Monday 12 January ~
Steve Bruce was being melodramatic when he spoke of Wigan being in a "14-team relegation league" before his side's victory over Spurs yesterday. Although they were only eight points above the bottom three before that match, Wigan also had 13 clubs below them and history was on their side – no club with 22 or more points at the halfway stage in the season has ever gone down in a 38-game season. The bottom half of the table is compacted as never before, however, and while that defeat at the JJB Stadium kept Spurs in the bottom three, they are only three points from being 11th.
The team's abject performance prompted a host of complaints from those who witnessed it, including a stark comment reported by the Daily Mail: "We have to improve, otherwise we will go down." This was made by the Spurs captain Ledley King. King's defensive partner Jonathan Woodgate had made a similarly gloomy forecast during the team's poor run at the start of the season prior to Juande Ramos being replaced by Harry Redknapp. Spurs improved dramatically after Redknapp's appointment but have since lurched back into their early-season torpor.
Redknapp, dissembling like a maestro, is now suggesting that core problem is the attitude of some of his squad. "They are supposed to be quality players. If you look at our results – two points from eight games – it can't always be the manager's fault, can it?" The man who accepted all the praise lavished on him for firing up his players during their near-miraculous run of victories in the autumn is not prepared to take any of the blame. It could also be that the various fringe England players in the Spurs team squad simply aren't anywhere near as good as they've been hyped up to be – although Martin Jol took a similar squad to two consecutive fifth-place finishes.
Supporters of clubs not embroiled in the relegation battle will have a list of the team they'd like to see go down, and another of those who they think probably will go. Like Newcastle, Spurs may well be on the first list but are unlikely to appear on the second, simply because, for all their recent haplessness, they do have a greater range of playing talent available to them than many of the relegation rivals. As is also probably the case with Newcastle, if Spurs don't go down this year, the moment won't come again in the foreseeable future because they will buy half a new team in the summer. But if Spurs' dire form continues much longer, it will be interesting to see how the pro-Redknapp faction in the national press manage to contort themselves to deflect blame from their perennially quotable mate. He is supposed to be a quality manager – it can't always be the players' fault, can it?