Blowing AWAY the cobwebs of mediocrity…a look at our progress ‘on the road’

Having started supporting Spurs in 1988 and then enduring the 90’s and early 2000’s Spurs playing away from home, particularly outside of London, almost certainly meant I wouldn’t bother staying up to watch Match of the Day that evening. It is trite to talk of Spurs having ‘a soft underbelly’ and ‘not fancying it up North on a cold Tuesday night’ but those of us of a certain age will be hard wired to adopting a sense of dread when looking ahead to an away game.

As a casual away fan for much of my teens – I usually got to two or three games per season I went 10 years (from 1994 until 2004) without seeing us win outside of London – both wins either side ironically at Everton.

Our 2-0 victory at Leicester in the FA Cup 3rd round replay was comfortable in the end and at times we combined attacking style and flair with a solid defence and rarely looked like conceding. In hindsight it is easy to point out that Leicester fielded even more of a reserve XI than we did but the facts remain that we won away at the side who are joint top and had only lost twice at home in 2015 (Chelsea and Arsenal).

Going into the game, even a natural pessimist, I struggled to predict the outcome of the match – I felt that our second string was probably better than theirs but equally I had a realisation that we don’t tend to win many big away matches.

I’ve split the evaluation of this theory into three sections as they are all relevant to our realistic ambitions:

  1. League matches
  2. Domestic Cup ties
  3. European ties

League Matches

Now I really must stress that we are so much better away from home now than we’ve been at any point of my Spurs supporting life. In every season between 96/7 and 2004/5 we failed to win more than 5 away games per season; in 2000/1 we waited until February to win out first away match (at Man City) before winning only once more on the road in the league that season.  

Our average points per game (away from home) in PL era:

Our average points per game (away from home) in PL era:

The line shows significant improvement although we are on a slight decline from the excellent period between 2011/2 – 2012/3.

Statistically it is clear that we are better away from home now than we were during that period of mediocrity. I have compared two six periods; 1996/7 – 2001/02 with 2010/11 – 2015/16.

1996/97 – 2001/02 2010/11 – 2015/16
Ave pts gained per season away v all opponents 16 30
Ave number of away games won per season v all opponents 4 8.6

This shows that we are gaining an extra 14 points per season (just in away games) which is the difference between lingering in mid table and being constantly in the top 6 and beyond – an ‘achievement’ we could only have dreamed of in a team of Thatcher’s, Dozzell’s and Iversen’s.

However, when those away results are broken down to look at our games against teams in the top 6 the improvement is not quite as significant. Comparing our results against the top 6 in each respective season and against the sides who finished between 11th and 16th:

1996/97 – 2001/02 2010/11 – 2015/16
Ave pts per game gained v teams in final positions 1-6 0.28 0.58
Ave pts per game gained v teams in final positions 11-16 1.01 1.97

 

So essentially we are gaining 1 extra point per away game now than we were which is worth an extra 6 points per season; however, against teams in the top 6 we are not showing any signs of significant improvement; in the 6 year period (2010/11 to date) we have only won 3 games and two of them were in the 2010/11 season (v Arsenal and Liverpool) meaning the current average is likely to dip at by the end of the season.

On further analysis during this period here is a break down of our results against the current six teams who we have competed against since 2010; our record in these games is less than convincing. Since the start of the 2010/11 season:

Arsenal W1 D2 L3 5 PTS (0.88 PER GAME)
Chelsea W0 D2 L3 2 PTS (0.4 PER GAME)
Liverpool W1 D1 L3 4 PTS (0.8 PER GAME)
Man City W0 D0 L5 0 PTS (0 PER GAME)
Man Utd W2 D0 L4 6 PTS (1 PER GAME)
Everton W1 D2 L3 5 PTS (0.88 PER GAME)
TOTAL W5 D7 L21 22 PTS (0.66 PER GAME)

 

  • FA Cup and League cup ties against any other Premier League opponent and any semi-final or final.

 

Our victory at Leicester was the first time since September 2013 that we had won an away cup tie against a fellow Premier League team (Aston Villa – 3rd round League Cup). Our complete record since the start of the 2010/11 season:

Season FA Cup League Cup
2010/11 Fulham LOST 0-4 (R4) No away ties
2011/12 Chelsea LOST 1-5 (SF at Wembley) Stoke C LOST ON PENS
2012/13 No away ties at PL opposition Norwich C LOST 1-2 (R4)
2013/14 Arsenal LOST 0-2 (R3) Aston Villa WON 4-0
2014/15 Burnley DREW 1-1 (R3) Sheff Utd DREW 2-2 (SF 2ND LEG)

Chelsea LOST 0-2 (Final at Wembley)

2015/16 Leicester C WON 2-0 (R3R)

That is, including the Leeds Utd game, 9 matches with only one win and seven defeat so in that context the victory over Leicester was unlikely.

