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Monday, January 02, 2006

2005: Transitional?

With our progress unquestionable, Spurs finished the season with a poor defeat and an excellent win. Nothing could better sum up our transitional status.

Sitting in fourth, and half way through our best season in over a decade, Spurs have not been talked about much by the media, other than a few nice words here and there. Reports have signaled crisis at second placed Man U, and dwelt at length on a transition at sixth placed Arsenal, but Spurs sit between them in a real transition.

Away to West Brom was the sort of game spurs would have lost in the past, and sure enough we lost again this time. Two days after a tough win against Birmingham City, we showed we are far from the finished article.

Stalteri, Lee, Davids, Jenas, Routledge, and Rasiak all started, having signed just six months ago. Dawson only signed eleven months ago, and in the absence of King or Keane, Robinson took the armband with just 18 months behind him in a Spurs shirt.

The game summed up exactly why fans feel nervous around Christmas. West Brom played with more energy, with more fight, and deservedly took the points. Spurs were woeful and struggled throughout, seemingly worn down by the previous game just two days before. These were eleven players that did not know where to find each other, what to expect from each other, or even who their team mates were.

This was a flashback to two years ago, before Martin Jol, and before Santini even. This was regular fair under previous managers, and back then transition was not the word.

The Newcastle game a couple of days later had repeat performance written all over it. The Geordies had not suffered a proper festive campaign thanks to cold weather canceling their game against Charlton. They had available their first choice pair up front, Owen and Shearer, and Spurs still had King out.

But while transitional season is a term used to excuse a poor season for most teams, Spurs are in transition to something better. As such we outclassed a sorry Newcastle team, put the ball in the net six times, and limited them to a couple of half chances in the whole 90 minutes.

Stalteri, Lee, Davids, and Tainio only arrived in England in the summer. Jenas came from almost as far away at the same time, and Mido and Dawson again made up a long list of those with less than a year’s experience in a white shirt. In fact, the only starters with two years of history at Spurs were Robbie Keane and Anthony Gardner. Neither of these two could make the starting eleven two months ago.

This side of apparently different players was fantastic. The passing sometimes went astray, but mostly found a fellow Spurs player. Carrick protected the defence, and the defence protected the keeper superbly. Mido won almost everything in the air, Jenas and Tainio made the Newcastle midfield and defence look lost and confused, and Davids, aged 32, showed a work ethic that hid any fatigue in his third full game in five days.

In a time of transition it is often the permanent fixtures that hold a team together. With King out again, Keane filled the role of captain, and led the team from the front. He was energetic, ran Newcastle’s defence ragged, and set up Mido’s goal, which along with Tainio’s sealed the result long before the final whistle.

Keane also hit the back of the net three times, each ruled out for marginal offside decisions. This along with Mido’s ruled out goal, led to the home crowd chanting ‘6-0 to the Tottenham’. That was less mischievous than leading the away fans in a chorus of ‘only one Bobby Robson’, which the papers wrongly attributed to a disgruntled Toon Army.

The transition to a happy and confident club is now complete. Jenas embodied that when a loose ball pinged 70 yards into the air. He positioned himself directly under it, and stopped it dead on the floor with a first touch before it bounced. The Home fans cheered what was actually an inconsequential moment, and I can imagine how the away fans must have felt about the colour of shirt he was wearing.

The transition to a great team is not quite so complete, and has now been under way for some time. Spurs finished fourteenth two seasons ago. We finished ninth last season. The same jump again would see us finish fourth this season. That might be a step too far too soon for us, but 2005 has seen us change into a top club that is surprised by defeat away to West Brom, from one that would have been more surprised by such a confident victory at home against Newcastle.

Perhaps transition is the wrong word in our part of north London. Progress sounds nicer.

Danny Mackay

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