‘Twas ever thus, against that particular bunch, and AVB can hardly be lambasted for drawing a blank where countless others have done similarly. If anything this was further frustrating proof that this particular Levy-endorsed project is a long-term one, and still at its nascent stages. Teams will set out to defend with their lives at the Lane, Stoke will set out to DESTROY FOOTBALL everywhere, and ‘tis hardly revelatory to note that our heroes rather lack the necessary je ne sais quoi to slice open a defence with a 10-yard diagonal pass so cunning it can conjure up in its right hand the very cravat that surely sat around your neck just a bally second ago.
Stubbly, gravelly of voice and still disgustingly young he may be, but alas, ‘alchemy’ is notably lacking from the AVB CV. The poor blighter did what he could at the outset, for there was sense in the selections of Daws at the back, and both bona fide strikers in attack. That said, Sigurdsson might have been given a bit longer to set off on his customary dash hither and thither (although the poor lamb does seem destined to become master of the near-miss) and young Master Townsend might have been employed to have a fresh-legged scuttle at the Stoke back-eight.
Instead, we were treated to nothing more novel than the swapping of Lennon and Bale for a fruitless half hour, which seems to have become the mid-game masterstroke of choice amongst the Brains Trust. The move always elicits a rather bemused shrug around these parts. Harmless enough I suppose, but there’s the rub – it is indeed generally quite harmless. I suppose it gives the opposing full-backs something new to ponder, and changes the scenery, and maybe benefits an unscrupulous spot-fixing syndicate in some unholy outreach of the globe, but in terms of genuinely blowing up our skirts and leaving bewildered opponents clawing out their own eyes, I struggle to remember it ever having truly noted it in awestruck tones as a game-changer par excellence. But ‘tis just an idle musing, and it might as well be attempted when a game threatens to peter out to 0-0 as early as the opening five minutes. The point remains that the VDV- and Modric-shaped holes have yet to be filled, and creativity lacketh accordingly.
Elsewhere, Vertonghen again had the air of a man with whom you would want to share a tumbler of whiskey to soothe the nerves on a particularly fraught festive afternoon, and Monsieur Lloris has himself another clean sheet, but Dembele and Sandro increasingly looked like they would rather be playing football than Stoke. Understandably enough. However, in the ‘Small Mercies’ column we did at least avoid concession of some criminally undeserved, scrappy set-piece goal, which at various stages of the second half appeared to be all that was missing from the whole, sorry, eye-bleedingly frustrating experience. Still, if we can erase the episode from our collective memories, it turns out that our heroes are in action again in just a day or two, when happier times – or at least grumbles of a different ilk – await.
Merry Christmas one and all, do allow yourselves a moderate celebration.