The Premier League – Sunday 5th October 2008
DWWW, reads our away record this season. Unbeaten on the road, having harvested ten points from an available twelve, having scalped a Champions League participant and the League Cup holders in the past week, these are good days to follow the Tigers on the road.
Our second trip to the capital in a week took us to Tottenham Hotspur, and we duly scooped three points into our swagbag and ventured merrily back to the North – this is how we did it.
Phil Brown justifiably opined that a side capable of beating Arsenal might consider itself worthy of taking on Spurs, marooned at the bottom of the table after a rotten, winless start to the season – so under leaden skies in one of London’s less appealing areas (and that’s saying something) the Tigers lined up: Myhill; McShane, Turner, Zayatte, Dawson; Ashbee (c), Marney, Boateng; Geovanni, Cousin, King.
The inclusion of King was a major relief – he’d been struggling with a back injury throughout the week, and his selection meant that Phil Brown was able to field the same front three that so thrillingly fired us to victory at Arsenal last week.
For Spurs and their beleaguered manager Juande Ramos, £15m signing David Bentley was on the bench, while £8.5m signing Vedran Corluka started – also featuring was ex-Tiger Fraizer Campbell (of whom more later) alongside £14m signing Roman Pavlyuchenko, plus £5m signing Gareth Bale. And £8m signing Gomes in goal, £17m signing Modric in midfield and £8m signing Didier Zakora. Oh, and £8m signing Jonathan Woodgate, and £7m signing Jermaine Jenas.
And if that sounds like a gratuitous way of highlighting the cost at which Spurs’ first team has been assembled, it is. Tens of millions of pounds of talent faced us, guided by a man with a European trophy on his CV, all gathered at one of English football’s biggest clubs, preparing to take on us, dwarfing our resources by a vast margin. And boy, did we fancy our chances.
The Tigers began the game kicking award from the 3,000 City fans huddled together in a corner of a sold out White Hart Lane, but the first action of the game took place just in front of us when a Jenas corner was headed goalwards by Bale – Andy Dawson was in position and stoutly headed clear.
It was a zippy opening on a sodden surface, and a minute later Boateng pinged a shot from distance at Gomes, which was easily held by the Brazilian goalkeeper. City should have taken the lead with the game’s third effort in three minutes when Geovanni fastened onto a neat first-time pass by Cousin, but his shot from ten yards flew harmlessly over.
This was, we suspect, owing to its proximity. For Geovanni Deiberson Maurício Gómez is a scorer of great goals, goals few other players are capable of. And so with fewer than ten minutes on the clock, we were treated to another. King was fouled in the Spurs half, thirty-five yards from goal and slightly to the left of the centre of the field. City pushed Turner forward as Geovanni and Dawson debated, briefly, ownership of the set piece, while Spurs assembled a flimsy three-man wall.
And with Gomes situating himself for a cross and everyone in the stadium following his lead, Geovanni approached and caressed the ball, and sent it curling at pace into the top corner. And while we had a near-perfect view of this moment of genius, it still took a moment to register before the away end detonated. Geovanni sped off to the touchline before being mobbed by his jubilant and slightly awestruck team-mates, we simply gloried in a moment of absolute magic.
Spurs were shaken, and another chunk of their brittle confidence was sloughed off. The next ten minutes were fairly uneventful, as City cleverly calmed the game down after its frantic opening, starving Spurs of any chance for a swift reply. However, they came close to an equaliser midway through the half – Ashbee was cautioned by referee Rob Styles for a clumsy trip on Aaron Lennon, and Gareth Bale’s resulting free-kick was tipped onto the top of the crossbar by Boaz Myhill. An excellent shot, an excellent save.
Tottenham were beginning to come into the game more and more by this stage, though their attempts to level the game was tinged by slight desperation, embodied by a disgraceful dive by Modric on the edge of the City area that Mr Styles did not fall for, but charitably opted not to punish with the deserved caution.
