The media and PR machine would no doubt insist otherwise, but following the defeat to Man Utd, and with the Top Four starting to edge away, there is now an unmistakeable whiff in the air of a troupe of lilywhites going through the motions as if their lives depend on thrill-free monotony, as the season winds down. Human nature, one might rather generously offer, dictates as much, but this particular cynic is of the opinion that to a man they ought to stretch every sinew they possess for the lilywhite cause, dash them.
Paulinho and Chiriches
Within this context of bedding down for an extended springtime snooze, the most eye-catching aspect of things was the choice of Paulinho behind the front man, and Chiriches as the bedrock of defence, which is the sort of statement so apocalyptic that I fear simply applying it to parchment will cause cracks to appear in the sky. Pochettino presumably babbled about tactics and whatnot in explaining these picks (in his defence, Vertonghen had a sniffle), but in keeping with the general air of lazily stretching one’s arms, yawning like a bear and waiting for summer hols to arrive, this was pretty clearly Our Glorious Leader parading his dusty unwanted items in the shop window, in the hope that someone will take them off his hands for a fiver in the sunny months.
Determined to give Paulinho a fair, objective once-over, I graciously ignored his uninspiring first touch (pivot-pivot-backwards pass), and opted to judge him via a more panoramic lens. The experiment was not one of history’s finest. He can hardly be blamed for failing to take the game by the scruff of its neck, as our lot were fighting hard amongst themselves to be the main culprit in this respect. Nevertheless, given the opportunity of a rare start, and in such a key position, the blighter could at least have had the dignity to register his presence in proceedings, at some point during the 90 minutes. Paulinho instead ensconced himself comfortably within a little den of anonymity, and dozed his way through from start to finish (albeit generously throwing in a comedy moment when bearing down on goal after an hour or so).
Chiriches to his credit resisted the usual urge to celebrate his selection by running non-stop through his medley of Pele impressions. In fact, there were glimpses of the ball-playing genius in some of what he did, notably with one gorgeous cross-field pass for Walker in the first half. By and large however, he stuck to defending, and some of its variations. The neat ball-protection moment in the first half when he shoved over an opponent by the by-line, the hugely wobbly but ultimately effective chest back to Vorm in the second – it may not have been the stuff of which defensive manuals are made, but it was solid enough, and having pilloried the chap often enough over here, ‘tis only right and proper to applaud him for his part in a clean sheet.
There was precious little of note, as befits a goalless draw away to Burnley. ‘Tis a curious state of affairs indeed when the most reliable amongst our mob is Danny Rose, a situation that no doubt has the Ghost of 2013/14 turning in his grave, or whatever spectral physics allows, but such are the decadent times in which we live. The chap looks more solid a left-back with each passing week, and gave a fairly typical display, strong on hurtle and commitment. Admittedly he was lacking in any sprinkling of star quality to elevate proceedings beyond the general level of ‘Dirge’, but presumably he just wanted to fit in with his chums who were furiously doing likewise.
Young Master Walker did as we have come to expect. When all that is required of him is to run as fast as his little legs can carry him, he is without equal. Alas, whenever his gainful employment required the engagement of his brain, problems arose.
On days like this we all turn expectantly to Kane, but when all around him have simply given up on things with a shrug it is a mite harsh to expect him to channel his inner Neo and single-handedly rescue the universe. Behind him there was no movement, and nairy a one-touch move. One fervently hopes that our heroes do not simply give upon 14/15 and drift gently into the ether, but yesterday’s signs were far from encouraging.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Following last week’s s debacle the first priority this weekend undoubtedly was to win this game, one way or another, and our heroes duly took this as literally as they could, defining ‘one way or another’ as ‘being arguably second best, at home to the division’s bottom club’. The Top Four basically put their feet to the accelerator and sped away last weekend, but rebounding from the Old Trafford nightmare with a victory was still vital, in the interests of not letting the season fizzle out, so our lot deserve a degree of credit for stumbling through this one.
