• Albion 1 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur, 17.04.2018

    Back to the Amex, after a dispiriting reverse at Castle Greyskull, for the visit of Tottenham. Which Albion would turn up to tackle Pochetino’s impressive young Spurs side? That which took the game to Leicester for an hour, or that forced to settle for a point after a limp display against Huddersfield a week later?

    Spurs’ away form is frightening. Ten wins and just two defeats on their travels, and on a run of sixteen straight wins against newly-promoted sides. Some suggestions that the looming FA Cup (home) semi-final may affect focus, though the glimmer of hope roused by six changes, soon doused by the realisation that the six ‘reserves’, were signed for a combined £128 million. A strong line-up, make no mistake.

    For the Albion, fittingly on the anniversary of the club’s magnificent promotion from the Championship – the side had a distinct feel of last season to it. El Capitan Bruno and Knockaert reunited down the right, and last year’s imperious pairing of King Kayal and Dale Stephens in the centre, in the continued absence of Davy Prӧpper. The Albion set off on the front foot – Knockaert the chief spark. Almost immediately the little Frenchman was felled by the arm of Wanyama on the edge of the box, to anguished French yelps. The opposite side of the ground for me, so I’d not comment on the intent – Andy Naylor judged accidental – the Times report says clear foul. Referee Mr Friend waved play on.

    Spurs probed – Albion working hard to close – then a first mistake. Stephens won the ball well, fed Kayal, who in turn fed Lucas Moura, 20 yards from goal. A scything tackle halted the Brazilian, but cost Lewis Dunk a caution, and gave set-piece wizard Christian Eriksen a first sight of goal. The Dane went for the sneaky ‘under the jumping wall’ option, and crashed the ball into Albion feet. Spurs moving the ball well now – constant triangles between Eriksen, Son and Moura – the latter seemingly always in space to receive possession. The Albion for their part countering with sheer effort – Stephens, Kayal and Groß putting in huge shifts.

    Not that the game was all one way – a few first half chances for the good guys – Dunk headed Groß’ corner at the juggling Lloris, then Knockaert carried the ball from halfway and beat two, but saw his 20-yard drive deflect into the keeper’s arms. Maty Ryan next into action, tipping over a long range strike from Moura, and then thankful to Gaeten Bong for a fabulous last ditch tackle six yards from goal.

    Pascal Groß then served up the highlight of the evening so far – everyone loves a slow-motion Groß Cruyff turn – this one possibly the best yet – befuddling two defenders, then squaring for Stephens, whose improvised finish lacked power. If the Albion had contrived at this point to fool us into a sense of any comfort – a rude awakening. From halfway, Knockaert delivered the most ridiculous and improbable of back-passes, straight to feet of Harry Kane, just outside our own box. An aberration every bit as bad as Duffy’s brainfade against Huddersfield. A desperate Stephens brought the England man down, at the cost of another dangerous free kick. Fortunately Kane, teed up, slipped, and his tame effort was gathered by Ryan. Players slipping was a bit of a theme – and later, one of a number of lame excuses clung to by Spurs twitterati – to the amusement of many amongst their Albion counterparts. One factor they were not able to cling to, was the decision-making of Mr Friend – more of him later.

    With just four of the announced two minutes of additional time elapsed, Spurs continued to probe, to an increasingly angry chorus of boos and whistles. It became clear that the official was determined to let play continue until Tottenham got a shot away – and so it transpired – Son fed in the box to curl a precise low shot toward the bottom right corner. It looked in all the way, but little Maty Ryan was having none of it – plunging to his left at the last moment to palm it wide. Absolutely top drawer save – and one that the Aussie will have been glad for, off the back of an indifferent personal display at Palace.

    With that, to the dressing rooms, to relieved applause. Terrific effort all round.

    And then, within a minute or two of the restart, seemingly all for nothing – once again gifting up a goal. Beyond merely a ‘poor goal’ this – an absolute calamity. One of the worst you’ll see in a long time – not a mistake by one player, but a succession of them by half a team. The otherwise immaculate Groß put Bong under pressure with a poor pass. Bong could have cleared but dithered, and the ball was charged down by Wanyama, for Son to chase. Dunk recovered ground but missed both man and ball with a desperate swipe, to leave the South Korean through, but at an impossible angle. Ryan rushed towards him, but didn’t get there in time – the ball pulled back to Kane, to smash home via Bruno’s vain efforts on the line. For heaven’s SAKE lads. He’s widely considered the best striker in the world. He doesn’t need our bloody help.

    Incredulous Albion fans slumped to their seats – for all of a moment – a mere eighteen seconds after the restart, its only an Albion penalty! Through my seething disappointment I was barely focussing and have no idea how Jose Izquierdo was suddenly running into the Spurs box. A similar lack of focus for full-back Aurier whose clumsy intervention from behind, invited the Colombian to hit the deck. No real Spurs complaints – a brief capture of breath – who is taking it – Murray? Please God don’t miss another. Groß! Pascal’s got this. Yes! Get in – absolutely no messing from the German – no little stutter – no attempt to deceive Lloris – just a clean strike – arrowed into the bottom corner, via the keeper’s grasping fingertips.

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