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Juve 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

1. That Calamitous Start

As calamitous starts go, this one was the poster-boy of a generation. It felt like just off-screen there must have been dodgy fitting collapsing and pipes springing leaks, because on the pitch every conceivable error in the book was being dredged up and paraded to the paying public in the most ghastly manner.

A doff of the cap to Juve, mind, for that inventive free-kick sorcery, straight out of the France ’98 Argentina vs England Manual. Beneath his simmering rage, I wondered if our glorious leader appreciated the irony.

And while on the subject, a further admiring tilt of the old bean to Higuain for the over-the-shoulder volley.

But from our lot it was slapstick of the highest order, an impeccably-observed if curiously-timed homage to the opening five minutes of the Naked Gun sequel. Entertaining fare, I suppose, but one did rather get the urge to murmur, “Not really the time, chaps, nor the place, come to think of it, what?”

In truth, we have some history in the department of Beginning The Biggest Game of Our Lives in Utterly Kamikaze Manner – see the Young Boys qualifying jaunt a few years back, under ‘Arry, which was redeemed after an appalling first half; or indeed the opening ten against Real Madrid the same season, which was most decidedly not redeemed.

Most irritating to AANP was the fact that we were 2-0 down without having been outplayed in any real sense. If Juve had torn us apart one would have been pretty morose about life, but one would have accepted a 2-0 deficit. But simply to hand them a two-goal lead, before anybody had broken sweat, struck me as simply complicating life for the hell of it. These young people, eh?

2. Eriksen Cracks It On The Big Stage

But at the nine-minute mark, the change in mentality from our heroes was the sort of stirring stuff that awestruck children learn about in classrooms. Utterly unfazed, unpanicked and with a steely determination, and confidence in their abilities that one more typically associates with swashbuckling heroes in adventure yarns, our lot simply knuckled down and went about righting wrongs like nobody’s business.

And chief amongst wrong-righters was Christian Eriksen. I feel like I now need to spend a good day and half in a confessional when I think back to the days, a year or three back, when on these very pages I penned odes of mild protestation against the chap for his seeming inability to step up on the biggest stage.

“The young sport simply isn’t hot enough when things get shaky” was pretty much the gist of it, circa 2015, “Dash it, he needs to take a game by the scruff of its neck and show the bally thing who’s boss.”

Well, loathe though I am to take credit for these things, Young Master Eriksen has clearly been poring over his AANP annals, because the chap set about unpicking the Meanest Defence Ever Seen like a master locksmith last night. Clever diagonals, whipped crosses, long-range shots, deft feet, off-the-ball scurrying and rasping long-range shots – Eriksen had the complete package last night, and no praise is too high for the rascal.

3. Dembele Cracks It On The Big Stage. Again.

If Eriksen were creator-in-chief, Dembele was some sort of similarly-ranked chappie keeping the engine well-oiled throughout – which may not sound like high praise, and I suppose isn’t really, so I should add that his performance, for the fourth crunch game in a row, was world class.

The Juve midfield, who my spies tell me are no assortment of mugs and dunderheads themselves, could not get near him, and in that respect have some stories to swap when they next get together with the Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal midfields, for an evening of bourbon and blackjack.

It has long been a habit of AANP to chew the fat with my old man AANP Senior, and opine rather wistfully that a man of Dembele’s talent could be a terrific asset to the whole show if he were just nudged a further fifteen yards up the pitch and started assisting and scoring. Making more of an impact, don’t you know?

Tommyrot, as it transpires. The chap pretty much manages the rotation of the earth on its axis from his position in and around the centre-circle, creating a base upon which Eriksen and chums can crack on with things in the final third.

4. Hustle

The Eriksen-Dembele double-act stole the show, but the supporting cast to a man (well, near enough, but more on that anon) backed them up with the sort of lung-busting performances that sweep the board in awards season.
It was very much a night for the troupe as a whole to demonstrate their boundless energy. This was rarely better exemplified than in the general pandemonium spread by our heroes in the home midfield and defence, in the build-up to our first goal.

In the minute or so preceding it I’m fairly sure Lamela and Dier flew in for a thumping challenge on each other, such was the feistiness emanating from every lilywhite pore; and for the goal itself, Eriksen pretty much slung a Juve player to the floor before feeding Dele, for Kane’s goal.

If Juve thought that the two-goal lead in eight minutes was the precursor to a night of gentle revelry and japes they were pretty wildly off the mark.

5. Aurier: A Liability

That said, the Achilles’ Heel in the whole set-up was, as ever, Serge Aurier. Just the sight of the name on the teamsheet inspires nothing short of unsullied dread in the AANP bosom, and so it transpired, with a typically block-headed lunge for the penalty, and an inevitable second-half caution, which Juve ought really to have exploited.

One gets the impression that Pochettino subjects a bag of fruit to pretty microscopic analysis before purchasing it, so he presumably has some pretty weighty dossiers on Monsieur Aurier, but egads the chap looks undercooked at present.

To the list of Real Madrid and West Ham can now be added the name of Juve, for beneficiaries of his Fly-In-First, Question-The-Sense-Of-The-Bally-Thing-Later philosophy.

6. Vertonghen, Underrated Hero

Naturally enough the limelight is hogged by the creative chappies up at the pointy end of affairs, and few would begrudge them this. Further back however, on a weekly basis ever since Toby hobbled off stage left with a grimace and a below-par hamstring, Jan Vertonghen has strode around the place like a man possessed.

Both in his reading and anticipation of what fate might befall, and in his speed to deal with any immediate crisis that befalls the back-line, the chap is pretty faultless. It can appear pretty fraught work, because for all the dominance we have exerted in recent games, the opposition have had plenty of attacking talent, and the occasional chance has inevitably loomed.

Vertonghen has taken on the mantle of defensive leader pretty emphatic fashion, and yesterday he once again packed his A-Game and displayed it throughout.

6. Some Musings on The Rather Odd Approach From Juve

This being a strictly lilywhite corner of the interweb I tend never to care a hang for the opposition tactics, grumbles, hopes and dreams. I have to admit however, in this instance I did put myself in the stylish loafers of a Juve fan for a few choice moments, and found the whole spectacle rather rummy.

The questions that leapt to mind, reading from North to South, were as follows:

1. What the dickens were they playing at?

2. Specifically, was the grand plan really just to set up camp on the edge of their own area, unfurl a sleeping bag or two, clink together their flasks of cocoa and simply bed in for 80 minutes and wait for the second leg?

3. Do their fans sit through that sort of bilge on a weekly basis? Do they enjoy it? Because it looked like the most frightful old muck to me.

4. Is their record of not having conceded a home goal since approximately the 1970s a result of channelling the spirit of Sven’s England in the ‘00s, and defending for their lives from minute one? (I confess, that one is more of a rhetorical shot – the answer seems a pretty firm negative, best delivered with an accompanying look of disdain.)

