May 3, 2016

End of Season Loanee Review

As I was collecting information for my weekly Fighting Cock Podcast youth update, I put out a call for club-specific info about our loanees. The responses were nuggets of gold, so I decided to form a blog from the bulk of them. And so, without further ado…

DeAndre Yedlin – Sunderland (Premier League)

Grant Ward – Rotherham United (Championship)

Or should I say ‘double award winner’ Grant Ward?

Paul Davis of the Sheffield Star sent me this fantastic run-down:

There are flaws in Grant Ward’s game … but not many.

The midfield youngster who celebrated his 21st birthday during his season-long loan at AESSEAL New York Stadium was a key figure in Rotherham United’s successful fight for Championship survival.

He found himself out of favour early in his stay during the reign of Steve Evans, but his pace and direct running earned the admiration of successor Neil Redfearn who picked him for virtually every game.

“He gets you up the pitch. Very quickly,” Redfearn said.

Neil Warnock duly replaced Redfearn and Ward’s dynamism and workrate quickly won over the veteran boss.

Ward’s final ball still needs working on, while learning to give a quick, easy pass would add to his armoury.

But, in terms of attacking threat on the right flank, he was up there all season with the best in the division.

He was given a central role at times but produced his best performances out wide where he was always bold enough to take on his man and quick enough to usually leave him for dead.

He also came up with the Millers’ goal of the season, a thunderous 30-yard effort in front of the Sky cameras against Burnley.

Grant Ward. Honorary Miller. Rotherham fans are very sorry to see him go.

Dominic Ball – Rangers (Scottish Championship)

From @IbroxBuzz:

His best position is DM, loves a tackle, quite physical. His use of the ball and general footballing mind seem to be his best attributes. At centre back he really suits our style of play due to composure. For a young boy he’s very vocal, can tell he’s come from an academy with high standards, talking more experienced pros through games and his media skills are top class. Would 100% take him back in a heartbeat, definitely has a future in the game.

And from Jason from Rangers Report:

Warburton always seemed to rely on Ball whenever a big match came around, not so much in defence but as a holding midfielder. Always came through with solid performances. Did I see anything that screams – “here’s a future EPL player”? No. But I also didn’t see anything that showed that he couldn’t play at that level. Given his role (& the way Rangers dominated) he wasn’t under much pressure defensively. As much as I’d love to see him back at Ibrox – he’d probably be better suited playing going on loan with an English Championship side to better evaluate his future value for Spurs.

Thanks to those gentlemen for the terrific insight!

Federico Fazio – Sevilla (La Liga)


Alex Pritchard – West Bromwich Albion (Premier League)

So, I started with the players who finished the season still on loan. And I wanted to get this out while it was current… but I will revisit this and get something together for the rest of this season’s loanees:

Kenny McEvoy – Stevenage, York City (League Two) NB: now joined York permanently.
Shaq Coulthirst – Wigan (League One)
Harry Voss – Stevenage (League Two)
Christian Maghoma – Yeovil Town (League Two)
Nathan Oduwa – Rangers (Scottish Championship), Colchester United (League One)
Connor Ogilvie – Stevenage (League Two)
Ryan Loft – Braintree Town (National League)

A final thought – Spurs have very clearly changed their loan policy over the past few years, with numbers dropping off significantly from around 30 loan deals eight years ago, to roughly a third of that now – see The Spurs Report’s piece on this for more detailed information. Loans seem to be used for specific reasons now – 1. sink or swim (Oduwa), 2. try before you buy (McEvoy) , or 3. too good an opportunity to turn down (Ward). A fourth category might be ‘to test the player’s temperament’. It will be fascinating to see how this is developed next season too.

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April 14, 2016

Eric Dier is our playmaker

He might not yet be Xabi Alonso, but Eric Dier is developing impressive deep-lying playmaker skills to go alongside his existing defensive talents.

Dier’s rise this season would have been the ‘story of Spurs’ season’ in most other campaigns. But, much like how the Premier League has three or four huge stories going on at once (Leicester City, Chelsea, West Ham United, and Spurs), so has our own squad: Dele Alli taking to the Premier League and showing signs of becoming our next GalĂĄctico; Harry Kane proving that he’s here to stay; Mousa DembĂ©lĂ© becoming the player many of us had convinced ourselves he’d never become; Toby Alderweireld playing like the Belgian Ledley King. I could go on.

