January 7, 2017
In Mauricio Pochettino’s first year we lost one in six in the league in December and beat Chelsea 5-3 on New Year’s Day.
In his second we lost one in six in December, and then went on a six game winning run in the league from mid-January.
This season — his third — we’ve started converting draws into wins. We’ve won five in a row, scoring 15 and conceding three. Once again, we’ve clicked around the same time.
Pochettino loves this period, with the hectic schedule allowing his players’ superior (and peaking) fitness to come to the fore, blowing away the early season cobwebs and putting teams to the sword with intensity, power and precision.
Are there reasons for the slow starts in general? Maybe. This season has been slightly different, due to the European Championships, due to Mousa Dembélé’s suspension and then niggling injuries, and due to other injuries in basically every key position — Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, and a particularly lengthy spell for Toby Alderweireld stand out.
Dele Alli was struggling for form — and, as we saw on Wednesday, he’s so reliant on Christian Eriksen playing well. Eriksen took a while to find his stride too and I think he, in turn, is fairly reliant on Dembélé, and so it’s a bit of a vicious cycle. Dembélé’s not yet back to where he was last season, but his first half against Chelsea showed signs of his getting there and, besides, Spurs are learning to cope without him playing at 9/10 levels every week.
Where Eriksen is now pulling the strings in nearly every match, that wasn’t the case earlier in the season. Kevin Kilbane offered some interesting analysis post-West Ham match on Match of the Day 2 which, if you’re lucky, you can still watch here (from 31:20 on). In the clips he shows, Eriksen’s movement was not allowing others to find him, not dragging defenders away, and not allowing him to influence the game — Kilbane says ‘just because you’re playing as a number 10 doesn’t mean you stand where a number 10 is’. Since then, Eriksen’s confidence has returned and he’s demanding the ball, driving into space, and showing a willingness to take the ball on the half-turn and think about moving forwards first, rather than wanting to take a touch and then decide whether he has the space to do so.
I’ve thought for around three seasons now that Eriksen’s slightly better when he starts ‘off-centre’ (in pockets of space) and works his way into the middle. Somewhat surprisingly, though, it’s been a switch to the right which has seen him find his best form.
The Chelsea game was undoubtedly one of his strongest performances of the season, and his two exquisite crosses came from pretty much the same area, having received passes from Kyle Walker in both cases.
Part of Spurs stepping up their levels might well be the return of Toby Alderweireld. He missed the Southampton match, but played in the other games in this period. In fact, we’ve only lost twice this season (to Monaco and Man United) when he has played a part — P15, W10, D3, L2 — which is no great surprise.
Alderweireld’s return has allowed us to switch to a back three, and he’s played in the middle of that back three in the last three matches. The downside of that is that there’s less scope for him to play his wonderful diagonals, but the upside is that having an extra defender allows him (and the other two) to occasionally join the attack, which all of our centre-backs do well.
Then right at the end Alderweireld's like 'I'm getting in on this too' & my heart's saying 'YES TOBY' & my head's saying 'OH GOD NO TOBY'.
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) January 4, 2017
Personally, I don’t think this defensive shape change is a huge deal. When we play 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1, we generally have a player drop in between the centre-backs to allow us to play out from the back. Eric Dier in his holding midfield role did this better than Victor Wanyama has so far this season, but Wanyama still made that move regularly. The difference in the 3-4-3 (or 3-4-2-1, or whatever you feel like calling it) is that the centre-backs take turns to move into midfield (and beyond!) once we’ve progressed the ball forward, rather than a midfielder shuttling backwards and forwards to get things started.
Interestingly, when Dier and Wanyama started together in midfield at the beginning of the season, fans bemoaned our stifled creativity and the defensive nature of that selection. In this formation, though, I’ve heard few complaints, despite the fact that we’re essentially starting with a more defensive player at the expense of another in the band behind Kane. Perception?
Pochettino has made it very clear that whether it’s three or four at the back, our philosophy remains the same. The pressing triggers remain the same. The full (or wing)-backs providing the width remains the same. The attacking midfielders playing narrow remains the same.
