Well what a relief that that has been cleared up. Apparently the Defoe goal was disallowed because of a foul committed by Pavluychenko in the fixture played back in Greece in September. Or perhaps for a foul by Graham Roberts in our ’84 UEFA campaign. Or maybe it was Mackay back in ’61. Well, whatever the incident, it was definitely a foul. Or maybe offside. Or Leg Before Wicket.
Mind you, Defoe appeared almost to castrated the chap, so it would have been a bit much to have profited with a goal. Whatever the verdict, that second half was certainly more exciting than the usual Channel 5 fare from our lot, and not too many tears will be shed in this neck of the woods if our Europa campaign coughs politely and sidles off the premises in the coming weeks.
The First Half – Only Marginally Better Than Having A Foot Chopped Off
After the remarkable juggernaut of unstoppableness produced by our lot in recent weeks, our Europa lilywhites came over all misty-eyed and nostalgic, and sweetly reverted to the days of Gerry Francis and Christian Gross. Adopting a formation of sixes and sevens, the back-line in particular displayed quite spectacular ineptitude in that opening 45, viewed at AANP Towers with all the morbid fascination of that scene in the first Saw film when the chap looks at the saw, looks at his foot, looks at the saw, looks back at his foot, and finally decides that if David Beckham can carve out a career as an international superstar with just the one foot then it might be worth the risk.
Ah, that wretched first half. Bassong looked every inch a defender soon to be sold to QPR. Corluka looked every inch a footballer whose pained lumbering is no quicker than the steps of an inebriated rabbit. Rose looked every inch a promising schoolboy decathlete shoved onto a football pitch and told to be a left-back. Pienaar looked every inch the runt of the Predator pack, banished to earth by the cooler Predators on account of his heavy-legged first touch.
On the bright side, Defoe and Modders tore about like a pair of dogs on heat in that first half, while Livermore also earned an approving nod, with that Sandro-esque combo of technique and energy.
Second Half – An Improvement Of Sorts
In the second half, our wily old fox of a manager deduced that the best way to avoid further embarrassment would be at all costs to avoid letting the ball go anywhere near the defence. Thus we spent the entire 45 camped around the Greek area, which at least spared Gallas, Bassong et al any further Chuckle Brothers moments. Alas, PAOK reasonably enough stuck all ten of their remaining men in a neat formation around their own penalty spot, and just about every one of them cleared off the line at some point.
Defeat is never much fun, and the use of 90 minutes’ worth of Modders, Defoe and Lennon is regrettable – but if we make the Top Four this season, an early Europa exit will hardly be lamented.
Switching from the all-conquering, award-winning, glitz-laden superstars of our rollicking Premiership campaign to the prepubescent kids and want-away squad members on our midweek Europa jaunts is somewhat akin to putting down the Dumas novel in order to tune in to Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds – nobody in their right mind would dispute that it remains quite magnificent entertainment, but the whole forum is perhaps a little more frivolous.Thus we march into battle tonight knowing that defeat will do all manner of nastiness to our European campaign, but victory would all but see us through. None of which can really be taken seriously when one considers the red-hot Saturday/Sunday frolics of our first-choice mob in the League.
Still. There is still a cockerel on the shirt, pride at stake and a trophy to be won, eventually. Kane, Carroll, Livermore and Townsend will get their usual opportunities to impress, while Cudicini, Corluka, Gallas, Pienaar and Pav (if fit – and if not, then presumably Defoe) will add sprinklings of élan about the place. The reverse fixture against this lot was jolly hard work, but thus far on our home nights in Europe we have muddled through, so another three points ought to be the target once again tonight. All for one, and all that continental gubbins.
Desperately sad news about Gary Speed - RIP
Within a day or two it will inevitably be swallowed within the black hole of wondrous statistics about just how darned good the current crop are (best start to a season since the ’61 Double-winners, since you ask), but the win at West Brom has muscled its way into AANP’s exalted list of Most Hard-Earned and Pleasing Little Gaggle of Wins This Season, or “MHEPLGWTS” as we like to call it for ease of reference.
To win 3-1 away is one thing, but to do so having gone behind and been largely out-played and out-muscled in the first half, by something resembling a team of Scott Parkers, is quite another. Moreover, in the absences of both Modders and VDV this whole bally thing was achieved in the absence of half of the heartbeat of our team, if you excuse the invocation of a tenuous and frankly impossible medical metaphor. A quite sterling effort, rewarded not only by three points but also by the dropping of points by Man Utd, Newcastle and l’Arse. A fine weekend’s work indeed.
