Not quite sure how I coped before the World Cup, but by heavens life has been a struggle in the seven days since it finished. A handy opportunity however, to cast the eye over those lilywhites in action this summer, as well as various other bits and pieces at N17.
First-rate stuff though the tournament was, alas it was not the sort of World Cup to have wide-eyed maidens rushing to the top of their towers and squealing the good name of Tottenham. Au contraire, from a lilywhite perspective this has been a summer to elicit sneers of contempt from neighbourhood vagabonds.
For a start, one can say what they please about the performance of our national mob, but before a ball had been kicked a hefty thump to the pride was administered, make no mistake, by the decision to include not a single lilywhite amongst the 23 tasked with making England proud. Worse pickles befall the average Tottenham fan, it is true – left, right and centre on a weekly basis last season, if memory serves – but as the summer began this was certainly a fresh ignominy with which gloating rivals bashed us over the head.
Nevertheless, corners of various Brazilian fields were sprayed a Tottenham hue this summer, thanks to the efforts of a select few from around the globe. Monsieur Lloris did not do much wrong, and was not really to blame as his outfield colleagues waved their white flags and sidled home at the Quarter-Final stage.
The Manaus heat presumably did Lloris something of a mischief however, for no sooner had he landed back on European terra firma than he was signing himself up to another season of Just Missing Out On The Top Four with us. In a World Cup replete with impressive goalkeepers he was up there amongst the best of them, consolidating his reputation, and could presumably have bounced straight off to some CL team on the continent in a jiffy - so his rationale did perplex me somewhat I must confess. Not that he is likely to honour the full five years – presumably he will be off in a season or two for a health sum – but he could most certainly have toddled off this summer had he chosen.
Vertonghen (And Chums)
Back to the on-pitch stuff, and the other highlight from our lot was provided by Vertonghen, who against USA in particular could not have gone about his left-backery in more buccaneering style if he had done so whilst galloping along on horseback, with sword in hand and distressed damsel flung over shoulder. A goal in the group stages is also now proudly emblazoned across the top of his Linkedin profile, so little wonder that Belgium’s demise prompted reports that Barcelona were sniffing around Vertonghen Towers with a glass of sangria and a couple of brochures. Having shown all the interest of a particularly errant toddler being made to watch paint dry during his final few games at the Lane last season, I would not be entirely taken aback if he were to tootle off abroad, but one never really knows what goes on in the inner sanctum.
Vertonghen’s Belgian colleagues were rather more on the underwhelming side. Dembele was occasionally spotted puffing out his chest, letting the ball run away from him and barging folk over, and Chadli also dabbled in a few inauspicious cameos, but few skirts were blown up as a result.
On the Algerian side of the playground young Bentaleb could be seen studiously pinging the ball sideways and backwards and backwards and sideways, before the assorted grands fromage of Algiers presumably got wind of his ruse, and banished him to the sidelines for the knockout game vs Germany.
The most glorious failure was undoubtedly Paulinho’s, who impressively managed to establish himself as one of the worst of an absolutely rotten bunch of Brazilians. He does earn a bonus point for side-stepping the first half of the Greatest Comedy Show on Earth, but one can hardly protest that Brazil’s thrashing would have been avoided had Paulinho been patrolling the grounds from kick-off.
Transfers at N17
Aside from the World Cup, I may be in a minority but the fact that nothing but tumbleweed is currently rolling around the Arrivals Lounge at the Lane jolly well gladdens the AANP bean. Another 51 weeks of this and full-blown stability might actually break out.
I’m not insinuating that our squad is practically perfect in every way – if ever a club needed to knock unconscious its full-backs and stuff them onto a plane, BA Baracus style, it’s our lot with Rose and Naughton – but after the not entirely magnificent seven were scooped up last season, something a little more sedate might be in order this summer. If Pochettino can stick with what we’ve got and snake-charm the magic out of (or into, depending on your viewpoint) Lamela and Soldado I will sink the evening bourbon with a smirk of quiet satisfaction.
And finally, as is customary at this time of year, a new kit has been dolefully plastered around the interweb. Accepting the usual caveats (i.e. if they make Top Four and snag a trophy they can do it in stockings and suspenders for all I care) I fling this one into the pile labelled ‘Underwhelming’. The tribute to Bill Nick is a commendable touch, but otherwise, to this untrained eye, the blue lines across the front seem a tad unnecessary, and a collar might be nice. ‘Tis all much of a muchness in the final analysis – white shirt, blue shorts, heinously over-priced. (Although excitingly, the marketing bods have this year resorted to a Wild-Eyed Look of Rage approach to advertising, which makes a change from chaps standing around with arms folded.)