The perfect storm of Toby’s return, our roaring fitness levels, the formation tweaks, Dembélé/Eriksen/Dele/Kane each going up a notch — probably because each of the others have! — and the all important momentum has led to Spurs’ upturn, and if this continues, it’s difficult to see who can stop the coys-train. Except next up in the league is West Brom, who manage to disrupt us every season (or so it seems). Last year we had two 1-1s, and the year before they beat us 1-0 at White Hart Lane. Pochettino will genuinely see this as a huge test, and getting a(nother) win would set us up nicely for City away. It took Arsenal 75% possession and 26 shots to grind out a 1-0 against the Baggies, so it might require a lot of patience and a moment of magic but, right now, we seem to have the players who can pull that off.
— Hotspur Related (@HotspurRelated) January 6, 2017
Further reading – some articles I’ve enjoyed this week.
Dan Kilpatrick on Dele for ESPN.
Michael Cox on 3-4-3 for The Guardian.
Michael Cox (again) for ESPN on Christian Eriksen.
Plus here’s something I wrote about the transfer window.
November 23, 2016
After the Arsenal match I wrote about Pochettino’s new-found flexibility being a positive. I’m back again to add caveats. Yep, fickle Tottenham fan here, changing my mind within a couple of weeks. Hands up. You got me.
In the last two matches (against West Ham and Monaco) we’ve started with a sort of narrow diamond in midfield with two forwards at the sharp end:
And you don’t need a tactics board to show you that a team lining up like this can take full advantage — note the width:
Monaco’s doubling up on the flanks, with the excellent Bernardo Silva (number 10) and Thomas Lemar (number 27) linking with the talented and athletic full-backs, Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe caused us the sorts of problems we often caused teams last season, when Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen/Dele Alli would drift wide to create triangles and help to get our own talented, athletic full-backs into dangerous areas.
The first goal came from Monaco’s system getting the better of ours. Mendy makes a late run — so late that Harry Winks cannot get close to him, with Kieran Trippier tucked in.
Once Silva has fed Mendy he steps inside Winks (who commits himself) and, with Victor Wanyama too slow to come across (having, to be fair, just been to close down Silva), Mendy has ample time to pick out his fellow full-back, Sidibe, who has created an overload at the back post, with Rose choosing to not mark *anyone* rather than to try to get close to at least one of his men.
The second goal is so preventable too. As soon as Monaco kick off, Sidibe gets on his bike down the right, leaving Danny Rose with an instant 2v1 situation. It’s Dele Alli that’s closest to getting back and trying to cover, but I presume in this formation that it should really be either Mousa Dembele or one of the forwards (possibly Son Heung-min) covering that run. We didn’t work out all night who was taking responsibility for that unenviable task.
Once into a crossing position, we’ve got similar problems on the other side of the pitch. Trippier has had to tuck in to mark Falcao, and nobody has shifted round to pick up Lemar; again, I presume this is Winks’ job, but who knows (I’m not even sure that Mauricio Pochettino did — and if he did, he clearly did not get his point across, given the regularity of our failings throughout the match).
Pochettino should have been fully aware of this threat because he’s been playing the ‘overload’ game himself for the best part of eighteen months, so why did he not change things?
Even with Erik Lamela absent (boy did we miss his tenacity on the flanks last night), we had options. With Moussa Sissoko and the barely seen Georges-Kévin Nkoudou sat on the bench, he had players who could come on and chase the full-backs down the line — many of us had previously warmed to Nkoudou for his apparent ability to track back, and Sissoko is nothing if not a physical barrier to a marauding opponent.
Tottenham were tactically schooled, and it was the second time in a week that this odd formation had been unsuccessful — only a late substitution saves our blushes against West Ham.
