Tag Archives: Niko Kranjcar

New Boots and Gomes. Sunderland 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2

As I suggested in my preview piece I expected a torrid period in the game and it came right at the start. We started slowly but Sunderland was straight out of the blocks. Unfortunately Gallas was off the field for the opening goal changing his boots and Dawson was unable to take both men with Gyan turning well to score leaving Gomes no chance.

The difficult bit is why boots needed to be changed. The team has run out on the field in its warm up so I would expect decisions about the length of stud to have been made in the dressing room. My first impression of the goal was that the crosser had too much room and where was Charlie? He had been beaten trying to challenge the man further up the field while Pienaar stood by. 

After that it was up to Spurs to put in a decent performance full of character to turn the game around and we were able to do it. Lennon and Palacios were on the bench so Pienaar and Sandro came into the side and as I had hoped Kranjcar got a start. 

The words “away” and “Sandro” have not sat well together thus far but this was by far his best performance away from White Hart Lane and he ended up contributing well in our winner. Alongside him Jenas had another decent afternoon breaking up most of what Sunderland had to offer and turning defence into attack in a much improved second half performance. 

In defence Dawson and Ekotto linked well and looked pretty secure for most of the time. As at Blackburn Benny did not commit himself to attack as much as at White Hart Lane and it paid off well. Dawson was able to get our equaliser with a decent header from a corner which Gallas enticed to go through Gordon’s legs by unsighting him as he ran across him at the important moment.  

Up front Pav came into the side to partner Defoe and our final stat of 2 shots on target says much. That’s not to say that they were both awful as they both contributed towards moves in the opposition half but opportunities for them in the box were few and far between as the Sunderland centre backs played them well. 

In the first half Defoe held the ball up well and laid a decent ball into the box which Jenas could not keep down and Pav played a challenging cross field pass which Corluka then got inside to Pienaar whose shot went over the bar. 

Our second half performance was a great improvement on the first but it was clear that a moment of brilliance would be needed to win the game for us. That came when Corluka lifted a delightful ball into space down the right which Sandro ran onto it before putting in a cross that was headed away from Defoe straight onto the right foot of Kranjcar before it hit the back of the net.

Last week Niko climbed from the bench to hit a brilliant left foot winner. This week he starts and puts in the type of performance we saw from him last year before finishing it with another great goal. Pienaar played better but without Lennon the side lacked a little pace which did not assist our front men particularly Defoe. On the other hand having two central midfielders with a less adventurous outlook helps to close out the opposition and prevent us getting overrun.

That certainly helped us hold out our lead. Sunderland came back well in a late flourish which saw Gomes make a save from Steed and Gyan twisting and turning Dawson, Corluka and Gallas at different points. 

Not wishing to be left out Gomes once again gets into the action ending up booked for time wasting after once again feigning injury in an effort to get Gyan booked?  Why does he do it? On the replay the contact looked to be nothing at all and all he achieved was getting the crowd whipped up for the home team. 

How does this affect the defenders around him? Dawson appeared to be saying “get on with it” to him after talking away the referee.

So another 3 points which puts us into the top 4 until Monday night when Chelsea has a chance to regain fourth spot. By that time the squad will be in Milan looking forward to a round of 16 game. Going in level at half time was an important feature and the improvement in the second half won us the points. 

Quite who plays in Milan we have to wait and see but we will need to have two good halves in Italy and get our stud selection right before the kick off.          

Late Niko strike saves Heurelho blushes: Tottenham Hotspur 2 Bolton Wanderers 1

It was a tough afternoon at White Hart Lane against a Bolton side that put up extreme resistance and at times looked like they could take advantage and maybe win the game. But it shouldn’t have been like that after Rafael Van Der Vaart put away his second penalty in a minute only to see Mark Clattenburg ask for a retake following encroachment from Palacios and Defoe and the Bolton defence. 

The retake ended up in the crowd, much to Rafa’s annoyance having tried to repeat the spot that both previous efforts had gone into. The second was a sublime hit and certainly deserved to be a goal for its quality but rules are rules. Haven’t looked at the encroachment issue on the retake to see if Rafa could have gone again!

Had it been allowed I am not sure Bolton would not have come back but having started well and caused us problems that Gallas did well to escape from Sturridge had the type of performance that makes you ask “why is this bloke on loan?” He along with Davies and Elmander kept our back four on its toes and for a period in the second half after their goal the game looked in the balance.