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Don’t mind AANP breezing through your Sunday evening with a few musings on the lilywhite brigade busting their respective guts at the marvellous World Cup…
Like Djimi Traore proudly keeping a Champions League Winner’s medal stuffed alongside the small change in his pocket, and Ian Bell possessing one hundred caps for the England cricket team, there is something that makes me shed a small tear and wonder if there but for the grace of God about the notion that, should the hosts go on and win the whole bally thing, then Paulinho will be a World Cup winner.
Perhaps precisely because Paulinho is the heartbeat of said team do they look like they need a pacemaker and possibly some bypass surgery at present. The blighter has so far looked every inch the impotent midfield passenger, which has actually been vaguely comforting for those who like to watch their World Cup without worrying that the very fabric of the universe will collapse under the weight of absurdity of seeing him suddenly become some sort of footballing genius.
One never knows I suppose. The chap may be Pele incarnate in training, and simply under managerial orders to bob around the pitch like a man tasked with chasing his own shadow once the action gets under way.
Controversial though it may be, I have never particularly subscribed to the school of though that Benny deserves extra sprinkles on his ice-cream for being some sort of kooky, anti-establishment hero. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer my footballers to switch off their phones and concentrate on playing football first and foremost, with the notable addendum that full-backs jolly well ought to prioritise defending, with absurd haircuts and own-area Cruyff-turns a long way down the list.
So seeing BAE let his man drift away from him, ‘track back’ a good 15 yards behind play, fail to close down attackers as they prepared to shoot and then languidly dangle a leg whilst turning away as the aforementioned shot pinged in, was all a little too much for one of my delicate constitution. Nor was I amongst the throngs howling in delight as he aimed an idiotic headbutt at a team-mate, of all dashed things. Absolutely hollow of head, that chap.
Mercifully the fine qualities of sanity and solidarity were waving merrily at us from between the two French sticks, where Monsieur Lloris had gone about his business mopping up the dregs in suitably dignified fashion during the two French wins. Not that he was required to do an awful lot, but as he has managed to go 2 games without assaulting the nearest team-mate he qualifies as one of our most successful lilywhite ambassadors.
Vertonghen & Chadli, Belgium
Appallingly enough, the day-job prevented AANP from the serious business of casting a discerning eye over the assembled lilywhite hordes in the Belgium-Algeria match. However, there was something dashed predictable in flicking to online text commentary to learn that Chadli had been withdrawn from proceedings at the halfway stage, on the grounds of invisibility.
A penalty conceded by Vertonghen in the same game suggests that, at least in terms of headline-making, this was a slightly underwhelming day for the great and good of N17’s Flemish contingent, and Vertonghen was duly relegated to the bench for his sins, appearing for around half their second game and hardly covering himself in glory there either.
As mentioned, no comment on Algeria’s first game, but midway through their second and young Bentaleb seems to have been rotated 90 degrees by his national manager, a masterstroke that has him passing sideways and sometimes even forwards, as opposed to the usual backwards thing peddled ad nauseam at the Lane.
A hearty “What ho!” and pat on the back to our newest glorious leader. Primarily for the sake of idling away the hours until the World Cup begins, AANP has cobbled together some thoughts on this Pochettino blighter, some communicating the general line of ‘yay’, others the less salubrious conclusion of ‘nay’.
Huzzah - He’s Not Tim Sherwood
‘Genetically Not Being Tim Sherwood’ is a positive on the CV at the moment. Not that I want to denigrate Sherwood too heavily, he doubtless did his damnedest for the lilywhite cause, but it seems to have been in the best interests of the club to have him bundled up in a sheet, hit over the head and shoved behind a sofa. Out of sight, out of mind.
Enter stage left Mr Pochettino, the sort of canny fish who seems a little less likely to turn the manager’s job at Spurs into a real-time video diary of how he is making things up as he goes along, and is also considerably less likely to be so angry at life.
