1. Same Old Same Old
For those of us so distracted by all that World Cup guff that we forgot how the good souls of N17 go about their business, our heroes helpfully wasted no time at all in reminding us of their preferred Don’t-Bother-Until-Two-Down gambit.
No point in fighting it at this stage. Best just to shrug the shoulders, stiffen the upper lip and accept. They’ve had a whole month to chew over the tactics, practise their drills and so on, and this is the result, so no matter how nonsensical it seems to those of us in the outside world, the plan – of waiting until two down and then going full throttle for the final 30 – is evidently here to stay.
There is of course a temptation categorise our performance as only fitting the extremes of Gubbins on the one hand and England-vs-Holland-at-Euro-96 on the other; but actually there are plenty of nuances in between, and I thought our lot hit a few of those yesterday.
In possession in the first half, even at 0-0, I thought we at occasionally least tried, to force matters. It was not as turgid and sideways as it has sometimes been. Hojbjerg in particular seemed struck by an urge to get through his day’s work in a hurry, and generally tried to shovel the ball along tout de suite, often looking for a diagonal pass “in between the lines”, as they say, which seemed a pretty progressive idea.
Of course, behind him Eric Dier was doing his best to negate any such urgency, the fellow seemingly deciding that, having spent a lifetime receiving the ball and taking approximately 23 touches before distributing it, he would be damned if he were going to change the routine so soon after Christmas. So this was a bit of a spanner in Hojbjerg’s plan, but help was on hand from other quarters, notable Sonny, who at least seemed to recognise what the Dane was attempting and bobbed up in space to receive the thing.
Short we may have been on clear-cut chances in the opening hour or so, but intermittently there were clearly recognisable attempts from various members of the clan to insert themselves deep within enemy territory and fashion something. Nevertheless, it wasn’t quick or inventive enough, until we conceded the second and the whole bally lot of them reacted like a bunch of Roman slaves being freed from their shackles and given the run of the town.
2. Dreadful Goals Conceded
Beavering about in slightly uninspiring fashion might have been bearable, but married to defending so bad that one wondered if some of them had spent six weeks actively un-learning how to play the game, it made for some pretty serious lip-chewing from the galleries.
For the first goal, I apportion little blame to Forster (big man). The deflection was unhelpful, and he displayed adequate reflexes in simply blocking the thing as it flew at him. Of course it would have made for a pleasant festive treat if his hands like a frying pan had scooped up the thing, but we can’t have everything, and he at least did the basics.
Which is more than can be said of those in snazzy sky blue around him. The initial cross picked out a Brentford forward on the right, who appeared to have been gifted the freedom of the Tottenham penalty area, or at least half of it. One appreciates that this was something of a counter-attack, but really, to leave the chappie unattended in his own acre of land seemed to be laying it on a bit thick, even for the first game back.
Perisic was barely in shot on the TV cameras, while Bissouma, having tracked the fellow’s run stride-for-stride, had rather maddeningly veered off towards the centre rather than sticking with him to make a challenge, evidently attracted to the ball like one of those less intelligent moths you see going hell for leather at a flame.
So much for part one of the attack; the sequel, picking up immediately after Forster (big man) had parried the shot, was pretty much entirely contained in a single act, comprising a Brentford chappie strolling up to the ball and tapping it in, not one objecting soul anywhere near him.
Rewind the VHS and one sees that the Brentford bod in question started his gallop forward at the same time and from the same starting point as one P-E Hojbjerg, only for the Dane to keep his jog carefully within the limit of ‘Slow and Steady’, rather than busting a lung or two to ensure he stayed with his man.
Crosses will be made and shots will be taken, one accepts this; but simply to stand – or jog – around and watch the aftermath, rather than trying to muscle in and prevent ensuing calamity, is just not cricket.
And if that first goal had AANP crafting a few choice curses, the second had the air turning purple. For a start, Dier’s shank to gift the corner in the first place inflamed the passions of the watching masses.
And then, once the corner was delivered, Hojbjerg was again at fault, incredibly waiting for the ball to bounce towards him on the goal-line rather than charging towards it like a frenzied bull determined to clear all in its path. Rather inevitably, a more alert opponent was vastly more proactive about the whole thing, and simply trotted a couple of steps forward, a manoeuvre sufficient to earn him pole position ahead of Hojbjerg, Lenglet and Perisic.
The whole business of zonal marking has a rationale to it, but I rather fancy that if those involved take literally the business of staying in their zones, and simply do not budge from their allotted spots, then the entire system crumbles like a house of cards. One cannot overstate the obvious flaw, that if the defenders in a zonal system do not move at all, then the opponents will pretty swiftly learn to pop the ball around them. It is breathtakingly empty-headed, and yet this is precisely what each of Hojbjerg, Perisic and Lenglet – seasoned internationals – did in allowing Toney to mooch past them and tap in.
