Let us forget the first half for a few moments – it was eminently forgettable afterall – so what positives can we draw from the Palace game?
We won – a positive.
We scored two goals – a positive. Two actually.
We kept a clean sheet – a positive. We had been doing this regularly earlier in the season but not so much recently. (How this happened is still a mystery as I really cannot recall any penalty kick quite so abysmal as that seen today)
We now have 40 points – another positive (at least we are free from relegation which is a relief).
We have a positive goal difference – and when was that last a positive? Okay it is 20 behind Chelski and Le Arse and 33 off Citeh but it is now a positive.
We didn´t play well and won – positive.
To be fair to Crystal Palace they played us off the park in the first half – at half time you could not tell which team was in the top six and which was in the bottom three. Yet we persevered, and we came through – positive.
We found ourselves a goalscoring hero, someone who could get on the end of a through ball and despite attention from two defenders somehow managed to poke the ball home. A major positive – just a shame we have just sold him to a Canadian outfit.
All joking aside – and some of the above is not that much of a joke – we were not that good today.
Palace did not park the proverbial bus, they came to attack, exactly as I suggested in previous blogs. Under Pulis they have found an attacking intent which does them a lot of credit even if it doesn´t bring them results. They came at us and should have been leading by at least one, if not two goals, by halftime.
That we had our worst half of the season – and there have been a fair few – should not be overlooked, we weren´t even in that first 45 minutes. Not one of the ten outfield players should earn much credit for that appalling performance (although I do excuse Bentaleb on this occasion). Lloris did enough to keep us in the game but even he had no chance with the penalty.
Normally I can sympathise – even emphasise – with penalty takers.
It isn´t easy even if it seems so. The pressure to score when faced one on one with a lone keeper in front of you is considerable. Way, way back in the Seventies I was the designated penalty taker for my team in semi-professional football and I managed to convert 14 out of 15 attempts over three seasons (my lone miss hit the post) but never – ever – have I seen a miss that bad, that wayward. It was so bad it actually made our overall play look quite good – which it wasn´t.
If that penalty gone in – would it have been a different game? Would Pulis have reverted to type, would he have pulled everyone back, packed the box and defended for all he was worth? They were so on top at that stage it is highly unlikely as he would probably have thought we were there for the taking.
They were first to the ball, they were faster, they found their own players where we didn´t, they wanted it more than us, they simply outplayed us for the first 45 minutes.
Who knows what was said at halftime by TS and the others in the management team but whatever it was must have had some considerable effect as the Spurs team that came out in the second half bore no resemblance to the one in the first.
Until Walker came off due to a calf strain there were no changes in personnel but already we had looked better – I suspect that the decision to stop Eriksen from drifting from left wing to right midfield may have had something to do with this.
In that first half he was frequently found in the old “inside right” channel, but it created a logjam down our right flank – too many players occupying too little space. It also, as it did against Le Arse last week, leave Rose exposed and outnumbered on the left.
In that second half he stayed wider and gave better cover to Rose, allowing our left back more freedom to push on as well as being comfortable in his defensive duties. When Eriksen did come inside, it was to latch onto the flick from Adebayor and confidently bury his shot into the top corner.
If we are going to continue with any form of 4.4.2 everyone must know where they are supposed to be and what their roles are. There is no point having someone who is designated as a wide left attacking player and see him roam anywhere at random – he has to be accountable to his defensive duties.
For all his qualities as an attacking player, Eriksen must understand he also has to defend. If he cannot do this there are plenty of others – Chadli, Holty, Siggy – who are more than willing to take his place.
At least we saw what Bentaleb is all about – if anyone came out of that woeful first half with any degree of self esteem it was the 19 year French lad – he had a long range shot saved and another slammed the post and somehow bounce to safety. He was everywhere, getting stuck in, destroying and creating in equal measure but he faded (understandably) in the second half. He could not have given any more. Would I have started him? Probably not. Would I in future? Possibly – but not if the Beast is fit.
So we won and what have we learned?
We can get outplayed, even by the current worst team in the League (they are now bottom so that is an accurate assessment as at this moment) but we can still beat them.
When we play as we know we can, we can be brilliant. Both goals attested to that.
We need far more of the latter, no more of the former.
The positives outway the negatives – but only just. Two nil to be precise.