22/07/09 Aldershot Town vs Tottenham Hotspur X1 3-1, EBB Stadium, Aldershot

A dry evening for my first visit to EBB Stadium (AKA “The Rec”), Aldershot. Just as well, because away fans have a bit of a trek up a hill and through a park to the entrance!

Let me preface this by saying that too much shouldn’t be taken from this game. Not only was it a young squad, but the team was a bit of a mishmash – a couple of first teamers, some reserves, some Academy graduates… and new signing Kyle Naughton, who has joined (along with his team mate, Kyle Walker) from Sheffield United.

Gomes (28)

Hutton (24) Archibald-Henville (20) Butcher (18) Smith (18)

Parrett (17) Livermore (19) Bostock (17) Rose (19)

Taarabt (20)

Obika (18)

Substitutes: Alnwick (22) for Gomes 46, Naughton (20) for Hutton 46, Cox (18) for Taarabt 62, Carroll (17) for Archibald-Henville 78, M’Poku (17) for Parrett 46

Aldershot started fairly strongly, with Spurs struggling to settle and, frustratingly, playing lots of long passes which rarely found their targets. It took just a couple of minutes for the first goal to arrive. Alan Hutton, one of the two “senior players”, was beaten far too easily by his man who back-heeled for a team-mate to cross, and it was turned in from relatively close range.

If anything, rather than settling the home side, the goal settled Spurs. There followed a 10 minute period of controlled possession, with Livermore in particular getting the ball down quickly and playing short passes. However, during this period there was no cutting edge, and all of the passing was in areas which Aldershot would consider “safe”.

On around 15 minutes, Archibald-Henville showed his inexperience – he was dragged out of position, committed himself, and Aldershot had a clear chance, which was put over the bar.

Spurs’ short passing game continued, and Taarabt looked more involved. On 18 minutes or so he set Bostock up for a strike at goal, but Bostock mishit way over – a shame, because it sat up nicely on his left foot. (I notice that the official site saw this effort quite differently: “Taarabt opened it up for Bostock to rifle effort just over from 25 yards.”)

On 32 minutes, a ball was played over the top of the Spurs defence. Butcher, facing his own goal, stretched to meet the ball, but could only get a toe end on it. It looked as though the Aldershot player was going to have a free run at goal, but Gomes ate up the ground, and made a superb saving header, which was warmly applauded. Moments earlier, the Aldershot fans had been chanting “what a load of rubbish, what a waste of money” at the big Brazilian.

Shortly after this, there was a moment of confusion in the Spurs ranks, which caused some tempers to be lost. Bostock played a 10 yard pass to Taarabt in midfield, but Adel had turned his back on play. The Aldershot player nipped in and charged forward, played in the striker who seemed to have time and space. Fortunately he fired wide at the near post. Archibald-Henville stormed out of defence absolutely bawling at Taarabt, who looked rather sheepish.

It took 37 minutes for Spurs to test the Aldershot goalkeeper, with Parrett lashing an effort from the edge of the penalty area out on the right. A good strike, but it would have had to have been something special to beat the goalkeeper from that range and angle.

A poor effort on goal from Rose in a pretty decent position was the only other meaningful moment of the first half.

At half-time, new boy Naughton appeared in place of Hutton, Alnwick came on for Gomes, and Paul-Jose M’Poku replaced Parrett at right midfield.

“Polo” M’Poku made an instant impact for Spurs, upping the tempo, and putting pressure on the Aldershot players with his all-action style. He looks ungainly when he runs, but he’s quite a physical player, and certainly has a good work ethic. He had a chance from a corner, but he didn’t quite get enough on his header and it drifted harmlessly wide.

Substitutions for both teams meant the game went through a particularly scrappy period. Anton Blackwood replaced Butcher at centre back (his first appearance in a Spurs shirt AFAIK), and Cox came on for the frustrated Taarabt. Allen had a bit of a re-shuffle at this point, sending Bostock out to the left, with Cox and Livermore central, and Rose just off Obika.

Blackwood’s first contribution was a player cutting inside him with absolute ease and making a dangerous pass in the box. A couple of minutes later he was guilty of surrendering possession deep in the Spurs half. Things can only get better for him!

It took time for Spurs to settle into the game again, but M’Poku had certainly lifted things, and he seemed to link well with Naughton. This was certainly evident for Spurs’ equaliser – M’Poku playing Naughton in to deliver an absolute peach of a cross. Danny Rose arrived unmarked and planted a header beyond the goalkeeper.

