1. Spursy vs Conte
If you’ve stopped by this corner of the interweb you will know well that after the chortling against Woolwich and nail-chomping against Burnley, last week the ingrained pessimism of being a Spurs fan well and truly pulled on its gloves and got down to business, so that by the time Norwich rolled around the feeling was not so much whether we’d blow things but simply in what farcical manner we’d do so.
The AANP wad was staked on a Brighton-esque meandering for 88 minutes followed by concession of a late goal and an all-too late rally, but in truth the possibilities and potential for doom seemed pretty endless. As kick-off approached, that need to avoid defeat took on a pretty ghastly hue. Memories of lasagne and Tyneside batterings set up shop in the mind.
All of which slathers the praise for Our Glorious Leader all the more thickly about the place. Relegated and pretty clueless though Norwich might have been, they were not the main villain here by any stretch. As recently as a few months ago, at the last dregs of the Nuno era, this remained a Spurs vintage drenched in the ability to make a pig’s ear of the most straightforward of tasks.
To see our lot therefore casually brush off all concerns of self-sabotage and disaster, and simply don their professional garb and set about getting the thing done from minute one, jolly relieving though it was, also had me clutching at the nearest stable point, giving the eyes a quick rub and generally questioning my senses.
As mentioned, the concern in this quarter was that we might witness some doppelganger of the Brighton defeat. In this respect, it certainly helped that Norwich were a few miles off the quality of even Brighton. Where Brighton had Bissouma patrolling the central decks and sniffing at Kane’s size nines every opportunity, Norwich simply waved a cheery hand at the midfield and left us to do it, which didn’t half help chivvy things along.
Nevertheless, obliging opponents will only take things so far. The operation still required all on Team Lilywhite to put on serious faces and play the game a bit – and this they did pretty relentlessly, from the off until deep into the second half, at which point the lead was five and even by our standards it seemed a safe bet.
The anthem from the off seemed to be, ‘Prod, probe, and prod and probe again, and make sure you do it briskly and accurately’. Moreover, one got the impression that even with Norwich rolling over and practically begging to have their tummies tickled, Signor Conte would have grabbed by the neck anyone not delivering the goods and bellowed in their faces until matters improved.
And again, taking all this into account, one can only sing the praises of the man, and when done, pick a different key and sing them all over again. The mentality amongst our lot has not so much changed on his watch, as switched one hundred and eighty degrees, and for good measure seen the old mentality burnt to a cinder. There can be little clearer proof of this than the fact that when needing to avoid defeat our lot pointedly trotted out and stuffed the other lot by five.
2. Bentancur and Hojbjerg
I mentioned above that Norwich did not exactly treat the midfield region as some gladiatorial arena in which bloodied limbs were to be strewn and every inch fought for like the dickens. Quite the opposite. They seemed happy to back out of the way and cede that patch of land in its entirety. A curious ploy, and not one teeming with overpowering logic, or indeed effectiveness, but there it was.
Messrs Bentancur and Hojbjerg therefore took one look at the wide open spaces and promptly marched into them unopposed, which seemed reasonable enough. And continuing the theme of reasonable choices, once camp had been set up in midfield, and it became clear that any Norwich bods about the place were providing decorative value only, our midfield pair unfurled their more creative sides. Cautiously at first, understandably enough, but they soon got into the spirit of the thing and embraced the moment.
Hojbjerg in particular seemed to relish the opportunity. When the grass was still wet with morning dew he could be spotted shaking a limb or two in the Norwich area, evidently noting that here was an opportunity to recreate the glory of his attacking cameos at Euro 2020, or 2021, or whatever decorum dictates we call it.
Bentancur followed suit, but in rather more apologetic manner. Where Hojbjerg had been presented with a shooting opportunity from inside the area and greedily lashed at it with every ounce of his being, Bentancur adopted a far more relaxed attitude when Norwich parted at the moorings (via a Hojbjerg pass) and allowed him an eternity to pick his spot from close range.
Such vulgar acts as lashing a shot goalwards with ferocity are obviously beneath Bentancur, who prefers to imbue his contributions with class and elan. Seemingly disgusted at the notion of having to apply the finishing touch himself, he tried instead to invert the entire pitch, somehow dragging the ball backwards for one of the more uncouth sorts to bundle the thing in.
Bentancur was it at again five minutes later, looking almost embarrassed to collect the ball when handed to him on a plate by Tim Krul (who was evidently keen to undo all the good of that one-man barricade he presented against us a few years back), before gracefully chipping the ball towards Kane, in a manner which punished the mistake without twisting the knife and drawing too much attention to it. AANP looked on with approval.
