As Michael Oliver’s full-time whistle brought Tottenham’s clash with Crystal Palace to an end, Tim Sherwood marched towards Tony Pulis to share a hearty post-match handshake in the knowledge that he had secured his fourth win in five Premier League outings since his appointment.
In fact, Sherwood’s haul of 13 points from a possible 15 is the best tally of any Spurs boss since the dawn of the Premier League. You simply can’t argue with that.
Well, actually you can.
Go back through the Premier League annals and you’ll struggle to find a more abject performance than what Spurs served up in the opening 45 minutes against Crystal Palace.
But for Jason Puncheon’s horrific penalty miss and Yannick Bolasie halting Marouane Chamakh’s goal-bound effort, Tottenham may have left White Hart Lane without the three points their performance barely deserved.
A display littered with mistakes, sloppy passing and – perhaps most alarmingly – a complete lack of impetus allowed Palace to fashion a number of openings that stronger outfits would have buried with aplomb.
The game-plan appeared to be: look, we’re playing Palace, this should be easy. But Tony Pulis got the better of his opposite number, with Cameron Jerome and Chamakh bullying the Tottenham defence and exploiting their high line.
Unsurprisingly, Sherwood plumped for his trusted 4-4-2 formation but that quickly evolved into a 4-4-0 as Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor got paid to stand still, occasionally breaking rank to raise their arms in frustration at their beleaguered team-mates.
It is a partnership doomed to fail, despite its supposed success in recent weeks. In Soldado, Tottenham have a player who appears unable to break free of the rigidity imposed on him by former boss Andre Villas-Boas. And in Adebayor, an individual who rewards himself with a 15 minute stroll every time he breaks into a jog.
That’s not to say two strikers is a flawed concept but if you look at other clubs deploying the system – Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are a prime example – the pair hare about the pitch to make up for the gaps in midfield.
Sherwood has been handed the dream scenario all young managers dream of: a job at a Premier League club punching below its weight with a favourable fixture list and first-team players returning from injury.
After the pain of the AVB reign finally ended, most Spurs fans would have been only too happy to see the new boss instil a gung-ho philosophy. In his first league venture against Southampton, Sherwood threw in an array of attacking talent to the point where it was muddled and disjointed but, crucially, picked up the win after profiting against a Saints backline weakened through injuries.
In the 1-1 draw with West Brom that followed, he recklessly fielded two strikers and four attacking midfielders in Christian Eriksen, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lewis Holtby and Nacer Chadli – the sort of decision you would make only on Football Manager after clicking save.
Even in the victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, the Spurs display was fraught with mistakes in possession. Sherwood’s insistence of using two out-and-out strikers almost proved his downfall as the hosts dominated for long spells and really should have got something out of the game had it not been Ashley Young who hit the deck inside the penalty area.
Sweeping under the radar somewhat has been the elimination from both domestic cup competitions, with the recent 2-0 FA Cup defeat against Arsenal particularly harrowing. Sherwood’s insistence of playing his one formation at the greatest passing side in the country was embarrassing, and a decision that left Tottenham thoroughly outplayed and deservedly eliminated.
So yes, Sherwood has amassed an impressive haul of points since his arrival. But would AVB, or anyone else, have done any worse?
It almost seems that a combination of the pair, AVB and Sherwood, would harness the full ability of the Spurs squad. Sherwood’s appointment has been the ideal antidote to an insipid start to the season with his game plan practically a binary opposite to the one his predecessor insisted upon.
But once the honeymoon period ends – Tottenham welcome Manchester City to the Lane at the end of January – it may become apparent that Sherwood is out of his depth and perhaps been better served learning the trade in the Football League.
It can’t be denied that he’s unleashed Tottenham’s attacking potential and renewed confidence in the squad, but if he was outsmarted by Pulis and Crystal Palace then what hope do Spurs have when they enter games against those above them in the table?
Having said all that, if Sherwood can safely navigate the match against City without taking an AVB-esque thumping, he can look forward to another favourable run of games until a tricky March that sees home games with Arsenal and Southampton sandwiched between visits to Chelsea and Liverpool.
And it is in those games where we will see whether he has the tactical nous to mix it up and respond to the opposition he is facing, rather than picking the same team, both home and away, and hoping his gamble pays off.
Sherwood’s insistence on attacking football should be commended, but if he is to truly prove himself then he must show he can adapt his tactical approach.
Ben Snowball - On Twitter: @BenSnowball
- Sports & Recreation
- Tim Sherwood
- Premier League
- Tony Pulis