Tom Glover (17)
Kyle Walker-Peters (18) Dominic Ball (19) Cameron Carter-Vickers (17) (c) Connor Ogilvie (19)
Filip Lesniak (19) Milos Veljkovic (19)
Emmanuel Sonupe (19) Ismail Azzaoui (17) Nathan Oduwa (19)
Shayon Harrison (18)
Cy Goddard (18)
Luke Amos (18)
Kenny McEvoy (20)
Anton Walkes (18)
Harry Voss (18)
Christian Maghoma (17)
It was a dry but cloudy afternoon at the Lamex – the home of Stevenage as well as Spurs’ Under-21 team (or ‘Development Squad’, as the club tends to refer to it).
Spurs’ side was made up mostly of the players that travelled to Ploufragan in France for the recent National Under-21 Tournament, in which we finished fourth (although only lost one match in normal time). As well as the players from that squad we fielded Australian goalkeeper Tom Glover, who was with the first team in Denver. Cameron Carter-Vickers was captain for the day.
Stevenage are now managed by an early hero of mine, Teddy Sheringham, and I was hoping that it would be clear that he is trying to develop an attractive style of football – more on that later.
Stevenage played something between a 4-5-1 and a 4-1-4-1 with a big number 9 (who I think was Brett Williams) up front and ex-Spurs youth players Dean Parrett (8) and Charlie Lee (10) in the centre of midfield behind him. 18-year old Dipo Akinyemi started wide on the left. Lee captained their side.
Spurs started in the typical 4-2-3-1, with two defensive midfielders sitting in front of a strong centre-back pairing. Shayon Harrison led the line, with Ismail Azzaoui in behind him. Nathan Oduwa – who has impressed in pre-season for the first team – played on the left.
As the players started to settle into a rhythm, Milos Veljkovic looked to go long over the top to Harrison, but just over-hit his pass. Cameron Carter-Vickers was confident enough early on to step and play the big Stevenage number 9 offside – leading by example. On 3 minutes, there was a wonderful switch of play from Veljkovic to Connor Ogilvie at left-back, although his cross was blocked.
Stevenage signalled their intentions to play physically when a nudge on Dominic Ball from the number 9 sent him sprawling into the hoardings – Ball had got ahead of him easily and didn’t complain at the unnecessary treatment he received.
The first opening of the game came when Kyle Walker-Peters showed some neat footwork to beat his man, played a pass to Azzaoui who found him again with a lovely return pass into the inside right channel. Walker-Peter’s cross went all the way across the box and Ogilvie fouled his man at the back post in trying to meet it.
With six minutes gone, Ogilvie cleared his second ball of the day straight over the stand and out of the ground!
A minute later it was 1-0 to Spurs. Oduwa made his first serious surge forward – he burst through three players and got a low shot away with his left foot on the angle which bounced up (either off a defender or the goalkeeper) and went in the far post.
Stevenage went immediately up the other end and their strong number 3 overlapped and got a cross in which Tom Glover claimed at the near post in commanding fashion.
Azzaoui took possession in his own half and tried to drop an ambitious diagonal ball over the top for Sonupe, but he put too much on it on this occasion.
Tenacious midfielder Dean Parrett was sticking close to Azzaoui, and frequently nicked the ball away from him – he was clearly targeted as a danger man (rightly). Veljkovic then nearly found the breaking Azzaoui with another nice pass but it was intercepted.
Veljkovic’s cross-field switch to Sonupe was well struck, but the winger failed to take it in his stride with his head and it ran out of play.
Harrison had our second effort on goal – he got a weak shot away after latching onto an Ogilvie pass, but it was never troubling Stevenage.
Stevenage were happy to let our centre-backs have possession but pressed as soon as they stepped into midfield or laid it into a midfielder. Dominic Ball strode out of defence, but was well-chased by the number 9 and was robbed just as he was about to make a pass.
Spurs won a corner as Sonupe laid off to Walker-Peters and tried to run in behind the full-back. The Stevenage player positioned himself well but a poor touch took the ball over the line. Azzaoui’s right foot corner was headed over at the back post by Carter-Vickers.
Veljkovic was adept at dropping into centre-back to allow Ball to push up, and on one occasion Ball did so and found Harrison who was easily robbed – not for the first time. Veljkovic then received a poor pass in midfield but won it back and gave it simple, taking care to maintain possession and continue to frustrate Stevenage.
