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Arsenal - Spurs Preview: Good News and The Usual Grumble

Normally the points in this fixture are rather an irrelevance, but this time there is more at stake than just bragging rights. The sides go into the game separated only by goal difference, and the three points up for grabs could prove crucial come May. Ultimately, league position is the gauge, and this season for a change we have a realistic chance of finishing above l’Arse. Our squad is much improved, a degree of consistency has been added and player for player there isn’t much to choose between the two teams, even in the absence of our pint-sized attacking triumverate. Plus, unlike the last time we challenged them, Paul Stalteri is now nowhere near the squad. Irrespective of the result tomorrow, the gap has narrowed and come the end of the season we could well finish higher than them.I earnestly suggested all this to my l’Arse-supporting colleague at lunch today, and while he nodded politely enough he could not disguise a smirk. Which speaks volumes.

The Good News

The good news is that Ledley is back. “Good news” is an understatement, for these are almost certainly the three greatest words in the English language.

Woodgate may be available; Crouch – threatening a robot celebration if he does the business tomorrow - has a hat-trick to his name against l’Arse, in his previous incarnation as a scouser; while Bentley must have gazed at his reflection in the White Hart Lane mirrors even more adoringly than usual after his excellent performance as Lennon’s deputy on Tuesday, against Everton. Full-strength we may not be, but strong nevertheless.

The Usual Grumble 

Curiously, for a man so uniquely capable of inspiring a thousand foul-mouthed tirades from his own fans, Jenas has a rather impressive pedigree against l’Arse. A couple of years back he scored a lovely last-minute equaliser at the Lane; and a year ago almost to the day he produced an absolute blinder at the death in the 4-4 game, the sort of goal about which pundits and fans alike would been raving all season if scored by anyone who wasn’t Jermaine Jenas.

I also recall, with some bewilderment, that there was a brief period under Wendy Ramos when Jenas grew his hair and became awesome. He genuinely looked like he had indeed stepped up a level, and his feats included the first goal in the 5-1 spanking of l’Arse. It proved the exception rather than the norm in his career, but provides some cause for optimism.

Things I’d Like To See on Saturday: Absence of Kamikaze 

My wish-list for this week therefore comprises things I don’t want to see happening. Like Sergeant Wilson picking up two reckless yellow cards. Or Robbie Keane having a penalty saved. Or Gomes dropping a clanger. There would be something quintessentially Spurs about doing all the hard work and then gifting away the game on a plate, through one moment of madness.

I was going to end with a little SWOT analysis of our opponents, but then I realised I don’t actually care about them. Instead, have another viewing of Bentley’s greatest moment in lilywhite.

 

As ever, all are most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the players to be featured in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann hereY

ou can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, or follow on Twitter here

Spurs 2-0 Everton: Squad Depth & The Benny Hill Penalty

We’re great when we’re winning. Opponents are forced to push forward, and we duly pick them off on the break, with the clinical precision of a trained sniper (until Keane starts stumbling over his own feet). We have the players, including those on the fringes of the squad, to counter with pace and inventiveness, on top of which it makes for a cracking spectacle.It doesn’t really solve the problem thrown up on Saturday, of what to do when the opposition sits deep and the opening goal is impossible to come by; but that’s for another day. Most neutrals would verify - when we score first, we’re a great team. It was honours even in the opening exchanges last night; but once we had our goal, Everton pushed forward and we look ever more potent on the break.

Personified By Hudd 

It all worked out swimmingly, with even Assou-Ekotto indulging in some party tricks by the end of the game. Although we were well worth a two-goal victory, Everton had their chances, but, pleasingly, Gomes was equal to all of them. Dawson, again was immense at the back, while Sergeant Wilson snarled and harried like any good guard dog should.

