Abel at Spurs
'Blackpoolio?' Juande Ramos had remarked about Simon Grayson's men before Wednesday night's game, stating that he knew nothing about his side's Championship opponents. But by 10pm on Wednesday, he certainly more than knew about the Seasiders and their proud and passionate fans. On another night the Pool would have returned to the North West with a Premiership scalp under their hats, but as appears to be the story of our season; the boys in tangerine failed to convert their chances when it really mattered.
Wednesday`s game was the first time I'd travelled to a match via coach. Say what you like about BSA, but they kindly said that they'd stop off at Keele to pick me up and drop me off seeing as it was directly en route. Without them, I'd have been unable to attend the game.
The journey down was fine (despite the police forgetting to organise an escort for us) and we arrived at the ground just after 6pm. Unfortunately, all the pubs in the immediate vicinity of the ground were home pubs, so we were left to wait outside the ground until the gates opened.
White Hart Lane is a strange ground; it`s literally in the middle of a street. If you weren't looking carefully, you could easily miss it. I was sat in the upper tier and to be honest, whilst the view was good (the two big screens that show all of the action, build up and reaction are very impressive) the ground in general left a lot to be desired. I thought that Pride Park was more impressive.
Prior to Ramos' appointment, I really fancied our chances of winning the tie; I thought that Martin Jol may well field a reserve team as he looked to concentrate on turning his sides' Premier League fortunes around, but I knew that Ramos would field his strongest XI as he would want to have a look at his squad before the weekend's clash with Middlesbrough and that certainly proved to be the case. The hosts lined up Robinson, Lee, Dawson, Kaboul, Chimbonda, Malbranque, Jenas, Zokora, Lennon, Berbatov and Keane. Meanwhile, the Pool welcomed back Michael Jackson (in for the cup tied Matt Jackson), whilst Mike Flynn replaced the injured Keith Southern and Gary Taylor-Fletcher returned to the side in place of Danny Coid. The subs bench saw the welcome return from injury of Andy Morrell.
The Pool began proceedings backed by a superb away following (who out sang the Spurs fans all night) by forcing an early free kick and corner as they looked to catch their more illustrious opponents cold. However, the hosts soon began to settle and started to knock the ball about a bit themselves; Shaun Barker making a brilliant last gasp tackle to take the ball away from Berbatov just as he was about to pull the trigger following a brilliant (and one of many) mazy run from Aaron Lennon.
On 14 minutes, Blackpool should have really found themselves ahead. David Fox somehow skewed his shot wide when it was easier to score. Sods law dictated that Spurs would soon find themselves ahead and on 18 minutes, Robbie Keane slotted home after a long ball from Robinson and a flick on by Berbatov.
The rest of the first half saw the Pool continue to get the ball down and frustrate their opponents, but without creating much in front of goal. However just before the break, Kaboul hauled Parker down when we had a clear goal scoring opportunity. How he didn't even get booked never mind sent off I don't know.
The opening stages of the second half saw the Pool swarm all over Spurs, pinning them back with some fantastic football. Gary Taylor-Fletcher thumped a header against the bar following a brilliant cross by Keigan Parker when he should have scored and also force a brilliant save at point blank range from Robinson (who was otherwise poor to say the least), whilst Shaun Barker was just a fraction away from connecting with a David Fox free kick. It was only a matter of time before the Seasiders got punished for failing to take their chances and sure enough just after Robbie had fired wide, Pascal Chimbonda rose at the back post to head home from a corner following some woeful Blackpool marking.
Younes Kaboul was then booked for hacking Parker down and as a result, Ramos took him off bringing on Tiny Tim (Teemu Tainio), as well as bringing on Defoe and Bent for Berbatov and Keane.
Defoe forced Rabs to turn the ball behind for a corner after a long punt forward (the way we were playing had forced Spurs to go route one) before Simon Grayson threw on Danny Coid and Andy Morrell for Jackson and Vernon, moving to a 3-5-2 formation. With 15 minutes left, Andy Welsh replaced Mike Flynn with Gary Taylor-Fletcher moving into central midfield.
The last action of the game saw Paul Rachubka make another good save from Jermaine Defoe. The Pool may have lost, but they were very unlucky and can be proud of their performance.
My journey back was epic: people on my coach being sent the wrong way by the police, a woman on my coach being hit by a firework thrown by a Spurs fan (she wasn't hurt fortunately) and the police then interviewing her, getting stuck in traffic around the ground, stopping in the middle of the M1 to wait for another Redline coach on which some of the SAS lads had started kicking off, being ordered to go back to London to pick up as many passengers as we could after said coach broke down and the M1 being shut. I eventually got home at 5.30am (seven and a half hours after we'd left), tired, hoarse, but very, very proud. If effort brought you victories, we`d be one of the best clubs around.
As for Ramos, he's got a massive job on his hands; Spurs were for the large part very poor (especially in defence) and clearly lacking in confidence. You could tell that they`re near the bottom of the Premiership. Give him time and he may deliver, but it's not going to happen over night.
Rabs - Another good game. Only the second goal let him down. 8
Crainey - Lennon got the better of him at times, but he produced yet another 'steady eddy` performance. 8.5
Jackson - Gave it his all, but his age showed at times. 7.5
Gorkss - Rarely put a foot wrong. Man of the match. 9
Barker - Still not playing at his best. 7.5
Hoolahan - If he can cut out giving the ball away as much, he`s good enough to play in the Premiership. 8.5
Flynn - His first touch is woeful; he`s like a pinball machine. And if you think Foxy`s free kicks are bad, then you should have seen Flynn`s! Bar that, he did ok. Still don`t think he`s better than Fox or Jorgi though. 7
Fox - Drifted in and out of the game, but played some fantastic passes. 7.5
Taylor-Fletcher - Should have scored, but otherwise gave a good account of him self. 8
Parker - One of his best performance, if not his best, this season. There`s still more to come from him though. 8
Vernon - Linked up the play very well at times and gave 100%. Needs to be cut some slack by certain elements of the support. 7.5
Robinson - Apart from his save, he was poor and clearly had no confidence (nor did his team mates in him). At one point he slipped taking a goal kick and then proceeded to bow to the home fans like he was Coco the clown. Definitely shouldn`t be England`s number one (as our chants said). 5
Lee - Decent in attack, woeful in defence. 5.5
Dawson - Only saw him touch the ball once (a header in the first half). 4
Kaboul - Lucky not to be sent off. 3
Chimbonda - Bar his goal, he was woeful. 2
Malbranque - Anonymous. 4.5
Jenas - A lot of flash but no substance. 5.5
Zokora - Very disappointed in him. 4.5
Lennon - Final ball was lacking , but his pace caused us problems. 8
Berbatov - Started off brilliantly, but then started getting cocky and giving the ball away as the game progressed. 7.5
Keane - Linked up well with Berbatov and took his goal well. 6.5