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A tale of two halves

So there we have it, another season has drawn to an end and with it, a barrage of season reviews comes flooding towards all those with a computer, laptop or smartphone to hand. Before I divulge this piece I have to warn readers; this is one of those season reviews. But, rather than focus on a month-by-month rundown as favoured by some, To the Lane and Back will look to 2011 Tottenham Hotspur and their ugly 2012 half-cousin, thus the clichéd title.

So, sit back and read through what has been another rollercoaster ride for all Spurs fans.

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So there we have it, another season has drawn to an end and with it, a barrage of season reviews comes flooding towards all those with a computer, laptop or smartphone to hand. Before I divulge this piece I have to warn readers; this is one of those season reviews. But, rather than focus on a month-by-month rundown as favoured by some, To the Lane and Back will look to 2011 Tottenham Hotspur and their ugly 2012 half-cousin, thus the clichéd title.

So, sit back and read through what has been another rollercoaster ride for all Spurs fans.

2011

Let’s be honest; heading into the new season, despite the top four expectations, many of the Spurs faithful weren’t all too confident about this year. Luka Modric was hopeful of securing a move to Chelsea; no major names had arrived, bar Brad Friedel who arrived early in the transfer window, and despite talks of Leandro Damiao, Kaka and Arjen Robben all securing lucrative switches to White Hart Lane, no moves were materialising.

The season began a little later than everyone else, with the first game of the season against Everton postponed following the riots that initially spawned in Tottenham. Therefore the Spurs’ first action of the season, if it can be called that, came in the Europa League qualifier against Hearts, which saw a comfortable 5-0 win for the team south of the border.

With the Everton game called-off until January (I’ll get to that later), a tough trip to Manchester United followed suit. As anticipated, a win for the home side followed, with Spurs falling foul to a 3-0 defeat to the then Premier League champions. A stale 0-0 draw with Hearts, with qualification all but secured the previous week, was quickly followed by one of the worst results of the season; a home 5-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester City.

This was the game that finally saw Spurs move into the transfer market with Emmanuel Adebayor and Scott Parker, two key players for the year, finally added before the September 1st deadline. Modric stayed and despite many believing otherwise, it was the encounter that finally spurred the North Londoners into life.

Moving into September saw Spurs’ season really kick-off with a 2-0 win away at Wolverhampton Wanders. Never an easy place to go in the past, a debut goal from Adebayor and late second from Jermain Defoe saw Harry Redknapp’s side pick up their first three points of the season. Another 0-0 draw away from home in the Europa League, this time against PAOK, was quickly followed by a spectacular 4-0 win at home to Liverpool as goals from the resurgent Modric, a brace from Adebayor and a second goal of the season from Defoe finally saw Spurs’ season begin to really start.

An early exit from the Carling Cup at the hands of Stoke City, via the horrible means of penalties, was quickly banished as Spurs continued their impressive form, this time Wigan Athletic fell to the exploits of the North Londoners as goals from Rafael Van der Vaart and Gareth Bale condemned the Latics to a 2-1 defeat. The month ended well for Spurs with a 3-1 Europa League win over Shamrock Rovers, with goals coming from Roman Pavlyuchenko, Giovani Dos Santos and Defoe.

October began as September ended; with another win. Back to Premiership duties, and it was the North London derby to kick things off for the month. Van der Vaart grabbed his fourth goal in three games against Arsenal while a superb Kyle Walker strike, his first for the club, would cancel out Aaron Ramsey’s equaliser and see the white half of North London celebrate a 2-1 win over the Gunners.

A late Shola Ameobi effort was enough to see Spurs and Newcastle United share the spoils at St James’ Park with the Magpies twice having to come from behind following goals from Van der Vaart and Defoe, with a Demba Ba effort sandwiched in between the two. Not to be disheartened by the late goal, Spurs returned to winning ways, this time in the Europa League, with an unstoppable Pavlyuchenko free-kick the difference between the home side and Russian outfit Rubin Kazan.

In the Premier League again and a usually tough trip to Blackburn Rovers proved just that. However, a Van der Vaart brace was more than enough to see the travelling team pick up all three points in an excellent 2-1 win. The final game of the month and a 3-1 win over QPR saw Spurs end October unbeaten courtesy of a Bale brace and a Van der Vaart goal, despite the R’s best efforts to drag themselves back into the game courtesy of Jay Bothroyd.

November saw Spurs continue their impressive unbeaten domestic run, despite a 1-0 loss to Rubin Kazan in Russia at the beginning of the month, with an impressive 3-1 win away at Fulham. Bale and Lennon made it 2-0 going into half-time, however an own goal early in the second half meant it was real backs-against-the-wall performance from Spurs. Defoe made sure the three points were safe late on, but the real hero of the afternoon was Friedel, who performed exceptionally to ensure Spurs left Craven Cottage with the win.

