New season and a very tough opening fixture with a visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to play Antonio Conte‘s Super League Spurs. Spurs appear to have recruited very well in the window so far, with the arrivals of Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Clement Lenglet, Djed Spence and of course Fraser Forster. Of course, Fraser is unlikely to be building a wall in front of the Spurs goal today as that job will go to the other dependable Hugo Lloris. The first two of those signings in particular will make a massive difference to Spurs as the season progresses but the good news for us is that they are both unlikely to start today. Even if it’s the same Spurs side as last year that we are facing, you know that it’s going to be better because Conte would’ve had a full pre-season with them and this year, Harry Kane will be interested from the first match and not just from after he’d finished throwing his toys around for not getting a move to Manchester City, which is I assume completely off the table now given that they’ve just signed Erling Haaland. As usual, when you play any Super League Club away from home, you need to referee to be decent and today we have Andre Marriner, so fully expect any theatrics from Spurs to be fully rewarded.
I don’t really know what to expect in this game from Saints. I basically want to see a good performance and if we do fall to the expected defeat, I want us to at least show signs that we are going to be half decent and hard to beat. Remember, we are playing a formation that is supposed to make us more solid so today will absolutely be a good test of that and what Ralph and the new coaches have been working on in pre-season.
I am present today at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and it’s the first time I’ve been here. They’ve moved the fucking thing even further from Seven Sisters Tube station, albeit by about 50 yards. All of these new huge super stadiums look fantastic from when you can see the pitch but the difference maker with this one is that it looks amazing from the outside as well. Off to my left is quite possibly the biggest single tier stand but I think I’ve ever seen in person and they do appear to have completely smashed out the park with the design of the stadium, complete with a massive cock on the roof at one end.
On the walk from the pub to the stadium, the team news drops and Ralph has done it again. It looks like the curse of over-thinking. The team that looked like it was going to start the first game, is not… with Armel Bella-Kotchap on the bench and his place being taken by Yan Valery, who has played well in the pre-season but it does seem strange that the one defensive signing that we have made, who I assume was brought in to make a difference, is not playing. Worst fears are confirmed at left wing back with the selection of Moussa Djenepo. We have unsurprisingly gone for the solid midfield of Romeu, Romeo and JWP and Adam Armstrong is given the nod to partner Joe Aribo. Interest and trepidation in equal measure.
Spurs don’t have any of their summer signings playing with Bissouma iand Perisic both on the bench and the team has a somewhat familiar look about it but the front line of Kane, Son and Kulusevski looks somewhat terrifying when paired up against our back three. I wonder if Son will stay on his feet today or will he return to being ‘The Minge’?
Andre Marriner gets the game underway and the first 10 minutes is somewhat disjointed with Romeo Lavia showing up very well for us, disrupting play and trying to get us going. I’m already finding myself in the ‘keep the score down’ mode because I’m delighted when we get to 10 minutes and we haven’t let a goal in as yet.
Then madness, as Moussa Djenepo find himself on the left wing with just Emmerson Royal in front of him. He turns him inside out, gets to the line and pulls it back with a good cross to the edge of the box and there is JWP to volley it down off the ground and high into the net giving Lloris no chance. Fuck me we’ve scored and there is celebration mixed with disbelief in the away end. This is how it’s going to be, it’s a sign of things to come and we are going to be brilliant after all and solid defensively. It’s Our Fuckin’ Year….
No it isn’t.
We actually have a good chance for 2-0 as it breaks to Adam Armstrong on the edge of the box but he does his usual and tries to smash the cover off it and screws it wide. He has to get that on target at least and as if to prove it, Spurs build down or left and one wing-back Emmerson Royal easily finds enough room to swing the cross over and there is the other wing-back Sessègnon at the back post who has got away from KWP and buries the header past Bazunu who has absolutely no chance.
Spurs are beginning to cook now and we are struggling, looking particularly weak in defence. We aren’t even getting close to them. Valery in particular is looking very uncertain and a long ball from our left to right catches out Valery and Bazunu is forced into a decent save from Son – corner. It’s headed out as far as Son who again has absolutely no pressure on him and he crosses into the middle to where Eric Dier has easily lost Joe Aribo and flicks into the net past the unprotected Bazunu. Shit defending and simple goals both. So much for defensively solid.
There are 20 minutes left to go in the first half and there’s only one team that’s going to get the next goal. Djenepo dives in and sells himself like an over-enthusiastic Under 11 player and Spurs tee-up a shot for Davies which Bazunu again has to save.. Big Baz is having a good day but he shanks out a shite kick which puts Valery under pressure but it seems to be ok until Valery decides to take on half the Spurs team and loses it which results in Son dribbling across the top of the penalty area and he should score but he smashes it over. Kane forces Bazunu into another save from a tight angle and we just about get to 45 minutes and two minutes of injury time are signalled. Andre Marriner decides to play four minutes as Spurs are attacking and plays on until Romero heads over as the clock ticks 49.