It really was a lovely cross from Naughton, who made a couple of other marauding runs. However, soon after, he was caught on the wrong side of his man, and Aldershot nearly restored their advantage.

The tiny figure of Tom Carroll replaced Troy Archibald-Henville. This meant that Livermore moved to centre back, Bostock moved back into the middle of midfield, and Carroll hugged the left touchline, showing some neat touches, but being nudged off the ball quite easily at times.

Aldershot made it 2-1 on 74 minutes. Poor defending all-round, but a misjudgement from Alnwick in particular, who had already shown some worryingly bad handling.

The game petered out from here, with only one more chance – a free-kick from the right which was whipped in fairly flat. An Aldershot man won the header, and guided it past Alnwick to make it 3-1.

The most disappointing thing about the Spurs performance was the lack of quality passing, which is where you’d expect the better technical players to shine through. Initially we struggled to get the ball down, but then for a 10 minute period we seemed to get our act together – plenty of short, accurate passing, but without any breakthrough. Some players from there on tried to over-complicate, particularly the likes of Taarabt and Bostock, and moves were not given time to develop.

A fairly rigid 4-4-1-1 formation from Clive Allen meant that too many players were playing in unfamiliar and uncomfortable positions – Smith made the best of being at right back, but Parrett did not look comfortable on the right, and it was also notable how isolated Obika was, particularly in the first half. It’s also clear to me that Rose is not a left-winger. He has admitted himself recently that he is happier in the middle of midfield, and for me he struggled on the left – he couldn’t beat his man, and when he got a yard to make a cross, it was generally poor. He seemed to get frustrated with trying to float the ball in, so tried a couple of low crosses in the second half – one caused a bit of confusion in the box, but the other was easily cut out.

The logical answer to me seemed to be to go to 4-2-3-1, with Livermore and Parrett deeper, and Bostock, Rose and Taarabt in support of Obika, and I’ve often thought that Allen doesn’t react quickly enough in these situations – he seems happy enough ranting and raving on the touchline and particularly shouting unhelpful “f*****g get at them” type comments.

I don’t think rating the players here will really tell people a lot about the players involved, or the game, so in addition I’ve added a line or two on what I would expect from each player this season.

Gomes – he was mainly a spectator, but made a good saving header. There wasn’t a lot he could do about the goal he conceded. 7/10
This season – Gomes will be first choice goalkeeper, and will be hoping to build on his impressive clean sheet record from last year. Unlike many Spurs fans, I still have doubts about Gomes, but I hope he cements his place at Spurs, as he seems like a decent guy, and deserves better than what we got from the English gutter press last year.

Hutton – disappointing defending from Hutton for the first goal, and that hardly came as a surprise – his positional ill-discipline and at times poor decision-making has been a problem since his arrival at Spurs. He made a few really decent runs up the right hand side, but not a lot came of them. I also noted a trade-mark dive. 6/10
This season – he will have his work cut out to dislodge Corluka, and with Naughton arriving there’s been a lot of speculation suggesting that he may end up at Everton, with Aston Villa also sniffing around.

Archibald-Henville – a couple of moments of inexperience, but generally he was a commanding figure, winning most headers and challenges. 6/10
This season – I would expect Troy to be back out on loan – Exeter have said they expect him to join up with them again.

Butcher – didn’t do an awful lot wrong, although neither did he look like he was in full control. 6/10
This season – Hopefully Calum will get his first loan spell away from the club, as otherwise he could find himself struggling for games, having graduated from the Academy.

Smith – playing out of position at left back was not easy for Adam. Despite continually having to come inside on his right, he persisted and worked hard up and down the flank. He frequently beat his man, and occasionally jinked between two men. 7/10
This season – Like Butcher, a loan spell is what Smith now needs – I’d imagine that he would be comfortable enough in League One. If he could gain a little strength, I think he could even cope with the Championship.

Parrett – difficult evening for Parrett stuck out on the right. As usual, he battled hard, and chased everything – occasionally he has a tendency to commit himself. Not an awful lot went his way, but he did have our best effort of the first half. 6/10
This season – Dean is moving into the 2nd year of the Academy, so will be one of the senior players in the U18 – I’d expect him to take the armband in Caulker’s absence, and perhaps even go out on loan at some point.

Livermore – whilst he provided a solid base and tried to get the ball down quickly and keep things simple, he didn’t really excel. He showed some solid defensive positioning, and some responsible tracking back, but he’s playing in the area of the pitch where you’d hope for possession to be kept, and we surrendered the ball far too easily at times. 7/10
This season – he has been heavily involved with the first team during pre-season which could show that he’s highly thought of, or could show that he’s this year’s Pekhart (involved early on, and then swiftly sent to the Czech Republic on loan!). I would imagine that he’ll go out on loan for the first few months of the season. He’s a strong lad, so could cope with the rigours of the Championship if a side wants to take a gamble.