Plenty in Reserve 

Bentley: Imagine how good Bentley and his hair gel would be under a manager who loved him and in a team which made him their focal point. No-one doubts his technique and skill, but rarely has it been put to particularly good use in lilywhite. Yesterday however, while a little hit-and-miss in the early stages, he ended up turning a performance I am tempted to label “virtuoso”.

The control was immaculate, stepovers effective, crosses generally dangerous and work-rate exemplary. Different sort of player from Aaron Lennon, but with the ickle one unavailable for Saturday, it’s nice to know that we have ourselves a Bentley in good form. He may perhaps have got a little carried away with all the party tricks but the ability to beat a man is quite a weapon to have. On those frustrating occasions when a defence needs unlocking, he at least carries the potential to jink past a defender and make some space (a quality that could hardly be attributed to Hudd). On another day, as we are all well aware, those constant Maradonna impressions will come to nothing and he will be maddening to watch, but last night it worked.

Bale: Good to see Bale looking up to speed as well, particularly in a midfield position which I think suits him better than full-back. The memories of his first few matches in lilywhite, under Martin Jol (blessed be his name), linger long in the AANP memory, so it is with pleasure that I note he turned in a good performance. A genuine left-footer on the left of midfield gave us a nice shape, and it’s a handy alternative to Kranjcar.

Pav: Poor old Pav. Not his night, was it? Suspicion, bordering on certainty, remains that we’ll be bidding him “до свидания” come January.

Hutton: When God made Corluka, it appears that he out of curiosity he took all the ingredients and reversed them, to see what the polar opposite would look like. The result was Alan Hutton – a quick, bald, attack-minded right-back who, one suspects, does not give an awful lot of thought to defending. He did well enough, and the combo with Bentley worked well.

Would Have Been So Much Simpler If Keane Had Blasted It Into A Corner

By golly, when Hudd gets them right his shots look likely to tear the net from its moorings, yesterday being a case in point. Couldn’t help but note that his expression on scoring was that of a man who felt he had been copping unfair flak from AANP the previous day…

As for the penalty – what a glorious throwback to the days of manic playground football, when the next-goal-wins rule comes into play and all hell breaks loose amidst a ruck of bodies and two jumpers. From spot-kick to net-bulger there were six efforts on goal. Crikey. All that was missing was the Benny Hill theme tune. Poor old Tim Howard is entitled to feel a little aggrieved, after making more saves in ten seconds than your average Premiership ‘keeper will make in two full games against Stoke, and credit is due to Keane for some nifty technique in finally scoring; but that does not excuse various other moments of profligacy on his part. For the love of God, sharpen up man, before the visit to l’Arse.

Happy days then – a convincing win, clean sheet, back-slaps all round. Chelski, l’Arse and Man Utd remain in the Carling Cup, but another trip to Wembley is conceivable.

 

As ever, all are most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the players to be featured in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here 

You can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, or follow on Twitter here

Spurs - Everton Preview: Premiership Points or Carling Cup?

If you enjoy those 15 half-time minutes when the subs come trotting out and half-heartedly ping the ball around, you’ll love tonight. Pav, Bentley, Hutton and Bale are all in line to start, as ‘Arry rings the changes with half an eye (in a manner of speaking) on Saturday’s game.

League or Cups? (Why Not Both?)

The absences of King, Woodgate, Lennon, Modric and Defoe force most of the changes upon us irrespective of the prioritising. The only optional changes ‘Arry is likely to make are in attack – where I suspect most of us would like to see Pav get his chance anyway – and in the full-back positions.

My tuppence worth is that I don’t particularly want to see Hutton and Bale in for Charlie and BAE at full-back. This has less to do with the quality of the personnel (I’m rather a fan of Bale as it happens) as the fact that our team is already mightily disrupted with all the injuries. Making unenforced changes on top of those is asking for trouble, particularly in defence, where in the absence of Ledley the players sometimes appear a little uncertain as to the names of the chaps alongside them. All members of our squad are capable Premiership-standard players, but make too many changes and the team’s performance could be as aimless as those half-time exercises.

