Why Spurs must learn to take the lead again after getting stuck in the slow Lane
Tottenham correspondent Ben Pearce examines Spurs’ struggles on home turf so far this season.
Rewind 12 months and Spurs were in the midst of an 11-match unbeaten run in the Premier League which took them from the bottom of the division into third place.
Gaining confidence and momentum with every result, Tottenham were flying out of the blocks and their stunning tally of 31 points from a possible 33 was driven by a steady stream of early goals.
On September 18 2011, Spurs hosted Liverpool at White Hart Lane, with Emmanuel Adebayor and Scott Parker making their home debuts.
Tottenham stormed into a seventh-minute lead through Luka Modric, while Charlie Adam was dismissed before the half-hour mark as he tried, and failed, to stem the tide.
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The hard work had been done and the Lilywhites went on to reduce Liverpool to nine men after the break and run out 4-0 winners.
It proved to be the blueprint for a devastating charge up the table.
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Spurs won 10 and drew one of their 11 league games between September 10 and December 3 - and they were ahead at half-time in eight of those games.
Indeed, in the victories over Liverpool, Wigan, Blackburn, QPR, Fulham, Villa and Bolton – seven of the 11 matches – Tottenham were ahead inside 20 minutes.
Spurs became particularly ruthless at home, taking a 2-0 lead inside 33 minutes against QPR and also going two goals up in 40 minutes against Villa.
Roared on by a blood-thirsty crowd who knew what was coming, Harry Redknapp’s side were unleashing a devastating opening salvo of attacks which left their opponents hanging on for dear life at the Lane.
They knew what was coming, they were set up to defend for their lives, but they were simply unable to do anything about it.
Struggling Bolton were quaking in their boots when they arrived in north London and, 18 minutes in, they were 1-0 down and playing with 10 men.
The result was a second-half scenario which always played straight into Spurs’ hands as their visitors were forced to open up in search of an equaliser, leaving themselves exposed to the pace of Bale, Aaron Lennon and Adebayor on the break.
Tottenham’s unbeaten run was finally ended at Stoke but, when Chelsea visited White Hart Lane on December 22, Spurs were ahead after just eight minutes before Daniel Sturridge equalised in a 1-1 draw.
Fast forward to the present day and, following that same fixture against the Blues, Tottenham have failed to score a first-half goal in any of their six home games this season. In fact the only first-half goals at the Lane have gone against them, since they have trailed at the interval in both London derbies against QPR and Chelsea.
The result is a patchy record at the Lane with two wins – one of them against Mark Hughes’ Rangers after a stirring fightback – but two disappointing draws against West Brom and Norwich and now a defeat.
The inability to get an early breakthrough on home turf has become a problem.
West Brom and Norwich both reached the hour-mark on level terms in N17 and, as Tottenham became increasingly desperate, the visitors became more and more dangerous on the break.
It is a precise reverse of the scenario which Spurs were able to take advantage of on so many occasions last season. They could easily have conceded first against the Baggies and the Canaries - as they did against QPR - and if their home games continue in such a vein, they will suffer more damaging defeats as well as debilitating draws.
Of course, the loss against Chelsea cannot be wholly attributed to the first half, given that Tottenham were 2-1 up in the 65th minute.
However, the fact remains that Spurs started slowly in front of their own fans again. They were on the back foot for most of the first period and deservedly went into the interval with a deficit.
As Jan Vertonghen said following Saturday’s game: “It’s almost the same every time - the second half is better at home than the first half. We have to think about how to put two strong halves together. We have to talk with each other about how to give more pressure.
“After half-time we just totally gelled [against Chelsea]. Their centre-backs were playing too much, too easily. That’s what we did, we pressed them.”
The result was a much-improved performance and two quickfire goals, but it is strange that Spurs only began to hassle and harry their visitors after their half-time team talk.
Andre Villas-Boas’ philosophy is based on a high-tempo pressing game with a high defensive line, restricting the space for the opposition.
And, while these are still early days with new players, the first-half displays at Reading and Manchester United seemed to indicate that the players were putting that plan into action.
For some reason it is not happening at the Lane. Compared to the home games this time last year, the tempo is slower and the atmosphere is eerily quiet and nervy.
There is no obvious reason for that. Yes, Spurs have lost important players during the summer – and Rafael van der Vaart scored five goals in that stunning 11-game sequence last season. However, it was Villas-Boas’ new-look Spurs who were so devastating in the first half at Old Trafford recently.
Yes, Bale and Dembele were key players in that historic triumph in Manchester, and they were missing against Chelsea – but they were both on the field for the first 45 minutes against QPR at the Lane, a dreadful first half which really underlined the issue at hand.
Apart from an encouraging early siege against Villa before the international break, Tottenham’s visitors are being allowed to settle into the game, organise themselves and build their walls of defence – and sometimes they are going on to dominate proceedings and even take the lead.
Tottenham now have three away games in succession against Maribor, Southampton and Norwich, but when they return to the Lane to host Wigan next weekend, they must kick off with far more purpose, aggression and urgency, implementing their game plan from the very start.
If they are to storm the top four, they will need the Lane to be a fortress to be feared again.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs