Quite the 80th birthday present for AANP Senior. Is there a more joyous sight to behold in nature than a tide of adrenalin-pumped lilywhites pouring forward in wave after wave of irresistible attack at a sun-baked White Hart Lane? A spritely cheetah catching a young upstart of a gazelle and tearing it to pieces perhaps? That scene in Terminator 2 when Arnie shoots the padlock while riding his bike, then reloads seamlessly by twirling the shotgun around in his hand, and shooting another padlock? All worthy of a moment’s silent admiration, and reason if ever it existed to top up the tumbler with a fresh splash of bourbon in a gesture of unadulterated admiration - but by golly the sight of our heroes simply overwhelming the current champions in that mesmerising final 20 minutes, to the soundtrack of the most remarkable White Hart Lane din, was enough to make me smash a bottle of champagne against the side of the nearest ship, so rip-roaring were the events unfolding.
All of which came about, incredibly enough, after a dispiriting hour in which the dream looked set to die. The willingness of our heroes could not be faulted, but in the early stages ‘twas eerily reminiscent of many a Saturday evening in the nightspots of London, when AANP has attempted to woo the good womenfolk of London by delivering a ten-minute stream of unfunny bluster, before a rival cad strolls by to instantly sweep the young maiden off her feet with little more than an arched eyebrow. Thus was our valiant but slightly desperate gameplan of headless chickenry swiftly punctuated by one effortless flash of genius from Tevez, and lo – we trailed.
The pattern changed little thereafter, our attacking trio of Dempsey, Bale and Sigurdsson conspicuously lacking the nous of a Tevez, while ahead of them Adebayor gave a glimpse of a dystopian future in which teams play without a striker.
AVB’s Moment of Glory
But enter stage left the sort of managerial jiggery-pokery so barnstorming it can shoot pterodactyls out of the sky whilst blindfolded. While here at AANP Towers the suggested solution was nothing more progressive than a plaintive whinge about swapping strikers, AVB turned the universe on its head by switching from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, and unleashing the Hudd. Memories of the introduction of Jamie Redknapp at half-time in the Euro 96 England-Scotland match no doubt came flooding back to the lot of us, as Hudd instantly brought with him the perfect polygamous marriage of calmness, vision, technique and hair, giving us complete control and a nifty selection of dreamy, defence-splitting passes. The lad looked like he owned the ruddy pitch, and with Holtby buzzing around like a demented wasp ahead of him, Bale flicking the ‘Magic ’ switch on his left boot and Defoe showing the sort of bloody-minded eye for goal that Adebayor would not know if it slapped him in the face with a wet fish, all pretty swiftly became right with the world.
This does create a wonderful few conundra for AVB, around whether to select Defoe or Adebayor next up (relatively straightforward methinks); and whether to go with the brand of sorcery that Hudd delivers a little too effortlessly, within a 4-3-3, or the tireless but slightly directionless pirouetting of Parker, in a 4-2-3-1 (perchance more of a poser). These are queries for another day; now is without doubt still the time for making merry and, frankly, rubbing our eyes in disbelief. Where on earth it came from is slightly mystifying, but our heroes have got their groove back, and it was rollicking stuff.
One final Herculean effort please chaps. Actually, six more such efforts, but you get the gist. After that ten-day hiatus it is all a mite breathless from now until the season’s end, and the drill is essentially win, win and win again – which sounds straightforward enough when hammered out in Arial 10, but is presumably going to be eked out in typically excruciating fashion by our heroes.
First up are the current champions, for the sort of to-do that will require a darned sight more cunning and brio than the average Sunday lunchtime transaction. Thank heavens then for the returns of Masters Bale and Lennon, who in their own unique ways, heralded and unheralded alike, add a touch of majesty to the earnest but occasionally sparkle-lite endeavours of their colleagues. The return to fitness of Defoe also provides an extra option, but I rather suspect AVB will stick with Adebayor, who, ludicrous penalty-taking aside, has showed some renewed energy in recent engagements.
Elsewhere, Dembele ought to be yanked aside immediately pre kick-off for a gentle reminder that this is no time for him to mooch around in the off-boil manner off Basel a week or two back, while Scott Parker will need to deliver the sort of performance that we all probably think is beyond him now. And if the back-four could tighten up a mite it would prove jolly timely too.
A tall order for sure, but not beyond the realms of possibility. We blinking well need to win this really (although, writing before any of the weekend fixtures, it is possible that others around us may drop points), so A-games all round please.
