Stirring stuff. Not quite a game of two halves, but most certainly a game of a slightly moribund lilywhite first hour followed by an unashamedly spiffing comeback in the last half hour or so.
No doubt it was yet again wrapped up by the young maestro doing that thing he does, but I implore ye, stun your loved ones by donning headwear even though sitting indoors, just so that you can doff it in the direction of the various unsung – or at least sung in a more piano style – lilywhite supporting cast members. (A troupe that most pointedly does not include Master Adebayor – for him I recommend you reserve your coldest, most contemptible stare.)
Monsieur Lloris is unlikely ever to garner the headlines of Bale, poor lamb, but the save he made at 2-1 down was worth a goal - and the speed at which he zipped from between the sticks to the feet of the onrushing attacker was indicative of a man who obediently ate his greens as a child.
Mind-bogglingly enough, Scott Parker rolled back the years to transform himself into some sort of all-action, galloping, swashbuckler of a midfielder. Well not quite, but I do rather fancy that the Brains Trust may have finally had a word in his ear these past few days, about taking half a dozen touches before popping the ball 10 yards backwards, for when the chips were down at 2-1 he seemed the first to grab the initiative and trundle forward 40 yards with it. Admittedly there was not necessarily always a useful end-product, this intriguing Dembele impression did shift our heroes from back- to front-foot, and once they hit their stride the chances came whizzing in from all angles.
A couple of useful contributions too from Sigurdsson, both in terms of whipping in crosses and generally offering sufficient assistance to Bale to distract the West Ham ruffians, while young Lennon looked threatening, once his team-mates remembered that he was on the pitch.
The Goldest Star of All
But by golly, bravo Bale. The line of frightened rabbits in the West Ham defence did not know whether to sit back and let him belt one in from range, or charge at him and watch him skip merrily away. Is there anything the young blighter cannot do? Tap-ins, I suppose. These are privileged times.
Momentous Stuff, What?
Hindsight will confirm I suppose, but this did rather strike me as a potentially momentous notch on the lilywhite bedpost. Another last-minute winner, away from home, coming from behind and against a team whose physical approach made us feel jolly uncomfortable throughout – ‘twas not the sort of thing we used to do. The celebrations suggested that our heroes, both on the pitch and on the coaching staff knew it.
We ought to approach this with all the confidence of a bon vivant whistling his way through an extended break in southern French, given that the run of form extends to one defeat in the last umpteen, and we boast in our midst a match-winner so rapidly elevating himself above all surrounding mortals that, if one particular ex-lilywhite pundit is to be believed, he now uses “literally three lungs”.
And yet AANP has been wringing his hands like nobody’s business whenever thoughts stray to tonight’s impending to-do. For a start that Allardyce creature troubles me, still furtively trying to kill football through use of elbows, niggles and long-balls. On top of which, uncouth beasts such as Andy Carroll are precisely the sort who traditionally toss waif-like Spurs defenders this way and that in their uncomplicated quest to Hulk-smash their way to goal. Oh for a Kaboul, yearns this particular soul - but in his absence it is but Dawson. Time for him to earn that mooted new contract – he has provided loyal and willing service, but the epitome of reliability and invincibility he remains not.
The post-Sandro era continues to stumble its way to success. Trying to fill that enormous, dynamic Sandro-shaped hole with Scott Parker has understandably enough disrupted things a mite, but there are worse ways to go about the business of flailing into a central midfield war.
For various reasons it can be hoped that Defoe is back in contention tonight, and all things considered we ought simply to be too good for this lot – but the nagging worry persists that our heroes (and particularly the defence) will simply be bullied into submission. That blighter with the three lungs might be needed again, what?
Discombobulating stuff. Once upon a time our heroes would have folded like an origami swan being trampled underfoot by Rambo as he ripped open the throat of a nameless foe with his bare hands. However, the days of Vega and Nethercott, under the watchful eye of Gerry Francis, appear to be long gone. Yesterday, eschewing the Limp Capitulation technique honed so professionally in years gone by, they beavered away, flinging on attacking substitutes and ending up with just about everyone piling forward to occupy every vacant spot of greenery in and around the Lyon area – and before you could say “Well dash it all, if we can’t rely on Bale to save the day we jolly well need somebody else to dip his shoulder, beat his man and thump the dickens out of the ball, leaving the opposition goalkeeper to adopt a mildly comical pose while prostrate on the ground”, we were treated to a marvellous last-minute about-turn. Huzzah!