The narrative of Dier’s transition to midfield has been written about a lot — from his previous run in midfield for Sporting Clube de Portugal, to the experiments in pre-season, to being thrown straight in on the opening day at Old Trafford. Initially he looked a little clunky and hindered by his frame — he picked up three yellow cards in his first four league games of the season — but he was soon breaking up play and distributing with refreshing simplicity. And whilst it was a well-kept secret amongst Spurs fans that Dier was a naturally brilliant crosser of the ball, his passing game has been spoken about less. But it is absolutely deserving of some recognition.

I tweeted this post-Liverpool match, once I’d watch the game for a second time; I’d had a beer or two the first time, and wanted to focus on the nuances with a clear head. Dier’s ambitious play-making caught my eye. These two attempted clipped passes between the left-back (Alberto Moreno) and left-sided centre-back (Mamadou Sakho) for Son Heung-min to run onto filled me with excitement about what’s to come once Son has acclimatised.

Dier to Son 1st half

Dier to Son 2nd half

These show that Dier has the requisite vision to pick out a run, the poise to be able to find space and get his body into the right shape, and the execution to play this type of pass with the perfect weight.

Typically, the deep-lying playmaker is a holding midfielder whose focus is on passing rather than tackling. I can’t help but come back to Jonathan Wilson description of Xabi Alonso in this article for The Guardian: “Xabi Alonso, although capable of making tackles, focused on keeping the ball moving, occasionally raking long passes out to the flanks to change the angle of attack like an old-style regista.” And, of course, it will depend on a number of factors as to what the key focus of the player is — does his team have the majority of possession? Are the team pressing high? Where will he be receiving the ball? In our case, the answers are: yes, yes, and often between the centre-backs. Dier is expected to do a bit of everything, and I am by no means trying to argue that he will be moving away from being a combative player to a ball-playing one; this is simply another string to his bow.

DembĂ©lĂ© is one of the world’s finest at retaining possession, but his use of the ball is generally fairly simplistic — he attempts lots of short, lateral passes, choosing to make ground by dribbling rather than by using forward passes. To compensate for this, Dier has been asked to play a slightly more expansive game; he attempts more than double the number of long passes (3.4) as  DembĂ©lĂ© (1.5). Indeed, after Kevin Wimmer (59.9) and Tom Carroll (59.2), Dier attempts more passes per 90 minutes (57.0) in the Premier League than anyone else in our squad.

In our system, Dier drops in between the centre-backs (or alongside them, in the right-back area, depending on the phase of play) and receives the ball. He steps into midfield and uses his teammates to create triangles. He moves the ball swiftly into the advanced full-backs, but also regularly fires forward passes into the feet of Kane, Alli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen. And, as the above clips show, he’s also willing to play the ball over the top of a defence.

The comparison of the Dier and Dembélé pass maps are intriguing.

Dier & Dembele pass maps vs Bournemouth

In the Bournemouth match, we can see how many relatively long passes Dier played to find the full-backs, especially Danny Rose. DembĂ©lĂ© also played a lot of passes to the left-back area, but they were mostly shorter passes, and he rarely played anything out to the opposite side of the pitch to which he was situated. Dier made plenty of attempted passes, some of which were into the box — in this instance, they all failed. But the intent was clearly there for him to be creating.

Dier & Dembele pass maps vs Liverpool

Against Liverpool, we can again see lots of expansive Dier passes – attempting to direct the ball into different areas, both across the pitch and the final third. Again, most of his more ambitious passes failed, but he did create a chance with a long pass into the box, and sometimes just the willingness to play a long pass can force a team to drop that bit deeper. DembĂ©lĂ© was typically economical with his passing, rarely giving the ball away, but also rarely attempting anything expansive, such is his role.

Dier & Dembele pass maps vs Man Utd

The United game was different. Dier only made 37 passes, DembĂ©lĂ© 44. United dominated possession, and the game was often broken up and quite stop-start. The passing of both players was much more restricted, and both had sub-80% pass completion rates, which is unusual — especially for the economical DembĂ©lĂ©.

It will be interesting to see how the skill sets of the two are put to use over the final few games, and whether he continues to show signs of being able to play a more traditional regista role.

