Well this is embarrassing. After all the hubbub last week about the Champions League and Inter Milan the decent thing would have been to have given Wigan a good thrashing, destroy their crops and set fire to their small children. Instead, I return from a weekend away at a wedding to find my Spurs-supporting chums refusing to make eye-contact, shuffling their feet and muttering about uncanny happenings in the cricket.
Four points from three domestic games then, on top of which there was the meltdown in the Young Boys first leg and the march of triumph in the second. When set out like that it seems that so far this season we have already covered just about every possible base from sublime to ridiculous.
CRISIS!!! (Just Kidding)
In the wake of Saturday’s debacle various members of our clan have been grabbing each other by the collars and screeching not to panic, because this is not – repeat, not – a crisis. One shoddy home defeat doth not a crisis make. Such mishaps as this occurred a couple of times last season, and were soon swallowed up by all-singing, all-dancing wizadry against the Premiership’s elite. Moreover, even this season the bright and bubbly start against Man City, hard-earned win at Stoke and jolly romp against Young Boys suggests that matters at N17 are, broadly, still tickety-boo. Somebody somewhere probably needs a good slap on the wrist after the Wigan game, but otherwise this is probably one to be glossed over before normal service is resumed.
There is, of course, the concern we dare not voice - that this sort of nonsense will follow every Champions League outing. Before we begin scrambling for places aboard that particular bandwagon it is worth recalling that the win at Stoke three days after our trip to Switzerland suggested no such malady, but time shall tell on this front. In terms of numbers and Premiership-standard personnel I would think our squad is capable of coping with a slightly bloated fixture-list, but it would nevertheless be cheery to see a little extra sprinkling of quality added to our ranks before the transfer window shuts.
Our heroes now have a couple of weeks during which to sit in the naughty corner and think about what they have done, and the curiously alliterative glut of games (West Brom, Wolves, West Ham) that follows represents a chance to right a few wrongs and go making merry, with goals and points aplenty. Mind you, fluff our lines against that lot and I won’t be able to sleep at night for the mocking laughs from the ghosts of Gerry Francis and Christian Gross. This business, of outclassing a team in every department on paper, only to succumb with excruciating apathy on the green stuff, happened far too often back in the day for me simply to forget about it in the blink of an eye. However, bag a few consecutive wins – and it is eminently feasible – and Wigan at home will be regarded as this season’s White Hart Lane anomaly.
And so, slightly dizzying, we head straight back to the Premiership. It seems like it was only yesterday we gathered around the wireless to listen to the Champions League draw, with the breathless excitement of children on Christmas morn. From Inter to Wigan in the blink of an eye. ‘Tis a lifestyle to which we will have to become accustomed fairly rapidly.
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There was something vaguely memorable about Wigan’s last trip to the Lane, and memories of that heady November evening, combined with two early-season thrashings, suggest that our visitors may approach this fixture with a fair degree of trepidation. However, I would quite happily settle for a 1-0 win this time, our heroes having put an awful lot into their midweek jaunt.
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Time for all and sundry to murmur knowingly about “squad depth” again, and opportunity therefore potentially knocks for the likes of Kaboul, Bassong, Jenas, Kranjcar, Gio, Pav and Keane, while beady eyes will presumably need to be cast over the fitness of Gomes and Modders. Saturday also heralds a potential debut for William Gallas, and having already offered my tuppence worth on his signing last week I am now quite curious as to what sort of reception he receives at the Lane.
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Alas, I will need to be informed of this and all other developments via furtive text messages while I nod and smile appropriately in church, as AANP is donning its suit to head to a wedding this weekend. Do keep me posted won’t you?
Well the prophets of doom can stick that in their pipes and smoke it. Admittedly it was not exactly vintage, one-touch, rapier-like Tottenham, but then that was understandable enough - in defence of our heroes, I think if I had simply to catch a bus for £20 million I might be a little more cautious than normal. Still, while it may have lacked panache in places the performance oozed professionalism, efficiency and good old-fashioned, red-blooded desire from the off. Only one Spurs team in history has competed in Europe’s elite club competition before this season, so our heroes deserve all the accolades heaped upon them, both for last season’s efforts and the thorough negotiation of last night’s potential banana-skin.
