Rather gloriously, Jermaine Jenas has got his knickers in a twist regarding referee Howard Webb’s moment of glory on Saturday, and has now been asked to explain himself by the FA. (nb that’s Jenas who has been asked to explain himself, rather than Webb…)Anyway, back to the barely controllable fury of our sideways-passing warrior.
“One thing which struck me about it was that he [Webb] didn’t even think. It was like he’d already made his mind up when he came out for the second half that he was going to give something,” quivered our intrepid hero.”I think it was a case of a referee crumbling under the pressure at Old Trafford really. The atmosphere, the occasion, the importance of the match, a lot of factors take their toll when making decisions.”
Well huzzah for JJ, the most unlikely of heroes. Unfortunately, the powers that be have taken a rather dim view of these comments, asking Jenas for “an explanation”, but I’m proud of the guy. It reminds me of the nerdy, goody-goody kid at school suddenly snapping and going beserk at his headmistress while awestruck classmates watch on, brimming with a new-found admiration for the blighter.
Admittedly it’s hardly on a par with Lee Bowyer starting a fight in an empty room, or Roy Keane yelling “Take that, yer c*nt” before snapping the legs of a toddler who’d sneezed in his direction. Nevertheless I warmly applaud Jenas and give him my full support on this one, as he queues up for a detention slip alongside Bowyer, Keane, Bellamy and the rest of the school trouble-makers. Not that I condone criticism of the ref – no matter how ignorant, biased, blind, dim-witted, retarded and inbred a ref has to be to drop a clanger like Saturday’s penalty award, I refuse to criticise him. However, just the fact that Jenas was sufficiently flustered by the affair to talk his way into trouble really warms my heart. It shows he cares.
My schoolboy gullibility long ago faded away, and has now been replaced by the overly bitter and twisted cynicism of a bile-filled old man. As a result I know longer believe in the existence of Father Christmas, the A-Team or footballer loyalty. No matter how many times they kiss the badge, and no matter how long their contract, it just seems beyond the boundaries of credulity to expect footballers genuinely to care about their team. They’re on a limited career-span, so they’ll make their money with whomever coughs up. It’s a different world from fans. Rather than bemoan lack of player loyalty I just accept it, even when they stick two fingers up at the club then come crawling back six months later.
Hence, I’d figured that after the final whistle on Saturday they all just trotted off to the players’ lounge to fight over Danielle Lloyd and sort out the Faces guest list. The notion that the penalty decision still rankled with one of them is a flabbergasting but enormously welcome development.
More so as we’re such a soft-touch team anyway. I’ve been brought up on a diet of pretty passes and fancy flicks from Hoddle, Redknapp (Jamie) and Modders. I still eye Palacios with confused fascination, as if he’s a creature from another world, so unaccustomed am I to a player in lilywhite putting himself about. All the more reason then, to pinch myself as I read and re-read Jenas’ tirade. Well, it’s more of an apologetic clearing of the throat than a full-blown tirade, but the point is that he cares. Like we do. Winning means something to him, and losing hurts. His talent may be questionable, he has me tearing my hair out every week, but by golly he’s committed to the cause. Good on you, fella.
Sven’s England. They’re the ones to whom we owe royalties for breach of copyright after that second half, now down on record as officially The Worst Ever Attempt To Spend A Second Half Defending A Lead. Sven’s England regularly tried this approach, after scoring first in a crucial game. It actually worked vs Argentina, but then failed abysmally against Brazil, France and Portugal. It’s an unattractive way to win a game and, more trenchantly, typically it just doesn’t work.I’m not sure if it was an official order from the top, or an automatic instinct from the players, but they trotted out in the second half showing absolutely no desire to get over the halfway line. After a bright and breezy first half, with Lennon and Modders respectively bettering their full-backs, we cleansed ourselves of any semblance of attacking intent, and duly set about trying to win in heroic, backs-to-the-wall Alamo style.
That presumably was the theory, but in practice half our team seemed to disappear for 30 mins, only occasionally resurfacing to stumble and tumble around in their own area as Man Utd’s forwards went beserk.
Palacios normally wears underneath his lilywhite a t-shirt emblazoned with a giant “S”. As the designated enforcer in our team, he ought to have been in his element in the second half. Instead, I wondered if the ref had at half-time retrospectively sent him off for that appalling early two-footer, because I’m not sure he was even on the pitch in the latter stages. Rather than enforcing anything the team crumbled like a pack of cards. No plot.
