Indeed, while it was the duo of Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe who found their photographs plastered across the back pages following Spurs’ superb 3-1 win over Manchester City on Sunday, it was Andre Villas-Boas’ late raft of substitutions that really struck a resonating chord with supporters.
And following on from a set of impressive cameos during Spurs’ last two fixtures against Everton and FC Basel respectively, it was the 26-year-old Huddlestone who yet again managed to wield a considerable impact from coming off the bench – so much so in fact, that some fans have begun pushing for his inclusion from the start when the Lilywhites travel to Wigan Athletic this weekend.
But for all his neat showings in short bursts over the last couple of games, how much more has Huddlestone really shown to demand a starting spot in this side? The same one in which supporters currently calling for, deemed to be a wholly unviable prospect following a slew of uninspiring performances earlier on in the season.
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It’s never usually been too difficult to miss the overbearing frame of Huddlestone sauntering around the Tottenham midfield and given the addition of a gargantuan afro – ever-growing as part of his efforts to raise money for Cancer Research – this year more than ever, the former Derby County man’s been impossible to miss. Yet given the quality of football he’s produced at times this term, that’s tended to be more of a curse, as opposed to something of a blessing.
During his recent impressive showings, Huddlestone hasn’t shown anything that Spurs fans haven’t already seen at times this season. The sumptuous diagonal crossfield balls, effortless first-touch and eclectic range of passing that the 26-year-old is so nonchalantly capable of producing have been on display more than simply a handful of times this season, with the England man making a solid 24 showings in all competitions this term.
Granted, few of them have been starts and even fewer of those have been in the Premier League, with the Nottingham-born midfielder making Villas-Boas’ XI from the off on just the six occasions in the top-flight so far this term. But despite suffering yet another spell on the treatment table following the 2-1 loss to Leeds United in the FA Cup, Huddlestone’s not been quite as bereft of opportunities from the Portuguese as some may think.
The problem when he has been in the side for Spurs this season, as has often been the case throughout his career in N17, has been on what he can’t do with the football, rather than what he can.
Because for all the wonderful technical artistry that he’s been able to produce in flashes this term, when he did accumulate a run of starts at the front end of the season, there weren’t too many in the white half of north London shedding many tears when Villas-Boas relegated him back to the bench again.
Judging Huddlestone on his last three substitute showings feels a little bit like deciding to buy a second-hand car without really giving much credence to how it drives. From the outside, it might look flash, capable and something you convince yourself you’ve always needed, but when it comes to putting in the hard miles, it usually tends to fall just a little short.
And traditionally at least, it’s been within putting in a sustained showing over 90 minutes and doing more than just spraying 60-yard passes that’s often been the problem for the man who first joined the club a staggering eight-years ago.
While that may seem a slightly brutal analysis of his failings, too often has a perpetual inconsistency and well-noted lack of mobility punctured his ability to become – when fit and not suffering from what have been a series of debilitating issues with his ankle – a mainstay in this Spurs side.
But although it’s important to take his recent renaissance with a pinch of salt, calls to replace the waning Scott Parker with Huddlestone against Roberto Martinez’s this weekend resemble a lot more than simply a kneejerk reaction.
Because far from simply making a token contribution over just the one game, Tom Huddlestone has made a palpable difference during all three of the Everton, Basel and Manchester City games, picking up an assist in both of the latter two games, too. With the side crying out for something different, Huddlestone’s unique, direct set of attacking gifts have proved a well needed tonic to a Spurs midfield whose guile and intricate style of play has hit a brick wall of late.
One of the real talking points to come out of the City game was Villas-Boas’ switch to a 4-3-3 and you get the feeling that if Huddlestone is going to have any chance of impressing from the start against Wigan, that’s exactly how the Portuguese is going to have to line-up.
With the extra man in the engine-room, Huddlestone’s lack of pace and mobility isn’t quite as poorly exposed and given the success Tottenham enjoyed with the formation during the second half last Sunday, there’s no reason to see why he shouldn’t.
It’s far too early to start drawing any long-term conclusions out of Tom Huddlestone’s recent form, but if nothing else, he’s reminded supporters that he’s not ready to swan off in the summer without a fight just yet. Certainly, if Spurs have much to play for over the next five games, the same could most definitely be applied to Huddlestone.
A start would seem the minimum he deserves following his recent showings. Whether he can repeat the trick over 90 minutes, however, remains to be seen.
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