|In many ways, there should
have been a lot more to celebrate than a League Cup win in this season,
but a poor start and a change of manager caused Tottenham to stutter on
to an 11th place finish in the table.
Pres-season there had been much cause for optimism. Martin Jol had led the side to successive fifth place finishes in the Premier League and the signs were that the team could make a push to displace Arsenal in the top four. What happened makes that view seem hopeful in the extreme.
Just one win in the team's first seven league matches gave them a tough task to make anything from the season's campaign. A last minute opening day defeat at Sunderland was bad enough, but the comprehensive home defeat by Everton left the side without a point and without a chance of getting that much prized fourth place, even though it was so early in the season. A 4-0 win over Derby could not hide the cracks and although there were chances in the 0-1 reverse at Old Trafford, a loss of two points from a commanding position away at Fulham (allowing another late equaliser) was followed by a home loss to Arsenal.
Ironically, the ease of which the side got through their UEFA Cup First round tie was at odds with the league form. They did struggle in the second leg, but it was a team which featured a few fringe players and there was little tempo or rhythm to their play.
The emotion and pomp associated with the home match against Aston Villa to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of the club's formation almost took the players' minds off the task at hand. At 1-4 down after an hour, it looked as though Spurs would be red-faced with Villa being the party-poopers. However, a determined fight-back saw Younes Kaboul slam a late equaliser to earn a point, when all had looked lost.
Things were up and down. What looked like an excellent win at Anfield was another two points lost to another late equaliser, while a lack-lustre 1-3 reverse at Newcastle took Spurs into their UEFA Cup group game against Getafe needing a win. It was one of the strangest games I have ever been to. Rumours started circulating early that Jol had to win to keep his job, but as the game kicked off, they turned to tales of how he had been sacked before the game or even at half-time. The atmosphere was more about him than the result and the crowd sang the name of the man who had turned their fortunes around. The result was a 1-2 defeat and only Tottenham's second defeat in Europe at White Hart Lane. The board had seen enough and sacked Jol and his assistant Chris Hughton.
The hunt for a successor had started early and in an unseemly fashion. Weeks before Jol was removed form his position, the newspapers had broken the story that Daniel Levy "just happened" to bump into Juande Ramos in Sevilla, while they shared a hotel. Coincidence was the story from the club, but others thought there was more too it. Sevilla fought hard to keep their manager, while Spurs tempted him with a big salary.
Lo and behold, Ramos was named as the man to replace Jol and he was in the stand for the 1-2 defeat by Blackburn Rovers at the Lane and Ramos must have wondered what he had taken on.
As often happens with a new manager, his arrival sparked a good run of results, with the board no doubt telling him not to worry about this season, but just to finish as high as possible in the table. His first game saw him mastermind a 2-0 win over Blackpool at home in the League Cup, which was closer than it sounds.
Three wins and two draws, including a come-back win against Aalborg in the UEFA Cup to win 3-2, a 4-0 win over Wigan and a draw at Upton Park that should have been a win until Defoe missed a penalty, preceded a 2-3 defeat by Birmingham City at home, with the game going Tottenham's way until Robbie Keane was harshly sent off. It was another last minute goal that took all three points back to the Midlands and Ramos was made quickly aware that there are few easy games in the Premier League.
Three wins in ten days saw Manchester City dispensed of twice (once in the league at home and in the League Cup away, despite Malbranque being sent off early in the first half) and an away win at Portsmouth, who were going well at that stage of the season. It looked like the Head Coach's new approach was working on the Spurs players. Another defeat at the hands of Arsenal away was once more closer than it sounds and the home side were fortunate to take the points, as Spurs played very well, with Jamie O'Hara, having returned from a loan spell at Millwall, impressing there and at Portsmouth.
Christmas arrived with the gift of goals. Boxing day at home to Fulham brought an easy 5-1 win and another comeback in the next game against Reading at the Lane three days later saw Spurs 1-4 down for the second time at home this season. However, Dimitar Berbatov suddenly woke up and imperiously dismissed the Royals with a four goal haul that fired Tottenham to a 6-4 victory.
A New Years Day defeat at Villa signalled a downturn in the league fortunes of the club. Reaching a point where they would probably be safe from relegation, there was little to play for, but it might have been useful for both coach and players to get into a style and mentality of playing to prepare for next season.