With curses duly bestowed to the interweb for breaking yesterday, preventing this from being a more timely posting…true villain of the piece as… Vertonghen! Except that that is not a particularly fashionable line of social media punditry to adopt, so dedicated truth-hounds that we are, an even closer inspection reveals that Vertonghen only had to make his challenge because possession was conceded when Daws chugged forward and mis-controlled straight to a Basel player, who played his pass into the gap vacated, leaving Vertonghen to cover. Which means that the actual villain of the piece can be unmasked as… Dawson! But that really would not be cricket, because the blighter was… what’s the phrase we used to use for Sol Campbell before we learnt to hate…? Colossus! Dawson was a colossus, becoming increasingly colossus-esque with each passing minute, so no blame there. (Apart from several madcap lunges in the first-half over which Basel forwards nonchalantly skipped.) And besides, going back to the red card, if one were to don the monocle and look closely at the replay it appears that Vertonghen did actually nick the ball. So perhaps it ought not to have been a red card, which means that the villain, inevitably, is… the ref! On top of which, the corner from which Basel scored their second mighty well looked like it should not have been awarded, having touched a home player last. Which points to the real villain being… the extra official who semi-squats on the goal-line and intensely stares at the action three yards away from him before looking up at the ref with a blank expression! Oh dash it all, let’s just blame Adebayor, it’s far easier.
I suppose Adebayor most conveniently matches the e-fit of “Dastardly Scapegoat” that was issued almost as soon as the deed was done on Thursday night – and he certainly made a complete pig’s ear of the penalty, but in the occasional moments of sanguinity that have interrupted the otherwise non-stop grump at AANP Towers since then, it has seemed reasonable to attribute both praise and opprobrium where appropriate.
In which spirit – yes, ‘twas a wretched penalty, but rather than hanging on for penalties with last-ditch blocks, cramping limbs and a couple of players appearing to need chest compression before they could get back on their feet, we might have continued with that momentum we gained after our second goal, and gone into extra-time on the front-foot with a realistic chance of scoring a third – and potentially decisive – away goal. That we lost this momentum is nothing to do with Adebayor, but due to the sending-off… which means that in the finest tradition of Scooby-Doo we can unmask the
Elsewhere On The Pitch
Frankly there is little inclination around these parts to do much else than sift half-heartedly through the wreckage and zip up a few body-bags, rather like in the post-climax scene in Terminator. Or indeed Alien 3. As against Everton last weekend there was a fair amount of controlled possession, but a distinct dearth of By-Jiminy-That-Has-Carved-Them-Open incisive passing from our lot. The ball was regularly shipped sideways, but with right-footers on the left flank and no natural right winger on the right (try babbling that after a few good bourbons), crosses into the box were at a premium. Which was rather a shame, as we looked to have the beating of them in the air. Dembele was a little off-kilter, but by golly Messrs Dempsey, Sigurdsson and Holtby pounded the treadmill, and Carroll made some useful little contributions, albeit without exactly bossing things. Whether or not Hudd might have become an influential midfield figure in extra-time we will never know, the re-jig forcing him back into defence, and ‘tis a blinking shame, because having created our second there was just a suspicion that he might have grown in influence.
Oh well. If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly. Except this being Spurs, it were done in excruciatingly long-drawn out and agonising fashion, with the not entirely salubrious side-effects of sapping the beans out of half of our squad and occasionally costing us Sunday points. All things considered however, I am actually rather glad for this season’s European jaunt, for as a long-term exercise it has its benefits (familiarity with the AVB way; experience gained of how to handle these nights; some impressive never-say-die Henry V stuff) and the nights themselves have thrown up more enjoyment than when done by the ‘Arry drill. Just an opinion, I hardly expect universal concurrence. days off then. Use them well.
In terms of a late-season wobble, this ought to separate the Mild-Swaying from the Pillars-Crashing-To-Earth-All-Around-Us. After the slipshod events of recent weeks, and given the meddlesome lather in which we now find ourselves, there has never been a more apt time for someone with a glint in his eye and young floozy on each arm to swagger up to the bar and pay for everyone’s drinks for the rest of the night.