Oduwa showed good tenacity to block a ball from the full-back and then tore off after it – he stood the same player up but then when another got back to help out he couldn’t beat two, and on this occasion he chose the wrong option in not passing.
Some naive defending from Dominic Ball on the Spurs right led to a Stevenage free-kick, which Glover claimed superbly.
Stevenage had started the game in an overly physical manner, but that didn’t prepare me for what happened next. Charlie Lee absolutely scythed down Oduwa with a tackle that was late and high. Oduwa was left unconscious, and it quickly became clear that there was concern for him, as teammates knelt down close to him as he received treatment. His treatment lasted for 7 minutes before he was stretchered off and replaced by Cy Goddard. Challenges like this are part of the game, and something that our young players will need to get used to – especially lower down the football pyramid and when you have as much ability as Oduwa (which can frustrate opponents). But that sort of challenge in a friendly match – which will have likely been agreed as part of the deal by which they provide a home for our Under-21 side – was totally uncalled for. Lee picked up a yellow card, but it would have been red in any other context. Thankfully Oduwa was fine once he regained consciousness and he was able to watch the second half.
Cy Goddard moved into the number 10 position, with Azzaoui shifting out to the left – the position he mostly played for the Under-18s last season. The young Belgian drew applause with a nice drag back to retain possession – clearly unperturbed by the physical treatment that his teammate had received!
On the other side, Emmanuel Sonupe tried to play a one-two with Ogilvie but played the ball straight into touch.
A really positive burst down the left from Ogilvie (a feature throughout) saw him get onto a Lesniak pass and play a nice ball into Harrison in the box. His clever back-heel nearly found Goddard, but it was cleared for a corner, which the goalkeeper claimed at the second attempt.
On 44 minutes, Sonupe beat his man and got a cross in, but it was hacked away for a corner. Azzaui’s kick was attacked by Ball and fell kindly for the defender to play it back into the penalty area, but the cross was headed clear.
Carter-Vickers showed his calm style with a commanding piece of play at the back, stepping across his man to retain possession and allowing Glover to mop up with a clearance.
Spurs continued their assault down the flanks when Walker-Peters played in Sonupe deep on the right. The winger dug out an excellent cross but it was headed clear from within the six-yard box.
In the 7 minutes of stoppage time, Carter-Vickers displayed another piece of solid defending against Akinyemi – standing his ground and letting his opponent’s poor touch do the work, resulting in a goal kick to Spurs.
Goddard tried to thread a pass through to Azzaoui but it was not quite weighted well enough and the keeper snaffled it.
The final action saw Sonupe produce an up and under cross, but Goddard started his run from deep and couldn’t quite get on the end of it.
Stevenage made five substitutions at half-time, and four of the incoming players were trialists. One of those to leave the field was Charlie Lee – the ex-Spur being the one who injured Oduwa in the first half. 40-year old goalkeeper, Chris Day, another ex-Spur, also went off. Spurs made no further changes.
Stevenage changed their shape at various points, with Akinyemi playing up with the number 9, and this gave Spurs something to think about.
Tom Glover was keen to pass the ball out at every opportunity, and in one such situation he laid a pass to Lesniak in midfield, who retained the ball well under pressure from two opponents and spun 360 degrees in the centre circle to find space.
Ten minutes into the half Connor Ogilvie lost his third ball of the day with another big clearance – this one was later thrown back onto the outfield, though!
Glover claimed another corner and played a quick ball out to Azzaoui, who beat Stevenage’s number 21, made space and got a shot away which was blocked.
Parrett and Dale Gorman were trying to get on top of the physically small Goddard, but he used his low centre of gravity to wriggle into space and won a free kick. The free-kick on this occasion was played square and wasted.
Azzaoui made space in the box again and got another shot away – this time the goalkeeper closed his legs quickly to block.
Stevenage came close to equalising when a deep corner was headed over Glover and Lesniak was needed to head it off the line. Glover then blocked the follow-up before a final shot was fired well wide.
Harrison had a lovely effort on goal which was going in at the near post but the keeper got down well to palm it wide. Azzaoui’s corner was too deep for Carter-Vickers and sailed harmlessly out for a goal kick.
Luke Amos replaced Filip Lesniak on 69 minutes and played just ahead of Veljkovic – a slightly more advanced role than usual.
Spurs had typically tried to play out from Glover whenever possible, but when Stevenage squeezed up on one occasion, Veljkovic made a long run forward to provide a target up front from the goal kick. He didn’t win the ball – mostly as he was clearly held from behind by the centre-back he was jumping with. The referee struggled to spot shirt-pulling and pushes throughout, and let Stevenage play a very physical game.