All things considered, with talk of van Gaal and Ancelotti about as speculative as a Paulinho 20-yarder, and AANP deeply suspicious of De Boer’s record of umpteen consecutive titles in a Dutch league that is not exactly worshipped far and wide as the pinnacle of European football, we can probably be happy enough with this. Indeed, the general reaction amongst Spurs-supporting chums has been to give an understated nod of satisfaction and invite the man into our homes with the offer of a free splash or two of bourbon. He has our blessing.
Huzzah – He Has Premiership Experience
‘Tis also to be celebrated that the chap has some familiarity with the inner recesses of the Premiership. Last summer’s recruitment of umpteen players who had never previously set foot on this fair isle turned into a bit of a fiasco, while previous grands fromages who arrived at N17 as complete strangers to the country seemed to spend a mite too long squinting at the road signs and making sense of tea containing milk, when all along we really needed them to fit snugly into the official club blazer from day one. So where Messrs Gross, Santini and Ramos wasted time scouring their Pannini sticker albums to work out who played in which position, Pochettino can swan in already knowing his Lee Proberts from his Michael Olivers.
Huzzah – His Southampton Team Played Some Entertaining Stuff
One of the main selling points of this blighter is that he seems to have a penchant for good old swash and buckle, when it comes to style of play. Whether or not things will materialise thusly at the Lane remains to be seen, but on a scale of George Graham to Brazil 1970 he seems the sort of chap likely to give a knowing wink when it comes to the tactics board. Heaven help us if we go down the road of ‘Dawson Manning A High Defensive Line’ once more, but things should be fun to watch when we trundle forward.
Huzzah – He Gets The Best Out of Players (Apparently)
A little secret just between friends – a couple of years ago AANP had never heard of either Luke Shaw or Rickie Lambert, while Jay Rodriguez was known to me as the chap who made that film in which Salma Hayek danced around in her skimpies with a snake before everyone turned into vampires (you know the one) and Lallana was the sort of dish that would give me a rum tummy while on holiday. It turns out that Pochettino knows exactly how much spinach to feed these sort of chaps to turn them into the next over-priced young English talent to weaken our knees, and such alchemy would be welcome at the Lane.
Talent is currently oozing out of the sides of our squad and forming unsightly puddles on the ground, but by golly if you pop eleven of our lot onto a pitch together they all start digging at the earth as fast as their little hands allow and bury their heads in the ground before you can bluster “But this is £100 million pound of international talent, dash it.” Someone somewhere needs to beg, steal or borrow the best out of Lamela, Townsend, Chadli, Soldado (Naughton, admittedly, is a lost cause) et al, and Pochettino has previous in this department.
All the sort of thing to put hair on the chest you no doubt agree. However, the long-suffering lilywhite in me has accumulated cynicism by the lorry-load over the years, so it would be highly amiss not to pore over some of the seedier aspects of the career of Pochettino, and howl a prophesy of doom accordingly…
Show Us Yer Medals
In an ideal world, young people would dwell beneath rocks and other convenient crevices until they had something useful to contribute, the only member of the Cyrus clan whose music blared from phones on public transport would be Billy Ray, and Spurs would be managed by a chap with more awards, trophies and medals than you could wave a large stick at. Alas, the Pochettino managerial trophy cabinet is not exactly full to brimming at present. Admittedly, lashings of experience and a sack full of sparkling jugs and whatnot were of little help to Capello when he took charge of England, so such things are no guarantee of success - but the deal would be that much sweeter if Pochettino were a proven title-winner. He will just have to start the habit at N17.
One Good Season
Do 18 good months at Southampton a Top Four manager make? If he had been managing in England for five years would he now be regarded as on a par with, say, Pardew circa 2013 or Pardew circa 2014? The point being, the chap is still a little wet behind the ears, and it is rather difficult to average out his performance when there are but one a half seasons over which to pore.
Can He Handle Proven Players?
‘Tis one thing administering a thousand lashes (or indeed a bedtime lullaby, as the case may be) to young wide-eyed bucks like Shaw and Lallana, who are still making their way in the big wide world, but whether or not Pochettino can command the respect of seasoned millionaire internationals like Paulinho, Adebayor, Vertonghen and chums remains to be seen. AVB’s approach to handling the more experienced chaps at Chelski backfired spectacularly, and his Adebayor gambit here at the Lane was not much better; Pochettino will dashed well need some bright ideas if he does not want to wander back to his office one day to find a bucket of water perched atop the door and some sort of coup taking shape on the training pitch.
