On a scale of Bothersome to Tickety-Boo this result is Quite the Cheeky Restorative, what? All rather frantic and wince-inducing by 16.50 GMT for sure, but ‘twas ever thus in the land of Mighty Hotspurs Seeing Things Through to The Closing Credits, and whichever way you dilute, swill, gargle and spit it out a 2-1 away win is a 2-1 away win, and for that we can dashed well click our heels.
Goodness only knows quite what stuffing is going into the Vertonghen pipe these days, but by jove it is putting more than just a spring in his step. Headed goals are one thing, and the controlled volley against Liverpool was particularly adept for someone who is ostensibly a centre-back – but the control and finish for his latest masterpiece did not have me leaping from the seat so much as examining him suspiciously for signs that this was in fact Master Bale donning a remarkably convincing all-in-one, full-size Central Defender costume for a happy chum’s stag weekend. Apparently not however; this is indeed Vertonghen, and he really does show more composure and élan in front of goal than most English centre-forwards in a tournament squad. On top of which, he continues to carry out the day-job, of defensive elbow-grease, with the sort of class not seen in the less savoury aspects of life since Alan Rickman informed an awestruck public that he must have missed 60 Minutes. Dawson has his fans, and rightly so, but at AANP Towers we are donning party hats and pouring Twiglets into a bowl in preparation for the day when Vertonghen is paired with Monsier Kaboul, and the very definition of “Central Defensive Thunderblitz” is written anew.
Elsewhere on the Pitch
Naturally enough, Bale had his cape securely fastened too, another absurdly high-quality strike accompanied by the usual bevy of stirring gallops from the halfway line. And this on what was somehow one of his quieter days.
One suspects we will be one heck of a team once supplemented with a striker who cares two hoots, but until then we must solider on with Adebayor. By contrast Dembele had a good irrepressible air about him, particularly in the first half, and pretty much all of them showed commendable eagerness to beaver away when not in possession in the opening half hour, but probably the most notable difference from the flounderings of recent weeks is that everyone seems simply to know what they are supposed to be doing when Lennon is back on the right, even if he goes 30 minutes without touching the thing.
(And if you pardon me dusting off the AANP anorak, at one point in proceedings I was struck by the observation that for all the left-footers in the team – and there are quite a few now – neither our left-back nor left midfielder/winger were that way inclined. Just an idle musing, neither here nor there.)
For around 30 glorious first half minutes our heroes were jolly well imperious, and two goals was a quite appropriate reward. Thereafter, as with the win against l’Arse a few weeks back, we dropped deeper and cut things a little too fine for the liking of those with an urge to go a few more years before worrying about coronary grumblings, but it is nevertheless vaguely encouraging that by and large these days we hold out until the end.
All of Which Means…
Just a few weeks ago the Top Four appeared to be ours for the taking, but one dodgy Anfield back-pass later and our heroes had wobbled rather drastically off the yellow-brick road. This good race still has a few yards to run, but some degree of order appears to have been restored (again, I humbly direct thee towards Exhibit A in the form of Lennon and his jazz-hands), so I think we all breathe a little easier for now. Happy Easter.
Unfamiliar territory, and I half expect that come kick-off players from both sides will simply stand around scratching their heads and gawping, because the game-plan here is a little tricky to establish. It may well depend on how Inter approach this, for should they show the sort of lack of interest displayed quite so vehemently in the first leg this could turn into one of the great tedious nights in our history, with both sides wiling away the time until the final whistle. Alternatively, should Inter score early our heroes will trip over themselves to reach the Panic Button. I suppose a third scenario is that our lot crunch down on the accelerator from the off and blitz Inter away again. C’est possible, one and all, but it really is a dickens of a task to predict beforehand how this one might transpire.
No Rest For The Wicked
AVB has suggested that young master Bale will be the only absentee, of the regulars, and while Dembele and Parker might benefit from a rest it is probably just as well to start with the usual troupe, and withdraw them in the second half if everyone is sticking obediently to the script. Having already had an enforced week off Aaron Lennon is apparently back in the squad, and as the principal speed-merchant in our ranks he has the opportunity to play quite a starring role, assuming we look for counter-attack opportunities (do excuse us at AANP Towers as we drift off to dreamily recall the magnificent breakaway goal that sunk AC Milan a couple of years back…)
“No alarms and no surprises,” warbled musical oddballs Radiohead a few years back, and if that were to be the gist of things tonight we could all light our pipes with subtle smugness this evening. History contains enough reminders of our capacity to complicate the uncomplicated, but the current vintage appear to have their heads screwed on reasonably tightly. One way or t’other we should prevail.