First Half Struggles
As noted, our vanquished opponents deserve some credit or making life quite so awkward. Rather than kick and hack their way through proceedings, or lasso all eleven back to the edge of their own area, they had quite a pop at our heroes in the first 45, pinning us back and making life jolly uncomfortable. ‘Twas noted with a raised eyebrow at AANP Towers that Ledley looked a little less than his usual stately self at the back, and the defence in general seemed to exude more than just a whiff of general panic in the first half. Mind you, the struggles of Ledley were suitably expiated for by the performance of Kaboul, fast maturing from reckless man-child with weirdly sculpted eyebrows into full-blown colossus, and not just because he can head the ball further than I can kick it. The odd mistake still creeps in – ball-watching, needless fouls – but these days he waves that “Thou Shalt Not Pass, You Swine” placard in convincing manner.
Life Without Modders and VDV
Things perked up after the break. Scott Parker continues to charge around as if playing each game in the knowledge that his parents are watching him for the very first time; while Sandro displays an infectiously boyish enthusiasm for things (albeit an enthusiasm that very nearly earned him a second booking). Sandro has a bit more to offer in terms of moving forward, and the pair generally seemed to take it in turns to supplement attack, with Parker even eschewing the safety-first sideways/backwards keep-ball approach that usually constitutes his ball-playing diet in its entirety. However, despite the best efforts of these two we did lack the je ne sais quoi that Modders and VDV typically offer.
In the absence of these two particular talisman, our heroes made hay through the aesthetically sublime approach of moving the ball quickly. It may have lacked a little of the cutting-edge provided by Modders/VDV, but by pinging the ball around quickly we got ourselves back into the game, patiently it hither and thither until the spaces appeared, and the little legs of Walker, Lennon, Bale and Defoe sped blurrily into the great big swathes of greenery in front of them. It is a credit to the on-ball technique and off-the-ball movement of our lot that the man in possession always has a couple of options.
Cutting-Edge in Attack
Ultimately however, the difference was probably that, as against Blackburn, QPR and Fulham in recent weeks, our attacking types have that little bit more quality than the opposition. Whereas previously it has been VDV, Bale or Lennon, yesterday it was the finishing of Defoe that was a class above. Where West Brom were profligate, we were clinical. As has been discussed ad nauseam, he has his critics, of whom AANP is not one, but no matter how selfish, one-dimensional or ignorant of the offside law one considers him to be, he is one heck of a finisher. (Curiously for one who has now scored four goals in a week, I still think that Adebayor needs to work on his finishing, but his overall contribution remains immense.)
And so it continues. There remain a good two third of the season left to play – but who amongst us would not have taken this situation back in August, when City were thumping their fifth past us?
Anyone else reached the slightly absurd conclusion that we should really win all but two of our remaining 27 fixtures? The bubble will presumably burst at some point, but if the earth continues its merry rotation around the sun in the time-honoured fashion of a few thousand years there is little reason to expect anything other than the standard, slightly tortuous three-point haul.
However, while on paper, or indeed the interweb, our lot should outdo West Brom , anyone who fails to recall our frustrations against West Ham, Wigan et al last season need only refer to England’s recent one-shot-on-target victory against El Spanish a couple of weeks back. Note ye well, oh lilywhite heroes, this may prove a struggle, despite our player-for-player superiority. In particular, the concern around these parts centres upon our ability – or lack thereof – to defend set-pieces.
Wholesale team changes are somewhat unlikely, but some murmurings suggest that VDV might be a doubt, in which case ‘Arry must decide whether to employ Defoe within a 4-4-2, or something a little more circumspect, possibly involving Sandro. One would be inclined to slap a proportion of the weekly earnings upon “Away Win”, and another Villa-esque stroll would be quite ripping, but one suspects this could be slightly harder work.
Oh that life were always that simple. Villa’s scouting network appear to have concluded that any attempt to disrupt the Tottenham modus operandi would result in a riot, and consequently they spent the entire night carefully keeping a safe distance from us, allowing our heroes to do whatever they jolly well pleased. Still, objective achieved, and boxes ticked left, right and centre., but if I may be so bold I would dare to suggest that when in such utter dominance they could do worse than display an attitude of bloody-minded ruthlessness. There were moments when Lennon tried a flick in his own half, or VDV dabbled in unnecessary ornateness, when at 2-0 the fait was not necessarily accompli. When in complete control let’s go crazy and score until it’s a tad embarrassing for all concerned. Plenty of time for own half fancy flicks when the scoreboard has hit double figures.
Our lot certainly deserve credit, for alternating between sensible bouts of keep-ball and occasionally knife-through-butter thrusts
However, I digress rather wildly from the point that this is the best Tottenham side in living memory, and that without breaking sweat they stomped all over those poor little Villa lambs. Bale, Modders, Parker and Kaboul no doubt sipped their celebratory bourbon with relish last night, after performances of particular majesty, while BAE threatened to steal the show simply by unbraiding his quite sensational mop.