3. Perisic’s Crosses
On the subject of Perisic, few in our ranks are quite so maddening in the way they go about things. Credit where due, first of all, his crosses are things of beauty. Be it with right foot or left, he ticks every box you can think of in the Crossing Department, whipping in the things with pace, curl, elevation, top-spin and whatever else is relevant.
I don’t mind admitting that there have been times this season when I have watched our lot labour to get the ball anywhere near the penalty area, and been struck by the thought that we should simply abandon all pretence of subtlety, give the ball to Perisic and queue up in the six-yard box.
On the flip side, bar these crosses (and occasional long throw-ins) the chap seems to do little else at all. Of defending he wants no part, seemingly viewing that particular exercise as little more than the pause that exists in between attacks, a chance to catch his breath and ponder with which foot he might deliver his next cross. As mentioned, when Brentford pushed forward for their first, Perisic was a good ten yards behind the action.
Of course, this is the consequence of buying a wing-back who is a little long in the tooth. As AANP knows any too well, the march of Father Time is pretty relentless, and anyone expecting Perisic to motor up and down the flank is in for an unpleasant surprise.
All of which would be pretty vexing – but by golly, he does whip in some glorious crosses.
If Perisic can at least point to his crosses as justifying his participation, young Tanganga has no such get-out. Now one ropey defensive performance doth not a dreadful centre-back make, and the young bean will doubtless have better days, but alas this was a stinker. If there were an opportunity to make a pig’s ear of a contribution, Tanganga was first in the queue every time.
His headers were wildly mistimed, which was as peculiar as it was ghastly to observe, and he fared little better on terra firma. Even his distribution was below par, passes to Doherty often delivered with too much force or too little accuracy for the wing-back to do much more than scramble to keep the dashed thing within the confines of the playing surface.
His selection was understandable enough – he has featured in recent friendlies, and one would have supposed he were possessed of the sort of assets that would be useful enough in a tete-a-tete with a fellow like Ivan Toney.
Alas, you know you’ve had a pretty miserable afternoon when you look up to see your number raised and the awkward figure of Davinson Sanchez giving those limbs a swing in preparation to replace you; and it speaks volumes of Tanganga’s contribution that Sanchez of all people seemed a clear upgrade once stationed within the back-three.
5. Doherty and Kulusevski
On any other weekend this season, the news that Doherty had been preferred over the wretched Emerson would have been pretty sensational front-page stuff, but in truth when the team news filtered through, such had been the gap between fixtures that the seismic relevance of this pick failed to register in the AANP loaf.
And in fact, for much of the first half it didn’t have a particularly big impact either. I suppose one forgets quite how much the endless faux pas of Emerson prompted howls of rage and despair in those pre-World Cup days, and instead the sight of Doherty keeping his head down and not really doing anything particularly wrong or right in the first half just drifted by me.
But in the second half, once the concession of the second goal forced all concerned to buck up their ideas, Doherty’s assets as an attacking wing-back gently surfaced, not least in bobbing up at the back post as an auxiliary forward, when Perisic or Lenglet or whomever delivered crosses across the box.
However, the real star of the right flank was undoubtedly Kulusevski. Probably our brightest spark in the first half, he was a pretty key figure in the second as well, setting up our equalizer and generally thrusting himself slap bang in the middle of events whenever they unfolded on the right flank. The Kane-Son-Kulusevski triumvirate has still not quite clicked, but this seemed to be due to no fault of his.
With Doherty appearing vastly more attuned to what ought and ought not to be done as supporting act on the right, one imagines that Kulusevski will continue to play a pretty major role in the second half of the season – and Emerson, with a little luck, will have to make do with guest appearances from the sidelines.
A word in passing on Hojbjerg. At fault, to varying extents, he may have been for both goals conceded, he did a lot to atone for these mistakes in the rest of his game. As mentioned above, in that often lacklustre first half he seemed motivated to push matters along rather than wait for death to reach him, and in the second, as if to ram home the point that he was taking the gig seriously, he popped up with an extremely well-taken goal.
Hojbjerg’s all-round contribution was much-needed too, given that Bissouma, in the first half in particular seemed not to know what sport he was playing. His touch in the first half was oddly appalling, the ball bouncing off his size nines as if allergic to them, and the memory of a few imperious performances for Brighton last season seemed all the more distant.
Mercifully, he picked up a bit in the second half, but there could be no doubt that, particularly in the absence of Bentancur, Hojbjerg was the boss of the central areas yesterday.