I’ve never been a great fan of London There’s a pretentiousness and a ‘centre-of-the-universe’ culture that has allowed the city to prosper as the rest of the country is allowed to wither away, not least places like our own city.
So when you find yourself in a position where us lot from Wolves can have one over our grand peers down South, it tastes a little sweeter. We actually seem to be making a habit of enjoying our visits to London so far this season, none more so than our trip to Wembley.
There was a certain narrative thrown around prior to this game, mainly centred around the fact Tottenham Hotspur had been mauling opponents in a host of performances that outlined their title credentials. Obviously, the utmost respect must be paid to such a football club and the red carpet must be readied. For a while this game felt like it was heading in the direction of those that preceded it, Harry Kane being allowed to don his finest suit, his shiniest shoes with his newly bestowed MBE on his chest and show off his greatest party trick.
One thing I always try to do in my analysis is write in respect of the opposition. For many so-called pundits we weren’t even part of the equation. People need to understand this about us – we don’t give away chances. Spurs came up against a forcefield of a defence around the penalty area, literally impenetrable. Yet in the same week I read we have the best defence outside of the top four, some were calling us out for a 4-0 hammering. It’s probably the same people who think we’re vulnerable at set pieces, or that we need a clinical striker, or that we play with wingers. But maybe, in the end, we’re better off this way, being the league’s own quandary.
Mauricio Pochettino is the latest coach who has been stumped by Nuno’s Wolves. In spite of the fact, Tottenham took a lead in to half-time, Nuno would probably have been relatively pleased with how we had stopped a wrecking-ball of an attack from creating clear-cut opportunities. We lacked our own cutting edge, but this is a 90-minute game and our plan, however well or poor we are playing, is to be in the game from minute one to minute 94. There was some promise in the first-half performance of Adama Traore though, a much-maligned figure in the last few weeks. When his game is stripped back to its simplest, most rampaging form, it’s always going to be more effective. Don’t stand him right up against a full-back or centre-back. You’re giving them a chance of stopping the unstoppable. We all know he’s not the most refined of players and some occasions (Fulham) simply don’t call for his qualities, but this did. Maybe this will be the other string to his bow, alongside impact sub, the thrusting presence against the big boys, a reminder for them to always keep their hand over the handbrake. Time and again he skipped away from challenges and sent shudders up Spurs’ spines.
Going back to the situation we found outselves in at half-time, I do think Nuno would have been pleased. There was always a platform for us to build on and in a strange way, the lack of potency going forward had clearly lulled Spurs into a false sense of security. Whether that was by design or accident is anybody’s guess, but we followed our usual plan of stepping up our attacking game for the second half. Maybe this is the secret, just playing within ourselves for 45 minutes in this league dominated by high intensity, high pressing teams. By the time the second half comes round we seem to find a second wind and here, supplemented by the introduction of Joao Moutinho, we took this game by the scruff of the neck.
It’s difficult to think of a moment where we came second best in the final 45 minutes. This was a near faultless display. We didn’t even miss any chances which you could consider a fault. Most impressively, we penned Spurs into their own half to the extent that they didn’t have a single shot at goal, from any distance. Second ball after second ball fell to an Old Gold shirt, shorts and socks and for this to happen against a team being talked of in title-winning terms shows the levels we can reach. That said, the goals didn’t always seem like they would come.
Hell, who expected a goal from a corner given our record this season? It has to be said, Tottenham’s commitment to marking was as solid as a celebrity marriage and WIlly Boly duly marched in and nodded the ball home. From there on, it would have been acceptable to sit back and keep Spurs at arm’s length as we had all game and Nuno intimated exactly that post-match. But he can’t control the players and they found plenty of space to exploit and how they managed it. They sniffed blood and went for the jugular. It takes an intelligence to go about your business in a way that respects the manager’s wishes but takes advantage of the opponent. Moutinho was the team’s nervous system, seemingly initiating the limbs around him into action and from there he manipulated the game whichever way he pleased. He’s a genius of a midfielder in the context of this club’s history and he will be recognised as such in the fullness of time. It almost felt like he stopped time during his cameo and organised the pitch exactly how he needed to – an outstanding contribution, showing Spurs what they could have had.
It’s difficult to pick out individuals in such a colossal, classy performance though, but a mention for Leander Dendoncker and Helder Costa. Dendoncker’s quality was to see such little drop off in the way the team operated from the centre of the park. For a man who has seen such little action, it shows he is of great stock and he’s going to be a classy performer for us. As for Costa, just at a time when fans were beginning to write him off, he reminded us of his quality. Football can often be about timing and just as Diogo Jota scored at a time when fans were doubting his credentials, Costa took his opportunity – even if I had no confidence in him running through one-on-one.
2018 has been one hell of a year and it needed capping off with an epic result. It probably doesn’t quite feel it right now, given the lack of fear we approach these games with as a team, club and fanbase, but this result will go down in the annals as one of our greatest in modern times. Not just because it was Tottenham, or because it was at Wembley, but because we deserved every one of those 3 points on pure merit.
2019 promises much, but it will have to go along way to top this year. Let’s see what we have in store.