Awkward. Maybe we should begin at the beginning…
The Glorious First Five Minutes
Ah, ‘twas a pleasure to be a Tottenham fan. Our heroes produced some ovely stuff. Swift, slick passing; patient but pacey; sideways if necessary but probing forward whenever opportunity even threatened to knock. L’Arse struggled to focus upon the little leather orb, and the whole thing was crowned with a delightfully typical Tottenham goal, albeit aided by quite extraordinarily inept defending.
Alas, what followed was downright blasted awful.
The Crouch ApproachHaving spent all season passing the bejesus out of opponents, our heroes hit on the dubious tactic this afternoon of eschewing pretty passing for a slightly less refined approach of smacking the ball heavenwards towards Saha and Adebayor, and hoping that by hook, crook, chest or gangly limb the ball would somehow or other stick there. There was something eerily Crouch-esque about the whole thing, evoking painful memories of unpleasant hoicks that pybassed our midfield and ruled out any opportunity for us to play our natural passing game on the green stuff.
Further woe was to be had by the collective decision of the midfield to station themselves Alamo-style some 10-15 yards ahead of their own penalty area and wait for l’Arse to attack. The rationale was presumably to allow for counter-attack revelry, but the effect was instead to invite relentless pressure upon poor old Friedel and his worryingly popular net. Every time we cleared to halfway, l’Arse were able to amble forward at will into the final third, and catastrophe duly ensued.
More GrumblesCuriously, the sending-off of Parker in the dying embers was a darned sight harder to swallow here at AANP Towers than any of the unabated awfulness that had preceded it. United at home next week are beatable, but sans Parker it becomes a lot less likely. (On which note, Sandro looked every inch a man who hasn’t played in a month or two, all misplaced passes and niggly fouls.)
The “winning” of the penalty by Bale was also disappointing. If ultra slow-mo, zoomed in replays prove there was contact I’ll happily retract – but to this disgruntled viewer it appeared that Bale took a dive, which would be cheating, and not for the first time. Not at this club, please. Bale in particular is comfortably good enough to excel by fair means rather than foul. On a brighter note, the handsome young Welshman’s turn of pace in the first place was outstanding, matching the excellence of the pass from Modric.
Returning however to the grisly business of head-shaking and repeated tutting, the initial team selection seemed at the time a tad curious, and in hindsight fairly ill-judged. Saha upfront instead of VDV was a bold call, particularly away from home, but was understandable to a degree, in terms of giving the centre-backs all manner of complexities (and a goal within five minutes provided a degree of vindication). The selection of Kranjcar ahead of Lennon will require a little more explanation in order to placate the teeth-gnashers of AANP Towers, particularly if the plan really was to play swiftly on the counter-attack.
Punters Across The Nation Stare Quizzically At Their “’Arry for England” PlacardsSilver lining? A 0-0 against Stevenage followed by a thrashing in our local derby – from 2-0 up, and despite two significant half-time managerial changes – have probably done as much to slow down ‘Arry’s charge towards England management as anything else will all season. In truth however, this is no sort of positive at all (and nor is it likely to make the slightest difference to the summer’s managerial moves).
Despite all this, there is no particular need to panic. Play this way every week and I’ll happily send out the memo that the time is ripe for every man and his dog in the N17 area to scuttle around like headless chickens. However, resume normal service next week, and continue until the end of the season, and this whole episode could have attached to it a post-it note marked “Blip”. An unsightly mess for sure, but this lot can and do perform a whole lot better each week.
Times a-changing? Keep up - they’ve already a-changed. ‘Tis now generally agreed, either publicly or otherwise, that Tottenham are the best team in North London; the “St Tottingham’s Day” bet with my Arse-supporting chum Hawthy is fast becoming redundant; and following the weekly toasting of our own latest bravura successes we lilywhites as a regular side-note are also able to amuse ourselves by sniggering at the ongoing and quite spectacular implosion of that ‘orrible lot down the road.
