This headline doesn’t make a lot of sense I’m afraid. I wrote it before the game at the weekend, in eager anticipation of a debut master class from our key summer signing, Heung-Min Son. Obviously, this didn’t materialise but in the meantime I had grown so attached to the clever word play that I decided to run with it regardless. If the Daily Mail can get away with this sort of nonsense then so can I. In all honesty, it should probably read “Welcome to Sunderland” but that makes even less sense. And I don’t think that anyone has ever truly felt welcome in Sunderland anyway. I have only visited the city once and despite the fleeting nature of the trip, I am fairly certain it is where dreams go to die. And if the last few Premier League seasons are anything to go by, it doesn’t do much for the careers of professional footballers either. But this blog entry is not meant to be about how miserable it must be to live in Sunderland or my inevitable legal battle with the Tyne & Wear Tourism Board, but more about how lucky Tottenham are to have played them at just the right time. If you could have picked any away game for us to try and break our duck for the year and to gain a little confidence, you would have picked Sunderland as the opponent. Not because we have a decent record at The Stadium of Light but mainly because they have shipped 13 goals in their opening 5 games and their defence is as jittery as Michael J. Fox licking a car battery. At Spurs, we would simply refer to this as the Younes Kaboul effect. Now, I have nothing against Sunderland AFC (or Michael J. Fox for that matter) and in fact one of my good friends is a huge fan. Only recently he made the trip up north to watch their first home game of the season against newly promoted Norwich City. Having found his team 3-0 down before the hour mark, he decided to call it a day and join the fortnightly mass exodus of Sunderland fans leaving the stadium. On his way to the train station he was surprised to find that another fan, in a fit of blind rage, had nailed his season ticket to a tree. Despite the disappointing result, my mate couldn’t believe his luck….I suppose you can never really have enough nails!
But seriously, as Sunderland start to lay the groundwork for their latest great escape, Tottenham are still struggling to find their rhythm. Even though we came away with all three points, we made life very difficult for ourselves at times and will need to improve quickly before the fixture list gets any tougher. Normally after a result like this, I would make a few snide remarks about Ryan Mason before retreating into my own little world of Football Manager, where it is possible for Tottenham to not only qualify for the Champions League on a regular basis but to prioritise the signing of a striker in a timely and efficient manner. But not this time. This weekend was different. Mostly because I just got fired on Football Manager……ironically, for not signing a striker. But also because somewhere between 10.30pm and 12.15am on Sunday evening, I developed a newfound respect for Ryan Mason. In light of this interesting plot twist, I would like to focus on a few things that I learnt from our first win of the season.
Firstly, our marquee signing Heung-Min Son is going to take some time to settle. He looked a little off the pace for most of the game and quite frankly, seemed too eager to impress. I will be the first to admit that I know very little about Son as a player and what I do know has been garnered almost exclusively from Pro Evolution Soccer. Anyone who has known me for a while will testify that my relationship with Pro Evo has been tumultuous at best. We were very happy together for many years but in 2014 we agreed to a conscious uncoupling and decided to go our separate ways. We did however remain good friends, predominantly for the sake of the Playstation. I am currently in a fairly abusive relationship with FIFA 15 and all I can say is that the virtual grass in not always greener. Metaphorically speaking of course. Everything looks better on FIFA. But as I reminisce about happier times, Pro Evo certainly led me to believe that Heung-Min Son has the potential to be an absolute beast and will certainly live up to the painstakingly original nickname of “Son-aldo”. However, you probably have to take this prediction with a huge pinch of salt as the games creators, Konami, are a South Korean company and have a habit of over hyping anyone who has ever kicked a ball south of the DMZ. Of course, Arsenal fans learnt this the hard way when they signed Park Chu-young from Monaco in 2011 for £5m. In his 3 years at the club, he featured just 7 times for the first team before being released on a free. Needless to say, this was probably not the best Korea move for him…..sorry, it had to be done. Silly puns aside, I think that it is fair to say that with all of the expectation surrounding the arrival of Heung-Min Son and the price tag attached, it would be absolutely Seoul destroying if he didn’t live up to it. Oh God, I hate what I have become.