The Back Four
For the second consecutive week we conceded thrice, which is a pretty fair reflection of how indecisive and ill-organised the back-four are. There was little on show to correct the suspicion that, like most of the young folk these days, Dier and Vertonghen generally communicate by text rather than the spoken word, because rather than assuming responsibility with a blood-curdling roar before thrashing the ball to safety, these two prefer to shuffle to the back of the queue as inconspicuously as possible. To their right, young Master Walker at least clambered a step up from last week’s horror show, but still did enough to reassure us that his bouts of mental negligence remain a defining feature of his play.
Jamaica’s Danny Rose continues his season-long transition from AANP Groan Inducer-In-Chief to Vaguely Acceptable Full-Back. The enthusiastic chunkster still has a good marathon and a half to run before he becomes a fully-fledged connoisseur of the art of left-backery, and ‘tis a generally safe bet that he will be caught badly out of position at least once per half, but these days there is a lot more in the credit column than a year or two ago. The perseverance that earned our penalty summed up much that is good in his game – bundles of energy, a willingness to attack and an curious ability to end every involvement in the action by flying through the air in a ball of flailing limbs. He makes a last-ditch tackle – and is sent hurtling through the air in doing so. He scores against Chelsea – and is sent hurtling through the air in doing so. And in winning the penalty, whilst not as spectacular as his regular trips into the atmosphere, he did at least tumble around in a mess of bouncing limbs.
Paulinho’s Surprise Turn
As the Portuguese-speakers of North London are no doubt aware, ‘Paulinho’ translates in English as ‘Broken Clock’, and like his namesake, the chap appears to stumble upon the right way of things every now and then. Thus it transpired that in a most un-Paulinhoesque turn of events his introduction improved matters a notch or two, as Townsend and his peripheral flicks were replaced, and in a more central role Paulinho largely took the bull by the horns, giving us a bit more presence in midfield, and fashioning a couple of chances – one of which resulted in the fourth goal. It made for rather unnerving viewing in truth, but normal sideways and backwards service will presumably be resumed in his next outing. A pat on the back goes his way nevertheless.
The Chadli Mystery Continues
Far more underwhelming was Master Chadli. He makes for an enigmatic presence, does Chadli, generally not contributing a great deal to proceedings bar bluster and anti-climax – and yet, at least in the early part of the season, he seemed to chip in with a dose of goals so healthy one simply could not help but wave him along into the starting line-up. Alas, in the worst attempt at alchemy ever recorded, everything he touched on Saturday turned into a fairly shambolic mess. Dribbles were unsuccessful, fouls were conceded, he was rightly booked for bringing a dive so bad it brought simulation into disrepute, and he shanked two open-goal efforts high into the N17 sky. ‘Twas a day that made one yearn for three Christian Eriksens.
Still, it is pleasing indeed that even on a fairly sub-standard day we did enough, particularly in attack, for three points. As has often been the case this season Eriksen looked a class above, and Kane somehow continued to tuck away goals with a regularity that defies science, but the rest of the attacking quartet lacked somewhat in the key areas of ‘cut’ and ‘thrust’. More tweaking and fiddling will be required in the summer no doubt, but more often than not we trundle off at full-time having taken another small positive step – quite the blessing in a season of transition.
This must go down as one of the great lilywhite derby performances of recent years. Admittedly l’Arse contributed massively to their own downfall, with a most peculiar gameplan involving minimal aggressive intent, but let that not detract from a fantastic, relentless attacking barrage from our lilywhite heroes.
Particular homage is due to the full-backs, who while far from flawless, could barely be restrained from bombing forward to add much-needed width to proceedings. I many not be alone in suspecting that young Master Walker has returned from injury boasting just three lungs, rather than the four of yesteryear, for he certainly comes across as a couple of yards slower, but both he and Rose tore into the wide open spaces behind the Arse back-four with gay old abandon.
Mason and Bentaleb similarly picked the right note from the off. At times, in their fledgling careers the pair have seemed rather too determined to fight the good fight some five yards in front of the back four, with the switch flicked firmly towards “Safety First, Dagnabbit”, but today, whilst never abandoning the bread-and-butter of things, they could be occasionally sighted tiptoeing their way deep into enemy territory, and fastening their shooting boots accordingly – never more so than the peach of a cross from Bentaleb that created our glorious winner.
