One of the more curious aspects of the game of football is the narrow range of scores that turn up in professional matches. Teams will often score five goal in a match a couple of times over the course of a season, and they will usually concede the same number in one match. How come, then, that we only get to see a 5-5 draw once in a blue moon? It’s the same with absolute, complete and utter thrashings. A Football League side will run up double figures against a side in the same league as them every once in a while, but some clubs have never done it.
At Sunday League level, this is seldom a consideration. Matches finish with a variety of scores that boggle the mind, which would seem to indicate that better teams find it more difficult to score goals and worse teams find it more difficult to defend. Every once in a while, though, two professional teams meet and reality is suspended. One of the teams suffers a complete defensive collapse, the other hits top form, and the final scoreline ends up resembling something that you might expect to see on a park pitch. More often than the not, the match itself is simply a freak and doesn’t give much away about the fortunes of either of the clubs concerned.
So it was at White Hart Lane this afternoon. Tottenham Hotspur harbour ambitions of breaking into the Champions League four, but their performances against Manchester United and Arsenal didn’t particularly seem to indicate that this is likely to happen this season. Wigan Athletic, meanwhile, started excellently with a win at Aston Villa on the opening day of the season and also beat Chelsea at home, but have showed considerable defensive vunerabilities before this season, including a 4-1 defeat at Blackpool in the League Cup, a 5-0 home defeat at the hands of Manchester United and a 4-0 defeat at Portsmouth. There wasn’t, however, much in the form book to predict what would come to pass in the second half of this match.
And it was the second half in the case of this particular match. Spurs started this match very strongly and took an early lead through Peter Crouch’s close range header, but Wigan had occasional attacking flourishes throughout the rest of the half. Jason Scotland pulled a smart save out of Heurelho Gomes and Charles N’Zogbia grazed the frame of the goal with a curling shot from edge of the penalty area. It probably wouldn’t have been an accurate summary of the events of the first half – Spurs spent much of the first thirty minutes more or less camped in their half – but, as difficult as it may seem to believe now, Wigan could have got to the half-time break on level terms.
Spurs had far the better of the first half, but no-one was properly prepared for what was to follow. Two quick goals from Jermaine Defoe in the first nine minutes of the half put the match beyond any reasonable doubt although it looked as if there might be a degree of controversy when the ball appeared to strike Paul Scharner’s arm as he controlled it to pull a goal back for Wigan, but this was a temporary respite for the visitors and within sixty seconds Defoe had a hat-trick and Spurs’ three goal lead was restored.
From here on, the floodgates opened as the Wigan defence laid itself on an altar for Tottenham to tear them to pieces. Aaron Lennon added the fifth, Defoe the sixth and seventh. By the dying seconds, every bit of luck that could be going Tottenham’s way was going Tottenham’s way. With two minutes left to play, David Bentley’s free-kick hit the crossbar, bounced back, hit Chris Kirkland and bounced in. In injury time Niko Kranjcar curled one into the top corner from outside the penalty area to complete the rout. They’ve scored nine goals on “Match Of The Day” before, have Spurs – in 1977 they beat Bristol Rovers 9-0 in front of the BBC cameras in the Second Division – but this result is something else altogether.
Is this the beginning of a bright new era for Tottenham Hotspur? Tempting though it may be to say that this time they might be able to crack the top four, whether they actually can do this or not may end up coming down to matters that are beyond their control. Their losses to Manchester United and Arsenal seemed to indicate that the gap between them and the top of the table is still too great to launch anything like a challenge for the Premier League title (but no-one was seriously suggesting that, were they?), but Liverpool continue to stutter, Aston Villa and Everton still dont look as strong as they did last season and Manchester City’s team hasn’t yet arrived at being the sum of its parts.
Moreover, a win of this margin brings another advantage to Spurs – they now have a better goal difference than fifth placed Aston Villa – and, in a broader sense, with Arsenal losing, Liverpool and Manchester City cancelling each other out and Aston Villa failing to win at Burnley, results elsewhere also went their way. It remains to soon to be able to say that Spurs will be able to carry a top four position through to the end of the season, but their position is considerably stronger than it was at the start of the season.
What, though, went wrong for Wigan? It would be harsh to blame their goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland. He made a string of excellent saves and deserved better than the free-kick that bounced in off him. Wigan have given the impression of being capable of defensive implosion before this season, though, and this is what seems to have happened in excelsis this afternoon. After the fourth Tottenham goal, it was simply too easy for the home side. Although every pass seemed to be crisp and picked out to perfection, Wigan heads dropped alarmingly after the match went beyond them and the gaps across their back line were obvious and plentiful enough for Defoe pick and then telegraph where he wanted the passes to go to.
The muttering of Wigan supporters has begun, and this is not particularly surprising. Their performance in the second half this afternoon was worrying because of the way that they folded, and fixing morale is a major test for manager Roberto Martinez, presuming that Dave Whelan doesn’t get an itchy trigger finger and arrive at the conclusion that he can’t afford any more of this sort of thing. If he does, Martinez could soon find himself scanning the “Situations Vacant” columns in the newspapers sooner rather than later. Wigan supporters will find out a lot about the mettle of their team from their next two matches against Sunderland and Birmingham City. It is critical that they pick themselves up, dust themselves down and put the events of this afternoon behind them. If they don’t, a slide towards the relegation zone at the bottom of the table over the next few weeks seems more likely than not.