This Man Lost to Tim Sherwood. Twice.
Not the be-all and end-all of things by any means, but to lose once to Tim Sherwood can be glossed over as being a mite careless, to lose twice, in the space of half a season, is the sort blot that no man of substance ought to have on his escutcheon. It ought to matter not in the grand scheme of things, but it is not terrifically encouraging, what?
Well, there is no verdict as such – sorry to mislead. The chap is here, he seems a bright enough young egg, let’s rally around and cheer him to the rafters.
There is possibly more pressure on Levy than Pochettino with this appointment, but in defence of our follicly-challenged supremo, the appointments of AVB and now Pochettino point to a certain type of manager and set-up.
Moreover, the five-year contract suggests that Levy genuinely does want to perch in his hammock with feet up and a good book, without having to march down the High Road and firing and hiring everyone within sight each time the clocks change. Amen to that. Should we finish mid-table, then the rumblings of discontent will no doubt begin again, but I rather hope that even if we miss the Top Four (as seems fairly probable) and rather make a hash of things all round, we nevertheless persist with the manager, personnel and style.
Credit to Tactics Tim for managing to appear genuinely shocked and enraged when he bounced into work earlier this week and found the locks changed on his office door. ‘Twas a move that one suspects had been planned by Daniel Levy within nanoseconds of hiring him, and accordingly, barely had the lights been switched off after Ledley’s marvellous testimonial before the team of burly sorts were yanking Sherwood from his chair and flinging him headfirst through the nearest window and out onto the High Road.
Seasoned visitors to AANP Towers will doubtless be aware that around these parts we greet Sherwood’s removal with a cheery wave and care-free whistle (even if it has had the regrettable side-effect of him popping up in every dashed nook and cranny to wave his fist and rant about how well he would have done if he had just been given more time. Someone gag the chap and hide him behind a boulder until after the World Cup.)
The epithet on his N17 tombstone ought probably to capture that his pointed observations about the fighting spirit – or lack thereof – amongst our heroes did briefly locate a very pertinent nail and bash it squarely on the head. Alas, painfully under-qualified, seemingly incapable of filtering his thoughts in even the crudest fashion before they tumbled out of his mouth and without any tactical masterplan beyond ‘Pick Bentaleb,’ the blighter fairly quickly drifted into caricature, seemingly finding fault with everyone but himself.
Sherwood’s points tally may suggest a fairly successful tenure, but the statistics can be interpreted in various ways, and while I have the floor I bang drums, ring bells and wave placards at the fact that we ended up more points adrift of the Top Four at his departure than we were at his arrival.
On top of which performances swayed between fairly mediocre and downright awful, we continued to take ritual drubbings from any team with the faintest inkling of quality. My particular bête noire about the whole dashed thing was the absolutely maddening tendency to fiddle with personnel and tactics on a weekly basis (bar that almost religious devotion to selecting Bentaleb), seemingly just to prove a point to anyone who cared. It all seemed rather apt that in his final match Sherwood plucked a lucky chappie from the crowd and popped him into the hot seat, for his own managerial career at the Lane could not have been more neatly summed up.
Levy – The Opposite of the A-Team
So as sure as the seasons ping along in well-ordered fashion, we find ourselves looking for a new manager. Back in the ‘80s, if you had a problem and no-one else could help you nipped off to the Los Angeles underground to bring on board a ragtag bunch of soldiers of fortune. Daniel Levy however seems increasingly determined to style himself as the opposite of the A-Team, with no inclination to see whether a plan will come together, and seemingly precious little patience to invest in a plan in the first place. Hannibal and chums would presumably have been out on their ear before their first fist-fight had Levy hired them.
With each passing day the £100 mil shopping spree, removal of AVB and hiring of Sherwood seem less like part of a prepared strategy, or even a considered contingency plan, and increasingly like the teenage AANP flexing his muscles for the first time on Championship Manager. Quite what Levy will do next is anyone’s guess, but in the decade or so that he has been in charge it has not been massively clear what, if anything, the chap is getting at. Directors of Football, plain-speaking English rogues, European tacticians, bright young things, gnarly veterans – Levy no doubt wants us in the Top Four, but there is now something reminiscent of a crazed general adopting increasingly extreme behaviour as all around him things go awry, before finally placing a gun to his own head and giving one final, manic laugh. Crumbs, he had better get the next appointment right.