The Attacking Mob
Further yet up the pitch was the most massively left-footed attacking triumvirate since Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe decided to get down and party with Clayton Blackmore, in the short-shorted era of yesteryear. Messrs Eriksen and, in particular, Dembele and Lamela seem drawn to their left feet like moths to a flame. Such is life, and there was enough about the supporting cast to prevent from everyone simply toppling over to the left, but the introduction of Chadli could not come soon enough.
Dembele’s Right Peg
Dembele looks a man reborn since being lifted from his two-year stupor by virtue of being shunted about ten yards further forward. Now, when he loses interest and opts to shove the balls sidewards, with the suspicious air of a moody teen about to smoke something naughty, he shoves the ball sidewards in a threatening area of the pitch, into the path of a Rose or Walker arriving at full pelt. Admittedly that right foot remains strictly for balance only, but the chap’s renaissance as an attacking force is more than welcome.
As for Lamela – one is happy enough to sweep his shortcomings under the rug of general victory-induced bonhomie, but the fact remains that for a man more talented than just about anyone else on the pitch he does peddle a unique line in simply giving the dashed thing away every time he touches it.
God Bless Harry Kane
But let us not dwell on the more dubious minutiae – there will be plenty of time to wail and gnash teeth on other days. This was a day to celebrate the unlikely glory of Harry Kane, who despite maintaining (for about six consecutive months) the appearance of a man about to lose control of the ball, his own limbs and all semblance of physics, continues to tear up all before him – with left foot, right foot, from close range, long range or with his head.
As much as anything else however, this was a triumph for the grand fromage. The all-action, energetic approach; the pressing high up the pitch; and the very deployment of over-enthusiastic pups like Mason, Kane and Bentaleb paid absolutely glorious dividends today. Absolutely marvellous stuff.
Admittedly I am preaching to the converted here, but we Spurs fans have not become such peerless peddlers of doom overnight. Our unique brand of pessimism has been carefully nurtured over years and years, and accordingly ever since the final whistle last Wednesday night, every conceivable nightmare scenario had been carefully played out in the AANP mind. Thusly do we roll.
On top of which, the home crowd barked and hollered expectantly, and snow snowed. A celebrity chef could not have chopped, diced and mixed a better conglomeration of ingredients for an upset.
But for seventy or so pretty serene minutes it seemed that our heroes were treating us to that most rarely seen beast, a performance of consummate professionalism. Admittedly their wingers always looked a threat, but that aside we were well in control. The defending was solid, Stambouli was having one of his better days in front of the back-four, Mason was happy to bomb forward, Vorm was largely spectating and our counter-attacking was bursting at the seams with potency.
Even Dembele was showing glimpses of the all-conquering behemoth of his first few months in a lilywhite shirt – charging forward forty yards with the ball rather than the slightly tired stop-pivot-pass-sideways routine that has drearily become his norm over the last couple of seasons.
Serenity Rather Pointedly Brought To A Halt
Inevitably, this being our lot, what should have been a gentle, incident-free cakewalk to Wembley as smooth as the skin of Venus herself, suddenly materialised into a path beset by cracked ice, broken glass and unhatched eggs from the Alien films, through which we had to navigate a path with heart-stopping caution. Not that it was our fault to be honest - I rather thought our mob had ticked every conceivable box in the manual labelled ‘How To Do This Dashed Thing Sensibly’, only for an errant two-minute burst, including a massive deflection dash it. Mercifully however, while I stormed the corridors of AANP Towers in a huff, at the injustice of the thing (a deflection! Nobody mentions the deflection, do they? It practically turned the ball a right angle for heaven’s sake), the quick-thinking chaps out on the pitch promptly tore down the pitch and righted the wrongs.
Ah, young Master Kane, every inch the antithesis of wayward wastrel Adebayor. Where last week Adebayor spent the game doing his best impression of an errant schoolboy gazing distantly out of the classroom window and wishing for a sneaky fag behind the bike shed, Kane last night rolled up his sleeves and set about working his socks off. Before delivering a peach of a pass for the winner and then celebrating the goal like a loon.
Within the first half hour he had skinned half the United defence three or four times, and thumped half a dozen shots netwards. Admittedly on at least two of those occasions a thorough SWOT analysis of the situation might have made an incontrovertible case for a pass, but one must not quibble. The boy fights the good fight as if the fate of humanity depends upon it, and scares the dickens out of opposition defenders in so-doing.
