MARCH 9 — As I’m writing this, Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) have just beaten Inter Milan 3-0 in the first leg of the last 16 round of the Europa League and following last weekend’s 2-1 win over our traditional local rivals Arsenal we’ve found ourselves third in the English Premier League (EPL) with a two-point lead over fourth-placed Chelsea and a seven point advantage over Arsenal with 10 games to go now till the end of the EPL season.
We’re now 12 games unbeaten in the EPL too, which is the longest we’ve ever gone unbeaten since the EPL started.
Gareth Bale is currently on fire with 12 goals in his last 11 games, single-handedly winning us games with breathtaking moments of solo genius and copious articles have been written by football pundits about how irresistible Spurs are right now to neutrals.
There’s even talk of a chase for second or third place in the EPL instead of our normal target of fourth place in order to secure a place in next season’s Champions League.
We were more or less in the same position last season, only with an even bigger point advantage over Arsenal, but all those chants of “mind the gap” by some overzealous Spurs fans unfortunately came to bite us in the backside as we slipped up and threw away our lead big time to let Arsenal overtake us into third place and ultimately losing our Champions League spot when Chelsea qualified as defending champions last season.
The difference this season though is that we seem to be mentally stronger than last year, less likely to wilt under pressure the way we did in the run-up to the end of the season last year.
The Spurs of last year would’ve probably pressed the panic button when Arsenal tried to throw everything at us the way they did last weekend after Spurs raced to a 2-0 lead against the run of play, but we somehow managed to keep our cool even after Arsenal pulled one goal back and started to apply pressure on us.
Holding on to very slim leads and recovering from one or two goals down is something that we look quite capable of doing this year, and more than anyone let me be the first to say that this is an unusual position for Spurs fans to be in.
This is not the Spurs that we’re used to supporting. The Spurs that we know all these years are never safe, even with a 2-0 lead (remember that 5-2 thrashing by Arsenal?) or a 3-0 lead (Newcastle, Manchester City and probably more that I can’t think of now). The Spurs that we all love and know before this will also seem to give up the fight if we find ourselves two or three goals down.
So even when we look to have remedied those “endearing” qualities this season, the long-suffering Spurs fan in me still refuses to be that optimistic. Of course I hope we’ll finish the season strongly and achieve our target of getting a Champions League spot and advance as far as we can in the Europa League, but we have a far more difficult run-in to the end of the season compared to our rivals.
Even last week, when we had to face Lyon in the Europa League, sandwiched in between our away derby game to West Ham and last weekend’s home game to Arsenal, the fixture list already looked daunting to me.
We passed those tests with flying colours, but now after this home win against Inter Milan we have the in-form Liverpool away at Anfield followed by the second leg away to Inter. And if we do get through to the quarter finals of the Europa League (which seems likely after tonight’s result, provided we don’t suffer a meltdown next week), that first leg will be sandwiched between a surely difficult away trip to League Cup champions Swansea and a home game against fellow top-4 challengers Everton.
Up next after the second leg of the quarter finals is an away trip to Chelsea. Now that is a busy and difficult run of fixtures that the Spurs of yore will no doubt screw up.
When you also consider the fact that we actually have a weaker squad this year after selling both Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart without really replacing them with like for like creative players, it is quite remarkable how far new manager Andre Villas Boas have taken the club forward this year.
And we still have only two senior strikers in the squad, which is not ideal for a club trying to compete for a Champions League place and in the Europa league. So it really is squeaky bum time till the end of the season for us Spurs fans, but should we achieve our targets, well what an achievement that would be!
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.