Blues 0 Tottenham Hotspur 2 .. Match Report

Last updated : 23 July 2006 By Richard Barker

It was about time all that was knocked on the head, huh?!

Now, I know it was only a pre-season friendly, and we shouldn't read any more into a 2-0 defeat by Spurs than a 5-1 victory over Burton Albion or a 6-0 victory of the cream of Gibraltan football, but this was pretty poor.


Whilst much has been made over the pre-season of the disillusioned 'non-renewers', you have to remember that lots of fans did renew their season tickets, and did so without much convincing, and without going for a chat with Steve Bruce and Karren Brady. Perhaps these people actually didn't think last season was so bad, and so I'd like to think this display was for them, by way of saying thanks. It was along the lines of "this is the kind of football you watched last season, you've all renewed your season tickets, so here it is again - enjoy!".


Where do I start with the comparisons to last season? Obviously there was the convincing home defeat to a Premiership team - that happened a lot last season. Then there was the shaky defence, in which this side did a fantastic recreation of last season's defensive frailties. Of course, there was the two strikers having to feed off scraps, to the point that when things got pretty bad we changed to one striker having to feed off scraps. Honestly, you could have put this match in last season's fixture list at any point, and it would have fitted in perfectly.


For the record, £10.9 million Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov struck twice early on to seal the victory for a Spurs side made up of experienced players whose countries didn't appear at the World Cup (Robbie Keane, Berbatov), an experienced player whose country did appear at the World Cup and who should have been there himself (Jermaine Defoe) and youngsters, such as Tom Huddlestone who looks like a monster.


Berbatov's second goal was a fantastic strike (his first wasn't too shoddy either) and there's no doubt Spurs have got a player on their hands there. I guess he did cost loads of money though. Anyway, he was assisted superbly for both strikes by the lumbering, static defending of Martin Taylor.


Now, regular readers of things I write will probably have forgotten my thoughts on Martin Taylor. I'm not going to kid myself into thinking people remember what I write from week-to-week. So, by way of a reminder, I always used to stand by Martin Taylor. When he first arrived I thought he always did ok, and he was shoved to right-back when he arrived, and whilst he was clearly out of position, he did an alright job. I was aware other people had doubts though.


Then, over the course of last season, I still stood by him, but did notice a growing number of incidents in which he way - for want of a better word - crap. At this point, I went a little quiet on the subject and hoped people would forget that I always stuck up for him, or maybe that he'd get better. I always try and be reasonable and give people a chance, but he was beginning to convince me that maybe he wasn't very good.


So, by the end of last season, I have to say I had moreorless been converted and joined the 'he's rubbish' camp. I can confirm that I'm now firmly settled in that camp - tent pitched, guide ropes lurking to trip people up in the dark, gas stove and all.


At Burton he looked ropey. Yesterday he just looked dreadful. Early on he had no idea of his positioning, and this led to Berbatov's two goals. One thing I always used to defend about him was that his appearance (lanky, lumbering, gormless) didn't actually affect his performances. Well, it clearly does. He ambles around, arms flailing at his side as if he has no control of what goes on below his elbow, and the reason that he doesn't look like a footballer is because he isn't one. Sure, he makes a few tackles and can pass the ball a bit, but he's going to cost you a lot of goals - not in the Darren Purse 'not-a-bad-defender-but-always-going-to-conced-a-stupid-free-kick-or-penalty-or-score-an-own-goal way', but in the Martin Taylor 'not-a-good-defender' way. 


As I say, I always try and be reasonable, but I can't be anymore. I am willing to put my neck on the line here and say that if we go into this season with Martin Taylor as one of our first choice centre halves, then we will concede 8 - 12 more goals than if we even went into it with Alex Bruce playing there. Again, I'm no big fan of Alex Bruce, but at least he looks like a footballer and does his job to an extent. It's a shame that it took a meaningless friendly to make me realise all of this, but hey, that's the way it goes.


So, enough Taylor-bashing - who else can I criticise? Well, continuing on the 'same as last season' theme, let's have a go at Steve Bruce, training, tactics and all that palaver, shall we?