It’s time to return to our tried and tested 4-2-3-1 vs Chelsea next week, or we risk getting a real pummeling at the hands of one of the most in-form teams in the league. Hopefully, despite injuries and suspension, we’ll be able to put out a team that looks something like:
Walker Dier Wimmer Vertonghen
Son Eriksen Alli
The centre-back pairing concerns me — particularly given how susceptible they were to long balls over the top on Tuesday night — but the Wanyama and Dembele pivot should provide plenty of cover. We might have to adopt a deeper defensive line (low block) and play more on the counter for this one. Either way, it’s time to go back to basics, and that means Plan A.
For more of this kind of tactical pondering, listen to the first in a special series of extra episodes of The Fighting Cock Podcast where I will be joined by Bardi and Talking Tottenham Tactics — hopefully out on Friday.
November 8, 2016
It will seem strange to many Spurs fans for me to suggest that this season has illustrated Mauricio Pochettino’s growth as a manager. Strange due to a number of reasons:
- We seemingly signed Moussa Sissoko for £30m based on Pochettino’s wishes, with Pochettino having taken on a new role with a wider remit. That signing has not gone well so far (though it is very early days, of course).
- In fact, Pochettino has taken greater control in signings generally, and we have ended up with a lot of potential, but not a great deal of new players for the ‘here and now’.
- Whilst last season we finished as the Premier League’s second top scorers, this year we are currently joint 7th (with Watford and Everton. Watford and Everton.).
- Draws. Lots of draws. All of the draws! We have drawn six matches already; we drew 13 last season, which is near enough one in three. This year we’ve drawn more than half of our Premier League matches.
- The hapless performance against Bayer Leverkusen, plus disappointing run-outs in several other games.
And yet I think there are mitigating factors for most if not all of those, and that we have notably seen him take strides in something he had been widely criticised for last year: adaptability.
Last season Pochettino rolled out his 4-2-3-1 most weeks. The starting eleven could easily be predicted, and there were very few tactical switches to compensate for other teams — one notable exception being a switch to a back three at Watford to cope with the in-form front two of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney.
This season, though, we have already seen numerous changes.
In our second game of the season (vs Crystal Palace) we started with Harry Kane playing off Vincent Janssen.
In Mousa Dembélé’s absence we reverted to a 4-1-4-1 in various fixtures, with Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli (largely) playing ahead of Victor Wanyama.
We started with Son Heung-min as a counter-attacking focal point vs Manchester City.
And on Sunday, Pochettino made his most surprising tactical change yet — starting the match with a 3-4-1-2.
Shocking though it was, it made sense, at least in hindsight, for many different reasons.
Pochettino stated in his press conference — reported here, by the excellent Dan Kilpatrick — ‘Maybe the problem is not in front. Maybe it’s because we are not building in a very good way from the back and the ball arrives in the last third in different condition.’
With Toby Alderweireld missing, our build-up play has been stifled. This is something that Anthony Lombardi (amongst others) had pointed out previously:
We actually miss Toby's distribution more than his defending
— Bardi (@BardiTFC) October 22, 2016
Indeed, I touched on this on The Fighting Cock podcast that week too (great minds and all that).
The extra man at the back — and not least another player comfortable on the ball in Kevin Wimmer — meant that we had bodies back to cope with Arsenal’s fluidity, as well as the possibility for all three centre-backs to care for the ball, and ensure that play started properly from the back.
We must also remember that this was Harry Kane’s first game back. It made sense to have extra legs (in Son) alongside him, and whilst Kane’s 8.66km covered in his 72 minutes compared favourably with the 9.73km in 87 in his previous match (vs Sunderland), his top speed of 29.18km/h against the 31.39km/h in that Sunderland game perhaps shows that he’s not back up to speed yet (quite literally).
Christian Eriksen had a freer role, where he could focus on trying to nick the ball from the wrong-side of Arsenal’s midfield, plus look to free Kane and Son when in possession. Eriksen’s form has been a concern, so perhaps this was an attempt to give him more to aim at or play off.
Or, as I put it somewhat simplistically when responding to another Twitter must-follow, TTTactics… maybe it was just a case of allowing us to go with two up whilst having enough defenders available to stem the flow of Arsenal’s attacks.