On top of all of which – and this, the eagle-eyed (and awake) of you will note, is the discombobulating bit – this Skin-of-Our-Teeth late goal spectacular has happened before. Last week, this week, against Man Utd a couple of weeks ago – whisper it surreptitiously, but it is on the verge of becoming a habit. Make of it what you will, but this certainly is not the wretched Tottenham with which I spent many a miserable afternoon in my formative years. Heavens above, before long this new breed will be winning trophies and all sorts. Discombobulation hath made its masterpiece alright.
That said, one or two of the chaps out there adopted a pretty rummy approach to business earlier on. Young Master Walker may have included passport and foreign currency but he forgot to pack his brain cell, and a variety of ill-advised decision resulted, principally around kicking opponents rather than the ball. Out on t’other flank Benny’s zany solo routines veered swiftly from entertaining to mighty irritating as we chased the game, while there was also rather a mixed bag from Friedel, and although the bawdy howls of exasperation hurled in his direction are a mite unfair, the presence of Lloris stage-right does rather highlight the elder statesman’s failings. I would certainly feel a lot more confident fastening the cuff-links when Inter come to town if I knew Monsieur Lloris were limbering up between the sticks.
till, the second half in particular was a hearty effort, particularly as breaking down a ten-man defence has never exactly been a forte around N17. On top of which, qualifying through a last-minute goal may take a few years of our totals on this mortal sphere, but it is still a mighty satisfying way to finish a game and usher in the following day’s hangover.
In theory the drill for this one should be simple enough - nice and tight at the back, then step aside to let Bale and Lennon blaze merrily away on the counter-attack, and before you can say “Sur ma tête”, mon fils,” we’ll be home for a late-night bourbon.
Or not. Footballers are renowned for many things, but cerebral robustness probably is not one, and it is easy enough to imagine our heroes straying from the script, and that 2-1 cushion going the way of all flesh within minutes. Still, even if they do take the complicated route, the AANP tuppence is firmly placed on qualification, for our lot simply tend not to lose these days.
The Bale Factor
Quite what the devil we will do once young Master Bale has scarpered for pastures more lucrative is too frightful to contemplate at the moment, but to the pleasure of porcrastinators the world over this is a problem for another day. The One-Man Astonishingness Machine is very much a lilywhite tonight, and as such we line up virtually twelve vs eleven. Stick him on the left, stick him through the middle or just leave him on free-kick detail – his garish size nines are sprinkled with magic dust at the moment, and the Lyon brains-trust are presumably scratching their heads in bewilderment at the task awaiting them.
Elsewhere Messrs Dempsey and Adebayor are each purveying their own unique – but rather different – brand of bally infuriating nonsense, as I believe it is known. Dempsey is certainly a willing trier, so God presumably loves him, but AANP is becoming increasingly irritated at the manner in which his laboured multiple-touch technique sucks the lively juices from any useful-looking attack. Adebayor on the other hand, seems to have made a deep and fervent commitment to doing absolutely anything other than straining every sinew for the lilywhite cause. Nothing that cannot be rectified by a breezy Bale-Lennon-Holtby combo, but still enough to drive one to such despair that there is no option but to emit a sincere - and loaded - tut.
More chopping and changing can presumably be expected in defence, and if he is feeling particularly emotional AVB might use Lloris rather than Friedel. Whatever the minutiae, and whether or not I and my lilywhite office-chums eventually locate a drinking-hole in the Vauxhall area showing itv4, one would expect our heroes to muddle through. Bon chance, gents.
This smells like the pointy end of things. Forthcoming opponents including l’Arse, Liverpool, City, Chelski and Everton, and what better whistle-whetter for such rumblings than a nifty-looking European tie? You can shove the mundane group games into a musky sack, and give them a furtive kick while you’re at it, because this one has a faint whiff of seriousness. Two legs, away goals, prime-time on ITV1 no less – the pointy end indeed.
