Ah, the first-time pass. Scourge of the ball-watching defender. Slicer of the well-drilled bank of four. And as conspicuously absent from our game-plan for the first half half or so as it was instrumental to operations thereafter.
The Opening Half-Hour: Ponderous
I spent most of those opening 30 minutes wanting to offer my kingdom for a first-time pass. Or some off-the-ball movement. Or any line of attack that was not based around Dawson, Chiriches and Vertonghen rolling square balls to each other (and occasionally back to Lloris to cede possession through the medium of a skyward punt). By goodness it was pedestrian stuff. And not necessarily the fault of the man in possession either, as the lilywhite cup could not have been accurately said to have overflowed with options. In fact, our heroes seemed content to adopt a Subbuteo routine of simply adopting a spot of turf and resolutely sticking to it for most of the first half, and with Villa content to soak up pressure and play for a counter-attack I found myself idly toying with nearby blunt objects with which to potentially bash in my own skull at the frustration of it all.
The goal itself may have been a tad fortuitous, but for a few minutes thereafter, and for most of the second half, life became decidedly more fun, as gaps opened up and we were able to get behind the Villa defence. AVB dashed well needs to refine re-examine that “Breaking the Deadlock” file, because having each man in turn ponderously take two/three/four touches before rolling the thing sideways neither strikes fear into bellies of the other lot, nor puts fire into bellies of our lot, nor has any humdinging effect on the bellies of anyone in the vicinity, which is really the whole point of the game.
The Bonny, Blithe and Gay Second Half
Marvellously however, as mentioned, things perked up after the goal, and moved on apace in the second half (bar the five-minute wobble when Benteke came on and seemed to bellow so loud that he made Daws and Chiriches curl into little balls and cry rather than try marking him). Glory be, our heroes began shifting the ball at pace, with first-time passes and movement and lots of little legs scurrying around, until the chances started to flow. The poor old full-back tasked with sitting on Townsend ran completely out of steam, allowing the young bounder to gallop to the line like it was going out of fashion, and to his credit he put his head down and sprinted for the line as often as he cut inside to let rip.
Amidst all this one ought not to forget to send a sizeable bouquet the way of young Sandro, who spent his afternoon harassing the dickens out of any Villa player who dared to think about starting an attack. Back in the days of yore, a youthful and rather wanton AANP would pass his summer mornings by catching ants and the like, and dropping them into spider webs, just to observe the manic reaction of the spider in galloping across and clambering all over the unfortunate young bean. And thus, like some human-sized two-legged spider, did Sandro snuffle the life out of Villa at every opportunity. Good to have the lad back.
And on to the latest installation of The Great Soldado Debate. The lad certainly knows what to do once inside the area, his goal today taken with aplomb – indeed several plombs. (And bonus points all round for the one-touchery that got him there in the first place.) But beyond that marvellous finish? Admittedly in the second half he put in some yards, making himself available down the right flank and holding up the ball (although it did not seem to occur to any of his chums to fill in the attacking void thereby created and bust a gut to get themselves into the area), but in the first half in particular one struggles to make the case for him having offered a plethora of options, and the Villa centre-backs seemed contented enough. ‘Room for improvement’ is probably the euphemism of choice.
Despite the slightly negative tone of these witterings it is a most contented AANP readying the nib for a spot of shut-eye tonight. All the necessary boxes have been duly ticked, and importantly so given the horrors of last time around. Concerns there be for sure, around that lack of incision as long as affairs remain goalless, but Rome was not built in a day, what?
As ever following an international break it feels like the best part of a lifetime since we last convened around these parts, and given the sour – if entirely ludicrous – manner in which we parted, it seems fairly reasonable to speculate that our esteemed leader has spent the intervening eternity knee-deep in cogitation of the highest order. While there was no doubt a generous sprinkling of bad luck about the way we fell behind to West Ham having pummelled them for the best part of an hour, AVB might nevertheless be well advised to solve a couple of the riddles posed therein, and with unfettered alacrity.
Soldado? Defoe? Both? Neither?
It is not exactly a secret of the highest confidentiality that Tottenham Hotspur Version 2013/14 is being set up with the ultimate aim of feeding the boy Soldado. Evidently the various cogs do not yet quite mesh with the seamless efficiency one would want, but once things do fall into place the team will be geared towards him and one imagines he will score goals by the bucketload. Alas, at times it seems the supporting cast have yet to stumble upon the formula that transforms Soldado from the lonely-looking lighthouse he currently resembles to the unstoppable goal machine he threatens to be. The poor blighter has the misfortune to be neither a hulking man-beast of the ilk of Drogba nor the sort to drop deep and go foraging when the going gets tough, a la Rooney, so until the whole team sings from the same hymnsheet – the hymnsheet entitled ‘Let’s All Club Together To Create Dozens Of Chances For Soldado’ – he will presumably continue to lollop along a little forlornly.
Given Soldado’s travails, and the form of Defoe in the minor cups, the rationale behind Defoe’s selection against West Ham was understandable - but fairly ineffective. A different sort of beast, Defoe is likelier to collect the ball fairly deep, run at a defence and shot from range, and although against deep-lying opponents at the Lane this is of limited value, there may be more success away from home and on the counter. I do not particularly subscribe to the view that Defoe only scores against weaker teams (par example, his finish against Man City last season was top-notch, and against a mean old defence) and would be happy enough to see him given a run of games. Frankly however he currently resides in a box clearly marked ‘Impact Sub’, and here he will stay. I do, in my idle moments, wonder whether AVB might be tempted to deploy him today, given his success against Villa in the Carling Cup (or whatever it is now called) a few weeks back, but having fired blanks against West Ham one suspects his chance has passed for now.