Naturally, there was no shortage of good old-fashioned apoplexy when the penalty was awarded (my instinct on first glance and full speed was that, as the ball ended up in front of Gomes and behind Carrick, it must have been won by the former). However, to attribute the defeat to a dodgy refereeing decision would be to miss the point. Our mentality had been to defend deep and for our lives throughout the second half. To survive, rather than compete. Once that strategy had been adopted, one way or another United goals were a-coming, whether or not the ref helped them out.
In recent weeks we’ve won a clutch of one-nils - but not by camping in our area and desperately trying to repel kitchen sinks being hurled in our direction. We’ve at least tried to attack, and work an opportunity for a game-clinching second, even if we’ve been rather shot-shy and pass-happy.
I’m not suggesting that a reckless, all-guns-blazing, kamikaze attacking mentality would have won the day (although we wouldn’t have fared much worse with such an approach). However, by demonstrating that we were still keen to score more we might have defended further up the field, and caused United some problems of their own – as we did in the first half.
Rare Praise For Bent, Slapped Wrist For Keane – And Normal Service Resumed By JenasBravo Darren Bent. Gosh it feels strange to say it, but after scolding him last week for not showing sufficient aggression in attack, I was rather impressed by the way he took his goal. He showed a willingness to muscle in and compete, against the two best centre-backs in the country. Fortune duly favoured the brave, and he banged home his chance. Given that there wasn’t a man in lilywhite within about five miles of him for most of the game, he did what he could.And yes, that last sentence was indeed an ill-disguised snipe aimed at you, Mr Keane. I caught him red-handed in the midfield yesterday, right next to Jenas, and occasionally deeper than Corluka. I presume the idea was for Keane to drop deep, in order to allow Palacios to pick up Berbatov, or some such tactical gubbins. Whatever. Keane’s a striker, so boot him out of the midfield and let him strike.
I’ve been back on medication this week, after my insane ramblings
last Sunday bemoaning the absence of Jermaine Jenas. Well, you’ll pleased to know that normal service has resumed. With all the fickleness of Danielle Lloyd in a players’ lounge, I now ditch that argument, and instead pick up one of my many “Get Rid of The Boy Jenas” placards.I had complained last week that no other midfielder shows any inclination to attack the penalty area, and that JJ should therefore be sprinkled in gold and given his own halo. However, as was pointed out to me in the interim, for all his willingness to push forward, no other player is quite as capable of slowing down a Tottenham move when in possession. How could I have forgotten? For yesterday, there he was, at it again, gleefully resuming the habit of a lifetime as if he’d never been away. Passes went sideways, backwards, to Man Utd players, out of play – anywhere but forwards. Maybe his sense of direction was thrown by the presence of Keane standing alongside him, some fifty yards from goal.
Another observation from last week was that
our midfielders rarely helped out poor old Bent by getting into the area. When Modric eventually dared to enter the precious eighteen-yard sanctum yesterday, he scored. Hmm. There’s a link there, somewhere, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.Sigh.( And I can assure you, these sighs are better than the foul-mouthed screams I was spitting out yesterday.) If we wanted
a gauge of how far we’ve come, we got it: we have goals in us, against the best, but we still lack experience and a killer instinct. Still a couple of positions that need improving.However, in the final analysis it was just one defeat. Four games left, and seventh is still manageable.
Manchester United away will be a good test of how fair we’ve come this season. Actually, the very fact that I can type that and not immediately be carted off to the nearest nuthouse is itself a measure of how far we’ve come, irrespective of how the game pans out.The fact that we had only two points from eight games a few months back has had all meaning sucked out of it by ‘Arry’s narcissism, so it’s easy to forget that once upon a time this wasn’t just a relentless soundbite, but actually a damning indictment of what a wretched team we were.
How things have progressed, particularly since Palacios arrived. The gauge of our ability went from how we’d fare against Hull away, to Villa away, to Chelski at home – and suddenly I’m genuinely curious to see whether we can compete with the European and Premiership champions on their own patch. Blimey.
Top Four Next Season? Then Let’s Compete With Man Utd Today
It could be a particularly important game for the Hudd. I would actually expect Jenas to replace him if fit, but if Hudd gets the nod this would be a massive test of how good he really is. Opinion is split. The Hoddlers and the Haters have regularly made their respective cases. We’ve seen that he can pull strings at home to West Ham and a relegation-threatened Newcastle, but if he really is to push on and cement his place in the team, and indeed the England squad, he’ll soon have to start walking the walk against the best teams in the country. An anonymous 90 minutes today would do little to advance his cause.