But the dreamiest of them all last night was Eriksen. The free-kick spent the middle 70% of its trajectory defying physics, before hitting an absolute postage stamp of a spot where post and crossbar meet in happy union; the second goal was an absurd triumph for ‘90s Grolsch drinkers the world over, as he wisely opted not to rush these things, but took two or three extra strides before wrong-footing the ‘keeper. Insanely good finishing, the sort that makes me want to sire a daughter pronto just so that I can offer her hand to him in marriage pronto.
And what do you know - Spurs are on their way to Wembley!
Melchett: ‘It’s a barren, featureless wasteland out there, isn’t it?’
Darling: ‘The other side, sir…’
I suppose we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that even if we had established a three or four goal advantage tonight, this being Spurs we would probably be two down within ten minutes in the second leg anyway. Nevertheless, even by our standards, this was particularly head-against-wall-bangingly frustrating. Our heroes inevitably spent the first half pausing to deliberate for a good seven or eight seconds over every touch, and duly registering not a sniff of goal.
Mercifully, bang on half-time our visitors decided to run out of steam, so we did at least get to set up camp in their half thereafter. Not that it prompted any particular injection of creativity, our passing notably remaining multi-touch, but such is life.
In this world of dreary slow build-up play, the two little moments of skill that created the penalty shone out in the gloom like beacons of light from heaven itself, serenaded by choirs of angels for good measure. Where on earth Vertonghen’s delicate chipped pass has been living all these years is anyone’s guess, but it was a thing of daintiness, the sort that would not have been out of place at one of the dolls’ tea-parties that my five year-old niece occasionally invites me to spectate.
Similarly, Soldado’s control with his right clog, of a ball coming over his head at something around chest-height, was enough to prompt the Sheff Utd defender into planting a hand on the ball and almost bursting into tears.
There was not much else to prompt the pulse into life, let alone set it racing. Young Kyle Walker’s recent profession that he is trying to be more Lahm than Alves continues to look an awful career choice, and the mentality typified things. Adebayor reacted to not being given a sniff of the ball by pointedly deciding that he was not going to look for it either, so there.
Just when I started to wonder if the introduction of Paulinho was actually some sort of anti-mirage brought on by the cold, up he popped, to take umpteen touches before passing backwards. This was later followed up by a burst into the box and a mishit shot so weak it almost slowed to a stop and started to reverse.
The entire dirge was accompanied by the sound of thousands of palms slapping foreheads in frustration, and just like that, next week’s task was made infinitely more difficult. A victory is always lovely, and 1-0 in these circumstances is infinitely better than conceding away goals and whatnot – but this seems like a masterclass in doing it the hard way.
Somebody somewhere once warbled to the effect that if you can play badly and still win then you must be doing something right in the small print. Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will no doubt have spotted that on this occasion we did not actually win, but a few days earlier against Leicester we did, after an eminently forgettable performance, and yesterday we could perhaps be described to have hung about gamely.
The point, which admittedly I have deviated from by a good few hundred yards, is that I am feeling rather heartened by recent events. Heartened in a guilty way, ‘tis true, because if it wasn’t Vertonghen scything down an opponent in the area and walking away scott-free it was the finest forwards money can assemble suddenly losing control of their lower limbs when two yards from goal with ball at feet. On top of which, you couldn’t move for opponents slamming the ball against Hugo’s woodwork with gay abandon. And a propos Monsieur Lloris, the chap has yet again been forced to leap around like a man possessed to keep the good ship Hotspur afloat, despite the seemingly porous framework upon which it is built.
But heartened I am. A string of wins, followed by a point against Man Utd, is not to be sniffed at, no matter how much one picks it up, inspects it and points accusingly at it. Points are points, and while few will suggest that we are now ready for a title-tilt, most would presumably agree that somewhere or other behind the scenes some good work is being done.
There is no disputing that we have not just ridden our luck but have enjoyed a trip in luck’s first-class cabin, complete with complimentary champagne served by a sultry hostess. No real disputing that one. No sir. I suppose it helps even out the dodgy penalty decisions of earlier in the season (Man City and Liverpool, to name a couple).
