As Tottenham Hotspur's 2-2 draw with Wigan Athletic played out, the natural reaction of the club's supporters (both those watching live and those being updated by various media outlets) was frustration.
The exciting 3-1 comeback win over Manchester City the previous weekend had reignited belief in the team's ability to achieve their season's goals. Hopefully too in a style akin to the way the recently dethroned Premier League champions had been beaten.
Instead, Tottenham were toiling against a club sitting third bottom, and for much of the second half were at risk of losing. Hardly the situation a club hoping to play in the Champions League next season should be in, right?
Dropping points following the high of the Man City victory was frustrating, make no mistake. However, a draw away at Wigan, in itself, is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Based on their performances throughout the season, the Latics' lowly position is what they deserve. As that much trotted-out soccer saying goes, the league table does not lie.
Neither, though, does Wigan's remarkable survival rate since being promoted to the Premier League back in 2005. Time and time again the North West's underdogs have shown they have the guts for the death or glory (or its less dramatic, football equivalent) battling that goes on as the campaign reaches spring.
Spurs know as much, having previously faced Wigan three times in April during one of the latter's fights for survival. Saturday's game was the fourth meeting at the DW Stadium in that month, and the fourth draw.
|Date||Result||Wigan's Eventual Finishing Position|
|15 April 2007||3-3||17th (survived by goal difference)|
|19 April 2008||1-1||14th (finished four points clear of the relegation zone)|
|2 April 2011||0-0||16th (finished three points clear of bottom three)|
|27 April 2013||2-2||?|
In 2007-08, Tottenham were not that far behind Wigan, and that draw was one of four in a row that saw the season peter out. In 2006-07 and 2010-11, the draws contributed to eventual failures to finish in the top four as Spurs finished fifth on both occasions (though the earlier one saw a strong overall finish).
Circumstances in those two campaigns were naturally different to each other, and this current one. Faced with the test of a team who equally needed points (albeit it for different reasons), the results against Wigan were endemic of Spurs' inability to get the job done when vital points were at stake.
As already noted, beating Wigan was never going to be a walkover. But in similar situations their rivals have proved able to get the points and finished above them. The one occasion in the last five years Spurs did win those high-stakes games was in 2009-10, when they successfully cemented their Champions League qualification.
This latest meeting with Wigan reiterated the spirit of this current crop of players. As was the case against Man City, Basel and Everton in recent weeks, they kept plugging away and scored to ensure they at least did not lose (the second leg against Basel was decided by penalties).
Perseverance is a valuable tool in achieving one's goals, and retaining that drive might stand them in good stead in the weeks to come. Ideally, though, Spurs want to avoid too much tension—and the quality needed to do that and get in front of games—was not so apparent on Saturday.
Andre Villas-Boas selected a 4-3-3 formation following its successful implementation during the City win. In periods its advantages were apparent (such as the way the front three had squeezed Wigan's space at the back for Gareth Bale's opener), but its potential success was somewhat undermined by an unsuitably negative application and inappropriate personnel selected in the first place.
The midfield lineup negated the creativity the changes had sparked the previous weekend. In that game Tom Huddlestone and Lewis Holtby were able to hassle their midfield counterparts, win the ball and demonstrate their eye for a pass—knowing Dembele had their back.
Against Wigan, Huddlestone was too deep and the German did not start. In comparison to that pairing, Dembele and Scott Parker are just too pragmatically inclined.
Subsequently, there was little of the imagination that had served Bale, Clint Dempsey and Jermain Defoe so well the previous week. Too often moments they might have been involved were gone as the midfield was not getting the ball through as quickly or as intelligently.
Admittedly Man City had left the game far more open than Wigan did at any stage. The Latics were set up to deny Spurs space, and played with a greater urgency .
Jan Vertonghen's failure to mark Emmerson Boyce for Wigan's equalizer (the Belgian's lack of commitment in attempting to block Callum McManaman's goal was questionable too, though it might have been a fruitless task regardless) and the way in which Arouna Kone gave Spurs problems all afternoon long meant it was not one of the defense's best days either. Villas-Boas' insistence in tinkering with the lineup here is doing little to engender a feeling of solidity at the back, though.
Tottenham remain in contention to finish in the top four, though they know now it might largely depend on getting something away in their game in hand at Chelsea (in between three other crucial games).
The Wigan draw was a stark reminder that establishing a successful harmony between a coach's ideas and a team's implementation of them on the pitch requires a lot for it to work on a regular basis.
Are April meetings with the Latics also becoming a harbinger of fifth-place finishes for Tottenham Hotspur?