Much has been made of the new surface awaiting the visitors as we approach the FA Cup fifth round tie between Rochdale and Spurs scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
I don’t expect referee Bobby Madley, fingers crossed, to have a decision to make regarding the viability and risk factor of the pitch at the Crown Oil Arena, or Spotland, as most of us have come to know it, and I’ll be there in person expecting a cracking tie.
“It’s not a pitch in a condition to play football,” said Mauricio Pochettino after he was shown pictures of it before it was relaid following the replay win over Millwall. “It’s not because we are Tottenham. Rochdale cannot play there, too. It’s a massive risk.”
The Argentinian coach cuts a fascinating figure at the helm of Spurs, for whom I played back in 2006 and 2007, and I’ll be returning to his style as the subject of a future column all of its own.
Back to Lancashire, and I certainly played at Spotland myself as I was busy paying my dues with Crewe Alexandra, while we also entertained so-called big-timers ourselves who were unhappy being confronted with dressing rooms in which you’d struggle to swing a cat.
How I loved returning to those kinds of grounds as a Premier League player; in fact, it frustrated me when team-mates did not share my enthusiasm.
I certainly always found it fascinating to see which elite players were able to adapt their game to the circumstances and which of them would struggle.
One time at Kettering me and Bobby Zamora came off the Fulham bench in the fourth round when we were drawing 2-2 against the Blue Square Premier club, as they were then. I scored one, as did he, to get us out of a spot of bother. We could so easily have fallen by the wayside that day and it does go to show that it only takes the better team’s levels to drop 20-30% for the hosts to stand a puncher’s chance with a fervent, packed support willing them on to slay that weekend’s Goliath.
Not only did I treat these occasions as an opportunity for nostalgia, I actively went out there to ensure it was me grabbing the headlines, if at all possible.
Excuse what might come across as an excess of ego here, but I wanted those opposing players to come off at the end going, “what a side they really are”, as well as “that Murphy deserves every England cap!”
Another example from the same stage of the competition came when a Yeovil side containing current Bristol City boss Lee Johnson pushed Charlton all the way at the Valley in 2005, even if I did end up getting subbed myself that day.
I still recall with pride reading a report where he had given me the lion’s share of the credit for winning the battle for midfield supremacy as we held on to win 3-2.
It did not surprise me to see Lee taking so many scalps as a manager this season, as he has obviously always had his head firmly screwed on and is a shrewd judge of a player! Joking aside, I saw him make a good point about Cardiff’s chances ahead of the FA Cup visit of Manchester City.
If there’s one thing Spurs fans will be worried about more than the facilities on Sunday it is likely to be the extent of rotation Pochettino plumps for, squad-wise. These days, as Lee pointed out, the lack of familiarity within the line-up of the favourites can be as big a leveller as anything else.
The first ten minutes of their latest trip in the Champions League apart, Tottenham have been on fire since Harry Kane got them out of jail and grabbed a 1-1 draw when they looked for all the world like they were going out to Newport County. Let’s face it, that would have made for as big a giantkilling as you are ever likely to get.
Ironically, that is exactly where I reckon the key to this weekend lies: those last few minutes down at Rodney Parade. Just as I used to do, Pochettino will have observed which of his troops he will be able to rely on when push comes to shove, or perhaps, in this case, when the sand hits the fan! So it’s game on, let’s all hope for another memorable round.