Presumably there will have been some of lilywhite hue whose instant reaction to this catastrophe was to overturn the nearest car, set fire to their own hair and demand the instant sacking of two from Messrs Walker, BAE and Defoe. The mood at AANP Towers is rather more sanguine – for as defeats go, this one was not of the ilk to have me tying oversized weights to the ankles and flinging myself into the nearest river.
“Oh for the love of…”
True, the catalogue of individual idiocy was so bewildering it melted a small part of my brain, but it hardly makes us a bad team, and until the Walker-Lloris routine we were looking good value for another hard-earned win. While it does not make for a very sensational headline, there is little to suggest that we will fail to register more hard-earned wins in the coming weeks.
Nevertheless, the miscreants de jour deserve to be pelted with a tomato each, or at least made to don cone-shaped headwear bearing the letter “D” for the remainder of the week. Walker and Defoe can expect to be led into a quiet room where first of all their heads are banged together - presumably to the resounding echo of hollowness – after which the most basic basics of football can be laid out to them, with the aid of monosyllabic words, pictures and dolls. Lloris deserves a single lash of a whip across his back, not only for the World’s Worst Clearance of a Backpass Ever, but also for making veritable hordes of Spurs fans across the time-zones look rather silly for all those times we have waxed lyrical about how rip-roaring his sweeping is. Sigurdsson could usefully be made to practise shooting until the soles of his feet bleed, while Benny… sometimes I wonder if there is a cure for whatever brain disengagement thing it is that Benny has.
Still, aside from those individual acts of dunderheadedness this made for a chin-strokingly absorbing display. A sluggish start boded ill, but thereafter our heroes separated their well-timed tackles from their scything through-balls, and by the hour-mark we looked every inch a team swaggering its way to Three-Point City.
Lennonlessness; and Dembele the Renegade Master
This despite the dubious attempt to cope with life without Lennon. Heaven knows why we croon that there is only one diminutive jazz-handed speed-merchant, because the absence of an exact body double caused a problem yesterday. Rather than deploy Holtby on the right, AVB threw Livermore into the centre, with the principal jobs of flexing his biceps and delivering eight-yard sideways passes, while the overwhelmingly left-footed Dembele was square-pegged out onto the right wing. Understandably enough, the Belgian’s right-wing forays tended to abort fairly swiftly with a turn infield. However, macho renegade 80s action movie star that he is, Dembele seemed not to care two hoots about the intricate pre-game tactics, and wandered off into the centre whenever he jolly well pleased – doing a mighty effective job of it too. Blessed with the instinct to move forward at every opportunity, like some sort of genetically-engineered antithesis of Jermaine Jenas, he mozeyed past opponents as if they were not there, and for good measure had them bouncing off his monstrous frame every time they did get close enough to give him a furtive shove.
‘Tis a sign of the times that when the current Tottenham vintage score they no longer default to a less urgent approach of sitting deeper, moving the ball slower and passing sideways, but instead go galloping off in search of more. The mentality has changed from those Jenas-Huddlestone days, to a more energetic Dembele-Bale approach. Even Scott Parker seems to have discovered a latent urge to set off on a 40 yard trundle into a cul-de-sac around the opposition area. They could probably all benefit from releasing the ball a little earlier, but it is a heart-warming sentiment neverthelss. Alas, ‘twas undone yesterday by individual moments of startling mentalism. For sure it may yet transpire that we again spend the final couple of months of the season resolutely undoing all the good work of the previous seven, but we really do seem to be playing too well for that to happen.
Another day, another dickens of a lip-smacking fixture for the good ship Hotspur. Merrily enough, our heroes have spent the week positively sneering at the reputations dandily waved around by opponents who dare share the turf – in particular the reaction to the final whistle on Thursday, when a comprehensive battering of Inter elicited little more than a couple of back-slaps and a business-like march back to the changing rooms, suggests that standards have been raised in N17. Pilfering the Anfield larders is not necessarily high on the list of Traditionally Straightforward Premiership Jollies, but our heroes can certainly approach matters in a buoyant mood, for should they play anything like they did on Thursday the red mob will probably wander off in a huff at not being allowed even a touch of the ball. But alas, ‘tis a new day, and our foes are unlikely to roll over and request a playful tickle of their tummies, in the manner of Inter. A slippery prospect looms; such challenges have been met with several shades of aplomb in recent weeks.