Our performance was pretty good throughout with all our players contributing good things. Defoe had his best game for a long time and put away a great header, unfortunately from an offside position. However, he should have done better when he missed the goal when Pienaar teed him up in the second half. His strength was better in trying to turn and keep the move going and he only blasted the ball into a crowd of players once from recollection.  

Crouch performed well in the air, winning much and providing for others, and was the victim of a perfect challenge when he bore down on goal late in the first half. From Paxton Road I needed to see this again on Sky highlights as it looked like it got caught under his feet. Similar groans to the Everton game when it looked like a feeble shot only to discover later Distin taking it off his foot. Unfortunately a third penalty was ruled out for an offside decision against Crouch when Rafa’s perfect cross was floated in.

Lennon and Jenas both had superb runs from our own half; JJ’s finishing with a free kick from which he rattled the post with a superb effort. His run was clever as he cut inside at an angle that prevented the tackle until he was about to enter the box.

Lennon had a half on each wing starting out on the left before switching after Rafa had gone off injured at half time. He also ended up injured still able to sprint in one direction but unable to turn. Whether he will miss games as a consequence remains to be seen but it was another good display. His run for the penalty was intelligent and he combined well to make crosses during our first half ascendancy. Reunited in the second half with Corluka he also made some decent breaks as the game opened up. In recent games Lennon has looked our best player, yesterday was no exception. 

Pienaar had replaced Rafa and took the left flank. Certainly his best performance to date and he could have crowned his home debut with a goal had Jaaskelainen not made an excellent save. He is still finding his feet with colleagues in match situations and Dawson’s short and risky pass turned into a hospital one with the outcome a Bolton equaliser.

Dawson was allowed to return to the side at the expense of Bassong and got the Fulham performance out of his system. He was flustered on a couple of occasions and a few passes were mishit. He won balls in the air but on occasions put them into dangerous areas rather than towards the flanks. 

The mix up that led to the goal was on the half way line. The line was high so when the ball fell to Bolton a chase ensued. Unfortunately the ball went straight through Gomes on its way to the net and Sky highlights revealed that it was not hit as well as it looked in real time. Once again Gomes was at fault so a succession of errors provided the equaliser and the encouragement to our opponent to push on and look for a winner.

He’s becoming too good at this and despite all the cult hero status I have a question mark starting to hang heavy over his place. He was better in distributing the ball yesterday with some sensible roll outs to get attacks moving and his kicking towards Crouch provided opportunities. But he has to save the ball when it comes his way so that he doesn’t have to stand dejected in his area.

There is also the penalty that got away. Not for us but for Bolton when Pienaar saw Cahill go over his leg and pick up a card for diving. Correct decision the card if it was a dive but was it? Had it been given we could have been behind and looking at 0/6 points against our opponents. 

Harry’s substitutions were brave once again. He was forced to replace Rafa and then brought Pav on for Crouch. As Crouchy was doing well in the air and linking up well with Pienaar on the left it was a risk for with the height of the Bolton defence Pav’s opportunities in the air would be limited. 

Likewise replacing Wilson, who had a good game, with Kranjcar who has been poor at every turn thus far was a risk as Bolton were far from out of the match. Yet Niko, in a more central role, took it in his stride and fired a perfect shot into the top corner to win the game in injury time. 

It was always going to be something like this for Spurs to win the game. Bolton had defended reasonably well and the chances we had created been well saved. Hopefully the goal will give him the confidence to push on and contribute better in future games. 

And so in conclusion a decent game which had the second penalty been allowed probably a comfortable win. It wasn’t and it didn’t but we ended up with 3 points – however streaky they may have been. It’s up to Chelsea to win today to open up the gap once more.                   

Good deals, bad deals, no deals, new strategy needed?

As he sat in his office this morning Daniel Levy must have reflected on what a crap month January has been for him. Unfortunately in the lives of Football Chairman a crap January can lead to a feeling foolish February, mad March, agonising April and a moody May as he sees the season disintegrate in front of his eyes with ever increasing frustration shown by the supporters.

But it is worse than that, for Daniel has a stadium crisis on his hands with his first choice trumpeted to worshipping fans becoming too expensive and a second option proving unpopular with most in authority. When people adopt the rattled Tony Blair manner and try to bludgeon their points across you can tell they are feeling the pressure and in my opinion DL is trying to remain calm but showing the strain.