Now this will come as a huge shock to anyone who has read my previous blogs but against my better judgement, I was very impressed with the performance of one Ryan Mason. Over the last season or so, this kid has been my nemesis. Last year I spent months trying to establish whether he was somehow related to any of our board members and I firmly believed that he needed to be shown the door over the summer. This never came to pass and based on the way he has started the season, I am glad that it didn’t. Up until quite recently, I was under the impression that he was one of those players that was average at everything yet good at nothing. But this season I have started to revise my opinion. Regardless of his match-winning goal, I thought that his performance at the weekend was fantastic and in many ways, he reminded me of a certain Luka Modric....obviously without looking, moving and behaving like an oversized rat. His passing was crisp and accurate, he wasn’t afraid to get stuck in when required and every now and then he would burst beyond his man, as he did for the goal, to great effect. If he continues in this vein then I will happily hold up my hands and admit that I was wrong. But if he doesn’t, I will be forced to continue my ongoing research project into Daniel Levy’s extended family tree.
On the other side of the coin we have Harry Kane. It would appear that contrary to popular belief, he no longer scores when he wants. He doesn’t score at all. We may be forced to amend that song before too long. His performance against Sunderland was woeful and from what I can see, he is trying to take on the Gareth Bale role of doing everything himself and trying to win games single-handedly. I have no doubt that he will come good before too long and that he only needs a goal or two to get his confidence back. More importantly, he needs to go back to basics and address the simple things. All game he was coming short for the ball before trying to turn and beat a couple of men on his own. Every time he ended up running down a cul-de-sac and losing the ball cheaply, allowing Sunderland to break. It is no coincidence that when he did come deep to receive the ball in the 83rd minute, he did what comes naturally to him. He instantly laid the ball off to Erik Lamela with his first touch and in doing so, created the space for Ryan Mason to run into and score the winning goal. Harry Kane made his name by doing the simple things well and doing them consistently. If he can find a way to do this again, I am certain that he will not only find himself back amongst the goals but he will also improve the performances of those around him. Speaking of strikers, it was also nice to see Jermain Defoe showing his true colours at the weekend. I grew up on a staple diet of JD’s goal scoring exploits and I would like to think that subconsciously, he deliberately bottled his one on one with Hugo Lloris in the first half because deep down he is still a card carrying Yiddo. This thought was later confirmed when he refused to go down in the box after some rather clumsy defending from Toby Alderweireld. From past experience, we all know that JD loves a good dive and I am sure that if it was against any other club he would have gone down quicker than Tom Daley…..where am I going with this you ask? Is it a gay joke or a diving joke? I will let you decide. My web designer keeps telling me that my blog needs to be more interactive anyway. In fact, I was actually quite disappointed not to see Jermain Defoe celebrating with the Spurs players when we scored, as he certainly contributed more to our cause over 90 minutes than most of our actual players did.
So, by way of a match summary we certainly didn’t set the world alight but three points are three points. In fact, the only thing less convincing than our performance was the structural integrity of our new away kit, which appeared to self destruct every time a Sunderland player even looked at it. For large parts of the first half, both Kyle Walker and Harry Kane looked like they were wearing netball bibs. On a positive note though, Eric Dier and Dele Alli continued to impress and for once, Mauricio Pochettino managed to influence the outcome of a game through positive substitutions. Erik Lamela came on to create the winning goal with a delightful assist and Andros Townsend finally seems to comprehend that he is a winger and not a place kicker for the San Francisco 49’ers. If he has another season like the last, he may be the first player in Premier League history to achieve a sub-zero Opta rating for shot accuracy! More than anything, I hope that we can build on this victory and follow it up with another against the Asian footballing powerhouse of FC Qarabag on Thursday night. I am glad that we don't have to travel all the way to Azerbaijan for the game, but you know what? It can’t be any worse than having to travel to Sunderland….