There are a handful of phrases by which we live here at AANP Towers. You know the sort, essential pearls of wisdom fashioned by time itself. “Women – can’t live with them, can’t kill them,” and suchlike, but another such bon mot is “By jiminy, thank goodness for that early goal, ought to steady the nerves, what? (Let’s hope we don’t now sit back and invite trouble)”. And lo and behold, when Bale lobbed one in, Crouch stooped, we had ourselves the early goal and all was right with the world. I’ll never know, but I often stroke the whiskers in contemplation of what it would be like to be a good citizen of Tottenham, idly minding his own fare and wandering along the High Road at the exact moment that a goal of such magnitude is scored, and it sounds for all intents and purposes like the sky is collapsing in on itself. The perfect start, at which instant White Hart Lane became so excited it pretty much went ‘bang’ in a puff of smoke.
Life Minus Modders
Back on the green stuff (au naturale, rather than the dastardly tenth-generation macrofibres, or whatever the deuces they used out in the Wankdorf Stadium) we controlled the game in a very careful fashion. To his credit, from first whistle to last Sergeant Wilson bore his fangs like an illegally-bred fighting mutt, and this midfield bite was welcome, our heroes following his lead and pressing the Young Boys (if you pardon the phrase) high up the pitch. However, the deficiency of a midfield bereft of Modders was evident. Hudd’s passing, long and short, is joyous to behold, but neither he nor Palacios are the type to run with the ball from the centre. As a result there was a slight dearth of central creativity, and several symptoms of Crouch-itis in the team, as a number of long-balls were launched up to the gangly one (although he did a topping job of shielding the thing like a new-born babe while it was conveyed from heavens to turf), while the heart always thumps upwards against the mouth around these parts when we play those square balls across that 10-yard space just in front of our back-four. This, however, is somewhat hypercritical, for in truth, in the game of their lives our heroes were barely threatened.
Young Boys for their part adopted some curious tactics – leaving the 6’ 7” striker unmarked at corners, time-wasting when trailing 2-0, etc. I was going to commend their right-back for doing a generally sound job on Bale, in not allowing the handsome young Welshman unrestricted access throughout to the yawning wide expanses of greenery in that particular corner of the Lane – until it dawned on me that His Royal Baleness actually provided the assists for all four goals, and got the right-back sent off. And that on what, for Bale, was a relatively quiet day. For all their attacking prowess last week, Young Boys, even when 3-0 up, looked porous at the back last week, and having excelled themselves on home turf they were no match for us this time. Pot Three awaits.
For a start, I lost my delightful, gleaming Tottenham Hotspur flag within about 30 seconds of kick-off, trampled into the dirt several rows in front of me. Of arguably equal importance on such a momentous night, Gomes hobbled off halfway through. Some need to be mown down by an Uzi before signalling for treatment; our loveable net-minder is not of that near-invincible breed. Should a butterfly sneeze in his direction Gomes signals to the bench for Florence Nightingale and 24-hour care, so when he winced and limped his way to the dressing-room at half-time I raised an eyebrow in scepticism. Time shall tell I guess, but back in the day I suspect that Gomes had a leading – and non-lupine - role in his school production of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’.
Also disappointed in the boy Defoe. Bluntly, he cheated. Admittedly he had the good grace to look long, hard and incredulously at each of the numerous officials before celebrating, but I don’t like to see Spurs players deliberately breaking the rules to gain an advantage. Mind you, his curious natterings about “destiny” beforehand now seem to make a bit more sense.
However, irrespective of the officials’ call, his finish was classic Defoe. If he does require surgery, it will do him the world of good to have such a clinical finish under his belt while he twiddles his thumbs and heals.