Jermaine Jenas did see yellow later in the half for a foul on Ashbee as the half wore on and City remained largely in control, if not always in possession, before the hopelessly ineffective Pavlyuchenko (did we mention he cost £14,000,000?) limped rather suspiciously from the field to be replaced by Darren Bent – we note it was suspicious because he’d spent 34 minutes looking desperate to be anywhere else. If that’s what you get for fourteen million pounds, one assumes that Geovanni’s worth can only be displayed using scientific notation.
With half-time approaching and City largely content to sit back and let Tottenham attacks founder on the rock that is Michael Turner, suddenly a sparkling move was unveiled of such beauty that it may have rivaled the opening goal in aesthetic appeal.
A series of one-touch passes saw Boateng backheel the ball to Marney, with his back to goal twenty yards out. He span in a flash and aimed a low shot at goal which flew past the motionless Gomes but which bounced back off the post. A heart-stopping moment – had City gone in two goals up at the break one senses the game would have been finished, but simply for the skill and speed of the move it deserved a goal.
City were ending the half the better side, and King sent a rasping shot that Gomes ineptly dealt with, but the half arrived with some half-hearted boos from the stunningly quiescent home support and lusty approval from the City fans.
Not that we should let the home support sour our view of White Hart Lane. We know from our days of yore that being the “big club” at home to a lesser side can make generating an atmosphere difficult. Who truthfully relished a home game against Macclesfield or Bury when we were in Division Four? Perhaps the same applied to Spurs. Or maybe we’re being patronisingly kind given their current travails.
Whatever – it’s a lovely, traditional ground, and one senses it COULD create a marvellous atmosphere. Our view from the upper tier of the corner was a good one, it was sensibly stewarded (requests to sit down were made, ignored, then finally so were we) and without the ludicrous no-man’s land that we still suffer. The only drawback was a lack of alcohol at half-time.
No matter – City provide all the intoxication we need these days. As the players bounded out for the second half and rain eased, we wondered if we could really make it six points from North London.
It wasn’t to be easy – Spurs took the ball early in the half, and refused to give it back. Lennon was fighting an epic duel with Andy Dawson on the Spurs right, Ashbee was haring around after Jermaine Jenas with superhuman energy, Michael Turner and Kamil Zayatte were unbreachable in defence, King was all power and pace up front, but my word, we were being given an object lesson in keeping the ball as Spurs swarmed forward.
Yet…they were doing very little with it. It took nearly fifteen minutes for the chance to come, and when it did, they should have scored. Bent was put through by Modric, and inexplicably he was allowed to run through unattended. Myhill raced from his line to close the angle, Bent chipped the ball over him, and from 130 yards we held our collective breath as the ball bounced goalwards…and bobbled less than a yard wide.
A massive let-off, but we were creaking somewhat now, and something simply had to change. Bentley had come on for Gunter, and was curiously deployed at right-back. Phil Brown responded by withdrawing Cousin, who’d been uninvolved for some time, in favour of Bernard Mendy as a ploy to bolster our midfield. It only half-worked, although again Spurs frantic nature manifested itself when they kept the ball after it was put out following an injury to Boateng, sustained by an illegal but unpunished challenge.
City were now adopting a 4-5-1 formation as Geovanni was hauled back, and while one may not expect to find tigerish defence featuring too highly among his list of qualities, he did his job splendidly, assisting the overworked Andy Dawson.
Yet still Spurs were creating little. City’s obdurate defence was typified by a thudding block by Michael Turner when it seemed Bent had fashioned a yard of space for himself in the area, and with twenty minutes remaining, it seemed a genuine possibility that we could hold on to the game.
Geovanni was withdrawn to a tumultuous ovation which he milked by leaving the field with a walk so slow one could have nipped to the gents, bought a pie and placed a bet on the concourse without missing its conclusion – Peter Halmosi was his replacement.