Word reaches me that the chatter amongst the more excitable members of the lilywhite fraternity is of title-winning frolics. To each their own I suppose, and our juggernaut is certainly trundling along most merrily at present, but I do feel rather inclined to point out that it is but November. Top Four is the aim; top three is pleasingly realistic; yet we still remain but three points above seventh. These are wondrous times at N17, with cracking stuff from our mob on a weekly basis now, so rather than pore over the possibilities of May 2012 I plan to spend the coming days donning slippers and gown, and contentedly puffing upon a pipe.
What ho, and I trust you are in as fine fettle as AANP, for today’s basic algebra lesson is that a win today will take us third, and with a game in hand no less. Crivens! Let’s ruddy well get out there, dominate, take the lead, sit back, invite pressure, concede one and hang for dear life for those three points! Our current streak of fairly relentless goodness bodes well, as does Villa’s winless away record this season, but this being THFC there will inevitably be many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip.
Scott Parker’s inexorable march towards Fans’ Player of the Season has seen him just about Man of the Match his way through all eight of his games in lilywhite to date, games that have seen us record seven wins and a draw. Just this once however, I rather hope that Parker’s contribution is minimal, and that we can cruise through to victory without recourse to his indefatigable last-gasp heroics. It would be absolutely topping if the headlines tomorrow were all about Adebayor, VDV/Defoe, Modders, Bale and Lennon, with Friedel a spectator and Parker just occasionally required to play some of his gentle one-twos on halfway, before the forward line launch their next little blitzkrieg.
Corluka is apparently restored to full health, but it is unlikely that young Master Walker will be displaced. If there is a change at all it might be in attack, where, VDV has been recuperating from his latest hamstring mischief by shopping in the supermarket aisle next to the venerable AANP Senior. Defoe no doubt strains at the leash. Meanwhile, the terms of his loan mean that The Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards will not pop up in midfield for Villa, to invite pressure upon his temporary employers, but one former lilywhite on show will be Alan Hutton, whose defensive frailties ought to be brutally exposed by Bale at full gallop. All things considered this should be three more points for the pot.
The adage has it that winning while playing poorly is a sign of a good time, but the sentiment in this corner of the interweb is that we win these games because our forward line between them just have more quality than most others in the division. Lennon’s, Defoe’s and even Bale’s ability in the way they took their goals were of the highest order; Fulham for all their pressure did not have that class and clinical touch to apply the coup de grace as necessary. ‘Twas a similar story last week against QPR, when for all the opponents’ huffing and puffing at 2-1 we still had the flair to conjure up a third; ditto, one might suggest, the wins against Blackburn and l’Arse.
So it was the usual stuff from our lot – leading at half-time (albeit far from our best this time); emerging in the second half with an infuriatingly negative approach of sitting deep and heartily encouraging the other lot to apply pressure as they saw fit; a chronic inability to defend set-pieces that saw unadulterated panic sweep throughout the ranks every time the ball was dropped into our area from the heavens (in fact, winning long-balls at either end proved completely beyond us today, Hangeland constantly beating Adebayor, ensuring precious little second half respite; while at the other end the ball frequently stuck with Zamora, despite Ledely’s attentions); but ultimately three more points for the N17 pot. ‘Arry is presumably not alone in suffering heart problems brought about by this sort of performance, for it cannot only have been at AANP Towers that pulse-rates soared and fingernails were gnawed to the bone, during that tortuous second half.
Vindication of Our Summer Signings
That said, the contribution of kindly old Brad Friedel also helped, ever so slightly. I have liked the chap so far this season because he just gets the basic stuff done with no alarms and no surprises, a wonderfully calming alternative to that mental Brazilian chap. While there were probably not any full-stretch acrobatic saves in there today, his reflexes and concentration were impeccable throughout, and each of the countless saves that needed to be made were duly made with no hint of error. Bravo sir, or whatever equivalent is preferred by our cousins over the pond.
Also worth noting that for our first goal Adebayor held up the ball in a manner that was generally beyond Crouch last season, and Kyle Walker showed a turn of pace that would have been completely alien to Vedran Corluka. Our summer signings have advanced us a level, be ye in no doubt. (Yes yes, I’m fully aware that Walker was already strictly speaking a lilywhite last season, but really, since when has a moot point like the truth been allowed to disturb the weekly gubbins around these parts?)
