The lucky blighters of mid-80s Los Angeles had the A-Team, the ungrateful denizens of Gotham City had a giant man-bat with a handy penchant for pugilism, but when we have a problem with which no-one else can help the slightly alarming solution being wheeled out onto the Wembley turf is the creaking-limbed combo of Nelsen and Gallas. In fairness, Gallas has yet to let us down, and has generally raised his performance level in direct proportion to the occasion; while Nelsen- well he made a good tackle against Bolton. And played in the World Cup. And looks, ahem, experienced.The concern however is that neither could be quite guaranteed to outsprint Vedran Corluka over 10 yards, so how they will fare against the resurgent Chelski forward line is a worrying prospect. Rarely has the absence of human behemoth Younes Kaboul been so keenly felt. However, cometh the hour, cometh Messieurs Gallas and Nelsen. Immortality beckons if they play their cards right. (Well maybe not immortality, but a trip to Wembley. Again.)
Aside from defensive deficiencies the concern is a little broader, in that the whole ruddy lot of lilywhite heroes have developed chronic impotence when it comes to the delicate matter of outperforming opponents and trundling back to N17 with victory ballads ringing through the air. The return of Parker ought to help, and having awaited his return as if he were some sort of body-arted second Messiah, I think ‘tis fair to suggest that we are due a performance of scintillating ilk from Aaron Lennon. Where there is Modric, Adebayor, VDV and Bale there is hope, and, perhaps most pertinently, a couple of weeks ago we jolly well outdid Chelski in all areas bar net-rippling.
Poor form or not, in a one-off at Wembley this could prove quite the ruckus. Victory would not only place us within touching distance of the glittering jug, but it might also prove something of a stimulant for our Champions League push. The alternative is frankly too ominous to contemplate.
(With apologies for the now customary tardiness – who knew saving the world and getting the girl would leave so little time for the finer things in life?)The implosion continues apace, which I suppose if nothing else provides a degree of comforting familiarity for us long-term lilywhite sufferers. After the anomalous blip that was the over-powering of Swansea, we are back on the more familiar territory of stutter and mishap, at least in terms of outcome. In truth I thought that while far from our best we did enough going forward to have outscored Norwich – a tad more composure, determination or just plain luck would have brought goals for Bale and BAE notably.
Mind you, if a little slipshod in attack, we were blinking well awful in defence. Ledley, Ledley, Ledley, what are we to do with you now? For years I would vehemently protest that even if only fit for 10 games a season, they were worth near enough 10 clean sheets. These days however, something has gone awry. Maybe it’s his age catching up on him – or indeed all those boozy nights on the town, the little scamp – or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of an awful lot of 90-minute appearances this season. Frankly, speaking as someone whose progressing years leaves me just wanting to don the slippers and stay in of a night, Ledley has my sympathy.
But then again, my job doesn’t involve propelling the mighty Hotspur back into the Champions League, and our esteemed club captain is displaying worrying fallibility when it comes to the old raison d’etre. Once the quickest of the back four he is now the slowest (at least until Nelsen comes waddling along), and that fabled ability to read the game and anticipate danger before it has begun to gestate is a little redundant when he is left hauling to the floor decidedly average opposing forwards. Moreover, last weekend his penchant for calamity seemed to have infected those around him. A sorry state of affairs.
The absence of Parker did not help Ledley and chums either. Young Livermore is a midfield enforcer in the making no doubt, but the heir apparent could still do with a few lessons in the noble art of Scott Parkery. The retreat that preceded Norwich’s winner provided the most glaring indication that the indefatigable gusto of Parker was sadly absent.
So it’s woe and gloom, alas and alack. By jove, somebody somewhere jolly well needs to do something, but until then we switch our despondent gazes Cupwards, for all the joys that will bring.
If there is a crumb of consolation to be neatly divided out between the thousands of frustrated lilywhites worldwide, it is that we do at least have our Tottenham back. When ten points clear in third, it would have been far too straightforward simply to have wrapped things up with neat efficiency and weeks to spare. Instead, doing it in heart-stopping fashion, and quite possibly facing up to final-day disappointment of some sort – is so quintessentially Spurs it almost makes the chest swell with pride, albeit in between the howls of frustration and vituperations of unholy fury.
Norwich are being led our way this afternoon, and it would be jolly pleasing if the aforementioned frustration and fury could be unleashed upon them like a pack of ravenous alien queens, coming out the walls, impregnating them via the mouth and bursting out from their yellow shirts to run amok. Such a scene would be quite the panacea after the frustration of Sunderland away. And while on the subject, a variety of other remedial measures spring to mind. Goodness me, this is starting to feel suspiciously like a list of Things I’d Ruddy Well Like To See This Afternoon…
1. An Early Goal
We all know the drill – Norwich sit back and soak it up, as our lot send the possession levels rocketing towards triple figures, and Messrs Parker and Friedel are near-redundant throughout. All this could be avoided if we score early, forcing the visiting blighters to abandon the Defend, Defend and Defend Some More approach. Score early and I would happily wager we’ll be at least two up by the break, such are the joys of picking off a team that actually bothers to venture forward.