I’ll be curious as to whether Sergeant Wilson starts. An injury or suspension to him really would give our squad for Saturday the look of a man who’s had his spine ripped from his body, something ‘Arry will presumably have taken into account. However, without him tonight we find ourselves looking towards the might of Jenas and Hudd to boss the game. Forgive me for feeling a little underwhelmed at the prospect, particularly as Tim Cahill in the opposition ranks will give us a glimpse of what we’re missing in central midfield. Still, after flattering to deceive against Stoke Jenas and Hudd owe us a good performance each.

So a rare opportunity for the squad players, and added responsibility on the shoulders of Dawson, Jenas, Hudd and Crouch. Not necessarily a line-up to have Everton quivering in their boots, but I’m pinning my hopes on home advantage seeing us through.

As

ever, all are most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the players to be featured in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here

You can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, or follow on Twitter here.

 

Spurs 0-1 Stoke: A Spot of Hudd-Bashing

A few weeks ago we hit Burnley for five despite not playing particularly well; this time our scratchy performance did not have a five-goal veil to mask it.Bravo Stoke

 

To their credit they did not let us carve open a clear-cut chance in front of goal, our best opportunities coming from crosses and longer-range efforts. Praise is due particularly to their ‘keeper Simonsen for the full-length fingertip stuff, and also for impressively began his time-wasting with just 24 minutes showing on the big clock.

Hudd: The Debate Rumbles On…

 

In his defence, his passing ability was rather stifled by the soul-destroying lack of movement from team-mates, and also by the fact that it is pretty darned difficult to play an incisive ball behind a deep eight-man defence.

The case for the prosecution however, will point to numerous aimless balls punted in all directions, as well a curious determination to nip in the bud any counter-attacking impetus we had, by slowing down the game or conceding possession as we looked to scamper forward.

… And Niko Kranjcar, Don’t Think You’re Getting Let Off Lightly Sonny

Like Hudd, Kranjcar is a player of good technique ( he does strike a sweet long-range shot), which renders it all the more perplexing that these two insisted on so many touches whenever they received possession yesterday. The notion of slick, pacey one-touch football seemed a million miles away, and the problem was compounded by the frequent misplacing of passes, short and long, or dawdling on the ball to get caught in possession. This was Stoke’s cue to swing a leg and hoist the ball into orbit, for Dawson to head back, and begin the process all over again.

I and 30,000-odd fellow spectators can be notoriously fickle, and the grumblings of discontent tend to filter through sharpish at the Lane when matters are not going to plan. In such circumstances we need at least to see the players looking like they are playing with some urgency, so it is perhaps unfortunate that the Hudd and Kranjcar simply bear the appearance of sluggishness, even if they are working their socks off. Both appeared guilty of rocking on their heels too frequently yesterday, in common with various other team-mates.

Energy From Lennon and Jenas

 

It appeared that salvation might come from the unlikely source of Jenas, and he deserves credit for his earnestness and energy – but Gazza Mk II he ain’t, and his willing alone was not enough to fashion a clear chance.

While I have singled out Hudd and Kranjcar, the general lack of movement was galling, and we were also undone by the players working at cross-purposes throughout. Simple give-and-goes went awry as players gave and didn’t go, or both went at the same time, or generally were looking in the wrong direction at the crucial moment; and a Stoke player duly swung a leg, and Dawson headed back, and it all began again, as the sound of weeping began to emanate from AANP Towers.

The Captain’s Armband

 

 

 

 

 

One final rant - as I’m on a roll here - is the fact that the captain’s armband was passed from Keane to Hudd to Jenas. Call it Exhibit A in the case to convince anyone still in doubt as to whether we lack on-field leadership.The Good News

 

Good news part two – we’re still in the top four, as the dropping of expected points is rather becoming the vogue amongst our rivals this season.

