Spurs fans born yesterday – or at least since around 2009 – may disagree, but following up victory at the San Siro with defeat at Blackpool would not be the most unlikely turn of events at for the heroes of N17. Mercifully the current vintage seem just as capable of digging out tricky away wins to lower-table scrappers as they are of churning out a never-to-be-forgotten glory night in one of Europe’s premier arenas – which ought to prove jolly handy tonight, as our walking wounded leave a blood-stained trail from N17 to Blackpool pier.It’s three consecutive league wins for our mob, wins that are strangely all the more gratifying for being so unglamorous and low-profile. A fourth tonight would have Man City spluttering into their corn flakes tomorrow morning at the realisation that third spot has been sneakily half-inched from their grubby mitts, at least on a temporary basis. Fingers crossed it all works out swimmingly tonight then, or if not swimmingly than at least according to our fairly well-established routine of nail-gnawingly tense late winners.
“Don’t you forget about me,” warbled eighties Scottish beat combo Simple Minds, a couple of years before we all forgot about them. Anyone loitering outside the Spurs training ground would be familiar with the song, it being plaintively repeated ad infinitum by Niko Kranjcar as he stays behind each day to hone further his already darned-near immaculate shooting technique. Tonight however, he may yet have good reason to whoop “woo-ha” or the nearest Croatian equivalent. Gareth Bale remains out of action, and while Pienaar was preferred on the left last week at Milan, on account of his defensive qualities, Kranjcar’s recent form could well earn him the nod tonight.
Elsewhere in midfield ‘Arry is unlikely to opt for the safety-first option of Sergeant Wilson and Sandro, given that Jenas and Modders are available once more. VDV, Corluka and are the principal casualties from last week, while Woodgate is also back in his natural habitat of the treatment room.
Some tinkering will therefore be necessary – Gallas at right-back, a rare start for Bassong, two in attack – but nevertheless, the remaining personnel capable of walking unaided ought to have sufficient quality to garner three more points. Any fewer would frankly be a massive disappointment.
Come now, really – did anyone in their wildest dreams expect that? Really? That was not just a victory away to AC Milan, it was an absolute ruddy masterclass in the much-vaunted but rarely achieved art of Navigating Fiendishly Difficult Away Legs in the Champions League. Novices? Fie upon the very suggestion. Our lot look like they were born to play in this competition.First whistle to last our heroes stuck to the drill with a discipline that had me reaching for the whisky in disbelief. Like some super-computer sucking up knowledge at a rate of knots, ‘Arry demonstrated that the lessons of San Siro visits past have been learned, the days of “Just f*ckin’ run about” a distant memory as he adopted the most unlikely role, for one night at least, of tactical genius. Accordingly, our heroes carefully put to one side the gung-ho all-action approach they have spent the past couple of years perfecting, and instead donned monocles and mortar boards for a display of quite astounding maturity and bloody-mindedness. Witness Woodgate, not a cobweb in sight, clearing from a prone position on the floor in the final seconds; Modders orchestrating keep-ball in the dying stages; Corluka bearing a blood-stained ice-pack around his mangled foot; all of which left the Milanese stomping around with angrier and angrier scowls, like over-sized nursery kids, until one felt they might tear off their own limbs and beat each other with them, which admittedly very few nursery kids do these days.
Roll of Honour
Ah the good folk of Tottenham Hotspur FC. Heroes the ruddy lot of them. Sandro and Sergeant Wilson charged around to the strains of 90s one-hit techno wonder Kicks Like A Mule, stomping up to Milanese attacking types and positively screeching into their faces “Your name’s not down, you’re not coming in!” Not only did those two patrol the centre like Robocop and his less frivolous twin brother, but they also showed quite remarkable discipline in restraining themselves from diving in at any point, and avoiding the concession of too many unnecessary fouls.
For his next trick Gomes will presumably travel through time and reappear two days ago, but at the San Siro he settled simply for defying the laws of physics, those two second half saves worthy of Banks and tantamount to goals.
VDV’s every touch was a thing of beauty, the very antithesis of the Neanderthalic buffoon in the opposite ranks, for whom the ball was but a secondary detail. Too easy it is to forget VDV’s disguised chip that floated an inch wide while just about everyone in the stadium and the watching world was looking towards the far post area into which most mortals would have aimed a cross.
Lennon’s destruction of the left-back was almost inhumane (although not in a Matthieu Flamini sort of way), while out on the left the remarkably similar-looking BAE and Pienaar beavered back and forth indefatigably.