Where was this lickety-split brand of football when we needed it earlier in the season? Throughout the first half, and even at 0-0, the one-touch interplay was slicker than a young bounder rolling into the office in braces and a shiny pair of cufflinks. Admittedly it was against a Villa side that looked suspiciously like it had been plucked from their mob of (rather mischievously entertaining) supporters, but nevertheless. Rollicking stuff. If ever there were an award for The Best 45 Minutes of Football At The Most Pointless Juncture of the Season, our heroes would be amongst the red-hot nominees.
Credit to Tactics Tim, in his valedictory charge, for spying that the opposition were but fan-based doppelgangers and accordingly going with two upfront plus a midfielder instructed to bomb forward and beyond. With Sandro holding fort, and Eriksen and Sig surreptitiously drifting infield towards that fun-filled centre, we had options a-plenty, leaving the various competition-winners entrusted with the Villa shirt for one day with little to do but step aside obligingly and let their ‘keeper face things single-handedly. And then as a particularly cruel additional prank they took a pop at him themselves, for our second. With friends like that, eh?
So tip-top was the build-up play in that first half that even our mishap-riddled full-back pair looked worthy of the epithet “Actual Professional Footballer”, Messrs Rose and Naughton taking time out from their season’s worth of misplaced passes to ping in a couple of wicked crosses and diagonals. Moreover, having spent all season resolutely knocking the ball sideways or backwards, Paulinho suddenly discovered the joys of actually progressing forward, in a manner vaguely akin to a blind man having the veil removed from his eyes, albeit with marginally less emotional impact. The opening goal was marvellously crafted, with the applause at AANP Towers ringing loudest for the cheeky, dinked lay-off provided by sideways merchant himself in the build-up. More was to come from Paulinho moments later, including a slide-rule pass for someone or other to blaze wide, proof indeed that after a full season the lad has finally begun watching and learning from Master Eriksen.
Naturally things tailed off in the second half, a gentlemen’s agreement having been brokered at the interval guaranteeing that all 22 of them they could all gently doze off – and that was that. The season that could not end soon enough has ended, the Sherwood era has (presumably) ground to an angry halt and the glorious Europa journey will be ours once more. Huzzah! If anything I rather suspect that the coming weeks will be a dashed sight more interesting around N17 than those just gone. Eyes peeled, as end of season awards will imminently this way come.
Shameless Plug Alert – Lest ye be feeling bereft of inane witterings and lilywhite marvels already, by all means browse the nearest bookstore for AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, which continues to decorate coffee tables and prop open doors the across the country.
Credit to our heroes for their ingenuity. In a season in which sacrificial slaughters seem to have taken place on a monthly basis, as well as half a dozen transfer failures and an off-the-pitch approach to running a club that would leave a team of monkeys red-faced, it did not seem possible to reach a new low in a game against a West Ham team hated by their own and at a point in the season in which there was next to nothing at stake. This season however, our lot have exercised every ounce of creative licence to come up with new and fantastical means of generating car crashes from thin air. Admittedly it might have been a tad more productive for them to expend their energy on something a little more conducive to success, but baby steps, what?
It seemed a tad indulgent of Monsieur Kaboul to finish up his work for the season after half an hour of the penultimate game, the cheeky rascal, but his was a worthy entry nevertheless into the pantheon of Astonishingly Bad Ideas From Our Lot, 2013/14. Here at AANP Towers our hearts have burned with good honest man-love for Monsier Kaboul ever since he puffed out his chest and went bulldozing up the right flank vs Man City a few years back, to create the goal for Crouch that secured our CL status. Thus have excuses been made for him ever since, when he returned to action this season as part of the back-four that was torn to ribbons back at Man City, and apologetic shrugs were offered on his behalf when both feet became completely disengaged from reality and he resorted to a first minute back-heeled o.g. at Anfield.
Alas, the chap’s mishaps have drifted from occasional aberrations to his own unique brand of farce. Presumably these days when he moves from one room to another at Chateau Kaboul he trips over the carpet, careers into the dining table and sends crockery crashing everywhere. With his pace going, and well-timed interventions playing second fiddle to ill-timed lunges, he now seems to offer us precious little beyond a couple of startling eyebrows. ‘Tis with heavy heart that these sentiments are voiced, but his contract is up this summer in any case. Be gone, Kaboul, and take thine eyebrows with thee. In fact, take the entire defence with thee, apart from angry young Kyle Walker. Let’s just start from scratch at the back, because at the moment the whole dashed thing is making my eyes bleed.
