So'ton 1 Spurs 2
Feels like I'm writing up the same match report and analysis for every game at the moment. Comfortable, slick first half followed by an uncomfortable ugly second. Or vice versa. Or bit of both mixed in.
We destroyed them in the first half, yet we were not comparable in the second. That's Tottenham, making you work for it on and off the pitch. Whether it was thanks to tired legs that we spent the second half sitting back and inviting Southampton on - this remains to be seen how often it's repeated post-Europa League. Full pelt pressing followed by unavoidable downtime is a good tactic, only if we take our chances. A two goal lead is not quite enough. Leadership not always evident on the pitch to ease up on the tempo and claim some composure. There are methods of pacing ones self that does not always follow with the 'survival' tactic of just dropping back and hoping we don't concede. There's an instinctive missing ingredient, something in there to balance things out. Then again maybe it's as simple as having Dembele back in the thick of it. Bolster the midfield. Still, there has to be some admittance that in some games you'll surrender possession because the home side finally decide to wake up.
For want of better finishing (JD and one of those days or is that any given day?) we might have gone in at half time so far ahead that it would not have mattered what level of performance was displayed second half. Instead, we wasted chances and Southampton we're able to find a way back into the game. This led to all sorts of last ditch defensive heroics including yet another ridiculous slice of action from Sandro that saw him rise to block-deflect a torpedo off his head. You'd imagine if the world was ever in perilous danger from a monster meteorite, they'd send Sandro up into space to stop it.
Much like the WBA game from earlier this season (and patches and pockets of other matches) we've not buried the opposition and instead find ourselves time and again having to fight them off with the shovel. We have to boss games with complete conviction and leave our opponents eating dirt in a shallow grave. Easier said than done. I'd worry about our prospects for the season if we don't have a solid style by the 20th game mark. For the moment, you can't dispute the points accumulated and the manner in which they're being won. It's that second level of performance we're waiting for, that 90 minutes of pulling a side apart and blowing them away.
Instead we go from fluidity to the frenzy, with heavy reliance (this past weekend) on old man Gallas to steady the ship. No mistakes from him this week. Sandro an equal colossus, with his feet as well as his head. It's that same format of reactive football we have to endure thanks to, I'm not sure what. Why is there such a monumental difference in the two halves? Is it mental or tactical? Or simply down to that aforementioned opening blistering forty-five and those weary shattered legs thanks to the Euro hangover? Southampton upped the tempo, they were more urgent with their pressing. We just sat back and soaked it up. Perhaps because that's all that remained in the tank.
Goal one. Tom Huddlestone sends the ball in with a delightful dink for Bale who curls his header into the corner. Doesn't celebrate by celebrating subtly. Is there actually a difference? Next memorable moment was him taking his shirt off post-match. Goal two, Dempsey there to make sure it goes in after another superb Lennon run and a far too delicate finish by Defoe (trickled towards goal) which was cleared off the line. Rodriguez with the So'ton goal after a brilliant save and then cometh the second half of torment. Positives? That first half of wonderful overlapping and pace, ooh, we'd be salivating at the scoreline if we kept it up.
Couple of nice touches; Villas-Boas dedicating the win to football administrator Alex Carroll (following the death of his mother), the players throwing their shirts into the crowd at the end (AVB covering the cost) and for comic relief two Spurs fans tugging at Brad Friedel's shirt, waiting for the other to let go first. Laughed when the 'winner' offered the loser money. Classy.
The one thing that stands out for me when I stare at the Premier League table is the number nine. That's the amount of games played so far this season. Muscles being flexed, gentle jogs with the odd sprint. Still feels so early in the season yet give or take another five to ten games and the table will truly begin to take shape. We still can't report conclusively on Andre Villas-Boas as this Spurs team remains a team in progress. We've yet to dazzle White Hart Lane and aside from perhaps one game, we've yet to boss a match convincingly. We remain better away from home where we find exploitation of space so much easier to embrace. That missing creative craft in the games in N17 is an area that will be imperative for us to find to remain anchored to a top four position. That foot on ball away from home also essential to take the sting out of the hosts.
We're having to dig deep at times and make do without the likes of Dembele, BAE, Adebayor, Kaboul and Parker. VB citing lack of depth 'for all the competitions we want to do well in'. Because that's what we want. We want to challenge. It's the best way to build momentum. We'll have to hope some of those players are back as we look towards November as the fixtures creeping up could prove to be the impetus to see those sprints turn into a forceful run as we gear up for a marathon.
Wigan at home next, much like our gaffer has stated, it's a must win in terms of preparing for what follows. NK Maribor at the Lane and some squad rotation but almost certainly a must win if we wish to see ourselves progress to the next stage. Then it gets real. It's on the way. The month of heart in mouth.
Lazio away (Europa rest-bite).
West Ham home.
A defining part of the season as we head towards the festive period. One that will require an uplift of intensity especially at Eastlands and the Emirates. At the moment (famous last words) there still appears to be no change to the past couple of seasons in that nobody at this stage looks to be a class apart. Although granted, the money of City and the experience of Utd always allows them to pull away when it matters. Chelsea offensively remain a massive threat and the more games played the better Hazard, Mata and Oscar get. Arsenal have a variety of questions marks littered over them, much like we do.
For the moment, we continue to look at the return of Dembele. Try to work out what when exactly Adebayor will be ready to play football before he's lost to the Africa Cup of Nations. And look towards to our coach for clarity on the goalkeeping situation. A situation that for many doesn't actually exist and for some remains mystery. Before you know it, the January transfer window will be open and the same tired story arcs will be talked to death.
The season doesn't quite feel it's truly started, but it's about to.