Presumably there were some onlookers last night so enraged by our inability to score as the game wore on last night that they tore up their season tickets at half-time, their apoplexy no doubt reaching such levels when we actually fell behind that they chopped off their own feet and howled for the entire team to be sacked. All things considered however it was fairly satisfactory stuff.For all our inability to score we plugged away in commendable fashion, boxes were ticked, pressure was applied, shots were shot. Indeed, that we fell behind was hardly due to any failing on our part (although I suppose Cudicini might have palmed away the free-kick in a manner less inviting of trouble).
Defoe and Giovani (just about) toddled off with ticks against their name, Lennon and Rose got used to the whole concept of green stuff underfoot and small white sphere once again, and, perhaps most pleasingly, Livermore and Carroll trundled through in fairly steady manner. It was not quite as smooth as a well-versed line delivered by a lounge-suit wearing silkworm at 9pm on Friday night, what with going behind to the Irish part-timers and all, but in the rich tapestry of Season 2011/12 it will be delineated as a fun, relatively low-key step in the right direction. Which, let’s face it, is tickety-boo. Roll on the big one.
With fourth spot in the Premiership all but wrapped up it’s time for everyone to swing around and face this direction once again, just hither. I appreciate it can be jolly dashed mind-boggling these days trying to separate one competition from the next, but my spies tell me that tonight it’s Europa. Everyone got that?As it happens, I’m rather enjoying the deployment of the younglings in these midweek night-time gambols. In seasons of yore the only chance we’d get to see the likes of Livermore, Carroll and chums would be for 30 minutes at the end of an FA Cup demolition job on Peterborough, when the kids would be so concerned about making a good impression that I felt tense just watching them. Now, safe in the knowledge that there will always be a pointless European minnow pestering us again in a week or two, today’s youth can exhale, relax, play their natural games and give us a slightly better chance to assess how good they are, whilst secretly cursing the fact that kids half our age are already better than us.
In terms of personnel One Aaron Lennon will apparently be disappearing into the distance beyond some poor Irish full-back tonight, while Danny Rose and Steven Pienaar are also in line for returns. Presumably various youngsters have been given permission to leave school early in order to play tonight too, while such occasions also tend to mark the appearances of Pav, Bassong and Corluka before they are shoved away into the background once again as more pressing concerns arise at the weekend. Whatever the personnel one would expect our lot to be too strong for Shamrock tonight.
A show of hands then, for all you honest souls who just a couple of weeks ago had descended into a panicked frenzy, charging around wailing prognostications of doom before leaping headfirst through the nearest window, as our lot lost the opening two games with all the gloomy emphasis of gravitationally-obsessed lead balloon.No real need to panic was there? Two shakes of a lamb’s tail – and three wholesome wins – later we find ourselves in the top six, and neatly perched like an eleven-man Mo Farah, on the shoulder of the leading lot, ready to burst for the line with bulging-eyed determination as appropriate. Moreover, unlike Master Farah, we have the advantage of a game in hand at home to Everton. All of which is infinitely better than a slap in the face with a wet fish, so someone dish out gold stars to our heroes, and pronto for their fine efforts of the last couple of weeks.
Sheer Bloody-Minded Ruthlessness: Not Really Our Forte
Make no mistake, our keep-ball is at times so good I want to frame it and hang it on the wall of my living room, but when the cushion is only one goal I think the collective pulse-rates of north London would be helped if our heroes put their heads down, scored the goals of which they’re capable and put the game beyond reach. Still, all’s well that ends well (or begins well, as it transpired yesterday).
‘Arry’s Opportunity to Dabble in Early 20th Century French Sculpture
Young Walker deserves some extra pocket money, for his forward forays are beginning to generate the same ripple of excitement as those of Lennon, and while his defending is not exactly Ledley-esque he certainly lacks not in the commitment column.
On the debit side however, there was a reminder from BAE of his capacity to slip so effortlessly from laid-back to horizontal that he forgets his raison d’etre and starts inviting pressure upon the Tottenham goal rather than the opposite.
L’Arse At Home. Bring It On
Still, he is an improved performer, and these are improved performances. They could be improved further – that clinical, ruthless edge could be added for a start – but Wolves away, Liverpool at home and Wigan away have been taken care of despite being eminently loseable one and all. Even with the usual glut of injuries, our starting eleven now oozes quality in every position, a situation that will only be enhanced by the returns of Defoe, Lennon, Hudd and Daws. It is all dreadfully exciting stuff – and lip-smackingly enough, l’Arse at home are next up…
Exciting times, what? Having gone at it hammer, tongs and any other household implement you can think of last week, the prospect of another rip-roaring performance certainly gets the juices flowing.As well as more attacking nous than you can shake a large stick at, our heroes now come fortified with an added dose of Scott Parker, a particularly handy ingredient on away days such as these. Indeed, the sight in midweek, for the first time this season, of Sandro charging hither and thither, suggests that if necessary our midfield could now pack enough steel to open a small family-run business and pootle along quite nicely despite these dark economic times.
