Hojbjerg seems to be a chappie who divides opinion amongst the better half of North London. The Brains Trust evidently rate him, as they keep him out there every available minute, but if the baying mob ever need someone in whom to stick the knife and give it a twist, the initials P.E.H. are rarely far from the lips.
This can at least partly be explained by the fact that he rarely gets the more glamorous assignments. While Sonny is belting volleys so hard they rip the net from its moorings, poor old Hojbjerg’s matchday highlights tend to occur in locations such as the halfway line, obscured by flailing limbs from all sides and typically taking take the form of an ungainly lunge to prevent catastrophe befalling in three passes time.
It is a measure of the aplomb with which he carried out the most menial tasks going that Hojbjerg managed to catch the AANP eye as one of the night’s premier cast members. For make no mistake, this was not a victory fashioned from a solid back-three. Far from it. This was a win built upon the occasional clicking of our various attacking parts – the defence appeared generally to be using a completely different playbook. In fact, if anything the defence seemed oddly intent upon sabotaging the whole thing at every opportunity, and without too much subtlety either.
Step forward Master Hojbjerg, who from the off made clear he wasn’t in the market for any defensive clownery. While those around – or, more specifically, behind – him bumped into each other and played fast and loose with possession, Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself as a matter of personal pride that no individual duel would be lost, and for good measure any loose ball would be seized.
On top of which, the sound fellow also identified the value in adding his presence to our attacks, and could regularly be spotted tagging along as our heroes motored over halfway and towards the Frankfurt net.
Indeed, such was his daring in this regard that he even managed to do that for which we’ve been crying out from our right wing-backs all season, viz. scuttling past a couple of opponents on the right, reaching the byline and delivering the perfect pass, in teeing up Sonny for his wonder-strike.
There’s an important asterisk to shove in at this point, for it should not be considered that this assist was the sole contribution of the man, nor that for this reason alone has he earned top billing for the day at AANP Towers. Had he simply done his best Emerson Royal impression at this juncture and slowed to a stop before knocking the ball into the nearest defender and frantically waving his arms, Hojbjerg’s would still have been a standout display. His cross for Sonny simply added a little garnish, to a performance that was otherwise drenched in sweat and lactic acid.
Fans of A-listers are no doubt demanding to know when the acclaim for Sonny and Kane will kick in, but next on the roster is young Sessegnon.
Following the Hojbjerg example, Sessegnon made sure he carried out all the dull admin work, diligently tracking his man and dangling an appropriate leg, and generally adopting a risk-free approach to life when in his own half that some of his more experienced associates might have done well to ape.
But it was when revving up the engine and hurtling off towards the Frankfurt goal that Sessegnon really caught the eye. It is hardly a secret that The Conte System involves frequent knowing nods towards the wing-backs when on the front-foot, so it was a joy to see 50% of those wing-backs taking the hint and hitting the final third at a fair old lick at every opportunity.
Sessegnon created the headed chance for Richarlison in the opening knockings; weighted a lovely pass for one of Sonny’s saved chances; wormed his way into two clear goalscoring opportunities himself; and, while the record books will simply gloss over the fact without so much as a blot of ink, his head of steam into the Frankfurt area handily lured away the last remaining defender, which allowed Sonny the space to spank home his second.
Those who know AANP best will be aware that I’ve generally regarded young Sessegnon with a rather stern and unforgiving eye, but that same knowledgeable mob would also attest that I’m nothing if not fair – and if the young whelp plans on making a habit of performances like this he’ll be most welcome to pull up a perch and enjoy a splash of the good stuff at my expense.
3. Sonny and Kane
The murmur around the place at about the hour mark was that this might have been the best our lot have played all season.
(Of course, it couldn’t last, and despite not adding the fourth goal that would have sewn the thing up, they rather regressed somewhat as the game wore on, in much the style of a mob who had just added a fourth goal and sewn the thing up. On top of which, they somehow managed to make playing against ten men look like playing against twelve, which had me clutching at my fellow man in alarm on more than one occasion; but our lot will persist in making the hardest possible work of things.)