The home fans made themselves heard when Aaron Lennon was brought off for Giovani dos Santos, a lesser version of the real thing. Boos rang out around White Hart Lane, presumably directed at Juande Ramos – Lennon had been a real threat, and while he may have been tiring, or carrying a knock, it was a move that we were pleased to see.
City had offered very little as an attacking force, but when we did it was a peach of a move that nearly saw us settle the match. Halmosi intelligently fed King, who’d found space on the left and cut in towards Gomes. The Spurs keeper had moved smartly from his line and he was able to smother King’s low shot – a good save.
Folan came on for the shattered and uncomfortable-looking King, Bent was booked for a crude foul on Dawson, and the ball is a near-permanent fixture in our final third. Still we hold on.
There was a major alarm when Boateng challenged Fraizer Campbell in the area – it looked a fair challenge from our perspective, and we are sorry to report that Campbell made a little more of the challenge than was necessary, but Rob Styles’ presence on the pitch added to our concerns. He did the right thing, and were exhaled in relief.
Four minutes of injury time were awarded, and in the very last of these, the victory was nearly snatched from us. A foul twenty-yards from goal, dead centre, a saw Gareth Bale line up a free-kick. To this observer’s chagrin, no City players were deployed on the post despite the certainty of a shot. Bale directed it goalwards, Myhill stood, watched…and it can only have missed by inches. And that was it.
What a lovely place North London is. Okay, it’s actually a shit-hole, but it’s seen our points tally rise from a promising 8 to a magnificent 14 in the space of a week. Two stirring away displays, different in their execution yet with a golden thread of bloody-minded resilience running through both, have given us third spot in the Premier League. And this just six years from when we were in the bottom third of the Fourth Division.
City look hard to beat. Turner and Zayatte are imperious at the heart of the defence; McShane and Dawson are the scampering scourges of wingers; Ashbee, Marney and Boateng are tireless in midfield, thoughtful in possession and unflinchingly determined. King and Cousin are quick and skilful.
And there’s Geovanni. Michael Turner was the man of this match, and there’s increasingly something in our “Turner for England” chants…but it was Geovanni’s genius that settled the game. To think that City have a Brazilian international who evidently loves playing for our club, who scores goals from thirty yards in the top-flight for the Tigers – it’s gone well beyond a dream into some kind of insane nirvana.
Several weeks ago, we were prepared to pay £7m for Fraizer Campbell. His name was sung by the City fans several times, a classy touch and one that you suspect may have made him pine for better than the shambles he finds himself unwillingly a part of. He was subdued yesterday, ruthlessly shackled by his former team-mates. One felt for him. Without his goals and craft last season, none of this would be possible, and he’ll be sure of a good reception whenever our paths cross.
But remarkably, we’re not missing him. We’re not missing Craig Fagan either, despite the dismay that heralded his enforced departure from the team. This is meant as no criticism as either man. Instead, it is a nod in the direction of Phil Brown, Steve Parkin and Brian Horton, who’ve galvanised an entire squad and created a whole that is many times greater than the sum of its parts.
Who knows how far we can go now? Avoiding relegation remains the primary mission, of course. Fourteen points already gained mean that another twenty-something should about do it. Stoke already look in deep trouble, while Spurs and Newcastle both need something new in order to avoid getting sucked into a protracted battle. Of course, four defeats in a row will put us back among the bottom third. But as we prepare for a week off, with the city of Hull represented in third place of the planet’s greatest sporting competition, a top half finish a legitimate aim, while bringing untold pride to an entire county…well, Mr Duffen introduced the phrase “dare to dream”. He can hardly blame us if we do exactly that. (AD)
Myhill 7.5; McShane 8; Turner 9; Zayatte 8; Dawson 7.5; Marney 7.5; Ashbee 8; Boateng 7.5; Cousin 6.5; King 7.5; Geovanni 8; Mendy 7; Halmosi 7