@TTTactics 2v2 at the sharp end and enough bodies back to cope with their fluidity?
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) November 6, 2016
And, of course, let’s not forget that the system is not *too* different to what we’re used to, given the propensity for Pochettino’s defensive midfielder to drop between the centre-backs, as well as how high the full-backs play.
Whilst Pochettino’s willingness to experiment with his starting formations this season has been welcome (to me anyway), he still doesn’t make in-game tactical alterations or substitutions early enough if at all. Against Bournemouth we struggled to contain their press, and might have found ourselves behind. We had no answer to their onslaught, and though the second half improved, we never really looked like winning. Pochettino’s substitution — Janssen for Son on 62 minutes — was an odd move (surely it would have been better to leave Son on to run off the target man) and, besides, some kind of switch had been necessary for half an hour at that point.
That match was, in terms of the pressing at least, similar to the West Hame game of last season (where, ironically, they played 3-4-3), though at least this time we had less of a rotated line-up out, and so didn’t totally collapse.
Against Leicester City, Pochettino waited until the 83rd minute to make his first change. Again, too little too late.
Despite this failing of his and some slack performances with an injury-hit team, our comparative results (switching the relegated teams for the promoted teams) are the same last as last year. Plus, after eleven matches last season we had 20 points, whereas this season we have 21. Hell, check this out…
— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) November 6, 2016
And we really have been injury-hit. As lucky as we were last season, we couldn’t have been much more unlucky this — not just due to the number of injuries, but specifically who has been absent. Key players down our spine.
#thfc Following a discussion on the pod, I checked & Lloris, Toby, Dembele & Kane have started 1 league game together this season (S'land).
— The Tottenham Way (@TheTottenhamWay) November 8, 2016
With Kane coming back into the fold and Dembélé and Alderweireld’s returns, we can look forward to an upturn in results (hopefully). Plus, if Pochettino can add in-game changes to his experimental starting formations, he should also be able to help turn some of these draws into wins.
October 8, 2016
Hey, remember when we comprehensively beat The Best Team In The Country™ last week? That was nice.
What staggered me about the City game was not so much the quality or even the aggression with which we played, but how every man stuck to his task impeccably. It’s been a trademark since Mauricio Pochettino’s second season, but rarely so clear.
From our set-up from City’s goal kick (check out Wanyama midway inside the City half)…
Our set-up from their goal kicks is perfect. pic.twitter.com/74vyeA5V4Y
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) October 2, 2016
…to Son Heung-min’s pressing of Claudio Bravo, knowing full well that Dele Alli and Erik Lamela were backing him up and backing City in. In this match Dele made an incredible 90 sprints, Lamela 76, and Son 73. City’s Aleksandar Kolarov made 78, but nobody else on the pitch cleared 67 — such was our intent to put their goalkeeper and centre-backs under pressure.
But nobody covered more ground than Christian Eriksen (12.72km). Eriksen had an imperfect game, in which he won just one out of his five attempted tackles and dropped 5% lower than his average pass completion of 78.6%. What he did brilliantly, though, was cover huge areas of the midfield, supporting the full-backs in possession and picking up the pieces when City lost the ball.
Whilst Victor Wanyama was throwing his weight around, making six tackles and five fouls to disturb City’s rhythm, Eriksen was latching onto loose balls and retrieving possession. In fact, he gained possession 16 times in the match — the next highest number of ball recoveries for Spurs was Victor Wanyama’s nine.
But Eriksen does have more to do, and he has still not found his best form. He failed to complete a single pass into the box, and notably wasted two or three fantastic counter-attacking opportunities by misplacing passes — one in particular drew groans at a crucial period, and that’s the side of Eriksen’s game that hasn’t quite clicked yet.
