Spurs at Home 20189/19 – Flat

Well, the potential was there.

What I consider to be our default crew from the Championship promotion season was back together and The Boy was just happy to be making a temporary move away from the mountain of homework that has accompanied his move to secondary school. The weather was rubbish of course. Dank. But domestic arrangements meant we had a nice, stress free meet up, though far too early. It’s just possible that one or both of the adults confused the TV build up time with the kick off time and so we arrived half an hour earlier than needed. Even this was fortuitous though, as we missed a later SNAFU at Brighton Station.

I had time to attend to some minor business with the ticket office. Those in front of me were not so fortunate, as they were tourists who had bought touted tickets via Stub Hub. These had been blocked. I don’t know if this is any use to point out to my small band of regular readers but, in no circumstances at all should you buy touted tickets via Stub Hub, or anywhere else. The club are hotter on this than almost anything else, and rightly so, and you may as well, talking of hot, burn your money.

Anyway, that was ten minutes of the extra half hour used up. The other twenty were spent in a beer queue while this year’s intake of students tried to work out how to work tills, change beer barrels and make change.

Potential, though, we all agreed through our pre-match ritual, was there because Spurs were not quite the fearsome side they’d been over the last two seasons. Tired from a last minute disappointment in Italy, missing their number one keeper, and with Kane suffering from post World Cup lethargy this was a “good time” to be playing them. And we were at home.

Unfortunately, that’s where the optimism ended. They may have been missing their starting keeper but we were missing our most creative player, last season’s player of the year and the only one in the team seemingly capable of playing number 10. They are all, of course, one and the same, Pascal Groß. I say “seemingly” because I’m sure Propper plays there for Holland. If he doesn’t then he sure gets forward more for them than us.  But clearly CH doesn’t fancy him there at all and it was back to the Southampton 4-3-3 which was really much more of a 4-5-1. This made the first half turgidly flat.

Pretty much it went like this. Tottenham had the ball at the back. None of our players helped Murray chase it down or, in fact, went within 20 yards of Murray who must have either forgotten to shower that morning or, perhaps, have walked around for a few days in that sweat hugging green shirt from Monday. Either way we looked like we were allergic to him. So, Spurs have the ball. Trippier and Rose push our wingers back. We hold our shape. They can’t break it down. We get it, they close us down, we dump it back down their defences throat and so on. Rinse and repeat. It was duller than Neil the Hippie from the Young Ones presenting a documentary about formica making in the 1970s. Eighty percent possession to Spurs and zero chances. Until…

A foul outside the area, which initially went to advantage was brought back and over it stood Trippier. And we all know, from the World Cup, what he’s capable of these days. Luckily we blocked it. Chris Kavanagh immediately pointed to the spot for handball however. At full speed from the West it was hard to see, though the crowd howled with disapproval. I thought The Boy would be back in to the world of offering marks of minus ten million for his performance. Replays showed, however, a silly use of the hand from Murray in the wall. Kane was never going to miss, was he? No, he wasn’t.

We looked livelier in the second, just as we had against Southampton. March and Knocky got some joy in behind the wing backs and we pushed on a bit more. Kayal, who had come on mid way through the first half for a stricken Stephens, pushed us up having acclimatised to the game, but still there was a Groß shaped hole in our creativity. Chances came from set pieces and on the break but Spurs still had most of the ball and on 76 minutes they killed it on the break. Lamela started the move which went out on to the Spurs left to Rose via Moura. The cross was pinpoint and it was Lamela who was on the end of it with a crisp finish, a move that showed the quality gap that exists between the top six and everyone else.

Most of us trudged home in the rain but we stayed. We always do because The Boy insists and because I want to write about any last minute dramas (and have a beer afterwards). And there very nearly was drama to write about. Three minutes in to stoppage time Knockaert took possession of a lovely pass down the right, cut inside and finished beautifully with his left in to the far corner. Then, with almost the last kick of the game, another break and another chance for Knocky, though this ended up tamely saved. The best moments of the game and we’d saved them for about ten thousand people in injury time.

Flat game, flat result, flat atmosphere. I’m borrowing this from a thread on NSC started by my good friend Darren but he was spot on. And much of it, for me, was down to our flat formation. Groß can’t come back soon enough.

A trudge home, a curry and the AJ fight. A chaps’ day out. But not one I’m keen to repeat any time soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fulham at Home 2018/19 – Beer (again)

Some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue. That’s just the way it is. The bad thing is we can’t all be pigeons at the same time and, inevitably, one person’s amazingly brilliant day is another’s shower of doo-doo. This seems to be most true of all with football fans with promotions, relegations and local derbies all taking their toll. But when you get a mid-table clash in bright sunshine at the wonderful time of three o’clock on a Saturday then your day is going to come down to circumstances and individual performance.