However, on a more constructive note, much has been made of the fact that our heroes seem to have an extra bit of puff in their lungs these days, and well does it serve us. The last-minute goals seem too frequent to be entirely down to chance, and in the closing moments of yesterday’s game we had not just stirred into life but seemed positively the likelier to win the thing, so three cheers for Pochettino’s beep test, or whatever method the coaching team use these days.
The tinkering by Pochettino was understandable enough in principle, albeit a little ineffective in practice. The choice of Davies and Chiriches as full-backs in place of Rose and Walker was presumably effected with the dual purpose of giving the latter two a moment to catch their breath, following return from injury, as well as stifling the Man Utd wing-backs. Alas, Messrs Valencia and Young could be described as many things yesterday, but not, truthfully, ‘stifled’. Still, this being our lucky month and all, that was soon taken care of when Valencia disappeared stage right and Rafael-Or-Fabio took his place.
The rarely-sighted Townsend was given a gambol, and beavered away as is his wont, all enthusiasm and willing, and precious little product. I suspect I am in a minority but I like the chap, for he permanently seems to be one smidgeon away from being quite the game-changer. The dinked pass to Kane early on, a sturdy long-range shot in the second half – the law of averages suggests that sooner or later he is going to spend the full 90 minutes absolutely destroying a team single-handedly. I just get the feeling that this will happen after we have sold him.
Typical fare from Mason and Stambouli, the former’s performance encapsulated by that late miss, when he showed all the energy of a young hyperactive puppy to race half the length of the pitch before displaying that absence of top-notch class, in blazing the ball over. Stambouli did everything one would expect of a first-reserve, and the pair of them together generally struggled to prevent the all-singing, all-dancing cast of United midfield talent from pouring forward, particularly in the first half. Not really a criticism, as they were outnumbered, and frankly up against far better players.
But that marvellous combination of willing and luck got us to the finish line, rounding off what on paper looks a pretty darned impressive month’s work. Another seductive smile or two from Lady Luck on 1 Jan against Chelski would go down mightily well.
The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noted that the best part of 48 hours have elapsed since the curtain came down on events Villa Park, but for that long have I been ruminating on the various ills within our mob, and particularly the rearguard.
Up in attack, while things can hardly be said to be beetling along in a state of serene success, the general gist of things is just about in credit rather than debit. Chances are at least being made.
Every now and then Chap A finds Chap B, Chap C spins around the back, Chap B slides in Chap C, who neatly pings it back to Chap A, and you sit back and wonder why we lose so many of these dashed games. Admittedly one of the chaps will then hit the ‘keeper rather than the net, but at least we have the beginnings of the right idea.
At the back however, any good being done by the forwards is being heartily undone, with generous lashings of interest, by a back-four fast becoming a parody of themselves. Kaboul’s head appears to swim like a man trying to make sense of the previous paragraph. It’s all very well looking incredibly mean, imposing and just about The Ultimate Bad-Ass at every break in play, but once the nitty-gritty begins he seems to have taken to closing his eyes, swiping a limb in the loose direction of things and hoping for the best. I fancy it might be time to take the batteries out of the old bean and leave him to collect some dust on a shelf somewhere.
With Kaboul running the show it is little wonder that our back-four as a unit has all the resistance and backbone of a particularly gloomy sandcastle. Sure enough, a Villa side that had not managed a goal since around 1997 were soon rattling shots at us from all angles, and within 15 minutes had their lead.
A Short Grammar Lesson
Referees are disinterested.
Vertonghen, Adebayor and the various other assorted prima donnas, with bags of quality but little passion for the club, are uninterested.
You know how it is when you suddenly realise that the chap sitting next to you in the office has an annoying habit of clicking his fingers three times every time his computer-box receives a telegram? Once you are aware of it you cannot stop noticing it, and before you know it you can think of nothing else, until it gets to the point that you either want to thrash his head or your own head against something solid and flat. Well thus do I feel about Capoue.
What does the blighter do? It was something I asked myself a few weeks ago, more as a matter of procedure than due to any particular vendetta, you understand, but several weeks on the question still lingers in the air, and with a nasty whiff to it. So on Sunday I watched him like a leopard, and once again his anonymity was thunderously conspicuous.