A routine 2-0 win over Aston Villa quickly followed, in what many believe to be Spurs’ easiest game of the season, with a brace from Adebayor enough to pick up the win. Five days later and another game against a Midlands side, this time away at West Bromwich Albion, proved to be the one of the performances of the season from Spurs. A brace from Adebayor, with a decisive Defoe strike sandwiched in between, after Youssouf Mulumbu opened the scoring early on. A shock at home to PAOK in the Europa League meant Spurs faced an uphill task if they were to secure qualification to the knockout stages of the competition and despite the best efforts of the players, the Greek side held on for a memorable 2-1 win at White Hart Lane.

Bolton Wanderers were feeling particularly charitable as the festive period descended onto the world of football. Bale opened the scoring early on, paying tribute to Gary Speed who had tragically been found dead in his house just days before the encounter, before jolly old Stuart Attwell gave Gary Cahill his marching orders. It was plain sailing from there for Spurs with goals from Lennon and Defoe securing a routine 3-0 win over the Trotters.

Perhaps one of the more controversial encounters Spurs undertook during the campaign came away at Stoke City. With Chris Hoy, sorry, Foy taking centre-stage that afternoon, it was ex-Spur Matthew Etherington who netted twice in the first half to see the Potters take the initiative. An Adebayor penalty in the second half gave Spurs hope and despite the best attempts of the away side, a second Adebayor goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, Younes Kaboul manhandled in the box by Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth handballing on the line to deny a certain goal, it wasn’t a particularly great afternoon for the officials. To make matters worse, Kaboul was sent off late on after a second yellow.

Spurs returned to winning ways in the Europa League with a 4-0 win over Shamrock Rovers courtesy of goals from Steven Pienaar, Andros Townsend, Defoe and Harry Kane while in the Premier League, a late Pavlyuchenko finish was enough to secure all three points against a resilient Sunderland side. Chelsea made the short trip across London days later and despite taking the lead through Adebayor, Daniel Sturridge levelled in a pulsating opening 25 minutes for both sides, despite a hint of handball from Ashley Cole in the build-up to the Sturridge strike. The officials again didn’t cover themselves in glory as Adebayor, for the second time that month, saw a goal wrongfully called offside.

The final two games of 2011 were two tricky away encounters to the Premier League new boys. First up was Norwich City and despite some early pressure, a Bale double in the second half, including a memorable second from the Welshman, saw Spurs leave Carrow Road with all three points. A trip to the Liberty Stadium was to be a tougher proposition for the North London side and despite Van der Vaart opening the scores in the first half, an uncharacteristic Friedel error late on saw Scott Sinclair nick an equaliser for Swansea City as Spurs ended 2011 with a draw.

2012

The New Year began with a win for Spurs as a Defoe finish was enough to see the home side defeat West Brom 1-0 at White Hart Lane, despite the best efforts of the Baggies. This was to be followed up with two further wins, the first a 3-0 victory over Cheltenham with goals from Pavlyuchenko, Defoe and Dos Santos enough to see Spurs progress to next round of the FA Cup. The re-arranged encounter against Everton was to be played later that week, while Aaron Lennon and Benoit Assou-Ekotto scored a goal apiece to secure a vital 2-0 win over a lacklustre Toffees.

A shock 1-1 draw at home to Wolves quickly followed after Steven Fletcher opened to scoring for the travelling side. Modric levelled matters for the hosts and Adebayor for the third time of the season saw a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out for offside, despite being played on by Kevin Foley. A week later and a trip to the Etihad Stadium was touted as an easy win for Manchester City. The host took a two-goal advantage courtesy of Samir Nasri and Joleon Lescott. However, it was all square just moments later courtesy of Defoe and Bale in a frantic nine minutes. The pintsized England international could’ve sealed an all important win for Spurs in the last minute of injury time, but fell just inches short of Bale’s cross. In the follow up, substitute Mario Balotelli won, and duly scored, a penalty for the Citizens that saw all three points go to City.

Two confidence boosting wins rounded off a successful January with a 1-0 win over Watford, courtesy of a Van der Vaart strike, that saw Spurs progress to the next round of the FA Cup while a routine 3-1 victory at home to Wigan, with goals coming from Modric and a Bale double, was believed to be enough to see the North London side get their Premier League campaign back on tract.

February started off tamely with a resolute 0-0 draw away at Liverpool followed by an excellent 5-0 rout of Newcastle just days after Redknapp was acquitted of all tax charges. January arrival Louis Saha helped himself to a brace while Assou-Ekotto, Adebayor and Niko Kranjcar grabbed a goal apiece in a display that left Spurs fans drooling at the football they had just witnessed.

However, with the month closely associated with that of love, Valentine’s Day failed to deliver just that for the North London side. A drab 0-0 draw away at Stevenage in the FA Cup was quickly followed up with a demoralising 5-2 defeat to Arsenal in the North London derby. Saha and Adebayor made it 2-0 to Spurs early on, but Bacary Sagna, Robin Van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and a Theo Walcott brace rounded off a miserable afternoon and a horrible end to the month.

