Date: 31 December 2023
All good things come to an end, and so has our run of games unbeaten. But I’m not complaining, as we played well today.
This was an entertaining match, and we had the ball in the net twice (once disallowed) compared to Spurs’ three times, so we certainly weren’t humiliated and 3-2 (or 3-1) would be a fair reflection of the game.
I lost count of how many goal scoring opportunities we had in both halves of this match – many originating from corners or from excellent work on our left flank. In the first half in particular there was some wonderful interplay between Ouattara, Sinisterra and Kluivert. But the first goal came from an error on Neto’s part when instead of playing from the ‘back’, in other words kicking to either of his full backs who were both unmarked, he attempted a forward pass to Christie that didn’t come off and led directly to a Spurs goal. Neto raised his hand to acknowledge his error, but then almost repeated it a few moments later. If we’d lost the game by a single goal (and at half time it was indeed 1-0) Neto would have been particularly embarrassed! It needs to be said, though, that Neto subsequently turned from villain to hero and made some excellent saves late in the half.
Torrential rain came down toward the end of the first half and we were lucky to be under a roof. (Many in the front rows got soaked!) But a significant event at virtually the end of the half was an injury to Ouattara. Solanke had already needed some treatment, and recovered fully, but Ouattara didn’t respond so well to his treatment and needed to be replaced (by Aarons) during the break. This was significant in that it broke up the triangle of players who'd worked so well together on that wing (and Aarons, initially brought in on the left, didn’t seem comfortable there); but also in that Ouattara's just been called up for the Africa Cup of Nations and will hope to be fit enough for that.
We continued to play well in the second half, with goal scoring chances. And Solanke hit the side netting on one occasion. But then goals from Son and Richarlison effectively put the game to bed. Ten minutes from the end Scott scored a consolation goal following a good assist from Tavernier, and in added time at the end we scored another that was disallowed when a VAR check confirmed a linesman’s offside flag, but 3-1 proved to be the final score.
Iraola used the maximum number of allowable substitutions (five) before the end. Aarons moved to the right, which suited him better, and Brooks came on looking technically astute but unfortunately not physically strong enough to start a game yet. No-one played badly, but today it just wasn’t to be.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game:
Smith, Zabarnyi, Senesi, Ouattara;
Tavernier, Kluivert, Sinisterra;
Aarons, Zabarnyi, Senesi, Tavernier;
Brooks, Philip, Semenyo;