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April 6, 2016

I’m sorry, Mousa

I wanted you gone; gone to the highest bidder, probably Sunderland.

I called you a 5-a-side player.

I said that you were too niche to ever be a success at Spurs

How wrong I was. I’m sorry for doubting you.

This season, you have become a lynchpin. When you’re not in our team, I worry. I worry because you are so much better than all of our other players at protecting the ball when under pressure from opponents. You resist the press better than anyone else we can field. You complete more passes than anyone else in the squad. 90.2% if you ask; the third best figure in the league (after Ki Sung-yeung and Ibrahim Afellay).

Is it a coincidence that you missed two of our four defeats through injury? Is it a coincidence that you played just 19 minutes of one of the others? Is it a coincidence that you were playing on the right in the opening day defeat at Old Trafford?

When you dribbled with the ball in the past, it would end with a backward pass that didn’t advance us. Now you dribble with purpose. You dribble to create space for others — to suck players towards you. And they do move towards you — in numbers — because they can’t get the ball off you without two or three of them kicking at your heels, getting up your pipes. And that creates space for others, which you now know how to exploit.

You’ve got direction. You’ve got purpose. You’ve got Eric Dier alongside you. You have back-up, you have protection, you have freedom. All of these things have changed you, they’ve made you the great player that I never thought you had it in you to become.

You’ve got a working hip. And that makes a difference too, because you can trust your body now. You know that you can bounce players off and not worry about the repercussions. You’ve put a run of games together — you’ve had rhythm.

You know your place. You’re not expected to be threading through-balls, or running onto them for that matter. You’re in the middle, receiving the ball, getting it forward efficiently, and winning it back when it’s lost. You press. You press so well. You know the triggers, you know your role in the press, you know how to exploit it when you do win the ball.

And you’ve got a coach who can offer you advice and mould your game for the better. He has taken you from a decent player, to one of the best midfielders in the league.

I’m sorry for doubting you, Mousa. Will you forgive me?

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March 26, 2016

The Best Thing You’ve Ever Read About Spurs

That’s not even a clickbait title.

This summary of a talk by John McDermott, our Head of Coaching & Player Development, at Pomona College in Southern California on 22nd March is the Best. Thing. Ever. Thank you to @RobPNicolson for taking the time to type up the lengthy notes from a fantastic lecture.

Myself and @bankruptspurs (some sardonic wit off of Twitter; look him up) had the pleasure of interviewing McDermott back in 2009. At that point we both left thoroughly convinced that our academy was in good hands, which has obviously since been proven by the long list of talented players who have been promoted to the first team or who have made excellent careers for themselves elsewhere (earning us big money in the process). Some of the insight from that interview was included in my article in issue 1 of the The Fighting Cock fanzine – the physical fanzine has since sold out, but it’s just £1 for a digital copy.

Anyway, I digress. I was so impressed by these notes from Rob, that I wanted to break them down to highlight and discuss certain sections of particular interest to me. So without further ado…

One club in the PL is paying ÂŁ24,000 a year for a 9 year old and one of the 16 y.o lads at Spurs (Edwards?) was offered ÂŁ250,000 to go up North (City?) Spurs were honest with the player that they we not going to do that, you stay here and get your ÂŁ30,000 but if you want to go, go and all the time John has to fight against the corruption and business interest of the game. It is our job (him and fans) to make sure that we stop the game falling into this hole.

Actually, I suspect that this was Josh Onomah rather than Marcus Ewards. Onomah who was offered a deal to join Manchester City some time ago. We also know that Chelsea pay ludicrous wages to their young players — rumour has it, as I mentioned in my recent Youth Update — that Chelsea pay Ruben Loftus-Cheek more than we pay Christian Eriksen, for example! This is a tricky situation for us; not only because we have a strict wage structure (which may be extended post-new stadium, but will still be stricter than those with oil money flowing into the club), but because it is part of our underlying philosophy to not give young players too much, too young (this is discussed more later).

Football clubs are flooded with coaches but John thinks there are not that many great coaches- how do you make sure your best players are with the best coaches and the best staff- believes a lot of learning is contagious- as staff has gone from 15 to 70, how does he make sure everyone is doing the right thing for the right players.