Anonymity against Man Utd would be no disgrace - but the “no-disgrace-in-defeat” mentality is something I’d be glad to see the back of. Let’s see who can cut it against the best, and have a think about who to jettison in the summer.
Occasional Wobbles From Man Utd
Their fallibility has, for me, been epitomised by their goalkeepers. We’ve been rather shot-shy in recent weeks, and it would be a shame if this trend continued today, as Van der Saar has looked ropey every time I’ve seen him in recent months (cue a blinder from Van der Saar this afternoon). Thanks to the rock-solid Ferdinand-Vidic combo in front of him he kept around thirty thousand consecutive clean sheets and made the PFA shortlist, but he seems increasingly prone to spill, or flap, or get beaten at his near post. Foster’s most recent outings have also been notable for a couple of David James-esque calamities.
I don’t expect us to win, and I’m not holding out for that. But on the back of recent results, I’d love to see that our improvement extends to giving the best team around a real run for their money. Just some indication that we really have slightly closed the gap. The win against Chelski has already hinted at that. The consensus seems to be that we don’t need much tweaking in order to push for Europe or even the top four next season (although there’s still some debate as to precisely where such tweaking is needed). A good performance, if not necessarily a good result, would be further evidence that we’re inching closer, and that we’re well set for 09/10.
One of these days, watching Tottenham will be the death of me. They’ll score early and dominate, but then instead of scoring a second against submissive fatted calves bred specifically for the slaughter, they’ll spend the final hour earnestly faffing. I shall chew my nails, squirm and curse; and then swear and kick people; and finally become so wound up by the faffing that my heart will pop and I’ll keel over.It was another good win – some lovely, swift, counter-attacking, coupled with a solid defence, with the enforced reorganisation handled with minimum fuss. But my goodness it would have been so much more pleasant and sedate if we could have scored a second. That would have taken the game by the hand, dressed it in its pyjamas, read it a bedtime story and put it safely to bed. Instead it all became a tad nervy as the clock ticked down. Opposition more inspired than Newcastle might have made us pay.
Lack of Presence in Attack
I have a gnawing sense that we lack a real potent presence in attack. For all the possession, and some delicious one-touch build-up play, we regularly seemed to have only one man in the opposition area. It’s breeding a tendency to try to walk the ball into the net, and play increasingly intricate and precise short-passes around a crowded area. It’s good football, and against the largely impotent Geordies ‘twas sufficient - but a real beast of a man in attack might give a cutting-edge, and make life harder for defenders.
I’m starting to wonder whether Keane has developed a twinkle in his eye for one of our midfielders, as he’s been dropping deeper and deeper in recent games, doing most of his work in the area well behind the striker and generally spending more time than is healthy around the midfield. It’s usually good work – full of energy and awareness, but he rarely seems to be in the penalty area. To be honest I struggle to remember the last time he actually had a shot.
Bent just lacks the confidence - or maybe arrogance - in front of goal to lead the line, in a Shearer or Drogba-esque way. Bent has speed and strength, but rather than boss and bully defenders he seems inclined to keep them informed at all times of his whereabouts, and politely request permission to go running around their patch. This is lovely for any girl who wants to take him home to meet her parents, but rather less useful in the cut-throat trades of line-leading and net-bulging. Start shoving defenders out of the way man, and snarl and spit and demand their lunch-money.
Defoe does at least look willing to shoot when he gets the ball, but at three feet four does not exactly have the physical presence to scatter defenders and hold up the ball. Nice to see him back though.
A Truly Astonishing Admission
I can barely believe that I’m typing this, nor can the winged pig looking on, aghast, at my window, but in a way I missed Jenas today. Seasoned All-Action-No-Plotters will no doubt be scratching their heads and checking for naughty substances in my blood stream at reading this, for I’ve rarely disguised my exasperation at the man. However, a player’s stock often rises when he is absent, and with our midfielders seemingly waiting for parental permission before entering the opposition area, I did guiltily wonder if Jenas would have made a difference. It’s what he does (get into the oppo area), rather than how he does it (mis-hit his shot).