The usual stuff from another summer signing too. I rather hope that, like Ledley, Scott Parker is given the entire week off in between games, and packed off to Butlins, or Benidorm, or wherever he fancies, with a couple of energy drinks and a good book, while a crack team of surgeons re-attach the relevant body parts and generally do whatever they did to that Six Million Dollar Chap back in the 70s. Put yer feet up fella, you’ve earned a rest. (Incidentally, I asked the venerable AANP Senior today whether Parker really did compare to Dave Mackay – the latter having been a particular favourite of my old man – and the response was that the question was invalid, as Mackay would not have made it through a game in the modern era without getting sent off.)
I still rather hesitate to suggest that we are now a team capable of rolling up our sleeves and grinding out results on these away days, for this seemed to owe as much to luck as defensive ability. Nevertheless, away wins such as these - so gruesome to behold that they probably made the midwife shriek - are very much the stuff of which a Top Four finish is made.
Anyone else feeling a little sorry for the boy Defoe? He couldn’t be much sharper if he had great big glinting blades attached to his elbows, and yet come matchday he is left to watch on pensively as VDV ripples the net like it’s going out of fashion. The ultimate ignominy – inclusion amongst the tots and second-raters for the trip to Russia – cannot possibly have lightened his mood. Poor blighter.
Still, if he sits it out again tomorrow, VDV does his usual trick and we toddle off home three points better off, there will be no complaints from this quarter. It would be quite delightful if our heroes cocked a snook at the age-old notion that the away team must dig a trench on the edge of their penalty area and station ten bodies therein. Mercifully, our lot seem rather to enjoy the breakneck, back-and-forth basketball approach to away days, whereby caution is left bound and gagged in the dressing room, and harum is joyfully united with scarum for the best part of 90 minutes. Grist to the mill of Lennon, Bale, Walker et al, one would assume.
Seasoned fantasy footballers will be well aware of the threat posed by that Dempsey character, while other points of note about our esteemed opponents are that they are managed by Martin Jol (blessed be his name) and have decided this season to play in their pyjamas. On paper – and indeed at the Lane – we would turn this lot over with the usual mixture of first half aplomb and decidedly less second half urgency, so this really should be another three point affair. Over to you, chaps.
More dedicated followers of AANP will be well aware that when I do eventually conclude fighting the good fight and prepare to meet my doom, ‘twill not be in a hail of bullets or blaze of glory, but coronary failure sustained while watching our heroes. While cheering the news that the various pokes and prods to ‘Arry ‘s cardiac area proved successful, I rather fear for him if he observed on the telly-box the inept tomfoolery of Monsieur Bassong in contributing to our downfall. On an evening when the more experienced, international types needed to lead by example, his ill-judged amble out of defence and straight into trouble inevitably led to a goal, as well as a booking, which may or may not have been officially awarded for jaw-dropping imbecility. I don’t mind admitting that when Gallas went off and the armband passed to the arm of Bassong, I could barely suppress a tut, so enraged was I. One rather hopes that someone averted ‘Arry’s eyes as the incompetence unfolded.
That Cudicini was in fine form says much about our performance, but this is hardly a slight upon the kids, whose brows were, as ever, furrowed with determination and effort. Of offensive threat there was none, Defoe and Pav given so little service and space that every time the ball did make its way to them they celebrated by charging into offside positions. In truth, the most notable developments of the night were the worrying sight of Gallas withdrawing injured, and the quite brilliant pun delivered by yours truly upon the arrival into the fray of young Parrett.
A win and defeat against this Russian lot, with no particular violation upon the equanimity of the goal difference between us, is probably what most of us expected. Progress remains likely, and the kids are learning, so there is therefore sanguinity in defeat, at least at AANP Towers.
Rarely do I expect our heroes to lose – away to the Manchester clubs are about the only fixtures this season in which I would regrettably project nul points - but to that roll of dishonour let the epithet “Rubin Kazan. Away. And With Kids” be added. Those Russians can rightly feel a tad aggrieved at having to slop back off to Siberia with nothing but commemorative THFC thermal underwear, for they had the woolly mammoth’s share of possession and chances that night, and are likely to cause us a fair degree of bother on their own patch.Our midfield looks particularly light tonight, with Sandro and Parker spared the air-miles, understandably enough, a blessing similarly bestowed upon Modders, Bale, Lennon, VDV and Adebayor. However, Gallas and Pienaar will gingerly tiptoe onto the 90×120 for the first time in a while; Livermore will head up the usual troop of Boy Scouts; and Gomes/Cudicini, Bassong, Defoe and Pav are also involved. Much will rest on the young shoulders of Livermore to win the midfield battle, but all things considered a draw would represent a decent achievement, while the 5pm kick-off time finally lends some point to the existence of ITV4+1. The dash back to AANP Towers commences imminently…