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Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

1. The ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ School of Defending

Hindsight being a pretty flawless sort of gem, it is easy for us to playfully nudge each other’s ribs and chortle, “Well that was pretty easy pickings, what?”

But being Spurs fans in general, and having sat through the first 40-odd minutes in particular, I think we can probably all swiftly reach a consensus that this was actually one heck of a delicate operation, and one which, but for six inches here and a millisecond there might have seen us one or two down by half-time and stewing in our juices like nobody’s business.

A three-goal lead we might have held at kick-off, but Dortmund came out of the traps at a fair old lick, and emanated the strong whiff of a team that would go on to nab a second, third and fourth if they could just get that first.

Enormous credit is therefore due to the entire N17 cast for defending as a team, particularly in the first half. Like those rather natty shoals of about a hundred fish that you see weaving this way and that in perfect synchronisation, as if controlled by a single mind, our defence and midfield diligently shuttled hither and thither as Dortmund prodded away like the dickens.

Normally this sort of guff wouldn’t earn a second glance at AANP Towers, where the teeth have been cut on a strict diet of the non-stop, all-action swash and buckle that has lent its name to the place; but there is a time and place for such things, and the drill last night was quite rightly to keep the door shut at all costs during the initial blitz.

This is not to say that our heroes were flawless in their defending as a collective. Had they been, there would not have been need for the last-ditch heroics peddled by Messrs Lloris, Vertonghen and Davies at various junctures.

Nevertheless, I got the impression that if one were to pluck a lilywhite at random and slice him open, one would have discovered intense concentration levels and a strict game-plan coursing through his veins. Our lot were hell-bent on keeping Dortmund at bay.

2. What Lloris Does Best

So as mentioned, the generally topping work done by all eleven was embellished in timely fashion by a couple of goal-worthy challenges from certain members of the back-five; and when even these lines were breached, Monsieur Lloris produced the sort of performance that in truth he’s probably owed us for the past couple of seasons.

Some saves were straightforward, and some were absolutely first rate. Usefully, Lloris was not in discriminatory mood, and did the necessaries with all of them.

In a way, the slightly desperate, last-ditch, backs-to-the-wall nature of the thing in the first half played neatly into Lloris’ hands. The chap seems to be at his best when instinctively thrusting out a paw to repel a close-range snapshot.

Shoot at his legs and there is a moderate-to-good chance the ball will find a way through. Ask him to come dashing from his line to mop things up and any sort of fresh hell might transpire. But simply fire the ball at him from a distance of 5-10 yards, as Dortmund did repeatedly in the first half, and he’s precisely the sort of nib you want manning the phones.

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

Not that Lloris’ heroics and the collective spirit of defence made the first half much more bearable. For all the thrill of seeing a Davies limb extend or a Vertonghen toe intercept, the respite rarely lasted more than around 5 seconds before the next Dortmund wave was upon us. For almost the entirety of the first half we were unable to retain possession, our on-the-ball subtlety rarely extending beyond simply blooting the thing to halfway and trying to regroup for the next yellow attack.

In between staving off heart attacks, the thought did strike me that we would have benefited immensely from a spell of possession, just for its own sake. Not with the aim of pelting towards the Dortmund area in search of an away goal, but simply to relieve the pressure.

Instead, out on the greenery, the only intention seemed to be to launch the ball north, in the hope that Kane and Son might magic a goal out of nothing. The net result was that neither were able to hold up play and we were immediately back under the cosh. What we were crying out for was actually a spot of sideways and backwards passing, with zero attempt to encroach on Dortmund territory, and every intention of simply controlling the game for a few priceless minutes.

Being the sort of egg who’s all for a spot of irony during their daily routine, it did strike me that in recent weeks I have hit something pretty near apoplexy at the sight of Toby, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Winks and Sissoko pinging the ball sideways and backwards ad nauseam. When the games against Burnley, Chelsea and Arsenal were absolutely howling out for some urgency, invention and blasted forward forays, our heroes intransigently pivoted, and pivoted, and then rolled the ball sideways.

Contrast with last night, when all they seemed capable of doing in the first half was attempting unnecessarily and unsuccessfully to force the ball forward. I don’t mind admitting I swept a hand across the fevered brow on more than one occasion.

Mercifully, the penny dropped from about the 40-minute mark, as Dortmund’s enthusiasm for the chase dwindled. Thereafter, our heroes began to look like they were starting rather to enjoy themselves. Aware that it simply did not matter whether they passed forward or backward as long as they retained the ball, they began to lead Dortmund a merry dance, occasionally feinting to attack, and then rather cruelly about-turning and shuttling the ball across the back-line.

4. Kane Adulation

And that, in truth, was pretty much that. Half-time arrived with our heroes in possession, and the early second half goal gave every one of us the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned spot of exhaling.

Being an absolute machine, Harry Kane did not pause to mess around when presented with his one and only chance. The chap’s Champions League stats already boggle the mind a tad, and the circumstances around his goal yesterday were impressive – one might make the case that the very best strikers need only one chance in the crunch games, and Kane is very much of that ilk.

On top of which, he spent much of the rest of the game pottering around winning free-kicks while strongly outnumbered. A cracking performance from whichever angle one views it.

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

A tip of the hat also to Eric Dier, who returned from witness protection looking like these were the circumstances for which he had been born to play.

Thrown on with half an hour to go, instructed to protect the back-four and generally ensure no alarms, he did so with discipline and aggression, as one would expect, but also threw in a neat line of simple and effective short passes that kept the pressure off and gradually sucked the will to live from the Dortmund mob.

With Winks and Sissoko seemingly playing every minute of every game these days, and hobbling off accordingly, the return of Dier, particularly in this sort of mood, is most useful.

6. All Grown Up

Two years ago our heroes were gifted a fairly straightforward draw, and failed to progress from the group.

One year ago our heroes topped a group containing Real Madrid, then outplayed Juve for all but 13 minutes over two legs, and failed to progress past the Round of 16.

This year our heroes have delivered absolutely textbook Home and Away leg performances, and now gambol on to the Quarter Finals. The evidence mounts in pretty compelling fashion to suggest that they improve year on year.