Elsewhere On The Pitch
After last week Young Boys evidently thought that BAE was the susceptible heel within our mighty Achilles, but the headbanded one brought his A-game and did not allow them a sniff. Dawson also banished the memories of last week with an imperious display, while Hudd purred his way through the game.
Que Sera Sera, Whatever Will Be Will Be
And so to the future. ‘Arry has hinted that he has no intention of dipping into his humungous new transfer kitty, but I have my fingers firmly crossed that this is fabrication of the highest order. Now that our participation is guaranteed we are running a Mission Impossible-esque race against the clock before the transfer window is closed, bolted and has curtains pulled across it for good measure. With Gallas on board I’m not sure a centre-back is still a priority, but a top-notch striker, capable of leading the line in vacuo would be mighty handy.
The draw for the much-vaunted Group Stages also awaits, and for some reason our non-existent Champions League pedigree lands us in the third of four pots. So be it. Some are hoping to avoid the big guns and thereby ease our passage to the next phase, but here at AANP Towers we are fervently beseeching the clueless UEFA suits to hand us the cream of Europe so that we can welcome to the Lane the finest kickers of a pig’s bladder currently roving the planet. Any one or two from Barca, Milan, Inter or Real would be just dandy. Because that is the company we can now keep.
Audere est Facere? Tonight it’s Aut Vincere Aut Mori – kill or be killed. Do or die. Damn well strain every sinew on pitch, while we scream ourselves hoarse in the stands, and keep it going until we’re in the Champions League group stages.
The rabbit-in-headlights approach of the first leg was vaguely understandable, but as every other game we play these days seems to be the biggest in our recent history, there should be no stage-fright this time. No dodgy surface either. Tonight, instead, we’ve got the pristine White Hart Lane carpet, floodlights, the Champions League theme tune and a 36,000-strong choir singing the slow “Oh when the Spurs…”.
For all the time I spent patiently trying to explain the permutations to my female colleagues last week in the aftermath of the first leg, the nub of the matter is that just about any win will do. Admittedly we are the sort of team uniquely capable of winning 4-3 and thereby knocking ourselves out, but broadly speaking victory will suffice. And while the complete disintegration of order, game-plan and sanity in the first 30 minutes last week was a tad difficult to stomach, I’m secretly actually happier knowing that our lot have to go out there and attack, rather than, say, try to protect a one-goal lead for 90 minutes. Remember ye the 5-1 thrashing of l’Arse, when we went into the game facing a 2-1 deficit, psyched ourselves appropriately, scored after 2 minutes and didn’t let up thereafter.
’Arry’s seems to have the right idea. Castigated in some quarters for an over-adventurous mentality in the first leg, there is no point in sitting back this time, so his tag-line tonight is the rather exciting “Swarm all over them”. The absence of Modders does not exactly aid the cause, while my admittedly sparse medical knowledge has me querying the wisdom of sanctioning Defoe’s involvement when he is apparently in need of groin surgery. Nevertheless, we should have plenty at our disposal. Ye gods be praised for the return of Ledley at the back, while we look like scoring every time Bale touches the ball, and Pav demonstrated last week the value at this level of a striker with a touch of class, even on an off-day. Add to that the return from injury of Keane and Giovani, the fact that Lennon makes his CL debut and an already promising start to the season from Hudd, and we have ourselves an impressive cast-list. I fret a little that the absence of Modders may mean that Sergeant Wilson starts, but given the need for goals I suspect ‘Arry will look elsewhere - to Kranjcar perhaps, or maybe even Jenas (if it came to it I think I would prefer an immobile Modric to a fully-fit Jenas, but it’s ‘Arry’s call).
So how are your nerves? I presume I’m in a minority of approximately one, but in all honesty I’ve rarely felt as confident about a Spurs game. We’ve spent the last 12 months playing some fantastic football, particularly at home: do it again tonight and we will be fine. Admittedly the colour will drain from my face if we go into the final 15 with a 2-1 lead, but things really are set up frightfully well for us. Young Boys had a glorious opportunity to put us out of sight last week and blew it; while it is scarcely conceivable that our mob could play as badly. As mentioned above, even the one goal deficit at kick-off ought to work in our favour, in terms of our mentality.
