Stuttering down Green Lanes, lost somewhere between Palmers Green, Southgate and Winchmore Hill, my dad and I passed a pub named ‘The Faltering Fullback’.
I cannot emphasize how aptly this title will resonate with Spurs fans this evening.
Following a truly shocking first half performance, in which the Lillywhites found themselves two goals down after just seven minutes — the first goal the fruit of a series of defensive lapses, including Robbie Keane and Steed Malbranque’s comical efforts to divert to safety a goalward attempt — Spurs came out in the second period requiring four goals in order to be victorious, and desperately needing to recover some sense of pride.
And, whilst eventually fighting back to gain a 2-2 draw, a series of questions must be asked about Martin Jol’s managerial credentials, for the big Dutchman’s tactical decisions and, in particular his substitutions, were no less than baffling.
Martin Jol’s tactical ineptitude has been attacked on several occasions this season, notably after the failure to keep a lead against both Arsenal and Chelsea when Spurs were in positions of absolute dominance. I, for one, stuck up for Jol with quiet indignation and jejune loyalty. However, on this occasion, I can find few positives to redeem the decisions made by the gaffer.
Albeit inconvenienced by injuries, even Jol’s starting lineup was largely suspect; Jol decided to play Pascal Chimbonda, one of the most one-footed players I have ever had the fortune to see play, at left back, a position in which he at no point looked even faintly at home.
Chimbonda’s ordinary sprawling offensive advances down the right wing were made impossible, as, stranded on the left side of the pitch, he was on countless occasions forced to cut inside, losing precious momentum. He was equally ineffective defensively, and we must wonder why it is he was preferred in this position to Teemu Tainio, who is far more able to improvise with his left foot, having filled in regularly at left midfield.
Once Spurs found themselves two goals down, many at the Lane, myself included, clamoured despairingly for a double, or even a triple, substitution. New pace and belief needed to be injected into an abject performance, and I was not alone in voicing the opinion that José Mourinho would have had the valour and the audacity to make such alterations. However, Jol made not a single substitution during an insipid first period, illumined only briefly by Dimitar Berbatov’s excellent turn and shot rebounding off the post.
Even still, many Spurs fans waited expectantly for the two teams to take to the pitch after the break, believing that, at the very least, Jermaine Defoe would be brought on in place of the pedestrian Tainio (it is worth noting that I had demanded a triple-substitution, with Chimbonda restored to right-back and Taraabt, Ifill and Defoe brought into the fray). However, to my great disbelief, Spurs started the second half unchanged.
It was not until the sixty-third minute that Defoe was brought on, with immediate effect, the England striker neatly tucking away from a set piece despite a hint of offside, with his very first touch. Galvanized, Spurs broke away again and the otherwise disappointing Aaron Lennon scrambled home an equalizer.
At this juncture, all of those around me were calling for the introduction of Taraabt, who had twice managed to wreak havoc against Chelsea when called upon by Martin Jol.
However, the next twenty-five minutes or so went by without another change and, whilst Dawson and Berbatov were both guilty of missing excellent chances, in truth Spurs never looked like completing a Liverpool-like comeback, and I am of the opinion that Martin Jol should take a significant amount of responsibility for the defeat (though he was, of course, powerless to prevent the horrendous penalty decision in Sevilla).
The only question left to ask is the following: who, if anyone, would be of high enough calibre to replace Jol, a popular and passionate manager, at the helm?
Traipsing my way through Edmonton, I could think of only two worthy candidates. The first, Mark Hughes, would be difficult to tempt down south, especially as he is considered a prime contender for the Manchester United job when Sir Alex Ferguson finally decides to spit out the chewing gum for good. This leaves, in my eyes, only one option.
The return of the prodigal son.
Jurgen Klinsmann, come on down…