No doubt they will continue to lose the occasional game against big teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’) and occasionally lose to smaller teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’), but the two very different and devastatingly effective performances in this tie – following a group stage in which we faced elimination unless we scored in the last 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and six fixtures – points towards a team that is getting the hang of this lark.

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

Spurs 1-1 Arsenal: Five Tottenham Observations

1. If Sissoko Is Our Man of the Match, Something Is Not Quite Right

It has come to this. Moussa Sissoko was our star performer, seemingly the only man in lilywhite who recognised throughout the importance of the game. Rather than limit himself to his usual, highly effective but sensibly contained game of providing monstrous defensive cover and occasional forward runs as a supporting cast member, yesterday the notion struck him that if he did not seize the game by the scruff of the neck then nobody else jolly well would.

Consequently we were treated to the unlikely sight of Sissoko being the fountain from which most of our creative urgency sprang. Eriksen was either too well shackled or just too plain bored to get involved, and the option of feeding Rose an early ball and letting him set off at a gallop was oddly overlooked. The default seemed to be the usual turgid wealth of ineffective short passes, punctuated by some aimless long ones.

Sissoko at least had the decency to try righting the many wrongs surrounding him. Adorably, he tried doing his best Dembele impressions to force the issue. Ultimately they tended to amount to little, as he overplayed his hand on just about every occasion, but the effect was at least mildly galvanising to the watching hordes.

Lamela did little once introduced, bar earn his customary yellow card for his customary mistimed lunge; Lucas Moura remained unused throughout; and even Danny Rose was invited to try his luck as a creator from deep in the final fifteen or so, but like Sissoko, got a little carried away by his own high opinion of himself and got it in his head that the best option was to try taking on the entire Arsenal team from deep within his own half. The spirit was willing, the flesh was weak.

2. Eriksen Still Below Par

As alluded to above, part of the problem is that Eriksen remain off-key. Arsenal seemed well drilled in this respect, generally snapping around him, but even when afforded space and time, his act appeared tired and lacklustre.

Which points to a deeper problem within the fold, namely that when Eriksen is misfiring, to whom the heck do we turn for a creative spark? Occasions such as these suggest that Eriksen is the most important component within our DNA (for even when Kane is absent we have a system, of sorts, that enables us to cope). Remove or nullify Eriksen, and the whole delicately-arranged construction starts to come crashing down.

The immediate concern is that the chap is below par; the lingering longer-term worry is that he might not be too much longer of our parish.

3. Sanchez Mistakes

Davinson Sanchez’s progress in the last couple of years has been, if not quite blemish-free, then certainly on the pleasing side of such parabolas. However, he does retain the ability to make a fairly notable pig’s ear of things where none should really exist, and yesterday he threw in a couple of stinkers that, by rights, ought really to have cost us the match.

Having been at fault for Ramsey’s goal, I suppose there are massed throngs who will howl that he ought never to have been penalised for the late penalty as well, but this rather misses the point.

Rather than quibble about the minutiae of how much contact is required to justify the award of a penalty, I have long banged the drum that we would all be in a much happier place if those concerned simply steered well clear, and did not give the referee the option or chance to award a foul. And certainly not in the last minute, when the striker is haring away from goal and towards the byline.

Sanchez is not quite in the Juan Foyth school of Sudden and Massive Defensive Aberrations, but these are not isolated incidents either. With Toby likely to shuffle out the nearest exit come the summer, Sanchez will need to up his game a notch or two.

4. Son’s Diminishing Impact Now That Kane Is Back

One of the more curious findings from the day’s gallivanting was that since Kane has returned, our attack has seemed even more neutered than in those games in which Llorente stood in one single spot for 90 minutes and Sonny whizzed around him.

Kane, naturally enough, has waltzed back into town to receive star billing, diamond slippers and have an army of admirers tripping over themselves to light his cigarettes; all of which makes a strong bucketful of sense, since the chap, as is commonly recognised, is something of a freak of nature.

Nor is Sonny, with his permanent smile and boundless energy, the sort to go around upsetting apple-carts and spitting out dummies. Despite having been rightly showered with plaudits for his various acts of skin-saving over the last month or so, he has simply tried his best to adapt to life as Not Quite The Star Man.

The trouble is, it’s just not quite working at the moment. Kane and Son have resembled a couple of strangers whose paths occasionally and fleetingly cross, but between whom even the most die-hard romantic would struggle to say there were any genuine relationship.

And even this would be excusable if they were separately being nurtured by the rest of the mob, but service to them over the last three games has been poor, whilst opponents have been organised and sat deep. I’m not sure either man has had carved out for them a red-blooded and meaty chance worthy of the name in the last three games.

They sure as heck do not currently resemble a partnership, and nor is there any obvious conduit from midfield towards them. The mind boggles to recollect that just a couple of months ago these two, alongside ERiksen and Dele Alli, were absolutely shredding Everton seemingly at will.

I am certainly not advocating that we simply shunt out Kane, field Llorente and hope that Sonny can be restored to former glories; but sorcery of some type that elevates Kane and Son to the sum of their parts would be pretty dashed handy at this point.

5. Current Form: A Worry

This may prove a controversial opinion amongst the masses, but in the latter stages of the first half I rather fancied we were making a decent enough fist of things. It was hardly exhibition stuff admittedly, but every man in possession at least had an air of urgency, and there was a swiftness to our work.

What a glorious seven or eight minutes it was – Trippier whipped in a couple of crosses; Sonny beavered around the periphery; and in what was possibly the highlight of the past four and a half hours of outfield play, Kane dinked a cute pass into Eriksen. Who promptly missed a sitter.

Prior to that, and indeed throughout most of the second half, there was no discernible improvement in performance levels from the previous couple of mooches.

Now while I’m all for beating around the bush when the situation demands it, this is some pretty darned worrying stuff. Our heroes teeter between toothless and plain uninterested in attack, and have demonstrated themselves to be fairly consistently riddled with mistakes in defence, irrespective of the personnel selected. If ever there were a time for the Brains Trust to earn their weekly envelope, this might well be it

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

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

If not quite a full-blown disaster, this ongoing implosion has all the core ingredients, in pretty much the right measures and with all requisite utensils.