Just the thought of hearing the Champions League theme tune five minutes before kick-off has me in goosebumps. I know it’s almost a legal requirement at this stage to be practically paralytic with nerves, but I can’t wait for this, potentially a real glory glory night at the Lane.
Once upon a time a trip to Stoke with a depleted team would have been the cue for our lot to step back, usher in the opposition and direct them towards a three-point haul with minimal fuss. Now, however, it seems our heroes have steel, and backbone, and other clichéd, macho-sounding adjectives. They have evolved into footballing vertebrates, who stomp around the dressing-room pre kick-off making clenched fists and shouting “Grrr”. There was evidence aplenty of this trait last season, when we turned the away win into something of an art-form, but I had worried over the summer that that would prove an anomaly, for our soft underbelly had been nurtured over several years, and such old habits die hard.
How marvellous then to behold the return yesterday of squad depth and a determination not to roll over and die. Had we lost yesterday, or even conceded a late equaliser, there would have been plenty of fairly valid excuses, not least injuries and the rigours of our midweek European game. Yet despite these we instead dug in, and while we certainly rode our luck at times the win can nevertheless be considered ruddy well-earned. Forget about slick passing triangles, and glorious derby wins at the Lane – come the end of the season in order to push for fourth again we will need a great big sack of points from scrappy away days such as this, when a decimated squad faces an Alamo-style barrage.
4-5-1 and Jermaine Jenas
The backs-to-the-wall finale means that this probably deserves to be filed under the “Winning Ugly” column, but we did also churn out some eye-pleasing stuff in the first half, as exemplified by the build-up to both goals. With Crouch on his own in attack the success of our 4-5-1 depended on Lennon and Bale attacking the area, and Jenas making the occasional lollop forward in support. In the first half in particular this approach met with a degree of success, which leads me to doff my cap in the direction of J. Jenas Esquire, as tends to happen approximately once every sixth months.
With the platform of Hudd and Sergeant Wilson behind him he adopted an unusually proactive approach, eschewing the traditional urge to turn around pass backwards and instead venturing on the odd gallop towards the Stoke goal. Indeed his dash into the area just before half-time was vaguely Lampard-esque (and had he been more clinical it might have brought him a goal). I would still sell him off in the blink of an eye, but with five attacking types out injured, he served his purpose as a squad-player yesterday.
Hits And Misses From Gomes
Not entirely to which genre the performance of Heurelho Gomes belongs. The stretchy Brazilian got himself in a right pickle for the Stoke goal, made a similar mess of things from a second half corner (from which Tuncay really ought to have scored) and generally veered perilously close to becoming that butter-fingered doppelganger who flapped and spilt his way through his first few months in English football. However, aside from the set-piece mishaps he actually saved our bacon more than once, with a cracking tip-over-the-bar from a Tuncay lob, as well as a low reflex save from Fuller. A happy ending means it is all smiles, but a return to the wobbly days of yore would be unwelcome.
Bale’s Volley: Sometimes A Commentator Nails The Moment
And so to the boy Bale. His first may have been a tad unorthodox, but his second deserves to be turned into a big-budget Hollywood production. Multiple viewings have left me drooling at the technique - and actually wincing at quite how high he raises his left leg - but the first-time, real-time viewing of it stunned me for the audacity he showed in even attempting such nonsense. Hark thee back to Alan Partridge’s football commentary, from back in the day (just here, specifically around 0.50), and the rather apt exclamation on seeing one particularly eye-catching goal of: “Shit! Did you see that?” Quite the mot juste for anyone witnessing Bale’s latest. My goodness the boy still needs to work on his celebrations though.