Good news part three – I think we’d all take a defeat to Stoke if it could be followed by a win at l’Arse…

 

 

 

As ever, all are

most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the players to be featured in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann hereYou can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, or follow on Twitter here.

 

Spurs-Stoke Preview: A Chance To Pay Tribute To Bill Nick

Believe it or not, win this by four goals and we’ll be top of the table, albeit until Chelski conclude their evening game. Try informing your nearest Spurs-supporting chum of this fact, and the chances are that you will be greeted with little more than a nod of approval and a healthy dose of perspective. Along with our consistency to date, the general realism of fans this season has been just as startling. We are all aware that we could be on the brink of something very, very good; but equally, there seems to be a healthy realisation that we remain a work in progress. That said, we’ll all be demanding three points today.Crouch Get His Chance

 

Crouch was snapped hurling down some slightly awkward-looking shapes after last Saturday’s game, and although the media did their best to sensationalise the “story” beyond all reasonable sense of perspective, they soon tired of that, particularly as ‘Arry treated it with little more than a shrug. I suspect it’s not what the continental players do, while rugby players apparently spend their post-match hours indulging in such unholy practices as sitting in ice-baths for reparatory purposes. Nevertheless, there seems no harm in a cheery night out with team-mates, a full week before the next game. Certainly the patrons of AANP Towers are in no position to judge a man who spends his Saturday nights on a London boogie floor…

Squad Depth. Ruddy Marvellous.

Woodgate should be back in the team today, for the first time this season. While Liverpool whinge about losing Gerrard and Torres (both of whom featured in their defeat at the Lane on the opening day of the season) it is a sign of the strength of our squad that despite the absences of Woodgate all season, Modric for half the season, and the likes of Ledley, Palacios, Dawson and Defoe at various points, we are deservedly in the top four.

So, aside from three points obviously, what would AANP like to see transpire from its lofty perch?

1. A Four-Goal Win To Take Us To The Top Of  The Premiership

Being top in August is fun but inane; being top when the clocks go back is, frankly, fantastic. ‘Tis true, ‘Arry would be unbearably smug if it transpires that he takes us from bottom to top in exactly a year, but I’d still give my right arm to see it happen.

2. Goals From Woodgate and Dawson

 

3. A Clean Sheet

 

4. A Blinder From Jenas/Hudd

 

5. A Tribute To The Great Bill Nicholson

 

I am sure the fans will pay tribute to him today, it is to be hoped that the club does likewise in some official capacity – and how fitting it would be if we could end the game sitting proudly atop the table once more, as Bill Nicholson took us as both player and manager.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As ever, all are

most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the players to be featured in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann hereYou can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, or follow on Twitter here.

 

Spurs’ Cult Heroes - Your Memories of Dave Mackay…

Dave Mackay – what a man. A vital component of our Double-winning team of ‘61, he then recovered from two broken legs to captain us to victory in the ‘67 Cup Final. AANP warmly invites you to share your memories of this true Spurs legend, the latest player to feature in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes. 

As ever, all are most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the other featured players: Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here

Portsmouth 1-2 Spurs: Complicating the Uncomplicated

Not so much a game of two halves as a game of two thirds and a third third. We seemed to be cruising serenely after an hour or so – but then that wouldn’t be the Tottenham way, would it? Cue a wild thump of the self-destruct button, the halving of our lead and a daft sending off. The three points were eventually achieved in slightly nerve-jangling, harum-scarum style. Not for the first time I mused at the final whistle that Tottenham Hotspur ought to come with a health warning.Comedy Gold

The game could have been wrapped up within the first ten minutes, as Defoe might have a had a hat-trick. It rather set the tone, as we were the better team in the first half, and not for the first time the presence of Ledley at the back made a world of difference. A couple of weeks ago away to Bolton, in the absence of Ledley the back-four resembled a bunch of strangers - all of whom were mightily suspicious of the round white thing - but yesterday, particularly in the first half, he had things well under control. There was one scare, when a Corluka mistake left our back-four badly out of position, but let that not distract from the resulting moment of pure comedy gold from the Portsmouth forward Dindane, blasting over an open goal from a yard out, the sort of chance even Sandra Redknapp would have snaffled up.