With Adebayor and Modders at the peak of their powers, Bale revving up a head of steam and Ledley imperiously taking care of all things defensive, the omens are ruddy marvellous. These are the games upon which Top Four finishes are built. Three points, and not a smidgeon less.
Fare thee well Carling Cup 2011/12, it’s been one rip-roaring, lip-quivering heck of a ride, with highlights including the mesmeric second round bye, and the frantic googling of the name Massimo Luongo. However, when we turn back the yellowed, sepia-tinged parchment that records these travails, the outstanding memory will undoubtedly be one man and his quite astonishing inability to get anywhere near saving penalties. In a feat barely permitted by the laws of the space-time continuum, Gomes managed to dive the wrong way for all eight penalties. The poor blighter does not seem to do low-key and inconspicuous, and while the shoot-out episode can probably be excused as unfortunate, with each passing week it seems likelier that he will offer equal measures of the sublime and ridiculous between someone else’s goal-posts come the January transfer window.Gomes’ bizarre directional misjudgements handily distract attention from a pretty woeful performance by the boy Pav. Unless he’s belting in 25-yard screamers he tends to spend his time ambling around the pitch, weighed down by a giant chip on his shoulder. The awful penalty was in keeping with a typically lethargic performance. Time to call in Mr and Mrs Pav for a few choice words on their son’s attitude, methinks.
On a brighter note, there was a return for Sandro, and another clean sheet. Moreover, as we in the stands become more familiar with Masters Livermore, Carroll et al, it is reasonable to assume that they are similarly becoming more comfortable in the environs of the big wide world.
In closing, permit me if I may, to take you back to our last Carling Cup penalty shoot-out failure, way back in 2009. After hearing ‘Arry trot out the obligatory line about penalties being a lottery, I managed to prevent my blood from boiling just long enough to dig out these thoughts from yesteryear:
Tossing a coin is a lottery. Russian roulette is a lottery. The National Lottery is a blinking lottery. A penalty shoot-out is not a lottery, you hear me?Get a penalty during 90 minutes (or indeed extra-time) and hands are slapped and little jigs danced. Admittedly such joy is promptly replaced with unbearable tension and biting of nails in the build-up to the kick itself, but the point remains that during the course of a game, a penalty is seen as a cracking opportunity to score. There ought not to be any reason why the same twelve-yard pot-shot suddenly becomes a moment of doom-laden hopelessness during a shoot-out, prompting managers to concede defeat and reducing arrogant bling-toting players to spineless, mal-coordinated naysayers.
Nor is the actual taking of a penalty a complete lottery. Admittedly, the nervous tension of a 90,000-bodied stadium, and millions upon millions of TV spectators cannot possibly be replicated on a training ground. However, practise 50 spot-kicks in the week leading up to a Wembley final, and if called upon you would at least be comfortable with the technique, run-up, spot you’re aiming for etc. Heaven forbid however that the players actually dedicate themselves thus.
This isn’t a complaint about the outcome on Sunday. I actually thought that with Gomes in goal we stood a pretty good chance in the shoot-out. And I give credit to Bentley and O’ Hara for having the
cojones to step up. I’m just disappointed still. Actually, make that gut-wrenchingly devastated, and absolutely livid, but with what I know not. Dagnabbit that should have been our cup. And now on top of it all I have to listen to every man and his dog tut sympathetically and tell me that it’s ok because it was all a lottery anyway? SOD OFF AND LET ME STEW IN MY OWN MISERY.It’s a futile, and mildly pathetic rant, but I either slam it down here in literary form, or burn with red-hot pokers the eyes of the next person to inform me sagely that penalties are a lottery.
Europa League or Carling Cup, which ought we to want less? It’s a tricky one. The Europa League trophy is a sizeable beast, and its lack of handles gives it a pleasingly Neanderthalic edge – one cannot help but handle it in rough, uncouth manner when raising it aloft, which is rather apt after 90 minutes of blood and thunder. The Carling Cup on the other hand has three handles, which is just plain weird, and ‘Arry will no doubt have taken this into account ahead of kick-off.However, we only need to win five games to make the Carling Cup Final, whereas five games in the Europa League won’t get us much further than half-time against Shamrock Rovers. Presumably the strategy in both tournaments will be to use the reserves, kids and those returning from injuries in the early rounds, before putting pedal to metal in the later stages. As such, everyone’s favourite gifted-yet-calamitous Brazilian gets to pop his cheekbones once more tonight, Gomes lining up between the sticks. With Gallas and Sandro returning, and Bassong, Corluka, Pav and presumably Giovani also involved, our lot ought to make a decent fist of it. The opposition won’t need too much introduction, it having been only five minutes since we were treated on a weekly basis to the sights of Crouch looping headers harmlessly into the stands, Sergeant Wilson mis-placing six yard passes and updates on the official club website about Jonathan Woodgate’s latest injury setback.