The back-four barely put a foot wrong, Daws looking every inch an international, and when all-out assault forced the reshuffle Woodgate slotted in with minimal fuss, and the drill was resumed. The other substitutes did precisely what every good wholesome substitute ought to do, Modric lovingly stroking the thing around for the final ten minutes and Kranjcar poking little triangles, as the enraged Italians looked for something, anything, to kick.
And the finish. Good grief for one horrible moment it looked like Crouch’s legs had assumed minds of their own and were about to sabotage the blighter’s moment, but he avoided tripping over himself in an unholy tangle of limbs – just – and the day was ours.
And then it got better. Lest any further evidence be needed that his shaggy mane hides only a great big vacuum between his ears, Gattuso then ignored the likes of resident lightweights such as Pav, Modders and Gomes, and made a beeline for one J. Jordan Esquire. “Nobody wants to see that,” droned Stelling on Sky Sports, rather missing a trick, for Jordan vs Gattuso would be one of the fastest-selling pay-per-view events in television history, even if it would only be a matter of seconds before Jordan tore the little man apart with his bare hands and then chewed on him with what teeth he has left.
And then it got better still, when all-round good egg and renowned gentleman of the game, Graeme Souness, was swamped within his own bile during the post-match natter and spat out a description of Gattuso as “just a little dog”. Ooh, you could almost reach and touch the hatred.
ne or two colleagues have pointed out that the tie is far from over and other such guff, only to be confronted by that most wonderful riposte, The Grin of Delight. Frankly, right now, I don’t care what happens tomorrow, next week or any time hence. After the turgid dross and embarrassment of the 90s and 00s, the last 18 months have provided enough lilywhite glory nights to last me a lifetime. AC Milan 0 – 1 Spurs. Ding dong.
It’s the bare bones, if ‘Arry is to be believed, a dry carcass with not a scrap of meat adorning it.Such heady nights as these do juggle with the emotions somewhat, for what other explanation can there be for going into a game against AC ruddy Milan half wishing that Jenas were available? Not only that, but I also rather pine for the gangly one tonight, for the evidence of the eyes, as well as his quite remarkable international and European goalscoring records, suggests that these foreign sorts simply know not how to handle his uncontrollable, elongated limbs when they start a-flapping.
Crouch may yet feature, but Jenas is most certainly suspended, which means, alas, ‘tis likely to be Sergeant Wilson and Sandro across the centre today (unless our glorious leader gambles that Luka can survive without the fresh stitches across his appendix-less gut splitting open amidst the hubbub).
Given the absence of such creative genii as Modders and Hudd we ought all solemnly to prostrate ourselves and thank the gods of injuries and suspensions respectively that at least VDV is available to pull strings, dictate play and miss penalties. Kranjcar may well get the nod on the left, while the Lennon-Corluka axis could be reunited on the right, with Pienaar and Pav awaiting, primed for action – and by golly, it starts to look like we have a chance and a half tonight.
‘Arry has made it quite clear that he considers attack the best form of defence, and while there is an element of dread at the prospect of some of our lot taking this philosophy far too literally and engaging in that familiar Four-Goals-Down-At-Half-Time routine, it is to be hoped that, faced with Pato, Robinho and Ibrahimovic, our rearguard mob adopt some slender modicum of defensive organisation while everyone else bombs forward. Gallas’ rather evil eyes have seen and done it all before at this level, so he will need to decide well before kick-off which luridly coloured clogs he wants and then use them to defend our honour like a man possessed. This is also a night for Daws to puff out his chest, Gomes to eradicate the clangers and, up the other end, for Defoe to damn well bury the slightest, mildest whiff of a half-chance.
Attack, Attack, Attack
Sendings-off, or missed penalties, or two/three/four-goal deficits – our European cousins have yet to stumble upon a fool-proof means of convincing us that we are beaten. This 2011 Tottenham vintage is capable of all manner of fizz and bang, and if that means going to the San Siro and slugging it out in another madcap, all action goal-fest, by heck our lot will be up to the challenge.
And so it continues. Five minutes ago Man City and Chelski were just expensively-assembled specks in the distance; but three hard-earned wins later and we now pose them a problem they will be unable to solve simply by reaching for the wallet and hurling foreign currency around. Take that, you rotters.And Yet It All Began So Ominously…
Victory away to a top-seven time without the assistance of the entire first- choice midfield is most certainly the stuff of which Top Four finishes are made, although in time-honoured fashion we spent most of the first half complicating things for ourselves. With Gallas having discovered a laudably original way to create chaos in defence, the Bale-Hudd-M-Modder-VDV shaped hole in midfield was rather prominent in a first half in which glimpses of scything one-touch football were all too fleeting.