But in the cups things were different. After two seasons of something approaching consistency in the league, Tottenham reverted to type and took on the role of a cup side. A draw at Anderlecht in the last group game had taken Spurs through to the knock-out stages of the UEFA Cup, where they easily got past Slavia Prague (who had dropped out of the Champions League), but when they came up against PSV Eindhoven, Spurs failed to put in a good enough performance at home and slipped to another home European defeat, losing 0-1. All was not lost, as the second leg still offered hope, but only one chance was taken and the game went to a penalty shoot-out, which Spurs lost to exit the competition at the quarter final stage once more.
The FA Cup started in disappointing fashion. Having swept past Reading at home in the league, the FA Cup tie a week later at the Lane ended 2-2 with Paul Robinson beaten by a quickly taken free-kick by Stephen Hunt that the keeper took over the line with him. It was one in a string of incidents that shattered his confidence and blighted his (and Tottenham's season). The replay was won by a solitary Keane goal, as his scoring form took off. Unfortunately, we were drawn away to Manchester United in the Fourth Round and unfortunately, Keane's early volley was not a foot lower, as it might have gone in instead of skimming the bar. As it was, the chances we made were not taken and we lost 1-3 (is there a pattern appearing here ?).
But in the League Cup, the team had reached the semi-finals with a 2-0 over Middlesbrough, the same score against Blackpool and then repeated the score-line at Eastlands. For the second season, Tottenham faced Arsenal in the semi and taking the lead at their place, were pegged back by a dodgy goal that took a deflection off Lee that confounded Cerny. All set up for a second leg at White Hart Lane that promised to be tight, it was nothing of the sort. An early goal by Jenas gave Spurs the impetus that they had at the same stage last year at WHL, but the team are made of stronger stuff now and went on to put in a seriously thrilling display that the Arsenal team could not handle. Many point to the fact that it was a reduced strength side, but Wenger pulled Fabregas off the bench and there were enough players with experience to have own last season, so that excuse cuts no ice. Berbatov's pressure caused Bendtner to head past his own keeper, with further goals from Lennon, Keane and Malbranque wrapped up a thrilling win. It left Spurs having to face Chelsea at Wembley for the trophy, with the Pensioners record over the years giving them a psychological advantage.
On the day, there was only one team who deserved to win and they played in white. The Blues tried to bully, intimidate and force their way to victory, but Spurs were the team who played the better football, had the better chances and took those that did come up (in contrast to the pattern elsewhere in the season). Going a goal behind against the run of play, the opportunities Tottenham had had been spurned, but Berbatov's coolly taken penalty restored parity and going into extra time Woodgate was brave to go for a free-kick against Cech and the keeper punched the ball into the defender's face to direct the ball over the line. Zokora could have wrapped it up, but his goalscoring (apart from his successful penalty in the PSV tie) is as bad as Berbatov and Keane's are good. It was a joyous team that celebrated at the final whistle and one of the few games that Ledley King completed all season that saw him lead the team up the steps to lift the trophy aloft to a half empty Wembley, as the Chelsea fans had long gone.
With European football secured for the following season, it was thought that the team would want to prove their worth to the new coach and would relax and play a bit of football between the final and the end of the season. Nothing could have been further from the reality. In truth, there were few decent performances - West Ham and Man U and a good fight-back from 2-4 down against Chelsea - all at home and even then, the game against the Irons was the only one which bore three points. There were too many games where the team seemed to fail to put in enough effort and did not take the chances they made (back to that pattern again). The season fizzled out and the last game defeat at home to Liverpool was nothing more than the fans had come to expect after those previous 11 league games that had produced only three wins and a large number of draws. It is converting these draws into wins which would make a difference and if that had been done this season, it could have handed Spurs a top half finish and a few more pounds in the bank.
Having signed Darren Bent in the summer transfer window, he failed to live up to his £16 million price tag. Mainly through not having a run of games, being injured and finding his way to the first team blocked by Berbatov and Keane, who both ended up with 23 goals for the season. Perhaps to Bent's credit, he finished behind them with 8 goals, but he could have had more in the games he played, but needs to play to develop into the team's pattern. Whether that will happen now the team are under new management remains to be seen.