Carter-Vickers muscled another Stevenage man off the ball and carried the ball out despite challenges coming from all angles, but Spurs lost the ball and committed a foul in trying to win it back. From the resulting free-kick, Akinyemi missed a glorious chance. The number 16 crossed well, Akinyemi lost Sonupe and sent his diving header across goal but wide. Ball was not best pleased with Sonupe’s defending!
Kenny McEvoy replaced Sonupe on 75 minutes, and Spurs reverted to a 4-3-1-2, with McEvoy up top on the right, Harrison left, with Azzaoui in behind them centrally.
Harrison had an opportunity to make it 2-0 when the Stevenage goalkeeper received a back-pass and kicked it straight at Harrison, although it bounced off him to safety and the trialist keeper quickly dived on the loose ball.
A neat Spurs move on the edge of the box showed potential, but Goddard over-hit his pass out for a goal kick.
Walkes replaced Walker-Peters at right-back for the final few minutes, and a minute later Spurs secured the win. Luke Amos sent Harrison through, he rounded the goalkeeper but was upended in doing so. He stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way from the spot.
Veljkovic won a superb tackle in midfield and then spread play well to Walkes – all of which typified his performance – and the final action saw Amos intelligently win a free-kick on edge of box which Azzaoui clipped into the wall and wide.
This was a stern test for a very young Spurs side against a much older, much more physical outfit. Stevenage’s style was surprising given that 1. it was a friendly and 2. they are managed by Sheringham, who was such an elegant player (and not at all dirty). I felt that perhaps a few of the Stevenage players set out to try to intimidate the Spurs boys, and got carried away when it didn’t really pan out for them.
It was notable that Spurs looked to play lots of long diagonals and cross-field passes in this match, much like the first team vs MLS All-Stars in midweek. Perhaps this is a move towards a slightly more direct style, with quick changes of the direction of attacks being a feature.
Glover 8 – a very commanding performance from the young Aussie. Claimed the ball consistently well (perhaps he’d been watching Joe Root in midweek) and distributed it smartly too.
Walker-Peters 7 – very secure defensively, and keen to support Sonupe without ever really going on any of his trademark mazy runs. Perhaps a bit more reserved than he is in Under-18 and Under-21 football due to the standard of the opposition.
Ball 6 – made one error of judgement down on the right when he needlessly committed a foul, but was otherwise sound and used the ball sensibly.
Cater-Vickers 8 – a very dominant showing, as we’ve come to expect.
Ogilvie 7 – it was really nice to see him get back to the sort of form I’d come to see from him in Under-18 football. A willing outlet on the left, willing to bomb forward to support the attack. I hope he has a better year this year as he’s a player I like; I felt he stagnated a bit last term.
Veljkovic 9 – wonderfully composed on the ball with a very useful range of passing; solid in the tackle; intelligent reading of the game. What’s not to like? I am slightly baffled as to why Pochettino doesn’t love him as much as I do, and I can only think that it’s because he doesn’t play with the high intensity that Pochettino demands. I’ve heard murmurings of a Championship loan – he’s better than that at this point and – in my opinion – should be getting outings for us in the Europa League and League Cup.
Lesniak 6 – a neat and a tidy performance, as is the standard from the Slovakian midfielder. I am unclear on his situation – first he was rumoured to have left Spurs, then he started appearing again… and now apparently a Championship club has shown interest in him, although I have no idea if that would be a loan or permanent move.
Sonupe 5 – struggled to have an impact for large periods against a very physical side.
Azzaoui 7 – a prominent figure in most of our attacks, and caused problems for the Stevenage defence with his movement and close control.
Oduwa 8 – was looking a real threat until his afternoon was ended by a crunching challenge. Did so well for the opening goal.
Harrison 5 – came to life just before the end with a great shot, and then did well to win and score the penalty, although he struggled a fair amount against big, strong centre-backs. He had a couple of sloppy touches when receiving the ball with his back to goal, and was easily beaten in the air by the Stevenage defenders, who were so much taller than him. This game will have been a really useful one for him – a bit of an eye-opener.
Goddard 6 – some nice footwork as ever, but his end product was lacking at times.
Amos – very effective cameo in a slightly more advanced position than usual.
McEvoy – ran around a bit.
Walkes – didn’t have enough time to make an impact.