In his defence he does occasionally show faint signs of life – a crossfield pass here, a Capital One Cup slalom forward there – but on Sunday it generally seemed that he was content to jog around the place in Ryan Mason’s slipstream, always maintaining a careful 10-yard distance from the ball. When Benteke hammered against the post early on, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity but not in the action. When Villa scored their goal, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity, but nowhere near the chap who flew in to score. And so on.
Young Mason continues to charge around with the enthusiasm of a slippery, young whelp, and although his radar went awry in the final 15 his was another fairly encouraging performance. Much has been said of Master Kane, and although the hyperbole has got so far ahead of itself that it has begun to trip on its feet (a piece in the Standard yesterday seemed to be comparing him to Bale) the chap seems to make the right noises. And as mentioned at the top of the programme, when our forwards do click, it really does make the pulse race somewhat.
Red Cards and Whatnot
So going forward we were moderate, at the back we were various shades of awful. Although we created some presentable chances at various points, we hardly looked like controlling the thing until the red card. On which note – Messrs Mason and Vertonghen can consider themselves fairly lucky. As with penalties conceded in recent weeks, rather than moan about harsh decisions the players could simply avoid doing the daft things that give the refs a decision to make.
All told it was no doubt a blessed relief for our glorious leader. The poor old fruit must gaze a little wistfully back at Southampton, where lions lie with lambs and happy rainbows spring up left, right and centre. With each game I see I increasingly feel that we must simply muddle through this season as best we can, then let Pochettino do what he wants with the squad and gauge him properly on 2015/16.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Since the players could not blow their nose without that wretch awarding another penalty this afternoon, it might simplify things to report on things by giving names to the various spot-kicks. So the one that involved Lampard, Lamela and possibly a gust of wind we shall christen ‘Reginald’; the red card fiasco will be ‘Phyllis’; our glorious opportunity shall be known as ‘Maxine’; and the other one can be ‘Greg’.
Opening blows had already been exchanged when Reginald struck. Lamela appeared to tickle Lampard with a feather, and that proved all the encouragement needed for our resident law-enforcer.
A salutary lesson here for young Lamela. Like Dier against Liverpool earlier this season (let’s call that one ‘Jan-Michael’, for simplicity), the alleged foul was as soft as the luxurious fur of some endangered species of animal, but the moral of the story is clear enough – just don’t give the referee the option to make such calls. There was no reason for Lamela to nestle up to Lampard from behind, as the City man waddled into the area. Leave him alone man, leave that to one of those chaps facing the right way. (Although ardent followers of ‘Greg’ might beg to differ, but more on that later).
I rather lost track of the chronology of the thing, but Greg was the clearest penalty of the lot, involving as it did Monsieur Kaboul’s latest real-time demonstration of his waning powers. Once upon a time this chap was quite the colossus - all barrel chest, thundering pace and perfectly-sculpted eyebrows. These days it seems that he has it in his contract to magic from thin air a seismic blunder, as if to illustrate to young protégé Chiriches in vivid HD precisely how one should create catastrophe in the heart of the defence. Bang on cue he flew into a needless, mis-timed lunge, and Greg was born. ‘Sacre bleu’, poor old Hugo presumably mutters to himself, as he views the carnage ahead of him, before pulling off his latest astonishing save. He deserves better.
Another from the Chiriches School of Complete Mental Absence, there could be no doubt that Fazio yanked back the forward, practically shoving the ref out of the way in order to do so. The whole wretched performance was delivered with all the surreptitiousness of a four year-old standing with hand in cookie jar and chocolate smeared all over their mouth, and for that this oak-tree of a man deserves nothing less than to have a limb hacked off with a rusty saw. It would not be stretching things to suggest that liberal quantities of salt be sprinkled across the bloody stump either.
But a red card? Dash it all, in order to be a ‘goalscoring opportunity’ the ball had to bypass two defenders, the striker had to gallop another ten yards and a nearby elephant had to jump through a flaming hoop. Admittedly, I suspect that if Phyllis had not been awarded our heroes would have found a way to concede anyway, but the nub of the thing is that there was a heck of a sequence of bits and bobs that needed crossing and dotting before the goalscoring chance actually materialised. And as such, the red card was even more cryptic than that slapped in Kyle Naughton’s face against West Ham on the opening day of the season.
