Friday, January 05, 2007

2006 – A Year of Progress for Spurs

[First published on Sportingo]

Martin Jol
Under Martin Jol the calendar year of 2006 has unquestionably been Spurs’ best in the Premiership. It wouldn’t stand alongside those distant years when Spurs won trophies at home and in Europe but in comparison to the club’s recent history it has been a time of massive improvement. Some may not be satisfied with the progress made but when one considers that only three years ago in 2003, under the combined control of Glenn Hoddle and David Pleat, Spurs’ league results for the twelve months from January to December would have seen them wallowing in the depths of relegation – then Spurs have taken a huge stride to re-establish themselves in the higher echelons of English football.

The year opened with possibly Spurs’ best away performance of the year when Aaron Lennon inspired then to victory over Manchester City. Lennon was the success of the season as he was to gate-crash the England World Cup squad with his exciting wing-play and many felt he was under-used in Germany. Spurs then slumped to the embarrassment of losing to Leicester City in the FA Cup, a club who were struggling to win in the Championship but managed to come from two goals down to put one over Spurs. The only comment about this result was that it enabled Spurs to enter the record books by completing their shortest ever season, playing only forty games, having lost in the opening rounds of both Cup competitions.

Prior to entering 2006 Spurs had claimed a place in the top four of the Premiership and to everyone’s surprise they continued to cling onto that Champions League place for week after week, with Arsenal the team having to do the chasing. It was only in the final week of the season that a sickness induced defeat to West Ham allowed their North London neighbours to snatch that precious prize from them. There were accusations about the cause of the malaise and recriminations of ‘if only’ Spurs had won at Highbury or hadn’t lost to United with self-induced errors or hadn’t conceded an injury goal at Chelsea – injuries had played their part in those final weeks but their fate was sealed. It was Europe and UEFA Cup football from Spurs’ highest Premiership finish and to be honest every Spurs’ supporter would have accepted that if it had been on offer the previous August.

The summer transfer window brought the excitement of signing the Bulgarian International, Dimitar Berbatov, a prolific goal scorer for Leverkusen. It also brought disappointment with the sale of Michael Carrick to Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson may have paid only 20p more than he had expected for the midfielder but Spurs held out for every penny and made a huge profit on the sale. However, from Spurs’ point of view, Michael Carrick was the hub around which Martin Jol had built his team, the sale strengthened one of their Premiership rivals and while the money will satisfy the financial advisors it’s only of use if the right players become available.

A new season brings optimism to every fan but there was also the worry if Spurs’ recovery would be a one season wonder similar to Everton twelve months earlier. The season opened slowly, as if Spurs were still suffering from the final day disappointment and were unsure how to play without Michael Carrick to pull the strings. The European adventure would be a further test of the young players’ resolve and how they would cope with the demands of so many games but no-one should have feared as it was in Europe that they came together and gradually Premiership performances and results improved as well.

The highlights of the new season have been the European performances – six games and six wins as Spurs played with a style and composure that some doubted they had. The European teams came with high reputations and experience of football in the European competitions but Spurs saw them off and have qualified for the final knockout stages.

Following a home defeat in August Spurs produced a twelve game unbeaten home run in all competitions which saw them defeat Chelsea in the League at White Hart Lane for the first time since 1987. The winning sequence only came to an end on the final Saturday of December when Liverpool left White Hart Lane with three points after a Spurs’ error gave them the goal scoring opportunity and they had survived a second half when Spurs came to life and tried to retrieve the situation.

Berbatov has shown his value to the team in Europe and with his control he has brought a touch of class that has been missing for too long, reminding many of former heroes Alan Gilzean and Steve Archibald.

One of the disappointments of this season has been Spurs’ poor away form in the Premiership. They have won in Turkey, Czech Republic and Germany but lost at Reading, Newcastle and Bolton to mention just three. The away performances have not matched the more positive form at White Hart Lane and on leaving the safe confines of their home ground the team becomes tentative looking to contain and inviting the other team to attack rather than setting out with purpose to win the match. On the one occasion that they did do this they took three points from Manchester City.

Spurs’ fans are born pessimists – having endured years of disappointment they’re always expecting the worst – but Martin Jol has managed to maintain the good times throughout 2006 and while there have been disappointments the plusses are there for everyone to see. Progress has been made and with Jol’s steady hand on the controls and avoiding injuries, he may well bring success to White Hart Lane in 2007 as Spurs move forward in the three Cup competitions and look to improve on their League form to gain a European place for next season.


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