At White Hart Lane last night, Tottenham Hotspur beat Everton by two goals to nil. There was nothing particularly unusual about this result – apart from the fact that Spurs have occasionally struggled to break Everton down in recent years – but this was a result that may just prove to be one of the most important of manager Harry Redknapp’s season. It left the Premier League table with a look that it hasn’t had for a considerable amount of time. Spurs, having now caught up with the games in hand that they have had for a few weeks now, are now eight points clear of Chelsea, nine points above Arsenal in fifth place, are level with Manchester United and are just three points behind Manchester City, who continue to top the Premier League table.
As such, we might well argue that last night’s result was as important for the club symbolically as it was in terms of the three points that it delivered. Anything but a win against an Everton team which continues to flounder in mid-table with more excitement manifesting itself off the pitch than on it would have been treated as a sign of some sort of fundamental weakness, a sign of a team beginning to run out of steam. As things ended up, however, one of the solid themes to have emerged in the first couple of the weeks of the new year remained undiminished. This was Spurs’ third straight win and their third straight clean sheet of 2012, so far, and they have showed little sign of falling off the pace.
While each of their rivals have found themselves engulfed in some sort of media-driven “crisis”, Spurs have continued on their charted course. They haven’t always played brilliantly, as those that witnessed their recent, sterile single goal win against West Bromwich Albion will readily be able to attest, but they have been well-organised and resilient. Perhaps the key player in this new found seam of steel has been goalkeeper Brad Friedel. Although it was clear that an improved Spurs side would need a a replacement for the occasionally brilliant but frequently erratic Heurelho Homes, some supporters may have rolled their eyes at the arrival of White Hart Lane of the forty year old Friedel, but the American goalkeeper has been outstanding this season, demonstrating how an experienced goalkeeper can Marshall an entire defensive system, and his signature already looks like one of the more inspired of last summer, even if his shelf life at the club may turn out to be relatively short.
In spite of their current, lofty league position, however, Spurs supporters are better attuned than most to the pitfalls of the false dawn. Sporadically promising much before delivering little or nothing has become such a common theme over the last few decades that the club’s nickname could justifiably have been changed from the bullish Latin of “Audere Est Facere” to “Maybe Next Year”, and few would have argued that it would have been inappropriate. Supporters of a certain age will recall the early 1970s, a time when it felt as if anybody in what was then the First Division could launch a challenge for the league championship. Spurs won the League Cup in 1971 and the UEFA Cup the following year, but never turned these stepping stones into a bid for the title. Similarly, the team that won the FA Cup in 1981 and 1982 never quite pushed Liverpool as far as it perhaps should have done.
This tendency has continued undiminished since then. In 1985, they went into a home league match against Everton that was billed as little short of a title decider, only to lose by two goals to one on a night that was marked by the Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall playing the game of his life. The team of 1987 did much of the hard work in getting to the FA Cup final before losing to Coventry City. In 1995, they headed into an FA Cup semi-final against Everton full of confidence before finding themselves on the wrong end of a 4-1 defeat, and as recently as two seasons ago suffered the same fate in losing at Wembley to Portsmouth, denying themselves a place in the final with a tepid performance that handed victory to a club that was in the middle of a hitherto unprecedented – at least for a Premier League club – financial crisis. And this is just a sample of the club getting so year yet, with the twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, so far from the sort of success that the clubs they consider to be their contemporaries have enjoyed.
It is for this reason, perhaps, that so many Spurs supporters are tempering their expectations at the moment. They have been before and have more often than not ended up disappointed. This season, however, they have side-stepped much of the fuss and bother that seems to have sporadically descended over other clubs, have been lucky in not picking up many injuries and, with a settled team, have slipped under the radar into the position in which they find themselves today. Perhaps, of course, the pressure is only just starting to build, and it certainly seems reasonable to say that the next six or seven weeks, which features trips to The City of Manchester Stadium, Anfield and The Emirates Stadium as well as a home match against Manchester United, will be testing.
This all feels, however, a long way away from August, when rioting in Tottenham forced the cancellation of the match that was played last night and heavy defeats at the hands of the two Manchester clubs seemed as if it may strangle Spurs’ season before it had even got going. Just one defeat in the eighteen games since then has been an extraordinary turnaround, and while the pragmatist in all Spurs supporters will continue to be skeptical of claims that they can win the Premier League this season, to be in a position be even be able to contemplate it at this time of year is a rare luxury for the supporters of a club that has now gone just over fifty years without a league championship title. To dare is to do is one thing – to dare to dream is a different matter altogether.
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