Paulinho and Adebayor
However, the bar for scarcely believable lilywhite buffoonery was undoubtedly raised by the intrepid heroes Paulinho and Adebayor, in facing up to a single size 5 football as if it were a vigilante mob armed with numchucks, machetes and those awesome massive gun things that Vasquez wielded in Aliens. With that sort of commitment to the cause one would not fancy their chances in wrestling a ball of string from a heavily sedated kitten, let alone hauling us into the Top Four against the Premiership’s finest. Still, there is some comfort in the thought of the spittle-flecked apoplexy that presumably greeted them when Tim Sherwood sauntered by for the post-mortem.
Almost everywhere one looked on Saturday there was an excruciating limpness about all things lilywhite. Lennon, another whom AANP has resolutely defended year after year, seems to have become a parody of himself, trotting out those jazz-hands and that predictable shoulder-feint-and-dash-out-right routine in an entirely perfunctory manner. Kyle Naughton’s blandness has reached such levels that he is now entirely incapable of stirring any emotion in me whatsoever. Chiriches I imagine is a lad who understands not one word of the instructions he is fed, but nods blankly and then decides to play as the voices in his head dictate.
Excused from the debacle, as ever, were Eriksen and Lloris, but there is no getting away from the fact that this was yet another calamitous chapter in the tome of our 2013/14 season – a tome that will, rather incongruously, nevertheless be titled, “Heavens Above – Look How Many Points We Garnered! Huzzah!”
So with the Top Four a fast-disappearing speck in the distance, the guillotine hovering over Tim and envious glances at Liverpool gently convincing the denizens of AANP Towers that a seventh-placed finish and quiet avoidance of Europa 2014-15 would probably do us the world of good, our heroes have decided to buck up their ideas and consolidate sixth. Thanks, heroes.
The Rarely-Seen Left Foot of Aaron Lennon
Still, Saturday will live long in the memory of all seasoned lilywhites, as for the first time since that winning goal vs Chelski circa ’05, there was a surprise guest appearance from Aaron Lennon’s left foot. Previously only employed for the purpose of enabling his unique strut, there it was in all its glory, sending in absolute peach of a cross for the forehead of young Master Kane. Oh that Lennon had pinged in such left-footed wizardry a little earlier and more regularly in his career, who knows what heights he might have scaled by now? But as it happens that cross on Saturday was a bit of a fluke.
Two More Strings To The Eriksen Bow
As ever, the magic ingredient in Saturday’s glory of glories was young Master Eriksen. Not necessarily in the sense of running rings around the Fulham mob, but the delivery of the free-kicks for Paulinho and Kaboul to do the necessaries was so downright vicious that it had me shielding the eyes of nearby impressionable infants. Even Paulinho, with his obsession for all things sideways and backwards, had little option but to apologetically tap the ball the requisite two forward inches required for doing the goal thing, so undefendable was the whipped cross from Eriksen.
And when Eriksen found himself the unwitting purveyor of a penalty for our visitors, he could be excused, not just for a season’s worth of gold dust in his boots, but because the penalty itself turned into an opportunity to add another million to Lloris’ summer transfer value.
(Insert Gag About the Lexical Flexibility of the Name ‘Kane’)
Three goals in three for young Kane, which must have Senor Soldado keeping his head down and dreaming of sunny Spain. Increasingly bearing the demeanour and gait of a man brought up on a diet solely of raw horsemeat – consumed without the assistance of either a knife or fork – Kane pleasingly demonstrated that his repertoire extends beyond lashing the ball with every ounce of energy from 20-plus yards, which I suppose counts as a step in the direction of becoming a more complete centre-forward. One would hardly suggest that in Kane and Adebayor we have a new Smith and Greaves, but each of them seem eminently capable of working opposing centre-backs into a healthy sweat over the course of 90 minutes.
So as this dismal mish-mash of a season stumbles to its conclusion there are at least a couple of straws clutched within the AANP fist. Lennon’s left foot is unlikely to be seen ever again in public, but where there is Eriksen there is hope, and with a little polish around the edges, and a steady stream of horsemeat, young Kane might prove an asset in next season’s Top Four push. A push that, on current form, is likely to be aided by the marvels of the Europa League, but such is life.
