We at AANP Towers are firm proponents of the dying art of chivalry, always happy to whip off the jacket and place it over a puddle for a lady to walk across, or leap into a burning building to save a one-armed orphan; but once on the football pitch I would positively encourage our lot to dispense with the p’s and q’s, and instead adopt all the airs and graces of a gaggle of behooded youths at a train station. Alas, our heroes are just too darned nice sometimes. When we needed ruthlessness last night, and a good violent kicking was required of opponents who were down, we instead extended the hand of comradeship at every given opportunity. Defoe’s penalty; Jenas’ back-pass; the usual disparity between our attempts-on-goal and goals-scored tallies; and of course, when all else failed, a bizarrely reckless and unnecessary penalty-area challenge in the sixth minute of injury-time. Model citizens the lot of them, and their mothers would be proud, but 30,000 at the Lane would rather see a Neanderthalic savaging of the enemy.The technical quality of our players is not in doubt. Crisp one-touch passing looks wonderful when it works (Exhibit A – our second goal), and if we are two or three goals to the good our football really is lined in gold. At the risk of sounding like a broken record however (a record first produced back in the ‘80’s) when up against a team determined to slug it out we are constantly found wanting. Our lot need to draw inspiration from someone in the centre, but as ever our default switch last night was set to “dainty”. Jenas, Hudd, Modders, Kranjcar – none are the sort to whom we look with confidence when a clinical despatch is called for.
Sergeant Wilson added some bite when he came on, and his burst set up the second goal, but by and large he has been below par this season. It is a crack we have typically papered over with early goals followed by lightning-fast counter-attacks. More often than not, this approach will be sufficient for victory, but all the nine-one wins in the world will not disguise the fact that we still lack a true leader in central midfield, who will take the game by the scruff of the neck and go charging into attack like that beardy chap in the film about Sparta.
Instead, we have Jermaine Jenas. The lad must be quite sensational in training, because he certainly never does anything during an organised game to merit inclusion. At one point yesterday we were treated to the sight of Jenas’ annual Burst-With-The-Ball-From-Deep, a gallop of fully 60 yards on the counter-attack offering a charming hint of just how good a player he might be if he did the same thing throughout the game, every game. He does not do this every game however; he does it once a blue-moon, typically finishing by knocking the ball sideways to an opponent, to the inevitable vocal accompaniment from the stands. The point of his existence continues to be pondered by all bar a succession of Tottenham and England managers.
Elsewhere on the Pitch…
For all his single-mindedness in front of goal from open-play (and that early attempted lob-volley was rather eye-catching) Defoe’s penalty-taking is truly woeful. The award of a penalty ought to be greeted with back-slaps and satisfaction; instead I can barely bring myself to watch either him or Keane step up. It is a pretty damning indictment of these two that I now find myself scanning the periphery of the area to see who is most alert for the rebound.
More excitingly, The Rarely-Sighted Pav may have reminded ‘Arry that rather than just being a foreign chap with a mullet always loitering in the background his preferred trade is actually that of a professional footballer. Fingers are crossed here at AANP Towers that the Russian is given another chance on Tuesday night.
A decent shift from the boy Bale, although few have ever doubted his attacking prowess. He will face sterner defensive tests, but for various reasons – pace, left-footedness, crossing ability, age – he remains in favour at AANP Towers, the news of which will make his weekend I’m sure.
In need of a leader we have not held back in heaping praise upon Michael Dawson in the last couple of months, and one or two crunching tackles again yesterday indicated why. The fellow’s commitment to the cause is a welcome contrast to so many around him, but a couple of wobbles against Liverpool and then the penalty conceded yesterday were reminders that he does still rather act first and think later. We all love to see someone diving in across the turf and sending an opponent flying, but there is a time and a place, and Daws erred pretty spectacularly on both counts in the dying seconds.
The Road to Wembley