I suppose the point I’m drilling at, in an admittedly roundabout way, is whether Defensive Mode In Extremis was their strategy from the outset, or whether, having stumbled gaily upon a two-nil lead after eight minutes they simply looked around at each other, shrugged shoulders collectively and thought that there were worse ways to whittle away 80 minutes on this mortal coil than adopting a 4-6-0 and playing out time?

So, as mentioned, I’m not in the habit of dipping my nose into the affairs of other teams – but if you’re going to break a habit of a lifetime, might as well do it with gusto. More to the point, while I back our heroes to beat anyone at Wembley, we can probably expect a far shinier, sleeker Juve to knock on our doors in three weeks time. Robert Patrick’s T-1000, to yesterday’s ageing T-800 Schwarzengger. The first leg could hardly have ended better, especially considering how calamitously it began, but the tie is far from over.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

Spurs 1-0 Arsenal: Four THFC Observations

1. Second Half Performances

I think any jury would agree that the first half was a fairly cagey affair. Not a million miles away from a game of chess I suppose, with one side nudging a pawn forward a step or two, and the other side dangling an experimental bishop to survey the battlefield. Their lot were denied a chance by a pretty rotten call from the linesman; our heroes fashioned one that was a mite too high for the forehead of Kane; and at half-time the thing could hardly have been described as a pyrotechnic spectacular.

When the cast reassembled for the second forty-five however, a completely different kettle of fish was produced. En masse, our heroes went up a couple of gears, took the lead and but for some pretty wayward work in the Finishing-Touch department would have delivered an absolute thrashing.

I wonder if you happen to notice a trend in recent weeks? Against Man Utd, our heroes went at it hammer and tongs in the second half, leaving United to simply wilt away and give up the thing completely at around the hour mark. Then against Liverpool last week, following a fairly mediocre stab at the first 45, we overwhelmed them in the second half, restoring parity and looking odds on to wrap up matters until that slightly madcap final five minutes. And then yesterday, another run-of-the-mill first half was followed in the second by the most one-sided 1-0 hammering you will see.

The gist of the thing is that Pochettino’s current vintage are capable of producing the dickens of a second half performance when necessary. The energy levels shoot off the scale, and three of the best in the country have been utterly unable to live with us.

One might well want to pause on the general back-slapping and cork-popping to ask some pretty salient questions, such as why it takes us 45 minutes to reach these levels (to which the answer might be that the opposition themselves are pretty stoked in the first halves of these tete-a-tetes, but run out of steam while our lot go into overdrive in the second halves); and why we aren’t evidencing our dominance with a whole hatful of goals each time.

But on the back of seven points from these three crunch games, through the use of pretty much identical personnel, it would be miserly in the extreme to wag admonitory fingers and complain about one thing and another.

2. Off-The-Ball Press

Having the privilege of observing yesterday’s narrative unfold in the presence of an Arsenal-supporting chum, I noted that at several points he lamented the manner in which his team surrendered possession.

Well he might have complained, but one need not scratch too far beneath the surface to identify a critical cog in the whole Cause-and-Effect narrative on this point. For as befell United and Liverpool in recent weeks, this was not a case of Arsenal randomly falling apart, but of Tottenham hounding them down until they broke.

That horrible lot kept ceding possession primarily because they were subjected to levels of harassment, press and general bother that in other walks of life would border on the uncouth, if not the downright illegal.

Our mob, from front to back, are fast mastering the art of winning back possession high up the pitch, with all the relentless tenacity of a team of rabid dogs, and then haring off into attack once more. It is jolly impressive stuff, and neatly complements the variety and gusto with which we attack when actually in possession.

3. Missed Chances

For all the off-ball press and on-ball creativity, one could not help after a while glance at what was unfolding on the pitch, and then at the scoreboard, and then back to the pitch, with rather a furrowed brow. Dominate a team thusly and we should dashed well have a hatful of goals to show for it. Instead, we squandered chances with all the carefree abandon of a couple of young lambs gambolling in a field without a care in the world.

In a sense it did not seem to matter, for in a second-half that was simply a procession of Tottenham near-things, another gilt-edged opportunity was always just around the corner and the players on both sides knew it. But in another sense, the suspicion started to nag that our heroes were missing the point of the whole spectacle if they kept bypassing one chance, shrugging their shoulders and eagerly bobbing up and down in anticipation of the next one. The logic, I began to suspect, was flawed. There was a simpler way to go about this.

Kane (twice), Lamela (twice), Dele, Son and Trippier all made rather a pickle of eminently presentable opportunities, on top of which Eriksen’s free-kick would have hit the top corner but for a timely paw from Cech.

And as has been well documented, we were jolly well nearly made to pay, which would have made the whole game seem like an act of the basest treachery. The moral of the story seems to be to score and score again, and then once more for luck, when the opportunities arise; but these young folk do like to do things their own way.

4. Dembele, Yet Again

After a collective effort like that, and particularly having just penned reams and reams about the team’s off-the-ball work en masse, it does seem rather a disservice to the majority to single out one or two for particular approval. I imagine the legal bods representing Messrs Kane and Eriksen, for example, might raise an eyebrow and have the headed notepaper at the ready on hearing that praise is being lavished elsewhere. Nevertheless, Mousa Dembele continues to deliver absolute tour de force performances.

If the common denominators across these three distinguished results has been our second half performances, the man at the hub of those second halves has been Dembele.

I suppose in this age of shiny statistics the casual passer-by might poke his head in and wonder what the fuss is about, because the old sport rarely scores or sets up goals. But by golly he makes the world a brighter place, and manages to make the hurly-burly of crunch Top Six games look about as serene and effortless a breeze as simply floating down a river in a paddle-boat with a newspaper over one’s head.

You know the drill – power, control, and a unique ability to retain possession even when baying hordes pursue him at every turn. Injuries never seem far away, poor chap, but when he is in this sort of form he simply purrs, which rather makes me purr, and after a while all there is is Dembele gliding away from people and a heck of a lot of purring.

Whether he will be in any shape to dust himself down and go again on Tuesday in Turin is debatable, but his absence on that stage would be a shame, both aesthetically and in terms of the nuts and bolts of winning the game. We shall see.

Spurs 2-0 Newport: Four THFC Observations

1. Squad Depth Like A Military Parade

Pre kick-off, our glorious leader made every change conceivable to the starting eleven, which, he’ll be delighted to know, was fine by me. Bigger fish await, and all that. Amongst other things this gave the opportunity to parade to the watching world the full extent of our squad depth, as one understands some of our foreign cousins are rather fond of doing, as if to say to neighbours, “Don’t you get any ideas, you bounders.”

While hardly comparable to the bankrolled elite who trouser several hundred thousand big ones per week, when fully restored to health our list of first reserves is nevertheless of respectable ilk. Hardly world class, granted, but enough there to suggest if some players exit stage left while others enter stage right, there will not be any discernible dips in quality in the majority of positions.

Accordingly, when the curtain went up we were able to showcase one of the best centre-backs in the country, a central midfield pairing potentially capable of going toe-to-toe with most in the Champions League, and a couple of inside forwards of nimble mind and fleet foot. Useful tins of muck to have knocking around in storage, as the pointy end of the season beckons.

