1. Casting A Dubious Eye Over Tom Carroll
Carroll does have a dreamy touch, and if Premiership football were all about popping four-yard passes sideways, and backwards, and actually dispensing with boots and ball and just drawing pretty pictures of trees, then one suspects he would be revered far and wide as some sort of deity. But occasionally, the central midfield waltz seems to require hefty dollops of blood and thunder. Not to mention winning tackles, effecting clearances, tracking opponents and other fittings of similar ilk. And in these respects it seemed from my distant perch that Carroll was wafting his bat but missing the ball by a good foot or two, if you get my drift.
Now it may be that I have pre-judged the chap. You know how it is, you mark a blighter down as ‘nay’ rather than ‘yay’, and thereafter, even if he covers every blade of grass, and rescues a yelping maiden from a burning cottage for good measure, you still dock him points for messy handwriting. So maybe having knocked Carroll as a lightweight, waif-like, toothless, shadow of a lad by about the halfway stage, I may have been far too blinkered in my judgements thereafter. The TV folk certainly sung his praises, which rather goes to show.
But the moments that struck me were when he let Barkley wander past him and then wrapped his arms around him to give him a hug – rather than tackling him – to earn a booking; and when we broke on the left, he received the ball twenty yards from goal and produced from nowhere his best Jermaine Jenas impression by swivelling towards his own net and knocking it backwards fifteen yards to groans from across North London; and the astonishingly inept attempt at a clearing header late on, which bounced off the top of his head in a manner completely bereft of any control, to an Everton chappie who lashed a volley goalwards to draw an outstanding palm from Lloris. Rather a mouthful, but gist of the thing is that Carroll gives the impression of a boy who is only loitering there because his parents have forgotten to collect him.
A big day this, for those charged with keeping things under lock and key. Belgium are apparently the best national team in the world at the moment, which ought to have made today’s game about the standard of a World Cup final if you think about it, but irrespective of that curiosity Messrs Vertonghen and Alderweireld had a challenge and a half in front of them, in the shape of the considerable frame of Lukaku. Being the sort of chap who always struck me as likely to be completely at home diving head-first through a brick wall, our two centre-backs needed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and by and large they made a solid fist of things. Not all their own way, and the nerves rather frayed a bit towards the end when everything stretched and the pressure ratcheted up several notches, but he was shackled as well as such behemoths can be.
However, if there were one moment that had me uttering a few choice curses it was the goal we conceded. Well, naturally enough I suppose, but particularly Vertonghen’s role in it. I’m not sure he can be faulted for losing the initial header to Lukaku – let us not forget the capacity to headbutt brick walls and suchlike – but why the dickens did Vertonghen turn his back on Lennon as the latter took his shot? This man’s very bread and butter lies in the act of preventing exactly that by any legal means necessary, and he gets paid sackloads for the privilege. Fling every limb at him, dash it. Take one full in the face if you have to.
(While on the topic, it also struck me as a bit odd that Lloris grasped at the thing with his wrong hand (his left), but it seemed a fairly futile cause by that point in any case.)
3. Rip-Snorting First Half
Truth be told, these are relatively minor gripes, and ought not to form chorus and the first couple of verses when the whole thing is eventually committed to song. Our first half was akin to one of those runaway trains that one sees in action films of a certain era, but which never actually happen in real life. Hurtling along at a rate of knots, sparks flying and all sorts. That poor old Kane and Davies failed to strike oil with their respective long-range efforts is to be solemnly lamented, as Kane’s could not have been closer and Davies’ almost ripped the net from its frame. (Although as my old man, AANP Senior is never slow to point out, they only deserve credit if they were aiming for the woodwork.)
Even aside from the close shaves however, our heroes looked at the peak of their powers in the first half. It was as well as they had played all season. The goal conceded was a rotten injustice, but such is life I suppose, and to their credit they kept beavering away until the break. When they play thusly one really does think that they are capable of staying in the Top Four.
4. The Ongoing Ode to Dembele
Not to harp on again about the personnel who were picked in central midfield, but in a quiet moment tonight, as we swirl away our Sunday night bourbons and reflect on life, I suspect many a Spurs fan will wistfully think of what might have been had Dembele been growling around in the centre. Barkley had his moments, and the substitute they brought on had a bit of bite to him, but Dembele when in the mood can snaffle up such opponents like a bulldog chewing at a sausage roll. As the game wore on and Everton exerted more pressure, the heart yearned for yet another Belgian to enter the fray and start barging folk around.
5. Weary Limbs
Pochettino is evidently a man who knows his apples from his oranges, so I would not dare presume the right to criticise – but if I were to be so impertinent I would respectfully clear the throat in the direction of a little squad rotation. Preferably the sort that does not involve young Master Carroll. Our heroes looked a little jaded as events progressed and Act Three hurtled towards its denouement, and Everton almost profited. Something similar occurred a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle, when again the players looked bang out of gas. The brow furrow, what?
Chadli and Son were dutifully thrown on, but might a fresh pair of legs be in order in the engine room? Amidst the evening gloom one could pick out the frame of Bentaleb on the bench, and there might be worse ideas than introducing him for the closing stages, to ensure that angry flecks of spittle continue to fly until the end. Moreover, Harry Kane will sooner or later splutter to a halt and require roadside assistance, although one suspects that the Brains Trust are fully aware of the need to scratch this particular itch.
A closing sentiment? Wonderful, wonderful goal from Dele Alli – the pass, particularly the control, and the very smart execution. Ten festive points is a strong haul. Bonne année.