Palacios, understandably, and Hudd, less forgivably, preferred to loiter 5-10 yards outside the area and ping in the occasional long-range thunderbolts. Awesome technique, for sure. However, when we countered at break-neck speed it would have helped to have had someone arriving Jenas-like in the area to support Bent, especially with Keane ditching the day-job to give his top chat to Modric or whomever.
I had been dreading the visit of Obafemi Martins all season. As I’ve previously noted, I remember Emile Heskey,
about 10-15 years ago, when at Leicester, just bulldozing straight through the middle of our defence and walloping the ball into the net. When Martins entered the fray I feared a similar performance, especially with no Ledley around to calm my fraying nerves. He may not be the most refined, but Martins duly set about bludgeoning defenders aside, in a manner that probably had Darren Bent running for the hills in horror. Mercifully, the bull-in-a-china-shop routine extended to his rather erratic shooting. When the transfer window re-opens, would Martins provide an answer to our lack of presence in attack? Not necessarily, but I wouldn’t mind buying him just so that he never plays against us again.Elsewhere on The Pitch
The Hudd was generously given the freedom of White Hart Lane by the Newcastle midfield. He duly enjoyed himself, with a range of passing so sumptuous that on listening carefully I discerned that it was accompanied by the dulcet tones of angelic choruses, as if ordained by some celestial authority. This was all very wonderful, but I suspect we’ll barely notice him against Man Utd at Old Trafford next week. Still, right man for the occasion today.
It’s taken a while – the best part of a season in fact - but I have finally held up my hands, raided the AANP coffers and paid up for membership to the Assou-Ekotto fan club. I shall still eagerly monitor the Gabriel Henize rumours, but the Braided One is looking better and better each week.
Cruel luck for Dawson, having waited so long for a starting-place, but his injury opened the door for Hutton. He certainly impressed going forward, but sterner defensive tests probably await in the future. The Corluka-Hutton battle for right-back will make interesting viewing in future weeks. Personally I lean towards the Scot as a partner for Lennon on the right.
Modric – legend.
Palacios – legend.
Three more points, and well-deserved. Bravo lads, yet again. I maintain that if there is constructive criticism to be levelled it is that a second goal in such games will ensure a rather pleasanter finale, but all told this was a comfortable and well-deserved win.
Six games left, and while trips to Old Trafford, Goodison and Anfield look tricky, our home games vs West Brom, Man City and, first of all, Newcastle, are eminently winnable.If you look carefully, the words “home banker” can clearly be seen etched across this fixture. On current form Newcastle are amongst the worst in the Premiership. Two points in six games apparently, which is the sort of stat that threatens to infringe the copyright terms of ‘Arry’s own little motto. Hilariously, they seem to be the only team in history not to have enjoyed the new-manager-bounce, and are consequently making effortlessly serene progress towards the Championship.
Everyone’s Second-Favourite Team
First of all, nobody in their right mind has a second-favourite team. Football is a monogamous sport. Anyone with a second-favourite team is either related to a player (vaguely acceptable) or a bandwagon-jumping irritant who calls the game “soccer”, whines that there are too few goals and pronounces the “ham” in “Birmingham” (unacceptable, in case you were in any doubt).
I’ll root for whomever is playing l’Arse. I sometimes keep an eye out for Bristol Rovers, as a former classmate plays for them. However, I support only one team. Generally, I either don’t care about or actively dislike the other 19 clubs in the division, and 90-odd in the country. I’m pretty sure these traits are common to most football fans in the country. Anyone who merrily chirps about having a second-favourite team has completely missed the point, and ought really to be tied to a railway track and set alight.
So the notion of a second-favourite team is farcical. The notion that Newcastle is everyone’s second favourite team is miles off-target and utterly bereft of logic. We’re perennially invited to agree that we’d all love to see Newcastle win something - their success-starved fans deserve it apparently.
This is mildly insane. Football isn’t some sort of UN aid programme whereby every starving leper by right gets a bag of grain. Fans just have to accept whatever their team does, and if that means never ever winning trophies, and then getting relegated, so be it. They’ll get no sympathy from anyone else as we’ve all got our own team to worry about.
Non-Newcastle supporters don’t adopt Newcastle as their second team. They occasionally take time out from their own teams to laugh at Newcastle, for their insistence that they have a divine right to success, married to their consistent underachievement. This presumably is fairly similar to the opinion all non-Spurs fans about our lot too. In short, no-one truly cares about anyone other than their own team.
