GILES SMITH: HOPE SPRINGS

Posted on: Thu 10 Jan 2013

It is famously 'only half-time' in our current semi-final but having witnessed the first act fail to follow the script, supporter and columnist Giles Smith takes stock and dismisses despair…


So, how did that happen? Like so many of the things that have occurred around our football club these last few months, it appeared to be the end-product of some kind of cosmic joke. One again had that eerie feeling, walking back to the car, that the story of our season is being written by a Tottenham fan.

Have you ever seen a team so comprehensively win a football match - and yet lose 2-0? I'm struggling to think of another occasion like it. It's just a good thing that it's a two-leg match so that luck has at least a vague chance of evening itself out.

Michael Laudrup, the Swansea manager, said on the radio afterwards that he thought we only had three clear chances, but I think he was forgetting a few in the euphoria of the moment. According to the statistics, we had 24 shots, or one every three and a half minutes. (Swansea, for the record, had five shots - or one every 18 minutes, which is to say their shots came less frequently than buses in many areas, even where the service has been radically cut back.)

Even allowing for the fact that a couple of those 24 shots of ours were second-half brainstormers from 45 yards out by David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta, and even considering that the Azpilicueta one is still rising over Chiswick like one of those paper lanterns as I write, it's not difficult to assemble a list of chances from last night's match with more than three items on it.

Off the top of my head, I can think of Ramires, David Luiz, Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, Branislav Ivanovic, Eden Hazard and Demba Ba (twice in 10 minutes) having opportunities which, with an only slightly kinder twist of fate, or with someone other than a Tottenham fan controlling the puppet strings of destiny, might have yielded a goal or five.

And let's not forget, of course, the actual goal, scored in stoppage time by Ba and putting us right back in the mix for the second leg - but ruled out for offside when television pictures suggest that it could just as easily not have been.

But then, on the other side of the balance sheet, completely implausibly, two gift goals for the opposition. We'll forgive Ivanovic anything, on account of the heroic and often directly fortune-changing services he has rendered these past few seasons. But he did choose a slightly unfortunate match in which to become 'Two goal… for the other side' Branislav Ivanovic.

Total domination, then, culminating in a 2-0 deficit at half-time in the tie. Utterly baffling. But that's football, I guess, which is, on some nights, without doubt, a completely rubbish sport.

The night ended with the booing of the interim manager and I have to say, I really didn't get that at all. After all, it wasn't the interim manager who slipped over in the penalty area, twice.

In fact, it was the interim manager who prepared and picked a team which ran all over the opposition for the first 38 minutes and then, after dumbly giving them a goal, continued to run all over them until deep in stoppage time, when it dumbly gave them another one in farcical circumstances. I don't see how the interim manager can be held accountable for that, in all fairness, any more than a person walking down the street can be held accountable when a piano falls on him.

If Mr Benitez was guilty of anything, it was leaving Fernando Torres on the pitch for 80 minutes when he was having one of those 'you haven't seen me, right?' nights which he almost always has against teams defending deep. Historically, Torres has depended on the long ball which puts him in behind the defensive line. But if, as last night, the defensive line is nine-men thick and starts roughly parallel with the penalty spot, he's never going to be that busy.

So, 80 minutes of Torres, with Ba on the bench, seemed, in these particular circumstances, and with all respect to the interim manager, quite a few too many. Possibly as many as 80 minutes too many. But even so: all those shots and chances in that time with, essentially, 10 men? It's not like we actually struggled.

Anyway, in the context of our own forward's ongoing dilemmas, it was interesting, from a perspective point of view, to get the chance to have a close look at a striker who, by unanimous agreement across the footballing world, is on fire right now - Swansea's Michu. 'His instincts are currently sharper than any other striker in England,' as one writer has put it.

Chelsea v Swansea

Here's what the sharpest striker in English football at the moment did last night, in full. In the first half he took the goal that was presented to him on a plate. In the second half, he made a total banana of himself by attempting an overhead kick when, in fact, there was time for him to take the ball down, trap it, write up his diary for the day, read a bedtime story to the children in the family section and then score. A little after that, he irritatingly put the ball in the net after he had been whistled up for offside. And then he was substituted.

So there you had it: one night's work for a striker who's on fire. It's always a thin line, with strikers.


Out of the cup? I don't think so. True, it's not looking as comfortable as it might have done, nor as comfortable as many of us would have hoped it to be at this stage.

But let's say the second leg at Swansea goes pretty much on the lines of the first, and we have 24 shots again. Even if only three of them - or one in eight - go in this time, we get to Wembley.

In fact, it only needs two of them go in and we get to Wembley, as long as the referee's assistant is a bit more charitable about the offside decision.

In fact, even if only two of them go in and the assistant is as uncharitable as he was last night, we could still get to Wembley on penalties.

There's plenty of room for hope, is what I'm saying. And no reason whatsoever for despair.