Other than that, Pompey were reduced to long-range shots in the first half, mainly from Boateng, who seemed determined to have a crack every time he touched the ball, no matter the angle, distance or scientific impossibility. Ledley looked typically regal in rising to head home the opener, and as mentioned, we sailed through the first half pretty serenely.

Hudd and Jenas 

Jenas did not run the show as he might have done, but ‘twas notable that on the one occasion on which he burst forward he set up Defoe’s goal. There’s a salutary lesson in there – I would like to see Jenas gamble like that more often. Just take a chance man, break into the opposition area and see what happens.

Complicating The Uncomplicated

Two-nil, and cruising. In a parallel universe there’s a Tottenham team who achieve such positions and proceed to see out the game with minimal fuss and flawless professionalism. Their fortunes are charted on the Spurs blog Generous Amount of Action, Strong Understanding of Plot. Back on planet earth, with half an hour to go we did a fine job of complicating the uncomplicated. Portsmouth scored through Boateng, inevitably (seems a shame to criticise Gomes after he made some awesome saves, but he might have done better with the goal), and where once Defoe might have bitten an opponent’s arm, this time he trod on his leg, and saw red. No real complaints about the sending-off – not the most vicious challenge ever, but daft and petulant, leaving the ref with little option - and ruling Defoe out of the North London derby in a fortnight.

For five minutes thereafter we actually upped a gear, but it soon turned into a bit of an Alamo, with Dawson and Palacios thrown on for security, and the cheery sight of five added minutes of injury time. Gomes produced three top-drawer saves, the first in particular, from Kaboul’s deflected free-kick, looks better on every viewing, while we could also be thankful for another piece of truly comical finishing from the boy Dindane.

In the final analysis it is a strange game to summarise - on balance, when it was eleven against eleven we looked good value for a win, and yet we had to rely on three brilliant saves and two missed open-goals from Portsmouth. Having had the game in the bag at half-time, we almost let it slip through sloppiness and lack of self-discipline. However, despite going down to ten men away from home we didn’t capitulate, and a quarter of the way through the season we remain comfortably ensconced in the top four. Whisper it, but the 2009/10 Tottenham vintage is really rather tasty.

 

Chris Waddle is the latest player to be featured in the forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes, and you are invited to share your memories of him here. As ever, all are most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the other featured players: Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here
(If you fancy following the progress of Spurs’ Cult Heroes you can do so on the Facebook fan group just about here)

Portsmouth - Spurs Preview: The Worst-Case Scenario Unfolds

Well first the bad news. Sergeant Wilson is a likely absentee today after helping Honduras qualify for the World Cup Finals on Thursday. However, he carries possibly the best no-show excuse in the history of the game, as he is returning late on account of having been ordered to stay behind and party, by the country’s ruling military junta. Apparently this cheery lot are also responsible for kicking the President out of the country while he was still in his pyjamas, so when they you tell you to party you ruddy well crack open a beer and fondle a stripper.Apparently Palacios was only due to make it back to England this morning. When he turned up jet-lagged for the Man Utd game last month he ambled around in auto-pilot, picked up an early booking and was taken off at half-time, so he’s unlikely to feature today.

The Worst-Case Scenario Materialises. But It Should Be Ok This Time. 

Jenas has generally received positive reviews for his performances so far this season, notably against Burnley. Now as seasoned followers of this corner of the interweb will know, there is more chance of Hell freezing over than of AANP merrily awarding him gold stars, but certainly by his standards he’s started well this campaign. (There’s the rub, mind – he’s playing well by his standards, and Jermaine Jenas’ standards are Premiership-level, rather than Champions League or international quality… Sorry - I won’t get bogged down in this one again.) He’s generally kept things ticking over in midfield and retained possession sensibly enough, although his safety-first approach of backwards/sideways still grates, and I maintain that he still does not show the energy one would expect from a quality central midfielder. However, at the moment he is playing at a level good enough to see us through most regular Premiership fixtures, and while it may be insufficient against the top four, if he maintains that form he should help see us through today’s game.

