When a manager begins to manipulate statistics and lower expectations, it is an indication that he is under pressure. So it is with Martin Jol, who last night looked ahead to Tottenham Hotspur's fifth-round FA Cup tie at Fulham on Sunday with a mixture of bravado and negativity that betrayed his insecurity.
Spurs' season of promise has turned sour since the Carling Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal. Victory would have covered up a patchy League campaign notable for the club's lamentable away form.
Defeat appears to have exacerbated the problems, Spurs subsequently losing 4-0 at home to Manchester United, then at Sheffield United.
Fulham, who are just a point behind Spurs in the Premiership, have not lost at Craven Cottage in eight matches and Jol said: "They might feel we are there for the taking at the moment." He added: "We will use that as a motivation. We have to prove to people that we can be solid, physical and professional in what we do."
In looking for positives, Jol expunged the Carling Cup semi-final from the records. Arsenal won in extra time in the second leg and Jol said: "We haven't suffered a defeat in 14 cup matches over 90 minutes and that is good."
In mitigation, Spurs have been badly affected by injuries, to Ledley King and Aaron Lennon in particular. They have also progressed to the last 16 of the Uefa Cup, albeit helped by the expulsion of their scheduled opponents Feyenoord after crowd trouble.
After narrowly missing out on a Champions League place last May, then investing heavily during the summer, Spurs were not expected to be in the bottom half of the table at this stage, 10 points off a Uefa Cup place and 16 adrift of a Champions League qualifying spot. The future of Jol, who took over in November 2004 after Jacques Santini walked out, is attracting speculation. Soon after his appointment, Jol gave a barnstorming speech at the club's AGM, at which he harked back to the club's sepia-tinged glory days and invoked the memory of the Double-winning manager Bill Nicholson. His ebullient style, and early success, won over the Spurs fans.
But recently there have been signs of dissatisfaction at White Hart Lane, which has never been the easiest audience to please. Arsenal's continued excellence, and the fact they fielded an understrength team in that Carling Cup semi-final, but still won, has not helped.
Robbie Keane, who has been the stand-in captain in the absence of King, said: "I have been through times like this before when you just can't get that win, but we know it will not last with the players we have. We've too many good players to just sit back and accept it.
"We've got winners in our squad and we know a win is just around the corner and once we get that we will be back on song again. It is about sticking together, working hard for each other and bouncing back. I've got no doubt in my mind that we will be back."
Adding insult to injury yesterday was an uninvited rebuff from Robinho. Real Madrid's young Brazilian striker said of reports linking him to White Hart Lane: "If I had to leave Real, I'd choose to join another big club. I don't regard Tottenham Hotspur as a big club."Reuse content