1. A Decent Winks Moment
Given current circumstances at N17, I suspect most of us would have taken an early goal in just about any format, but there was particular delight to be had in celebrating an opener such as yesterday’s, which had about it finery in its every component.
For a start, there was the role of young Winks. As has been well advertised for some time now, Winks is the sort of bounder who is liable to swing pretty heavily in one of two polarising directions. Sometimes a buccaneering type, adventure coursing through the veins and happy to smatter handy passes about the place; but oftentimes a rather tiresome egg, shovelling the damn thing sideways and then trotting after it to demand it back, only then to shovel it backwards and repeat the whole routine from the top.
Yesterday, however, he played the game. Collecting the ball on the half-turn inside his own half, he made his first smart choice in giving the rudder a yank so that he was facing the Leeds end; then followed up with a second S.C. by scampering off like a terrier that has spotted a goodish looking tennis ball, his little legs taking him to the heady heights of the halfway line.
At this point, with options abounding thanks to the movement of his superiors in attack, young Winks took the opportunity to melt the AANP heart by playing my favourite pass in the world. If you’ve ever wandered these parts before you’ll know exactly the one I mean, and are probably rolling your eyes and urging me to get on with it – but nothing makes this particular spine tingle quite like a perfectly-weighted pass inside the full-back, and Winks hit the sweet spot.
And at this point, young Master Sessegnon grabbed the mic and seized the day. If Winks displays flashes that are occasionally good and occasionally bad, poor old Sessegnon has been accumulating nothing but the rotten stuff of late. If ever a blighter needed to dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and unwrap a spot of game-changing produce, that blighter was Sessegnon.
Having been let off the leash by Winks’ pass Sessegnon duly ticked all the necessary boxes – haring onto the thing and then delivering a peach of a cross into the centre, the sort of cross so invitingly whipped that only a man of the dullest intelligence would have contrived to miss out on it.
Nor was this an isolated incident, which is more the point really. On the front-foot, Sessegnon played with the gay abandon of a soul strangely untroubled by any of his recent trials. In recent weeks he has merely tiptoed forward, with the sheepish air of a cove who, not feeling he belongs, considers his best options to be either bursting into tears or running away to the safety of his own half – in short, anything but contributing in confident and productive manner.
Yesterday, however, he bobbed about the place like a man from whose shoulders the weight of the world had recently been removed, and who was dashed well going to celebrate the fact.
Take a look at our second and third goals, and the chap furthest up the pitch on the left was Sessegnon. With Sonny dragging the Leeds right back infield as if a small animal on a string for sport, there were acres in front of Sessegnon and he duly bounded into them at every opportunity.
My soul was also stirred by the quality of his crossing. As noted, the delivery for Doherty’s goal was the sort of good stuff that attracted top marks for everything from geometrical precision to the timing of the gag, and in the early stages of the game in particular, seemingly well aware that he was onto a good thing, he took to dashing down the left and pinging crosses into the area as if the whole thing were a new toy that he couldn’t get enough of.
The early flurry then subsiding, it was time for Sessegnon to ditch the frivolity and get on with the more sombre business of defending his corner. With the elastic-legged Raphinha up against him this threatened to be taxing stuff. Now admiring though I am of Sessegnon’s all-round performance yesterday, I hesitate to turn this into some sort of propaganda leaflet for the chap. So let history record that he made a moderate stab of the defensive side of things, but life in this quarter was not without its hitches.
In plain English, once or twice he was bested. Once or twice, of course, he himself emerged triumphant from the battle of wills and limbs; but once or twice he was bested. In sum, therefore, I suppose you could say it was an even sort of thing.
A sterner judge than AANP might also note that he received a caution for one of his less impressive endeavours, and also contributed a pretty ghastly pass that put into motion the sequence that saw Lloris go racing off into a different postcode, leaving the Leeds chappie to make a pig’s ear of an open goal. All side-splitting stuff come the punchline, but let it not be overlooked that its genesis was the errant boot of Sessegnon.
So all told, definitely one of the lad’s better days, and promising stuff for all who consider paradise to be a world littered with wing-backs who can offer value in the final third; but let it not be overlooked that he is not yet fitted with the all the necessary equipment.
And on the subject of wing-backs who can offer value in the final third, Matt Doherty looked frightfully pleased with himself for his early contribution, and as well he might.
His finish itself was well taken, but probably no more than that. I think we’d have all have felt pretty disappointed if he had spooned the ball off into the atmosphere somewhere wide of the mark, given the quality of the delivery and relative lack of impediments standing in his way. So well done him.
But more than the finish, the impressive thing here was that Doherty had first hit upon the idea of bolting into the area as the apex of the attack, and then had undertaken the necessary spadework to ensure that this dream became reality.
Had any of Kane, Son or Kulusevski assumed the role of ‘Unnamed Extra Applying Finishing Touch’ one would have breezily shrugged it off as part of the day-job, and joined in with the back-slaps and high-fives as if the whole process were the most natural thing in the world. Arriving in the area to apply the finishing touch is, after all, one of the first bullet-points on the job description of such folk.