Woodgate won’t return today, despite his recovery from injury, but blessed relief we have our Ledley back. For this alone I back us to win. His return carries the added bonus of allowing the Hudd to move back into midfield, in timely fashion too given Sergeant Wilson’s likely absence.

Friends Reunited 

Mercifully, somebody somewhere made sure that young Three-Touch O’Hara is ineligible for this one, so no need to worry there, and apparently the curiously-shaped ex-Spur Michael Brown is also in Pompey’s ranks these days. However, if anyone should worry about the return of former employees it ought to be the Pompey back-line, faced by a red-hot Defoe and Crouch, even if the latter is by no means guaranteed to start.

Pompey are propping up the table, although by all accounts they are playing far better than their position suggests. Nevertheless, excuses won’t be tolerated today dagnabbit - if we are serious about a top-six finish (and a quick, albeit unscientific poll reveals that we are) then nothing less than three points is acceptable today, particularly as AANP has global bragging rights at stake with its New Zealand-dwelling Pompey supporting chum. Scoring goals is no problem, and with Ledley back I fancy us to be fairly secure at the back.

 

Chris Waddle is the latest player to be featured in the forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes, and you are invited to share your memories of him here. As ever, all are most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the other featured players: Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here

Spurs’ Cult Heroes - Your Memories of Chris Waddle…

Not necessarily a unanimous choice, but with skills as outrageous as his mullet AANP warmly invites you to submit your memories of Chris Waddle, one of those featuring in Spurs’ Cult Heroes. This forthcoming book will look at players who achieved legendary status amongst supporters for what they did at the club, and includes reminiscences from former players, managers and you the fans. (Particularly keen to hear any memories of the time he destroyed Arsenal’s Gus Caesar in a Littlewoods Cup game in 1987). 

As ever, all are most welcome to leave memories - and browse those of others - regarding some of the other featured players: Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here

Ukraine 1-0 England: Silver Linings

Do excuse me while I momentarily don my England hat: this missive, from one of the souls frequently to be found loitering around AANP Towers, appeared on football365.com earlier today:

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Rio’s concentration lapse, the curious manner in which Green was sent off, the withdrawal of Lennon and the fact that we lost, it strikes me as far more useful than if we’d played with 11 and coasted to a comfy victory. We’ve had it all our own way so far in this campaign - and deservedly so by and large, we’ve earned it - so with qualification in the bag a more testing scenario ought to have been of much greater benefit in preparing for the World Cup. Playing almost the whole game with ten men, and chasing the game for a good hour, will hopefully have been vaguely educational for the players, who can expect far sterner tests throughout the World Cup Finals than they’ve received in the Qualifiers.

In particular, I was glad that the less proven and less experienced international players, like Johnson and Carrick, got to experience a tricky game away from home, in a testing atmosphere and against a team who desperately wanted a win. I would hope they’ll learn a lot more from that than they would have done in another 4-1 romp at Wembley. Knowing what strategy we adopt with ten men could also prove a handy lesson come South Africa.

For the same reason, I see a silver lining in Rooney’s withdrawal for the Belarus game. Admittedly they’re not the toughest opponents so we should be able to beat them even without our top players, but just in terms of preparation for the World Cup, playing a competitive game without Rooney is necessary for the team to know how to adapt. We struggled without him in crunch games in previous tournaments, and while he’s a dead cert to start when available, we need to have at least some semblance of a plan to cope without him. In both 2004 and 2006 we were knocked out when he exited, and there’s always a possibility he’ll be injured/suspended for a crucial game or two in 2010. Blessings in disguise, I tell ye.

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