two points from eight games

a review of the 2008-2009 season

Well, that was the mantra heard form the mouth of the new Tottenham manager when he arrived and as the season went on.  It made a change from his statements at other clubs, where lack of resources undermined his success and he was constantly "down to the bare bones."

But Harry's comments were a two pronged attack.  

Firstly on foreign managers and the continental system of having a Director of Football and a coach.  With the hiring of Redknapp, Daniel Levy hasn't entirely disposed of the idea of such a regime, but has had to fall back on the traditional English model of a manager and his coaches running the show.  It has been an expensive experiment, with a number of coaches being dismissed and new ones brought in at great expense.  The idea of the role of the Director of Football or Sporting Director would be to find the players for the head coach, but what seemed to happen at Tottenham was that the brief was not necessarily to go out and get the players that the head coach wanted, but to buy players who had sell on potential and the two were not always compatible.

Secondly, Harry was blowing his own trumpet.  And for what he achieved at Tottenham in the seven months he was in charge he deserves to.  While there have always been some aspects of his management I have not approved of, he has got the players playing a system that suits them and playing confidently.  Thus the points have come to firstly keep Spurs in the Premier League when it looked for a long time that their tenure might seriously be under threat and then to mount a late challenge for a place in the new Europa League.  In between there was the run to the League Cup Final too.

It had seemed that the season was dragging on for ever and with a tough second half of the campaign, May appeared to be a lifetime away.  But with the improved performances and big wins over Chelsea and Aston Villa, all too soon the end of the season arrived.

But back in the summer, it all seemed to be reasonably positive.  Having lost Robbie Keane for 24 million to Liverpool, which was good business and then Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United for 32 million, the money we got for the Bulgarian striker was pushed as far as we could, but leaving two games into the season, it left Tottenham with little time to get a like-for-like replacement.  Securing the services of Spartak Moscow forward Roman Pavlyuchenko was a good move, but he had just finished a full season for his club and was new to the country and English football.  Getting the promising young forward Fraizer Campbell on loan from United as part of the Berbatov deal was to ensure there was cover for the two strikers we now had left, having sold Jermaine Defoe in January and 

Others coming in were goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes from PSV Eindhoven; Manchester City's Croatian defender Vedran Corluka to play alongside Luke Modric, the talented midfielder, who signed from Dinamo Zagreb early on in the summer; Blackburn Rovers' England winger David Bentley arrived for a fee that could rise to 17 million; Giovani Dos Santos, a talented young Mexican midfielder joined from Barcelona and the signing of another youngster caused a certain amount of controversy, when a tribunal ruled that Spurs had to pay only 700,000 for 16 year old midfielder John Bostock.  Having been brought through the Crystal Palace youth system, the Eagles chairman Simon Jordan said he was considering leaving football after the decision to pay them peanuts for a player they had raised.   Mr. Jordan is still in his position as Chairman of Crystal Palace.  Spurs also signed another experienced goalkeeper in Cesar Sanchez from Real Zaragoza, with a couple of Academy signings made too in the shape of Belgian striker Paul-Jose M'Poku and Italian keeper Mirko Ranieri. 

Pre-season went well after an intensive training camp in Spain and the season was one which we looked forward to, with the only concern in the attacking section with the two main forwards having left - having scored 40 goals the previous season.  Juande Ramos had the team playing neat little triangles in and around the edge of the opposition's penalty area, which provided the sort of supply for Bent and others to feed on.  But this was against sides who were not of the quality we were about to face or those who were still some way off their opening game.  it wasn't quite a false sense of security, but the opening day defeat at Middlesbrough failed to satisfy fans, with Berbatov sulking on the bench as he was not mentally ready for the battle.  Soon enough, he was mentally ready to join Man U, as he had suddenly outgrown White Hart Lane and Liverpool had moved in to snap up Robbie Keane, who joined the club he had always supported.

Another 1-2 defeat in the first home game to Sunderland did not send ripples of worry through the crowd, but things were not quite right and an away draw at Chelsea seemed to indicate that things could be turned around.  Villa got the benefit of a late Gomes dive and a late rally could not pull a result out of the hat.  This was the first hint that Gomes might not be the keeper we had been led to believe he was and more was to unfold on that story as the season went on.

A win over Wisla Krakow at home in the UEFA Cup, a home point with Wigan wasn't a great result but a point nonetheless and an away win at Newcastle in the League Cup was a good result in the North-East; something we had not been guilty of in the recent past.  Back to league business, Spurs were undone by a Jermain Defoe penalty at Portsmouth as the game finished 0-2 and perhaps inevitably, it was our former striker who started the rot, then newly promoted Hull City beat us 1-0 at the Lane, which was not as much of a shock as it might sound.  They were setting the cat among the pigeons in the top division and had won at Arsenal previously.  However, it was poor finishing that cost Spurs and again, this was a recurrent theme through the season.  Another defeat at Stoke City 1-2, with Bale sent off early and Dawson sent off late, left Spurs with just two points after eight games.