For all the late controversy, broadly speaking it was a pleasingly determined defensive effort, while up the other end we can be grateful to have in our ranks forwards capable of producing the odd moment of match-winning quality. Glad to have ticked “Stoke, away” off the fixture-list. Onwards.
After the glamour of Tuesday night’s European jaunt, it’s the seedier side of this Champions League lark today, with our travel-weary heroes heading up north for a fixture that is not quite ideal. Still, if we are to progress in Europe we will need to get used to this business of returning to Premiership fare with a trip to less than entirely salubrious locations.
The fall-out from Tuesday suggests that our lot have just returned from Afghanistan rather than Berne. Defoe, Keane, Pav, Modders and Giovani all apparently ended up amongst the bodies strewn across the Astroturf, and as a result the gangly one will plough a lone furrow up top today.The injuries in attack suggest that ‘Arry may now be forced into adopting some variant of 4-5-1, having occasionally dabbled in it in pre-season. I must confess to feeling ever so slightly baffled at the level of apoplexy that adherence to 4-4-2 seems to generate these days. The hip kids apparently play 4-2-3-1, with plenty of it on show during the World Cup, while a 4-3-3 is the modus operandi for the great and good on their Champions League away days. Thus, in the wake of the Young Boys debacle ‘Arry copped a fair amount of flak for loading up with ammo, removing the safety-catches and going out all guns blazing with 4-4-2. However, the 4-4-2 served us remarkably well in the Premiership, notably in the victories over l’Arse and Chelski, as well as away to Man City, and everything seemed tickety-boo last week at home to City too. I can’ t help thinking that the personnel gets overlooked for formation sometimes, but nevertheless, a 4-5-1/4-3-3 beckons this afternoon.
After effectively dropping two points last week, a win would be particularly welcome today, and come the end of the season, if we are to challenge for fourth again, Stoke away is one from which we would really need three points.
Musings On William Gallas Of All People
By the pricking of my thumbs William Gallas this way comes.
Well first things first: on the credit side, the car-crash that was the first half hour against Young Boys suggests that we would benefit from a central defender with the experience to marshal troops, organise bodies and generally steady the ship whenever it stops violently a-rocking. Gallas also ticks off one of the criteria on AANP’s pre-season wish-list, for an older head to come into the squad and provide a spot of off-the-pitch guidance as well as on-pitch nous, à la Naybet and Davids in years gone by. Moreover, Gallas knows the ins and outs of the English game as well as any defender around.
However, to put it rather euphemistically, the signing has been granted with full-blown wariness at AANP Towers. The blighter has something of a history of upsetting his colleagues and lobbing his toys from the pram, so it remains to be seen quite how positive an influence he has on the squad. As well as this, when we secured fourth at the end of last season, and rubbed our hands in Champions League-inspired glee, Gallas’ was not amongst the list of stellar names anyone had in mind for our summer shopping.
Moreover, I suspect I’m not alone in feeling downright unclean at the prospect of pilfering someone from that ‘orrible lot down the road. I’ve spent much of my adult life loathing William Gallas, and occasionally even expressing the sentiment through the medium of words. From now on I suppose he will receive some polite encouragement from this quarter I suppose, but with the illogical approach fairly unique to a football fan I just don’t like the idea of buying a player from our rivals. If ‘Arry wanted an experienced centre-back to shore things up, I would have thought there were others around to whom he could have turned. Off the top of my head, for example, that Mexican lad Marquez went from Barca to the MLS this summer (I think, may be wrong). He may not necessarily be the chap for us, but just as an example it suggests that there are other players of the required ilk out there, and if ‘Arry, Joe Jordan and chums had banged their heads together for a couple of hours, they’d have sore heads and quite possibly a list of likely candidates, without having to resort to shopping at the Emirates.
Still, every time I have doubted ‘Arry (from the comfort of my armchair) he has proved me wrong, so I’ll back him on this one too. Through gritted teeth I proclaim: William Gallas, AANP Towers welcomes thee to White Hart Lane.
