The real barometer of a side’s quality is their position come season’s end, but there are always a few signposts along the way that point to their trajectory. Spurs’ desired trip to the top passed another important checkpoint on Saturday with their win over Blackburn at Ewood Park.
For the first 82 minutes of the 2-0 win, the game was eerily similar to the 2-1 defeat in April’s corresponding fixture. Just as in that game, Spurs led 1-0 through a first half goal, but rather than concede two late goals with some abject defending, they kept a clean sheet and Peter Crouch added a second to seal the deal. It was a handy sign of how far they have come.
The ill-discipline – Wilson Palacios was sent off in April – poor defending and inability to maintain an attacking threat all became distant memories in an efficient, if unexciting away performance. It’s the sort of display Spurs have often failed to put together in the past, and an essential part of any challenge for a top 4 spot.
The reasons for this progression are numerous. The most obvious are the signing of a rangy, awkward striker in Crouch who is capable of holding the ball up and, as he showed, to score when needed. His value on the weekend was clear, providing a large slice of pragmatism as required after Jermain Defoe put in an uncharacteristically poor performance. His first goal was the most significant; a simple lobbed cross that he nodded in despite close attention from Ryan Nelsen. It was the sort of blunt and inartistic goal that Spurs never used to score, but are now an option in tight games – and an alternative that Fabio Capello may have an eye on for next summer.
As well as incoming players, those already resident at White Hart Lane before Redknapp’s arrival have earned praise. Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone and Benoit Assou-Ekotto have all improved massively in the last year and ‘keeper Heurelho Gomes has shaken off his erratic early form and kept two clean sheets in a row.
Spurs have also made massive strides in their mental approach. This is a quality fostered by Redknapp and his cabal of experienced coaches who have given the players some footballing nous and fast-tracked their development towards being more than just talented also-rans. The determination, grit and know-how on show at Ewood Park were testament to that.
Spurs have a ways to go yet – their record against the other top sides tells a disappointing story – but they are learning fast. Hard-fought away wins like that on Saturday could be the difference between glory and mediocrity this season.
Written by Andrew Fitchett