Date: 15 April 2017
In our two seasons in the Premier League thus far, Manchester City and Spurs have been the two teams we’re completely unable to match. Today the latter gave us a masterclass and all we could do was stand and watch.
As a day out, this wasn’t a bad day. Given that last year (when Spurs beat us 3-0!) my trip to White Hart Lane had involved a slow bus replacement service; and that today severe disruptions to the train service had been predicted (but never actually materialised); my trip was fairly straightforward. The lunchtime kick-off being incompatible with a pub visit, I must say the pie at the ground was very tasty (beef, bacon and cheese) and served very speedily. Also, the allocated seat was much better than the top row one next to the away supporters that I’d endured in 2016. The team lined up with only one change: Stanislas for Fraser. This was doubly surprising because Stanislas was thought to be injured and Eddie had talked up Pugh so much in the pre-match interview that I’d presumed he was about to be dropped!
But there’s not much that can be said in a positive vein about our team’s performance. We were outrun and outclassed for ninety minutes. Our defenders didn't know how to keep Spurs out, all too often resorting to wild punts down the field which just gave the ball back to another Spurs player. The first goal – when it came – was admittedly a bit unfortunate. Francis ‘walked’ the ball to the goal line thinking that a Spurs player had had the last touch and a goal kick would be awarded; he was furious when he saw the referee award a corner kick because he could so easily have cleared the ball if he’d known. Not that giving away a corner is the same as giving away a goal – except when it’s Bournemouth on an off day like today! Spurs scored from the corner and were 1-0 up in 16 minutes. If anyone felt this was unfair, there was certainly nothing debatable about Spurs’ next goal just three minutes later: Kane took the ball off Wilshere in midfield and Son beat Cook to score. The score of 2-0 remained until the break although there were two other incidents of note during this time. Firstly, a Stanislas cross found Afobe on 28 minutes but he couldn’t quite stretch far enough to convert it. Then, Smith received a heavy knock and it was a little surprising that Eddie didn’t substitute him.
So an unchanged team emerged (very early – compared with the home side) for the second half, and within a couple of minutes the score was 3-0. Again it was Wilshere who gave the ball away, and this time it was Kane who scored – easily, with the whole width of the goal mouth to choose from! Then Wilshere got injured and – unlike Smith – did have to be replaced. So with Gosling, Surman and Wilshere all injured it was now Lewis Cook taking a place in midfield alongside Arter. This would not presumably have been an intended substitution otherwise; so while we did in due course see Fraser come on for Stanislas and Mousset for Afobe, there was no chance for Gradel to come on, nor Pugh to come off. Fraser got a booking almost immediately after coming on. Daniels got a shot in on 70 minutes, notable because it was the only shot in the game that required the Spurs keeper to do anything! So confident were Spurs now that they were able to substitute their three best players: Kane, Eriksen and Alli. And – despite it being the last ever Saturday match at White Hart Lane – home fans started to slip away too, to beat the rush. Which meant that many of them missed the fourth goal, off another Spurs corner of course, scored by substitute Janssen at the second attempt and effectively being the last kick of the game.
I’m sure the team won’t beat themselves up too much about this match – after all, we aspire to be a mid-table team not a top one, and this is one of the toughest games we’ll get all season. But questions have to be asked about Smith playing on with an injury; Francis and Wilshere giving the ball away too often; and Afobe being so reluctant to chase the ball and giving up so easily every time. (In fact it’s ironic that the only other player showing faith in Afobe, and passing to him every time, was Wilshere.)
All week I’ve been predicting 4-0 to Spurs as the score for this game, but I feel no satisfaction in getting it right. Perhaps I should have put a bet on?
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (6), Francis (5), S Cook (7), Daniels (6);
Stanislas (5), Arter (6), Wilshere (5), Pugh (6);
Afobe (4), King (6)