Now, I know we were playing a club that finished 5th in the Premiership last season, but it certainly wasn't a side on the pitch that could do that. Spurs were still a stronger side than us, but honestly, upon watching the first half you'd have thought they were Barcelona and we were Newcastle United (Gibraltar). Blues were completely unable to retain any sort of possession, and were generally unable to get the ball off Spurs. Cameron Jerome and DJ Campbell up front had the kind of service that Emile Heskey would have revelled (?!) in. Balls at their heads, long balls into the corners for them to chase against defenders who had a 20 yard headstart, no service whatsoever - it was a fitting tribute to Heskey, actually.


Martin Taylor aside, no Blues players were actually really bad - it was just the way we played and at the end of the day, who is that down to? I can imagine people sitting there screaming at their computers 'for God's sake - it was only a friendly', but seriously, that's how I felt about the game beforehand, but once you sat there and just watched a re-run of last season, you did feel a bit baffled.


So, what else was wrong with last season? Of course, there was the lack of a threat from central midfield, so we signed Neil Danns on the back of his 16 goal season with Colchester United. I don't want to jump on Danns' back here, but he really struggled against Spurs. However, I do have to question what role he was playing, in which case it all goes back to Bruce, tactics, training, blah blah blah.


Against Spurs, Danns effectively played as a holding midfielder in the middle with Damien Johnson. He received the ball, played short 10 yard passes, and then barely made so much as an attempt to get forward - he just sat in there, pretty deep. Now, here is a player who scored 16 goals last season, so he can obviously get forward. However, the role he played for Blues yesterday, I guarantee he would struggle to get 16 goals in a season in the South Birmingham Sunday League. I'm really not knocking Danns, but it's practically impossible for someone to get that many goals if they're barely getting within 40 yards of goal - Xabi Alonso excepted.


So, what's happened? Has Neil Danns totally changed as a footballer over a few months, or did he play a much different role than the one we signed him for against Spurs? If we wanted a goalscoring midfielder, sign him and let him play as one. If we wanted an aggressive terrier like midfielder who will barely get forward and just knock 10 yard passed sideways to attacking full-backs or wingers, then use Mehdi Nafti. I'm obviously only commenting on the Spurs game here (although it was similar at Burton in the role Danns played), but if pre-season gives an indication, then we need to figure out how to use him better.


Right, I've gone on enough about a pre-season friendly, so a quick summary of other things. N'Gotty looked rusty and off the pace, but maybe that's to be expected. Kelly looked ok, but not spectacular. Johnson and Sadler looked ok and pretty up for it - each of them had be spoken to by referee Mike Riley (as did Jermaine Pennant). Dunn looked disappointing. Campbell and Jerome had no service, but worked hard.


On a final note, a word on Jermaine Pennant, who looked petulant again at times yesterday. However, he also looked far and away the classiest player we had and the only one able to trouble a makeshift Spurs defence (ok, King and Dawson were there, but Wayne Routledge was right-back...) On the basis of this game, if Blues sell Pennant to Liverpool, they really will have to invest the money on a replacement who is as much of a threat, because if we don't need to sell, then I personally really wouldn't at this point. Jermaine Pennant could be more important to Blues' promotion hopes than having a journeyman replacement and £4 million sitting in the bank.


As I say, you shouldn't read too much into pre-season friendlies, but the amount of similarities to last season was frankly quite worrying. I have written this before I have read any other comment on the game from players, managers, fans or anything, but my view is that it's better to happen now than against Colchester United in two weeks. This will certainly have provided far more questions than answers though, in my mind.



Blues: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Martin Taylor, N'Gotty, Sadler, Pennant, Johnson, Danns, Dunn, Jerome, Campbell. Subs: Doyle, Painter, Bruce, Clemence, Kilkenny, Forssell, Aluko, Oji, Till.

Spurs: Fulop, Routledge, Ekoto, Huddlestone, Dawson, King, Ghaly, Tainio, Berbatov, Keane, Defoe. Subs: Murphy, Cerny, Davenport, Ziddler, Bernard, Ifil, O'Hara.