Poor old Tactics Tim has had a negative press at times, for papering over the nuances with buzzwords about passion and character and the like, but pre kick-off yesterday our glorious young leader emerged absolutely dripping in tactics. Nothing screams ‘I do tactics’ like sticking Walker in midfield and Lennon off the main striker, and by the time the first whistle blew we could barely move for the permutations. As things panned out, but for that ominous opening couple of minutes, things were fairly even in the first half, with everything very tight and compact and nairy a sniff of a half-chance. All of which is well and good, but it again leaves us wondering what the devil is the grand plan? As was the case under AVB, Sherwood seems to have a different idea every week, so as a result the personnel and formation changes each match and we start from scratch every time. In my idle moments of an evening I do occasionally ponder how our heroes would have fared this season if we had deployed the same XI (as far as injuries etc would allow) on a weekly basis.
The experiments involving Walker and Lennon made interesting viewing. Young Master Walker has long established himself as the Angriest Soul in North London, and his mood was hardly improved by the consequences of that bizarre backpass header, a moment which seemed to sum up the chap’s career as one of commitment and aggression laced with fairly frequent moments of mind-boggling mental negligence. Glossing over that particular error, the deployment of Walker in midfield was not a bad call. Hazard was indeed relatively well shackled, and there can be no doubting Walker’s body-strength, frequently showcased as an assortment of Chelski players simply bounced off him at various points. One suspects however that he will continue to be eyed askance by the White Hart Lane faithful as long as he keeps contributing to the opposition cause with those ‘special’ moments of his.
Lennon has previous in the hole, against these very same opponents if memory serves, Martin Jol having popped him there many moons ago. Alas, the blue mob were so well organised at the back that he barely had a sniff. Given his pace, and a willingness to amble forward that on occasion had him further advanced than Adebayor, it could in theory work - but the scattergun approach to formations amongst our lot may well mean that this particular experiment is shoved at the back of the cabinet and never seen again.
The Punch-Drunk Second Half
Back to the game, and what a dashed shame that the defence celebrated their first half shut-out by pouring themselves a few liberal half-time restorers and toasting one another non-stop for the duration of the interval. Those 15 minutes in the sanctity of the changing-rooms must have been an absolute riot – it is just a slight shame that as a consequence half the team wobbled out for the second half stinking of alcohol and barely able to tell one end of the pitch from the other. Thus did the bedlam ensue. Like teenagers let loose in Magaluf after their A-Levels, our lot began tripping over themselves and landing on their heads and forgetting which team they were playing for – heavens above there must have been some sore heads in the morning.
While we at AANP Towers are the last people to begrudge anyone an early-afternoon whiskey or two, it did seem quite a shame that having done all the hard work in the first half of keeping Hazard and Schurrle relatively quiet, they proceeded simply to present our hosts with goal after goal like that. In mitigation, one might suggest that the penalty and sending off put an end to the contest, and rather harshly so. However, while it seemed mighty rotten luck for Monsieur Kaboul to be chastised twice over simply for blowing his nose out of turn, or whatever the apparent misdeed was, he had got himself into a dubious position for carrying out the basics of his job in the first place.
Presumably few were expecting too much from this fixture in the first place, so there is little point in scratching this one until it bleeds. And yet, as if the circus act of a second half were not enough, we had Daws limping off, Kaboul facing a ban, Vertonghen looking suspiciously like he no longer cares, and a fixture list that is not about to ease up. It does rather hollow out one’s will to live, no?
With apologies for the tardiness, and in no particular order (actually that is an untruth – the highlight was without doubt the mass brawl):
1. The Glory of the On-Pitch Melee
Media sages may drone on that ‘Nobody likes to see that’, but in truth there are fewer more entertaining sights in football than an on-field scrum, and that which ensued on Thursday night delivered hilarity of the highest order. Handbags were swung, fingers were jabbed, naughty words were shrieked, and we were also treated to the quite magnificent sight of the lad who received the red card bursting into tears and going beserk, before being shrouded in an Adebayor strait-jacket. Quite possibly the most fun we have seen at the Lane all season, and all topped off by the glorious Schadenfreude of seeing our visitors’ early time-wasting tactics rather spin round and nip them.