Bostock – I think I must have just caught him on bad days, because I’m yet to be impressed. Far too often he beat his man and then passed the ball to the opposition. Neat first touch nine times out of ten, but seems to want to ignore the simple passes too often. 5/10
This season – he still has a long way to go IMO, and I think he’ll be an Academy mainstay this year.

Rose – worked hard, but struggled to beat the Aldershot right-back, and only put in one good cross from about seven or eight. He got absolutely clattered twice in the first half, which may have affected him. Got our goal with a planted header when he was moved just behind Obika, and looked more effective in that position, harrying defenders and getting on the referee’s nerves! 5/10
This season – I can see him linking up with Brendan Rodgers at Reading, who we played under at Watford last year. Needs a season of football before we can really judge him, but I’ve yet to see why he’s been included in the first team squad ahead of others.

Taarabt – one word: PASS! Brilliant dribbling and close control, as ever, but delays passes, ignores passes, frustrates defenders, frustrates team-mates, frustrates himself. A couple of useful cross-field switches, but other than that, not a lot went right for him. Got the hair-dryer from Bostock and Archibald-Henville (and rightly so), for turning his back on the play, and didn’t look impressed. 5/10
This season – it was announced yesterday that he’d be joining QPR on a season-long loan. I think this is make or break for Adel.

Obika – totally isolated for most of the game. It was a hard night for Obika – always a willing runner, but got no service. The few times the ball was played into the channels, it was too heavy or badly angled, and the few times the ball was played to his feet, he had no support, so even if he controlled and turned, he had nobody to pass to. 6/10
This season – I still feel he lacks aggression, and I’d like to see him play a full season in League One and really work on tormenting defenders and letting them know they’ve been in a game.

Alnwick – one of the worst (if not the worst) goalkeepers I’ve seen playing for Spurs, bar none. He didn’t have much to do, but he basically did little well. Maybe I’m being harsh on him for the second goal, but he was lost under the flight of the ball. 4/10
This season – just a case of running down his contract. Try as I might to look for positives, I can’t find any.

Naughton – whilst he looked useful going forward, and put in an exquisite cross for our goal, his positioning was naïve, and he got caught on the wrong side minutes after his assist. 6/10
This season – I’m sure he’ll be training with the first team squad, making a few appearances from the bench, and playing cup games.

M’Poku – replaced Parrett on the right and instantly hugged the touchline, offering width and an option for Naughton. I am a fan of his unusual style and direct movement, and thought he used his physique well to put pressure on defenders, resulting once in a free kick for Spurs and two misplaced passes to Spurs players. He had one unfortunate moment where he beat the full-back with a nice piece of skill, before totally air-kicking when it came to crossing, but he certainly upped the tempo. 7/10
This season – as one of the senior members of the U18 squad this season, he’ll be expected to really contribute goals this year. If things go well, he may get a spell out on loan. I have high hopes for him – he’s something a bit different.

Cox – a regular at left-back for the U18s last season, Cox came on in the centre of midfield and put himself about. Popular amongst the coaches for his attitude and approach to the game, and because they feel he “sets the tempo” for his team-mates, he showed elements of this, but couldn’t really stamp his authority on the game. 6/10
This season – expected to go out on loan, perhaps to Exeter City with Troy Archibald-Henville.

Carroll – Only a cameo for Tom, but he showed some neat touches, although being so small he gets brushed aside quite easily.
This season – a much bigger role for the U18s, no doubt.

Official Tottenham site’s minute-by-minute guide.
Aldershot Town match report.
Youtube highlights.

Spurs youngsters Mason and Caulker out on loan

It was announced last week that 18-year old striker, Ryan Mason, and 17-year old central defender, Steven Caulker, had joined Yeovil Town on loan for an initial month. This mirrors the deal last year that took Jon Obika and Andros Townsend to the same club (joining Danny Hutchins, who has now moved to Yeovil permanently) at the back end of the season. Our two lads put in some good performances, with Obika scoring four crucial goals that helped to keep Yeovil in League One. We seem to have a good relationship with Yeovil; Terry Skiverton, the manager there, knows Harry Redknapp well and, if we trust the coaches to be doing the right things, this can only be beneficial to both clubs.