2. Lackadaisical Start

Having suffered the indignity of having to appear at a lower-division pitch a couple of weeks ago, and almost paid the price for such thinly-veiled snobbery, the replay appeared a more straightforward proposition, given the size and quality of the pitch if nothing else. It did, however, require our chosen few to fasten the bayonets and get into the spirit of the thing, for at least long enough to put the whole ruse to beyond doubt.

In truth, things did not initially unfurl in as hot a manner as was hoped. In the opening five minutes or so, the curiously chosen buzzword was “lackadaisical”. A funny old term, given that it looks like a flower and is routinely mispronounced despite being about as phonetically straightforward as they come; but it pretty much summed up the way of things in our back-line straight from kick-off.

The much-peddled system of playing from the back was rolled out once more, but cast members in defence insisted on taking every chance available, as if convinced that they were impervious to harm. Passes were despatched in errant manner on the edge of our own area of all places, and an ominous sense arose that we were approaching the whole affair in far too slapdash a manner. Newport, in those opening breaths, hared about with decent gusto – and amongst our lot, “lackadaisical” just about summed it up. “A better team,” a voice in my ear seemed to whisper, “might have made hay, don’t you know, and then where would we be?”

Mercifully, however, that was about as hairy as things got. Newport ran out of steam, and thereafter our heroes remembered what the whole wheeze was about, and light-heartedly went about sealing the deal.

3. Returnees Picking Up Where They Left Off

No alarms and no surprises, as the chap warbled, just the reinforcing of various stereotypes.

Son and Lamela darted around in good spirits, and were generally at the heart of all moments of inspiration. Lamela certainly seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, looking sharp and mischievous, and ended up strolling around the place with rather a swagger, as if this were his game and he would dashed well do as he pleased. It was good to see, and the young buck provides a useful option should any part of the Alli-Eriksen-Son axis fail to motor as advertised. (As, one hopes, will Lucas Moura).

Winks was neat and tidy, if a little reluctant to play some of the more incisive passes of which he is capable, and complemented well the blood and thunder of Wanyama, whose shooting has returned to a more familiar a style.

Of the other key returnees, Rose played with decent energy, and it was nice to see him resuming that habit of yore, whereby he cannot simply stumble to the floor, but has to fly horizontally around three feet off the ground before hitting the deck.

And possibly the most pleasing sight of all, Toby Alderweireld rolled up, not a hair out of place, to amble through proceedings unbothered and unscathed.

4. The Lost Causes

Naturally, some of the less vaunted members of the troupe were also let loose, and, in a manner of speaking, they did not disappoint either.

Sissoko was as clumsy as ever. I had rather laughably harboured hopes beforehand that a lower quality of opposition might make the cove appear more sophisticated – by comparison, don’t you know – but evidently there is just no refining a certified buffoon. He simply did what he usually does, forcing his way through any crowded alley, misplacing as many passes as he nailed, and generally making life seem pretty dashed complicated.

There was a perverse symmetry to the fact that he created a goal by firing the ball straight at an opponent and seeing it ping off him in a different direction.

And Llorente did everything we have come to expect of the chap. Further evidence was offered that in a previous life he may have been an enormous cushion, as he spent the first hour or so gently laying the ball off to nearby chums with warmth and love.

Running, as ever, was rather a tall order for the chap, and made for pretty painful viewing, as his limbs moved one at a time, as if controlled from on high by a particularly nervous puppeteer. Alas, his two golden opportunities flashed inches wide, as if to convince anyone stopping by that he could play football all night without ever scoring.

The suspicion remains that should any ill fate befall Kane, then Son will be pressed into service atop the tree before the siren ever sounds for Llorente.

So no reason to slaughter the fattened calf, but as these things go it was a jolly enough little bash, and the 90 or so minutes achieved by Toby, Rose, Winks, Wanyama and Lamela feel like they could prove useful as sub-plots in the coming weeks.

Liverpool 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

As just about every living soul on the planet has immersed themselves in the rights and wrongs of the various decisions in those final ten minutes, I might incline the bean towards the various other goings-on.

1. Lloris Playing From The Back

Starting at the beginning, I think the shrewder observers amongst us would have been bang on the money in identifying that, in the first half, all was not well on the domestic front.

For a start, one imagines that unless Pochettino had been in a particularly eccentric mood, “Concede an early goal” would have been nowhere near the top of the to-do list, yet our lot couldn’t facilitate this fast enough, what with Sanchez spinning around like a dog incensed by its own tail, Dier slotting obliging passes to the opposition and Lloris prostrating himself about an hour too early as Salah approached.

So, two minutes in, and things were already squiffy. What then transpired was a farce not seen since the circus act away to Manchester City, as Monsieur Lloris went through the list of his less impressive attributes, picked the very worst one of the lot, and spent the rest of the half showcasing it.

The chap’s distribution is dreadful, with the ultimate destination of the ball often a complete lottery. Poor old Sanchez and Vertonghen had evidently been roped into this little charade against their will, and had their work cut out just keeping the dashed thing in play, as Lloris picked the worst possible time to indulge in his own warped little game of Fetch.

On top of which, even if his distribution were on a par with that of Pele himself, the whole ruse of zipping the ball to the centre-backs when pinned up against their own corner flags was about as ill thought-through as it gets. There was zero element of surprise, which meant that the nearest Liverpool player simply waddled up to the man, and immediately we were under pressure. The ball was desperately hacked to halfway, or less, and came straight back at us.

Honestly, my eyes bled just watching it, don’t you know. And we had got into exactly the same mess against City a few months back. Honestly, is this the grand plan for outfoxing Top Six opponents away from home? Literally backing ourselves into a corner? Heavens above.

2. First Half Possession

All that said, the first half struck me as a geographical game of two halves, if you follow me. What I’m getting at, is that inside our own half of the pitch, our heroes resembled the passengers on the Titanic after things turned sour. General panic and a distinct lack of clarity seemed about the sum of things, and Liverpool accordingly looked like scoring every time they breezed forward.

But once we passed the halfway line, I actually thought we looked rather nifty. Now I realise that this is the sort of statement that will have me pelted with rotten fruit and then trussed up in the nearest strait jacket and hurled into a small white room, as public opinion seems fairly firmly signed up to the manifesto that we were utter rot in the first 45.

But having seen us labour so excruciatingly in various games this season, when we have hopelessly passed the ball sideways and shown zero off-the-ball movement, I was pretty enthused by how we set about things when we got into the Liverpool half. Admittedly we fell short at the final hurdle, in that we created only the one real chance, for Son – and I admit some might point to that as evidence of a fairly crucial flaw in the plan. However, I nevertheless thought we pinged the ball around neatly, and on several occasions came within but one stretched Liverpool leg of being through on goal.