Circumstances, for me, were such that I was unattended, unsupervised, unfettered by rules. No “The Boy” who was and is with his mum and sister in an activity hotel in Devon. Unfortunately, I had important work meetings planned on the Friday and Monday. Glum face. Statue. But, you know, every cloud and all that. I strolled in the sunshine around our wonderful town, taking in just what a great place it is when the weather’s nice and you have all day, and then I strolled in to the Welly at the sort of time many of you are still having breakfast, caught up with some old friends, had a pint and watched the cricket. Happy face. Pigeon.

All of which goes some way to explaining why it is I’m bleathering on about statues and activity hotels instead of the game. One in the Welly, one and a half in the Caxton (wonderful pub, you must go, great landlord) and then met Steve who was not camping but was walking up the hill to catch the train to the Swan and even more beer and sunshine. And then I saw him. Old, old friend with whom I have been to many away games in many northern grief holes back when football actually was a bit scary. “Good” you think. Well, said friend doesn’t go much these days but, when he does, we normally lose and he’s therefore regarded as something of a Jonah. Luckily he’d only stopped in for a pint while walking his dog across the downs and was not actually going but we’d still seen him. I should have known then it would be draw.

As we strolled some more to the ground we checked the team news to find out that Dunk had made a Lazurus like recovery and was playing. Harsh on Balogun who’d done nothing much wrong but I suppose if your captain and defensive talisman is available you have to play him. Other than that Groß was back in for Bissouma as we fielded the same side that started against United. More of these two later.

Like United I felt we started strongly, chasing and closing and having far more territory. Fulham may have had the first decent chance, Mitrovic heading over a cross that was partially behind him, but in general we looked a lot more threatening and Fulham took on the real air of an away team. Knockaert and March were having a lot of joy against their full backs. Our full backs once again looked solid. There really wasn’t too much to worry about and then, suddenly we should have been leading the comfortable life of collective pigeons.

We broke from defence quickly and Propper fed Knockaert on the right. He looked for the obviously offside Murray but the latter checked his run, went nowhere near the ball and ran back onside cleverly while Knockaert continued with the ball before slipping it back to him. With Fulham all over the shop Murray went in to the box and turned from goal, drawing a foul. PENALTY!

Unfortunately Groß was the designated taker. His last two penalties had gone in so he was entitled, but how his last one wasn’t saved I have no idea. Sometimes you – maybe the whole ground – just know what’s going to happen. “He’s going to miss” I said to Mark next to me, and his low penalty was  saved. Now. This wasn’t a terrible penalty but he telegraphed where it was going in both look and run up. This would later send my friend Ollie vaguely apoplectic over post match beer. “Why do they even have to look at the goal? They’ve been doing this since they were eight and its never moved!”. Fair point, well made. But even then we could and should have scored from the resulting corner, Murray heading just wide from close in.

Still, this would only be a disaster if we conceded.

And concede we did. A beauty of a goal to be fair, Fulham spreading it quickly inside from the right wing and Seri playing a lovely cushioned lob to beat the offside trap and see Schurrle finish with aplomb in to the corner. All that hard work and one nil down.

Still we nearly got it back, early doors in the second half. Propper robbed Mitrovic and played a lovely through ball for March who was one on one with the keeper and hit Row Z with his shot. Go and stand in the statue section with Pascal, Solomon.

The woeful Groß was replaced by Bissouma and then our day got worse. A hopeful long punt up field should have been dealt with by Dunk. A fit Dunk would have dealt with this all day long but the Dunk who was rushed back was out fought by Mitrovic who went through on goal. Ryan stopped the first shot but it rebounded straight to the same player, who stuck it away. Dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Enter our very own pigeon in the form of Murray. He’d been fantastic, again, all afternoon and now he (with lots of help from Knocky) saved the day. Fulham gave it away wastefully at the back, Knockaert’s run took out the whole defence before he slipped it to Murray who showed how to finish a one on one.

On came Ali J and Locadia, the former looking lively, the latter still not quite all there for me, but there was no doubt the momentum had swung our way. Murray drew another clever foul out wide and, from the resulting free kick and aerial ping pong Mitrovic inexplicably handled in the area. Pigeon to statue in one half of football. Murray showed the whole ground how to take a penalty and that was that. 2-2, some mild scenes of joy and we were done. A point gained that could feel like two dropped.

Our post match conversation, Ollie’s penalty rant aside, must have been the same as yours. Was Dunk brought back too early? Yes, undoubtedly. And why has Groß lost his confidence? Last season’s best player and bargain of the year has been made to look extremely ordinary each time out this season. Just as having competition seems to have given Murray a new lease of life so it’s knocked Pascal’s confidence out of the park.

And then? A bus. Craft beer. The Albert. Some bloke off NSC. Feeling wobbly. Another bus. A kebab. And bed. A day in the sun drinking with the best people in the world, my pigeon like demeanour ruined only by some statue like finishing and defending.