Back to the good times, and before and after half-time it would be no exaggeration to say that at times our lot absolutely purred. Key to this, it struck me, was that, for possibly the first time this season, Sonny and Kane simultaneously found something like their groove. To date it seems to have been one or t’other. On Tuesday, it was both. On top of which Richarlison was as eager as ever, all elbows and upper-body strength, generally making himself a nuisance to opponents and a most useful accomplice to teammates.
I banged on rather interminably at the weekend about how Son’s powers are reduced considerably when he drops deep and tries to hold up or link play, as opposed to a far more potent deployment at the apex of things. Against Frankfurt however, he was restored to his former glories. The ball was generally pinged towards the vicinity of Kane, handily attracting Frankfurters to him like moths to a flame, and Sonny raced off into the wide open expanses ahead.
It brought about two goals and numerous other glorious moves, the sort that decency really demanded ought to have resulted in further additions to the scoreline. And various other supporting cast members, no doubt inspired by what they saw, were moved to contribute in their own specific ways. As mentioned, Hojbjerg and Sess contributed to Son’s second; and even Emerson, otherwise as fat-headed as ever, pinged the pass into Kane that set up Sonny for our first of the night.
As mentioned, Kane seemed to have the Frankfurt defence on the fabled piece of string about which the N17 faithful love to sing, manoeuvring them in whichever direction he fancied in order to release his chums. This seemed to be the tactic of choice, and was working a treat; so you can picture my surprise when Kane took it upon himself to set off on the charge and stumble his way past four defenders before being bunged to the ground. Now admittedly this was not Ginola vs Barnsley in ‘99, having about it more clunk than class, and owing a certain debt of gratitude to the good old-fashioned ricochet.
Nevertheless, it was a heck of a run for the chap, who had a look in his eyes that said “I will not be beaten (unless anyone touches me in the area, in which case I’m hitting the deck pronto”). In a season that has oddly failed to come alight to date, that run by Kane, coupled with Son’s volley, provided the biggest hint yet that our forward line might be about to spring into life.
4. Gil and The All-Action-No-Plot Finale
As mentioned, having been well in control, our lot contrived to very nearly throw the whole blasted thing down the pan in the utterly bizarre final ten or so.
As the hour mark came and went, and despite my imploring yowls from afar, those on the pitch resolutely stuck to the approach of complacently mooching from side to side rather than hammering away at the Frankfurt goal. Even when Frankfurt were reduced to ten, the party line seemed to be to conserve energy for future fights.
Our Glorious Leader can take some part of the blame for this too, the move to replace half the outfield players bringing about a noticeable dip in standards. (One understands in theory the decision to take off Dier when on a yellow card, but it nevertheless struck me as an ill thought-through gambit, resulting as it did in the dreaded combination of Emerson and Royal on the right side of defence.)
With the urgency visibly draining away from our mob, it was utterly predictable that Frankfurt should pull one back – via the usual dreadful contribution from Emerson – leaving the entire viewing public to endure major coronary episodes, right up to the final kick of the game.
In the midst of all this poor old Bryan Gil was flung on. As cameos go it was about as entertaining as they came, albeit revealing nothing we didn’t know before: the lad is a box of tricks, and boasts not an ounce of muscle on his frame. Each of these aspects were illustrated for all to see, as he twisted a succession of defenders inside out before being clattered out of the way by one whose patience had run out.
The whole episode of the second penalty was rather a lot to take in, featuring as it did a Gil run being abruptly terminated when he forgot to take the ball with him; after which a Frankfurt johnnie rather charmingly waited until everyone had vacated the defence before gifting it back to him; at which point he seemed set to dribble past everybody who came within ten yards of him; before being upended so that Kane could belt the penalty off into the High Road.
Gil might still have had his moment of glory, when Kane had the opportunity to roll him the ball for a tap-in; but, seemingly convinced that what his failed penalty had lacked was even more power, Kane absolutely blasted the cross towards the poor chap, who produced a horizontal leap that looked mightily impressive, but was ultimately of little value given his failure to be eight feet tall.
Thus we ended the night high on action and pretty empty on plot, as is our way. Still, the improvement in attacking interplay and numerous clear chances created – without resorting to sitting back and countering – bodes very well. On top of which, the pre-match consensus had been that a win, delivered in any manner, was crucial – so for all the late madness, this ultimately was a job well done.