Sandro may have ended the game like a runaway juggernaut but in the early stages he seemed unable to handle the pace of the game. Alongside him Jenas was turning in a performance of the infuriating ilk, shocked at the concept of taking the game by the scruff of the neck even when we trailed, and instead sticking to a deep-lying role of sideways and backwards passing, while switching his shooting radar to a spot about 17 feet skywards. The pair of them looked well set for glory at the Lease Effective Central Midfield Combo The Premiership Has Ever Seen awards, forcing Niko Kranjcar to come ambling infield to offer silky assistance all too often.
Ask And You Shall Receive
Mercifully, albeit rather spookily,
my pre-march plea for a set-piece goal for just about the first time since we won the Double was answered, in what turned out to be the only recorded incident of a goalkeeper being nutmegged by a header in the history of everything anywhere. While I hesitate to suggest that ‘Arry’s pre-game kick-off comprises simply reading from the pages of AANP, i will nevertheless include a more ornate wish-list ahead of the Milan game, including a return to fitness of Ledley and hat-trick for Benny.Today’s Youth: Admiring of Niko Kranjcar
If Niko Kranjcar thinks that will be enough to usurp Bale, Modric and VDV in the pecking order someone may need to sit him down and have a gentle conversation, but the chap’s quality is indisputable, and he is certainly making a case for at least a spot of squad rotation. Classy touches and a healthy workrate (Pav take note) are his modus operandi, and as we edged on top in the second half he and Sandro were instrumental.
That goal was something special too, its sheer gorgeousness making it a rather suitable valentine’s present for last-minute panicking types. The young hoodie-wearing chap next to me in the pub greeted its replay with a squeal of “Tekkers!” an expostulation which conjured up vague images of a 90s computer game, but which I have since been reliably informed by chums better versed in such vernacular is a reference to quite impeccable technique, and effectively represents a doffing of one’s hat in admiration. As such I can only concur. Tekkers indeed.
Job done thrice over, and Milan now beckons (I don’t wish to cast aspersions on his integrity, but I have a sneaking suspicion that when ‘Arry confidently asserts that Bale will be out injured he is doing so with something of a poker face, lovable rogue that he is). This one may not have been as memorable as, for example, the win at the Emirates, but given the absentees it deserves a spot of prominence within the pantheon of mightily impressive performances of 2010-11. Come on you Fulham…
Ostensibly I suppose this has little to recommend it. Our lot are without the glamour boys Bale, Modric and Van der Vaart, and there is no Darren Bent sub-plot for added intrigue. It’s the sort of game for which Tony Gubba in the final slot on MoTD was invented – but fie upon the BBC schedulers. From a lilywhite perspective this game is darned well crucial. The eight-game run of winnable fixtures enters its third leg this afternoon, and with Man City the latest of the Top Four to have dropped points opportunity remains bright and gleaming in front of us to continue gnawing away, Champions League-obsessed beavers that we are.The Darren Anderton Award For Most Injured Blighter in Lilywhite is hotting up, with Jonathan Woodgate causing jaws to drop the length of the isle by completing a full 90 minutes in midweek without bits of him dropping off, and a place on the bench beckons accordingly. The absences of Hudd, Bale, VDV and Modders would be enough to reduce other teams to tears and white flags, but while perhaps impairing our quality slightly it does nevertheless give opportunity for various other attacking types to flex their muscles, and Jenas, Pienaar, Kranjcar and Pav could all feature accordingly.
Things it would warm the cockles to observe today include the usual fare, of three points and preferably a clean sheet. If I may be a tad indulgent a return to goalscoring form from Defoe would also be frightfully well received around these parts, and a goal from a set-piece would make a pleasant change too, but I appreciate that I am now veering wildly towards the realm of the absurd. Victory, preferably one not marred by any further injuries, would be just dandy, in continuing our furtive ascent towards the Top Four.
Last-minute winners and multiple penalties are the least we have come to expect from a 90-minute adventure at the Lane, but as the cheery dissection of events was conducted at AANP Towers one question sprang to mind, yet to be satisfactorily answered: what the devil happened to that third penalty we were awarded? You know the one – VDV pinging off short passes, a vagrant arm giving the ball a little nudge and hearty roars of approval from the Park Lane, all fairly shortly before half-time. The ref awarded it, then wandered over to his assistant, had a brief chin-wag and then seemingly decided that as we would probably miss it anyway he would just skip the whole bally affair and give the Bolton ‘keeper the ball to do with as he pleased.Quite what happened is a mystery. I do not recall seeing a flag being earnestly waved out yonder, to signal a prior offside or any such thing. It could I suppose be that refereeing superstar Mark Clattenberg decided that as he had not been in the limelight for a full five minutes the world needed to focus upon him one final time before the break. Most perplexingly however, the entire episode was omitted from Match of the Day in a vaguely Orwellian style, the BBC’s Ministry of Truth presumably keen to convince licence-payers that in fact no third penalty incident ever existed.