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) October 6, 2016
And whilst he gained possession 16 times, he lost it 19 times. Put into context, though, that is a net loss of 3 compared to Jan Vertonghen and Erik Lamela’s 10, Dele’s 13, Moussa Sissoko’s 14, Son’s 19 and Danny Rose’s staggering 29. In fact, the only players on the pitch to gain possession more than they lost it were John Stones (2), Eric Dier (3) and Victor Wanyama (1). It was a fast-paced, high-risk game, and so it was natural that the ball would be surrendered frequently.
Of all Spurs players, only Rose had more touches than Eriksen (78 to 70) and Eriksen attempted 15 more passes than any of his teammates. He kept things moving nicely, and that is a role that cannot be understated.
Alongside Eriksen, though, was the game’s outstanding player. As I said on this week’s Fighting Cock, Victor Wanyama was not a player who I was particularly excited about signing. It made complete sense, of course, because Eric Dier played too many matches last season, and Pochettino knows exactly what Wanyama is capable of. In fact, the only reason Eric Dier broke through at defensive midfield last season was that Pochettino failed to sign Wanyama.
On Sunday, Wanyama played the archetypal Pochettino defensive-midfield role. Dropping between the centre backs to create a three in possession, covering the full-back area when Kyle Walker and particularly Rose had pushed on, and disrupting City’s flow in the centre of the pitch with tackles and tactical fouls. After an early booking I think we all expected him to be substituted or sent off, but it seemed to add an extra focus to his game, and he put in a nearly perfect defensive midfield display.
Wanyama’s control of midfield since Mousa Dembélé was injured has led to Pochettino switching to a 4-1-4-1, and his post-match comments suggested that this is the set-up for the foreseeable future. “The design to play is not only [for] today. We played against CSKA [Moscow] and against Middlesbrough and different games with only one midfielder holding. I think that the future and the project of the team is to play with only one.”
Dembélé’s return, therefore, will cause an interesting selection dilemma. One would imagine that Sissoko would drop out with Alli moving wide left and Lamela right, but it’s a nice problem to have.
Spurs will need to show similar focus if they want to match City this season, and the early signs are that we are an even meaner machine another season on.
September 13, 2016
Brandon Austin (17)
Tariq Hinds (16) TJ Eyoma (16) Jonathan Dinzeyi (16) Jaden Brown (17)
Oliver Skipp (15) George Marsh (17) (c)
Reo Griffiths (16) Jack Roles (17) Keanan Bennetts (17)
Aramide Oteh (18)
Tashan Oakley-Boothe (16) for Skipp, 67.
Pablo Gonzalez-Velasco (17) for Bennetts, 78.
Dylan Duncan (17) for Brown, 85.
Subs not used:
Joy Mukena (17)
Jonathan De Bie (16)
Reading U18s: Collings, Howe, Green, Shokunbi (Coleman 70), Odimayo, Philby (Wallace 80), Rollinson, Frost, House, Loader, Holsgrove (Medford-Smith HT).
Unused subs: Hillson, Denton.
It was pouring down at Reading’s Hogwood Park for this midday kick-off. I left the house in a bit of a rush, and I grabbed one of those netted bags which I thought had an old waterproof jacket in. As I opened it on arrival I realised that it was a pair of waterproof trousers! Still, as I approached the pitch I realised that there were stands with seats (!) so I was able to sit with my notepad on my lap and a golf umbrella sheltering me from the downpour!
You may have seen that Kieran McKenna, our Under-18s coach, has moved on to Manchester United. The rumour I heard — and I stress that it is only a rumour — is that things were not going so well at Spurs, and that he was essentially let go by John McDermott. There on the touch-line on Saturday were McDermott, Chris Riley (our former Academy full-back, now ‘Academy Sports Scientist’) and someone with a training top labelled ‘AM’, who I didn’t recognise.