Jermaine Jenas developed into a midfielder who could score form midfield and link between the back and the front, but often fails to impose himself on the game, while Tom Huddlestone looks to have made his breakthrough into the first team and played a significant part in the side's win at Wembley when he came on. Zokora runs and runs, but needs to improve his passing and shooting, while Steed Malbranque put in a consistent set of appearances, scoring vital goals and always tracking back on his side of the pitch. On the other side, Aaron Lennon had a more frustrating time. Not provided with possession often enough, his influence on the game via his lightning pace was rarely seen and questions marks hang over his future at the club. When called upon, in whichever position asked to play, Teemu Tainio gave a good account of himself and while he may have to settle for being a squad player, he would be a useful man to have in the matchday 18 for next season.
The defence changed regularly, with Kaboul and Dawson starting the season and Woodgate and Dawson ending it. Michael Dawson did not look as assured as he has in previous seasons, but that may have come from missing the company of Ledley King. King plus one makes a good pairing in the middle of the defence, but Woodgate plus one has yet to develop. Kaboul's early promise faded and in Ramos' first league game at West Ham, he dwelt on the ball and fired it against one of their players and that lead to their goal. He did well scoring four goals from the back, but he still has a lot of progressing to do to be a top defender. He is still young and could make a good player, but that might not be at this club.
Losing Gareth Bale early in the season was a blow as he had shown how useful he could be as a defender and also offensively in taking free-kicks. Young-Pyo Lee soon faded from view, as did Rocha (both of them through injury and lack of favour with Ramos), leaving the January signing of Gilberto to cover left back and for O'Hara to fill in there too. At right back, Chimbonda played, but looked a shadow of the player who signed last year. His stumbling runs lacked pace and he often failed to get back and cover once he made it upfield. The tantrum he threw at Wembley when substituted probably signed his ticket out of the Lane. Perhaps the singing of Alan Hutton has seen him worried about his future and rightly so, if the Scot progresses from some outstandingly athletic performances he has put in so far. If he can stay on his feet he may be even better and with Bale to come back on the left, we could play a very attacking style with two over-lapping full backs next season.
Up front, Tottenham sparkled, but even then, there could have been so much more. Both Berbatov and Keane missed chances (as well as Bent and some of the midfielders) that could have propelled the side up the table. With Defoe losing patience at not getting a regular starting position in the side despite scoring when he did play and moving on to Portsmouth in January, Spurs struggled on with the three forwards until the end of the season, when speculation about the Bulgarian's future abounded and a whole host of forwards were linked with the club. Keane seems to have settled at a club at last and has revelled in his role as captain in King's absence.
Leaving the club were a large number of fringe players, apart from the aforementioned Defoe. Brazilian defender Rodrigo Defendi never really got a chance, what with his homesickness and all; Lee Barnard dropped further down the pecking order with Bent joining and he needed first team football; Reto Ziegler was not fancied by Jol at full back, but he was a midfielder too, although rarely got a game there; Mark Yeates and Phil Ifil, both off to Colchester as they failed to make the step up at Spurs; Danny Murphy, who had done his bit for the club, but wanted to play more games; Wayne Routledge, who had an injury hit and disappointing time at Spurs; Mido, who had a more inflated opinion of himself than others and had a more inflated physical frame than others too; Charlie Lee, captain of the reserves, but not likely to get a first team place ahead of the defenders in the first team; winger Emil Hallfredsson who looked pretty average, even in the reserves and never made the first team and Radek Cerny, who wasn't really our player, but his loan contract came to an end and he went back to Slavia Prague, although left more or less straight away for QPR.
The over-riding feeling after this season was an opportunity missed. Having spent a lot on the team and with other sides suffering in the last campaign, Spurs were tipped by many to break into the elite at the top of the table. But too many games were lost from winning positions and after the League Cup win, there seemed little impetus to step their game up on a regular basis.
It appears the club were looking to replace Martin Jol, perhaps not believing he could take the team on to the next step of breaking into the top four and achieving Champions League football. With Ramos at the helm, being a manager who has had European success with a club not considered one of the best in Spain, the board might think they have the man to bring sustained success to Tottenham. We can only hope they are right.
|Some interesting statistics from the season 2007-2008 ...|
|80 goals were scored at White Hart Lane in the Premier League ... more than at any other ground in the top flight.|
|13 goals were scored by Tottenham substitutes ... more than any other Premier League club|
|536 fouls were committed against Tottenham, making them the most heavily fouled team in the Premier League|
|33 points were dropped from winning positions ... the most in the Premier League this season and equalling the records of Chelsea in 1995-1996 and Wimbledon in 1999-2000|
|15 times Spurs hit the goalpost or crossbar ... the most times of any team in the Premier League.|
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