2. Or Late A Late Goal
Birds do it. Bees do it. L’Arse, Chelski, Utd and City do it, so can our lot please learn the slightly devious art of sneaking a late, late goal when we need it most.
3. Play Defoe
As opposed to having both Sandro and Parker picking their noses and watching from afar while we camp around the opposition area.
4. Make A Change
Ideal though it would be for ‘Arry simply to get it right from kick-off, things that are broke do indeed need fixing, and quite frankly the sooner the better. 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes – but giving Defoe eight minutes against Sunderland was most infuriating.
5. Three Points
A draw away to Sunderland could vaguely be excused on paper and whatnot – failure to beat Norwich at home would require someone’s head on a plate. Beat them, chaps.
On an introductory note, I would first like to take the opportunity to shake my head and indeed cock a snook at M. O’Neill Esq., supposedly one of the brightest middle-aged things British football management, but who today lent his signature to the Petition for Death to Football. Defend, defend, defend and try to score from set-pieces – and all in front of their home fans? For shame, Mr O’Neill, for shame.
For their part, our lilywhite (or luridly purple pyjamaed) heroes tried the short passing game, but with barely an inch of room amongst the ten-man Sunderland defence it was all rather futile and frustrating. The situation might have been helped by more off-the-ball movement, as too often our lot rather dwelt in possession for want of options (although according to the Sky Sports commentators the grass was too long for a good wholesome passing game – not one for which I can vouch, but so be it).
In such circumstances as these, and the nights of a thousand relegation strugglers sitting deep at the Lane, an option that pops into the otherwise vacuous AANP cranium is for someone to sprint to the byline and pull back the ball. With Sunderland’s defence happy enough to face forwards and head clear, it would at least have been an interesting socio-demographic experiment to see how they fared when turned towards their own goal by someone bursting to the byline. Just a thought.
In the end Lennon appeared, we enjoyed a full 8 minutes (gasp!) of two upfront and the poor, deprived Sunderland fans worked themselves into a state of hysteria every time their lot passed the halfway line.
Other Points of Note
Not sure I’ve ever seen so many passes misplaced in a Premiership game (a product of the long grass?); Kaboul’s ongoing crusade to become the hardest man alive by sheer strength of heading continued apace; Sandro’s abundant enthusiasm just about expiated for a complete absence of finesse; and Brad Friedel will rarely have had less busy afternoons away from home.
Immensely frustrating then, but from now on the opponents become weaker – statistically at least – and while this may well herald more ten-man defences it ought also to bring about some three-point hauls. Have yourselves a good Easter, we meet clink glasses again on Monday.
Just the one Aaron Lennon – he holds the bulb and the universe revolves around him, n’est ce pas? Not to cast aspersions on the young blighter’s character you understand, he seems a most charming young fish (now with added maturity – witness the disappearance of his go-faster diagonals in his eyebrows). The crux of the matter is of course the balance he adds to the progressive part of our team, not to mention the fact that he jolly well adds the final piece to a quite jaw-dropping six-part smorgasbord of attacking delights in lilywhite.
With two games in three days there is fairly slim chance of Lennon and his paper-thin hamstrings appearing – and then rapidly disappearing in a puff of dust and blur of heels – both today and on Monday, so there arises ‘Arry’s first conundrum, while the other usual decisions loom large – VDV or Saha, Ledley or Gallas (that this question even arises is reflective of these changing times), two or three in the centre et cetera. Whatever the options, the facts are that a lip-smacking, eminently winnable final eight games is now well upon us. Wins, wins and yet more wins will almost certainly propel us above that ‘orrible lot down the road (who this weekend are entertaining Man City). If ever there were a diem to be carped, this is it.
Thank you, thank you - AANP is happy to take the credit for this long-awaited upturn in fortunes, having all week told anyone within earshot of a cunning Eight-Stage Plan to guarantee we finish fourth. As it happens, the first stage – Win The Next Game – is identical to the following seven stages, but it was nevertheless with some pride that yours truly watched our heroes effect the plan to perfection. Perfection, I tell ye.