Spurs lined up with Brandon Austin in goal, Tariq Hinds at right-back, and the rest of the defence made up of England players — England Under-16 TJ Eyoma at centre-back, and England Under-18s and Jon Dinzeyi , partnering Eyoma, and Jaden Brown on the left. George Marsh captained the side and started in central midfield alongside Oliver Skipp (another england Under-16 player) — making his first appearance at this level — with Jack Roles just ahead. Roles and Skipp had license to bomb on, and it was unclear at times whether the intention was that this was 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, because Skipp was always a willing runner, and Roles also put a shift in going back towards his own goal. Keanan Bennetts was on the left, Reo Griffiths was on the right, and Aramide Oteh was up top.
The match started with Spurs in control and they won an early corner, which Roles lofted slightly too high for Eyoma to reach. Dinzeyi’s concentration was tested soon after when Oliver Skipp’s pass went astray and Dinzeyi had to go to ground to make an important interception and stop a Reading attack.
Marsh played a lovely angled pass out to Griffiths but he lost the ball on this occasion. Eyoma stepped out from the back and found Skipp, who returned the ball but was fouled in doing so. The referee pulled play back and Bennetts angled a free-kick into a great area, but it drifted all the way through the watching pack for a goal kick.
Griffiths and Roles and Bennetts linked a nice move together but Bennetts’ pass went between Spurs shirts in the box. The ball popped back out to Roles, who fed Griffiths to cross, but his attempt was blocked. Bennetts’ corner ran over everyone and out for a goal kick.
Roles intercepted a poorly hit goal kick, allowing Skipp to play an excellent first time pass to Bennetts. He played Oteh in, but the offside flag was raised.
Oteh was next to make a good interception high up the pitch, but Roles got his pass to Skipp slightly wrong and the move petered out.
Griffiths showed terrific pace to get onto a long kick from Austin, but after running half the length of the field he didn’t have the energy to put a cross in, and his attempt to find Oteh was undercooked.
Fifteen minutes in, Reading had a big chance, getting down their right and putting in a cross which their number 8, Tyler Frost didn’t connect with in the box.
Skipp picked up the ball in the middle of the park and made a terrific surge forward; he put too much weight on his pass to Griffiths, but the pace of Griffiths rescued it, and found Oteh. Oteh’s attempted ball to Roles was poor, though, and it again came to nothing.
Griffiths picked out Bennetts with a great pass but his touch was awful and the ball seemed to go straight through him. This led to a Reading counter-attack and, after Austin had saved an initial shot from Ben House, the ball rebounded back to him and went in off his ahead to make it 1-0 — I’m not sure he knew much about it.
Reading’s Frost took a free-kick which was deflected for a corner which Marsh dealt with at the near post.
Bennetts fashioned some space on the left, beating his man well and getting round him to cross, which was blocked by a hand right on the edge of the box. Bennetts took the kick with his right foot (he generally used his left for set pieces, but this was from the other side) and it was bent nearly perfectly towards the far post — nobody got a touch on it, though, and it drifted inches just wide.
Skipp overhit another through ball to Griffiths, before Bennetts took a corner from the right with his left foot. Frustrated he shouted to his teammates ‘why is no-one attacking the ball?’. To be fair, despite not playing especially well in open play, he had put in some excellent set piece deliveries.
Reading were doing a good job of cutting off passing lanes. Marsh picked up the ball in deep midfield and, with no easy passes on, was forced to angle a long ball to Griffiths out on the right. He got it wrong and it went behind Griffiths and out for a throw — to no complaints, as Marsh had nothing else on.
Jack Roles made it 1-1 when he got onto a Skipp pass and whipped a strong finish across the keeper into the far corner with his right foot. Skipp had surged forward well and this was a confidence-building moment for him.
Spurs were pressing high and having a spell in which they were relatively successful, and Reading were becoming frustrated. Reading had an awfully well-spoken centre-back (Harry Philby) who shouted out ‘we are playing ourselves into pressure’, and he was spot on — Oteh and Griffiths were keen to intercept and press high.
Reading have a hilariously posh CB ('Harry') who talks lots. Stands out amongst the general youth footballer parlance. Bet he's from Henley.