The casual scattering of six points in half a week has left brows furrowing like nobody’s business, and should we lose to that ‘orrible lot on Saturday – which on present form, is a pretty conceivable scenario – the gap will have narrowed from the chasmic 10 points of what seemed like yesterday, to a thoroughly slippable 1 point.

1. Too Dashed Slow

Rather disappointingly, our heroes simply picked up where they had left off against Burnley. There was a general air of men treading through quicksand throughout, on top of which several feted luminaries seemed to have the dickens of an issue bringing the ball under control. Numerous seemingly perky counter-attacking opportunities were beheaded in their infancy when one of Sonny, Lamela or whomever stumbled upon the ball and let it slip away.

Having weathered any early storm, matters were pretty even at half-time, but the pattern changed after Chelsea’s opener. Thereafter they seemed fairly content to sit back, squeeze everyone into neat defensive formation and, truth be told, light cigars.

For rather than cause them any discernible difficulties, our lot – earnestly but thoroughly ineffectively – took to dwelling on the ball. Every man in possession swivelled this way, and then that, and then hit upon the brain wave of going back the first way again on the off-chance that it might miraculously have opened up invitingly in the preceding 1.5 seconds; meanwhile Chelsea simply cleared the cigar smoke and waited.

The game was crying out for some lilywhite urgency, some swift, one-touch hopping around this way and that. A few neat first-time passes, a triangle here and one-two there might have been sufficient to prise Chelsea from their fort. But alas, it was four-touch stuff as a minimum, all the way.

As a principal but by no means sole culprit, I noted, with pretty aghast eyes, that young Winks made the highest number of passes, with a 97% accuracy rate – but how many of those did the slightest dashed jot of good? Wouldn’t it have been preferable for him to try something a tad more incisive, say attempting 6 or 7 killer balls, on the off-chance that 1 or 2 would strike oil? Heaven forbid, it might have disturbed his pass accuracy stats…

2. Eriksen Decidedly Off The Boil

The game was screaming out for Christian Eriksen to have the whiff of battle in his nostrils, and start pulling strings from midfield like there were no tomorrow.

But alack, the chap simply mooched around with the air of one who would rather be sitting on a small fishing boat in the middle of a calm lake, straw hat on head and toothpick in mouth. He looked, in short, like a man who had taken a look around and thought, “Stuff this, I’m off to Madrid.”

Where we needed some sort of conduit between the southern axis of Sissoko and Winks and the more northerly mechanics of Eriksen-Son-Lamela, the Dane kept his head down and did his best to blend into the background.

3. Lamela Not Fit For Purpose

Earlier this season Lamela hit something of a purple pitch, running at defenders with something that could officially be registered as “menace” and popping up to nab goals with pleasing frequency.

Quite what his injuries have been nobody seems quite sure – the official party line is the rather generic suggestion of “Hip Problem”, although the rumours that have reached AANP Towers make the mind boggle – but since his latest return, for all his purposeful scuttling, he has achieved precious little whenever in possession.

In common with every one of his chums he was wont to dwell on the ball, and with Chelsea intent on pressurising through the medium of The Swarm, he lacked the requisite nimbleness of foot to produce anything remotely productive.

On the bright side, with the referee calling an amnesty on all fouls for 90 minutes he did at least avoid his customary Yellow Card For Mistimed Lunge, but when that is the extent of one’s victory, one jolly well has to slink back and re-read the job description, what?

4. Oh, Trippier!

As one pretty well versed in the art of the Own Goal, on the back of around a thousand of the dashed things in my well-meaning but uncommunicative 5-a-side moonlighting, I am reluctant to do little more than dismiss last night’s circus act with a well-chosen curse and some choice gesticulations.

One might quibble that as schoolchildren, as well as being taught to play the recorder and recite that verbs are doing words, a pretty core element of education is that if you pass back to the goalkeeper, do so wide of the posts, just on the off-chance that should he go haring off in the wrong direction no more lasting damage will be done.

Oh that the infant Trippier had paid more attention in class. Instead, faced with the onrushing Lloris, a man who at any given point in his life looks thoroughly clueless as to what course of action he ought to take, Trippier forgot his ABC, and the consequent toe-poke killed off our chances. Such moments are all part of life’s rich tapestry, I suppose.

Not that the blame lies entirely at his door – I apportion blame in fairly equal ratios between the two protagonists – but it all makes for the most bizarre year in the life of young Master Trippier, whose football career not only seemed to peak with that free-kick in the World Cup Semi-Final, but has now seemed to plumb to its lowest depth and, finding it quite fun, set up camp and stay there. Generally loose play in the right-back area all season has been topped off first by a woeful penalty miss, and now by the most comical of own goals. One fears that in order to complete the set, a red card will be his before the season is out.

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

Burnley 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Dreadful

I don’t mind admitting that my eyes bled profusely on watching 90 minutes of that rot. Never mind losing a perfectly winnable game to a team drifting along in the nondescript rushes; the quality of the fare was utterly dreadful.

From the off it reminded me of my days playing amateur level Old Boys football on pitches boasting barely a blade of grass, in which the ball spent the majority of the game either rising into or dropping from orbit, with barely more than three passes strung together at any one time. Thus was the brand peddled yesterday by our heroes.

I must confess to having surveyed proceedings from the comfort of the AANP sofa rather than the Burnley terraces, so could not testify with any first-hand knowledge to the actual conditions faced, but the tellybox gave the distinct impression that something of a gale was blowing, and to say our lot struggled to adapt would be to submit a pretty robust entry for Understatement of the Year. If there was a five-yard pass on offer, one of our mob could be relied upon to misplace it; if the ball was in the vicinity, you could bet your life on one of our mob miscontrolling it. ‘Sloppiness’ seemed to be epithet on everyone’s lips, and Burnely, understandably enough, lapped it up.

There were intermittent periods in which we patiently shuttled the ball back in forth in search of a nook or cranny, but on the whole our heroes simply did not get into gear, and hardly created a chance all match. Gallingly, once we equalised, and with around half an hour to eke out a winner, we barely made it to the Burnley penalty area.

2. Refereeing Decisions

The mantra here at AANP Towers has long been to do the chivalrous thing by refereeing decisions, and accept them with stiff upper lip and not a mumbled word of dissent. And while Our Glorious Leader had the air of a man with a meaty list of quibbles come the final whistle yesterday, and thrust himself into the face of the officials to suggests as such, I was more inclined to shrug the whole thing off as part of life’s rich tapestry.

