The visit of Middlesbrough to the Lane last November represented a considerable turning point for us in the season. Without a point in six games in the Barclays Premiership Ledley King well remembers the pressure building before two key moments helped swing the wheel of Premiership fortune back in our direction.
Five minutes before the break of what was an evenly contested game, Franck Queudrue was red-carded for a challenge on Noe Pamarot and the team profited from the extra man just after the interval when Jermain Defoe swept home a Pedro Mendes cross.
Any lingering nerves were settled by a second slice of good fortune 14 minutes from time when Fredi Kanoute elected to charge down a Mark Schwarzer clearance and the ball landed in the back of the Boro net to clinch a most welcome three points. The result proved the catalyst for an eight-match unbeaten sequence.
“It was a turning point, we came into the game off the back of a bad run and needed to turn it around somewhere,” recalled Ledley. “It was the game where Queudrue got sent off and that was maybe the bit of luck we needed. We managed to win the game in the end and it set us off on a nice little winning run.
“With Fredi’s goal we got two bits of good luck against Middlesbrough. The good run we got on after that was down to the spirit of the team, it was a good spell for us and something we know we can do again when we are in form.”
The aim, of course, in this new campaign is avoiding a similar string of defeats that is always likely to prove costly when it comes to seeking a place in the top six in the final reckoning.
“It is unacceptable to go on that kind of run, but if you are making mistakes and not doing things right, you get beaten — it is as simple as that. That is what was happening to us.
“After that we did show a good attitude, bounced back, and got on a good run. You can’t afford a poor spell like that if you want to make Europe and we’ll be making sure that doesn’t happen this season. It is tough but you’ve got to stay positive and keep working hard.
“I know there were plenty of players after the good run who wondered where we would have been had we not had the bad spell. It is something we hope to put right, you don’t make the top six generally if you have lost six games on the trot over the course of a season.
“We’ve got a young squad and hopefully we’ll learn from our mistakes and become better for it.”
Middlesbrough got their own back for the White Hart Lane reverse when we travelled to the Riverside Stadium for the penultimate fixture of the season with UEFA Cup qualification pretty much hanging on the outcome.
The home side won the day with a George Boateng strike in a game where the skipper suspects experience told in a scrappy encounter.
“It was a massive game and neither team played particularly well on the day. I think it was a case of experience counting, where you know how to win certain games that you need to. That’s what paid off for them in the end and it was another learning curve for us.
“Middlesbrough are improving each season and getting stronger and stronger. We like to think we are too and we know we will be in for a tough game against them this time around.”
Manager Steve McClaren is someone Ledley is well placed to assess, having worked with the assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson on international duty. Asked whether his attributes are mainly analytical or motivational, the central defender hedged his bets.
“He is a bit of both! I think he is an all-rounder. He is easy to talk to as well which is important. I know how good he is and have been impressed with him whenever I’ve been with England and know he will get the best out of his players. You know his sides will always be there or thereabouts.”
That said, Ledley is confident the team can maintain last season’s impressive home form as the Lane opens its doors for the new Barclays Premiership campaign.
“It is a new season now and you hope to start off right. Last season our form was good at home and we are looking to carry that on into this.
“We feel we are making it a tough place for teams to come, rather than a nice place to play and the crowd have been great. They get us going.”