For those bitten by years of footballing mediocrity, today's trip to Sunderland will be nothing less than daunting. My match preparation has included watching Paul Stalteri getting robbed of the ball in the last minute for the black cats to score and Tottenham dropping critical points in past campaigns. Last year's away win at the Stadium of Light was our only league win there in the last ten years. Inauspicious is down-playing it, a hard fought point is usually the best that we can hope for on the road to the north-east.
Sunderland are buoyed by their new manager. They've lost just once at home in the league since O'Neill took stewardship and that was to Arsenal. We have to match that result. Chelsea were lucky to win there much earlier in the season, Man City lost more recently. A smash and grab will do us, pack the midfield and catch them on the break.
I'd play Lennon today and rest him for Norwich but it looks like Harry's got other ideas, I think we must have the threat of pace on both flanks to stand any chance. In some ways, Swansea was perfect preparation for this but the draw at Chelsea a more fitting analogy in terms of the style of the team that we're up against. Parker's snap in the tackle, breaking up play and protecting the centre-backs will need to be as relentless and as sharp as it was in last Sunday's sunshine. Modric's weaving and threading of the ball to our forwards needs to be precise and timed to perfection to catch the wave of our wide players running,
The team's just in:
Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Parker, Modric, Sandro; Van der Vaart, Adebayor, Bale.
Bale and Benoit, Walker's counter-threat on the flanks needs to be primed and ready for a stern test, particularly from Jack McClean whose marauding left-wingery already has him marked for me as worthy of punt should a Bale shaped hole be torn into the fabric of our midfield this summer. vdV is going to need to work hard to prevent McClean looking to attack Walker at every opportunity. Parker and Sandro should give us the firm central defensive midfield partnership we need to protect the Gallas and Kaboul. Samas last week then, Harry sticking with a winning team.
Cudicini, Nelsen, Kranjcar, Lennon, Livermore, Defoe, Saha.
Are the subs. Can we win with these options if plan A goes wrong? It would be no surprise if Gallas were to pull up and Nelson were to have to play, Krankie scored at Sunderland last year, played well there and so may carry some threat. Bringing Lennon on in the last twenty minutes against a tiring defence makes the same sense it did last week. Defoe and Saha both have goals in their boots. There are no surprises to be had, which might play into Sunderland's hands, but still enough variety in our options to give Sunderland plenty to think about.
As we head into the run-in, the combination of effort, discipline and flair needs to shake up in our favour. If we become embattled, we'll lose our grasp on the top three. We need to focus on our strengths and continue our return to our early season form, playing expansive, exciting, counter-attacking possession football, do this and third and two trips to Wembley are on. It feels like the entire season has been one big pressure game after another, one severe interrogation of our team's ability, our manager's experience, our club's resource and our collective will to win. We've seen transfer sagas, stadium battles, court cases, stunning victories, shattering defeats, and a "death" on the pitch. Expect the unexpected.
3-0 to Spurs today then and back into third place.