Getting down to the meat and veg, it seemed to this untrained eye that for the corner that led to the opening Burnley goal, one might objectively opine that the ball came off the Burnley player last. Be that as it may, the ref awarded a corner, and a corner is therefore what it was.

For the throw-in that led to the equalising lilywhite goal, one might subjectively opine that the throw was taken from the wrong spot, the sort of call which is very much open to interpretation, and tends to be waved on as long as nothing of note accrues. Be that as it may, the ref deemed it perfectly above board, and perfectly above board is therefore what it was.

That’s the AANP tuppence worth, and the eagle-eyed will note that both teams benefited to the tune of one pretty fortunate decision each, which some might suggest is enough to render all pedantry pretty null and void. Far more bothersome to the AANP eye was the defending that allowed Burnley to score from their corner; or the general manner in which our football petered away to nothing for the 25 minutes or so after we’d equalised. This game was not lost because of refereeing decisions, dash it.

3. Foyth: No Obvious Signs of Improvement

One is generally reluctant to chide the honest young troops sent out each game to try their damnedest, because nobody drops a catch on purpose, to coin a cricketing phrase. However, there are inspirational mantras, and then there is Juan Foyth.

In time the earnest young bean might morph into the second coming of the blessed Ledley; but in the here and now the chap bears the hallmarks of one has been removed from the oven still decidedly uncooked in parts, and it showed, yet again, yesterday. Be it complacency, poor judgement, naivety or just plain ineptitude, Foyth seemed to blend equal measures of the satisfactory and the suicidal into his defending, and those proportions are pretty much doomed to failure in the unforgiving world of Premier League centre-backery.

Just about every Foyth appearance is characterised thus, risky Cruyff-turns mixed with egregious errors. Poch’s faith in his youthful charges is to be lauded, but Foyth’s propensity for the groan-inducing is becoming one heck of a cause for concern.

4. Kane: A Machine

On the bright side, Harry Kane returned, and without looking at his rapier-like best, was nevertheless, in occasional bursts, quite the handful. This being the occasion that merited it, he dropped deep to spread passes hither and thither, and his long-distance effort in the second half had the regulars going a little misty-eyed.

As for his goal, it was Kane of the very highest order – somehow running with the ball with pace and purpose without ever looking like a natural, and then finishing clinically before the watching masses had truly registered that a chance had officially been created.

The chap is an absolute machine. He recovers from injury as one would expect a machine to do; and once on the pitch he hares around and does that for which is he employed with pretty ruthless efficiency. It was all for naught yesterday, but with Chelsea and Arsenal looming a fit and goalscoring Kane is a most welcome addition.

Spurs 3-0 Dortmund: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Rip-Roaring Stuff – After An Ominous Beginning

Heavens above, who saw that coming? This being AANP Towers, the mood ahead of kick-off was, naturally enough, about as gloomy and pessimistic as these things come, what with one thing (Kane and Dele absences) and another (Dortmund being 5 points clear in Germany).

And that first half did little to brighten the mood. Our lot approached it as something akin to the early stages of a chess match, in which a lot of harmless toddling is done in defence, but no incisions of note are made (bar the dreamy Moura volley out of the blue).

I suppose it made for terrific viewing for fans of centre-backs, as Our Glorious Leader indulged in his own private game of stuffing as many as he could onto the pitch, but the net result was a heck of a lot of sideways passing between the back three, as Dortmund stepped back and squeezed every last inch of space out of midfield. The lilywhite cup did not overfloweth with attacking options.

Moreover, whereas the sum of our endeavours was a countless stream of sideways passing between Messrs Sanchez, Toby and Foyth, Dortmund hit upon the idea of racing into the gaps behind our full-backs and letting that scamp Sancho ooze with the menace of a chap with his finger on the trigger. As the protagonists trooped off for half-time refreshment, the chin-stroking amongst the paying public was of the lugubrious variety.

2. A Love Note To My Best Mate Jan

Goodness knows what pearls of wisdom were imparted at half-time, but I suggest they be recited every morning in classrooms and offices across the country, by law and as a matter of urgency.

“Tactical tweak” seemed to be the buzzword, although I must confess that here the mechanics of the thing were rather lost on me, as the only alteration I spotted was the slightly physics-defying move of having our wing-backs both drop deep into a back-five, to counter Sancho and his whirring legs of wizardry, and simultaneously to push those same wing-backs right up the throats of Dortmund, to act as auxiliary wingers. So, in effect, fielding thirteen players.

Whatever the nature of the sorcery, it worked. Our heroes flew out of the traps, and once Dortmund had altered their game-plan to accept 1-0 we stumbled upon the brainwave of scoring enough goals to take the tie away from them.

As seasoned visitors to this parish may be aware, whether he knows it or not Jan Vertonghen is what I consider a bosom-friend, our paths having crossed a couple of times in the last year. I am therefore modestly willing to accept the credit for his transformation from solid, dependable centre-back to flying, all-action winger, and, no doubt benefiting from my inspiration, the chap delivered an absolute belter of a performance out on the left.

Be it harassing the life out of the Dortmund right-back – thereby forcing him and his chums onto the backfoot – making himself available, intercepting or swinging an array of crosses into that sensitive spot in the penalty area that has goalkeeper and centre-backs nervously looking at one another for a spot of authoritative command, Vertonghen ticked the boxes like a man possessed. And then chipped in with the ghosting run and finish of a seasoned striker.

3. Sonny Delivers Yet Again

The absences of Kane and Dele had weighed heavily upon my heart pre-match, and little I saw in the first half changed that sentiment, but where there is Sonny there is hope. Admittedly there was not an uninhabited ounce of turf for him to excitedly buzz into in the first 45, but this is a chap who emerged from the womb scampering into space, so it was little surprise that his enthusiasm remained undimmed by the first half travails.

Naturally he was the catalyst for the second half rout, and while Llorente has done his bit, and the stars of Moura and Lamela intermittently burn bright, it is Sonny who has embraced the role of General Saviour Of Our Skins in the absence of Kane.