Another option might be pairing the two of them. There could hardly be a less likely scenario today – given that we are away from home, the team is absolutely not set up for a front-two and it has not been done before, bar the final fifteen minutes against West Ham – so I get the feeling that should the suggestion be made in the corridors of power at the Lane a couple of burly security chaps would frogmarch me off the premises before I could finish blurting out the suggestion, but if nothing else these two are unlikely to get in each other’s way, and if Jay-Z and Kanye have taught me anything it is that one never really know what harmonious – if sample-heavy and profanity-riddled – delights can be produced by two like-minded blighters until they bally well throw caution to the wind and link arms.
Ultimately however, Soldado will probably remain the focal point of things and we will all simply have to remain patient and wait for things to click. Which is fortunate, as we Tottenham folk are particularly renowned for our lashings of patience, what?
Lessons From England
Another mini-rant, while I have the floor – ‘twas interesting to note how England eventually turned dominance into a lead, and then maintained that momentum, even going so far as to score again, particularly against Montenegro. This has hardly been a speciality of our heroes, but given that we typically rack up around 20 shots on goal we dashed well ought to win games by more than the odd goal or two. The national side gave a glimpse of how to keep feet on the accelerator even after eventually taking a lead, and our lot would do well to emulate the approach. As, indeed, they did at Villa Park a few weeks back. (Given the successes of various rivals yesterday, the imperative is even greater.)
That our second string could trounce Villa in the Cup, on their own patch, just last month or so bodes fairly well, but this being a new day an entirely different kettle of fish may well await. AVB has sought to integrate the new faces at a gentle pace, sensibly enough, but after the huff and puff of our last outing he may be tempted to let young Lamela off his leash, while Aaron Lennon is apparently now fit again. Young Master Townsend’s international exploits have been well documented, and it struck me that he was ever-so-slightly more prone to pass than shoot while in England colours, which might not be the worst trait to transfer to N17. There have also been murmurs amongst Spurs-supporting chums of mine to give Holtby an opportunity in the hole, particularly if Eriksen is again starved of space. Here at AANP Towers the greater concern is that Dawson may again be given the run-around – Kaboul’s return to full fitness cannot come soon enough. However, when all is said and done, this still ought to be another three points for the collection.
That whole farce was so preposterous that for nigh on 20 hours since its conclusion I have been gently reclining in a darkened room with nothing but the dulcet tones of Julie London to nurse my hurting brain. If the sign of greatness is how one copes with adversity then our much-vaunted back-four ought to be wheeled out onto the High Road and pelted with rotten fruit and a selection of heavy, blunt metal objects, for their collective display of incompetence that ushered in the second and third goals. (Not that anyone should be particularly exonerated for the first goal either – a naughty push in Vertonghen’s back there may have been, but that West Ham were effectively able to play a one-two on our goal line smacks of somebody somewhere tripping over their own shoelaces.)
The Second Goal
Kyle Walker’s occasional moments of cerebral evacuation were never that entertaining in the first place, but now they are becoming a dashed nuisance make no mistake. I am generally loath to criticise the chap as he typically displays more fight than the rest of them combined, but on this occasion his pace was not enough to right the wrong of being caught near the halfway line when West Ham were bearing down on goal.
The Third Goal
Marvellous to see our brave young captain celebrate a new three-year contract with a typical moment of lumbering clumsiness, dangling a leg as the West Ham blighter skipped past him in a flash. He may exude lashings of gung and ho when winning headers, and think himself Hoddle incarnate as he pings those diagonal 70-yard passes, but Dawson’s bread and butter is to defend, and the chap has the turning speed of a dozy elephant and sprinting technique of one of the slower members of the Corluka clan. I am becoming rather fed up of seeing him discombobulated to within an inch of his life by a straightforward shoulder-dip and sprint routine. Watching a fleet-footed opponent dash towards him is akin to those prescient moments in the Final Destination films when some suspiciously good-looking young American lass envisages a cyclist crashing into a petrol tanker, being flattened by a falling piano and then having their head bitten off by a passing dinosaur. A useful squad member Dawson surely is, but the sooner Kaboul is fit and raring to go the better.
Not that young Vertonghen escapes blame either. To fail to catch a man running half the length of the pitch with the ball at his feet is unforgivable. Someone ought to tousle that immaculately-combed hair of his by way of punishment. That ought to elicit a few howls of anguish.
The First Hour
For all the idiocy that spread like a rash across the back-four in the latter stages it was still a rummy old thing to watch our lot dominate things for the first hour and then waddle off home three down to a team without a striker. In a sense it was fairly typical White Hart Lane fare, for many a time and oft have we hammered away at a defensive opponent and then been caught out at a set-piece. It seems a dashed shame though, because it felt like a goal was coming. Paulinho’s tendency to shoot from everywhere and aim at anything may incorporate as much wild missing as hitting, but his propensity to surge into the area to support the front man is a welcome one, and he seemed to push even further up the pitch after half-time, encapsulating a greater urgency amongst our troops.
Alas, Eriksen was denied much space, Lamela was fairly impotent when eventually introduced, and that whole left-flank business seemed to be quietly erased from our game plan. No particular need to panic, for I can hardly see Liverpool and Southampton challenging come May, but it is about bally time we put these meddling bottom half teams to the sword and tonked them with three or four early goals, rather than beavering away at nil-nil into the final half hour.