This is fascinating insight. When I interviewed McDermott previously he spoke a lot about Ricardo Moniz and how he was there as much to indoctrinate the coaches as he was to specifically coach players. Moniz is now long gone, as are many of the coaches that he indoctrinated. McDermott raises a very good point about how he can now control the level and type of coaching as the staff numbers grow: a new problem for him. I also wonder if ‘there are not that many great coaches’ is a subtle comment on our current Academy coaching staff. This section also ties into a later one…

What does he look for in coaches- do they understand kids, do they know when to be tough, have they got an intuition/not just qualifications, do they share the same philosophy in coaching, do they understand the player development continuum? It is not about the coaches ego and winning the under 15 cups, it about getting individuals into the first team which might be of detriment to results, do the coaches have a work place knowledge and also do they have passion for coaching.

‘The coach’s ego’ – hmm!

A lot of evidence right now suggests that the most talented players are not obvious and players can very easily slip through the cracks. Pritchard and Carroll are little dots that John has taken a chance/risk on because of his experience with other players.

This is something that has been embedded in Spurs for some time. I believe we were one of the first clubs to start ‘sticking with’ smaller, less physical players when a lot of English academies were promoting the big lads who could bully the opposition physically. Alex Pritchard and Tom Carroll are the examples given here, but the examples now go deep within the academy – from Cy Goddard at Under-21 level, to Marcus Edwards at Under-18 level, to Oliver Skipp in the Under-16s — it is not at all unusual to see very small players given opportunities at Spurs.

We have a player right now called Shayon Harrison who is pretty good and trains with the first team, Pochetinno came over to John and said ‘John, Shayon is lazy’ just loud enough so Shayon would hear him. Shayon came knocking on John’s door later asking him what that was about. John told Shayon that Poch has worked with Veron/Maradona, he played a year with Aguero, he trains everyday with Kane- Poch’s frame of reference is so high that he is not saying you are actually lazy but when he is comparing you it can be deemed mediocre.

This is an absolutely brilliant anecdote which shows how psychology can be used to motivate a player, as well as showing the levels that our young players now have to reach to impress.

John is worried that coaches in the modern game are so focused on moneyball stats that players will start to slip through the cracks. Harry Kane at 14 years of age, was relatively fat, August birthday, immature, and was ‘forgettable Harry’- his peers could jump higher, they could run quicker and his agility was 30% lower than the average- ‘runt of the litter’ – so what was it that John saw? He thanked God that he had experienced Ashely Young and Mariappa- there was something beyond stats and sport scientists- an intuition

This is why embedding experienced coaches within the academy is so essential. The risk of letting players like Kane slip through the net due to physical attributes must be a constant concern. Having said that, I could see something in Kane when I first saw him at 15 — he had an understanding of the game, and ability to work within a team structure that is quite rare, and so I doubt they were as close to letting him slip away than is implied. Players are now given longer to prove themselves (for example, Mason finally got his chance at 23) and, in my opinion, that is a good thing, if managed well. And by managed well, I mean that players are not hanging around indefinitely for years, being given one-year extension after one-year extension without any obvious progression being made.

What does he look for in his players- extreme talent alone you will fail
 personal values/characteristics and doing the brilliant basics right= good chance of making it, having those two with extreme talent= might become a top player

This is why so many talented players have failed and will continue to do so — a combination of these factors is essential. You might make a good career with two out of the three, but you must likely won’t fulfil your potential (see: Adel Taarabt).

John does not want U18’s to like him
 Respect him but not like him, and that Kane did not like him at U18 because John kept telling Kane ‘I want more’ and he used to fall out with Kane and Townsend all the time.

I have heard numerous stories over the years about players falling out with McDermott, and it’s normally because he has told them something they did not want to hear. This is absolutely the way it should be — so long as the player responds in the right way.

Told a story about Townsend who was dropped and refused to be released and kept turning up, eventually John and Chris (Ramsey) stopped caring because he refused to be told no. John thinks this is evidence to show local players work and that our foreign academy players usually go back home for a number of reasons e.g. socially, culturally etc.

This story is probably fairly well-known — it certainly made the papers around the time that Townsend broke through — but is worth acknowledging again.