With the Reserve Team being withdrawn from the league for the forthcoming year (see my previous article ‘Abolition of the Reserves – a good thing or a bad thing?‘), I’m expecting a number of the recently “graduated” Academy players – the likes of Obika, Towsend, Butcher, Smith, Cox, etc – to go out on loan to other clubs that we “trust”. Alongside this, I’d expect players like Archibald-Henville and Dervite, who were out at Exeter City and Southend United respectively last season, to be on loan for most of the season. Indeed, Steve Perryman confirmed before our game against Exeter that he expected Troy to join up with them again for this campaign, and rumours suggest that Sam Cox may go there too. Dervite has been linked with a move to Reading.

I’ve made little secret of the fact that I see Mason as the best prospect from our Academy side, and I’d say that Caulker is another favourite of mine from that crop of players, so I find this move quite exciting. I hope that they impress in their first month, and get a chance to extend their loan periods – indeed, they’ve already participated in two friendly games. Their first appearances came against RRFC Montegnee (Mason scored a penalty in a 5-0 win), and they played again in a 3-2 defeat to Grimsby Town. Incidentally, it seems that Mason played in midfield, but his best position is undoubtedly the withdrawn striker role (or “number 10”).

As a slight aside, I was amused to see that Pride of Somerset had dug up a comment that I’d made on another blog and used it in their article! I will aim to round-up the loan situation on here with some regularity.

Cheerio, Didier!

So after 134 games (incredible…), Didier Zokora has moved on to Sevilla. In my mind this is the best bit of business we will do all summer. To say Zokora is one of the worst players to play for Spurs ever is probably a little harsh, but he’s certainly up there as one of the worst to ever play over 100 games for Spurs. (EDIT: Dean Austin and Ruel Fox push him close)

I never had any problem with Zokora’s lack of goals, or his lack of passing ability in the final third. For me, that was outside his remit, so I ruled out the possibility of him ever getting a goal or assist (did he get any assists aside from the dive that won the penalty vs Portsmouth at White Hart Lane two years ago?).

The thing that annoyed me the most with Zokora was his “work ethic” – most people would never, ever question this, as he did run around a lot. I have no problem with players that cover a lot of ground (Jenas for example), so long as the work they are doing is the right type of work; most of Zokora’s running was wasted. For example, due to his lack of positional discipline he’d often charge towards a player and stop 5 yards short, meaning all that he had then stopped the opposition player doing is progressing further forward. Good players then just make triangles and pass the ball around him. Another example is his lack of tracking of runs – he’d often be seen sprinting back towards his own goal at high speed because he had failed to notice a breaking midfield player until it was too late.

Of course, he did have some good elements to his game – his acceleration was second to few in the PL – he had the ability to run past players at ease (normally shortly before falling over), and … well, that’s it.

So Cheerio, Didier – you always seemed like a nice bloke. But then I’m a nice bloke, and I wouldn’t pick myself to play in the middle of midfield for Spurs.

Abolition of the Reserves – a good thing or a bad thing?

The club announced a fortnight ago that the Reserves will not be entered into the Barclays Premier Reserve League for the coming season.

The plan is, instead, for young players to be sent on loan to gain experience, and for private friendly fixtures to be arranged when first team players are in need of football (recuperating from injuries, general lack of match fitness, etc).

We don’t have too many players that fit into the “reserve” category thanks to Harry’s mass clear-out since his arrival. Since he joined, the following have left the club: Stalteri, Ghaly, Sanchez, Barcham, Daniels, Olsen, Mills, McKenna (retired), Rocha, Dawkins, Fraser-Allen, Hughton, Hutchins, Hutton, Maghoma, and Mtandari, all of whom would have been in and around the Reserve team.

I’m very keen to see our Academy players going out on loan, as Obika, Townsend, and Dervite all showed how well this can work last season. This latest move will no doubt send a message to Championship and League 1 clubs who will, no doubt, be in touch with Harry Redknapp.

As I see it, these are the reasons why scrapping the Reserve team may be a bad idea:

  • We may struggle to get our young players out on loan.
  • Young players out on loan are not guaranteed regular football (See Archibald-Henville at Norwich, or Fraser-Allen at Macclesfield last year for reference).
  • The popular local derbies against Arsenal, which historically attract good crowds in both home and away fixtures, are lost.
  • Some team spirit may be lost.
  • Players could miss out on regular match-day experience.
  • We could be failing to instil a winning attitude.