Whether AVB is quite aware of the regal privilege of tonight’s scheduling arrangement is debatable, but with no game this weekend he might be tempted to send out a full-strength team. If one player might be given a breather it is Scott Parker, who likes increasingly as if he is about to die in the latter stages of every game he plays. Messrs Livermore, Hudd, Carroll and Sigurdsson chomp at the bit – or jolly well ought to.
Gallas is apparently being readied for action, and Friedel will presumably be unleashed for his monthly gambol, while this might be an opportune moment for Master Adebayor to start recovering some of that goodwill he has been haemorrhaging at a rate of knots. A clean sheet and lead to take to France is presumably the aim tonight. Rather looking forward to this.
Seasoned visitors to the AANP abode will be well aware that in these parts we tend not to commend the team on a jolly well-earned and impressive win against one of the country’s form teams if we can have a grumble instead.
For all the quite stunning bravado of our resident half-man half-deity, our heroes did again lack some of the whoops-poop-twiddly-dee that had been the hallmark of recent years, if you excuse the over-technical jargon. The AVB mission will need time, and our heroes have become bizarrely consistent team these days, but until Bale (or, to give him his dues, Lennon) clears his throat, spits on his hands and takes off on a gallop there is little of that fizzing one-touch stuff to get the pulse racing – or the opposition quivering.
All rather harsh however, for this was one of our finer moments. In years (or even weeks) gone by, a meaty to-do against opponents of this nature would have brought us no more than a point. Look closely at the platform from which Bale burst forth and you will note that it is constructed from the finest mix of lilywhite blood, sweat and tears.
And on a valedictory note – the boy Bale might just have a future in this football malarkey, what?
It’s that time of the week once more - AVB’s latest Big Selection Dilemma is upon us. The gravel-voiced one has shown with Lloris and Benny that he is something of a tease when it comes to awarding regular starting berths, but Holtby-time presumably now beckons. It may have only been two substitute appearances against middling opposition, but the lad has already proved himself as good as Pele, Mandela and that Matrix chap combined, so one hopes he manages to oust Dempsey from the starting XI.
The only certainty is that Defoe is out, so AVB will be donning a blindfold and sticking pins upon one or two from Holtby, Adebayor, Dempsey and possibly even Bale. A similar approach will presumably be used at the back, but marvellous news reaches these parts that Monsieur Kaboul is about to resume training.
As for the opposition, a fiendishly deceiving basket of wriggly elks if ever I beheld one. Be not fooled, ye lilywhites, by Newcastle’s laughably low rung on the ladder, this lot just trumped the European Champions no less. A whiff of garlic and fromage now emanates from the black and white corner, and Newcastle’s newly-acquired French clan appear to know their way around a pitch, so a challenge et un demi is to be expected. Still, our lot tend always to snatch at least a point these days, and on home turf, against a team not resolutely set on defending for their lives, we ought to have enough about us for all three.
Has the good ship Hotspur ever enjoyed such a serene voyage? From the moment that angry lad spat and walked this eased into an absolute stroll – one-way traffic throughout the second half, and even though the lead was but one goal there was none of the usual frenzied panic that accompanies the final five minutes. Most odd. Topping, but odd.
He Plays On The Left…
AANP will graciously leave the superlatives to others for now, but chin-stroking a-plenty in these parts after seeing the impact of our handsome young Welshman over the last week, when unleashed and allowed to gallop wherever he jolly well pleased. I suspect there is nary a lilywhite in the land who has not at some point grumbled that Bale plays on the left and on the left he should stay – but by golly when the urge grabs him he certainly knows how to leave a trail of destruction down the centre, what?
The young blighter is capable of spontaneously laying match-winning eggs from any position, but 90-minute match-bossing is a dish best served from the centre, and frankly just about anything at which it was worth tipping one’s cap on Sunday emanated from Bale’s careering frame. On top of which, this whole can of worms rather gets inverted and painted an odd shade of green when one considers our general paucity of strikers. The mind boggles.
