1. Welcome Win, Slightly Improved Performance
For those of you who have been merrily camping under a rock for the last few weeks, pre kick-off this particular binge had assumed a darned sight more importance than your average ‘Brighton (away)’. Three defeats, fatigue, drink-driving, transfers (or lack thereof) and incomplete building works had all contributed to a general sense that the four horsemen were fastening their buckles and giving their mounts some final instructions.
It was therefore with a mixture that was around one-third surprise and two-thirds relief that I noted the perilous nature of the situation had made itself known to our heroes, as set to work trying to unpick the Brighton lock with sleeves rolled up and concentration etched all over faces.
Our lot prodded and probed, and although there was a conspicuous absence of the sweet, sweet sound of oil being struck in that opening half hour, things were at least a notch or two zippier than in recent weeks.
Brighton, understandably enough, began proceedings in rather cautious manner, supplementing their back four with a couple of midfielders, a striker and just about anyone who happened to be passing through the south coast with half an hour to kill. The massed ranks proved tricky to breach, so thank goodness for the flailing paw of Glenn Murray.
Thereafter, needing to chase the game, our hosts hit upon the idea of doing some attacking of their own, and the game segued from one of history’s more passive chess matches to a harum-scarum game of playground football in which the bell is about to sound and life depends upon scoring the next goal. Gaps duly appeared for our heroes to exploit, and on several occasions we appeared to be one devilishly-executed pass away from sewing up the thing; but at the other end Brighton were rushing around like a pack of wolves that had scented blood, and worried glances were being exchanged like nobody’s business in our ranks, which was pretty telling.
Mercifully, the added layer or two of quality in lilywhite picked a good moment to make itself known. There might have been a bucketful or two more perspiration involved than was entirely comfortable, but given recent history I suspect I’m not the only one glad that we simply made it off the pitch with three points intact.
2. A Good Dembele Day
The sages paid to opine on these things picked Danny Rose as their star man, and one does not want to begrudge the honest chap, but at AANP Towers preparations were being made to pin the relevant rosette to one Mousa Dembele.
This was not so much a game in which he orchestrated everything like a criminal mastermind in an underground lair. It was more the fact that every time he popped up in the centre of the pitch, he simply did the right thing.
If a tackle needed to be made, he went a-crunching. When fed the ball he either glided past the nearest bemused opponent, or rolled it onwards to a chum. And on more than one occasion when a teammate got his feet into a muddle and Brighton looked to pinch the thing, Dembele came racing across, extinguishing materials at the ready, to douse flames and restore calm.
(Quite what the nearby Eric Dier made of this repeated purveyance of well-executed decisions is anyone’s guess, but I rather suspect that he gasped and said “What ho!” In fairness, this was not one of Dier’s increasingly common bad days, and his incisive forward pass to set in motion our second was a useful reminder of that of which he’s capable. Nevertheless, as often as not the chap is errant in his passing and a little ill-judged in his tackling. It all lends a little bafflement to the notion that we bought nobody this summer because there was no room for improvement on the current mob.)
3. Hints of Kane Returning to From
It is impossible to swing a cat these days without crashing into someone armed with their own thesis as to why Harry Kane has not been sweeping all before him in recent weeks like some modern-day Hannibal.
Various theories expounded by those in the know include the fact that Lucas is elbowing him out of position and into a spot somewhere nearer halfway; fatigue has the poor egg in its clutches and won’t let him go; a newborn baby is depriving him of sleep; it’s hardly his fault when the team aren’t giving him much of a sniff of goal; and confidence has drained from him.
The considered AANP opinon on all this is to offer a generously-sized shrug and wonder if it is some combo of all of the above (apart from the confidence thing, perhaps – the chap’s self-belief throughout his career has been trumpeted throughout the land ad nauseam, on top of which he’s just won a World Cup golden boot and put to bed the whole August-curse nonsense, so it seems rather a stretch to imagine that a couple of goalless games has him laying awake every night riddled with self-doubt).
Whatever the reason, the whole debate struck me as beginning to disappear from view yesterday, as during the second half in particular Kane rediscovered his joie de vivre and, for the first time in around six months, began to hare towards goals, shove defenders aside and effect some nifty footwork as appropriate in order to thump a shot from distance and on-target.
This happened three times in the closing stages, and while each shot was admittedly of the meat-slash-drink variety for the goalkeeper, each episode felt like a welcome return to the Kane of yore. It was of an ilk not seen so far this season, during the World Cup or generally ever since that ankle injury vs Bournemouth in March.
4. Late Concession
Our second goal was Sunday-best sort of material, and allowed us to canter towards minute 90 in pretty rare fettle – but this being what it is, and our lot being who they are, there was naturally one of those plot twists that is advertised as “Unexpected”, even though one had a pretty hefty inkling it was coming all along.
Brighton’s goal was the latest in a pretty meaty catalogue of Fairly Soft Goals Conceded By THFC In Season 2018/19, on top of which there was still time for us to lose possession and usher them in for another shot at goal, despite there only being around 90 seconds on the clock.
I suspect if that had gone in cracks might have appeared in the sky and an impromptu riot begun by Spurs fans across the land, so thank heavens for the safe hands of young Master Gazzaniga.
More broadly however, something does need to be done to stop this particular brand of rot. If we have a lead, and a game is meandering fairly aimlessly towards a victory, the Brains Trust and all involved dashed well need to find a way to ensure that the meandering continues apace and victory ensues with minimal fuss.
Both Watford and Inter were allowed back into games that no casual observer would have believed would finish as anything but a lilywhite victory, and last night we came within a gnat’s wingspan of making an almighty muddle of things yet again. Yesterday’s victory was deserved, but this habit of complicating the serene march to victory really must stop, dash it.
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