Poch wants 5 things in a player, technically good, tactically good, physically outstanding, mentally strong and faith- they have to believe in what we are about. A player must unconditionally believe in the plan, for example: If Poch tells Kane, run around that pitch three times, do press ups and it will give you a better chance of scoring, Harry is going to do it. Poch has the young players in the palm of his hand and the synergy that comes with that John thinks is amazing.

This brought joy to my heart, particularly the last line. Ultimate belief in the Head Coach’s philosophy is vital, and it is this that I think has led to our incredible team performances this season.

Question: How does John deal with a player like Bentaleb who has tasted success, and now seems to be overlooked in the first team frame and is having to play for the U21’s for game time?
Nabil has had his injuries, similarly with Andros and that he would like to talk about Andros as he is no longer at the club. Andros is an orthodox winger and did not really fit in with the way Poch plays. John then started talking about the ‘bomb’ squad- Adebayor, Capoue etc.- that were out of favour with Poch but Poch never told them to play with the reserves and would treat them as equal as other first teamers and there will be nothing in any of their books that says Poch treated me like a dog. Bentaleb and Townsend both asked to play for the U21’s, it was NOT a punishment of any sort. Poch would not work like that nor would he want to put a bad apple in the U21 and poison the side. John considers it one of the hardest things to manage, winning after a win and you hope a kid has an internal drive to keep going and gave an example of Mason who never stops, an incredible internal drive even though he only started properly playing at 22, and John used the quote ‘You stay on the train long enough and the scenery will change’ but you have got to be good enough to stay on the train and we hope that for Nabil/Townsend as you need your 600 games to get your 200 great games.

A couple of things stood out in this section. Firstly, his choice of term — ‘bomb squad’ — and secondly, Bentaleb and Townsend requesting to play Under-21 football. It sounds as though Pochettino absolutely did not banish that group of players, but implies here that they were seen as some sort of ticking time-bomb. And on the latter point, huge credit to Bentaleb and Townsend, who are/were going about things the right way. McDermott seems hopeful on Bentaleb. Also, we already knew about Mason’s attitude (it’s something I have written about before) but it is good to see it come directly from McDermott again.

John thinks his relationship with the first team manager is very important and there has been 1 or 2 managers that were like chalk and cheese to him. One manager in particular had very different values to John’s and had no time for John. I think John implied that he did not get on well with Harry Redknapp, so Spurs brought in Sherwood- who John and Harry both really like to act as the mediator- so John must find a way to make a connection to the first team manager if he has 19-20 year old players he can trust. If he does not, he is doing a disservice to them because they will be dismissed. Finding that relationship with Poch was easy, they spend 2-3 hours a day with each other, Sherwood was also easy, Redknapp very difficult, Ramos very difficult, AVB brilliant start but went into his shadow a little bit which made it difficult.

It is fascinating that Tim Sherwood was brought in to essentially bridge a personality clash. Sherwood is obviously well thought of by McDermott, and this is something I had heard before.

Something that is interesting about Poch that John thinks he has right- Poch is a leader of people, a very warm, Latin, touchy feely man, he has got something about him, an X factor- if you took Poch from Tottenham right now, they would not be half as successful- with him he has Jesus Perez who is a sports scientist- very clever and analytical, a goalkeeping coach- Toni Jiminez that is an outward, outgoing personality that brings humour and his assistant who is someone that Poch trusts more than anyone- this group filter and contextualise everything- John looks at statistics but trusts his eye also and cross references- Poch will often say something does not feel right- uses his intuition- example: Bentaleb when your face is not smiling, your feet are not smiling- an intuition allied with statistics

Doesn’t this make you love Pochettino and his team even more?

Question: What does distinguish Tottenham’s academy from others?
Unique selling point- pay less wages than anyone else- treat them mean, keep them keen, they still get well paid but we do not chuck money at them- very stringent on agents- keep as many away from the club as possible who can disrupt the system- create cracks in the team and the players heads- it keeps John awake, trying to work out how he protects the old values and resist the temptation to throwing money at them- John likes to take the academy players on 30-35 international trips a year to get a worldly experience that show the players different ways of playing football- we need players that know how to play against players from other countries because they need to be prepared as the premier league is 70% foreign

I have heard previously that Spurs have a preferred agency which they encourage players to join. It is easier to manage and maintain a relationship with one or two agents from a specific agency than a multitude of different agents from different countries, different agencies, and with very different perspectives.