A New Man-Crush
But never mind Bale – old news, and the lad will be off in a year or two. The future is Herr Holtby. Those boy-band looks are actually quite irritating to one growing old as grumpily as AANP, but the work-rate of Parker, coupled with the delightful attacking awareness and defence-bisecting first-time passes of some sort of VDV-Sheringham hybrid, most certainly strike the right note. With Dempsey putting every ounce of effort into assuming the Jenas position of Most Infuriating Lilywhite On The Payroll, the arrival of Holtby goes a long way to putting the ‘ahoy-hoy’ in ‘geronimo’, if you know what I mean. A Bale-Holtby-Lennon triumvirate merrily interchanging the night away behind Defoe/Adebayor suddenly turns the evening drink from one of fretful concern to blithe inebriation. And huzzah to that.
Elsewhere On The Pitch
Other points of note were distracting rather than particularly important. The first half West Brom aerial bombardment may have contained about as much subtlety as a spade to the back of the head, but it still had me yearning for Kaboul (and also prompted a bit of wondering around these parts as to what the future might hold for the overly-vowelled Lukaku).
Back in that era when our back-four were still being posed problems – an era referred to in the annals as ‘The First Half’ – there was a suspicion that Messrs Walker and Assou-Ekotto had but one brain cell between them, and were not using it particularly wisely, as they repeatedly made a mess of the offside trap and short passes and basic goal-side marking. No real harm done however.
Naturally enough, the Defoe injury was greeted by the sound of about a million exasperated Spurs fans slapping palms to foreheads and muttering in no particular order the phrases “Transfer window… strikers… injuries… Levy… Bother”. Mercifully, the all-singing, all-dancing virtuoso display from Bale, coupled with the charming start offered by Holtby and Togo’s ANC elimination, suggests that this may be a bullet dodged. All a tad precarious though.
However, all things considered (two away games, striker shortage, Sandro injury) this could reasonably go down as the footballing equivalent of a chap jauntily going about his business, with his lips emitting a cheery whistle no less. Toodle-pip for now.
Here at AANP Towers we love a good mantra, as many an unimpressed would-be paramour can presumably confirm. “Never turn down a free drink,” has often been trumpeted, and then slurred, and then sobbed, and then snored in a cab on the shoulder of a long-suffering and impressively loyal chum. “They mostly come out at night… mostly,” is well worth remembering, lest ye ever find yourself sans one working spaceship on a foreign planet whilst being emphatically blitzed by hordes of less benign salivating types; but back in early January the official AANP line of choice was, loosely, “Bag ourselves a top striker and the Top Four is surely ours”. The sort of line that really deserved to be appended by a scarily evil laugh, it may have been impossible to verify but it made a solid enough point. With the big lad on a different continent, the wee man nursing a sore pelvis and Dempsey and Sigurdsson being - now, how can one put this delicately - NOT ACTUAL FORWARDS, it seemed straightforward enough. All areas could in theory be strengthened, but from 1 Jan there seemed to be an element of urgency about the forward line. In case, for example, just plucking a random scenario from the air, one striker toddled off to a different continent and another had a sore pelvis.
But alas, after the last-minute attempt to lure Leandro Damaio went the way of all flesh AVB sagaciously noted that the deal would probably have been secured if only we had had more time. Would a month have sufficed, Andre?
Still, not all doom and gloom. Far from it. Jenas is no more for goodness sake - someone slaughter a fattened calf! On top of which, despite the recent stutters in Cup and League we remain handily placed, the boy Holtby showed a few touches of panache during his cameo, and up in third spot the rotters from Chelski continued their ongoing implosion. Opportunity knocks for sure. West Brom have hit some high notes this season, but Top Four qualifications were built upon wins in games such as this.
In terms of personnel, the usual card-shuffle can be expected at the back, but the more interesting conundrum is in attack, where AVB may be tempted to start with Holtby and give Dempsey a furtive elbow in the ribs as he takes his seat on the bench, for Services to Ineffective Half-Midfield-Half-Attack Meandering. Fingers crossed that Defoe is match-fit.