What this means is that by any measure one cares to use (with the exception of “having that Van Persie chap loitering in our colours up the top of the pitch”), our lot have the upper hand. Which seems to lead smoothly to the conclusion “Huzzah! We shall triumph!”
Their Cup Final
Alas, this is not necessarily guaranteed, as is evidenced by the last time we travelled to a side so patently inferior. (Moi? Inflammatory? Never!) It happened relatively recently – just last weekend in fact – as our heroes dutifully trotted out onto the ill-disguised bobble-fest that was Stevenage’s local park, and encountered a team of honest, average, jolly hard-working blighters who understandably enough treated it as their Cup Final and consequently kept us bay. A further gaggle of distinctly average types awaits on Sunday, as l’Arse ready themselves for what is now their Cup Final. Bless.
A struggle awaits then, be ye in no doubt, for as with Stevenage last week so this lot will strain evey sinew for the privilege of presenting themselves as our equals, if only for an afternoon. More pertinently, away days against Top Four(ish) teams tend not to bring out the best in the glorious heroes of N17, as has been evident from the slightly meek display at Anfield a few weeks back, and countless under-performances at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and indeed the Emirates/Highbury over the years. A mentality more akin to our usual blitzkrieg modus operandi would therefore be welcome on Sunday.
In terms of personnel the news can be loosely qualified as “spiffing”, with Adebayor, BAE, VDV and Modders all available again, following their various ailments and maladies. Presuming that Ledley and Kaboul are also niggle-free and fighting fit that ought to give us just about our first-choice, pick-themselves XI. A trip to l’Arse is never straightforward, but their current vintage are liable to collapse faster than Robert Pires in the vicinity of an outstretched leg, so frankly the pre-match scenario could scarcely suit our heroes better. Your adoring public awaits chaps.
Entertaining and exciting, with a most satisfying finale – oh that the game had matched the quarter-final draw, but we can’t have everything I suppose. Should I ever cross paths with His Eminence The Lord of Time there are one or two queries I would throw his way – whether Superman’s little fly-ruddy-quickly-around-the-world jape really could turn back time, for a start – but high up there on the list would be a polite request to have my two hours back after the excruciating trudge through treacle that was our draw with Stevenage. Far better to have an off-day in this particular fixture i suppose, than against l’Arse or Man Utd in the coming weeks (or indeed against Newcastle last week), but nevertheless, ‘twas the very antithesis of one of those rip-roaring unforgettable classics, to which we have been treated so frequently.
My Eyes! My Eyes!
Irrespective of formation, had those eleven played with a tad more sense and desire they would have made short work of Stevenage. Alas, the early, simple one-touch method was jettisoned for one that could aptly, if rather lazily, be described as “certified nonsense”, and as a result our heroes failed to string three successive passes together, the ball more typically being launched into orbit or pinged inaccurately sideways, as Spurs fans around the globe reached for nearby stabbing implements and went to work on their own eyes.
Of positives there were but few – the prospect of Stevenage and then Bolton, both at home, barring our way to the semi-final proving the most obvious reason for cheer. Young Livermore seemed to keep his head when all about him were losing theirs, to his credit, but that aside there was precious little to blow up anyone’s skirt until Aaron Lennon was brought on for the death throes.
Lennonlessness And Its Associated Problems
Strange to note just a week after we beat Newcastle 5-0 sans Lennon, but without the jet-heeled swagger-meister we can be dreadfully lop-sided. A reserve with similar oodles of pace would be a useful option, for while Niko Kranjcar’s technique is as dreamy as his looks, to point out that he lacks somewhat in the pace department is hardly likely to set the interweb alight with incandescent twitterings and the like. At times Danny Rose showed the value of a turn of pace to reach the byline, but against better opposition he is typically stymied by his one-footedness. With both Bale and Lennon available to charge down both flanks we ooze menace and threat and other such dangerous-sounding nouns, but in the absence of Lennon it can all become a tad predictable. (The name Junior Hoilett was bandied around during the transfer window, but scoutery of others’ players is not at all my forte, so while reports suggest that he has pace and two good feet, I can, alas, offer zero corroboration.)