Equally, most of these points can be countered:

  • If we struggle to get our young players out on loan, then we arrange regular friendlies.
  • If our loanees aren’t getting regular football, we bring them back and start again – Archibald-Henville wasn’t getting football at Norwich, so he came back. He then went down to Exeter and played 19 games.
  • Firstly, is it worth playing the smaller games to small crowds, just to get the big games? Secondly, I suppose we can arrange separate Reserve friendlies with Arsenal if necessary.
  • Is there much team spirit within a Reserve side made up from a mish-mash of Academy players, and first team players who aren’t getting regular games? I’m not sure that Bentley was feeling the team spirit when lining up alongside the likes of Dawkins and Maghoma against Arsenal Reserves!
  • Regular friendlies at appropriate times will allow players to still keep up match-day routines.
  • Sending players out on loan to a League club gives them a more realistic view of the required mentality/levels of desire.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the majority of the players who would be playing for our Reserve side are still eligible to play Academy football, and I believe there’s a rule in Academy football that allows for three (NB: please correct me if I’m wrong, there’s not much evidence online so I’m only going by what I’ve seen at Academy games) “Overage” players per team (although I presume there must be a limit on how old they are – 21 perhaps? NB: again, please correct me if I’m wrong).

Overall, I’m fairly happy with the decision we’ve taken and, if it doesn’t work out, we can always re-enter next year. I’m interested to hear what others feel about the decision, so please do feel free to leave comments.

Ashley Young?

With the rumours that Ashley Young is a key transfer target for Harry Redknapp, most Spurs fans are delighted that we’re finally chasing a left-sided player.

Personally, I would be underwhelmed with this signing. My reasons:

  • Modric has played his best football for us on the left, and doesn’t get enough goals to play centrally in a 4-2-3-1 (I don’t even want to consider him as one of the midfield two – waste of his attacking talent, and it would mean we are far less solid).
  • We will have three high profile players battling for two positions – it didn’t work with Bentley, so why would it work this time?
  • Like Bentley, Young needs a target man to aim at/play off.
  • I think Young is a good player, but overrated.

For argument’s sake, say we get 12-15 goals from the front man, and Young scores 8 (ESPN have him down as scoring 7 in 2008/9 and 8 in 2007/8 – his biggest PL goal haul to date). Add those to 5 each from Modric and Lennon, and that’s 33. Presuming there are 12 more goals scattered around somewhere (remembering that with those three ahead of him, Jenas would need to play a much more restrictive role), we may just end up scoring the same total as this past year (45), which most would probably agree is too few.

For me, Modric needs to be on the left (or, at a push, on the right), and the man primarily playing off the frontman needs to be scoring 10+ goals. I see Redknapp as wanting to use Keane in this role, and we know from experience that he is certainly capable of 10 or more goals.

There is an argument that with Young wide, we’d see a frontman scoring more goals to compensate for Modric’s “lack of” in the number 10 role. However, Modric has a decent number of assists from the left for this year, so I’m not sure the number of chances created would rocket. It’s also worth noting that a lot of Young’s crosses tend to come at head height, so we’d still be in a similar position to this season – lacking (tall) bodies in the box. We’d have potentially one in Pavlyuchenko, but often none, unless we signed another striker. And if we were to sign a target man, it would be silly to sell Bentley, who could potentially thrive as he did at Blackburn.

I also think we’ll find the same problem with Young as we’ve had with Bentley – three players vying for two positions. This is fine if you’re a Champions League club, but none of the three will be happy being a bit-part player for a side not in Europe, particularly when they are all used to playing week in, week out.

For me, we’ve got the defensive element of our midfield sorted – Jenas and Palacios’ partnership was one of the main reasons why our record improved so much at the back end of the season in my opinion. I’m happy with that and, unless we can bring in some quality competition (i.e. better than Huddlestone/O’Hara), then I am happy to leave that as it is. When Modric has played centrally for us in a two-man midfield it has, so far, been a disaster. I’m not saying he can’t play there in the future, but it hasn’t worked yet.

The areas where I hope for us to improve on next year are getting goals – so an improved spearhead (I’d like to think, given a run in the team – which he still hasn’t had – Pavlyuchenko can score goals and show what he’s about), more assists and goals from Lennon and Modric, and better creativity from Keane/number 10.

Finally, I personally think Young is overrated. He had a very good start to last season, but a poor end, in which he only managed 2 goals after December 13th, and only got 3 assists in that time too – a run of 23 games. Spending £16m on a player like Young who plays in a position that we don’t really need to upgrade, and who can fall away when the going gets tough (like many of our current players, as seen at the start of last season), is not a risk I’d take.

Young’s a good player, but not ideal for us IMO.