I reckon that following this game, with Ramos going off the pitch at the Britannia Stadium to a heated reception from the Spurs fans and looking like a fish out of water, the board set about finding a replacement for the Spaniard.  He took the team to Italy, where they lost 0-2 to Udinese, but before the next game against Bolton Wanderers, which became the first of many "must-win" matches, he had been relieved of control along with Gus Poyet and in came Redknapp senior with the proviso that the Director of Football post be abolished (and Damien Comolli ousted with it) to be replaced by a more traditional Football manager and coaching staff set-up.

With the need to get someone on board who understood the Premier League and how to get away from the foot of the table, Daniel Levy recognised that things had to change and made a swift decision to do so, even though ANOTHER change in management would cost millions in pay-offs and contracts.  There was an almost immediate effect, as often happens with a new boss and while Clive Allen and Alex Inglethorpe were nominally in charge, it was the old hand of Redknapp that was behind them in the changing room that saw Spurs win 2-1 and in one fell swoop exceed the number of points they had from the first eight games and put an end to the jokes that were going around like "What is the difference between Spurs and a triangle ?"

Harry's first real game in change saw him take Spurs to Arsenal, who were riding high and their fans loving the plight Tottenham found themselves in.  When David Bentley struck an outstanding goal from almost forty yards, with a steepling volleyed lob that left Almunia back-peddling and unable to get back in time to stop it, the home crowd were silenced.  No surprise there, but they found their voices when their side went 3-1 up with just under half an hour to play.  Bent got one back, Arsenal then made it 4-2 after 68 minutes, but as time ticked down, the chanting hordes in the home seats were sure that their side would be condemning Spurs to the bottom of the table.  However, with a minute left Jermaine Jenas curled in a fine goal and a minute later, when Modric fired over Almunia, he was gutted to see the ball bounce back off the post.  However, Aaron Lennon followed up to shoot home and spark wild celebrations in the Tottenham corner as they salvaged a point from nothing and this set the bar for the performances which were now required and the way the team had played when behind had not been seen for some time.

It provided the team with the impetus to go on a good little run, which included two wins over Liverpool at WHL (the league game the Reds' first defeat of the season and the League Cup game a decisive 4-2 victory), a 4-0 UEFA Cup demolition of Dinamo Zagreb and a first away win of the season; 2-1 against Manchester City, who were reduced to nine men and Spurs to ten, when BAE was sent off.  The run was stopped by an away defeat at improved Fulham, but Spurs failed to turn up (and Gomes threw one in his own net) and this was put right with a 1-0 win over Blackburn at home in the next game, followed by a similar result in Nijmegen to virtually take Spurs through to the knock-out stages and a surprise home defeat to Everton came courtesy of another deflection.

Another mini-run of League Cup win at Watford, an easy win away at West Ham, a home goal-less draw with Man U and a draw in the last UEFA Cup group game with Spartak Moscow after being 0-2 down showed good progress and a willingness to battle, but it stopped in the last minute at Newcastle, who condemned us to a 1-2 defeat.  Last minute goals were rapidly becoming another unwanted regular occurrence of our games.

Christmas and New Year saw a dispiriting 0-0 draw at home to Fulham and a 0-2 defeat at West Bromwich Albion, which saw Assou-Ekotto get his second red card of the season.  An FA Cup win over Wigan at home and a 0-1 last minute defeat away to the Latics sandwiched a 4-1 home win over Burnley in the semi-final first leg of the League Cup, having been 0-1 down before sweeping past the Lancashire club. 

This period came at the end of the January transfer window and the re-signing of Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane (the latter at a reduced price from that we sold him for) gave the club a boost in the forward line and the purchase of Wilson Palacios brought a hard centre to the midfield, which Redknapp had identified as a necessity.  Not having seen much of the Honduran before, his presence certainly had a major influence on the progress Spurs were about to make.  One further incomer was Pascal Chimbonda, returning after six months, having left under a bit of a cloud, but brought in to provide cover across the back four.  Defoe struck in his second game back, playing against his old team Portsmouth to earn a 1-1 draw and his next goal was a very important one.  Leading by three goals, Spurs went to Turf Moor and found themselves going out of the League Cup, as Burnley got a 3-0 lead in the second leg.  Extra time was played, as away goals don't count double until the end of 120 minutes.  This allowed Roman Pavlyuchenko to hit his sixth League Cup goal after being set up by Defoe, who then scored in the last minute to see Tottenham through to Wembley with a 6-4 aggregate score-line.  With other things a priority, Harry Redknapp put out a decent enough team at Old Trafford in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, good enough to take the lead, but eventually to meekly succumb 1-2.

