Saturday, March 25, 2006

Spurs' 8 'Finals' on Road to Europe

Pic. Glenn Hoddle celebrates 1981 Fa Cup Final Replay win over Manchester City

In the final weeks of this season, Spurs need to bring their ‘Cup Final traditions’ to the fore as they face vital games in their effort to secure European and possibly even Champions League football for the club next year.

Spurs’ Cup Final record, including replays and two-legged finals, reads:

P 24 Won 13 Draw 7* Lost 4 (* includes UEFA Cup win on penalties)

If that record is translated into the remaining fixtures, such form would ensure that European qualification. At it’s best, it would guarantee five wins, three draws and one defeat but we need to allow for slight variation, taking into account the quality of the opposition.

Having set aside the disappointment of the injury time goal conceded at Chelsea, Spurs faced what amounted to the first of their nine ‘Finals’ to the end of the season. It was one of those ‘should win Finals’ but Birmingham made it very difficult for Spurs for the first hour and were more competitive. However, in the end ‘class’ won through helped by a little spark of ‘genius’ from Jermain Defoe to set the whole process rolling. The first of nine end of season ‘finals’ had been won with only eight more to go.

A similar scenario awaits Spurs on Monday evening against West Brom. Spurs ‘should’ win but West Brom in their struggle against relegation will make it difficult and have shown in the past that they can take points from White Hart Lane. Spurs must not take them lightly but if they can bring their ‘Cup Final tradition’ into play, they should achieve the required three points essential to retain fourth place.

Those two fixture remove the pressure of the ‘expected to win’ games but the remaining matches are very much about which team copes with the pressure and is prepared to put in the greater effort and has the greater desire to achieve success. Of the remaining seven games Spurs will be playing teams who are currently among the top ten teams for results in 2006. All teams have shown improved form with only Chelsea, Liverpool and Blackburn missing from the list of opponents. Newcastle, Everton, Manchester City and West Ham are all winnable games but which team will have the greater motivation. Spurs have much more to play for in the Premiership than any of those clubs but will they show that desire in their play. Taking Spurs’ record against Manchester United, Arsenal and Bolton into account would have them regarded as the under-dogs so their effort and desire to succeed will have to be greater if they are to prevent these teams from getting the upper hand. Spurs will need to ensure they don’t avoid mistakes to hand the initiative to their opponents while making the most of whatever goal-scoring opportunities present themselves in these games. These games have added importance as success against these opponents will dent their ambitions and be a double boost to Spurs’ hopes.

The ‘holy grail’ of Champions League football awaits Spurs next season if they can negotiate the next eight games with the correct attitude, effort and approach – showing every team the appropriate respect but not with such caution that they are allowed to impose their style on the game. Will Spurs make this significant step? I don’t know, I hope they do but whatever happens there has been considerable progress compared with previous years. This time last year, a draw at Birmingham caused me to muse that Spurs’ season had ended and they would not achieve the ‘goal’ of European football. I wanted to be wrong but was proved correct; it had been a step too far for the young team. One year on, the team has come together and are on the threshold of something good. The team with its combined effort will be difficult to beat in these final games, as they have been all year, but for that extra step to be achieved, in every game one of the players needs to come forward and show something ‘extra’, just as Robbie Keane did when scoring the first goal against Blackburn or in the way Jermain Defoe came from his slumbers to dispossess Melchiot, evade his attempted rugby tackle, skip another desperate challenge to set up Lennon for the opening goal. That ‘extra’ can be the catalyst to transform a dull draw to a win or rescue a point from defeat. Spurs have the players capable of doing it – Robinson, King, Dawson, Jenas, Davids, Carrick, Lennon, Keane, Mido and Defoe. Whose turn will it be against West Brom or any of the other opponents? I don’t mind as long as someone is up to the challenge and can inspire those around him to bring success to Tottenham Hotspur.

[The full article can be read on in the Logan Holmes (wlhatwhl) column]


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