It has been a recurring problem at White Hart Lane over the past number of seasons – Tottenham’s inability to break through a well-organised and disciplined team in a match which everyone expects them to win. The atmosphere in such games is often muted and nervous with an acceptance that it’s not going to be Spurs’ day.
After yesterday’s win over Hull, manager Andre Villas-Boas was critical of a lack of atmosphere and support from the fans inside White Hart Lane. His team had once again struggled to break through against a hard-working side intent on denying the Spurs players time and space to play the ball. It’s not a new problem as it is one which Spurs encountered under Harry Redknapp. Matches against Wigan, Stoke, Wolves and Hull provide evidence of their earlier difficulties. Even last season with Gareth Bale at this best Spurs had their difficulties and were saved by a late, late wonder striker from their now departed ‘star’ in the final home games against Southampton and Sunderland.
Yesterday, the wonder strike came from referee, Michael Oliver, with a blast of his whistle as he pointed to the spot and awarded a harsh penalty from which Roberto Soldado scored the only goal of the game.
Tottenham players and supporters suffer the same problem in matches against teams like Hull, Stoke, Wigan – they are expecting to win. In the week leading up to matches against Chelsea, Manchester United and the north London derby there is an anticipation ahead of the big game. Media attention is focused on such games, the players respond to ‘big’ games and in a similar way for fans there is a build up to the match as they prepare to renew acquaintances with long-standing adversaries. The anticipation of the match over the previous days builds to create an atmosphere within White Hart Lane with the attention of both players and fans focused on the importance of the game.
Some supporters heading to the Lane for the game against Hull may have been unsure who the match was against until late in the week. There were no star names to bait with jeers every time they missed a tackle or over-hit a pass. The return of Tom Huddlestone and the fear that he might score a goal against his former club was the height of any pre-match interest. In a similar way, the Tottenham players would have known little about the individual Hull players and having been away to Moldova in mid-week there was little time to think about the match.
Tottenham’s involvement in the Europa League has been used by some as a reason for Spurs’ disappointing performances on the Sunday after the Thursday excursions into the far-reaches of Europe. That, however, shouldn’t have been an issue this season as only 3 or 4 players played in European games and the following weekend’s league match. Most of the players travelled for the Europa League games but it wasn’t budget airline style travel that they had to endure on their trips to Georgia, Russia or Moldova and as professional sportsmen, everything would have been laid on for them.
Rather, the lack of anticipation of a ‘big’ match and the expectation that “we should win this” by both players and supporters creates a lesser atmosphere within White Hart Lane. The players start at a slower tempo and with the opposition allowing them possession they never actually get into the game so that when the visitors do step up their game, the players are taken aback and can’t respond from the lethargy that has come over them. Equally the fans, see the team with the majority of possession and constantly attacking, so expect them to make the breakthrough at any moment and there is less atmosphere within the ground. As the game progresses, however, neither players nor supporters can help each other.
The fans’ support in chants and songs could lift the players to greater effort and possibly a goal while a goal could lift the crowd but more often than not, in games like that it doesn’t come and both players and fans become resigned to a disappointing result which is the way the game was panning out against Hull until Mr Oliver stepped in to upset Hull fans and provide a sigh of relief for Spurs supporters.
AVB wants more support and less negativity from the fans in matches against teams like Hull. The fans, in turn, expect a greater endeavour from the players – it’s not enough to spend much of the time passing the ball back and forward along the half-way line or passing backwards every time you receive the ball. The players need to be committed and take individual responsibility to run at the opposition and put them under pressure so forcing them into mistakes rather than waiting patiently, leaving it to someone else and hoping for something to happen over the course of ninety plus minutes.
The solution to AVB’s problem is a combination of fans and players together.