Oh that life were so straightforward. Keener students of current affairs may be aware that the regular cape-wearer-in-residence is currently indisposed, which leaves a lot of head-scratching amongst us licence fee-payers as to precisely who tonight’s hero will be. Dembele? Adebayor? Vertonghen? Now does not really seem the time to be rotating Friedel back into the frame, but thus will personnel presumably be selected (although grateful prayers can be murmured if Gallas’ injury prevents him from adopting his usual Europa slot). In midfield and attack there does not seem to be a great deal of choice, unless AVB suddenly gets the urge to spring a Huddlestone/Carroll-shaped surprise upon us. By and large therefore, the match-winners tonight will have to be one of those who huffed and puffed away on Sunday. If ever there were a time for Dempsey to silence the ever-growing horde of critics at AANP Towers…
AVB has spent all season shoving eggs into his Europa League basket and not caring a jot who sees him do it. Admirable sentiments for sure, but to limp home at the quarter-final stage after all this palaver would be an awkward one to explain to the parents. At this stage, and with everything teetering so dashed precariously, I personally would take Top Four over Europa, but frankly our fortunes in both seem intertwined at the moment – one way or another we need to stop the rot, and start winning every blinking game we play.
Watching our heroes fight the good fight sans Master Bale was quite an educational experience, from which the AANP conclusion was, not for the first time this season, to yearn wistfully for a VDV-esque creative type. Sideways, and sideways once more, seemed to be the mantra, even in the final half hour when sleeves were rolled up and battle-cries sounded. Players piled forward, and we spent most of our time in the final third – but the absence of a man blessed with the ability to spot and then deliver a pass through the eye of a needle had me wishing for a solid brick-based structure against wish to bang my head in frustration. Hats are certainly tipped towards the players for retaining possession with short passes when the temptation would have been for ghastly long aerial balls, but the lack of anyone with the guile to play a cute, defensive-splitting 10/15-yard diagonal pass that released a forward into the area was dashed frustrating.
In his defence, AVB moved to remedy this by throwing on first Hudd and then young Carroll, the two most likely to deliver one of those aforementioned defence-splitters, and Hudd in particular mastered the intricacies of the ‘sideways’ to ‘forwards’ switch with some aplomb (if you pardon the digression, watching Dempsey labour away in his devastatingly ineffective style throughout I did wonder if AVB might be tempted in future to stick one of Hudd or Carroll alongside Parker, and push Dembele into the attacking hole..?). In general however the style of play does not differ particularly without Bale – he being the type to produce moments of magic rather than pull strings and dictate proceedings. With or without Bale, we lack a string-puller.
Not that our heroes should be described as toothless, or impotent, or in any other way biologically wanting. Dembele, for a start, is a marvel of a man. Time and again he charged forward like exactly the sort of beast in a BBC wildlife documentary that one would want to keep a healthy distance away lest he trample you to your doom. And Adebayor, good grief, exhibited all the signs of a man who has certainly discovered the wisdom of yanking his lamp from underneath the bushel and proudly popping it onto a very public stand, and jolly well tapping his neighbour on the shoulder and share the good news while he’s at it. If the injury-blitz is particularly ill-timed, then the discovery, in the final furlong of the season, of the cobweb-streaked artefact that is Ye Long-Lost Forme of Adebayor could prove mighty serendipitous.
Things would probably have panned out a little more rosily if the urgent mentality adopted after conceding the second goal had been stumbled upon a little earlier, but I suppose ‘tis vaguely understandable that the early goal led to a period of self-congratulatory meandering. Hardly commendable, but understandable nevertheless.
In the grand scheme of things this does rather strike me as two points lost rather than one gained, primarily because the rotters around us have taken the hint and started grinding out wins come hail or shine. As was most aptly expressed by a lilywhite fan on the tellybox this weekend – onwards and sideways.
No Bale. No Lennon. And just in time for the most crucial multipack of fixtures of the season. Maybe Skynet did win after all.
‘Tis a test that ought to put some hair on the AVB chest. For all the huffing, puffing and neat technique, if our heroes are not scything teams open through nifty interplay and a killer pass of the VDV mould – and these days it tends to be the exception rather than the norm – the default setting does seem to be to look to Bale to magic up a goal from nothing, on his own. Time for AVB to stun the watching world, and Everton, with the mother of all Plan Bs.
On top of which, the absence of Lennon stirs some eminently forgettable memories of our lot taking to the field in lopsided manner and promptly turning a 12-game unbeaten run into a three-match losing streak. Presumably rather than the ill-advised solution of sticking Dembele onto the right wing again, the plan this time will be to muddle Messrs Sigurdsson, Dempsey and Holtby around the left, right and central positions, while letting Dembele run operations from the centre.
Elsewhere, Adebayor’s reign as Lilywhite Enemy Number One is reinforced by the game, with the usual array of mis-controls and air-kicks, but in truth I thought the blighter put the effort in on Thursday, his cause not helped by a lack of service. The defence at least ought to have a more solid look to it, with Lloris back and Gallas nowhere to be seen.