Swansea – Eminently Likeable
However, before basking in the glory of my tactical masterplan, it seems only right to heap all manner of praise upon our vanquished foes. Employing their ‘keeper virtually as an eleventh outfield player, as a sweeper under strict instructions not to go long at any point, Swansea resolutely passed and passed and passed, even when under pressure in defence. The way the game is meant to be played dagnabbit (note ye well Tony Pulis and any Stoke fans in the wrong part of town). Admittedly Swansea’s almost religious dedication to the passing game landed them in a lot more trouble than it was worth, as they repeatedly lost possession in their own half, but nevertheless, today football was the winner. Actually, Spurs were the winners, but as long as l’Arse lose out I don’t think anyone is grumbling.
‘Arry’s Tactical Success
Having executed a roll of the eyes so grandiose the little orbs almost tumbled out into the hinterland, on hearing of the selection of both Sandro and Parker in midfield, AANP is content to admit an error, for ‘Arry’s selection worked a dream in the first half. With our front men treading dangerously close to arrest for harassment of the Swansea back-line, the midfield selection gave Parker the licence to push up and press whomever was next in possession for our guests. Many times and oft therefore, did we pickpocket the Swansea midfield and merrily lay siege to their goal, and by half-time the lark had joined Bale on the wing and all was right with the world.
Then in the second half, when the scores were levelled and a tad more urgency was needed, ‘Arry gambled successfully again, removing Sandro, bringing on Lennon and switching to 4-4-2. Ah, is there a sweeter sight in Christendom than Lennon scampering down the right wing, jazz-hands dementedly a-whirring, while just over the horizon our handsome young Welshman lingers on t’other flank, eyes up his full-back and lets out a meaty laugh of doom?
Lennon’s contribution may have been brief, but it was time enough for a couple of darts, a crucial assist and a glimpse of the future. A glorious future, in which our children run freely, the lion sleeps with the lamb and the remaining seven stages of our march to 3rd place are successfully completed by virtue of having Bale on one flank and Lennon on the other for the rest of the season. Onwards! Thirdwards!
Finally, tidings of genuine optimism and joy. Of our eight remaining games the highest-placed opponent is Sunderland, while l’Arse still have to face Man City, Chelski and Stoke (on top of their bonus defeat to Adel Taraabt and chums yesterday).
Our remaining games won’t win themselves, and in recent weeks the absence of Lennon coupled with central deployment of Bale has hardly helped matters. However, against weaker teams, the formation appears to matter a little less – witness how Bolton were passed to death in midweek by the combo of Bale, Modders and VDV behind Adebayor. Our heroes are beginning to purr once more, and as luck would have it, are due to face a whole phalanx of opponents with track-records of helplessness in the face of purring.
Swansea to be fair are one of the most attractive teams in the division (their manager, that Rogers chap, the next-but-one Spurs manager in my mind), but with home advantage our lot ought to outpass and outscore them. One game at a time and all that gubbins, but the Excitement Dial at AANP Towers has been rotated up a whole notch and a half – third place is back on the radar.
Chelski 0 – 0 Spurs
Awfully puzzling game this one, as you no doubt recall. The first half of dedicated non-aggression was followed by Chelski probably edging things, only for our lot to carve out enough clear-cut chances to hand out a right thrashing. Alas, the conclusion to draw was that our lot to a man need to spend a full week engaged in nothing but shooting practice (or they could just stick Defoe on the pitch, and watch as some of those chances miraculously cause the net to bulge). Still, ‘twas another fairly encouraging performance – and in truth the standard of performance has rarely been a problem during our recent slump (the game at l’Arse excepted).
One other point of note from last weekend was neatly made by Neville on the tellybox – namely that when we counter-attacked in the second half at Chelski, the only man making a charge upfield in support of Adebayor was young Kyle Walker, belting up the pitch like his latest piece of body-art depended on it. Contrast to just about any game in the first half of the season, when such counter-attacks would have just about every man and his dog in lilywhite pouring forward. We are, it appears, beginning to pay the price for a lack of squad-rotation.
Spurs 3-1 Bolton
A return to the good old days – which, curiously enough, turned out to be just as frustrating as the decidedly more average new days. As at the start of the season, we gave the opposition an absolute battering, but watching as shot after shot was repelled by the Bolton goalkeeper sent the blood pressure at AANP Towers soaring to levels not previously witnessed in a featherless biped.
A doff of the AANP cap was made towards young Master Livermore, who supplemented his usual output of energy and tackling with a couple of quite sumptuous passes. However, the need for both he and Parker in central midfield quickly became utterly redundant. Adebayor, Bale, Modders and VDV tore Bolton to shreds, but again there were too many occasions when Adebayor received precious little support when crosses were flung his way. All this while Parker did no more than spectate around the halfway line, and Defoe spectated from the substitutes’ bench.
Still, the job was eventually done, and with the aplomb of old. It bodes well.