As it happens, we’re laughing at Newcastle for all sorts of reasons at the moment, as they provide a bit of comic relief for everyone else from the seasons’ travails. The magnificent outburst from Joe F**king Kinnear earlier this season was comic genius, and was sandwiched between the more gently amusing exit of Keegan and the slightly daft appointment of Shearer. Shearer’s arm-in-the-air thing was warmly appreciated at AANP Towers when he wore an England shirt, but did not obscure the fact that he was a dirty so-and-so. In his more recent incarnation he has been a pundit of such mind-numbing blandness that he frequently made me want to tear off my own ears and eat them. Won’t shed too many tears if his rescue mission bombs.
Palacios, Pav and Defoe
A few changes are likely for Spurs. With Palacios back, one of Hudd and Jenas will have to make way, whilst Pav’s slick finish last week may well earn him a starting place ahead of Bent. Jermain Defoe apparently might make the bench. He’s back in full training now, which gives us a few weeks to work ourselves into frenzies over he and Keane will fit together. More immediately however, he’s unlikely to get more than a cameo at the end of the game, by which time the three points ought to be in the bag.
Really not sure about this whole business of enmity with West Ham. I’m supposed to loathe that lot, but it just seemed like too much effort to scream abuse at them until my face turned purple, or go wandering the High Road afterwards armed with a deranged stare and a machete, or whatever the kids are using these days.I don’t want to sound disloyal, and their fans certainly become rather excitable – but I just don’t care about them enough to hate them.
They’re not based particularly close to us. Their manager is quite likeable. They will end up selling the best of their players to us anyway (before we in turn sell them on to Man Utd). I only know one Hammers fan and he’s a decent fella. I guess what it boils down to is that they just aren’t any real threat to us. Even if they finish above us they’re no real threat to us – in terms of history, fan-base, financial backing or long-term prospects.
With this in mind I didn’t bother antagonising them when previewing the game (they nevertheless bit anyway). And now I can’t be bothered to gloat about victory. West Ham are no ϋber-villain to me; they’re just another faceless henchman to be despatched, en route to a bigger showdown. Another game ticked off, another three points in the bag. That’s as much vitriol as I can muster I’m afraid.
And so to some things that caught the eye on Saturday.
I only really began to notice how many times per day I pivot on my ankle once I’d sprained it. Admittedly this has little to do with Saturday’s game, but as it’s been my Thought Of The Day for a record seven consecutive days I figured I’d mention it.
2. Too many of our midfielders require Palacios alongside them to look good
The Hudd continues to polarise opinion. Did he play well or not? To be honest, judgements on this were probably made prior to kick-off. The Hoddle-Reincarnated camp point to his catalogue of gorgeous passes; the Fat-And-Lazy camp point to his general lack of mobility and life-depends-on-it energy. Mind you, the thought of unleashing a Hudd-Palacios midfield combo against Newcastle next week does rather set the pulse racing.
(Some have naughtily suggested that Hudd’s inclusion on Saturday was just a means of advertising him to potential summer suitors. Honestly, as if our glorious leader would be so cynical. Tsk tsk.)
Zokora’s performance reinforced my opinion that if we really are to mount a serious challenge to the Top Four next season we’ll need to bring in a better understudy for Palacios.
3. Top Dollar Can Buy Top Class
By contrast our Pav cost £14 mil and has shown he can cut it on the international stage. He had his back to goal and was offering no obvious threat, but put on his dancing shoes, turned his man and scored a peach of a goal. Out of nothing. Reminded me of his goal vs Burnley at home – just a little flash of class, which separates men from boys. It’s the bit of quality you can get when you pay top dollar (or, bearing in mind that Bent cost more than Pav, when you spend top dollar wisely). He still cuts a frustrating figure a lot of the time, but those moments remind that form is temporary, but class is permanent.
4. Modric – So Good He’s Biblical
So a happy Easter. A win against West Ham, but it might as well have been West Brom for all I cared. Anything less than three points vs Newcastle next week would be pretty shoddy. Thereafter things could get tricky, but we’re definitely safe from the drop, and Europe is still possible. Bring on the next of the faceless henchmen.
Well this is awkward. Somehow this week I find myself in the unusual, and to be honest, plain uncomfortable position of having to raise everyone else’s spirits. This is foreign territory. Generally more at ease as a pessimistic misanthrope.However, a curious role-reversal now sees me rather looking forward to the season finale. Meanwhile Spurs fans all around me have been sighing melancholy sighs and eyeing steep cliffs over which they might hurl themselves.