Additionally, the international tournaments and trips was something that McDermott was keen to tell us about when we met him in 2009. At that time, we were leading the way with this, and it is something that has caught on.

Question: How much easier is it for you with a manager like Poch in charge to persuade our youths to stay with us versus the rich clubs like PSG, Man City and Chelsea?
Gametime is his selling point regardless of the manager but the Poch factor is interesting because he is the brightest manager he has worked with, best strategist in how he has the club working, and something that keeps John awake at night- How does he make sure our academy keeps up with Poch because he has taken it to another level- we now have more academy players in the premier league than anyone else but in the last 4-5 years John has lost 6 hugely influential staff members- Ramsey, Sherwood, Alex Inglethorpe?, 2 guys working with England (no names) and Perry Suckers- a lot of the staff now have not worked at Tottenham for a long time- lots of red carpet coaches- that have done this, that and the other but really they haven’t achieved anything- they need to start knowing that they don’t know and right now John feels like he is trying to hang on to Poch coattails because he is moving forward so fast- so yes it is brilliant all these young players coming through like CCV, KWP and Onomah but his worry is to make sure there is not a gap after this period. John needs to remain credible to Poch, right now Poch trusts him but John needs to keep giving him gifts.

Pochettino is pushing McDermott to be better. Take that in for a second — he’s not just improving our first team players, and our academy players… but also our highly experienced Head of Coaching & Player Development who has worked with England and has been coaching for many, many years. Staggering.

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March 2, 2016

Game plan

Just a quick one from me in light of what we have just witnessed, as I feel like I need to unburden myself. Spurs’ main strength this season has been the ability with which we have implemented and stuck to our game plan. Tonight, against West Ham, we came up against a side who did the same, only better than us.

It is a huge compliment to Spurs that West Ham effectively set up like an away team, or a lower league side in a cup match. They could be forgiven for being confused and thinking it was a cup match, since they do treat this fixture like an annual final. The home side were happy to concede possession tonight, confident in their ability to keep us out.

Whilst we played our usual 4-2-3-1, West Ham opted to line-up in a 3-4-3. They had a back three (with Cheikhou KouyatĂ© as a makeshift centre-back), four across the middle (with Aaron Cresswell pushed up to the left of midfield), and — most importantly — Dimitri Payet (and, to a lesser extent, Manuel Lanzini) very high in support of Emmanuel Emenike.

West Ham average positions

Their front three put us under intense pressure from the beginning, and Kieran Trippier, Ben Davies and Hugo Lloris in particular struggled to maintain their passing quality. Trippier could not cope with Payet, Emenike occupied our centre-backs (giving Kevin Wimmer several scares along the way) and chased down Lloris terrifically, and Lanzini and Michail Antonio worked Davies over on the left.

But whilst there were poor individual displays, it was West Ham’s system which floored Spurs. We found it difficult to transition from back to front, and ended the first half having had zero shots. Their front three wouldn’t let us pass out, and their midfield two worked hard to stop us having any time on the ball.

No Mousa DembĂ©lĂ© in midfield meant that we could not just give him the ball and bypass the first line of defence – Ryan Mason and Eric Dier had a tough ask, and they struggled in a tough midfield battle with Mark Noble and the impressive Pedro Obiang, who made eight tackles (the same number as Mason).

The second half was somewhat different. Whilst we started fairly flat still, we played with more purpose, and with a ruggedness which at least gave the impression that we would not take defeat lying down. But ultimately it became a war of attrition, and West Ham seemed quick to the second balls and did well to keep us away from goal.

Harry Kane looked shattered, Nacer Chadli was ‘bad Chadli’ — he does that sometimes — and Son Heung-min’s touch eluded him when he came off the bench. It was not our night.

I felt at half-time that Mauricio Pochettino should change tactics and go to a midfield diamond and two up top (Kane and Chadli/Son). He could even have matched up to their 3-4-3/3-4-2-1, given that he had the versatile Dier at his disposal. But I can forgive him for having faith in our side to break them down, since we have done that so often of late.

We have shown this season that we are wonderful at bouncing back, and it is now up to the coaching staff to lift the team for the big one on Saturday. Win that and the feel-good factor is back again. COYS!

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Two Spurs lads in the squad - Brown and Shashoua. #COYS
23 hours ago