Lucky to be only 2-1 down and we desperately need to make some changes. My direct hotline to Ralph obviously worked so our two worst players, Valery who has had an absolute nightmare and Adam Armstrong who has done absolutely nothing except fall over under minimal pressure, are both off to be replaced with Jack bloody Stephens and Stuart Armstrong who I presume is going to play up front. Che Adams is still on the bench and we need a goal and are starting the second half with no striker on the pitch.
Ralph's half-time team talk presumably said something along the lines of “carry on as we are, don’t get close to the runners and hope for the best“ because that was what we did and within 30 seconds the ball’s in our net again with Jack Stephens asleep and only an offside flag against Sessègnon saved us from game over after 46 minutes.
It doesn’t take long however as Stuart Armstrong loses the ball on the left hand side and Emmerson Royal breaks, gets the ball back from Son before crossing into the box. It’s going nowhere, until what I can only assume is a fantastic piece of non-communication and Salisu bundles it into his own net in comically shit fashion. 3-1. Fuck.
No Danger Sali.... Fuck's Sake
Virtually straight from the kick off we’ve lost the ball again and Hojbjerg
slots a ball in between the defenders to Emmerson Royal. Djenepo it’s completely absent, meaning Salisu
has to leave his man to close down the full back and Royal just knocks it to
the unmarked Kulusevski who passes it into the far corner of the net. Fucking
shambles. Defensive basics – if Salisu
goes to the wing then Bednarek and Stephens should move over one player and KWP
tuck in. It takes communication, application,
effort and not being shit to do that though.
Half an hour to go and this could be 6, 7, 8 but luckily, Spurs know the job is done and start phoning it in. Harry Kane tries one shot from halfway up the High Street though he still has time to put Bednarek on his arse simply by standing his ground. Embarrassingly pathetic weak defending from the 6 foot 2inch, 26-year-old, 42 International cap waste of space.
We do actually create a couple of chances in the last 15 minutes with Salisu either playing brilliant pass or panic clearance but either way, it put Aribo away and he beats the last defender and gets a good shot in which Lloris saves and pushes along a 6 yard line but we don’t have another player within 20 yards to knock it in and Spurs four players back and none of them does a Salisu and smashes it in the net for us. There is one final chance for us to put some respectability to the score line make it even more flattering than it already is, as as a JWP is cross is met by Perraud at the back post and his first-time volley flies just over the bar.
The End. Shite.
I know that one shouldn’t go overboard giving that it was the first match of the season and that we were playing a Super League club away from home… but that was fucking dreadful. The opening 10 minutes saw a slightly disjointed Spurs and fair play to us, we managed to capitalise with Djenepo turning Royal inside out and his cross being put home from the edge of the box by the ever-reliable JWP. That was after 10 minutes.
After the time that when Spurs went from 2nd gear to 3rd gear, there was next to nothing from us. Having gone in 2-1 at half-time, courtesy of two basic defensive lapses of the “not stopping the cross, not marking the player in the box” sort, the start of the second half was of course going to be crucial and we were very fortunate not to be 3-1 down within 10 seconds of the restart. It only took another 10 minutes or so for Spurs to be 4-1 up and from then on, if any of the other Saints fans were like me in the ground, we were just waiting for the game to end in the hope that we didn’t get smashed by any more. It was one of those games where if Spurs had needed to score 7 then they undoubtedly could’ve done but they phoned it in for the last half an hour and for that we can be grateful. It was absolutely nothing to do with anything that we did because we were shit.
It’s a given that Spurs have the better players with more ability. We know that and we accept that but what we don’t accept is that Spurs looked fitter, they wanted it more, they ran more, they tackled more, they got stuck in to the headers and made sure that we knew we weren’t gonna get given anything and even when they did commit a foul, they all surround the referee which is fucking annoying, especially when Harry Kane does it because he’s got fuck all to do with any incident - but it shows that they really have a collective will to win, instilled by the manager.
Men against boys springs to mind. I feel that we may be hearing that a lot this season. No physicality from any of the defenders aside from Salisu in the first half. Easy afternoon’s work for Kane and company in the heat as we didn’t make it difficult for them at all. In order to get points in this league, we have to be all over teams and especially against the Super Leaguers, we have to get them out of their comfort zone by being fitter and willing to work harder.
