The gist of the opening 50 or so minutes is that nothing happened, and at a pretty relentless rate.
Well, for the benefit of the pedants who like things just so, nothing positive happened. Pedantically speaking, there was plenty going on about which to slap palm to forehead and liberally scatter curses.
In fact, the tone was set straight from kick-off, when the ball was rolled back to Toby, and the ensuing opening minute was spent observing – in rather aghast fashion, I don’t mind adding – the sight of each member of our central defensive triumvirate dwelling upon the ball for half a dozen touches, before rolling it sideways to the next member of the Toby-Jan-Davinson axis to do exactly the same. Towards the concept of bright and enterprising forward progression, precious little thought was devoted.
1. Lucas Provides the Saprk
So it was that approximately 49 minutes later, Lucas Moura stumbled upon the dramatic concept of applying some urgency to proceedings. The results were both immediate and gratifying. The Brighton defence, which, until that point, to a man, had been gently dozing as our heroes scratched heads and pottered ineffectively in front of them, were suddenly forced to react to improvised attacking play, and it’s fair to opine that they preferred life the way it had been in the preceding 49-odd minutes.
Lucas, who has about him much of the naturally-talented-but-exasperatingly-selfish playground footballer, took up a position that can probably be loosely described as Central Midfield, and opted each time he received the ball to ignore his teammates and instead try dribbling past every man and his dog bedecked in Brighton black.
Ricochets abounded, and precious little in the way of clear goalscoring chances were created, but the simple act of tearing straight at the heart of the Brighton defence like a rabid beast was enough both to cause obvious discomfort to Brighton, and to rouse all around in lilywhite from their slumbers.
The paying public were invigorated – and not before time – while Lucas’ own teammates took the hint and, one by one and in stages, began to contemplate removing the handbrake.
Ultimately it was another of Lucas’ not entirely flawless slaloms that did the trick, as he ran out of space and flung his hands into the air, while the ball helpfully pinged off several Brighton limbs and into the path of Kane, who did the rest.
Until Lucas’ little display of indulgence precious little creativity had emanated from any of our heroes, so while far from perfect I am quite happy to bestow upon the chap the epithet Gamechanger-In-Chief.
2. Lo Celso’s Impressive Cameo
Every Batman needs a Robin however, and the unlikely sidekick to Lucas, in his sudden twenty-minute burst of intensity, was the rarely-sighted Giovanni Lo Celso.
A fleeting cameo it might have been, but the chap showed numerous tantalising glimpses of talent and appetite for the scrap. Not that he is one of life’s natural scrappers, but it was certainly pleasing to see that upon losing possession he fought like a wronged infant to retrieve it.
Moreover, the aesthetes amongst us could not fail to be impressed by the sight of him receiving the ball and sweetly pinging it first-time to diagonally-positioned chums. None of that six-touch nonsense being peddled so enthusiastically by the back-three in minute one. Lo Celso gave the impression of one who looks this way and that prior to receiving possession, so that as soon as the ball reaches him he can instantly send it elsewhere.
For a rather bizarre fifteen minutes or so, he and Lucas were the architects of the swing of momentum back towards N17.
3. Our Winning Goal and Its Constituent Parts
On Lucas and Lo Celso’s example, various others roused themselves to battle, and ultimately it was a win, comprising greater parts fight than beauty – which in the grand scheme of things is rare enough around N17 to be pretty satisfactory.
That said, the winning goal shone out like a beacon in a land of eternal night-time, boasting a couple of moments of gorgeous quality.
For a start there was the backspun, crossfield ball from Eriksen, over the head of a retreating Brighton bod and into the path of the northward-bound Aurier. Now Eriksen has done much in the last 12 months or so to make himself persona non grata around AANP Towers, but being a reasonable soul I can still appreciate top-notch foot-to-ball contact, and there will be few nuts struck more sweetly this Boxing Day than that particular Eriksen pass.
Credit also by the sackful to Serge Aurier. He may display much about him of the leaking pipe when asked to do the defensive thing, but stick him in and around the opposition area and his eyes seem to light up.
Admittedly he was prompted to dash towards the byline by the irresistible cross from Eriksen, but once there, he displayed a hitherto unknown delicacy in cushioning a volley backwards into the onrushing Dele. It was a pretty difficult-looking skill to execute, but one he did like one trained in the art for years.
And finally, Dele, a man transformed under Jose, had the presence of mind to whizz through the pretty long list of ways in which he might have made a pig’s ear of the finish, ignore them all and instead deliver the required coup de grace with an impressive combo of delicacy and power.
4. Winks Frustrates Again
Another curious – and largely frustrating – chapter in the life of Harry Winks. Stationed as one half of a two-man defensive barricade that barely had a defensive bone in its two bodies, the onus on Winks was largely to collect the ball from those within earshot and spray accordingly.
I suppose by the letter of the law he generally did this. He just did it in such a frustratingly defensive fashion that one was inclined to click the tongue and ask what the hell the point of it was. Time and again he received possession, swerved as if to go forwards, much to the delight of the paying public, and then checked, as if the angel on his shoulder had called an impromptu conference and was delivering some pretty stern words, and before one could yelp “Just travel forward with the ball, dash it”, he had swerved back towards his own goal, and taken the distribution option marked ‘Safety First, Safety Always’.
Watching the aforementioned Eriksen ping for our second goal did make me yearn for Winks to show a little more ambition in his passing. One suspects that the chap has such tricks lurking in his top hat, but alas, one of life’s risk-takers he is not. (Unless the risk involves scything down an opponent in bookable fashion, in which case he’s all for it.)
Gratingly, the one flash of invention he did display was such a peach of a pass that Harry Kane felt obliged to dab it into the net, only for VAR to rear its automated head. A few more of those such game-changing passes, however, would not go amiss.