Thereafter Bentancur was content to withdraw to a more behind-the-scenes role, making himself available and collecting on the half-turn, in that dreamy fashion that seems to be the unique gift of a chosen few. Hojbjerg meanwhile continued to have the time of his life, evidently aware that the Norwich midfield is a pretty rare treat and throwing himself forward with gusto.
With Skipp to return and signings presumably incoming it is debatable quite how many more afternoons this particular pair will enjoy in each other’s company, so in common with various others around them, I was rather pleased that proceedings were such that, as against Woolwich a few weeks back, they were able to enjoy themselves and lap up a spot of appreciation from the assorted onlookers.
It would be stretching things to say that this was a mixed bag from young Master Kulusevski, because in truth it was another tour de force. A solid hour of perspiration topped off with a very welcome opener – coming, as it did, early enough to put to bed the nerves – and one heck of a finish in the second half.
That second goal in particular was fashioned from pretty spectacular stuff, beginning as it did with the young bean gently meandering toward the corner flag, before suddenly taking a sharp turn towards the spectacular and curling one of those glorious efforts that start outside the post but then shift-ho midway through its journey.
Nevertheless, awkward though it is, the really eye-catching moment in Kulusevski’s afternoon came a minute or two prior to that, when he produced a deceptive burst of pace and rounded the goalkeeper. At that point it appeared that only the formalities remained, what with the ‘keeper flailing in a different postcode and the net opening its arms in a welcoming embrace.
Bizarrely though, having until this point shown himself to be pretty adept at matters of consequence in the final third, the lad then seemed to lose track of how many feet he had, and things rather went downhill from there. I do wonder whether he was preoccupied with thoughts of enabling Sonny to get on the scoresheet, but whatever his motivations the outcome was pretty disastrous, and what ought to have been a straightforward tap in ended in an unsightly bundle of limbs, with the ball gently bobbing off in another direction.
Mercifully, this particular wrong was promptly righted with his wonder-strike moments later, and ought not to detract not only from another sterling display, but also the fact that his arrival has coincided with a pretty seismic upturn in our fortunes.
4. Sonny’s Golden Touch
Having said all that about various others, the star of the show ought really to be Sonny, and he’s evidently a popular sort, judging by the fanfare and ovation he was being afforded by his on-pitch chums as he edged closer to the Golden Boot. But it’s indicative of how underrated the fellow is that even at AANP Towers he gets shunted quite a long way down the list, behind Bentancur and Hojbjerg dash it.
This is actually quite the injustice. His second goal gave proof – not that any is required these days – that his nose for goal is right up there with the best, and if anything it was quite the curiosity to see his two straightforward second half chances culminate in the successful extension of a goalkeeping limb or two, rather than a net-ripple and celebratory finger-photo-frame-whatnot.
Sonny is evidently the principal beneficiary of Kane’s exploratory lumberings into deeper territory, blessed as he is both with blistering pace (including with ball at feet, which is not to be sniffed at) and, as mentioned, an increasingly ruthless streak in front of goal.
As well as being genuinely world class (by which I suppose I mean he would waltz into just about any team in the world) he also fits the system perfectly. Week after week he delivers the goods, both in front of goal and through his general movement, in and out of possession. And yet the fellow rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as other luminaries of the era – nor, more to the point, does he feature to highly on AANP’s post-match verbal meanderings.
One to bear in mind for the future I suppose, but for now it seems appropriate that he at least received the glory of an individual award recognised beyond the streets of N17.
5. Ben Davies
There has been some talk of summer signings including a new left-sided centre-back, and while upgrades are always welcome it would be a little harsh on poor old Ben Davies, who has fought the good fight with bundles of pluck and gusto this season. The circle of life and all that, and as Davies himself would presumably attest, being an honourable sort of egg, anything for the greater good is to lauded.
However, as I saw the chap doing his darnedest to prod us into life with forward passes from an inside-left-midfield sort of berth, or adopt the correct defensive stance as necessary in his own area, the thought did strike me that this might be something of a swansong.
He’ll almost certainly have a part to play next season, new signings or otherwise, what with fixtures piling up and the unique input provided by virtue of being Chappie With a Left Foot, so this was no tear-stained adieu.
But nevertheless, once the idea popped into my head, it rather stuck there, what? With each flying challenge and surprisingly testing long-range shot I looked at the blighter with a sort of avuncular fondness, noting proudly how far he has come. And while Norwich, to repeat, barely extended an arm, let alone laid a glove, Davies nevertheless spent the afternoon diligently applying all that he has learnt from Conte over the months – the forward dashes, the attacking input, the defensive solidity.
In a way, Davies represented much of our lot in a microcosm, having massively improved and bought into the system, but potentially due to be elbowed aside for someone newer and shinier come 22/23. Being a model pro, however, and given the spirit that Conte seems to have engendered, I suspect that he’ll be fully on board nonetheless.