Yesterday may therefore have been a day of realisation for to me it showed that Daniel is no longer the custodian of our future through the actions of others. Chelsea and Liverpool showed just how strong their desire is to qualify for the Champions League by blowing vast sums of money – one of them a massive gamble – in an attempt to win fourth place.

Our retort? A bid for Phil Neville – maybe for Champions League cover – and a last hour bid for Charlie Adam – a player who we may not need.

The day before we had been humbled by Fulham in a game that went entirely against our plan. Having searched all month for the striker we craved Daniel put in a number of bids for a variety of players which made it look like we were desperate (maybe we were that night) or that in making them he knew that wouldn’t come off.

So January ended without a late Spurs signing but Harry still managed calls with Jim White and the Talksport team. I could say it’s a failure but in truth its not. I would rather we picked up the players we need rather than another body we don’t really need in an effort to placate us fans. We are not stupid and we know when we are adding to an already large (and unfit) squad more players who might not improve us.

To do that Daniel will need to change his transfer strategy and what yesterday showed us is that you need really deep pockets to do so and only two ownerships have that; Chelsea and Manchester City, the remainder need it given to them by those owners.

To date all too often the strategy has been on adding men who might offer value later on. Kranjcar was signed for a song as his contract was running out. Having not played much and being mid term on a contract his value is much higher which would have meant a profit for the accounts. I saw a figure quoted of £11m on NewsNow during January but even half of that is a pretty good return.

To me Pienaar looks more of the same. Useful player decent purchase price who probably won’t play much. If he wants away next summer for a World Cup chance he represents a profit to us.

Unfortunately for Daniel, Harry secured us Champions League football a bit quick. Fantastic achievement but it put pressure onto him to keep building a bit more quickly. In August he pulled a supreme rabbit out of the hat with a last minute Van Der Vaart. It could never happen again, Europe is now wise to our tactics!

If we remember Leeds they kept pulling out player after player before the house fell down. Our sudden rise up the table puts us in a similar predicament; buy and borrow big. Fans demand it as the quest of regular Champions League football sets in and for the first half of the season we did extremely well. 

Players rose to the challenge and big games came thick and fast. On top of that those around us were in poor form and not winning games we would have expected. As a result we were handily placed and ready to push on. But the team has momentarily run out of luck and hit a period of poor form just as our opponents picked up.     

So we needed the boost of a signing but it was not to be. That honour went to Chelsea. Frustrating as we find that it shows one thing, Mr Abramovich is not, when it really matters, prepared to make his club pay for itself as he suggested. It also acknowledges that Chelsea is accepting that their youth policy has not worked as wanted and that big signings are what is needed to keep you in the top 4.

With our own youth policy not bearing much fruit we’ve always relied on making big signings but our wage policy is some way behind that of Chelsea and light years behind Manchester City. If we want to compete longterm in the big pond we need to address these issues and I cannot see Enic being the owners to do this. 

I’m not trying to slate them for this but sometimes you have to face facts. Many people will say with the Olympic Stadium we can put this right but look at the balance sheets of clubs such as Liverpool and Newcastle who lived the dream with Champions League money for a number of years. They’ve not much apart from debts to show for it. A bigger capacity will help us on transfer budgets in future windows but it might not do much for the wage bill it produces. 

I think it’s official, football has the madness of King George and the top of the Premier League is in ignorance about living within its means so owners need to be billionaires to survive. George got a bit better, as I remember, and so will the game but maybe not before a casualty. We don’t want to be that statistic and I don’t think Daniel will let us become it.  

Don’t get me wrong I’m not calling for Levy to go. He’s been a good owner and taken the club forward a heck of a way. But in the way that he decided Martin Jol was not good enough to move us any further forward that realisation might be approaching for him when he looks in the mirror. 

It may all hinge upon the Olympic Stadium decision, it may not, but if he wishes to continue he will need to rethink his strategy for the transfer window to identify only those that will definitely improve us and identify them earlier so that the deals can be put together. Forget a late run on the blind side for late night excitement – we’re past that now. Real value may be harder to achieve from here on in.     

With an upturn in form anything is possible, without it there’s a long way to go till May. I fancy we’ll play better but hold onto fifth place. That’s about right with this squad if we improve upfront in the summer we can push on once more at realistic pace for our spending money.