3. Dembele in Possession

Central to this was the surging of Dembele, from halfway. The chap simply glided straight through the middle, bypassing two or three foes at a time, and apparently was fouled for his troubles five times in the first half alone.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record about the blighter, it’s the same package he delivers with regularity – strength of an ox, grace of a ballerina. His defensive abilities have dipped to the level of simply hauling down whomever has the run on him, but when it comes to turning defence into attack, the chap is a marvel.

4. Dier Something of a Liability

Providing a neat symmetry to the quality of Dembele was the erratic offering from young Master Dier.

It’s not really black and white with this chap, because he has his qualities, and when he gets it right he looks quite the defensive giant. A well-timed Dier sliding challenge can put hair on a man’s chest, and if an opposing team politely enquires if anyone in lilywhite fancies a scrap, Dier will be one of the first to roll up his sleeves. I sometimes think the chap might feel more comfortable taking to the pitch with a giant club in his hands, or some similar bludgeoning instrument.

However, there is something about him that reminds one of a man running through quicksand, for blessed with a lightning quick turn of pace he is most definitely not. This particular crack tends to be papered over by planting him in midfield and closing one’s eyes tightly. Alas, there is no real escaping another fairly critical flaw in his DNA, which is that his ball distribution swings fairly wildly between passable-enough-old-sport and downright horrid.

The back-pass for Salah’s opener yesterday was the one that ended up in neon lights, but at various points the chap forgets to consult his compass and consequently pings the ball in whichever direction takes his fancy.

5. Sanchez

Perhaps it was the sight of Dier in front of him, struggling to align brain and feet, or maybe it was the constant threat of Lloris about to sell him out with another one of those calamitous short goal-kicks, but Sanchez looked like a man to whom shocked deer in headlights turn for modelling advice.

The poor egg has turned in some pretty robust showings in his half-season or so, but yesterday he looked utterly traumatised right from kick off.

Unable to cope with the movement of Liverpool, the trauma of it all fairly inevitably spread to his ball distribution, and we could all be pretty grateful that Jan Vertonghen alongside him had packed his A-game.

The second half withdrawal of Sanchez for Lamela had an obvious tactical glint to it, but nevertheless there was a whiff of euthanasia about the whole thing.

6. Cracking Second Half

Mercifully, things upped about a thousand notches in the second half, culminating in all manner of revelry in those moments before the final gong.

Liverpool ran out of energy pretty much as soon as the second half started, and our one-touch passing began to click like bally-oh. Dembele glided, Son and Dele did a roaring trade in neat first-time-flicks into space, and the full-backs looked at the patches of greenery ahead of them and thought “Wel,l why the devil not?”

I have read some column inches criticising Dele for his lack of input – or, I suppose, output – highlighting that his well of goals and assists is running dry. No arguing with the lies, damn lies and statistics I suppose, but aside from those numbers the chap appears to be rediscovering his joie de vivre, making the sort of runs from midfield that gets the masses chattering. One would hope that this will be the last we see of him hurling himself to terra firma as well.

A quick cap-doff to our glorious leader for making substitutions that pretty directly impacted the storyline, and to Kane for holding his nerve at the death.

As for the penalties, fouls, offsides and decisions – even those of fairly modest deductive capacity should be able to infer the side of the various fences on which I sit.

It was a rip-roaring spectacle, and although coronary failure is now a genuine risk at AANP Towers that our second half display giving some genuine cause for optimism. From two of these three crunch fixtures we now have a home win and away draw. Win at home to our dastardly neighbours and this will amount to a most satisfactory little jaunt.

Spurs 2-0 Man Utd: 5 THFC Observations

1. Perfect Performance, Tens All Round

Well that was an absolute tour de force. It was the sort of pristine performance that the critics shower with praise, and then proceeds to swipe every gong available at the glitzy award bash.

From the rip-snorting first minute to the olé-riddled final few swings, this was about as good it ever gets – and against a mob the statistics suggest know a thing or two about launching a pig’s bladder in between a couple of sticks.

It’s a pretty rare thing that every member of the squadron, to a man, gets an A+ on his report card, but by golly the stars aligned last night. It was ten out of ten stuff all round. Easy to forget, given the carefree manner in which we skipped over the line at 10pm, but Lloris had to make a couple of pretty nifty stretches this way and that in the early exchanges, as well as a smart parry from Lukaku in the second half.

Both centre-backs were on high alert, despite the two-goal cushion, and as if to prove the point each threw in a Moore-esque tackle or two just as the occasional United surge began to look ominous.

And so on. While it is difficult to measure these things objectively, any sound-minded observer would opine that our midfield comfortably had the breeze on theirs, whether it be in the sub-category of muscle, distribution or just haring around the place and rather rudely elbowing others out of the way.

On top of which, any member of our troupe who had the slightest attacking ability demonstrated the stuff in spades. There was an absolute whizz-bang about the quick passing, aided to no small extent by the near-manic off-the-ball movement, and the sum total of it all was a display that bordered on cruelty towards our guests.

2. And Mightily Impressive Off The Ball Too

For all the quick wit and flashing badinage that we displayed in attack, the race was probably won when our lot were not in possession, which I suppose sounds an odd concept, but you get the gist. Every time a United player had the ball he was accosted by a small army of lilywhites invading his personal space, which in some quarters would be considered the height of rudeness, but in this instance was met with absolute roars of approval from the adoring public.

Impressively, the work-rate amped up a few thousand notches in the second half. Instead of showing the slightest hint of fatigue, our heroes appeared to become increasingly rabid, haring after just about anything that moved.
Heaven knows how many Weetabix they each stuffed down their gullets beforehand, but it worked an absolute treat, because as well as the practical benefit of snuffing out United attacks and so forth, the whole exercise also brought about the gradual but immensely gratifying result that the United will to live simply seeped out of them and ceased to be by around the hour mark. That in itself is something about which our lot should trumpet at the next parish meeting.

3. Our Defensive High Line, And Coronary Issues

By the time the final gong sounded and carriages arrived the whole party had a marvellous emphatic ring to it, but in the first twenty or so it was not quite the serene breeze that eventually transpired.

Our early goal was all well and good, but on another day we might have been trailing before the clock had hit double digits, which would have been rather a biff to the solar plexus and left us reeling around like a young buck on his first trip to the pub.

The game was flung absolutely wide open in the first quarter, with both sides looking like they might score every time they attacked. “Barnstorming” might be the word. And, while it’s more of a mouthful, “Something of a dereliction of duty in midfield, old sport,” might also sum up things. Quite the spectacle for the unsuspecting passer-by, I suppose, but for the committed lilywhite the whole thing had us clenching fists in dread of what seemed about to transpire.

The high defensive line did little for the cardio mechanics of watching die-hards either, with United mercifully failing to pick the one weighted pass that would have torn down all the scenery.

And even when we rang them ragged in the second half, the nagging suspicion remained that one United goal would turn the game, if not on its head then at least at a 90 degree angle, which is all you really need to invite trouble these days.

Indeed, had you crept disturbingly close to AANP last night you might have heard the muttered refrain, repeated like some sort of fervent prayer, “Next goal wins”, because 2-0 did not appear a secure scoreline.
Utter rot, as it merrily transpired, but such is the lot of a Spurs fan.