Mercifully there now follows a 10-day intermission, at least half of which I would expect Son to spend simply asleep, because the chap has run himself into the ground for us ever since presumably running himself into the ground for his country.

4. Sissoko The Elder Statesman

It is a sign of the times that in our biggest games we can now fairly confidently shift our glances to the right in expectation of another towering performance from Sissoko, and he will deliver.

In the lamented absence of Dembele, he is now emerging as the sort of chap who can pick up the ball inside his own half and set off on an irresistible gallop. What he lacks in aesthetic finesse, he more than makes up for in effectiveness, and at various points he trotted out his usual blend of in-possession forward strides and out-of-possession harrying.

For all the talent in our team, we still occasionally look a little short of those types who will grab the nearest bayonet, sprint to the front-line and lead by example, even more so in the absence of Kane, but Sissoko is beginning to emerge as one of those dependable bods, an elder statesmen to whom others can turn and goggle.

5. Winks Steps Up

Young Winks has earned himself the occasional critical arching of the eyebrow from this quarter in recent weeks, for being a little too risk-averse and light on carpe-ing the nearest diem.

Last night, however, he nailed absolutely every bullet point on the job description. He made it a matter of professional obligation to keep possession in the first half, when others around him were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of options and occasionally sending passes awry; and then in the second half he straddled the line perfectly between playing safe and pushing us forward.

With a little more space within which to operate in the second half, he was always the first option available to our centre-backs, and once in possession took a leaf out of the Christian Eriksen Book of Picking Appropriate Passes, be they short ones backwards or of the more adventurous variety further north.

To do all this against a team of pretty illustrious ilk was thigh-slapping stuff – and indeed, that sentiment can apply to just about every member in lilywhite. It might not have been flawless – Messrs Foyth and Aurier will presumably have mumbled a prayer or two of thanks for some lucky escapes – but that second half in particular was fabulous, sensible and devastatingly effective stuff.

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

Spurs 3-1 Leicester: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Skipp

With various A-listers still quarantined, and Dortmund looming fast into view, Poch yet again dipped into his box of selection tricks, and this term emerged with young Master Skipp in midfield, with Sonny and Llorente upfront.
Now young Skipp may in time prove to be world football’s natural heir to Andres Iniesta, but this afternoon’s performance was not the one to secure him amongst the pantheon of greats.

In theory I suppose he did little wrong, for every time one of our number were in possession around the centre circle, young Skipp would station himself about three yards away and demand the ball. While this was a noble enough approach to life, in practice it actually served precious little benefit. At best he would receive the ball while practically standing on top of the passer – and while facing the opposite direction. Play was not spread, pressure was not relieved, life’s problems were not solved.

In his defence poor old Skipp drew the short straw, for that spot on the left of the midfield diamond has proved a tricky one to fill to date for even more seasoned pros. Sissoko seems to have mastered the art on the right – and peddled an impressive line in Messi-esque gliding dribbles today, as if to emphasise the fact – but an equivalent on the left is lacking. Leicester had the better of things in midfield, and for all his youthful scampering Skipp did little to impose himself upon proceedings. Better luck next time.

2. Lloris And The Rarest of Rarities

A penalty save from Hugo Lloris is about as rare in these parts as a left-footed unicorn, but credit where due, our resident last line of defence picked an excellent moment to perform this particular party trick.

Leading we may have been, but Leicester were jousting away with the best of them, and would have been good value for parity if not a lead. At 1-0, conversion of the penalty might have swung the thing pretty ominously towards our visitors, and I for one can hold up my hands and confess I had written off the spot-kick as a fait accompli, and was already contemplating a final half hour with scores level and pressure mounting.

Frankly, in all my years of Spurs-gazing I do not recall seeing Lloris diving into the right postcode when facing a penalty, so I don’t mind admitting I gawped and blinked and rubbed the eyes once or twice before digesting what had transpired.

(As an aside, the award of the penalty itself seemed pretty dashed soft when one compares and contrasts with the similar meeting of limbs that brought about Sonny’s yellow card in the first half. The inconsistency between the two calls prompted no end of grumbling at AANP Towers, but life – and particularly refereeing decisions – will send us these crosses to bear, so best we all just shrug the shoulders and take it with a philosophical smile.)

3. Danny Rose Brings Back The Slide Tackle

Come hail or shine, Danny Rose always blusters around the field as if personally aggrieved at the circumstances in which he has been thrust, and typically with a particular axe to grind against his opposing right-sided attacker.

The attitude is refreshing, as that level of aggression is not really something one would associate with the Tottenham Hotspur of years gone by. Kyle Walker used to possess it in spades, and it generally meant that irrespective of whatever else was happening in the broader geographic area, he was not about to lose his own personal duel. Frankly we could have done with some of it in midfield today, but that’s a chapter for another time.

Entertainingly, Rose’s general foul mood resulted in him deciding that today would be the day to unleash sliding tackles at every given opportunity. It made for some pretty nostalgic viewing, as slide tackles seemed to go the way of all flesh at around the same time as cassettes and shell suits. It was gloriously retro stuff, not least for the looks of outrage etched across the faces of the Leicester nobility deposited on terra firma.

4. Poch On The Defensive

Where normally we hog possession but find ourselves up against a nine-man defence, or super-human ‘keeper, or some combo of the above, today we rather forgot our lines, and spent as much of the game fending off Leicester thrusts as performing those of our own.

As hinted at above, our midfield were at times outfought, not helped by a defence that seemed oddly keen to dabble in the porous. With Skipp failing to impose himself, and Llorente offering his trademark lack of mobility, we occasionally looked like we were down to nine men.

Thank heavens for the stand-out moments of brilliance. Eriksen’s delivery for our first, and precision finish for the second, sandwiching a couple of critical Lloris saves, pretty much won the thing.

Amidst it all, Our Glorious Leader seemed to take an oddly low-key perspective on things, making as many defensive substitutions as the rules permitted as he sought to protect what he had, in a remarkable departure from the all-action-no-plot approach to life.

Hard to fault the approach I suppose (not that that will stop me trying), not least because ultimately we won, but also because the switch to a back-three made sense when Vardy appeared; while the replacement of Llorente with Wanyama, while a little more dull and sensible than the Moura alternative, simply made it more difficult for Leicester to claw things back in the final ten minutes.