Ralph. What the actual fuck? Over-thought random bollocks was the order of the day. Okay, so we know we’re gonna go with this formation with three central defenders and in any game where we’ve had anything that looks remotely like a first choice line-up in preseason, Bella-Kotchap has played on the right hand side. He is our only new defender and therefore the only player who’s going to possibly make us any better than the shit show we’ve been defence in the last two seasons. He’s big and imposing and physical and he wins headers but he gets left out however and Yan Valery plays and we get battered everywhere, especially on crosses. Now, Yan has done pretty well in pre-season but today just proved the pre-season means nothing. Yes, you want your fringe players to put their hands up and he earned a chance to be higher in the pecking order but the bottom line is that he isn’t good enough and nor is Bednarek and nor is Djenepo and nor is Adam Armstrong. So that’s four players out of the outfield 10 who we all know are not good enough. What a surprise that we can’t live with a team like Spurs on their own ground when 40% of our starting line-up just isn’t good enough.
Ralph actually did well to decisively make two substitutions at half-time and he took off the worst two, who were Adam Armstrong and Valery but he still didn’t bring Bella-Kotchap on, instead throwing on Jack Stephens who has never been any good when he’s just thrown into a game. This is another known fact. Valery and Adam Armstrong were the two selections that had most people scratching their head at the start of the game so basically all Ralph was doing at half-time was trying to correct the madness of muddled thinking from when he threw together the team sheet. Stuart Armstrong, who should’ve started, came on and that meant that Joe Aribo was pushed right up front – he is not a “lead the line striker”. Ralph knows this, Joe knows this and so consequently we had absolutely no idea of how to go about trying to create chances in the second half. Absolutely shit.
Yes, I know we are short at full-back at the moment and Perraud is finding his way back to fitness. Moussa did well to create the goal that we did score but after that he was the predictable disaster that I and probably most people knew he was going to be. Kulusevski and Royal down the right-hand side could basically get their head up and pick out any cross ball that they wanted to because Moussa was nowhere near them at any point. Salisu had started the game relatively well but gradually got more and more stressed with Moussa not being in the right position and it all led to Salisu having an absolute beast of a moment with the own goal. Don’t get me started on Bednarek, our most experienced defender and ‘leader’ of the back-line.
In midfield, I have to say that Romeo Lavia was absolute quality and was our man of the match by an absolute mile. He is a serious player and with him in midfield, JWP had a decent match. Oriol Romeu looked like a fish up a tree however and Spurs just played round him in midfield. I don’t remember him really getting a tackle in and he certainly didn’t create anything going forward.
Up front, in the first half Adam Armstrong was a complete waste of time. I don’t know what his strengths are but they certainly aren’t playing as a lone striker. He can’t hold the ball up and he has no strength and just gets brushed off it. He had one shot at goal, which he tried to belt the cover off of and snatched it so it trickled wide and it was more evidence to add to the Championship-only stack of evidence that is building up.
The two players I felt sorry for were Gavin Bazunu who was totally blameless for any of the goals, and Joe Aribo, who did his best to get something going but was completely isolated in the second half. There was a classic illustration of this when he got through and fired in a decent shot which Lloris pushed along the 6-yard line and there wasn’t another Saints player following up within 20 yards because it seemed to me that no one really knew where they were playing. Stuart Armstrong had come on at half-time and sort of started off on the left and then he was pushed up front and then he drifted to the right, obviously under instruction from a manager who was by the stage basically making up shit as he went along.
We’ve done some decent work in the transfer market this summer in recruiting some new players but we still have a load of shit hanging around which means Ralph has the opportunity to put it in the team, which he keeps doing. If Bednarek, Valery, Adam Armstrong and Djenepo had all left this summer, no one would've given a shit and if we had played instead of those four, Bella-Kotchap, Lyanco, Perraud and Che Adams, we certainly wouldn’t have been any worse.
We are not going to score enough goals with this formation and Joe Aribo as one of the strikers so to my mind, he has to sacrifice Romeu in midfield and put either Aribo or Stuart Armstrong there and play with two strikers, Che Adams and someone else, hopefully the striker that we haven’t signed as yet. Che Adams is not brilliant but he is by far our best striker. We had no idea how to attack in the second half in particular and no one seem to know how they were going to create anything for the forward players. I know we were probably trying to stay in the game as long as possible but you have to have a goal threat and you have to have an attacking plan.
There was one section of play which summed up the difference between the two sides as we had the ball on the right wing with a crossing opportunity but didn’t cross it into the box even though we had three players in there and instead we turned round worked it back to the centre backs, over to the left-hand side where again we turned down the cross and lost the ball. Spurs went, one pass, two passes, shot on goal. It was saved by Bazunu but that’s not the point. Spurs showed that they knew how to attack and we had no fucking idea whatsoever. They also of course knew how to defend it in a disciplined, structured way.
If we had lost today but looked decent and looked like we knew what we were doing then I think most people could’ve seen past the result and thought there might be something better around the corner. Ralph doing weird shit and that performance today has just left everybody fearing the worst. The next home game against Leeds is absolutely massive because if we put in a shit performance in that then Ralph is severely going to be up against it pretty much from the start of the season. Win it and this this Spurs game will be written off. Over to you Ralph.