4. A Good Night To Be Kieran Trippier

Singling out one individual for praise feels a bit like complimenting one blade of grass in a particularly lush meadow, but when circumstances are right AANP will swim against the tide, while waving a desultory hand at the naysayers, and as a result I invite Kieran Trippier to take a bow.

Now there’s no doubt that United’s slightly baffling left midfield tactic – of completely abandoning any defensive cover, and leaving Trippier to do as he pleased for 90 minutes – aided the chap, but nevertheless, history is littered with examples of horses being dragged to water and then not touching a drop of the stuff.

Trippier, however, did not need a second invitation. Instead, summoning the ghost of Kyle Walker, the chap hared down the right like it was going out of fashion, and then, as the young folk are wont to do, started exploring all manner of modern and new-fangled approaches, which led to him buccaneering straight down the centre at times, like some modern-day Gascoigne.

It was evidently something in the water, because Vertonghen and Sanchez also struggled to resist the urge, leaving me wondering what it was that prevented Lloris from dribbling beyond halfway and taking three or four United players out of the game en route.

Back to Trippier, and it was a job masterfully done. He was always the spare man, and the width he provided rather cunningly left the United defensive mob scratching their heads as to how to stop the supply chain coming straight down the centre as well as that offered out on the right.

On top of which, his cross for the own-goal was both high in quality and provider of cracking comedy, so well done him.

5. Points For Improvement? On A Night Like That?

In a season in which we have beaten Real Madrid and hammered Liverpool, the locals might stop and stare when I declare that this was our best performance yet. In my defence I would emphasisenthat I was particularly taken with how well we took to the thing both on and off the ball.

That said, there were still points to improve. Dembele bossed the midfield, and was absolutely untouchable in possession; so far, so uncontroversial. Again, United’s curious approach of affording him a running start of around 10 yards was hardly the likeliest means of stopping the chap, but nevertheless there are few players around these days who can so effortlessly protect possession simply because they decide it should be so.

However, his disturbing penchant for being rather slovenly in the tackle once more emerged. Rather than win the ball, these days he simply grabs an opponent by the shoulder before they can hare away from him and yanks them down. It earned him a yellow card fairly early in yesterday’s proceedings, and is inviting trouble more broadly.

Dele Alli also blotted an otherwise outstanding game, not only with the inevitable petulant foul, but also a few moments of over-elaboration in the second half. 2-0 was not the signal to down tools and make merry, so he might have been advised to pick the simple pass rather than blasting crossfield 30 yarders of questionable return on investment.

And finally, having taken such pains to tear United apart, someone at some stage really ought to have applied the coup de grace and put the matter to bed. The second half turned into a litany of chances, but 2-0 it remained.
Which was enough, and bodes well. A point at Liverpool and then another win at home to Arsenal would represent a marvellous couple of weeks’ work, before we knuckle back down to the Champions League.

Newport 1-1 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

I suppose the non-Spurs-supporting mob who traverse this Fair Isle allowed themselves a chuckle or two at our expense yesterday. In fact, I can do more than suppose, I can report the point as one of fact. And the reason I can do the aforementioned is that just about every blasted one of them spent the game helpfully reminding me, via the medium of the humble telephone-based messaging system, of such critical points as the scoreline, the time elapsed, the league placement of our opposition and other such salient information.

One cannot really blame them. Society’s greatest spin doctors would struggle to paint yesterday’s debacle in a salutary light. No doubt about it, the brow was doused with a pretty liberal sprinkling of perspiration as the game entered its final breaths, and it seems a suitable penance to have to start up the engine again in a week or two, when all concerned in lilywhite would much rather put their feet up with a box set and a bourbon.

1. No Stomach For The Fight

Anyone sniffing around pre kick-off for some indication of what was to come would have perused the teamsheet and promptly mooched off elsewhere to continue sniffing. A couple of subtle swaps at the back, but at least three quarters of them would still have lined up in a Premiership game without even quivering an eyelid, let alone batting one.

However, Messrs Dier and Vertonghen in particular appeared to have breezed up in body only, their spirit having been left back in North London. Our hosts set about the binge with gusto, as would be expected, but instead of going toe-to-toe and slugging it out, Dier and Vertonghen looked utterly affronted that anyone should be brazen enough to try tackling them in a football match of all things.

It was a cycle that repeated throughout the first half. Newport tore away at the contest like a team of rabid dogs; Vertonghen and Dier looked aghast every time their pristine white shirts were sullied. If they had wanted to satirise the societal gap between the haves and have-nots they could not have done a better job of it if they had been practising for months.

2. The Midfield

Similarly, the teamsheet gave few causes for concern when the eye dribbled down to the midfield. In fact, the teamsheet made one pause, gasp and murmur a wide-eyed “What ho!” when they eye dribbled down to the midfield, for a combo of Sissoko, Dembele and Wanyama hinted that we were in the business of removing the neighbourhood’s rowdier elements from the local dancehall, with meaty force strongly encouraged.

What transpired was underwhelming. Those three pounded around like a trio of automatons, all legs and no brain. It was as if none of them were particularly aware of the purpose of the mission, beyond perhaps meeting a certain number of footsteps by the time the curtain came down.

Oddly enough, Sissoko was the most proactive of them, but in general it was not immediately obvious which goal our midfield were charged with attacking, which ought to have the warning bells clanging away like the dickens.

3. Llorente, Where Is Thy Sting?

The memory is a little hazy in my advanced years, but I fancy that when news broke of the last-minute snaffling of Llorente last summer – from under the noses of Chelsea, no less – I might have grabbed a passing stranger an performed a neat pirouette, such was my satisfaction. On this very corner of the internet I sang the chap’s praises, and breathed a couple of hearty sighs of relief that we now had an experienced and capable striker available to deputise for Kane on such occasions as Cup ties against fourth-tier opposition.

And to give Llorente his due, the lumbering giant has a touch that could bring an end to world wars and send hollering toddlers gently to their slumbers. One imagines that a ball could be fired at him from a cannon and he would deftly cushion it, and, if feeling particularly rosy, maybe even weight a glorious five-yarder slap-bang into the path of some onrushing chum.

That sort of stuff cannot necessarily be taught, and as such one would think that Llorente has a pretty critical talent when it comes to being one of the most talented chappies going.

Alas, the very act of tying his shoelaces seems to expel every last ounce of oxygen from the old bean’s lungs. He gives the impression that he would rather be tied to a chair and have some nefarious scoundrel in a mask bludgeon his fingers with a hammer – as happened in a moving picture flick I stumbled upon recently – than work his way up to a sprint. The act of running is simply more than Llorente’s body can handle.

A team featuring Sissoko might already reasonably be considered to be one man light. Having Llorente wandering around, looking longingly at the blurry leg movements of those around him doesn’t half exacerbate things.

