The dramatic nature of our draw on Sunday killed our title chances in the eyes of many, for two reasons – some felt United’s lead was now too great to overcome, others felt our ability to self-destruct would mean more dropped points before the end of the season. As I said after the game, I was close to writing us off – the only remaining hope was that United would drop points at Newcastle, therefore giving us the boost we needed to pick ourselves off the floor and beat Spurs.
Newcastle’s recent record at home to United (two 6-1 defeats) suggested it unlikely, but they did their bit last night, holding them to a goalless draw which gives us the opportunity to close the gap to four points. It would still take the perfect set of results (six wins for us, and United dropping points elsewhere), but the fat lady is still only doing her vocal warm ups. She is yet to be called to the stage.
Of course, we still have to win ourselves, and it has been in these crucial moments we have been found wanting – every time we’ve gotten close, we’ve come up with an inventive new way not to win a football match. But there are a million and one reasons to be driven on tonight. Here are just a few:
- It is Spurs.
- They embarrassed us at the Grove this season.
- They won the last time we played there in the league, with that Danny Rose goal, which was something of a Neil Mellor moment in its freakishness.
- If we didn’t win, it would be our greatest rivals hammering the final nail into our trophy hunt coffin.
- If we do win, we are unlikely to have to put up with the ‘Spurs in the Champions League’ love-in next season.
- A win speeds up St Totteringham’s Day.
- Watching Redknapp Sr twitch on the touchline and Redknapp Jr squirm in the studio is always fun.
Even if United were twenty points clear, it would be a big game, but that it represents the last chance we have of lifting silverware this season makes it yet more vital. It should also be a great game – a draw suits neither side with their respective aims, and both are considerably better going forward than defending.
What I would like to see is more shooting. A novel concept, I know, but Gomes is a decent keeper, and he is more than capable of saving three or four good efforts. But he is also something of a clown, and will drop one out of fifteen routine shots into his own net. With Almunia missing, we have the advantage there. I’m not saying change the style of play entirely, I’m just saying if you get an opening within 20 yards, take it. Have a go. We are allowed to score deflected goals, rebounds and screamers, we don’t have to rely on tap-ins at the end of sweeping moves. I’d be delighted to see a scruffy goal, particularly if it were a Nasri effort deflecting off Gallas’ arse.
The team is likely to have a couple of changes from Sunday – Sagna is fit and ready to replace Eboue, while Wilshere, fresh from his Young Player of the Year award, may be rested as the long season finally catches up with him. He certainly looked weary against Liverpool, unsurprising given how much he puts into every game. Song can come in and free Cesc up.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Arshavin start ahead of Walcott, with Theo coming on later to test tiring legs, but otherwise the team should look similar to the weekend. Vermaelen aside, it is about as strong a outfit as we can currently field. Time to prove it.
Hope springs eternal. After tonight, we will either be right back in it or anxiously looking over our shoulders at Chelsea. This really is the last chance.