While the Manchester City defeat was dispiriting, it isn’t a game we expect to win. It’s the failure to get three points from matches against teams like Hull City that really hurts our league aspirations. Games we should win.
As has happened many times this season, under AVB and Sherwood, while playing one up front or two up front, we failed to break down a stubborn defence. At the same time our backline looked extremely vulnerable to balls played behind it.
The Hull goal was incredibly simple. A long ball from the keeper and Vertonghen, marking Shane Long, missed the first header. Then Rose failed to effectively clear under pressure from Jelavic. Dawson should have dropped back to cover but was instead drawn to Jelavic and the ball, hopelessly out of position. Long easily outpaced Vertonghen and powered home.
I for one have been hailing the return of Vertonghen as a possible solution to our vulnerable defence. It’s probably unfair to judge him when he’s still feeling his way back after a long injury but this was not a good start. Dawson however has to take a lot of the blame for the goal.
For the whole game, our centre backs struggled against Long and particularly Jelavic when through balls were played to Hull’s attacking pair. To be fair Sherwood’s stubborn refusal to play a holding midfielder and our fullbacks predilection for going forward doesn’t give them a lot of protection. I still think a combination of Chiriches and Vertonghen gives us the best chance, especially when the opposition play two strikers. Chiriches was reportedly injured for this game.
Spurs had lots of possession (62%) but struggled to make any headway against a well organised team matching our 4-4-2 formation. For a brief period around the goal we looked more dangerous. Some faster more incisive passing and some movement off the ball made the difference. Why can’t we play like this more often?
Paulinho’s return was the one big positive for Tottenham. He looked full of energy, and got forward to provide a much needed connection between midfield and attack. He took his goal well, riffling a ball from Rose into the top of the net.
It would have been interesting to see who Sherwood would have played in the centre had Dembele been fit. Would he have dropped Bentaleb? I for one worry he is too attached to the young midfielder. Bringing him into the team has been – along with Adebayor – the signature change of his reign as manager. Bentaleb has done well but against Manchester City he looked out of his depth.
What I couldn’t understand was Sherwood’s reluctance to make changes. Here was a game we had to win, if only to erase the memory of Wednesday’s debacle. Spurs were on top but had run out of ideas. Why was the one and only substitution made on 90 minutes when time had almost run out?
One of the signs of a great manager is an ability to read a game. To see what’s going wrong with their team and spot weaknesses in the opponent, then make changes to exploit this. The lack of any such change was a big red mark against Sherwood.