The poor run of form in the league continued into March as Manchester United arrived at White Hart Lane and secured a 3-1 win through Wayne Rooney and an Ashley Young double, with Defoe scoring a late consolation for Spurs. Poor officiating again saw an Adebayor goal ruled out for an apparent handball with the scores 0-0 and just minutes before Rooney opened the scoring. A midweek win over Stevenage in the FA Cup replay saw the League One side take a shock lead but goals from Defoe and Adebayor saw the Premier League outfit secure a 3-1 victory.

Back to Premier League matters, and a tough trip to Everton was made just that after Nikica Jelavic scored the only goal of the game in the 1-0 defeat to the Toffees, despite Spurs’ best efforts to drag themselves back into the encounter late on. FA Cup action resumed a week later, in a game that will forever remembered for all the wrong reasons. With the game 1-1 heading into half-time, Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed in the middle of the pitch after suffering a suspected cardiac arrest. The work of the medical staff at White Hart Lane worked wonders that day and despite being pronounced dead for 78 minutes, Muamba would, thankfully, go on to make a full recovery.

Just days after the harrowing incident, Spurs would host Stoke and after a Cameron Jerome strike saw the Potters take the initiative, a late Van der Vaart header rescued a point for Spurs. This was quickly followed up with a 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and despite both sides having chances; neither team could find the back of the net. The month ended with a 3-1 win over Bolton in the replayed FA Cup encounter with Ryan Nelsen netting his first for the club before Bale and Saha made sure of the win late on, Kevin Davies getting on the score-sheet for the Trotters.

April started in familiar fashion with another 3-1 win at White Hart Lane, this time in the Premier League against Swansea City. Van der Vaart had opened the scores in the first-half, with Adebayor scoring a late double to cancel out Gylfi Sigurdsson’s equaliser midway through the second half. A 0-0 stalemate at Sunderland was quickly followed by a shock 2-1 defeat to Norwich City at White Hart Lane after Anthony Pilkington and Elliot Bennett struck for the Canaries to cancel out Defoe’s equaliser mid-way through the first half.

And the week got worse with an FA Cup semi-final trip to Wembley to face Chelsea. The officials were again taking centre-stage for all the wrong reasons during the encounter and after Didier Drogba opened the scoring moments before half-time, Juan Mata’s effort was judged to have crossed the line by referee Martin Atkinson, with replays proving otherwise. Bale halved the deficit midway through the second half, but goals from Ramires, Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda saw the Blues run out 5-1 winners to compound a miserable week for Spurs.

It wouldn’t improve from there with a tough trip to QPR six days later as ex-Spur Adel Tarrabt curled in a free-kick to give the R’s a vital 1-0 win over Spurs. Many predicted the worst from that point as the North London side looked devoid of imagination going forward and lacklustre at the back. A return to winning ways followed, however, as Van der Vaart and a delightful Kyle Walker free-kick, the first for Spurs all season, was enough to secure a vital 2-0 over Blackburn Rovers.

The win was pivotal heading into the final month of the season, but a daunting trip to Bolton was upcoming. Spurs had never won at the Reebok Stadium in their history and now was as good a time as any to pick up the win. Modric superbly struck on the half volley towards the end of the first-half before Nigel Reo-Coker equalised just three minutes into the second. The Trotters pushed for the goal that would take them into the lead, but Van der Vaart and a late Adebayor brace was enough to secure a superb 4-1 win.

Aston Villa were up next and despite the chance to leapfrog Arsenal into third place after their 3-3 draw with Norwich City the 24 hours earlier, Spurs failed to capitalise and could only muster a 1-1 stalemate with the Villains, Adebayor cancelling out Ciaran Clark’s deflected effort. And so it went to the final day of the season, a win would secure a top four finish for Spurs, and with third up for grabs, West Brom had to secure a positive result against the Gunners. Goals from Adebayor and Defoe saw Spurs win 2-0 at home to Fulham but it wasn’t to be after Arsenal picked up a memorable 3-2 win at the Hawthorns.

Final thoughts

A cracking season for Spurs and their third consecutive top six finish for the first time in 47 years. If it hadn’t been for the capitulation during February and March, it could’ve been higher, but a fourth place finish was what many were hoping for. However, Champions League football isn’t guaranteed yet with Chelsea, who finished sixth, set to take on Bayern Munich on Saturday in the final of the competition. A win for the Blues will see the West London side take their place in the Champions League at the expense of Spurs, while a Munich win means the fourth place finish will be enough, cue a number of fans dusting off their Bayern shirts in anticipation.

Regardless of what happens in Germany at the weekend, it still has been an excellent campaign for Spurs. A fourth place finish and a summer to look forward to, hopefully without the unnecessary transfer speculation, the future is certainly Lilywhite for the North London side.

Player of the year

There are a number of nominees for the award, including Rafael Van der Vaart, Scott Parker, Emmanuel Adebayor and PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker. But, there was one stand-out performer for the accolade and it has to go to Younes Kaboul. The Frenchman has come on leaps and bounds in recent months and has gone from being third or fourth choice centre-back to number one in many fans eyes. A first cap for the France national side and the possibility to represent his country at the upcoming European Championships, Kaboul, for me, is fully deserving of his award. 

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