Swerving back on-topic – in truth a replay against this mob, at the Lane, is tickety-boo with me. If it can be sandwiched in between 4 points or more against l’Arse and United, all the merrier, and we can all set about diligently forgetting that this ever happened.
Complacency (noun): A feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversy
Just saying. However, given that we are now blinking well the best team left in this whole bally competition, it would be a dashed shame if we whimpered our way to the exit door with the derisory hoots of assorted Stevenagonians ringing in our ears. Best avoided, methinks. Two goals in the first fifteen minutes seem to do the trick these days.
This being non-Premiership, one can safely assume that Ledley will watch from the comfort of his luxury villa, knee safely submerged beneath great big sackloads of ice. Quite who else may be afforded the afternoon off is open to conjecture. Friedel tends to benefit on such occasions, and with l’Arse and United looming ‘Arry may look thoughtfully at Modders and Bale, and wonder if their services are really absolutely entirely necessary today.
Here at AANP Towers the latest useless one-man petition to gather pace promotes the motion that young Kyle Walker should be omitted from proceedings today. With Corluka shipped off to Deutschland (and setting up goals against Barcelona in the Champions League, of all things) we are a little deficient in the right-back department. In an emergency we would probably shove Kaboul across and reshuffle accordingly, but that does make things rather messy elsewhere. The absence of alternatives means that Walker’s health and safety is now jolly important to our continued success, an equation with which I must admit my brain struggles to cope, but thus have events transpired.
Cudicini, Nelsen, Rose, Livermore, Kranjcar and Defoe will presumably feature today, and Stevenage keeper Chris Day can reminisce teary-eyed about the day he coached a bunch of wide-eyed whippersnappers including a 10 year-old AANP, but ultimately, whatever the small-print and details, our lot ought to continue the pleasant stroll to Wembley.
Casual lobotomy is one of my less typical weekend pursuits, but I’m willing to hazard that were one to pluck out the respective brains of BAE and Scott Parker, the two would be as dissimilar as medically possible. At one point in the second half yesterday I’m fairly sure Benny executed a scorpion kick, seemingly just to pass the time. Thus does he roll. Mercifully, the little patch of cerebral matter that enables a man to ping a football at a designated mark was fully functional yesterday, and I give BAE more credit than has generally been ushered his way for his finish. An open goal it may officially have been, but at that angle and pace, and with defenders scrambling back, it would have been dashed easy to have missed the target. Moreover, victory yesterday was achieved by that first half blitz – had we not taken those early chances a very good team might have given us a very tough game. Credit to Benny for taking his chance and starting the disco.Do pardon me while I plug a service from a Spurs-supporting chum - LessonHighway.com is a free tuition and learning website to bring together private tutors and students. Teachers can advertise their services for free on the site; students can browse the lessons offered and click on a link to send an automated email to the teacher
Credit too, humungous lashings of the stuff, to Adebayor, for playing like his life depended on it. Goodness knows what inspired the chap, but he tore around like a man possessed, barely recognisable from the lackadaisical figure who half-heartedly ambled around Anfield a week ago. One suspects it is not simply coincidence that Adebayor’s new-found frivolity occurred with Louis Saha elevated to the status of chief support act, the Togolese smile machine tripping over himself to interact at every opportunity with his new best chum. Thought-provoking stuff, given that the usual contribution of VDV occurs a good 15-20 yards deeper. Within a more traditional 4-4-2 (as opposed to the VDV-driven 4-4-1-1) Adebayor’s was arguably his best performance of the season. Moreover, few would suggest that VDV would have eaten up the yards to score our second (Saha’s first) – ‘twas the goal of an out-and-out striker. Whisper it, but the VDV conundrum may be edging back into view. Commons sense dictates the Dutchman waltzes straight back in, but nevertheless it’s rather a cheery dilemma upon which ‘Arry can chew in the coming days.
