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.