Well first of all, a history lesson: in our first ever European Cup tie, back in 1962, Blanchflower, Mackay et al travelled to Poland to play Gornik, under the auspices of Bill Nick, and promptly found themselves 4-0 down at half-time, before scoring two late goals. Back at the Lane in the return leg we won 8-1… (That and just about everything else in our history can be read about in AANP’s book Spurs’ Cult Heroes, now a tenner on Amazon, ahem).So that, ladies and gents, is the Champions League, Tottenham style. Despite the fact that players, management, fans, pundits and just about anyone remotely connected with the club had spent the entire summer banging on about the Champions League, our lot looked to be taken completely by surprise by the whole experience. Everywhere we looked players were discovering new and exciting forms of ineptitude. Daws and Bassong spent the first half hour diligently practising their Corluka-running impressions, and by half-time had given some near-perfect examples of that running-through-quicksand look. If there is a physical opposite to Velcro, Pav appeared to have wrapped himself in it in the first half, as the ball flew several yards away from him every time he tried to control it. And so on. Giovani looked lively in the opening stages, but the rest of them ought to have worn sixes and sevens on the back of their shirts. Action in places, but not the merest semblance of plot.
And yet, even despite the sudden presence of Larry, Curly and Moe in the Tottenham defence, the feeling around these parts persisted that we would at some point sneak an away goal or two and have plenty to play for in the second leg. From the outset, although our hosts were merrily waltzing through our back line, there were some fairly straightforward indications their own defence was far from watertight, with Giovani and Defoe spurning a couple of early opportunities. A more seasoned CL outfit may well have slammed the door in our faces and lobbed the key into the Rhine; instead, for all the euphoria of their early blitz Young Boys seemed oblivious to the fact that in European competition a miserly defence at home is paramount.
We May Have Ourselves A Scapegoat…
Presumably much will be made of the plastic pitch, but from the comfort of the AANP armchair it is difficult to know quite how great an impact that had. It may have had a psychological effect, or it may have meant that any pass over 20 yards fizzed off the surface and away, but whatever the reason, the introduction of Hudd, and the short passing he brought with him, certainly seemed to aid our recovery. Passes under 10 yards looked like they were easier to control, and for a period either side of half-time the players appeared to warm to the task.
By and large however, they made it look like they were running across a minefield rather than an artificial pitch. Ought not these chaps, whose entire lives have been geared towards mastering the dark arts of a size 5 football, have been capable of adjusting to Astroturf pronto? Perhaps, but AANP is reluctant to chastise our lot on this account until I’ve walked a mile in their astro boots. Moreover, injuries sustained by Defoe and Modders suggests that beneath those artificial fibres lurked some malevolent daemon of terra firma. No doubt our heroes will be a darned sight happier on the green, green grass of home.
A Word On Our Glorious Leader
We’ll Be Fine
An inauspicious start then, but better things should await in the second leg. No doubt we rode our luck yesterday, as Young Boys could have hit five or six but for some schoolboy (sorry, couldn’t resist) finishing. Nevertheless with Ledley quite possibly to be restored to offer some almost motherly reassurance and organisation at the back, plus Aaron Lennon waiting in the wings, and Gareth Bale yet to make an impact on the tie, I sense that our opponents have blown a good opportunity to give themselves a much more imposing lead.
So, unusually, panic is nowhere to be seen at AANP Towers. If we hit a level remotely near the standards of last season I back us to cruise through, particularly at a throbbing, floodlit White Hart Lane. It may of course all go pear-shaped again (recall ye our UEFA Quarter Final home leg to Sevilla, a few years back, when after an encouraging 2-1 away leg defeat we cunningly conceded twice in the first ten minutes at the Lane to set ourselves a Herculean task), but I personally draw inspiration from the class of ’62, and their christening of Tottenham’s European adventures with the concession of four first-half goals, before proceeding to a 10-5 aggregate victory. Gifting the opposition an early lead, and generally doing everything in our powers to complicate the uncomplicated is a peculiarly Tottenham trait, as proudly displayed today as five decades ago. One-nil may suffice next week, but I suspect that our lot will find a vastly more complicated means of progressing.