4. Kane, And A Modicum of Dignity

While all around him looked either disgusted at having to be involved in matters so beneath them, completely uninterested in the game, or one of the various points in between, Harry Kane at least had the dignity to become increasingly frustrated with how the tale was panning out.

The young fish appeared to care, and while his involvement tended to be of the peripheral variety in the first half – picking up the ball with back to goal on halfway and being promptly swarmed upon – he looked just about ready to swing a right hook at anyone who taunted him.

He was also responsible for our one moment of note in the first half, hitting the post as a pointed reminder that he is pretty much the hottest thing in Europe at the moment.

Mercifully, the whole bunch of them as a collective upped their game in the second half, Son and Dele arrived to raise the standard notch or two and, so on so forth. Precious little positivity to be gleaned from that mess, but hopefully we can all move on and never speak of it again. It remains our likeliest trophy this season.

Southampton 1-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Full-Backs Exposed

I think it’s fair to conclude that that did not really go as planned. Instead of taking the game to our hosts from the off, we were a tad off-colour and distrait, and the early initiative having been up for grabs for any willing taker, Southampton had a whirl at it.

In the first 45 they opted to drill away at our flanks, which made them hay by the absolute shedload, and it would not be stretching things to say that certain members of our all-star cast rather obliged them in this endeavour. Messrs Son and Sissoko simply peered over at their full-backs and decided that they would rather give the whole jamboree a wide berth, offering precious little more than moral support, and leaving Davies and Aurier to fight the actual physical battle on their own.

When these things are discussed over port and cigarettes later this evening, the full-backs might make the point that that was really not quite cricket, and should they be feeling particularly fruity might even introduce, as Exhibit A, the goal that we conceded, its genesis indeed arriving from a waylaying of Aurier. All deeply unsatisfactory, even if the weeping and gnashing off teeth lasted only around a minute or two.

2. Conditions. Which Affected Both Teams Equally, Mind

This slight dereliction of duty on the part of Son and Sissoko was indicative of a wider sloppiness across the ranks. Presumably when accustomed to playing on the sort of pristine lawn on which one would normally crack open the croquet set and get boshing, one raises an eyebrow or two if instead presented with a sodden bog being lashed upon from the heavens.

Our heroes certainly did seem to approach the task as if having just had the rug whipped from beneath them, and to suggest that they struggled a tad through the conditions would not be overstating the case. Passes as often missed their targets as hit, control became a near-mythical entity and anyone trying to run with the ball at feet quickly came to curse the decision as they stumbled and bumbled like an entire squadron of Moussa Sissokos.

The current vintage are at their best when nudging first-time passes to one another, and that particular brand of quality output was in desperately short supply. All the more galling that Southampton seemed to adjust better and do the first-time thing rather more niftily at times (although that might just be a view coloured by the mournful, pessimistic lenses of an observer who has seen two points frittered away).

3. To Absent Friends, Part 1: Eriksen

Can’t really blame the chap for sitting it out with a hot drink and some paracetamol, because man-flu is scientifically proven to make one’s head explode if not kept in check, but Eriksen’s all-seeing eye and unique brand of sorcery was most certainly missed. As lamented earlier, our one-touch game was replaced by a giant bowl of stodge, and whereas these things usually have Eriksen at their hub, like a human heart doing the decent thing and keeping every other organ on top of its game, today there was simply an awkward impotence about the place.

Replacing Eriksen with Sissoko is like being told on entering the gladiatorial arena that your sword and shield are being replaced by a scrunched up ball of paper but best of luck anyway. One is inclined to make a fist of things, but cannot escape the sense that the odds have been rather cruelly reversed and things are about to take a turn for the nightmarish.

Pre kick-off I had, with what turned out to be fairly outrageous optimism, opined that I would rather Eriksen were missing for this game than the upcoming ones vs Man Utd, Arsenal and so on. Quite the misjudgement. We simply do not have another of his ilk in the ranks. Personally I would have opted for Lamela over Sissoko – although in truth, I would have volunteered to play myself rather than pick Sissoko. The point is that we are too reliant on Eriksen, and lacking a suitable deputy.

4. To Absent Friends, Part 2: Lloris

Monsieur Lloris was also sniffling his way through proceedings from his sick-bed, meaning the rarely-spotted Vorm was duly trotted out. I have to admit I did not envy the chap, who appeared to be on a hiding to nothing with the heavens flung wide open and every drop of rain available being sloshed around the surface.

Credit to the bean then, for getting his mitts onto everything that came his way. The own-goal left him with little in the way of an escape-route, but in addition Southampton fired in a handful of low shots that slid across the tur, and had the AANP heart leaping the odd somersault or two, and it was to Vorm’s credit that he snaffled up everything with a decent slab of assurance.

5. Dembele: Frustrated and Frustrating

If there were one man who perhaps might have conjured up a little inspiration, it was possibly Dembele. He seemed to have been encouraged to run with the ball and do as he pleased, and briefly it looked like this might do the trick, for he certainly does it have in him to glide past two or three of the opposing fish with barely a sideways glance.

Alas, things did not really click for him today, and he was as likely to be swarmed upon and diverted as he was to do any good wholesome damage. In the end he reverted to bundling folk over and waving his arms around, and the whole drama ended rather soberly with a booking and a substitution.
If we cannot ping quick passes we need someone capable of beating a man, and today we had neither.

So the Top Four is still eminently doable, but equally looking quite the delicate operation, if you follow. The next month or so will require some deep breaths, rousing performances – and Eriksen restored to full health.

Spurs 4-0 Everton: Six Tottenham Conclusions

1. A Half-Hour of Vintage Dembele

One of my cohort of Spurs-watchers was fairly underwhelmed by the entire binge yesterday, which rather goes to show that you can never be too sure of things; but I fancy that if you had been sitting close enough you might have heard me purr at certain points.

Not vintage lilywhite, but we pinged the thing about pretty quickly, and whereas on occasion previously the hills have been alive with the sound of Spurs players meandering around thoroughly unable to unlock a packed defence, yesterday the cup at times overfloweth with bright ideas and nifty passes.

Central to this in the early stages was Dembele, who for whatever reason had evidently woken up thinking that he was going to teach everyone around him a lesson they would dashed well never forget, and spent accordingly spent the first half hour imperiously brushing aside the Everton midfield.

For a bean so brimming with talent it can be pretty frustrating to watch him languidly knock the ball sideways and then shove off behind the bike shed for a quick smoke, but yesterday brought out the best in the man. He ran with the ball, picked some lovely passes and, of course, shoved folk left and right like a particularly hefty jungle beast with little time for the weedier species.

As well as being an aesthetically pleasing sight of itself, this also served the useful purpose of giving his ten chums an act to follow, and the whole thing buzzed with a decent energy.

Dembele faded a little thereafter, as more advanced teammates took the hint and started to run riot, but it was nice to see him rediscover a little of that old swagger.

