After our recent run of dire performances and results to match, a point from a game with high-flying Spurs was a welcome – very welcome – return to something like what we’re capable of. Not a bad game of football, and we’re experts on bad games of football, but 0-0 was OK.
It being the mad season of transfer window, we’d all been wondering who Moyes would be spending his pittance on. Once PVA’s move was sealed with his statement that he didn’t want to play for us again, that was it. As Julio Arca so eloquently put it at the Wise Men Say live podcast on Monday “if a player doesn’t want to play for Sunderland, then f*** him.” Wise words indeed. The money brought in Oviedo (obvious replacement) and Gibson for a reported (sorry, completely speculated) £7 and a bit million, and the rest was presumably set aside for Leonard Ulloa, who supposedly threatened to go on strike if Leicester didn’t sell him to us. They didn’t. Let’s see what happens there, shall we? With Gabbiadini (no, not that one) joining Southampton, it was quickly rumoured that we were after Jay Rodriguez, and also Kone of Everton, as he plays for Everton. Neither happened, and the only other bit of business was young Tom Beadling going out on loan. Watch out for another out-of-contract striker arriving. Apparently, we’re the club that Robbie Keane has wanted to play for all his life (copyright R. Keane).
It’s fair to say that Oviedo and Gibson’s ineligibility for tonight’s game raised tempers as well as eyebrows. Was our infamous fax machine buggered again? How can every other club get registrations through in time and we’re stuck with whatever we’re stuck with? Anyhow, they couldn’t be played, Kone and Didi were back from Africa, so we lined up:
Jones O’Shea Kone Denayer Manquillo
Seb Rodders Didi
Five at the back? Oh, that’s worked well for us recently, hasn’t it? We kicked off heading south, and Spurs, particularly with Danny Rose down the left, pinged short passes about to move forward, but we weren’t letting them into our box. The won a corner on five minutes and another soon after, but Vito was kept safe as O’Shea kept the defence in order. Having said that, Denayer didn’t look that comfy and some of were thinking he’d be better employed five yards in front of the central defence so that he could be uncomfortable a bit further away from goal, and give a bit of a hand to Rodders and Didi. However, as things progressed he settled down a bit and we started to get a bit of the ball. Many folks were still on their way up the A19 thanks to some traffic problems, so they missed the opening exchanges.
Rodwell was winning a few tackles and carrying the ball well (aye, I know) and his great ball to Defoe looked to have created something as Jermain worked a shooting position with only Rodwell arriving in the box in support, but the shot was blocked. The trick was almost repeated as another Rodwell ball, this time over most of the defence, saw Defoe hold off his marker on the edge of the box and lay the ball into the path of Borini. Unfortunately, Fab’s first touch was anything but, and he was forced wide. Spurs got into our box, but their player produced a ridiculous dive that was as worthy of a yellow card as any I’ve seen, and the ball ran out for a goal kick. We built another attack which found Borini in space in the box and he pulled the trigger – but straight at the keeper. Damn. About 25 minutes had passed before Spurs got their first shot away, and Vito was down low to his right to palm it away for a corner. Borini, obviously keen to make up for his wasteful shot, was back in our box getting in a vital touch to allow Kone to clear as Rose made a pest of himself again with clever, one-touch, play down their left.
We made good ground down the right, but when the move broke down, Rodwell was booked for a clumsy challenge. The yellow might have been unwelcome, but at least he was getting stuck in, and when the inevitable revenge tackle was made in exactly the same spot, it only merited a talking-to. One rule for us, another for the “big” teams, but it raised the tempo in midfield and the passions in the crowd. Jones showed great tenacity to win back the ball that he’d lost and head down the right, only to be flattened by Rose, who stayed down hurt and eventually had to be substituted – to a generous bit of applause. At least he’d taken himself out of the game against a club he still has affection for.
Jones again put in some good work to find Defoe, but the shot on the turn was deflected away for a corner on the right, which was partially cleared. This allowed Ndong to show some terrific close control along the goal-line, but Spurs defended the cross well. Defoe swung in a free-kick that Vorm collected comfortably, but we were piling on a bit of pressure, and Spurs were very much on the back foot and actually panicking a bit as the two added minutes were played out. To be honest, they might have had more possession, but we’d created by far the better chances and should have been ahead. They were much happier to hear the whistle than we were.
