TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR’S team coach pulled out of Old Trafford last night with their managerial quartet already preparing another onslaught against Hearts.
Harry Redknapp, Kevin Bond, Joe Jordan and Clive Allen planned meticulously for the first leg at Tynecastle and reaped dividends with a resounding 5-0 win. “We approached the first leg as if it was the Manchester United game,” says Jordan, explaining the motivation behind Tottenham’s performance in Edinburgh.
They aren’t for letting up. That’s what they do, Redknapp and his entourage. They act like a swarm of locusts – once they have a hold of you they don’t let go. Allen watched Hearts first hand against Aberdeen, while Jordan saw them at Fir Park. Redknapp and Bond poured through DVD footage of matches for an insight into their opponents. Nothing was left to chance.
“We want to go through,” continues the Scot with an unrelenting ruthlessness. “We covered and saw every game Hearts had played this season, except the Paksi game in Hungary, before we played them. We knew every player who could possibly come on against us in that tie. We looked at the difference between Jim Jefferies’ team and the new boy’s team, what the possible line-up could be, their shape and everything else. We won’t treat this game any other way. Our objective is to win the game.”
Those expecting a raft of Spurs youngsters propelled into action at White Hart Lane for Thursday’s Europa League play-off second leg could be surprised. The London club are desperate for established faces to hone match sharpness. Leaving aside the Luka Modric-to-Chelsea saga, Sandro and Wilson Palacios both have knee problems and their prospects of facing Hearts are slim.
If any of Steven Pienaar, William Gallas, Ledley King or Alan Hutton are available, they will play. As will Peter Crouch and Tom Huddlestone. Rather than expose kids to the European arena, Tottenham’s needs are more immediate as they strive to ready experienced stars for the demanding season ahead.
“We had the same selection problems last night so it’s more or less the same squad,” says Jordan. “Hopefully we are in a position where we can bring in some other players because the ones who have been out injured need to play. They haven’t had competitive football and we need to get them as sharp as we possibly can. Young boys will wait for their chance, that’s what they do. Players wait for their opportunity and they take it. When it does come along you need to grasp it.”
Those who featured at Tynecastle certainly proved Jordan’s theory. Players like Niko Kranjcar are mere squad players at Spurs but the Croatian’s command of the ball in central midfield dictated the exhaustingly high tempo of the game, particularly the first half. “We played the strongest team we could in Edinburgh because of the injuries we have, especially in midfield. I thought the boys who played in there (Jake Livermore and Kranjcar) did exceptionally well. They were possibly the men of the match.
“I didn’t expect to win 5-0 away from home, but I did expect our players to be able to handle the crowd. I think that was one of the biggest factors on the night. The Hearts support was fantastic and they stayed right to the end. We knew it would be a cauldron right from the start but the majority of our squad are experienced players. I think you saw that they got on the ball, kept the ball and played with a purpose from kick-off. Their application in the game was first-class considering it was their first competitive match of the season.
“We had a another big fixture last night, just as we had a big fixture against the Hearts. We prepare for Hearts as we would any other game. We knew what to expect in the first leg, the crowd and everything else, and we didn’t underestimate the opposition. We got the result that puts us in the driving seat.”
Of that there is no question. Tottenham virtually secured their passage to the Europa League group phase inside the first 30 pulsating minutes in Edinburgh. Jordan, who managed for three years at Tynecastle in the 1990s, feels Spurs’ excellence should be commended having witnessed intense criticism of Hearts since then.
“We played very well and I’m not taking anything away from Hearts. I think people should give us a wee bit of credit and not hammer Hearts so much,” he argues. “There’s talk about Hearts not closing down and all the rest of it but our players moved the ball very quickly and very accurately. There was a lot of support for the person on the ball and we finished our moves really well.
“I wouldn’t be too hard on Hearts. Sometimes you can play that football and not finish with the scoreline. We did finish with the scoreline last week and I think it gave a reflection on the game that our play merited, especially in the first half. Our first 45 minutes was excellent. I think the guys who came in and played for us should be given credit.
“It was a bad night for Scottish football overall. We won away from home in Europe and that’s a difficult thing to do. Celtic had 50-odd thousand people at home and got a draw, while Rangers got beat. I don’t think it’s just about looking at whether there is a gulf between the SPL and the English Premier, I think you analyse that night and see Scotland’s top three clubs playing teams from different nations and not really coming out on top. It wasn’t a good night. Our league is a good league. Whether it’s the best in the world, I don’t know. The Spanish would have something to say about that. But our league buzzes and players love to play in it. The football is good, it’s exciting to watch and, as you saw at Tynecastle, we play open football. There’s a lot of hype about it and it’s well covered because it’s so entertaining.”
Tottenham certainly produced a show to rival any in this year’s Edinburgh Festival. Rest assured that Jordan, along with Redknapp, Bond and Allen, will have the encore all mapped out.