The reason seems to be one bad match – in fact, one bad ten-minute spell. Seems strange to me, but the ten-minute meltdown against Blackburn has got Spurs fans tripping over themselves to write off our season and slap the wrists of anyone who cheerfully drops the phrase “European qualification” into conversation.
Curious this, as it’s usually the reverse – i.e. it’s normally one good ten-minute spell, which has us all screeching away about Champions League qualification. For whatever reason though, it’s been sackcloth and ashes this week rather than deluded optimism. The defeat to Blackburn has deflated the masses.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
Galling though it was, the Blackburn defeat did not strike me as a return to the bad old (not so old, really) days of widespread sloppiness and a marshmellow-soft spine. I honestly think that if we keep playing like we did against Blackburn we’ll do fairly well in the last few games. Beginning on Saturday at home to West Ham, who currently occupy the seventh spot we should be eyeing.
Admittedly, should we lose on Saturday we’ll be nine points off the pace with six to play - it will be game over. Win it though, and we’ll be three points off Europe with six to play. Game on, n’est-ce pas?
The Blackburn finale aside, our recent league form has been mighty impressive – four wins, two draws and good performances. Add to that 70 or so good minutes against Blackburn, and we actually remain one of the form teams in the division.
Moreover, our competitors for seventh are hardly the giants of contemporary European football - Wigan, Fulham and Man City, as well as West Ham. Achieving seventh would not mean punching particularly high above our weight, if at all, as this motley crew are all liable to stumble a couple of times en route to the finish line. This is more of a scrap to be less bad than several other harmless mid-table drifters – seventh is a fairly realistic aim, particularly if we can win on Saturday.
So I’m therefore quite perky about the prospect of this end-of-season run-in, even if every time I say as much the music stops and tumbleweed rolls by.
Reasons To Be Depressed
Mind you, it hardly takes much effort to slip back into pessimistic mode. For a start, as well as costing us three points last weekend, that wretched second yellow card for Palacios means he’s suspended for this Saturday. Replacing him would be like trying to replace Mr T as B.A. – there just isn’t anyone else cut out for the role. With no B.A around, Face Man (Modders) will find it a lot harder to pull, if you don’t mind me wandering a little off-course with the analogy.
Presumably do-do-do Dider will take the place of Palacios, but although they start the game on roughly the same patch of turf, Zokora and Palacios are vastly different beasts. We should therefore not expect too much midfield enforcing from the Ivorian, who rather prefers a long meandering gallop to a raw-leg dinner in the centre . I guess it will be a useful exercise, as Palacios’ penchant for a tasty challenge is likely to bring him his fair share of cautions, and therefore suspensions, in the future. There will be more days like this. Gives some food for thought as the summer transfer window creeps up.
Not quite sure how West Ham have found themselves in seventh. Last time I bothered to check they were in a bit of a mess down the rear-end of the division, with Zola’s beaming pearly whites firmly locked behind a worried frown. Now they’re in pole position for the last European spot. Madness, I tell you.
As mentioned, win this one and we’ll be right back in the hunt for Europe. Plenty to play for.
1. Given over to dissipation; dissolute.
2. Recklessly wasteful; wildly extravagant.
Perhaps not precisely the word then, but as the second half wore on, comfortable though it all looked, the sense grew that we really needed to convert all that possession and all that slick build-up play into a second goal. We threatened a few times, but did not create the really clear-cut opportunity our play merited. “Recklessly wasteful” might not necessarily encapsulate the problem, but we certainly wasted 80 minutes worth of very good possession.As a result, through gritted teeth I at least try to console myself that we played well. Play like that for the final eight games and we ought to make Europe. Still three points lost though.
If short-diagonal-passes-inside-the-defender were women they’d be alluring brunettes with flawless hour-glass figures, and I’d salivate while staring at them too. Some of our football, particularly on the counter, was a delight to behold.
If Wilson Palacios were a woman he’d be a scary fat bird. I would desperately try to avoid eye-contact, and generally steer clear. For 80 minutes Palacios demonstrated why he’s exactly what Spurs have needed for so long in midfield, allowing others around him to try those little sultry-brunette-style diagonal passes.
(N.b. Painful to admit it, butI ought to mention that Jenas is looking the part at the moment. Nothing spectacular, still gets caught in possession occasionally, but he’s generally moving the ball intelligently, and supporting the front men.)