Looking at the same period (96/7 – 2002/03)

Season FA Cup League Cup
1996/97 No away ties to PL opposition No away ties to PL opposition
1997/98 Barnsley LOST 1-3 No away ties to PL opposition
1998/99 Wimbledon DREW 1-1

Leeds Utd DREW 1-1

Newcastle LOST 0-2 (SF at OT)

Liverpool WON 3-1

Wimbledon WON 1-0

Leicester C WON 1-0 (Final at Wembley)

1999/00 Newcastle LOST 1-6 No away ties to PL opposition
2000/01 Charlton WON 4-2

West Ham WON 3-2

Arsenal LOST 1-2 (SF at OT)

No away ties to PL opposition
2001/02 No away ties to PL opposition Fulham WON 2-1

Chelsea lost 1-2

Blackburn LOST 1-2 (Final at Millennium Stadium)

 

During this period we played 14 matches winning 6, losing 6 and drawing 2. The comparison between the two periods actually shows a regression – perhaps an indication of how less of a priority the cup is for us now:

1996/7 – 2001/02 2010/11 – 2015/16
PLD 14 10
W 6 (43%) 1  (10%)
D 6 (43%) 2  (20%)
L 2 (14%) 6  (60%)

 

 

  • European knock-out round ties and any high profile group stage opponent.

Even including the glorious Champions League run, our away form is a cause for concern.

 

2010/11 CL QUAL Young Boys LOST 2-3
CL G Werder Bremen DREW 2-2
CL G Inter LOST 3-4
CL G Twente DREW 3-3
CL R16 AC Milan WON 1-0
CL QF Real Madrid LOST 0-4
2012/13 EL G Lazio DREW 0-0
EL R32 Lyon DREW 1-1
EL R16 Inter LOST 1-4
EL QF Basel DREW 2-2 (lost pens)
2013/14 EL R32 Dnipro LOST 0-1
EL R16 Benfica DREW 2-2
2014/15 EL R32 Fiorentina LOST 0-2
2015/16 EL G Monaco DREW 1-1
EL G Anderlecht LOST 1-2

 

I have used a fairly subjective criteria to select which group stage opponents should be included as there is credit due for winning games in the Arctic Circle (Tromso) or the far East of Europe (Anzhi and Qarabag) but these were never considered as being high profile, must win games.

That said in 15 games we have won only once (although the results against Lyon and Inter were enough as second legs to take us through the tie) and does not bode well for our prospects of winning the Europa League, let alone the Champions League anytime soon.

What does this mean?

It may appear obvious but to get to the next level we must improve our away form, specifically when playing in the bigger matches against the better teams. Most Spurs fans would list one of the following a realistic ambition for the season:

  • Qualify for the Champions League by finishing in top 4.
  • Win the Europa League
  • Win the FA Cup and/or League Cup

To finish in the top 4 teams require on average 69 points; let’s say that 30 of those must come from away games and therefore at least one away win against one of our main competitors as we did in 2010 (at Man City).

To win the Europa League we will have to learn to win away.

In the FA Cup the win at Leicester may become even less significant should they fall away and end up near mid-table at the end of the season but it is was an encouraging sign that we were able to win away at a peer.

Wins at Manchester City and Fiorentina in February would be a welcome start!

Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them​

Following the close of the transfer window, the general consensus amongst Spurs fans is that the club has, as ever, fallen short. The criticism reads that the Chairman has failed to back the manager and a Champions League place (now) a pipedream. The Supporters’ Trust has asked for a “credible explanation from THFC’s Board to address the genuine concerns of supporters”. Well, I might not be on the Board, but the answer is very simple – the club has learned its lesson.

Son Heung-min tottenham

Ever since the catastrophic summer of 2013, Spurs have been in recovery. Seven players with immediate first team ambitions were brought into the squad, with the vast majority of people shouting ‘too many, too soon’. The squad was left bloated, unbalanced and the Board played a dangerous game, overseeing a seismic shift from British to foreign players. It all failed spectacularly. There was no discernible plan and the squad a shambles.

This summer, the club has been the antithesis – clinical and systematic. The spending has addressed the two weakest areas of the squad – the defence and the lack of pace – and quite remarkably, all the dross has been weeded out for good value. That is impressive.

Toby Alderweireld has come in as first choice and Kieran Trippier and Kevin Wimmer as squad players. The three can only be an improvement on the woefully inadequate Younes Kaboul and Vlad Chiriches. The upshot of the signings also being that they have allowed Eric Dier to move into the central midfield, offering a level of steal that Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb simply can’t. One would expect a marked improvement in the defence. The Board has done its job here.

Likewise, Son Heung-min and Clinton Njie will bring some much needed pace to the team, with the former expected to be first choice, and the less experienced latter given more leeway. The dynamism the two are thought to offer will be a welcome departure from the effective but labouring Nacer Chadli and wasteful Erik Lamela. It has been a crying shame to watch the brilliance of Harry Kane’s link up play and Christian Eriksen’s creativity stifled with no players running ahead of them. Things become very interesting when tempo is aligned with ingenuity. Moreover, with both new signings able, to some extent, play up front, the fears of solely relying on Harry Kane should be allayed somewhat.

The squad is by no means perfect, with an experienced defensive midfielder and genuine striker cover both needed, but there has been some serious progression. For the first time in two years, it feels like Tottenham are moving forward with a clear plan of how the team is going to play and who they need to implement it. Eighteen players have departed, none of whom were first team players, with five arrivals, two of whom expected to be first team players. This is what measured improvement looks like.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, the Tottenham Supporters’ Trust, with their clamour for more signings, need to sit down, take a moment and reassess.