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) September 10, 2016
A lovely bit of play from Skipp on the right allowed him to get the ball to Oteh, who dummied the ball when well-placed in the box when he should have let fly. It ran through him to a defender and was cleared, but only to Roles. Roles lifted the ball intelligently over the foot of the defender who came to meet him, but couldn’t pick out a Spurs man from the crowd.
Reading made it 2-1 from the spot when their talented number 10, Dan Loader, sent Austin the wrong way. Eyoma had impeded House, but I didn’t get a good look at the incident from my vantage point.
Jonathan Dinzeyi once again made a brilliant intervention after Reading’s Tyler Frost had burst forward and found Dan Loader. Dinzeyi stayed strong, took control of the ball, and then went to ground when his ankles were clipped.
With five minutes to go until half-time, Griffiths had a firm shot from range which was parried. The rebound fell to Roles, but it squirmed under his foot. He then found Griffiths again, and his cross-shot was half-blocked, before the flag went up for offside as Oteh had strayed beyond the last man.
Roles found Giffiths with a cracking pass and he in turn played in Oteh, but his shot was blocked for a corner. Bennetts’ corner went just over the head of Dinzeyi, who had pushed in closer to the goal-mouth this time at the instruction of John McDermott.
A good low shot from the edge of the box by Loader made it 3-1 before half-time; Spurs gave him way too much time to get his shot away, and it went into the bottom corner across Austin after taking a slight deflection.
It was nearly game over just before half-time as the Reading right-back got forward to latch onto a pass from the influential Loader, and fed in a low cross which Marsh dealt with well. Marsh then blocked a shot from the subsequent corner.
It was a poor half from Spurs, with too many rushed passes and lack of considered possession. It felt like the aim was to get the ball in front of Griffiths, Bennetts and Oteh into the channels early, which is not a Spurs-like quality. When there are ball players like Marsh, Roles and Skipp on the pitch who are more comfortable playing possession football.
Tsaroulla and Sterling were with the substitutes warming up at half-time. A good sign as Sterling has been injured, I believe.
Soon after the second half had started, Austin spilled a shot — understandably in the very wet conditions — but he fortunately managed to gather it at the second attempt.
Roles drew groans from teammates with a poor ball to Bennetts, before Bennetts came close to picking out the far corner from the left-hand side.
Spurs did make it 3-2 when Griffiths went on another surging run and was fouled just inside the box, and Oteh scored from the spot via the post… as per this:
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) September 10, 2016
Bennetts went on a mazy run but was stopped with a good tackle having not released it sooner — a teammate shouted ‘pass man’, and I had to agree — this is a bad habit which Bennetts needs to shake off.
An excellent interception and pass from Skipp saw Spurs start another counter, he found Roles who came very close to putting Griffiths in.
Oteh held the ball up and played Roles in for a first-time shot which was blocked for a corner, but Roles wanted a penalty for handball. Marsh had an effort blocked from the corner, and another corner was subsequently taken short and Oteh headed the eventual cross wide when he was in a decent position and unmarked.
A good tackle and pass from Brown led to Roles being able to play Bennetts through, but he lost the ball again.
A matter of minutes after our second goal, we got an equaliser. Griffiths went on yet another purposeful run, and he finished with a thumping strike from the edge of the box. There was a bit of good fortune involved, as the aforementioned posh centre-back, Philby, slipped as Griffiths got within range, but at this point it was difficult to argue that Spurs didn’t deserve to be back in it. In fact, it looked like their tales were up and that they would go on to win the game.
However, the action went straight up the other end and our forward, Aramide Oteh, was forced to head off the line from a corner, as tall centre-back Akinwale Odimayo got on the end of the ball in. Odimayo had more luck a few minutes later as he stooped to head in a free-kick at the back post to make it 4-3 to the home side.
Skipp played a good pass up the line to Griffiths but he fouled Philby in trying to reach it, before Austin made a terrific save after a glorious touch from Loader had created the chance.
A great team move from Spurs saw Roles delay his shot just a little too long, causing it to be blocked.
