We're top on merit, says Tom

TOTTENHAM'S manager and players are desperately trying to douse the flames of anticipation which have spread like wildfire around White Hart Lane recently. The club know better than anyone that, while optimism is to be welcomed...

By Ben Pearce

TOTTENHAM'S manager and players are desperately trying to douse the flames of anticipation which have spread like wildfire around White Hart Lane recently.

The club know better than anyone that, while optimism is to be welcomed, it can rapidly erupt into searing expectation and suffocating pressure.

Perhaps that was why the Lilywhites, sitting top of the league, asked Tom Huddlestone to cool the atmosphere and chat to the expectant journalists - 6ft 3ins tall and powerfully built, the muscular midfielder could be the posterboy for the fire service.

However, the England Under-21 international was in no mood to drench the bonfire, instead choosing to enjoy the glow and explain why he and his team-mates can set the Premier League alight this season.

"I think man for man we've proved we've got one of the top three squads," said Huddlestone. "It's finding the consistency and not resting on our laurels, we've got to kick on now.

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"I think playing just the one game a week and not playing in Europe will help, because that's how it was when we finished fifth. I think no Europe will benefit us in the long run."

Of course the enthusiasm is tempered with the usual qualification: "When you're seven or eight games into the season you can look at the table properly, but you can't read too much into it after two or three games."

That is certainly true as Spurs face Chelsea and then Manchester United immediately after the upcoming international break.

But, with Birmingham visiting the Lane this Saturday, there is every chance that Harry Redknapp's side will end August with a perfect record, and on top of the league.

It is a dramatic difference from last season, when the Lilywhites made their worst ever start to a league campaign, and Huddlestone has a few ideas why.

"The manager coming half-way through last season wasn't the best situation, but this year he had the whole of pre-season to drill his methods into us and get us playing the way he wants, and I think we've played the way he wants us to in the last few games," he said.

"The manager has worked a lot on team shape for the last three games, but under the old regime nobody would have any idea what the team was going to be until 20 minutes before you went out to warm up. You need to work on set pieces on a Thursday or Friday to work them into the game.

"If you have a high tempo on the training pitch that raises everybody's game another 15 per cent and when it comes to the weekend everyone is on fire.

"And the manager has changed the way he wants us to play. He wants us pressing higher up the field, which suits us with the players we've got if we can nick the ball going forward on the counter-attack."

This season seems to be the start of a new era for Huddlestone, and the 22-year-old has started every league game after playing a major part in pre-season.

Having watched Jenas and Wilson Palacios build a steady partnership at the tail end of the last campaign, Huddlestone admits he has been considering his own future.

But, with the transfer window closing on Tuesday, his heavy involvement throughout August has convinced him to stay in N17.

"You can only go on for so long when you're not happy and you're not playing, or being given a chance," he said. "I worked hard in pre-season and then waited to see how the first month of the season panned out for me.

"Whenever I came in to training it seemed I was being linked with somebody else. One day I read that the club had accepted three bids. I spoke to my agent and he said there was no truth in it.

"It is flattering, but you don't want to be chopping and changing, and if you can play every week at a big club like Tottenham there's no better club.

"I'm 23 at the end of December so that's not young any more. I want to be playing every week in the Premier League so it is a massive season for me.

"JJ [Jenas] has been injured, which is unfortunate for him, but on the plus side it has given me the chance to start the first games of the season."

And Huddlestone has been working on his own weaknesses to ensure that he keeps his place.

"I used to practice passing more as a youngster but these days I practice my shooting - more my left foot than my right," he said. "In different situations in a game it might drop on my left.

"The main area I've tried to improve is being more aggressive, getting closer to people and making more tackles. And I feel I have been more vocal and talkative on the pitch, giving more information to other players. It's not a natural thing for me but if it's going to keep me in the starting XI then it's something that I'm going to work on.