Ah, Champions League Tuesday. I could get used to this…Admittedly it’s only the qualifier, but this is still Europe’s premier club competition. That music still blares out at the start, and the nifty, starry football logo is still sewn into the shirt sleeves. After all these years of hurt it feels like Moses finally making it to the promised land (if the Israel of biblical times were full of the best footballers in the world, and plastered with obscenely-priced advertising hoardings, and admittedly if Moses hadn’t died just beforehand).
We ought to be quite capable, on paper and indeed on grass (or synthetic fibres, or whatever it is tonight), but with Daws’ shaky England debut last week still fresh in the memory, it seems conceivable that nerves may play a part tonight. Of our current mob Gomes and Crouch have CL experience, most of them toddled off on various UEFA Cup trips in lilywhite a few years back and just about every one of them has played internationally – but this is a different kettle of fish. Still, even if things go a little awry tonight, over two legs we ought to prevail.
Sod The Scoreline – Enjoy The Moment
While every man and his dog are aware of the importance of begging, stealing or borrowing our way into the lucrative™ group stages, I reckon I could happily die tonight just as soon as I see our lot march out to that Champions League theme tune. Given that we’re not going to win the entire competition (although after reflection last night I reckon we have a better chance of winning the Champs League than the Prem), tonight I plan just to relish the moment. Years and years of false dawns, kamikaze defending, managerial changes and incessant baiting from gooners have all been leading up to this moment. Where Blanchflower, Mackay and Greaves first went, back in the ‘60s, now it’s the turn of Dawson, Bale and Defoe. Absolutely ruddy marvellous.
Off and running anew then, but in various senses it was if the old season had never finished. The personnel all looked pretty familiar for a start, the sumptuous brand of football rolled out brought back sepia-tinged memories of the finer moments of season 2009/10 - and alas the profligacy of old also made an unwelcome return.AANP’s wish-list for the new season may have been hastily scribbled at the eleventh hour on the back of an envelope, but (unnervingly) at least one point has already proved frsutratingly prescient:
Be More Clinical In The Crunch Games
While the blank we drew yesterday was due more to the heroics of the opposition goalkeeper than to egregiously bad finishing from our heroes, the point remains that one avenue for improvement is in increasing our ratio of gilt-edged chances created to goals scored.
A Thousand Curses Upon Inspired Opposition Goalkeepers
Tempting to search for a scapegoat, particularly after such a one-sided first half, but in truth just about all eleven of them – plus the three subs – turned in above-par performances. In such circumstances the default option here at AANP Towers is always to blame Jermaine Jenas, but, levity aside, it would be rather harsh to attribute point the finger at any of our lot. ‘Twas just one of those days. With a sprinkle of good fortune we would now be mixing it with Blackpool atop the table; alas, within the four walls of AANP Towers it is a truth universally acknowledged that if there is any luck going in North London, it goes the way of l’Arse (last-minute own-goal equaliser, the swines).
Last season, there were a number of games in which we created umpteen chances. Sometimes it seemed that just about all of them flew in (Wigan springing obviously to mind); on other occasions we came up against a goalkeeper turning in the performance of his career (Hull City, and that darned Boaz Myhill – whose obscurity since has been reflected by a headline-avoiding low-fee transfer this summer). Yesterday fell into the latter category, but we are consoling ourselves around these parts that more often than not our heroes will be rewarded for such performances with three points and shiny gold stars.
Consistency? At Tottenham Hotspur FC? Madness.
The lack of transfer activity has caused a degree of disquiet in some quarters – including these, I must confess – but the benefits of a summer bereft of transfer activity could be witnessed from the off yesterday. While the City team assembled at a cost of approximately several million billion trillion pounds looked every inch a bunch of strangers newly-introduced, as they struggled to get a touch of the ball for the first 45 minutes, our lot gave an interesting tutorial in the benefits of consistency (not an adjective bandied around these parts too often in recent years).
