Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jermain Defoe vs Sandra Redknapp

Loyalty is a wonderful thing. This admirable virtue cements marriages and bonds lifelong friendships. It is also frequently misplaced.

If Harry Redknapp had as much faith in Roman Pavlyuchenko as he showed the shot shy Jermain Defoe, Tottenham would probably have beaten West Ham on Saturday. An inspirational display from Luka Modric merited as much.

Instead, the Russian sub was brought on (far too late) with just 20 minutes remaining and caused havoc around the West Ham penalty area while Redknapp favourite JD proceeded to fritter away chance after chance. Every striker has matches like this, it‘s part of the game, but the likeable Defoe seems to have little but these days.

Apparently, Jermain has been watching DVDs of Jimmy Greaves to improve his goal tally; presumably this was ‘The Best of Saint and Greavsie’ or a drunken home video from a 1979 Greaves family barbecue where the finishing related to pints.

The recurring criticism of Darren Bent was that he contributed nothing apart from scoring. Oh for that problem now. Bent’s relationship with Redknapp deteriorated after the manager famously ridiculed the striker for missing a simple headed goal in a 1-1 stalemate with Portsmouth. The criticism was myopically selective when you consider Defoe’s continued profligacy and Bent’s outstanding career goal record.

How many of Defoe’s chances today would Sandra Redknapp have converted, I wonder, Harry? We’ll never know because Redknapp, a wonderful manager in every other respect, has a worrying blind spot when it comes to the misfiring Defoe.

Yeah. Sandra would have buried them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Say hello (Spurs), wave goodbye (Arsenal)

I don’t have fingernails. My fingers are but a memory. There’s just a stump where my left hand used to be. That’s the price of tension. Apparently Spurs’ 0-0 draw with AC Milan lasted around 94 minutes – it just felt like an eternity.

Arsenal crashed out of the Champions League, but Tottenham roll on into the quarter-finals. It’s called 48 hours in football dreamland.

I really feared for Spurs ahead of the second leg with the seven-time European Champions. Too many supporters were worryingly complacent. Seasoned European performers Milan would undoubtedly perform better after underestimating Tottenham at the San Siro. Could a defence pierced three times by Wolves withstand a desperate assault from Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho?

How did Spurs survive? Sandro was again imperious. The Brazilian, still only 21, has this wonderful knack of effectively harrying and continually getting a crucial foot in. He was Milan’s nemesis again and helped Spurs desperately hold off wave upon wave of Rossoneri possession.

We were outpassed, but hung in there. The ageless Seedorf, anonymous at the San Siro, bossed the midfield. The ball seemingly attached to his feet by an invisible string. Attacks were repelled with a gritty steel not associated with a Tottenham side. The rearguard action was almost Italian in its nature. William Gallas was a key figure. A former Arsenal and Chelsea stalwart, Gallas’ football redemption is now surely complete after his brilliant goal line clearance and battling display alongside the outstanding Michael Dawson in the heart of Spurs’ defence.

Gareth Bale’s introduction may not appear to have had an impact, but his mere presence suddenly committed two or three Milan players to defence when they might have been bombing forward. We dug in as the seconds painfully counted down. The jubilation at the final whistle was only matched by the sense of relief.

Then a wonderful thought dawned upon the breathless Spurs faithful. 'Are you watching Arsenal?' The Champions League must look wonderful from the sofa.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Howard Webb goes AWOL at Molineux

If only Howard Webb had refereed Wolves vs Spurs. It could have been oh-so-different. The West Midlands marvels might have won 5-3! But sadly England’s finest referee can’t be everywhere. Don’t believe propaganda from the Star Wars Universe...human cloning is not yet a reality, just a dream. Until that joyous day we will have to make do with just one Howard and I will have to wait to entertain Natalie Portman II and III.

Thankfully, Webb’s gleaming dome was nowhere to be seen at Molineux. While Howard was probably enjoying a selection of sliced meats at the Rotherham Harvester, 'less capable stand-in' Mark Halsey failed to send off two Tottenham players, allow a bundled Wolves goal or award a penalty when a ball struck Alan Hutton’s back. We can’t all be Howard, but don't worry, he'll get us in his next game!

Meanwhile, Spurs’ strikers embarked on a veritable goal orgy! Jermain Defoe lamped in two wonder goals (the first inexplicably labelled scrappy by Sky stooge Chris Coleman) and the under-appreciated Roman Pavlyuchenko scored his 11th under-the-radar strike of the season to give Tottenham a tantalising 3-2 lead in the second half. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite hold on despite numerous second-half chances and another wonder show from Sandro in midfield, which went over the heads of the Sky commentators.

I don’t subscribe to the opinion that the press are against Tottenham (that’s just paranoia), but for two, odd hours Sky Sports morphed into Wolves TV. Every Wolves foray was greeted with breathless delight. Highlights included Martin Tyler’s moan of disappointment when Wanderers' ‘first 3-3 equaliser’ was disallowed and Coleman’s unerring ability to erase Tottenham’s superiority in possession (56%-44%) and 10 shots on target compared to 4 from his memory. I know a rather incendiary secret about Mr. Coleman, but I will keep my own counsel because everyone is entitled to an off-day, right?

Stearman’s ‘equaliser’ was interesting. Neither Tyler nor fellow cheerleader Coleman noticed referee Halsey immediately pointing for a Spurs free-kick and embarrassingly tried to make their oversight appear like a Halsey late decision. I’ve always rated Halsey and it’s wonderful see him officiating again after his serious health problems. There was a great tribute to former Spurs and Wolves star Dean Richards who sadly died, too young, at 36 last week. But it did seem ironic to me that the Wolves fans applauding Richards’ memory also abused recent cancer survivor Halsey for not siding with their team ('You're not fit to referee' and worse) on several crucial decisions. Humanity only stretches as far as your own team, it seems.

Gomes was perhaps fortunate on the disallowed 'goal' (he undoubtedly flapped), but the Wolves players were trying to rough him up; that they failed to make more significant contact probably reflects on their general lack of co-ordination. Ebanks-Blake certainly appears to own a pair of paper ankles.

The pitch was predictably dismal and I felt Spurs played far better than they were given credit for. It was still an away point gained where Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd have failed to pick up any this season. The return of 'Welsh Wonder' Gareth Bale provided welcome encouragement ahead of Wednesday’s crucial Champions League second leg clash with AC Milan. Another glory. glory night?