2. Use of Aurier

Serge Aurier cannot defend, cross or shoot; that much is uncontroversial. However, our glorious leader is clearly one of those “Waste not, want not” types, who will make a soup out of last night’s leftover vegetables through sheer force of habit, and seeing that Aurier simply exists, Poch rather niftily wrung some value out of him. Accordingly, the whole cast was on strict orders yesterday to yank Everton all over the place, by switching play towards the reckless right-back.

Everton, obligingly, spent that time scratching their heads and observing in fairly statue-esque fashion as Aurier roved forward time and again, and although he was as likely to cure cancer as he was to do anything useful with the ball, the tactic helped us to away at our guests.

The opening goal, when it came, was from a shot that might have been arrowing towards the corner flag (and that after a first touch that nearly took him into a different time zone). When one factors in the appalling cross he delivered a few weeks ago that ended up in the back of the net, one starts to wonder if the safest place to be when Serge Aurier is pointing a gun at your face is actually right in front of him.

3. Eriksen

If Dembele were the man to burst through the heart of Everton in the opening exchanges, Eriksen found a niche hovering around him and sprinkling the piece with all manner of glorious flicks and diagonal passes.

When he is at his best, he does not really tend to stand on argument, but instead nudges the ball this way and that in the blink of an eye, in a manner that can muddle even the most organised of opposition.

He was on song in those crucial early stages yesterday, and his goal was rather fitting, for the romantics amongst us. More on that anon.

4. Counter-Attacking at 2-0 And Beyond

After the good honest toe-to-toe-ing of the first half, the second goal about a minute into the second half gave the dynamic of the whole thing a fairly concerted shift, as Everton, understandably, became rather flustered, and in the pursuit of goals lost their sense of space, time and defensive composure. Our heroes obligingly applied boot to throat and squeezed until the last bubbles of life quietly departed them. It was fairly ruthless stuff, in truth, and those of us with a blood lust were well satisfied.

Having looked chipper enough from the outset, by the time we had stretched into a lead, the whole game was just a series of pauses before our next thrilling counter-attack. Son, Eriksen, Alli and Kane appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, having discovered that toying with those vastly inferior can actually bring endless entertainment.

I suppose in moments of sobriety we can reflect that making hay, knocking back drinks and generally indulging in revels of the highest order has never been a problem for our heroes once a couple of goals to the good. The issue tends to be more around fashioning that opening goal, and that was a problem overcome yesterday.

5. That Glorious Fourth Goal

Whichever chappie it is entrusted with maintaining the much-vaunted record books must be a dreadfully dull sort, because his output yesterday would simply have read “Son, Kane, Kane, Eriksen”, with maybe a footnote on the attendance, and unused subs, and other such dreary fluff.

Which I suppose is the sort of honest stuff one needs in life, but it seems to have wandered off around a mile in the wrong direction simply to describe the fourth goals as “Eriksen”, what? That goal was the sort about which lovestruck youths ought to pen odes.

It was glorious, from inception to delivery. In particular the interplay between Son, Alli and Eriksen had me off my feet and hollering “Encore”, three sublime touches, which looked picture perfect on the Wembley turf. Son’s dink and Alli’s backheel could not have been better delivered, and Eriksen’s shot had all the clean contact of leather on willow on a sunny morning at Lord’s.

6. Son

If Son were named Sonaldinho he’d probably be worth around £236.5 million in today’s slightly squiffy market. The chap is current Asian Player of the Year, which I guess isn’t bad given that there are at least a billion to choose from, and is currently motoring along like one of those fellows in a fast car on a country lane, who is feeling top of the world and doesn’t care who knows it.

Oddly enough, his run in the team has come about as a result of the injury to Toby, and the consequent switch from a back three to back four, which, if you do the maths, cunningly opens up a job opportunity in attack.

Be that as it may, it’s quite the bag of tricks he now slings over his shoulder and brings along to each bash. Quick feet, boundless energy, a lovely clean shot, and yesterday, a couple of glorious touches – notably the spin that set him off for the Kane assist, and the flick in the build-up to Eriksen’s goal.

On top of which, the young chap’s attitude marks him out as something of a champion. After his screamer against West Ham, when the television bod shoved a mic in his face and demanded superlatives, Sonny looked utterly broken – due to the fact that, wonder goal or not, we had failed to win. And no praise can be high enough for that sort of thing.

Spurs 1-1 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Observations

strong>1. These Sort of Games: A Lament

Times, as the old bird murmured, are a-changing, and he may have had a point. It would not have happened in the day of WG Grace and chums, but in the modern game it is virtually the norm for one team to help themselves to 70% plus of possession and still spend the entirety scratching their heads as to how to win the dashed thing.

As recently as ten years ago, any team dominating the game thusly would rack up a hatful of goals and have cigars out long before time was called. These days however, there are pretty much 14 teams in the Premier League who are perfectly content to set up with nine or ten at the back and high-five their way home with a point in the bag.

It’s a riddle facing each of the Top Six, and at a loose guess I would suggest that our heroes drop points once in every half dozen or so of these games. If you expect that I have the solution you can dashed well eat your hat, but sometimes these things need to be said, and AANP may have been called many things, but a man to shirk his civic duty is not one of them.

It all seems to have sprung from the sackfuls of Champions League money hoovered up by the Top Six or so, creating in effect a league within the Premier League – or indeed two leagues, if you want to be particularly clever. And the whole bally thing is ruining the spectacle, because teams rarely go toe to toe any more. Further proof, if ever it were needed, that we should bring back the ‘90s.

2. Formation: A Complaint

As for the game itself, one would have to be particularly mean-spirited to chide our heroes for failure to triumph. The Wembley turf, one imagines, is bedewed with the good honest sweat of a race run, just forty-eight hours after ploughing through the swamp at Swansea.

If I have any recrimination, it is squarely aimed at our glorious leader. Having made the fairly progressive decision to use 4-1-4-1 away to Swansea, I can grudgingly accept that the reversion to 4-2-3-1 made a degree of sense at kick-off. This, after all, was West Ham’s Cup Final, and therefore one might expect them to pack some sort of punch. A midfield screen of Sissoko and Dier was, one accepts, not entirely the sort of insane guff that would have one led to the nearest padded cell.

However, by half-time it was pretty clear that the dreadful bilge being peddled by our guests rendered fairly redundant a defensive screen of two heavyweights. Moreover, while our lot were looking feisty enough, and producing the occasional slick passing combo, an extra attacking threat would have been welcomed aboard with gusto.

In short, the game was screaming out for a switch to 4-1-something-something (either 4-1-4-1 or 4-1-3-2), but Poch, as is his wont, kept his arms folded and persisted with one too many defensive types, until we were one down.

3. Sissoko: A Rant In No Uncertain Times, I Assure You

I have tried rather valiantly, in recent weeks, to identify the silver linings around the worthless, malcoordinated cloud that is Sissoko, but yesterday’s performance was utter tripe, even by his low standards.

How he is a professional footballer at all beggars belief, let alone an ever-present in our team and a member of the French international squad. The chap lumbered around like he understands the game less and less with each passing minute, comfortably the worst lilywhite on display. There might be some value in switching him to central defence, where his principal strength – namely, well, his strength, and general speed and power – can be utilised without having to torture onlookers with his rampant inability to control the dashed thing.