5. Making The Best of Life Without Kane and Dele

Having kept a careful eye on these things I can confidently suggest that this was the umpteenth time we have eked our victory this season without playing particularly well, and most satisfying they typically are too.

How the devil we are doing it is something of a curiosity. It would be a mangling of the English language to suggest that we have coped with ease with the absences of Kane and Dele, but we have found ways to edge past Newcastle, Watford and now Leicester. Be it wringing every last drop of value out of Llorente, relying on random moments of Eriksen brilliance or simply pinning the weight of the world upon the dependable shoulders of Sonny, we muddle through.

All that said, I would be pretty amazed if we emerged in credit from the first leg of the Dortmund joust, but in the league at least this has been a pretty critical and thoroughly impressive run of Kaneless success.

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Spurs 1-0 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Sonny Saves The Day Again

As will be familiar to those who regularly stop by these parts, the AANP take on the midweek win against Newcastle brought peltings with rotten fruit in the Comments section, for the admittedly reckless decision to omit from the list of the venerated Son Heung-Min.

With that in mind, and given that the lively young bean scored the critical goal yesterday, it seems only right to shower him with all manner of praise.

In truth however, through no particular fault of his own, he was a little muted yesterday. The spirit was as willing as ever, as he buzzed hither and thither, and even when at a standstill his legs appeared slightly blurry with movement. Newcastle, however, had been up all night poring over their homework notes, with the result that they swarmed all over Son like he was a homing beacon, and for much of the game he was crowded out.

Mercifully, the chap is fleet of foot, and it is to his credit that he conjured from pretty much nothing a yard of space yesterday, and did not wait for a second invitation to leather the heck out of the ball.

Having flown around the world twice, and been out on his feet at the conclusion of the Newcastle match, Sonny’s contributions, particularly in the absence of Kane and Dele, have bordered on the super-human, injecting moments of inspiration when we have needed them most.

2. Vertonghen’s Exciting Day Out

Our Glorious Leader sticking to his principle that to play a wing-back in consecutive games would be madness of the highest order, and with Davies still absent injured and young Walker-Peters too dashed right-footed, there was a rare day out on the left flank for AANP’s close chum Jan Vertonghen.

As social experiments go it made for interesting viewing. Nature having decreed that any and all useful output should emanate from the chap’s left stem, he was at least appropriately balanced for left-backery. However, Vertonghen is a man of pretty lengthy proportions, sinewy and elegant, well-designed for tackle and stretch, and not necessarily the obvious pick for lung-busting runs along the flank, with chest thrust and muscles throbbing, a la Danny Rose.

It meant that the fellow did not necessarily look entirely at ease as he set about trying to make a fist of the role, life’s accelerations and bursts not coming entirely naturally to the chap.

Not that his team-mates gave the mildest hang about his travails, for the Player X-to-Vertonghen routine seemed a pretty well-rehearsed one, and pretty swiftly became the option of choice as Newcastle barricaded the various other routes to goal.

To his credit, Vertonghen beavered away as instructed, and while his crosses missed as regularly as they hit, he had a decent amount of joy, and gave our heroes a viable option throughout.

His eventual replacement by Rose nevertheless made sense as we switched to 3-5-2 in the closing stages, Rose being more genetically disposed to go hurtling down the flank. All told, the use of Vertonghen as left-back is probably not going to be nailed on for generations to come as the tactical ploy of choice, but for a random joust against a Newcastle mob set upon deep, deep defence it was at least moderately successful.

3. Llorente’s Impact, Again

Having lambasted Llorente whenever the opportunity has presented itself in recent weeks – and on several occasions when no such opportunity has existed, but the urge has simply become too strong – lovers of irony were in their element yesterday as I bemoaned the unfortunate egg’s absence throughout.

With our lot camped outside the Newcastle box, and the entire Newcastle lot camped within, the case for airborne crosses was pretty compelling, and the stage seemed set for Llorente to peddle his wares. Alas, the pairing of choice was Moura and Son, whose prowess on terra firma is unfortunately not matched by any particular renown in the air. A couple of decent headed chances popped the wrong side of the posts, and by and large we were kept at arms length by the massed ranks of Newcastle bodies.

Not to criticise Poch for this particular call, mind. Llorente has been used on a near-constant basis since Kane’s untimely departure, so there was some sense in rotating him out. And one might opine that the plan actually worked to perfection, given that the chap then set up Son’s goal when he was ultimately introduced.

4. Late Goals When Most Needed

So for the umpteenth time this season our heroes have come up with a late, late goal send us all home with a sentiment somewhere on the scale between relief and buoyancy. Much more of this and folk will start accusing us of having mettle and grit and not bottling our affairs.

More serene, comfortable victories would obviously be preferable, but I must confess to a little thrill at the manner in which we can now enter the final furlong still needing a goal but with an underlying sense that actually we might dashed well go and grab one from somewhere.

We almost certainly will not win a trophy this season, but it appears that another string is being added to the lilywhite bow, as we have now become one of those teams who can eke out goals in the dying embers.

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Spurs 2-1 Watford:

1. The Many Twists and Turns of the Llorente Soap Opera

If Fernando Llorente had been hoping for one of those quiet, drama-free nights that flits swiftly from the memory, he was in for quite the shock.

When the incorrigible old bean contrived to knee the ball over the bar from practically underneath it, the hills were alive with the sound of groans, curses and around thirty thousand palms simultaneously slapping foreheads.

For his own part Llorente did the honourable thing and duly adopted the pose of a man doing his level best to be swallowed up by the earth. More broadly, the omens were not particularly cheery, our heroes still being one goal in debit. The thought began to crystallise that if we were going to escape from this particular hole the odds appeared heavily stacked in favour of us doing so despite rather than because of the gangly fellow.

And yet, fast forward fifteen minutes or so and the chap was galloping off to the touchline in celebration, face contorted and fist clenched. He may have cut a pretty calamitous figure for much of his Tottenham career, but loft the ball towards his upper regions and Llorente will tend to find a way to plant a header into the net.