There is presumably a smidgeon of doubt around Aaron Lennon and his jazz-hands, so Sigurdsson-right and Holtby-left could be on the cards, which is far from being the worst amended line-up ever to traipse the greenery. Having oozed class as if afflicted by some puss-inducing malady in his last two outings at centre-back, Vertonghen would be well-advised to wring out every last drop of the stuff in preparation for an afternoon’s duelling with the multi-talented and renowned good egg Suarez. Dawson and Lloris will presumably return, and while Defoe attracted opprobrium in some quarters for the narrow-mindedness of his approach, his propensity for leathering the orb goalwards at every opportunity renders him the sort of foe to jolly well keep an opponent on his toes - and as such he seems a vastly preferable attacking option to Adebayor.
It seems safe to assume that a stern test awaits, but with our heroes now knee-deep in the tricky final slew of fixtures and faring well enough we can probably approach this one with cautious optimism.
He already has a few on the CV, but this ranks amongst AVB’s finest moments for sure, and was most certainly the finest performance. To date it has been effective and disciplined, but with off-the-ball movement, slick passing and Inter carved open at will, this was as marvellous as a fruity sorbet drizzled in champagne and served by that sultry young thing who appears at the very end of the Golddigger video.
You can jolly well stick into a hat, shake around, say a magic word and pick out at random the name of any one of a half-dozen lilywhites who purred their way through proceedings with the aplomb of a man twirling his cane with every step – Dembele, Parker, Sigurdsson, Walker, Lennon and Vertonghen all oozed lickety-split.
It started off perkily and progressed into a 90-minute highlights reel. The serenading of Lee Dixon; the manic second half 80-yard sprint between Bale, Lennon and Walker; Lennon’s cheeky nutmeg; the presence of a striker who dashed well wanted to score every time he even sniffed the ball within a 10-yard radius (for sure he might pick a pass from time to time, but he can reasonably be excused on the grounds that he is around a thousand times better than the Adebayor of recent weeks); and quite simply the fact that our heroes won every darned tackle going and passed so many triangles around Inter that they wanted to eat their own heads in frustration.
Of blots on the escutcheon there were but few. The caution for Bale - regrettably deserved (if rendered pleasantly redundant); the worrying disappearance of Lennon with sock rolled down; the egregious Vertonghen song. The resident pedant of AANP Towers is murmuring in the background that we might have had more than three, but this result, clean sheet and all, ought to be plenty, even without Bale. The tie should be safe, there is sufficient swagger to whisper about silverware in a couple of months - and a 3-0 floodlit win over Inter is the sort of result that could be polished, framed and hung rather splendidly amidst the family portraits.
‘Tis a sign of the lucre-riddled times that a home fixture against Inter is only the third most important match of our week, but thus it fairly well transpires, if you give a nudge here and take a hop there. Finishing in the top four (three? Two?) still feels like the priority – but as distractions go this is right up there with kittens, cats, sacks and wives. Spurs vs Inter – truly a fixture to make a grown man stand up straight, puff out his chest and cream with misty eyes of killing wild beasts with his bear hands.
On an arguably more relevant note, it can be assumed that Friedel will take the reins tonight, which is rather a shame in a way, for Lloris’ tendency to burst off his line like a coiled spring recently force-fed E-numbers has proved most useful, in acting as the thinking man’s last line of defence. Gallas, Caulker and Naughton all stand reasonably good chances of being rotated in, and Defoe blinking well ought to start if there is but an ounce of sanity in the world, but I would be a little surprised if AVB chopped and changed in midfield – this tends not to be his wont.
Playing the home leg first is not ideal, but one way or t’other this ought to be a rollicking good yarn (and – whisper it – a useful precursor to fixtures of similarly glamorous ilk in season 2013-14).
Whereas the pre-match optimism in this corner of the interweb had been based on the fact that our forward line knows a few more trade secrets than that other lot, and were therefore likelier to get the best of the half-dozen goals that seemed likely, winning a game of this magnitude on the strength of a superior defence did have me sipping the celebratory late-night bourbon in a rather thoughtful manner.