Such were my levels of apoplexy last night that I had to steady the nerves with an extra splash of bourbon, and hum the lines of one or two of the less aggressive arias. This rot simply has to stop.

4. Alli Improvement

On a brighter not, young Dele seems gradually to be rediscovering what it was that had everyone running around in a flap last season.

Let there be no mistake, his penchant for dwelling on the ball every time he touches it continues to try the soul, but he bobs about the centre with a bit more purpose than in previous months, and is beginning to make those marvellous Platt/Scholes-esque dashes into the penalty area that have the pulse quickening and one shouting an excited “Hoi!”

I admit I groan rather when one of our much-vaunted counter-attacks lands at his feet, for he will as sure as dash it suck all the speed out of the process. Broadly speaking, however, his dial is pointing back in the right direction, and this bodes well.

5. Eriksen Replacement

Difficult not to open one’s heart and reel off sweet nothings at the chap, no? His technique, his wicked dead-ball delivery, his sheer vim and eagerness to pick a match-winning pass – most of what is good at some point or other will pass through his bloodstream.

It makes the inner pessimist rather fret of what might happen should some malady befall him. With the Transfer Window now once again open I would like to see a creative type leap aboard the good ship Hotspur (and no, I don’t mean the chap Barkley).

Even in rude health it is probably unreasonable to expect Eriksen to mastermind all things creative, week in and week out. The return of Lamela is certainly welcome, but there is definitely scope for another blighter capable of dipping his shoulder and producing a spot of ooftah from nowhere. Particularly in games such as these, when our lot have to sit around the camp fire and work out how the devil to unpick a ten-man defence.

Three wins and a draw is not the worst festive return. We sit on the shoulder, as, famously, did Dame Kelly in 2004, and things worked out fairly sparko for her.

Swansea 0-2 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Observations

1. Mighty Great Big Swathes of Luck

Ask any young oil of my acquaintance and I’m pretty sure that they would report back to you that AANP is a well-rounded young nib, who helps old ladies cross the road, pays his taxes, and above all, has a keen sense of honesty (aside from that whopper of a fib I was forced to tell at Uni regarding that errant pint of beer and the charity pool tournament, but that’s one for another evening). And it is this precise understanding of the virtue of truth-telling that enables me to reel off, as insouciant as you like, that yes, we did indeed benefit from the rub of the green yesterday.

Llorente’s goal? Offside, as clear as day. Davinson Sanchez? Well, if one factors in that the first yellow was perhaps justifiable as a punishment for rank stupidity, a sort of mini-episode of Darwinism, then dash it, yes – he should have been sent from the premises for a second booking. Penalty for Swansea? I don’t see why not. Lloris clobbered the chap like a gangster taking issue with a debtor’s kneecaps.

That said, the daredevil thrillseeker in me cannot resist suggesting that Llorente was later incorrectly flagged when clean through on goal, and that both Dele and Son had what looked like fairly reasonable penalty claims laughed out of the valleys. With a couple more slices of luck we might have reached double figures.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that the biggest decisions of the game went our way. I recall lobbing a few choice toys out of the AANP pram back in autumn when the Arse benefitted to the tune of a couple of pretty ropey judgement calls, so having lost some then, we have I suppose won some here. But as when l’Arse beat us back then, in this instance the general balance of the thing seemed to tilt anyway towards the team that benefited from the dodgy calls. That is to say, the iffy decision-making only really seemed to hasten something that had all the inevitability of the Titanic taking a dip southwards.

2. A Job Well Done In Those Conditions

When AANP casts his mind back to those formative, teenage years at the alma mater, the principal memory seems to be a whole slew of attempts to drive our teachers to insanity through what might the kids nowadays might loosely term “japes”. Frogs in pencil cases, buckets of water on doors, aerosol cans turned into flamethrowers through use of lighters – all good, honest fun.

But in addition there were also the football and rugger sessions out on the fields (which have since been transformed into Spurs’ state-of-the-art training complex, no word of a lie). And there, by approximately mid-October, the “pitches” such as they were, pretty much resembled the lashings of mud through which the T-Rex strode in 90s animal caper Jurassic Park. With zero drainage, and egged on by some good old-fashioned British downpours, stringing three passes together on those pitches was like curing cancer, and we would return to base absolutely caked in mud.

I delve into this reverie because observing yesterday’s heroics rather took me back a bit. Puddles on the pitch, and the ball refusing to roll as directed, it rather killed the spectacle from the warmth of AANP Towers, but rather than chastising our heroes for failing to purvey anything resembling the Brazil ’70 vintage, I spray them with champagne for splashing their way through and getting the job done.

The dubious early goal doubtless helped, and sans Kane it was difficult to see us threatening the goal too often, but if ever there were a time for a bottom-of-the-division team to flip the tables and smartly yell “Ha!” it was during yesterday’s downpour. Our lot did not shirk the task, beavered away, and were good value for the win.

3. Llorente Just About Delivers

I’m not sure the good Lord Himself could have picked a more obvious moment to field the decidedly less gifted supporting cast member, this being against his former club, and with a second game looming but 48 hours hence. On top of which Harry Kane has a spot of man-flu (a touching act of solidarity with the currently bed-ridden AANP and AANP Snr), so this was most definitely Llorente’s moment.

And to his credit he got his goal. It should not have stood, but the record books tend not to brook too much argument on these points. He did little else of note in truth. With an attack-minded quartet behind him eagerly snuffling away for opportunities, Llorente did not exactly pull the Swansea back-line all over Wales in a blur of non-stop movement, but then I suppose that has never been his forte. He delivered some of those neatly-weighted lay-offs, waddled offside a few times, and then exited after an hour to hearty applause all round. But he bagged a goal, on an evening that might well have become an increasingly frustrating goalless affair, so it can be considered a job well done.

This penchant for players not celebrating against former teams really must stop, however. It shows a lack of respect to his current fans, and the mortified look on these blighters’ faces suggests that they have sentenced the entire fan base to death, rather than kick a ball in the net for a squillion pounds.

4. Welcome Return For Wanyama

All told this was pretty forgettable fare in truth, but amongst the more encouraging moments was the return to action of the irresistible force that is Victor Wanyama. Half an hour sliding through the mud will do the man a world of good, and as well as admiring the views he also found time for a couple of notable contributions – the clearance after the Swansea penalty shout was his work, and at one point later on, when one young Swansea mucker was trying to shimmy this way and that, Wanyama intervened in no uncertain terms, sending the ball into orbit and ensuring the opponent also flew a good couple of feet skywards for good measure.

Our glorious leader will no doubt know best how to continue easing him back into the fold, but with some meaty clashes approaching in a month or so, the return of Wanyama is marvellous news.

Heartwarming also to see young Lamela starting proceedings. Not really a game for him to showcase his most balletic feats, but the young cherub got stuck in from the off, setting the tone for the rest of them, and did well to last.

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