The curiosity in amongst all of this is that the ten lilywhites around him, while presumably having met him at some point, nevertheless seem utterly oblivious to the fact that Lorente is not, never has been and never will be Harry Kane, and just continue to play as if he is. They ignore his limitations – namely his stunning lack of mobility – and indeed his strengths – all that aerial muck – and instead whizz around the pitch as normal, and tell him to keep up if he can. Which he can’t.

The net sum of all this is that for much of the binge we play almost as if a man short. When a cross finally was lobbed onto his head, the blighter scored. Makes one think a bit, what?

2. Poch’s Changes

Going back to the beginning, it was another one of those dirge-like first half knocks, which suggests that some of the wiring is not quite right at HQ. Bar young Sonny, whose effervescence from the off was rather eye-catching, there was a distinct lack of movement and general urgency in that first half.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Our Glorious Leader therefore took a sip or two from the chalice of half-time tinkerings, and with Lucas Moura introduced, and Sissoko drawing the short straw of right wing-back, things pretty immediately assumed a much rosier hue.

In truth, Sissoko hardly looks at ease in any position on the pitch, so right wing-back was as reasonable a shout as any other, and the chap did all that was necessary, including delivering the perfectly serviceable cross that resulted in Llorente’s one-yard moment of horror.

Further credit to Poch for recognising that there was more to be gained from introducing a more bona fide crosser onto the right, and accordingly shoving Trippier into action; and even his gambit of Lamela-for-Vertonghen was surprisingly – and pleasingly – proactive, for a man who has spent several years carefully cultivating his image as one firmly welded to the laissez-faire principle of letting matters take their own course during play without dreaming of injecting any tactical interference.

The changes ultimately worked, but if one were to quibble – and let’s face it, the interweb exists for precious little other reason – one might politely opine that we would have been better off by beginning in such manner rather than falling behind and adjusting like the dickens.

3. Moura

For all the nuanced alterations, it was Moura’s introduction that really turned the thing on its head and blew all our skirts up.

Where Son had previously ploughed an effervescent but pretty lonely furrow, Moura’s direct running noticeably achieved the double-whammy of shoving fresh handfuls of problems at a Watford defence used to the markedly less mobile threat of Llorente, whilst simultaneously giving our lot a wealth of fresh options, either in the penalty area or attacking from rather deeper districts.

He might not have scored or directly created a goal, but there were certainly hints of the early-season Moura who merrily ran riot at Old Trafford, and with Messrs Kane and Alli still some distance away from being fully paid-up members of the parish, his was a welcome return.

4. Rose, The Useful Alternative Attacking Option

The ever-feisty Danny Rose also caught the eye, as he often does. In the second half in particular he seemed rather to enjoy the self-assigned task of trying to dribble past as many yellow shirts as he could spot, at one point beating a man and then re-tracing his steps purely for the purpose of finding the same man and beating him again.

All of which would have served little purpose, but he did at least have the courtesy to sail in a few crosses at the end of it all, or at least attempt to do so. More often than not they brought corners, but in the final throes it brought Llorente’s goal, and as such he did precisely that for which he was put on God’s green earth.

Aside from such direct involvement, it was also notable how often we resort to the diagonal switch of play, from the right or centre to the feet of Rose stationed wide left, when the well of creative ideas runs dry and all in lilywhite simply mooch around with gormless faces and shrugging shoulders. Where Walker-Peters is forced to cut back onto his right, and Davies’ attacking talents are somewhat limited, Rose time and again offers a viable alternative against the deep-lying defensive units.

5. Late Comebacks: Becoming A Habit, Would You Believe?

Mercifully our persistence paid off, and not for the first time. Time and again our heroes are finding ways to drag themselves back into games and produce late wins when the outlook has been decidedly gloomy but five or ten minutes earlier. It will not win us a trophy any time soon, nor can we be considered credible title challengers, but one does get the impression that another box is being ticked this season.

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

Palace 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Different Cup Tie, Same Pattern

I’m not sure where the viewing public stand on this, but personally I’m not a fan of our recent trend of turning in pretty rotten first half performance and giving ourselves two-goal deficits and whatnot. Something about the whole approach strikes me as rummy, and few would argue that it mades life a dashed sight more complicated than it needs to be.

Nevertheless, our heroes were at it again this afternoon. Admittedly this first half was a step up from that against Chelsea on Thursday, as on this occasion we did actually acquaint ourselves with the ball. Near-monopolised the thing in fact.

But with Dier and Skipp sitting in front of the back three, the well of creativity through the middle was absolutely bone dry. Those in lilywhite having therefore been instructed that the route to salvation lay in the form of young Walker-Peters on the left, the ball was obligingly shoved over to the lad on regular occasions in the
first half, to do with as he pleased.

Alas, nature has decreed that Walker-Peters’ left foot is predominantly for balance and aesthetics, so crosses to the head of Llorente were at a premium, as he simply cut back onto his right foot and pottered around in that little corner of the pitch, and for all our huff and puff, chances were at a premium.

2. The Life And Increasingly Trying Times of Kieran Trippier

These are odd times to be Kieran Trippier. Cast the mind back to the halcyon summer of 2018, and the fellow was starting to emerge as something of a national treasure.

A personal highlight at AANP Towers, was the focus with which he stepped up to take his penalty vs Colombia, marching up to the spot with the look of a man whose head was about to explode due to the intensity of his concentration levels, before slapping the ball with military precision into the top corner and marching back again, cranial explosion still very much on the cards.

The whole glorious episode gave the impression that if one’s life were to depend on a man burying a penalty, Trippier’s name would be up there on the list, not far behind the likes of Messrs A. Shearer and H. Kane.

Fast forward six or so months and the chap’s stock has taken something of a tumble, no doubt about it. Aberrations both in and out of possession have become distressingly commonplace. And now, as if to emphasise the point to any kindly onlooker still inclined to give the poor bean the benefit of the doubt, he even makes a complete pig’s ear of a penalty that one suspects would have made quite the difference to things.

Nobody misses these things on purpose, of course, but that moment was of the utterly avoidable ilk that has one slapping one’s thigh and wondering what the dickens else might go wrong.

3. Lamela

Since returning from his latest injury Lamela has been rather heavy on bluster while delivering precious little in the way of end-product – bar a neatly taken penalty, which I suppose ought not to be underestimated in these troubled times. Today however the bouncy young imp received the message loud and clear, and entered the fray choc full of strut and tricks, injecting a hitherto unseen energy into our activities from a central position of which he clearly approved.

