Friday, 8 April 2016

The End of Season Bash (part 1)

Champagne's on Ice, but what about St Totteringham's Day?

Congratulations Leicester City on winning the most unlikeliest prize of all. The claiming of the Premier League title has been a revelation that is both sweet and poison to football fans all over the country.

But... hang on, they haven't won it yet?

No, but they need a minimum of four wins from their remaining six games and while they face in-form West Ham, Man United (desperate for a top four finish) and dethroned champions Chelsea, they also have three very winnable ties against Everton, Swansea and Sunderland and that should be enough, given Spurs' tough run-in.

Arsenal, on paper, look better equipped to make a late challenge, despite having to win 3 more games than Leicester. Five of their final six fixtures are all pretty much guaranteed three pointers - Palace, West Brom, Sunderland and Norwich before a last day 'test' against Villa. However, they also face West Ham at the Boleyn Ground and Man City in sunny Mancsville - two games that will possible define their stop/start season. 15 points would give Arsenal 73 points, meaning Leicester would only need 5 points to guarantee the title.

Spurs have Chelsea away - never a happy hunting ground and against a team playing for pride. They have Man Utd at home, also another team the North London club struggle to beat, wherever they play and whatever form they happen to be in. Stoke away also poses a threat - Spurs can win there, but going to the Potteries is never, ever, a forecast-able result. That leaves West Brom and Southampton at home and a potential crazy last day when they go to St James Park in Newcastle to play a side that may or may not have already been relegated, but might also need a win to save their status. If Spurs can draw against Chelsea, and beat their opponents in the other five, that would give them 16 points and a total of 78 points, meaning Leicester would need to win four matches as Spurs have, by far, the best goal difference in the league. That, on paper could put pressure on Leicester, but the reality is, it is Spurs they are up against.

So, while the league title is still not mathematically impossible, most Spurs fans would have bitten your hand off at the start of the season just to finish above Arsenal, even if that was us in 16th and them in 17th. The gap between the two pernicious rivals is four points, but Arsenal have a game in hand, so that could be one point and a far worse goal difference to overcome - not impossible by any stretch of the imagination. The reality is the fight for runner-up is far more likely to stir up passions among two sets of rivals than the unexpected Leicester title.

Don't get me wrong. If Spurs were to defy the odds and win the title I would not have the slightest problem in partying like it was 1999 all over again, but I also accept that it is as unlikely as Leicester winning the title... oh... But, it has been a great season to watch and live and I never really expected something like this in my lifetime; there was always the hope but never the reality - Spurs usually fall short much earlier than this and it's the hope that gets you in the end.

I decided after the lasagne-gate incident - 10 years ago now - that I would be happy with a) supremacy over the Arse or b) just one year where we finish above the bastards; and, frankly, we've flattered to deceive and always managed to screw it up. This season, as a die-hard Spurs fan, is likely to have the same result, even if we finish 3rd and are guaranteed Champions League group football next year. 3rd would be a disaster if Arsenal were above us.

In the world of harsh realities, Spurs could end up taking just six points from their last six matches and if you were a betting man this is your best bet; except for 28 of the last 32 matches, Spurs have played like one of the two best teams in the country - many managers claim they are the best side their clubs' have faced and unusually Spurs are now tough to beat; they don't concede that many goals (less than anyone else in the top flight) and this is a team that has showed, time and time again, it doesn't know when it is beaten. Most un-Spurs-like.

Against Liverpool, in a game they needed to win and went a goal behind, I never once gave up; I could see us scoring - we did - and I could see us getting a winner - we didn't, but we didn't lose and not losing is a mentality that has benefited both Spurs and Leicester.

So I err on the pessimistic only because recent history demands it. History however has never had a Spurs side quite like this one, at least not for 55 years, and this team is ridiculously young and fit and has gained more points from losing positions than any team in the league; so there is room for some cautious optimism and, of course, this weird season could still throw up some curve balls. Sunderland are fighting for their lives - relegation this season will cost teams so much money it isn't funny - and we all know - because of Leicester's heroics last season - relegation-threatened teams somehow turn it around, sometimes. Sunderland face both Arsenal and Leicester at home and it is arguably their two most important games, because points taken from these are not expected, despite home advantage. Plus they have Big Sam and he likes a challenge, having never been relegated in his career.

St Totteringham's Day - the near-mythical day when Spurs can no longer overhaul their North London neighbours has only gone down to the last day of the season twice in recent years and both times the Arse have triumphed, despite Spurs being in pole position. It would be fair to say that I will be looking down the table over the next few weeks, not above.

If I had any finger nails, I wouldn't.

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