The Big Decisions
While it was our own fault for not scoring the second and wrapping up the game, there is not much doubt that the sending off of Palacios swung the game. General discombobulation followed in our defensive lines.
However, it’s long been a mantra here at AANP Towers, whether playing or watching, never to criticise the ref. The day I play the perfect game, making not a single mistake, is the day I perhaps earn the right to have a go at him. Until then, whatever the ref says, goes.
The penalty: seemed fair enough. Having been six or seven yards away when the cross was played the defender had some time to get his arm out of the way. Seen them given, seen them not given; on this occasion it was given.
The second yellow card: on first glance it also seemed fair enough - rather clumsy. The slow-mo replay then suggested that it was actually rather unlucky, as young Wilson did make a valiant and fairly successful attempt to duck out of the challenge.
Such musings are academic though: the ref gave the penalty, and showed a second yellow card to Palacios. So, through gritted teeth again, I’ll accept the latter decision and move on.
Sam Allardyce Is Bad For Football
In between pickling my liver and dancing badly for three years, whilst at uni I stumbled across Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. It states:
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
Seems fair enough. Generally prevents such unholy deeds as rape, pillage and suchlike. If Kant’s categorical imperative were applied to Allardyce’s brand of football, no-one would watch any more and the game would die.I could have understood if he resorted to the centre-back-as-auxiliary-striker in desperation, in the final 15 mins, but to do so from half-time onwards was an astonishingly brazen admission of his philistinic approach to the so-called Beautiful Game. Did he really have nothing more subtle and aesthetically-pleasing up his sleeve? Teeth are still gritted, but as a nation let’s all at least exhale collectively in relief that he failed to land the England job.
So that’s another lost three points we can wistfully add to our end-season tally, and think of what might have been. Generally a good performance though. Maybe just a bit “profligate”, or whatever the appropriate word is.
It ought to be thoroughly lovely to be back in the swing of the Premiership, what with our blistering form and the carrot of a European place; but I have to confess that the prospect scares the bejesus out of me.It ought not be thus. On paper we’re the form team in the Premiership. Performances and results throughout March simply got better and better. Optimism at the Lane – and AANP Towers - reached levels hitherto unheard of, to the extent that at half-time vs Chelski we found ourselves in the unlikely position of genuinely believing we could go on and win. And then we went out and there and ruddy well did win. There really ought to be good reason to approach Blackburn away with a measured confidence.
Nevertheless, I’m sick with worry. We stumbled upon that rarest of commodities at White Hart Lane - consistency – but before we had time to become acquainted just about everyone in the squad lolloped out of the door, headed off to airports and began acclimatising to completely different sets of team-mates. The wretchedly-timed international break has gone and destroyed our momentum, and torn to shreds my confidence.
I can’t help but fret that things will never be the same now. It’s like getting back together with an ex after she - or you – ran off with someone else. It’s like the return of Robbie Keane. It’s like waiting years for a sequel to Terminator 2, and then watching, aghast, as Terminator 3 unfolds.
It’s no good pretending that nothing has happened since the last time we were all together, and that everything is tickety-boo. There was a hiatus, everyone disappeared for a while - and now I’m terrified that we’re going to be rubbish again.
Clean Bill of Health (Apart From Bent, Which Really Doesn’t Matter Too Much)
Fabio Capello’s perplexing decision to withdraw Lennon after 55 mins on Weds has worked in our favour.
Even more bizarrely, Modric was an unused substitute for Croatia that night. The Croatian midfield must be the best in the history of world football if they can afford to leave out Modric, but again, it’s to our benefit.
I was having cold shivers at the thought that Wilson Palacios would hang back in Latin America to mount a Rambo-style rescue mission for his poor sod of a brother, who is apparently still being held for ransom by kidnappers. Again however, it appears that he’s back and fighting fit, with only jet-lag and duty-free allowance to bother him.
In fact, the only injury worry seems to be Darren Bent, and with the best will in the world I think we’ll cope.
Indeed, in the finest tradition of a school trip abroad, we’ve actually come back with more player than we had before, as Alan Hutton is now available for selection.
Don’t Mind Blackbrun; Can’t Stand Allardyce
Not only does Allardyce peddle a style (I use the term loosely) of football that’s the complete antithesis of easy-on-the-eye, glory glory, all-action-no-plot, champagne football - but he seems to delight in doing so. And then he started insisting that he should be England manager. We ought all to have been rolling in the aisles at that, but the regressive fools at the FA came within a whisker of giving him the job. (Before proving their acumen and appointing Steve McLaren instead.)