There really isno’t any margin for error now, especially with l’Arse churning out results, but Everton are themselves without a couple of key players, and if our lot can rediscover the zippy passing groove that occasionally surfaces it will matter not that Bale or Lennon are not on hand. Fingers crossed.
I’m not sure anyone saw that coming, from AVB all the way down to AANP. Blinking heck, Basel were as slick as any opponent we have played all season, their attacking interplay as good as the Chelski front three who six-yard-passed us to oblivion back in the early autumn. They may masquerade as a Swiss club side, but Basel played like a team of Bond villains – laughing in our faces as they pretty effortlessly repelled most of our attacks, and then slicing us open at will with interplay so fizzy our heroes could barely see them, let alone keep pace with them. Presumably up in the posh boxes their bald chairman stroked a cat and laughed rather evilly as it unfolded.
In the first half hour our mob seemed to be going about business in a fairly honourable way – ‘sharp technique’ and ‘good ball retention’ amongst the boxes being dutifully ticked off, with Messrs Holtby, Parker and Dembele in particular earning their little gold stars. All of which would please the Ofsted inspectors, but the truth that dare not be mentioned was that we were hardly blowing up anybody’s skirts, with barely a well-crafted goalscoring opportunity on the horizon.
And frankly it went downhill from there. Half the team filled the full-back positions at one point or another, and were duly skinned alive, and Gallas looked suspiciously like a man closing his eyes and guessing, until he just gave up and wandered down the tunnel early.
In fairness, the two-goal salvo was a worthy effort, the goals being forced in through sheer willpower as much as any particular finesse, and our heroes deserve credit for not folding as lilywhite teams of yore have regularly done. But it did seem, particularly in that final 30 minutes once Holtby’s energy was removed, that we were on the end of a rather peculiar 2-2 hammering.
On top of which both Lennon and Bale made unscheduled exits, prompting a flurry of understandable pessimism to fill the North London air. (Although on a medical note, I would point out that many a time and oft has AANP rolled over one ankle or t’other in the manner of Master Bale last night – and although there typically tends to follow 24 hours of stiff upper lip-inducing pain, luridly coloured and over-sized ankle swelling, several hours of tedium in Chase Farm A&E and several futile attempts to engage the young nurses in playful conversation, I actually tend to be back up and peddling my limited footballing wares again within a week. The moral of the story is slap some ice on it, give him an ankle strap and he ought to be back for the Man City game right as rain.) (Unless he’s actually torn his ligaments to kingdom come, or broken the thing, in which case we are all in a rather a bothersome fix.)
Pardon the digression. A final word or forty-two on the Basel episode of last night - it would be jolly impressive if our opponents play quite as well again in the second leg, but a testing evening undoubtedly awaits. Our heroes might be advised simply to forget the notion of away goals and just concentrate on outscoring them.
The Top Four vs Europa debate has become increasingly academic over the course of this season, because whatever the rights and wrongs AVB is clearly intent to keep hurling at kitchen sinks and first-team players at his Thursday nights, until that ineffably-shaped pot is in our mitts. As has been pointed out by various scribes, for all the potential hazards around fatigue this whole European campaign has, in general, been a rather edifying process for the mighty lilywhites, allowing the players time to dashed well understand the gravel-voiced murmurings of the grand fromage in the early part of the season, and also providing the occasional night of merriment and good cheer for the shuffling throngs on the White Hart Lane train platform. We might as well go on and win the whole dashed thing now, no? After all there barely seems another team qualified to do it.
A man with an unpronounceable surname is always worth a tip of the hat, so an entire football club possessed of what may – or may not – be a silent ‘s’ ought to be treated with a certain degree of deference. That said, we be the mighty Hotspur, and as such ought really to grind this lot into submission over two legs. Of greater concern at AANP Towers is the welfare of key personnel, for any sort of injuries to Bale or Dembele (or indeed, for the sake of our shape, Master Lennon) would be frightfully unwelcome at this stage of proceedings.
The usual selection larks and japes will ensue no doubt, with Friedel retained at the back, a soupcon of jiggery-pokery in defence and the usual midfield. Defoe is out and Master Dempsey is reportedly back, but Adebayor will presumably be unleashed once again to wreak his usual devastating brand of havoc across the Swiss back-line.
Traditional wisdom had it that a clean sheet and solid lead would be the order of the day, but this being N17, and the last round’s 3-0 home advantage having been transformed so effortlessly into a monumental pickle, it is difficult to know quite what the target tonight should be. Perhaps, in the finest tradition of a stag-weekend, we should just aim to make it through proceedings with no broken bones and no arrests, and then re-assess.