Whereas in the first half those in possession tended to pause, and stroke chins, and ponder a handful of life’s great mysteries before doing anything with it – and even then doing little more than passing sideways – Lamela’s compass was pointing very decidedly northwards, and every time he received possession he hared off towards the Palace goal.

The effect was invigorating. Whether directly from Lamela’s size nines, or just taken by the general principle he brought with him, the team as a collective upped their zest and urgency.

The combo work between Lamela and Trippier out on the right was also pretty niftily done, but alas, as with everything we tried, it all come to nought.

4. Foyth

There are some situations in life one would rather shift to the poor unfortunate standing at one’s side. Being chased around town by a shape-shifting cyborg killer, for example, or idling one’s way down a path only to realise and enormous boulder is rolling along in hot pursuit.

And to that list I think I would add having the slippery eel Zaha racing towards you, with nothing in the way of a safety net other than a vast expense of greenery.

In such circumstances I was rather impressed with the young man, for caught on the counter a couple of times, as we inevitably were, I was rather inclined to fling my hands skywards and accept the worst. Foyth, however, took the opportunities to display that he is made of sterner stuff, and kept his eye on the ball, stopped Zaha in his tracks and got on with things.

Admittedly it amounts to barely a shimmer of light behind the pretty stormy-looking clouds that gather about the place, but it made for a pleasant surprise, particularly given Foyth’s general penchant for occasional defensive clangers.

So a chastening few days, littered with bad luck, individual mistakes and injuries littered in every dashed corner you care to look, but such is the nature of the beast. Three winnable games approach, nine points from which would be one heck of a fillip.

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

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The First Half: As Rotten As I’ve Seen

The first half was just about as rotten as we’d all feared. We Spurs fans are rarely the most optimistic breed at the best of times, but with our three leading lights absent and Llorente as the nominated focal point, the mood pre-match was one of undiluted dread, a sentiment that proved entirely justified in an opening 45 that was dross of the highest order.

Most of that period was spent simply haring around in the slipstream of the Chelsea lot, barely laying a foot on the ball and generally giving the sense that an almighty thrashing was in the post and on its way.

Llorente seemed to pick up where he left off against Fulham, seemingly unable to find a team-mate if his life had depended on it, and he received precious little support from a midfield that seemed to view the ball with the gawking confusion of a group of wide-eyed innocents being introduced to it for the first time.

One rather felt for Eriksen, who stood head and shoulders above his teammates, but who all too often tiptoed his way around numerous snapping ankles only to look up and find that not a soul was in the vicinity to offer support. Or that Llorente was there, which essentially amounted to the same thing.

2. The All Action Second Half

The transformation amongst our mob in the second half was of the sort normally reserved for cartoon characters with little concern for realistic plot devices.

Our Glorious Leader, for so long a manager who seems to have treated a football match as a cinematic experience to be enjoyed passively and in a silent spirit of non-interference throughout, took it upon himself to switch to a back three, which gave Danny Rose in particular the licence to hare upfield with the sort of zeal that one would rather not argue with.

And aside from the tactical change, the whole bally gang of lilywhites took to the second half with a frenzied determination if not exactly to strategically out-manoeuvre Chelsea, chess-like and subtle, then at least with a frantic spirit of all-action-no-plot frenzy that seemed to rely upon living by the sword and dashed well dying by it too. It was marvellous fun, albeit pretty wearing stuff for the nerves.

3. Llorente’s Moment of Redemption. Good Egg.

The first half might have gone on for several days and we would not have got anywhere near scoring; but within five minutes of the second half we had done the business, and I think only those of the most heartless dispositions could have failed to feel some pleasure for Senor Llorente.

I’m quite happy to admit that I was amongst the most vocal in chiding the wretched chap at the weekend for his buffoonery, so his perseverance last night was worthy of some grudging admiration; but his headed goal merits a far more sincere slap on the back and splash of the good stuff.

A combination of brute force and bravery, when it would have been easy for him to sulk and mope and just give up on the whole dashed thing, it was impressive stuff (even if the hope it thereby provided did ultimately make the eventual defeat all the more galling).

4. Gazzaniga Passing

Although there was a deflection en route that perhaps messed with his mechanics, I was not exactly bowled over by Gazzaniga’s attempt to repel Kante’s goal; but the chap’s distribution is fast becoming one of the more impressive sights to behold.

We’ve seen it from him a few times now, this inclination to volley the ball from his hands deep into the heart of a panicky opposition defence, and Gazzaniga was at it again last night, niftily straddling that line between a hopeful, moronic punt and a devilishly identified and executed ping of a wonder-pass.

The pass that set Eriksen free on the right very nearly created The Best Goal Ever – Llorente, in one of life’s more unsurprising developments, failing to make a clean connection with Eriksen’s cross.

Then Gazzaniga set Moura free on the inside left, and the ensuing volley was only a few inches away from being another goal the aesthetics of which would have flown through the roof.

Lloris presumably retains the edge for his instinctive shot-stopping, but Gazzaniga’s passing is one heck of a string to his bow. I look forward to his next foray in the FA Cup on Sunday.

5. Injuries

Ultimately it was not to be, and we might as well have exited the competition at the first hurdle (although I think the win at the Emirates did a world of good, so silver linings and all that muck).

The sight of Davies limping off after half an hour actually caused me not a jot of upset – as, it might surprise my public to know, I’ve never been the most ardent supporter of the young bean – but the principle of another day bringing about another injury is about as much as any sane chappie can bear.

The lunacy of the summer transfer policy is not just an elephant in the room, it’s an entire herd of the things. Almost every one of our players who went to the World Cup has since picked up some form of injury, and we have barely had a week free of a midweek fixture.

The official party line of not buying players who cannot improve upon the current starting eleven is being exposed as utter tosh with each passing day, for we simply need additional players just to take to the pitch. If no better players can be bought, buy players of equal quality and field them instead, rather than fielding the same honest souls every game until they literally break.

Alas, there seems little likelihood of any of this changing, and frankly we seem more likely to sell than to buy this month. It’s a dreary append to an oddly glorious failure.

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

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