Off the field, Tottenham have had more dramas this week than the Christmas edition of Eastenders. On the pitch, Spurs fans will be hoping the plotlines are kept much lower key, with six points taken against Fulham and West Ham with minimal fuss. The team have a reputation of not faring well over the festive season but they will be thankful that they at least have little travelling to do as the seasonal meetings come thick and fast.
The newspapers have had a field day with the reports of the Spurs squad’s secret sortie to Dublin. Harry Redknapp was not best pleased to find that his Scrooge stance on Christmas parties had been ignored, and the guilty parties will not have been aided in their mitigation by the loss to Wolves just days later. The matter has now been put to bed, though it would have caused less embarrassment if the players had just stayed in their beds instead. A sizeable donation to charity and a blast from Redknapp’s own brand of hairdryer later and the players made amends with victories against Manchester City and Blackburn. Not that Harry has managed to keep a low profile. A long-running investigation in to his tax affairs has re-surfaced with the boss set to face legal proceedings. Hopefully Redknapp is less distracted by this than the players were by their pints of Guinness.
Just 22 hours after the Queen’s speech is broadcast, Spurs kick off their next fixture. The venue is Craven Cottage, a relatively short trip to be made for both fans and players. Whilst results either side of the annual Boxing Day fixture have been poor over the last five years, the games played on December 26th have actually seen Tottenham come away with plenty of Christmas cheer. A home draw with this year’s opponents Fulham was the offering last year, but in the previous four seasons, victory has been tasted every time. This is actually the third straight year that the Cottagers have been Spurs’ Boxing Day adversaries, with a thumping 5-1 victory in 2007 the pick of the club’s post-Christmas results in recent years. Amazingly, this was followed up with a 6-4 win over Reading as the team bounced back in goal-happy fashion having lost to Arsenal as the advent calendar chocolates ran out.
Whilst Boxing Day matches have been happy times for Tottenham, they have only managed a win on either side of these games on two occasions in the last five years. Aside from the goal-fest against the Royals, the only other pre or post-Christmas win came in 2004. The fixtures were particularly kind that year, as the computer threw up meetings with the sides that were eventually relegated in all three festive games. Southampton and Norwich were both dispatched before December 28th saw a draw with Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane. In contrast, only four points were taken from three games in 2005 and just three in 2006, whilst last year a pathetic one point was the result for their yuletide efforts. The draw with Fulham was sandwiched by defeats to teams who ended up going down: Newcastle and West Brom.
Looking objectively at the facts, it seems Spurs are more inconsistent at this time of year rather than having any genuine stigma on their performances. There are few times in the season when games come just 48 hours apart and this can have a variety of effects on teams. The lack of recovery time is an issue, although a strong squad should be able to cope with the demands of two games in quick succession. At the same time, if a good result is achieved in the first of two quick-fire games, this can lead to a positive momentum being carried forward. With just one win in five in the matches straight after Boxing Day, it would suggest that there is a preparation issue inherent at the club. After the positive results achieved on Boxing Day each year, the team have only managed to win once in the next game. That game against Reading was not until December 29th, leaving a more manageable three day break between the fixtures.
This year, a home fixture against London rivals West Ham follows the Fulham game and Redknapp is able to call upon the strongest squad the club has had for years. If he sees fit, he will be able to bring in an entirely second string of players though the club have fared well with a relatively settled team this season and so should cope with the short turnaround. First of all they must deal with a Fulham side who will be buzzing after hammering Manchester United. Spurs themselves are in good form with the wins against City and Blackburn Rovers and an entertaining clash is on the cards. If they can manage their usual Boxing Day win, then hopefully the seasonal form book will go out the window and the team will manage a triple Christmas triumph for the first time in years.