Truth be told, that first half may have been a triumph for scrumptiously-weighted passes into the path of onrushing lilywhite midfield types, but it was something of a disaster for the dubious art of high-line defending. Vertonghen stuck out a limb in timely manner on a couple of occasions in that first half, but the high line hardly looked watertight, for willing though they are, neither the Belgian nor Dawson are really blessed with the most searing bursts of pace. Still, l’Arse did not have the sense to play the right pass when opportunity presented itself in the first half, and in the second the whole business of high defensive lines was largely negated by our lot dropping deeper (albeit presumably by accident rather than design), the aforementioned centre-backs repelling everything with all the gusto of a couple of heroes from a big-budget Hollywood battle epic. Nerve-wracking it most certainly was, but barely a clear chance was actually fashioned at our goal.
One ought not to muse on proceedings without pausing to toast the two goals, for hilariously inept though the defending was, the passes from Sigurdsson and (oddly enough) Parker were enough to merit that a small gold star be ironed onto the sleeve of their shirts next time they take to the pitch. Amidst all the hullaballoo there has also been a tendency to overlook the quality of the two finishes, which is really just not cricket. Identical chances, taken in very different but equally expert styles – someone in a smartly-fitting suit ought to tap his glass and say a few words of tribute amidst a cloud of cigar smoke.
Elsewhere on the pitch it was hard-earned and mighty satisfying fare all round. (Almost all round, on reflection, for if you will excuse the slightly awkward clearing of throat it is difficult to ignore the fact that things perked up in the second half once Adebayor had been scraped from the turf and hauled away, with Defoe seemingly far more interested in applying himself to the day-job.) Our heroes may have segued seamlessly from perspiring elbow-greasers to care-free spring gambollers had one of those straightforward second half chances been popped in (quite what masterplan popped into the Sigurdsson cranium at the vital juncture is a poser), but in a curious way it was somehow more fun to see l’Arse toil so feverishly to no avail. So near, yet seven points afar. The heart bleeds for them.
Tedious points will presumably be made at this juncture about the remaining fixtures and last season and whatnot – for another time, please. Smug grins remain the order of the day.
Regular imbibers of the AANP chalice may be wearily readying themselves for the latest pessimistic warbling, but truth be told I feel pleasantly optimistic about this one.
Physcial Combat – Conspicuously Absent
For a start, that ‘orrible lot from down the road possess not in their ranks any sort of attacking man-beast of the ilk of Andy Carroll, or indeed a Holt, Lukaku or Drogba type, who can shield the ball, win every aerial battle, say naughty words and generally make our lot cry. The only certainties in life seem to be death, taxes and Spurs defenders failing to cope with bullying centre-forwards, so huzzah thrice over for the absence of one today.
On a note entirely dissimilar note, l’Arse are not typically known for peddling that sort of agricultural, feisty approach that, for example, Norwich and Leeds deployed to good effect against us. History – and indeed personnel – suggests that rather than a fist-fight this will be another absurd end-to-end attack-fest, with tactics ultimately reducing to ‘Outscore the other lot and we’ll be fine’. And should this be the case, AANP just about throws its hat in with the lilywhites, on the eminently scientific basis that our lot are, all things considered, better.
The horn-locking of Messrs Dembele and Wilshire threatens to be awfully good fun, but in the absence of Sandro, that midfield area is where alarm bells start making the most frightful racket. A willingness to beaver away may be a Scott Parker trademark, but he will have to clear his throat and sing the notes with particular gusto if Wilshire, Cazorla and their devious troupe are to be kept in check.
I rather expect this to be the one performance of the year for which Adebayor bothers to exert himself, as he does seem to loathe his former employers. Fingers crossed that a modicum of sense manifests itself in a brain cell or two this time.
Young Master Bale is unlikely to slip onto the pitch entirely unnoticed, but whether or not he delivers his usual two-goal salvo one can expect a quivering swarm of opponents to buzz around him at all times. Marvellously however, there seems no stopping the chap these days – defend deep and he will thrash one netwards from distance; attempt to close down the space and he will skip merrily by, or earn a free-kick in so-doing. Lip-smacking stuff indeed.
While it can probably be expected that Walcott will score (it does tend to happen against our lot, alas), ultimately I do expect that when it is all totted up, our lot will have more in the bank. Exciting times.