Morrison highlights AVB's need for reinforcements
Tottenham 1 West Bromich Albion 1: Spurs manager's first home game ends with burst of boos as late equaliser exposes deficiencies
Sunday 26 August 2012
Those around him were portraits of misery, but Andre Villas-Boas was bizarrely self-contained. He calmly removed his club blazer, folded it neatly over the back of his seat, and ran his hand through his hair. A brief burst of booing failed to pierce the armour-plating of his composure. No SOS is required for AVB, just yet. The concession of an equaliser to West Bromwich Albion in injury time was not the introduction to White Hart Lane he envisaged, but he knows his fate will not be decided on a sultry, stormy afternoon in August.
Spurs should have won after Benoît Assou-Ekotto's deflected drive gave them the lead 16 minutes from time. They could have lost, because their defence immediately imploded. Assou-Ekotto diverted a Gareth McAuley header against the bar, and William Gallas cleared a Romelu Lukaku effort off the line.
James Morrison's goal, from a half-cleared set piece, was unsurprising, and rewarded Steve Clarke's decision not to substitute him, as he played through the pain from his left ankle, which he rolled in the opening exchanges of an open, entertaining game.
The initial response to Villas-Boas, as he walked out to take a bow alongside Emmanuel Adebayor, Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, was respectful rather than rapturous. Tottenham fans look after their own – the afternoon's primary act of homage to Ledley King was sustained, and uniquely emotional – but they are not known for their charitable nature, when confronted by Chelsea's cast-offs.
It will take time for Villas-Boas to prove he is not damaged goods. He understandably highlighted a compelling first-half performance, which combined intensity and invention. The subtlty of Tottenham's movement at pace augured well. "The players have been excellent, very receptive," he stressed. "The first win will be very, very important, but there is a good feeling about what we are doing."
His body language was better. There was a sharp burst of applause for a thoughtful pass, and no sign of the crouching tiger routine which betrays inner turmoil. But as the game ebbed away he became more urgent. He was so absorbed in the moment, he ordered Steve Caulker to get ready to come on, as a fourth substitute.
White Hart Lane, as the transfer window begins to close, is a place of whispers and moans, smoke and mirrors. At the hub of every rumour, each transactional ploy, is Daniel Levy. If the Tottenham chairman could find a way to sell the milk of human kindness, he would charge Cristal Champagne prices. It's nothing personal, strictly business.
Levy has turned the art of the deal into an obsession. He is driven by machismo of the market, and expects his managers to play by the numbers. Hindsight confirms the inevitability of Harry Redknapp's dismissal. The human chemistry between the bank teller and the car boot salesman was inherently unstable. Levy's hold on the club is firm, unyielding.
Tottenham's churn rate over the summer reflects the chairman's search for value, and AVB's subtle rationalisation of resource. English football no longer respects a manager's right to make his own decisions, in isolation. The early signs are that AVB has learned the lessons of his impetuosity at Chelsea. He understands his place, in the bigger picture, and has taken pains to improve his public persona. His problem, an enduring awkwardness, will not be solved overnight.
Villas-Boas looks like a refined version of Robin Hood, but addresses his audience in the clipped tones of R2-D2. In the unlikely event of him accepting an invitation for a night out, you wouldn't know whether to buy him a pint of foaming ale, or a can of WD-40.
His decisiveness, in allowing Michael Dawson to leave at the right price, was undermined when he described him as "a player of an immensely human dimension". Whatever that means, it was not enough to give the defender a place in the squad. Dawson was condemned to a seat on the back row of the dugout, when he would have been a more reassuring presence at the heart of the Spurs defence than the error-prone Gallas, who was frequently outpaced and outmuscled.
It was significant, also, that Clarke refused to obey the conventions of the managerial code in the build-up to the game, when he pointedly dismissed suggestions AVB was unlucky to lose his job at Stamford Bridge.
The worst case scenario, Lukaku coming off the bench to remind Villas Boas of the talent he barely utilised at Chelsea, almost came to pass. The young Belgian bullied Gallas, and left Tottenham's head coach praising his "power, and drive".
Tottenham need Levy to act with characteristic ruthlessness this week, when a new goalkeeper, a wide man and a striker will be priority purchases. AVB has sufficient wisdom not to put pressure on his chairman, in public at least. "I am used to this situation," he said, when asked to comment on Levy's fondness for a late, late show on transfer deadline day. "There are good opportunities like this. Will it be a busy week? Yeah, hopefully…."
Tottenham 1 (Assou-Ekotto, 74) West Bromwich 1 (Morrison, 90)
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Walker, Vertonghen, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto; Livermore, Sandro (Sigurdsson, 72); Lennon, Van der Vaart (Adebayor, 62) Bale; Defoe (Jenas, 76)
West Bromwich (4-2-3-1): Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Mulumbu; Dorrans (Brunt, 74), Morrison, Fortuné (Rosenburg, 77), Long (Lukaku, 62).
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Yacob (West Bromwich)
Match rating: 6/10
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