Thoughts to follow on the grander scheme of things, but any self-respecting mob will want to follow the scent of blood before they do anything else, so logic dictates that we grab the nearest flaming club and brandish it at the scoundrel chiefly responsible for the game’s deciding moment.
When that corner came in for Antonio’s goal, one could attest, I suppose, in purely physical terms, that Harry Kane was indeed present and in situ, socks pulled up and hair neatly combed. For some onlookers, of a more traditional bent, this might have been sufficient. But what this utter ass did not seem to compute was that simply to stroll back into the area for the corner, confirm his attendance and consider his work thereby done for that particular episode was a dereliction of duty that bordered on disgraceful.
If Antonio had the presence of mind to stick out a pedal as the ball flew across him, why the blazes didn’t Kane do likewise? Had it been up the other end, I’m willing to bet a decent chunk of the mortgage that in his quest for personal glory Kane would have happily enough elbowed out of the way anyone in his path to make sure he was first in line. So when defending, simply to stand observe as Antonio waggled the necessary limb was enough to make me absolutely bellow in fury.
Now this egregious oversight might have been excused if it had been the only blot on the Kane escutcheon today. Instead, for shame, it pretty much summed up the rotter’s entire abysmal performance. Barely a pass of his seemed to find his mark; several moves that threatened to stir into life broke down when the ball reached his feet; and when at 0-0 an opportunity arose to square the ball for a Son tap-in he misjudged the geometry pretty poorly.
One might claim that the whole display from him was unusually neutered, but, depressingly, there was nothing particularly unusual about it. Ever since throwing his toys from the pram after not getting what he wanted in the summer, this supposed model professional has largely gone through the motions. As Monsieur Lloris himself has been quick to point out, our lot lack leaders on the pitch at present, and it would be reasonable to expect Kane to be foremost in this respect. Instead, he barely seems to show even personal pride in his performances.
One might argue that it is rather harsh to castigate the chap so, simply for a lack of mettle when defending a corner, but in a game of fine margins such moments make all the difference. And make no mistake, in this game the margins were wafer-fine.
Personally, I do not subscribe quite so heavily to the view that we were toothless and impotent throughout. While hardly the sort of game in which defences were merrily ripped asunder every thirty seconds, our lot did nevertheless create a handful of chances at 0-0 that, with a little more care, ought to have seen us in front. As mentioned above, Kane had the chance to square to Sonny; Ndombele had a near identical opportunity to square one for Kane; and when a pass was squared from the left for a Skipp tap-in, the baton-exchange was not quite what it ought to have been, and the ball went abaft instead of ahead of the man, which rather shot down the opportunity in its prime.
One understood the irate howls for as higher tempo as our lot carefully poked the ball sideways around halfway, as it hardly gave the impression of lung-busting urgency, but again I was inclined to bend a sympathetic ear to the players on this point. This was chiefly because West Ham did not seem to push anyone forward to press, but simply held their defensive positions, from front to back. As such, space in which to make mischief was at something of a premium. When the AANP voice-box did emit a grumble or two was on the rare occasions that a West Ham nib did fly out of position – as instead of haring away to take advantage of the vacated space, our lot continued to shovel the ball backwards, egads.
But by and large, this seemed to be a game of probing and careful nudging of chess pieces, with much responsibility on the shoulders of Messrs Lucas and Ndombele to produce the necessary fancy footwork that might drag opponents out of position. They struggled to break us down; we struggled to break them down; the game turned on some flat-footed defending from a corner.
I’m not sure if it says anything too complimentary about the rest of the rabble, but with each passing game I’m increasingly inclined to think young Master Skipp the most important cog in the lilywhite machine.
He certainly seems to be one of the few on the payroll willing to do his damnedest for the cause, and several of his Fly-In-Now-Discuss-Later challenges were again in evidence today, indicating an admirable willing.
However, rather alarmingly I also noted a chink in the young bean’s armour, which, once seen, was rather difficult to unsee, if you get my drift. Namely, when the opposition attack, while our centre-backs glance upwards and attach themselves to the most appropriate attacking body – Romero to Antonio, Dier to Benrahma and so forth – Skipp appears not to appreciate the importance of picking up the second wave as it were, the sort of chappies who make a later dash into the box from midfield.
This was particularly evident when Soucek had an unchallenged header in the first half, and happened on another occasion in the first half (although if you want the names and addresses of the witnesses I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere).
Hardly a fatal flaw in young Skipp’s constitution, but it did strike me that some kindly soul ought at some point to tap him on the shoulder and mention that next time an opposing midfielder puts his head down and beelines towards goal, it might be more effective to pump the arms and beeline alongside him, rather than slow to a jog and watch from afar.
That apart, Skipp was as honest as ever. He doesn’t necessarily seem to know quite what to do when up in the opposition area, and his passing hardly scythes through opposing teams – but as neither of those elements are exactly key to his output I think we can wave them by without too much fuss.
4. Odd Refereeing Decisions
Regular diners at the AANP table will be aware that I’m not generally inclined to bash referees, they being only human and the whole practice of interrogating their decisions being, to my mind, not really cricket.
However, VAR is a different kettle of fish, as this allows for – and indeed is created entirely in order to – eradicating human errors by those on the pitch. So, when the Ndombele affair in the first half was waved away as ‘No Penalty’ it would be no exaggeration to say that I popped a blood vessel, hit the roof and turned the air purple with a shower of the fruitiest profanities.
And to my dying day I will consider myself entirely just in having done so. Irrespective of what Ndombele was doing (and frankly the chap seemed to malfunction, treading on the ball with his standing foot if my eyes did not deceive), the fact remains that the defender did not touch the ball, but instead made contact with his leg. The net effect of which was that Ndombele went sprawling as the ball rolled merrily on its way.
In real-time this was rather a messy sequence of affairs, so one understands the on-pitch referee taking one look and deciding he had better things to do; but how the blazes VAR missed this is absolutely beyond me. How the hell was that not a penalty?
That apoplexy having taken the best part of an hour to subside, the AANP blood was again made to boil when Senor Romero was shown the yellow card for, as far as I could tell, the heinous crime of bending over a prostrate opponent and shouting at him. If he had shouted at the ref, I would have fully understood. If he had fouled the player, one would have vaguely followed the ref’s train of thought.
But Romero did none of the above, for heaven’s sake! He won the ball cleanly (a throw-in was awarded), then entered into frank discussion with him – and was cautioned for this! It mattered little in the grand scheme of things, but let that not distract from the fact that it was utter rot and the sort of nonsense for which the ref ought really to taken out the back and given a good thrashing.
The Ndombele incident would presuably have pretty radically altered the timeline if a penalty had been awarded, but even allowing for this, the whole production struck me as a fairly even affair, and, gallingly, one that we certainly ought not to have lost, and probably should have one.
Tweets and whatnot.