16-year old Tashan Oakley-Boothe, who had appeared as a substitute for the Under-23s in a 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Friday night, came on in midfield for the debutant Skipp.
Bennetts latched onto a slack pass across the back from Reading but took an awful touch and missed an opportunity to have a clear run on goal.
Roles dropped between the centre-backs to pick the ball up from Austin, and then pushed forward, linking well with Hinds to receive the ball in the middle of the park. He played a pass into the channel for Oteh, who had a one-on-one chance saved.
Spurs brought on Juan Pablo Gonzalez Velasco (known as Pablo) for Bennetts and, not long after his introduction, he was clearly fouled on the edge of the box — possibly inside — but nothing was given amidst protests.
Dylan Duncan came on for Brown for the final few minutes which prompted a re-shuffle; Hinds moved to left-back, Marsh came to centre-back, and Eyoma went to right-back, with Duncan pushed up on the right of midfield.
Austin saved a low free-kick and lost the wet ball again, but got up quickly to make himself big and block the follow-up as the game somewhat petered out for Spurs.
This was a disappointing result with some slack defensive play, and Tottenham got what their performance deserved. The second half saw improvement, but Reading were fairly resolute and stuck to their game plan. Spurs sometimes lacked patience and tried to play the killer ball, which led to the ball coming back at them time and again, and sometimes they were unable to cope with Reading’s counter-attacking. Having said that, Griffiths in particularly was a real threat going forward, and Oteh was a muscular presence who gave the Reading centre-backs a tough match. In many ways he reminds me of Kudus Oyenuga who, incidentally, now plays for Greenock Morton in the Scottish Championship.
Brandon Austin 6 – it wasn’t easy for him with a wet ball, and he did let a few squirm away from him. Overall he did pretty well.
Tariq Hinds 6 – couple of nice bursts forward, but he’s nowhere near as dynamic as, say, Kyle Walker-Peters. At this point, that’s probably a harsh comparison, as we were spoilt with KWP!
TJ Eyoma 6 – a laergely solid performance with a few blips.
Jonathan Dinzeyi 7 – made a lot of impressive recovery challenges and interceptions.
Jaden Brown 5 – struggled a bit and seemed to be targeted by Reading. Brown is an England player and is someone who I know people rave about — I seem to always catch his less impressive days.
Oliver Skipp 7 – Skipp is a great young player and whilst he didn’t quite find his passing range, he had a decent debut and I am excited to see more of him.
George Marsh 7 – tenacious as ever, Marsh never shirks a challenge and is happy to take the ball in tight areas to get a teammate out of trouble.
Jack Roles 7 – Roles has a tough ask, because he’s often picking the ball up on the half-turn with teammates screaming at him for the ball from both sides of the pitch. Unlike some of of his teammates, who were giving him a bit of grief, I felt he generally made good decisions and used the ball well. I would say that I would want him to take on his shots earlier — he could do with watching someone like Sigurdsson, who is the master of the early shot.
Reo Griffiths 8 – a real threat; his pace and physicality cannot be denied, but his technical ability was impressive too. I really like the look of this kid! Think Michail Antonio.
Aramide Oteh 7 – a big presence for Spurs who didn’t give the Reading defence any peace. He sometimes lacked finesse in the final third, but he tries his heart out.
Keanan Bennetts 6 – some really good set pieces, but a bit disappointing in open play; he needs to learn when to release the ball.
Tashan Oakley-Boothe – a fairly quiet cameo in midfield.
Pablo Gonzalez-Velasco – was unlucky not to win a penalty, and showed decent acceleration. Keen to see more!
Dylan Duncan – didn’t see too much of the ball in his short spell on the pitch.
Two more pieces of news! Firstly, Nya Kirby is seemingly about to join Crystal Palace, and it seems that we are in turn looking at their striker, Francis Baptiste
And finally, on Wednesday we play our first UEFA Youth League match against Monaco at Hotspur Way. The team selection will be interesting — the full squad is here. It is an Under-19 tournament with three overage players allowed.