I could do without International breaks, an opinion that seems to be shared by other contributors to this site. Why else should so many people have spent the last week knocking lumps off each other in a thread that merely served as a filler in a matchless week? At least it generated more excitement than deadline day … and for that very reason.
I particularly disliked this break because it checked our momentum and it might have weakened our team through injury. On the other hand, it gave me the opportunity to assess the progress of two of our players, whose ability at PL level I, along with other fans, have doubted in the past. If Berra and Ward performed creditably, I would feel less nervous about the upcoming Spurs match (and, indeed, more confident of our fortunes over the season).
Both had put in good displays at the weekend but on Tuesday Berra had the better game. He did not have to make many tackles but was secure in the air, intercepted well and almost scored a goal. Ward, on the other hand, struggled a little. Indeed, Ireland`s left flank was constantly exposed by the overlapping runs of Anyukov, the Russian RB. In comparison, Ward`s forays were muted and his crossing was uncharacteristically poor. Doyle did not shine either. Typically, Hunt`s 27 minute cameo role was a more lively one.
Yesterday, I got up early (at 6.30 a.m.) because I wanted to dash off an hour`s training on the bike before I set out for the match. I have a looming neck operation (caused by giving and taking too many hits in rugby as a youngster and diving over the handlebars of my bike at the end of a particularly tough race a few years ago) and I want to be as fit as possible when I go in. Thought: if I were to write nothing but nice things about MM , would he invite me in for treatment in the club`s futuristic medical room?
As I cycled, I thought about the Spurs game, inputting my observations of the internationals for added accuracy. Without prejudging the outcome, I found that I was feeling a little more confident than I had been when contemplating the same fixture last year. Our defence is stronger and we look sharper in midfield and in attack (not a completely accurate conclusion, as events turned out).
I left home at 10.25 a.m. and headed for the Oxford services, where I saw some people on their way to the Britannia Stadium in Stoke (I bet they were happy on their return) but no WW fans (or Spurs supporters either). This so surprised me that I followed a coach out of the complex and back down the slip-road to London.
Now seriously late for my lunch-date with a friend in Codsall, I wondered whether I should stop at Warwick. It was fortunate that my back insisted that I did because I met a WW supporter there who lives a few miles away from me in Surrey. After deciding on the afternoon`s result, we talked about sharing lifts, which would reduce the cost of travel and make the trip more convivial.
I finally rolled up at my friend`s house at 1.30 p.m. and handed him his card and present (he was 70 years` old yesterday). After a quick cup of tea, we walked up to the station, now a Holden`s pub, and savoured an excellent pint of Holden`s Special … and (for me) a lunch of crisps. Another Welshman, we discussed the rugby match against South Africa the following day (I await the game as I write) rather than the match at Molineux. I confessed my pact with the sporting gods again and he was not amused.
What of the Spurs game? Well, it was a disappointing result and this affected the atmosphere at the station and on the train on the way back, which was very subdued. I felt flat rather than upset, probably because I was half-expecting it. Surely, this season is not going to take the same course as the last one?
I don`t think so because the team did not play that badly. Indeed, it was anybody`s game until Spurs scored their first goal, which seemed to knock the spirit out of the lads. Our much criticized defence played well, with Johnson and Berra resolute in the centre and Ward and Stearman solid on the flanks. Stearman played a blinder, stopping everything that came his way and saving a certain goal (again). Ward was not quite as effective but he did have to contend with Bale.
So, why did Spurs win? It`s simple: they took their chances and we did not take ours. It could have been so different, had Henry or Johnson converted their attempts. One always had the feeling that whichever side scored first would win the match. But two lapses (including a slip) later, two through balls to strikers running into space in the box and Spurs were two goals up: clinical! We could have created the same chances but, as MM pointed out in the post-match interview, the players could not deliver the killer final pass and the finishing was poor. Overall, it was a Jekyll and Hyde performance, slick passing movements alternating with very sloppy play.
We need to improve the movement of the ball between the units of the team, with better running off the ball, greater vision and more accurate passing … and more dynamic execution of these skills. There`s still too much dithering on the ball and even JOH was at fault. Ironically, Henry, the worst culprit, also made the most decisive run of the game and almost beat Friedel. If only Gomez had been in goal! Upfront, Doyle was energetic, without looking like scoring, while Fletcher was largely anonymous. On the wings Hunt, as ever, flung himself round the pitch, tracking back to double mark Bale as well as driving forward. Kightly showed flashes of ability but looked rusty.
I delayed my return home to help my friend in Codsall blow out his 70 candles and eat his cake. As a result, I could not commiserate with any fellow WW supporters fans en route, who by then were at home kicking the cat. Avoiding the fight on the exit roads out of town and the weight of traffic on the motorways, it provided the bonus of a far more relaxing journey south, that is, if mulling over a defeat is ever a pleasant experience. Nonetheless, I was sorry to miss the customary snatched conversations in queues for coffee.
I arrived home just in time to catch Football First, much to my wife`s disgust as she was watching a film on another channel. I did record it and promised to take her out the following day, but this did not placate her. One of her more friendly comments was, ‘Why do you want to put yourself through so much pain and misery again?” I retorted that she couldn`t be any unhappier than I was but that only seemed to make matters worse. Oh well, there`s QPR – and Joey Barton- to look forward to next Saturday (and the visit to a garden centre today, of course) and that`s a match we must win.