckily for us, a Gomes howler was wrongly adjudged a foul by Halsey and from there we should have held on. Defoe hit the post on 84 and it could so nearly have been game over. Instead, we were pegged back once more.

I have to take issue with hauling Modric off with 5 minutes to go. If this was done with Milan in mind, what good does it do? You don’t take the engine out of a racecar on its last lap, not when the race is still to be won. By all means rest important players, but take them off earlier. And don’t take off the guy who gives our team its identity. Can I pinpoint this as the moment where the game was won and lost (or, I suppose, where it wasn’t)? No, but it reduced our chances of hitting them on the break and of keeping possession. Ultimately it may have cost us what would have been a ridiculously valuable two extra points.

It feels like it’s slipping away from us but with Chelsea playing City and some winnable home games coming up for us, we can still make up ground. If we can win the games we should win, it looks like it could yet come down to the two away games in our mini-league. Eek.

It’s going to be a bit of a stretch. We may yet come up short, but we can still do it. I know we have what it takes. We had it last year. Where have we put that longer blanket?