In all competitions we have five clean-sheets in seven games to date this season, and while it won’t matter a jot how we fare ce soir if we’re still pushing for fourth come next May, it would still be most satisfying if we could furtively eke our way into the quarter-finals of this thing, as has been our wont in recent years.
Marvellous stuff. That certainly elbows its way into the handful of most emphatic performances I’ve seen from our lot, a 90-minute game of keep-ball. Even when 11 against 11 we seemed to have a one man advantage. Bravo chaps.Our Central Midfield: Awesome
Scott Parker will presumably have bad days in a Tottenham shirt, but in a potentially tricky encounter against Adam and Henderson he played like a man possessed (albeit, with shirt neatly tucked in and side parting, the most benign-looking possessed chap you’ll ever clap eyes upon. Superman disguised as Clark Kent). Every time a Liverpool player’s eye lit up at the mere smell of the ball, Parker was all over him like a particularly nasty rash, the speed at which he devoured loose balls helping to entice the foul from Charlie Adam that earned him a trip to the naughty step. Thanks largely to the protection he offered, Liverpool barely crept within shooting distance of Friedel’s goal. Moreover, whenever we were in possession – which admittedly was most of the time – Parker always seemed to be available, within six yards of the man on the ball.
Modders was the most obvious beneficiary of Parker’s noble work, and between the pair of them they tore Liverpool to shreds, which was jolly good fun to behold, and also had the useful side-effect of drawing yellow cards all over the place. I must confess that should Modders ever wander inadvertently into AANP Towers he will be still be met with a slightly frosty stare, sat down in a darkened, rat-infested room and asked to explain himself – but nevertheless, his on-pitch class remains indisputable. It was classic Modric, in terms of his pottering around the centre and doing whatever he pleased with the ball. In a curious chronological quirk he delivered his pièce de résistance in the opening exchanges of the game, but ignoring the linguistic and syntactical problems of that particular suggestion it was a rip-roaring finish, of which only a rare breed are capable.
Gareth Bale deserves a tip of the hat too, perhaps not quite delivering the masterful cutting edge of the last season and a half, but still causing general havoc down the left, including the engineering of Skrtel’s dismissal.
An Early Instalment In What Is Likely To Be The Long-Running Adebayor Debate
Smug looks all round from all those who have spent the last 18 months ranting about our need for a new centre-forward – which is just about every Tottenham fan around – as Adebayor delivered a mightily impressive home debut. Worth bearing in mind when he has us all tearing our hair out with lackadaisical folly a few months down the line. Whether holding up the ball, drifting into deeper positions or dinking little diagonals, he ticked boxes left, right and centre. Two cracking goals too – miles apart in style, but both meeting the requisite official criteria for “cracking”.
In this particular neck of the woods we were also thrilled to bits to see an old-fashioned two-man strike force. It might not necessarily work week in, week out, but after a season’s worth of crosses sailing over the head of one isolated striker, the 4-4-2 worked splendidly today (credit again to Parker, for putting in a shift that enabled us to work a two-man central midfield, and hence a two-man attack).
The only quibble with our first half performance was the inability to turn such a rampant performance into goals, but this wrong was eventually righted, four-nil a perfectly fair reflection of proceedings. So swimmingly did it all pan out that we were even afforded the luxury of chauffeuring off Ledley with five minutes to spare, and giving his creaking knees some early down-time. A grand afternoon’s work. Fourth place is as good as sown up now.
Never mind the game today, have you seen Sandro’s hair? Heavens above. The fellow has done the most extraordinary things… have yourself a perusal at around 1.50 on this clip.Of secondary importance is the visit of that red mob. In what might as well be a 17-team division competing for fourth spot, Liverpool, along with those relentless purveyors of comedy at the Emirates, represent our principal rivals – which makes this quite the key clash in the grand scheme of things.
There’s a lip-smacking midfield battle in prospect, because if Modders, Parker and Henderson can stop fiddling with their hair long enough to lock horns, with Charlie Adam also in tow (but alas Sandro and his coiffure still sidelined), this could be quite a rambunctious to-do.