But back in the league, there was still much work to be done.  A vital 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Stoke City parked an unbeaten run at home that stretched until the end of the season.  Away, it was the same old story, with a late goal denying Spurs anything at Bolton, despite coming back to 2-2 after being two down.  A home draw against high flying Arsenal gave more confidence, but the UEFA Cup Round of 32 tie came at the wrong time and Redknapp gave the league his concentration and Spurs lost 0-2 in Ukraine to Shakthar Donetsk with a team featuring Academy player Dean Parrett making his debut and other fringe players making up the numbers. 

Following the long trip back from the Eastern front, Spurs had an extra day to prepare for a Monday night live TV game at Hull.  Compared to earlier in the season, Hull were now dropping down the table and their home form had not been as good as it was away from the KC Stadium.  Spurs went ahead, were pegged back, but Woodgate's header in the 85th minute was a reversal of fortune with a late winner ensuring three points to help bump Spurs up to 14th in the table, a point behind Hull, but it was still very tight at the bottom and up to mid-table, there was only nine points separating teams from the relegation places.

I am sure that going out of the UEFA Cup was a bit of a relief to Harry and a 1-1 draw at home to Shakthar saw Spurs leave the competition, but with a League Cup Final at Wembley against Manchester United just four days away, it was perhaps understandable to a) get less games to play to hinder the league revival and b) to try and concentrate on the final to get a way back into European competition, however onerous that might be.  A fine team display earned Spurs a 0-0 draw against United after extra time, having had the better of the chances, although a penalty shoot-out saw United take the trophy.

The reaction to the defeat was important, as a home game against second bottom Middlesbrough and a chance to put some distance between the opposition.  A sparkling 4-0 win did not quite reflect the play and Boro were unlucky, as they had quite a few chances, but into 13th, the climb continued and a last minute equaliser by Keane at Sunderland got a point, when perhaps we should have had all three with enough openings, but no finish ... again, another recurrent theme through the season.

An away game at Villa and a home meeting with Chelsea brought the promise of little in terms of points, but Spurs went about their work at Villa Park very impressively and were 2-0 ahead with goals five minutes into each half before a late Carew goal gave the home side a little hope, but Tottenham held on for the three points.  Three more against the Pensioners at the Lane in a game which could have ended with many more goals, but Luka Modric's settled it with a good finish in the second half.  So six points from six ... a major contribution to removal from any fears of relegation, but a defeat at Blackburn where two late goals following Palacios' harsh dismissal threatened to undo the good work done in the previous two matches.

A pleasing 1-0 at home against West Ham gave Spurs the double over them for the season and more importantly the magic 40 points which is the aim at the start of each season.  Three more with another 1-0 win over relegation haunted Newcastle United at the Lane saw the team bubbling as they went to Old Trafford for the fourth meeting with the league leaders this season and went into the half-time break 2-0 up and it could have been more.  As often happens with United, they were awarded a dodgy penalty that even the referee had to apologise for giving after the match and from then on, they had the impetus to take a jittery Tottenham apart and run out 5-2 winners.

So, four games left, which looked tough on paper when we were struggling, but now it was a case of winning as many points as possible to push on for a Europa League place next season.  This was something that was out of the question at the turn of the year.  So a 1-0 win against West Bromwich Albion, who were far from the worst side to visit White Hart Lane this season and a good away point at Everton saw Spurs come into their last home game of the season against Manchester City still with a chance of seventh, with a late Keane penalty giving Spurs a controversial 2-1 win.

The last game was away at Liverpool, who had the title put out of their grasp by a good United run, ably assisted by the penalty that changed the game against Spurs.  They still wanted to finish second though and Spurs needed to win and hope Fulham lost to Everton to get the last European slot.  As it turned out, the game was a less than passionate one and Liverpool won, as they usually do against Tottenham at Anfield, this time 3-1.

So the season was over, with the second half of the campaign flying by compared to the endless weekend's of misery as Spurs were tied to the bottom three.  Harry Redknapp had done a remarkable job in turning around the team's fortunes.  Some players flourished under his management, with Aaron Lennon having his best season at the club, while others, such as David Bentley and Didier Zokora were marginalised after players came into their positions.  The goals of Keane and Defoe were useful to add to those of the front men and the midfield started to chip in with goals too, but the return of Ledley King to regular first team football following the exit from Europe and the Sunday/Thursday routine made a significant improvement in the defence, which set a new record for only letting in ten home goals in the league all season.  Even the much maligned Heurelho Gomes started to get praise from pundits and papers.

It was a memorable season in getting to a Cup Final and being in with a chance of gaining European football until the final day of the season, but it looked a long way from that when we had two points from eight game.

MARCO van HIP

 

THAT'S STATS  -  Facts from the season 2008-2009. 

There were just 31 Premier League goals scored at White Hart Lane in total - the least at any ground in the league.

Tottenham conceded a record low total of goals in a league season at White Hart Lane - 10.

Only 20% of Tottenham's goals came from set-pieces - the lowest proportion in the Premier League.

Spurs were one of only two teams to beat Liverpool this season with the other being Middlesbrough.

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