2. Adebayor’s Prowess
It is easy to hammer on about Adebayor, his impact and whatnot, but that second goal in particular was absolutely ripping stuff. For years in this corner of the interweb we have banged on about the need for a Drogba-esque brick outhouse of a forward to lead the line, and while Adebayor’s build is perhaps more stick insect than rabid wildebeest, the strength and technique to pluck the ball from the heavens on his chest, hold off the surrounding scrum and wrong-foot the keeper was scraped from the film that sits atop the cream.
3. Eriksen’s String-Pulling Masterclass
With Dnipro cunningly sitting back in the first half and forcing us to use poor old Daws as a rather unlikely creative fulcrum in the first half, it was a blessed relief that having gone behind our heroes finally bucked up their ideas, with Master Eriksen doing a sterling job of pulling the strings. Drifting infield and treating us to his full array of cute little diagonal passes, the young imp absolutely masterminded that ten-minute blitz, and much that was good either side of it too.
Admittedly this u-turn in attitude, creativity and movement did rather beg the question why they had to go two goals down before rolling up their sleeves, and indeed a more pertinent question of why the absolute dickens Eriksen was deemed surplus to requirements last Sunday as we flopped at Norwich – but Thursday night at least made it pretty clear to whom we should look for inspiration in the coming weeks.
4. Using Numerical Advantage
Many a time and oft has a team of 11 run out of fizz against a well-marshalled 10, but by golly our heroes wasted little time in identifying the pressure point and applying all they had to it until the opposition squealed. With our full-backs hugging the touchline, Eriksen and chums were able to ping the ball wide or cut infield according to the whim of the moment, and Dnipro simply did not have enough bodies in the vicinity to prevent it. A fourth goal might have relieved the pressure, but in the main the job was done well.
5. Poor Old Soldado
Even the most hard-hearted and cynical amongst us would have felt a little sorry for Senor Soldado, who to his credit took his offside goal like a wizened old pro. I hesitate to suggest that the floodgates will open once he scores – a likelier scenario is another 10-game drought, on current form – but the poor lamb is beavering away, bless him.
Confusing I know, and I realise that if the attention wanders for a day or two one loses track completely, but just so everyone is clear – this week the dial is being flicked over to “CRISIS”.
Not that that seemed to register with our heroes. Bless them, they had to play twice this week don’t you know, and chug through passport control and squat into their Easyjet seats and whatnot, so it was unsurprising that a few of them looked like they were just biding time until they received a leg massage. The central midfield mob looked anything but razor-sharp, with Paulinho ambling around like a passenger on the tube who sticks his earphones in, opens his Kindle and resolutely avoids eye-contact with anyone in the hope that the blasted journey might finish a bit faster if nobody notices him. Meanwhile Bentaleb did a pretty smart job of studiously avoiding any meaningful contribution - and as if by magic our heroes had reduced the contribution of three central midfielders to two, and at times just the one. A nifty piece of legerdemain, which can have observers rubbing their eyes and scratching their heads in bewilderment.
More entertainment was to be had behind them, as Messrs Rose, Dawson and Naughton tootled around like little wind-up cars that had been released across the carpet. ‘Twas a good day for all Dawson Bingo enthusiasts, as he over-committed and sold himself nice and early, made some of those heroic full-stretch blocks, won a few meaty headers and found time for a caution, all in all a fine advert for the centre-backery of Monsieur Kaboul. The sooner his latest malady is remedied the better for all mankind.
What on earth goes on in poor Soldado’s head is anyone’s guess, but the young wretch seems physically unable to score. Rather like the chap in the new Robocop film, his programming simply forbids him to do it, which is a dashed shame because as well as looking the dickens of a imbecile whenever he blasts the ball wide, had he taken the chance that was presented to him on a salver, with gleaming cutlery and a glass of vintage red, we would have been well set for all three points.
One might bemoan that wit and ingenuity were nowhere to be seen, but such protestation would be quibbled by the pedants amongst us, for there it was, huddled up on the subs bench watching life tick by. Maddening stuff, as our mob by and large just ambled through the motions, apart from the late, token attempt to batter their way through in the closing stages when Townsend came on to liven things up.
So the drill now is that the thumping of Newcastle is a thing of the past, and crisis time is upon us again because the Top Four are disappearing over the hills. Until next week presumably. Mean time we can all plunge our knives Sherwood-wards, and lament and howl and look longingly at the gap above us.