The Re-Birth of Kranjcar?
Ultimately it mattered not, Niko Kranjcar saving the day with a shot that practically squealed at ‘Arry, “Look here you twitchy rotter, I’m a full-time footballer and darned well capable of cutting it within this lilywhite mob.” Amidst the euphoria of yet another injury-time winner it was easy to overlook quite how stylishly he took the opportunity, a timely reminder of what jolly good technique he possesses.
So what might the future hold for young Master Kranjcar? If the hallowed corridors of White Hart Lane could speak they would have plenty of tales to relate of outcasts taking advantage of injuries elsewhere to cement their first-team spots in the ‘Arry era, as Messrs Bale and Hutton can attest. With nobody daring to mention how long Bale will be out injured, and VDV picking up his usual weekly knock, ‘Arry might just be tempted to resort to Kranjcar on left midfield at some point in the near future.
Elsewhere On The Pitch
Minus Hudd, Bale, Modders and, latterly, VDV, this was a decent attacking performance, of the rip-roaring, slick, high-tempo mould. Benny brought his A-game (which presumably means we can all expect a shocker from him next week) while poor old Jermaine Jenas seems destined never to be the headline-grabbing superstar, coming within a whisker of glory but ultimately having to defer to Kranjcar in the hero stakes.
Goodness knows what year it will be before Jermain Defoe next scores, but I remain of the opinion that given a run of consecutive games he will get there eventually, and in a flurry. Temporary form, permanent class and all that nonsense. However, as long as he and Crouch are struggling with the concept of net-bulging fare we could probably do without Gomes’ curious aberrations.
Still, all well that ends well. Two consecutive wins, and six more eminently winnable games approacheth. Over the last week alone we have narrowed the gap on each of the four sides ahead of us. Rack up a string of wins through February and we will nibble away at the advantage held by the stuttering four atop us.
One down, seven to go - the dream of a run of eight consecutive League wins remains, at least within this particularly deluded little mind. This afternoon’s task will not be easy - Bolton outdid us on their patch earlier in the season, and in Kevin Davies have precisely the sort of striker whose presence makes me shudder from my Park Lane vantage point.Ye gods be praised then that some suit-wearing FA type is struggling to count beyond one. AANP often walks a disciplinary tightrope during its 8.30 – 5 daily office routine, and has long harboured the impression that should it be shown a red card then a three-match ban will follow pronto. However, for some reason, Michael Dawson is back in the reckoning today, despite what looked suspiciously like a straight red card just one week ago. Shhhhhh. Nobody say anything, and with a bit of luck it will go unnoticed that he has only missed one game…
Right-Footed Left Midfielders: Abundant At The Lane
We may be down to our last one and a half central defenders, and still be lacking that critical-if-overpriced striker, but by golly when it comes to right-footed midfielders playing on the left, few can shake a stick at our mob. Modders, Kranjcar and Bentley have all done their time on the left, with varying degrees of comfort, and while I’m not entirely sure as yet I suspect that young Master Pienaar may be inclined to lean rightwards - which did not stop him making his lilywhite (albeit sky blue) on the left a fortnight back, at Newcastle. Recent weeks have seen young Aaron Lennon, skipping infield from the left – and as ad hoc solutions go it may not exactly have the unborn leaping for joy within the wombs of their mothers, but it bore fruit in the dying embers of the game at Newcastle, and given the inconsistency of his crossing hte opportunity for in-field skippery seems to accentuate his major strength.
Second-guessing ‘Arry’s team’s selections is becoming increasingly difficult, but with Pienaar fit again today, I would guess that he will find himself in the centre (given the absence of Modders), alongside Jenas/Palacios, with VDV right and Lennon left. Whatever the teamsheet, this is one a fixture that a Top-Four chaser ought to win, and buoyed by the midweek success the mood around these parts is positively perky.
Everyone feeling better now? As is typically the case with our one-nil wins it was all frightfully nervy stuff towards the end, what with the aerial bombardment and off-the-line clearances, but three cheers for a clean sheet and away win. Huzzah, huzzah and thrice I say, huzzah!AANP: Pretty Ignorant When It Comes to Football
So having banged on to anyone who will listen for past six months about how useless Crouch is with his head, lo and indeed behold the sight of the gangly one nailing an absolute textbook header in the opening moments. I am still inclined to suggest that half of his headers fly upwards, and another quarter fly wide, while 0% have any sort of power behind them – but like a broken clock stumbling upon the jackpot twice a day, Crouch has his moments and this was one. Bravo sir.
