When Juan Foyth’s name and number was fanfared pre-kickoff, we lilywhite hordes did the civil thing and wished the young bean well, with images of his rather painful flurry of mishaps from last week’s debut trot still pretty fresh in the memory.
The early signs in this week’s concerto, it seems fair to say, were not the rosiest. A clumsy foul here, a strong contender for the 2018 instalment of Most Idiotic Concession of a Corner there, and within fifteen minutes one was already casting anxious glances in the direction of Our Glorious Leader as to whether the decent thing might simply be to hook the young fish and let him pass out the rest of his lilywhite days in the U23s.
Such a rush to judgement proved wildly misguided. Thereafter, young Foyth handled himself with several hefty slabs of aplomb.
Now one might argue that the Palace attack, baring as it did all the threat of a kitten entangled in a ball of wool, did not pose the fiercest threat, particularly when shorn of young Master Zaha.
However, spirited defenders of the boy Foyth might very reasonably counter by pointing to the weather, the nerves, the rollicking home crowd and the fact that everyone in Palace colours had read the memo recommending that whenever young Foyth went within sniffing distance of the ball he was to be homed in upon by anyone in the vicinity not otherwise engaged. The nub of the thing is that this was no cakewalk for the chap.
To his credit as a ball-playing footballer, and as a man of mental fortitude and fire-filled belly, he metamorphosed during the following hour or so into one heck of a dependable egg. His composure in possession did give the occasional palpitation but was broadly laudable, while his actual day-job of defending became increasingly impressive, in a right-place-right-time sort of way.
With Messrs Sanchez, Vertonghen and Dier at differing stages of fitness, Foyth’s performance does makes the world seem a cheerier place.
On top of which, his goal was poached with impressive swiftness of thought and movement, and was greeted with pretty unrestrained joy by his colleagues, which suggests that he’s a popular chap amongst the gang.
It speaks volumes about the instantly forgettable first half that its highlight was a marauding stroll past four opponents, finishing with a blocked shot, by one Moussa Sissoko, but that was where we found ourselves.
Let not that detract however, from the latest oddly impressive showing from our limited but effective cult hero.
Seemingly now fully aware that his role in proceedings is simply to follow two or three basic instructions, Sissoko patiently fed early balls to Trippier/Aurier in no-frills fashion; obediently tracked back to assist the aforementioned in defence as required; and occasionally trotted out his mesmerising dispossess-and-gallop routine.
Simple it might have been, but it also became pretty dashed effective, and as all around him laboured to unpick the Palace defence Sissoko suddenly started to emerge as a star shining particularly brightly amongst the lilywhite ranks.
By the time the second half was in full swing, the honest fellow was beginning to display hitherto unknown flashes of quality. A delightful first-time cushioned lay-off, some wrong-footing of oncoming foes whilst on the charge – it was bewildering, but mightily impressive stuff.
I still wouldn’t trust the blighter to knock a square pass five yards to a team-mate unchallenged if I were told to pick any professional footballer ever and have my life depend on it, for he retains within his genetic constitution something of the clumsy and calamitous; but in recent weeks the applause for Sissoko at AANP Towers has segued from ironic to sincere.
The occasional panicked flap there may have been, but this will go down as one of Monsieur Lloris’ performances from the column marked “Game-Saving Stuff”.
Some saves were relatively routine, and some were of the faster-than-the-naked-eye-can-clearly-detect ilk, but after an unflustered opening hour or so our resident gate-keeper was called upon on several occasions, and can reflect with some serenity today as he collects the weekly envelope that this was a salary well-earned.
Doubts still nibble away, around his catching, kicking and sprinting hopelessly from his line, but the case for his abilities as a shot-stopper is pretty cut and dry.
4. Lack of Forward Thinking in Midfield
If sitting through the opening hour made your heart swell and pulse race then you’re made of sturdier stuff than I.
Palace, as noted above, might as well not have bothered crossing halfway for all the threat they offered until around the 70-minute mark; but our heroes, for all their possession, seemed to consider actually exploring the route to the opposition goal to be way down the list of priorities.
It was pretty infuriating stuff to behold, particularly in central midfield. Perhaps the weekly diet of Eriksen, with his keen eye and delicate thread of pass, has spoiled me, but none of those employed for the task seemed to cotton on the fact that taking their own sweet time about things, and looking sideways and backwards as a first instinct, served only to swell the massed ranks of Palace defenders.
Where Dembele or Winks will receive possession and immediately explore the options that lay in a northerly direction, yesterday Wanyama, Sissoko and Dele seemed to treat forward distribution as the absolute last resort.
A win is a win, as sure as eggs is eggs, and a goal from a set-piece has value in its own special way, but good grief – until we nabbed them on the counter late on there was precious little about which to beat the drum and yell a rousing chorus.
5. Hanging On. Again.
So after a turgid opening hour in which we hogged possession and did nothing with it; and a ten-minute spell after our goal in which we hogged possession and smoked cigars a little more nonchalantly than a one-goal cushion really merited; the game culminated in the inevitable nail-biting final twenty minutes in which we desperately clung on to the lead with the sort knuckle-whitening tension of which Hitchcock would have been proud.
On paper this string of victories, and the cosy position snugly ensconced within the Top Four, might give the uninitiated the impression that all is bright and breezy at Casa Tottenham. Oh that this were so.
The truth is that given the choice between an eternity spent in the fires of hell or the opportunity to escape and instead watch Spurs trying to close out a win, the souls of the damned would as likely as not opt for the never-ending flames, for there really is no strain upon the nerves comparable to seeing our lot doing the last-ditch routine for the final ten-to-fifteen, particularly given that they will have spent the previous half hour casually missing chance after chance.
Somehow, incredibly, we pull it off every time, in the sort of fashion that would have Houdini stroking his chin suspiciously. But this skin-of-the-teeth stuff seems utterly unsustainable; and if it is indeed sustainable it should frankly be banned on the grounds of being damaging to public health, because viewing it is enough to prompt any man of even the most regular constitution yelp in anguish and start birthing kittens.
Can someone please instruct our heroes to do the honourable thing and start wrapping up these matches by three or four goals so that we can all let the final ten minutes drift by with the serenity of an ocean cruise?
That aside, this was most satisfactory.
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