Easy to forget when you slink off 4-1 down at the culmination of things, but with 20 minutes to go an unlikely heist was on the verge of execution. Penalty to our lot, with a chance to reach parity, if you recall.
In truth Maxine was a devious mistress, because the foul appeared to occur a smidgeon or two outside the area. However, the ref by this stage was well into party mood, pointing to the spot with all the gay abandon of a champagne-quaffing reveller, and frankly it was nice to be remembered by him.
Poor old Soldado’s was not the worst penalty ever - it ticked some of the standard boxes one dreams up for this thing (on target; low; heading more or less for the corner;) - but thus do cookies crumble.
Elsewhere – Capoue & Mason
Aside from the penalties there were all manner of bells, whistles, character developments and sub-plots. And none of them seemed to involve Capoue, on whom I kept a particularly watchful eye today, just for sport. What purpose did the chap serve? He held his position religiously enough, bobbing around five yards in front of the comedy act known as our back-four, but seasons will change and empires rise and fall before the blighter ever makes an intervention of note.
By contrast, young Master Mason bounded around with all the enthusiasm of a young puppy released into the back garden for his daily jaunt. The brio will presumably fade and cynicism settle in (a la Dembele and Soldado, par example), but he did not waste an opportunity to burst a lung for the cause today, and could frequently be sighted trying to socialise with his elders in the attacking triumvirate. Not afraid to fly into a tackle either, his challenge creating our goal.
All told, the outcome was rather a blow to the solar plexus, but for over an hour our lot dug away, and a point looked possible. The drill against Top Four teams seems to be clear enough – keep things tight (through team shape, rather than dazzling defensive prowess from the individual personnel), and scamper forward via Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela at every opportunity. At times this front three looked razor-sharp, but the salient point this season is likely to be whether they can score more at one end than the assorted clowns concede at the other, week in and out.
A quiet triumph for our glorious leader, this one. Coming on the back of the wretched Sunderland draw, and wretcheder West Brom defeat, the polite coughs around Pochettino had been increasing in volume all week, but credit to the man. The air around Finsbury Park presumably still resounds to the irate warbling of Wenger, who took a deep breath at the full-time whistle yesterday and has not stopped grumbling since, but this was a dashed hard-earned point for our lot.
This was not the time for coruscating interplay, merry quip and flashing badinage. This was not a time for Chiriches, and his Dali-esque take on the art of defending. Evidently not a fan of early 90s brat pack western Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, Pochettino sagaciously eschewed the notion of our heroes getting shot to death one after another in the quest for bravura headlines, and instead stuck to the markedly less glamorous – but infinitely more sensible – project entitled ‘Work Your Cotton Socks Off, Stick to the Plan And Take Home A Point’.
Kaboul and Vertonghen had the right idea, neither toddling off more than six paces from the other, and all around them in lilywhite were faces etched with concentration. Rose and Naughton in particular can puff their chests today, for rarely have two young beans attracted such opprobrium over their careers as this pair from yours truly – but they jolly well filled the unforgiving minutes with distance run yesterday.
The shiniest gold star however, without doubt goes to our trusty guardian of the net. Amidst all the hours of debate surrounding his frightfully modern role of sweeper ‘keeper, one sometimes forgets about young Lloris’ du pain et du beurre, but when push came to shove and the shots flew in yesterday he dashed well had every angle covered, beaten only by the elaborate full-body-wrap-around dummy thrown by the wretched Welbeck. Rather excitingly, one second half save even had the gods of goal-line technology awoken from their slumbers, which presumably had Jonathan Pearce’s brain melting out of his ears.
A Mild Regret
Not wanting to sound ungrateful about things, but given that throughout the entire game we only managed to touch the ball about seven times, it was mildly annoying that we made rather a pickle of two or three jolly presentable counter-attack opportunities, in the first half in particular. We did eventually get the final ball right – Lamela hitting the bullseye with his assist for Chadli – but one or two more of those in the first half and we might have had a two- or even three-goal lead to spurn. Ah well, live and learn, what?