I cannot help but furrow the brow at the prospect of Suarez and/or Carroll making merry amongst the Tottenham back-line, the Uruguayan’s bag containing all manner of tricks, while Carroll, for all his issues with fitness and the bottle, strikes me as precisely the sort of hulking nuisance who has traditionally tossed aside feeble Spurs centre-backs and blasted into the top corner. I fret. Much depends on the presence or otherwise of Ledley alongside Kaboul, for none of Bassong, Corluka or Livermore inspire much confidence.
Mercifully, up the other end of the pitch, the odds seem to be stacked towards lilywhite as Adebayor faces up to Carragher, who appears to have been studying the rugger world cup just a little too diligently. The world seems a brighter place with a bona fide striking presence pounding the turf in lilywhite, and as such I’m optimistic that the Liverpool net will bulge many a time and oft this lunchtime. Keep them quiet at the other end and the points will be ours – in which context Ledley’s fitness is key.
AANP’s bosom swells with pride in announcing that the youngest nephew this week began school this week, poor blighter, and similar feelings of satisfaction and reminiscence no doubt occurred to ‘Arry as he sent forth the various assorted whelps and whippersnappers still too young to watch Goodfellas, to do us proud on the corner of some foreign field last night.Encouragingly, to a boy they all seemed happy to play the Tottenham way, possessing an instinct to pick a 10-yard pass at any given time, rather than walloping the ball skywards at the first sniff of trouble. The kids may have lacked a little thrust in the final third, but they can hardly be chastised for this, given that the same affliction has weighed so heavily upon the various feted international strikers – and Peter Crouch - employed over the last 18 months. Livermore seemed pretty determined to demonstrate that he can make it in the big bad world of central midfield without a grown-up holding his hand; the new chap Falque showed the occasional moment of eyebrow-raising, nod-inducing flair; while it is too early to tell whether Harry Kane will make it as a top-level pro at the quite disgusting age of just 17, but whatever career the young blighter embarks upon I suggest that he’ll make a darned good fist of it, for in the field of blistering self-confidence he was mightily well-stocked.
Bar the last few nervy minutes our kids held their own, and were certainly unlucky not to win a penalty, although history suggests we’d have contrived to miss it anyway. If you excuse me a moment of optimistic, misty-eyed speculation, the fact that just about our third choice XI (nine injured, plus another ten rested) can hold PAOK to a draw, in front of what sounded like the blood-thirsty mob from Gladiator, then we ought to go on and win this whole ruddy nuisance of a competition. With one or two additions our kids could probably see us through the group stages, and thereafter, with the cream of Europe otherwise engaged, I hazard that Bale, Modders and VDV would pulverise all-comers at a canter; but whether it will be worth fielding the big guns in the latter stages, as the Top Four race narrows to its conclusion, is presumably a different kettle of fish.
(As a valedictory note, I leave you with the heart-warming sentiments of PAOK boss Laszlo Boloni: “It was a nice game”. Bless.)
‘Tis held in some quarters that as a whippersnapper the schoolboy ‘Arry would wile away his hours yelping “Wolf!” with tedious regularity, but on Saturday even the cynics amongst us realised that his “bare bones” mantra could be objectively verified. The adage has it that actions speak louder than words, so when young Giovani was shoved out onto the pitch for a few minutes it became evident that ‘Arry spoke sooth, and our lot really were struggling for personnel. (I’m rather a fan of Giovani as it happens, but that particular can of worms sits aside from the point at hand).While Modders, Bale, Parker and Adebayor are firmly ensconced within great big blankets of cotton wool, back at North London HQ - and VDV has been excluded altogether from the personnel list for the entire group stage of the Europa League - señor Giovani will join forces with Masters Kane, Carroll, Livermore and chums, to unleash the sort of youthful assault on the senses not seen since unkempt, pre-pubescent beat combo Hanson stormed to the top of the charts. It won’t all be acne and high-pitched voices though, as Pav, Bassong and Corluka will have to suffer the ignominy of babysitting duties tonight, while poor old Gomes has precious little to gain from a one-off appearance like this – play well and it will matter not, Friedel will return on Sunday; but drop a clanger and the pace at which he is chivvied towards the exit door will increase.
While the name is familiar enough, from various European competitions of yesteryear, I confess my knowledge of PAOK Salonika is minimal, and frankly, without wanting to irk the UEFA suits unduly, there is little to suggest that that tonight’s fixture will imprint itself indelibly in the minds of all those who scramble out of the office in time. With a further 15 games (I think) to go in order to win this trophy ‘Arry’s attitude of plain irritation towards it is understandable, and given that the kids are out in force an away draw – with no further injuries - would probably constitute a decent result.