For Doherty to have dabbled in this area, however, makes one sit up and chew the thing over a bit. For a start, this was no freak occurrence. Sometimes, for example in the aftermath of a set-piece, a bean such as Davinson Sanchez or Eric Dier or whomever might find himself slap bang in the middle of the six-yard box with the ball bouncing kindly at his right foot and the goal at his mercy. Serendipitous, of course, but hardly part of the masterplan.
Doherty’s arrival as leader of the cavalry, however, seemed to be the conclusion of something that had had a good deal more production value and rehearsal time. When Winks received the ball in his own half – even before he had turned to set off towards the halfway line – Doherty had taken that as his cue and was already switching to Sprint mode, overtaking each of Kane, Son and Kulusevski in the process.
Obviously a joyous conclusion was then reached in this particular sub-plot, but the broader narrative seemed to be something along the lines that here, finally, was an example of a pair of wing-backs making maximum use of all the natural assets bestowed upon them by Mother Nature.
I have rarely been shy of preaching on these very pages of the positive, transformative effect that a good, wholesome, attacking pair of wing-backs can have upon a team, and the contributions of both Sessegnon with his cross and Doherty in having the good sense to motor to the front of the queue, demonstrated this.
Of course, playing a team as tactically naïve and wide open as Leeds did chivvy the thing along no end, and by the final knockings even Emerson Royal was popping up in the centre-forward position, so one ought probably ought not to get too carried away by either the system or the contribution of Doherty. But nevertheless, it was heartening stuff.
One question that remained unanswered by yesterday’s goings-on was around the crossing of Doherty. Emerson’s repeated attempts in this area over the last few months have driven me close to apoplexy, so I tuned in yesterday with pretty feverish anticipation of what delights Doherty might bestow. Alas, I’m not sure I remember him delivering one cross the whole game. The early knockings bore fruit from the left, and later on our tactic became counter-attacking via the size nines of Kane, so there is no further evidence to submit.
But when that rotter Harry Kane is drifting off into his own little world, far advanced of the mere mortals around him, I suppose it does not really matter whether or not one’s right wing-back can cross or not. Such considerations recede in importance. This seemed also to be the train of thought of Kane. In fact, just about every other position on the pitch, and the identities of those occupying them, seemed to recede in importance in the mind of Kane, in the second half, as he took it upon himself to orchestrate every bally thing.
It was ripping stuff. As and when the whim took him, he would collect the ball on the half-turn and calmly bisect with one expertly-judged pass the entire Leeds back-line, with all the languid ease of a man stroking his knife through butter. These moments caused a bit of sensation, leading to such highlights as Doherty’s one-on-one and Sonny’s goal.
But as well as the headline-grabbing stuff, what really caused the punters to murmur was the fact that as the game wore on he gradually just assumed a position of complete control of everything that was happening on the pitch. It rather reminded me of that skinny fellow in the cinematic flick “The Matrix”, who after a while exerted so much control over the ones and zeroes that he just sauntered about the place doing as he bade, and the assorted villains could do little more than say, “Righto”, and leave him to it.
Thus did Kane dominate things. Just wandering about the midfield, collecting the ball and doing whatever he damn well pleased with it. If he were not our best striker he’d arguably be our best midfielder, and towards the death he could be spotted tracking back feverishly in the right-back vicinity, as if to make a further point.
As last week against City, so yesterday against Leeds, his actual goal seemed almost an afterthought, despite being one heck of a finish. Many an inferior striker would have been overcome by the arc of the pass, the angle from which the ball dropped, the tightness of the angle to goal and multiple other taxing elements at play. Kane simply extended a casual limb and deposited the thing in the net.
5. Chances Conceded
Four-nil is obviously a thrashing in anyone’s book, and after the events of recent weeks, when the general sentiment has been that if it is not one thing it is dashed well going to be another, it was a very welcome turn of events too.
Leeds for their part looked like they could keep playing until the end of the year without scoring, such was the dizzying wealth of ways in which they contrived to miss fairly straightforward opportunities. And while this no doubt made for entertaining viewing, it did stir some nameless foreboding deep within me. That is to say, they seemed to carve us open rather too often and too easily, what?
Obviously one does not want to bring down the mood of the thing. If an away day brings four goals and three points then I would be the last person to request that the noise is kept down. But whereas last week we were so systematically organised that City could barely fashion a clear chance – relying on a goalkeeping flap and an iffy penalty – yesterday Leeds seemed to carve us open every five minutes.
Watching them tip-toe time and again to the very brink of our net, I did feel a sense of concern. Had we conceded at three-nil you would not have found a bullish, confident AANP, insisting that ‘twas merely a flesh-wound. You’d have found instead a deeply troubled AANP, convinced that some terrible fate lurked, and was going to upgrade from “lurking” to “dashed well happening” in a matter of minutes.
That we didn’t concede that first goal seemed to owe little to our own defensive capabilities, and much to the inability of Leeds to hit the target.
I suppose it is not one about which I should lose too much sleep, for the next game will be another day, and we may well tighten things up both in defence and in those more porous parts of the midfield. And for large parts of the second half in particular, our game-management and control of possession actually ticked along reasonably well. Nevertheless, for all the frivolity about the place at the final whistle, it seemed to me that a soft warning had been sounded, which those in power might do well to cast an eye over.