While Ade and Saha set out to become best friends forever, and every man in lilywhite looked to get in on the act in that rampant first half, as ever I felt a tug of sympathy for poor old Jermain Defoe. He trotted on with half an hour to go, evidently straining at the leash to partake in the goalscoring fun and torment the Newcastle defence further, only to find that everybody else in lilywhite had had enough and was content to indulge in lengthy bouts of keep-ball around halfway.
Elsewhere On The Pitch
Top marks all round. Friedel had little to do, but did it splendidly nonetheless. Niko Kranjcar is unlikely to keep Lennon out of the team any longer than is necessary, but he still took time out from looking dreamy to top off a decent contribution with a rare goal. We were even afforded the luxury of giving letting Bale and Ledley have an early finish.
A minor gripe is that with more urgency in the second half we could definitely have made more chances and probably, therefore, have scored a few more – but it is the most incidental of observations. Royally thrashing one of the best teams in the country – and whilst still missing several key faces (Kaboul, Hudd, VDV, Lennon) – is a testament to just how blinking marvellous our lot have become. On nights like yesterday one wonders why ‘Arry (or indeed Modders, or Bale etc) would ever want to leave the Lane.
This particular run of fixtures remains imposing, but our heroes have done a sterling job so far. Grit last Monday, aplomb last night – l’Arse and United, one imagines, will be shifiting a little uneasily in their seats at the prospect of facing our lot in the coming weeks. Not for the first time gents, it’s bravo from AANP Towers.
Oh good grief, now this is awkward. I had only just made myself comfortable in readiness for a lengthy period of smugness, gloating and absolutely unbearable braggadocio. And why the devil not – our lot produce the most jaw-dropping eye candy since that lady from the Sean Connery days emerged from the sea to jiggle about in her skimpies in frightfully uncouth manner.Alas – and brace thyselves, this may rather cause an eyebrow or two to leap uncontrollably – but it is being whispered in some quarters that our very own glorious leader, ‘Arry ‘imself, is being eyed by the unscrupulous types charged with overseeing the national team’s failures in the next two or three tournaments. Egads! What becomes of the mighty Hotspurs of N17? A new, even gloriouser glorious leader is required.
Now AANP may have zero experience in these matters, and have a global football knowledge based solely on the odd Champions League game and ITV coverage of a few World Cups, but by golly I have a keyboard and a bottle of John Daniels (as the man said – when you’ve known him as long as I, you call him “John”), which by my estimation more than qualifies me to lob a tuppence worth into the ring…
The principal criterion at AANP Towers has not changed that much since the days I donned unfeasibly short shorts and made merry with my Thundercats figurines, in the 80’s - quite simply, play nicely. (And have some experience of Europe too, come to think of it - which admittedly was less of a consideration when orchestrating the make-believe demolition of Mumm-Ra by Panthro in the living room back in ‘89.) However, the principal notion was play nicely. Silky smooth passing faster than the eye can follow, with movement a-plenty off the ball. And in this context of one-touchery, when talking heads of various sorts tout Jose Mourinho as our next manager I do rather baulk. Successful, for sure; but dreamy slick football upon which the ghosts of Bill Nich and Danny Blanchflower look down approvingly? Cue an embarrassed clearing of throat and shuffling of feet.
Honest, earnest younglings like the Swansea boss - Buck Rogers or some such – certainly play the right way, but for all his space- and time-travelling exploits the chap has never even sniffed the Intertoto Cup, so taking the helm for a Champions League clash at the Bernabeu may be a tad premature. David Moyes is similarly eyed askance around these parts – neither pleasant on the eye (his teams, as opposed to his own semi-gargoyled visage) nor experienced in European matters.