Another line regularly trotted out in this corner of the interweb is how, for all his perceived deficiencies in other areas, Jermain Defoe is lethal in front of goal. Behold again then, the sight of Defoe missing our clearest chance of the game (although admittedly he did at least have the good grace to do his usual thing of thumping the ball on target and forcing the ‘keeper to make the size).
Thus, the victory bourbon at AANP Towers on Wednesday night was glugged in accompaniment to a sizeable portion of humble pie, as further evidence was provided of why those who know such things work in football, while AANP witters away at a keyboard.
Only BAE Can Do What BAE Does
Nobody quite knows how, but Benny Assou-Ekotto repeatedly dices with death on the football pitch, and gets away with it. Cruyff turns in his own area, and nutmegs on the goal-line are all part of a day’s week for BAE, presumably before he goes home and narrowly avoids burning down his house despite stubbing out cigarettes on his curtains. It defies logic, science and belief, yet so numerous are the examples of BAE’s astonishing close-shaves that a full compendium has been compiled by geeky types, and a second is in the offing.
Be ye warned however: BAE and BAE alone can pull of such footballing Evil Kenievelry. Daws tried to dabble in a BAE impression last week, and was rewarded with conceding two goals and getting sent off within the first fifteen minutes. Then on Wednesday at Ewood young Sebastian Bassong attempted similar tomfoolery on a couple of occasions, and almost came a cropper. Leave it to Benny, chaps.
Elsewhere On The Pitch
William Gallas’ attempt to make himself a million times more likeable than he ever was at that ‘orrible lot down the road continues apace. Lest anyone should have been in any doubt as to his physical condition he made sure to throw in a wince and a grimace every thirty seconds, but the business of keeping hulking opponents at bay was carried out with what is becoming typical aplomb.
A gentle round of applause too for Jermaine Jenas. Filling the boots of Luka Modric was an exercise of near-futility, but while he lacks the Croat’s class he at least retained the mentality of looking to keep possession at all costs, and supplemented it with a couple of darned well crucial defensive interventions.
Heart-warming stuff. Minus some key personnel this was a fabulous result, and did enough to suggest that the Top Four game is not up quite just yet.
By the by – sincere apologies for the tardiness of recent posts, but the real world gubbins is proving jolly time-consuming round these parts at present.
“You mean it will be difficult?”
“Well this is not Mission Difficult, Mr Hunt, it’s Mission Impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.”However, the chances seem increasingly slim that we will all have smug Tom Cruise-esque grins etched across our faces come May. Difficult has today shuffled furtively towards impossible with the news that Modders is out of action with appendicitis, poor lamb, joining just about everyone else at the club on the sidelines. In addition to the absence of Bale it presents rather a test of our attacking mettle, while so critical is the situation in defence that Johnathan Woodgate is apparently being readied for action. Gary Mabbutt presumably limbers up on standby.
However, the starting eleven tonight ought still to be a competent bunch, and in the longer-term the impending fixture-list positively leaps off the page and begs us to string a run of victories together. Blackburn tonight, then Bolton at home, Sunderland, Blackpool and Wolves away, West Ham at home, Wigan away and Stoke at home all present winnable opportunities to any self-respecting Top Four-chaser. Six points adrift of Chelski as of kick-off, this would be an opportune moment for our heroes to develop a few good habits.
“This was our best chance for silverware this season. I now think we’ll end up 6th and lose to Milan on aggregate. Back to the same old Spurs.”Thusly opined my Spurs-supporting chum Ian immediately after the full-time whistle on Sunday, presumably running out of characters in his text message before he could predict relegation, liquidation and the end of the world. Of course, he may be quite right – sixth may be pessimistic, but fifth looks increasingly likely, alas; while elimination at the hands of AC Milan is hardly beyond the realms of possibility (personally reckon we’ll win that one though).
Nevertheless, the whole Sunday afternoon debacle prompted philosophical shrugs amongst the denizens of AANP Towers, rather than wails of despair and a dash for the nearest noose. Play like that every week and I may well join Ian in donning the sackcloth, ashes and a sandwich board proclaiming the imminence of the end, but it seems reasonable enough to expect that such days will be the exception rather than the norm in the coming months. That our heroes have taken something of a liking to the strategy of self-demolition in the first fifteen minutes of a game is, admittedly, a tad troubling, but these complete meltdowns do tend to spring forth from within our defence, from time to time, and if they can be confined to the less important Cup matches then I’m happy enough to dismiss them with a sheepish look and some mumbled excuses. Onwards.