No changes after the break, during which I presume Moyes was on the phone attempting to do deals, but we were first to defend as Spurs won the first of their many second-half corners after only a minute. Not a problem, as Kone seemed to have benefitted from sitting out the AFCON games (thanks to his interaction with the advertising hoardings at Turf Moor) and played like he cared. There might have been a few wayward passes when a big hoof might have been better, but he showed Kane no mercy. O’Shea, on the other hand, played Kane more cannily when the need arose, replacing Kone’s bang and clatter with clever jockeying and positional play.
We looked to have something on as Defoe emerged from the challenge for a Vito clearance ten yards into the Spurs half and somehow got the ball out to Fabio on the right. He made ground, looked up, and hoofed his cross into the North Stand. Oh dear, anything but Fab.
Spurs had a lot of the ball, and fashioned a couple of chances as Dembele cruised about brushing off challenges. Thankfully, they either put them over the top or saw an SAFC boot get in the way. Lee Mason infuriated the home fans as he allowed the visitors to pinch yards at throw-ins before he eventually awarded one to us after their player had been warned, and refusing to book Spurs players for transgressions that saw us get two yellows. We almost managed a breakthrough just after the hour as we came down the left, but despite good hold-up play from Defoe we couldn’t get a shot away. Borini was replaced by Honeyman on 71, and spent much of his game down the right against much bigger opponents. Spurs brought on Sissoko, who was warmly abused every time he got the ball, and rightly punished when he head-butted Manquillo in the stomach as he tried to get into our box. A good chance fell to Spurs but a diving header at the far post went over the top.
Two added minutes were announced as another Spurs effort went wide, and while many fans were screaming for us to get upfield and win it (myself included) the reality was that the players had done exactly what the manager had told them to do. The stats might show that they had twelve corners to our two (which I think is incorrect, as I wasn’t counting – sorry – but I’m sure we had at least two in each half) and 70% possession, but it’s not having the ball that counts. It’s what you do with it – fair enough, if they have it we can do nothing with it, but if they don’t score, we don’t get beat. At this stage of the season, not getting beaten by Spurs is a good result.
Man of the Match? For once, nobody played badly. OK, there were errors and wayward passes that prevented some players from having an outstanding game, but it was good to see Ndong play like he can, despite getting a bit lost at times in the second half. Kone, as I’ve said, looked like the player we had last season rather than at the beginning of this. Vito didn’t have a great deal to do, but produced a good save in the first half and some good catches in the second. He’s no Pickford when it comes to clearances, but then nor are the rest of the goalies in the prem. Jones was full of energy and made up for lack of twizzly feet with effort, and Manquillo settled into the game once he worked out who was going to run where. Seb ran about, like he does, and never stopped working but again made us forget his good free kicks by making a daft one – and allowing Kone to take one. Daft, but still a canny game. O’Shea might have no legs left, but tonight generally made up for it with clever positioning, and he organised his defence well, while Denayer eventually worked out how to play in a line of three centre backs. A defensive midfielder or a ball playing defender? I’m not sure even he knows his best game. Borini had another frustrating evening – lots of hard work including important defensive stuff, but that shot and that cross sort of sum up his season so far, and it was no surprise when he was the man to make way for Honeyman. George worked just as hard, but his size is a bit of a hindrance against a physically big bunch like Spurs. Still, he’s not scared of getting amongst them, and he made them work damned hard to get the ball of him.
Defoe didn’t get a lot to work with, but was able to outmuscle his much bigger marker when Rodwell found him, and almost get through a couple of times. Speaking of Rodwell, he’s my man tonight. Far from perfect, but a lot closer to the player we thought we’d bought as he won tackles and headers, carried the ball, played in Defoe a few times, and above all gave his opponents a rough time – about time.
and we moved off the bottom on goal difference, which is nice, above Hull – who’ve just signed Alf N’Daye on loan.
Keep the Faith
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