1. The Skipp Goal
Flitting over the first half handbags and jollies, that Skipp goal positively burst at the seams with all the right sort of stuff.
For a start, it came straight from second half kick-off. I suppose you might say there is nothing so remarkable about that – the game does have to restart somehow after all. Nevertheless I’ve sometimes watched our lot peddle this same routine each game, and wondered if they might not rustle up something with a touch more grace and elan than simply giving it to Dier to clout up into the heavens and loading the left flank with runners in preparation for when gravity does its thing.
I would have expected that Chelsea would a) have been wise to this approach, it being the one we adopt just about without fail every time we start a half, and b) not had too much difficulty in countering it.
But there it was, considerably higher on altitude than subtlety, with Davies, Richarlison and Kane queueing to see what would be on offer once the thing fell to earth. Davies and Richarlison were the principals in this instance, the former plucking the ball from the sky whilst the latter did an impressive spot of swivel-and-onward-shovelling towards the centre. And when the Skipp household crack open their umpteenth bottle of champagne tonight and light up a cigar or two to round the thing off, they may want to offer a toast to the neat footwork and general alertness of Richarlison, in rotating affairs from a position of no more than general promise, on an inside left perch and with back to goal, to a position of considerable threat, with Kulusevski and inside the D.
There then followed a sequence of suitably dramatic events in the build-up to Skipp’s big moment, which included a few helping hands from our odious guests. For a start Kulusevski found Emerson, whose presence in the prime attacking spot should no longer surprise anyone. His shot was handled by the Chelsea ‘keeper with considerably greater theatre than necessary, meaning that rather than slamming the door on the whole episode it instead created a even glitzier sequel.
Another Chelsea fellow picked up the baton and handily threw in a rubbish clearance, which kept things alive. And at this point young Master Skipp cleared his throat and marched onto the stage for his big moment.
Amidst all the fuss over his finish – and it oozed with quality, make no mistake – the preamble might easily be ignored, but I was particularly taken by it. It involved the fine young fellow winning a ball for which he was, if not exactly a rank outsider, certainly second favourite. But a spot of upper body beef, did half the job, and it was topped off by a general desire and will to win that I wouldn’t normally associate with our lot. And yet there it was, and against the odds Skipp emerged from the conflab as master of all he surveyed.
All that remained at this point was for him to close the eyes, swing the peg and hope that the outcome was one of those half volleys bestowed once or twice a lifetime from on high. Not only did he catch the thing on its sweetest possible spot, the ball also slapped off the underside of the bar – an element that, as is universally acknowledged, augments the aesthetic value of any goal by around a thousand per cent.
One cannot but help beam with avuncular pride for young Skipp. Such an earnest soul, and a Tottenham boy from root to stem, but by virtue of his role in life rarely the sort to receive much acclaim. It was pleasing enough to see him score his first goal for the club, but to do so in quite such glorious fashion really does make the heart sing a bit.
It says much for all concerned in the lilywhite defensive ranks that Chelsea didn’t really get a decent view of goal the whole match. Sterling’s first half sprints had me chewing the lip once or twice, and there may have been a long shot or two, but really nothing to make the blood freeze over and spine quiver.
On one of the few occasions in which they did threaten, courtesy of a couple of neat diagonal passes through the lines that shifted things from ‘Minimum Threat’ to ‘Clean Through On Goal’, I for one was grateful for the intervention of one C. Romero Esquire. On that particular occasion, Romero displayed in the first place a decent sense of awareness of current affairs, in springing from his usual spot on the right of the centre-backs, to cover a breach on the left. On top of which, he then had the bright idea to pursue a policy of minimal contact in order to see out the danger.
Romero, as is public knowledge, is the sort of egg who cannot resist solving life’s problems by throwing a full-blooded limb or two at it. Recourse to such action in the penalty area, and indeed in the six-yard box, might have had some pretty dangerous consequences. In this instance, however, he opted to insert his frame in between the ball and the onrushing Chelsea forward, and the ploy worked to perfection. What had threatened to escalate into a clear-cut opportunity, instead fizzled out quietly, as Romero guided the ball to safety much like a responsible adult escorting some unruly child across a road.
It was one of a number of pretty impressive interventions from Romero throughout. In recent weeks – just about every week, in fact – I have cocked a pretty dubious eyebrow as he has flung himself, body and soul, into a challenge, seemingly not content unless some furniture is damaged and a card brandished at him. Today, by contrast, the feist and aggression were on show, but always in controlled and regulated fashion. He tackled firmly, cut out passes and crosses and the like, and also did a spot of overtime covering in random areas like left-back whenever the situation arose.
Those casual moments when he mistook our one-nil lead for an eight-nil lead and rather complacently allowed the ball to be nipped from him took the sheen off things, but I wave a forgiving hand in this instance. He carried out the nuts and bolts of defending pretty robustly, and I was all for it.
Another chap whose name is likely to receive only the briefest mention, but whose occasional inputs caught the AANP eye, was Fraser Forster. Not that he was exactly overburdened – the five colleagues directly in front of him, and indeed the five in front of those, all contributing pretty diligently, leaving Chelsea unable to muster more than a shot or two in anger.
And in fact, one of the few shots that Forster did have to deal with, in the first half, he made rather a pig’s ear of. It was one that either needed a clutching to self or shoving pretty mightily off to the margins, but Forster did neither, the ball popping from his frame and requiring an intervening bloot from Ben Davies to extinguish.
But in the second half, the gigantic chap seemed to get the message, seemingly struck by the benefits of doing simple things well. Most notably this happened when one or other of the Chelsea mob wriggled their way into the area and looked for all the world like the next item on their agenda would be one or other of rounding the ‘keeper or toe-poking into the net. Either way, a spot of pretty serious peril loomed.
Now wandering off on a tangent, I suppose it is possibly a mite unfair to criticise a chap both in his absence and for a crime he didn’t even commit, but at this point the curious thought that flashed to my mind was that if Hugo Lloris had been in situ and minding affairs, I would have bet my mortgage on him somehow uprooting the Chelsea forward, at considerable cost to the overall masterplan.
However, we were blessed in this instance not with Lloris but with Forster, and he pretty admirably addressed this crisis by catapulting every inch of his eleventy-foot frame forward across the turf, so as to snatch the ball from the toe of the blighter, thus averting either toe-poke or rounding-of-‘keeper scenarios.
In common with Romero’s intervention described earlier, since the net result was an absence of any damage, and what one might describe as a dot ball in the scorers’ book, it would be easy to shrug off the whole affair and pretend it never happened. But AANP has made a habit of getting rather too carried away with the small print when watching Spurs, and through this intervention (plus the handful of crosses caught with minimal fuss and dressing), Forster, in my book, earned his evening bourbon.
And there we have it. To a man our lot scrapped and fought as required, threw in a couple of moments of quality in the final third, and tootled off with another pretty comfortable win. Long live that Stellini chap.