OUR cup final? West Ham’s, surely? Well that’s as may be, but we’re reaching that stage in a season where fingernails are in short supply and clichés are not. ‘Squeaky bum time’. ‘The business end’. ‘Every game from now on is a cup final’ – a must win. Those gigantic six-pointers against our top-four rivals are cup finals, for obvious reasons. Those tricky away ties at the likes Swansea and Stoke – the type of games in which championships are ground out – are cup finals. And above all, those rare encounters against bottom half strugglers (a bit like West Ham away) are cup finals – those are the matches you simply can’t go dropping points in. Not at this point in the season.
Of course, at most one of Tottenham’s remaining fixtures this season will actually be a cup final (and that one remains a long shot). And they will not all be ‘must win’ games, however much they feel like it at the time. Points will be dropped by all the contenders, Spurs included, and we don’t know when or where. They could be in the huge, must-win London derbies. They could be in the huge, must-win home bankers. We can drop points and still achieve our objective (Fourth, third, or whatever it may be). It’s still only February, for crying out loud. There’s a lot to play for, and plenty of momentum shifts to come. Much can change. And change back again.
Yet somehow every game feels vitally important. Such is the life of a football fan, especially a Spurs fan who saw last season’s long demise play out in sickening slow-motion. It was like watching a man fall from the top floor of a skyscraper – the team was only going in one direction, but the height from which they fell still meant it took an agonizingly long time to hit the ground. A couple of times it looked like they were going to get snagged on an open window halfway down and crawl in back to safety, only to lose grip and continue their descent, unable to resist the interminable tug of gravity… Sorry, I lost myself for a minute there – where was I? Ah yes, I was explaining how we will all inevitably attach extra significance to each and every game, not realising just how far away the finishing line still is for every team. In two months’ time when we are frantically trying to work out each possible permutation for the last three league fixtures this latest win against West Ham will seem like an eternity ago.
But then again, when your fixture list reads Woolwich (H), Inter (H), Liverpool (A), Inter (A), it’s easy to view each and every game as a seismic event. This has been said for a few seasons now, but... enjoy it. At least try. Even if we lose at the weekend, or some other time, an even more vital game will be waiting just around the corner to take our minds off it. If everything goes wrong again at the very end, then we can all have a cry about it. But to have so many big games and so much to play for at this point in the campaign was unheard of for the Spurs of 10 or 20 years ago. Mind you; much like the team, I like to think we are starting to get used to the pressure. We have been in this situation before, and have experienced the highs (2010) and the lows (2012). This should allow us all to face this year’s run-in with an added calm and inner-steel. Much like the team. I hope.
Moments like the end of the West Ham game, where the action is not only dramatic but significant to the course of a season, are what being a football fan is all about. Live in these moments while you can – it would be a great shame if you can’t enjoy them. Don’t spend too much time fretting over the future, looking for omens and reassurances and potential scenarios. Easier said than done, I’ll be the first to admit. But look at it this way: If it does all go wrong, those last-minute victories won’t look anywhere near as sweet in hindsight – you’ll never get another chance to enjoy them in the same way. If it all goes right, and we achieve something historic, you’ll wish you’d taken a bit more time to savour the season whilst it was happening.
OK, that’s the obligatory health warning done. You will all promise to at least try to try to savour the moment. Good. But what’s that, you want to fret about the future now? You still want some omens and reassurances? Have I taught you nothing? Very well.
I’m not one for tempting fate. Really, I’d rather not go there. So I won’t. All I will do is state some observations and thus I can take no responsibility for anything bad that happens to Tottenham Hotspur for the remainder of the season. Here goes...
For any of you still fearful that deficiencies in our recent performances (particularly, an over-reliance on Gareth Bale to dig us out of tight spots) will surely prove to be our undoing in the weeks ahead, I can offer the following parable by way of comfort. In a land not very far away, in an age not very long ago, there was another team challenging for a top three/four place. Despite a series of sluggish performances they were continually dragged through matches by their one talismanic star. They also scored many last-minute winners in games they had looked certain to drop points in. Indeed, these two phenomena would often coincide. ‘They can’t keep scoring late like this!’ exclaimed some. They did. ‘Their talisman will get injured sooner or later!’ declared others. He didn’t. Ultimately, when the very final stretch came the last-minute winners did dry out and the contribution of the star talisman became ever so slightly weaker. But by this point some of the other players (at last) started pulling their weight and they did just enough to get over the line.
There’s a lot to play for, and plenty of momentum shifts to come. Much can change. And change back again.
My point is, I suppose, that it’s far better to have the points on the board now, however they came about. Sure, we probably can’t rely on Bale for all our remaining league and cup games (though at this stage, all bets are off), but nor can we rely on the rest of our squad to underperform. We got by well enough in the first half of the season when Bale wasn’t pulling up any trees, and there is every likelihood that someone else will step up and make an important contribution before the season is out. Whether it’s a Lennon or Dembele that recaptures some of their early season form, an Adebayor or Parker that recaptures some of last season’s, or another player entirely that makes a name for himself (Sigurdsson and Carroll showed encouraging glimpses against West Ham), now is the perfect time in the season for someone to rise up and share the burden.
That’s a rather abridged version of how I see things at the moment. Optimism or pessimism rests with you. But you can’t be too pessimistic, if you ask me. After all, we’ve just won a cup final! And we’ve got at least 13 more to look forward to. Heady times at the Lane.