A Glimpse of the Future
If our general game-plan was one of locking ourselves in a bunker and waiting for the ongoing alien invasion to pass overhead, the longer-term Pochettino approach was at least given a brief and stirring cameo when we took the lead. Much hot air has been expelled about the whole business of ‘pressing high up the pitch’, but with Adebayor ambling around with all the energy of doleful sloth this fabled approach has been as rare as a two-headed rabbit so far this season, so it was jolly heartening to see our heroes snaffle the ball just 30 yards from the opposition goal yesterday, and proceed to cross t’s and dot i’s until the net was rippling.
And to round things of, a round of applause to the unfeasibly young arbiter of proceedings, who did a cracking job of preventing a full-scale riot by cautioning Chadli for his irresponsible and over-the-top goal celebration. Goodness knows, the very fabric of society would have come crashing down around us if that fine bastion of the rulebook had not waved yellow in Chadli’s face. The relief in the corridors of power today has been palpable.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Such is life I suppose, but AANP is remarkably sanguine about the Late Own-Goal Fiasco. Mellowing with age, no doubt.
Dembele > Bentaleb
Pre kick-off, hearty roars of approval could be heard to resonate from every corner of the globe, as news filtered through that Bentaleb had been jettisoned and Dembele selected in his stead. No doubt a startled and dismayed Bentaleb instinctively looked sideways and backwards and backwards and sideways for explanations when the news was broken to him, but Sunderland away was no time for such unproductive ambling. All the possession in the world is of little use if we get nowhere near the opposition net, and while Bentaleb would presumably react to such a sentiment by slamming his hands on his ears and howling in dismay, Dembele dithers not. Straight from kick-off the chest was puffed out, opponents bounced off him and every time he received possession he looked to drive forward, and a positive tone was duly struck.
The Attacking Triumverate
Matters were also helped no end by the attacking triumvirate of Chadli, Eriksen and Lamela. Where two weeks ago Chadli and Eriksen in particular flittered around with all the menace and intent of a pair of particularly absent-minded butterflies, yesterday the two of them and Lamela brought with them bucketloads of brio and gusto, and proceeded to slosh it all around the park with gay abaondon.
If there were a pocket of space in between Sunderland’s defence and midfield one or more of that lot were popping up in it, and if there were a cute, eye-of-the-needle pass in the vicinity you could bet every last penny plus a couple of stamps that the aforementioned would be trying their darnedest to deliver it.
Frankly, everything went swimmingly from start, through the middle, via a couple of sub-plots and just about all the way until finale. But dash it all, instead of running riot and popping away the six or so goals we more or less merited, things went vaguely awry each time at the final hurdle. The ball would ping off the woodwork, or splat against the chest of that gormless goalkeeper without him even realising. A last-ditch tackle here, a narrow miss there, and before you knew it we had conceded a bally own goal of all things, and were left wandering off at the final whistle scratching our heads in bewilderment.
The Exciting World Of Vlad Chiriches
Presumably Master Vertonghen had a stubbed toe or man-flu or some other such malady, to explain his absence from the entire squad. As a result, young Chiriches bounded up to the plate, and promptly convinced himself yet again that this was a school playground and his name was Pele. Paying scant attention to the basic principles of defending the lad simply could not prevent himself from trying to dribble past everyone in sight every time he touched the ball. Here is a bean who no doubt grew up watching and re-watching that Saudi lad from World Cup ’94 who picked up the ball in his own half and ran the length of the pitch before scoring. The law of averages suggests that one day Chiriches will do the same, and I rather hope we stick with him because in the medium-term a ball-playing centre-back is not to be sniffed at. But at present the chap ought to have the word ‘CALAMITY’ written across the back of his shirt, because his penchant for dribbling into trouble is as predictable as it is hilarious.
Chins Up, What?
Back to the grand scheme of things, and disappointment aside I that in the marathon that is The Pochettino Era this represented another vaguely successful outing. Two points dropped no doubt, but given that we will regularly face teams looking to sit back and stifle the dickens out of us, the performance was encouraging. Sideways passes and meaningless possession can go boil their own heads, for there was creativity by the sackful here.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.