The starting XI bore just the one change (Charlie for Kaboul) from the team that beat City at Eastlands last May, and as Bale and Lennon set about harassing the City full-backs (if that was Micah Richards’ audition for a White Hart Lane move I’d rather we politely discontinue our interest) it really was as if last season had not ended. None of that business of new management needing to dish out name badges, or a whole platoon of new faces needing to gel – our current lot should know each other’s deepest darkest secrets by now, and they set about their business on the green stuff looking accordingly square pegs in appropriately-shaped holes.
Other Points of Notes
As BAE’s volley dipped and swerved AANP idly wondered whether an audacious brush with the spectacular is going to be an annual first-day-of-the-season offering from the lad. Further up the field, he may not have been a big-money transfer as such, but the introduction of Giovani from the bench was a reminder that recalled loanees are vaguely akin to new signings, and the sprightly Mexican is one who would have commanded a sizeable fee. May he live long and prosper at the Lane.
An honourable mention too to HRH the King. Given the urban legends about his ricekty knees it is always reassuring to see some small child stumbling out of the White Hart Lane tunnel hand-in-hand with Ledley, just prior to kick-off. Having managed three games in a week at the end of last season it is not inconceivable that he might yet be good to go again on Tuesday in the Champions League (I trust it feels as good to read those last few words as it did to write them…).
So two points dropped they may be, but after careful inspection of the liquid content, refraction of light and meniscus level, AANP ventures that the glass is half full. To spend 45 minutes fairly uninterruptedly slicing open one of our principal rivals for whatever it is at which we’re aiming this season (fourth? sixth? a trophy?) constitutes a decent start, and bodes fairly well. Even though standards were noticeably lower in the second half, we arguably created more - and better – chances. Darned frustrating stuff, but a decent start nonetheless.
Cripes, it’s upon us. No longer a blurry speck in the distance, the new campaign approacheth sharpish – and as such a wish-list for season 2010/11 is, if nothing else, rather timely…1. Finish Fourth
2. Gareth Bale to Keep Eating His Greens
3. Some Top-Class Signings
4. Bring In An Older Head
I was moved to stand and applaud when Eidur Gudjohnsen was signed in January, not only because of my borderline-unhealthy obsession of the Sheringham role in any given football team anywhere, but also because an older, experienced head seemed like a jolly good idea as we approached a season’s conclusion in which retaining-possession-in-the-dying-stages and general nerve-holding became increasingly important. Ours is not the most boisterous gaggle of young men, and an older head like Gudjohnsen, or indeed Davids and Naybet before him, could potentially prove a handy investment, imparting the odd morsel of wisdom on the training-pitch and in the changing-room, and adding a touch of nous on the pitch. (nb No idea what has happened on the Gudjohnsen front, but I presume, alas, that he won’t be returning to the Lane).
5. Rediscover Sergeant Wilson’s Sparkle
6. Continued Improvement From Daws (And Hudd)
7. Be More Clinical In The Crunch Games
8. More 5-1s and 9-1s
9. Nurture At Least One Of The Kids
10. Hit The Ground Running
First up it’s the paupers of Man City. Strictly speaking it is only three points, but hark back to 16 August 2009, and victory over Liverpool was the perfect start to the season, immediately sprinkling around liberal quantities of belief that we were capable of challenging the Top Four, as well as injecting a most pleasant sense of bonhomie around N17, upon which we toddled off and sat atop the table for a few weeks. Something similar tomorrow against another key rival would be tickety-boo.
I half expect that if City’s owners find out that I write a football blog they’ll make a bid for me too, as their spending spree is verging on the ludicrous, but to be honest if some billionaire foreign sort offered to swan into White Hart Lane and invest several hundred million on new players I’m not sure too many South Stand punters would object. However, for all City’s spending they can only stick 11 on the pitch at any given time, and mano e mano our heroes are certainly capable of three points. Here we go again then…