I’m not sure I could have coped with the pain of seeing the likes of Joe Cole and Rooney have the talent sucked out of them by Allardyce, with Kevin Davies becoming the mainstay of attack and the concept of “playing the ball into space” involving its launch into orbit.
I don’t just hope we beat his lot tomorrow, I hope we do so playing football so luxurious and free-flowing that it ought to be a shampoo advert. Being exposed to that sort of thing would probably make his skin burn, like a vampire in sunlight. Gasping for breath he’d have to crawl home and watch old DVDs of Wimbledon in the early 90s, to restore himself to health.
Anyway, I hope and pray that we’ll simply pick up where we left off, but have a sickening dread that our season might trail away in the next few weeks, beginning tomorrow at Blackburn, and against Allardyce of all people.
It wasn’t particularly broke, it didn’t need fixing. Curious then that Fabio suddenly came over all Norman Bates, picked up an axe and started swinging wildly until something was indeed broken.Lennon was doing a decent job on the right. He had not set the world alight, but there was always a threat, a bit of a buzz, whenever he got the ball and ran at his man. “Menacing” might be the word I’m after. That part in a horror film where the delectable and scantily clad young jezebel finds herself on her own in a dark house – you get the feeling something worth watching is about to happen, even though it might be a red herring.
Lennon on the right offered a genuine attacking threat, balancing (albeit asymmetrically) the Cole-Barry-Gerrard-Rooney combo from the left. At least, that’s how it was in the first half. The withdrawal of Lennon ten mins into the second half robbed England of their only pacy outlet, and coincided with the drop from “urgent” to “perfunctory”.
The introduction of Beckham ought to imply a general shoring up of things, with the game in the bag and 15 mins to go. Instead he was brought on with only a one-goal lead and 35 mins to play. Beckham didn’t get within 30 yards of the Ukraine by-line.
However, Beckham did provide the cross for the winner, which is basically his raison d’être in the team these days, and is something Lennon generally can’t do (certainly not from deep). So was Fabio right after all to withdraw Lennon? The case in his defence – Beckham’s assist – has been made; the prosecution argues that his introduction of Wright-Phillips once Ukraine had equalised indicates that Capello recognised the need for pace missing since Lennon’s withdrawal.
I guess the conclusion is that the whole bally lot of them rather lost urgency in the second half, and the replacement of Lennon with Beckham was a contributory factor – but, when it was needed, Beckham offered an attacking threat, albeit in a vastly different way from Lennon.
The Rest of Them
Elsewhere, it’s broken-record time, as Gerrard’s performance for country was again patently less impressive than his typical displays for club (which is the cue for all Liverpool fans to create life-size models of All-Action-No-Plot Towers and then burn them down in incandescence). Gerrard remains a square peg in a round hole for England. He is most effective behind the front man; but this would negate Rooney, who in a different sort of way is also most effective behind the front man. The bar ain’t big enough for the two of them.
Gerrard on the left is fine against Slovakia, but one wonders if he’ll be quite as effective on the left in the latter stages of a World Cup. Personally I’d go with J. Cole left, and Gerrard-Barry in the centre, with Gerrard having more licence to attack than Lampard currently does. The whole business of Lampard playing a more “disciplined” – i.e. defensive – role had me flailing my arms and muttering in frustration all night.
My man-crush on Rooney continues, but that darned red mist enveloped him once again.
James – calamity.
Ashley Cole – strangely beset by an identity crisis that had him thoroughly clueless as to his nationality, with the result that he spent most of the game passing to Ukrainians. Someone dig out the boy’s passport and talk him through it.
Terry – good assist, and smartly-taken goal, but reckless in conceding the free-kick for their goal. Oh that Ledley’s knee was healthy.
Crouch’s goal was also smartly-taken, but the celebrations for both goals were rubbish. Crouch at least had the decency to look thoroughly embarrassed by whatever the hell he was doing. The Terry-Rooney routine was as appalling as it was perplexing.
However, the bright and breezy take on the game is that we were excellent in the first half, patient and dangerous; and when we absolutely had to raise our game in the second half we did. Three points is all-important in qualifying. If/when we make the World Cup Finals, no-one will care about that dodgy half 30 mins in the second half vs Ukraine in April.