In terms of football with a bit of dash, and experience at a fairly high level, my eye wanders greedily towards one Herr Klinsmann – a man who, as a handy bonus, already knows his way around the corridors and history books of 748 the High Road. He managed Germany with some aplomb at the 2006 World Cup, and must know a thing or two about hte lilywhite all-action-no-plot mentality, having spearheaded Ossie’s famous five-man attack - how could he possibly fail at Spurs? Admittedly however, his CV is not quite so bright and sparkly when it comes to club management…
AANP would also brave the smoke-filled hazes that are the “coffee” shops of Amshterdam, in order to locate Frank Rijkaard. Good enough for Barcelona? He may therefore suffice for Spurs.
Others to whom I would graciously grant an audience would include Hiddink and possibly O’ Neill. And the dream scenario? All four of the above – Klinsmann, Rijkaard, Hiddink and O’ Neill – working collaboratively as coaches. With AANP as general manager. And that foxy lady from Chelsea as our new physio. Roll on the new dawn.
It was all slightly akin to a chess game, n’est ce pas? And not one of those awesome chess games either, in which one lad loses his rag somewhat, dashes the pieces across the board and clobbers his opponent with the clock, leading to a mass brawl involving spectators and allsorts. This was one of those chess games in which white thoughtfully strokes his chin for a good seven or eight minutes, before moving his bishop a few diagonals backwards whence he came, prompting black to ponder for four minutes himself, hover his hand over his queen, retract hand, ponder some more, and then move his knight back into its starting position.
It is a tad difficult to remember the last time our lilywhite heroes set out so determinedly to defend, but as the game wore on it became increasingly evident that the principal aim was not to wow the Merseyside mob with all manner of singing and dancing entertainment, but simply to grab that point, shove a chloroformed handkerchief in its mouth, wait for it to keel over and then lock it in a cage and drag it all the way home.
Pragmatic stuff, but something of a shame, as it evinced more than just a whiff of satisfaction with a Top-Four finish, rather than a straining of every sinew for the Title.
High-Fives and Celebratory Cigar Puffs
In terms of the ancient art of point-snaffling, few snaffled with more laudable prominence than Daws and (inevitably) Scott Parker. Such has been the rise of Kaboul’s star this season that I was a mite tremulous pre kick-off on learning that Daws was to deputise – for shame, AANP, for shame. Up against the far from accommodating hirsute hulk that is Andy Carroll, Dawson gave every bead of sweat, bless him, and really ought to be allowed to frame the clean sheet and hang it from his wall.
As for Parker, by the closing stages it appeared that he had been successfully cloned and scattered across the Anfield turf. The poor blighter is presumably still glugging lucozade, scoffing energy bars and gingerly applying TCP to the scrapes across his frame, but such is the price to be paid for giving every ounce of energy for the cause.
We be lucky folk, no doubt, for being treated weekly to the multi-faceted talents of Gareth Bale. However, the denizens of AANP Towers are old-fashioned purveyors of good, honest values, and the traditional distinction between right and wrong. On which note, I would implore someone with a degree of authority to have a pretty blunt word or ten with the handsome young Welshman, and tell him in no uncertain terms to cut out the histrionics. In general he goes down far too easily, and it sullies the good name of Tottenham Hotspur. When Scott Parker collapses with a wince I hold my breath. When Bale goes down and waves his arm for assistance I roll my eyes. For sure he does receive some pretty outrageous treatment – Agger (I think?) ought to have seen red for the shin-high challenge on Monday night – but generally Bale has begun to look for free-kicks when no foul has been remotely committed, and that is cheating. Not that he had much company, up there at the apex, but even that cat seemed to have a bit more spunk about him.
Alas, the distinction between “disinterested” and “uninterested” is not one I have ever truly mastered, but Adebayor was oozing one of them from many a pore.
All things considered (and by “all things” I principally mean the absences of VDV and Lennon) a point away from home to a loosely in-form team is eminently acceptable for a team looking to consolidate a Top Four finish, but that is rather the nub of the thing – I rather wish we had set our sights a little higher. Going 4-4-2 and pushing for victory may well have seen us become a little too open at the back, but having had a dashed good fist of attacking in almost every other game so far this season, we have positioned ourselves six inches from a title challenge. Could we not keep that pretence going a few weeks longer?