Being the sort of chap who likes to keep an audience on their toes, I thought I’d begin with a spot of wittering on the rarely-sighted Danjuma, not least because he was the principal object of a spot of post-second goal gushing from yours truly yesterday.
It might not necessarily be the view clung to by the masses, but I was already greeting with boyish enthusiasm the energy of Danjuma, even before it led, in a slightly convoluted way, to our second goal.
Danjuma came bounding on with all the perk and vim of a man who had spent several months in a Conte-induced purgatory and had a few sackfuls of energy to release. In that respect I suppose he had much in common with Lucas Moura at Everton last week, but whereas Lucas channelled his efforts into imprinting his size nines across someone else’s shin, Danjuma’s approach wasn’t quite so lacking in a few spoonfuls of common sense.
Which is to say, in the first place, that he didn’t stamp on anyone – an obvious baseline, one might think, but nevertheless the sort of thing one can’t take for granted amongst a gang as low on the grey stuff as ours. Anyway, having confirmed the ability to chase everything that moved without getting himself sent off, what really grabbed the attention was the fact that, having buzzed from one outfield player to another in pursuit of the ball, Danjuma then turned everything upon its head by daring to chase down the Brighton goalkeeper as well.
This was front-page stuff. I had noted over the course of the game that our high press was being applied with a little more meaning than usual, but that once the ball beetled its way back to this ‘keeper, Steele, our lot tended to slam on the brakes, and subject him to little more than a beady eye.
No doubt this was part of a masterplan concocted by the Brains Trust. Something to do with cutting off angles, or not leaving gaps, or some other such gubbins. Be that as it may, Danjuma was clearly having none of it. Goodness knows what his superiors made of it, but the first chance he got he put his head down and fairly raced off towards that Steele fellow, leaving the latter in no doubt that the time for a pause and restorative break was long gone.
I don’t mind admitting that this sent a quiet thrill through me. After all, if one is going to press 90% of the way up the pitch, why not shrug the shoulders and go the distance?
It is probably important to note that Danjuma’s press did not in itself draw a mistake – Steele with ball at his feet is no Hugo Lloris, and simply funnelled the thing off to his nearest chum as if it were something done since he were knee-high. However, Danjuma’s lust for involvement, as well as drawing a satisfied nod from these parts, also seemed to have the infinitely useful knock-on effect of prompting everyone else in lilywhite to look at one other and murmur, “Well if he can do it, dash it, I might try as well!”
And so it happened that Danjuma’s charge on the ‘keeper was followed by Son charging at the next chappie in possession (Webster, apparently). This Webster fellow then popped along the hot potato sharpish to that Mitoma lad, who had Romero charging at him; and at this point all that charging paid dividends, as Romero emerged from the argument with his inventory reading: Size 5 Football (x1). And from there, within 3 passes, Kane was doing his thing and we were up 2-1.
The extent to which the goal can be attributed to Danjuma is of course the sort of debatable stuff that will sit right up there for centuries to come, alongside butterflies flapping their wings and causing cyclones and whatnot – but at a point in the game in which we were looking as likely as we’ve done for several weeks to craft a goal, I was glad to see Danjuma raise the energy level a notch and have some level of involvement in a goal.
A propos the goal, P-E Hojbjerg would no doubt have given the chin a slightly irritated scratch as he read the above, and rightly so, for it misses the point rather wildly to bang on all day about Danjuma chasing a back pass to little avail and then omitting to mention the critical pass that set up the goal.
But that, and more, was contributed by the same P-E H. Having been released by Sonny, Hojbjerg’s interest in affairs suddenly rocketed, as has often happened this season when he is granted temporary dispensation to rub shoulders with the elite in the final third. Off he galloped into the area, before, crucially, taking a deep breath or two, as I understand these Scandinavian types are fond of doing. This was an important move, because if he had simply attempted to pick out the only teammate in the box – my golden boy, Danjuma – he’d have had a dickens of a time manoeuvring the ball around four Brighton defenders to reach him.
Just as well that Hojbjerg’s fabled capacity to hear at bat-like frequencies kicked in, this no doubt allowing him to catch the heavy breathing of a lumbering Kane, arriving in the second wave. Hojbjerg effected his pass to perfection, a good ten yards behind everyone else, after which there still followed a pretty lengthy interval, as all in attendance waited a little longer for Kane to catch up, but when he did the fruits were ripe.
On a tangent, I have to admit that that pause – as the entire stadium took a sharp old intake of breath, and held it, before exploding – was one of the AANP highlights of the season.
Back to Hojbjerg, and a big old tick against his name, for the run, awareness and delivery. The problem, however, is that that same big tick is both preceded and followed by a couple of emphatic red crosses.
Not five minutes earlier, it had been Hojbjerg’s errant leg that thrust itself into the limelight for no good reason, clipping the twin limb of Mitouma inside the penalty area. Inadvertent it may have been, but in these days of constant and panoramic surveillance, one ought to be pretty darned sure about whether or not one will clip the leg of another in the area. The fact that the VAR spook gaily waved it on should not exonerate our man.
He followed up later in the piece by conceding a couple of pretty unnecessary transgressions – more clipping of legs, actually. And from one of these free-kicks the similarly bone-headed Lenglet played pretty fast and loose with the rules, grabbing at a shirt with two hands, which at the very least prompted those concerned to institute polite enquiries.
So much though I enjoy Hojbjerg’s spirit of willing and general fire-in-belly, and, of course, his contributions when let off the leash in the final third, I do wish he would focus a bit more on the basics within his own defensive game. But in a way, it rather sums up the chap – a mixture of valued contributions and lamentable, avoidable gaffes.
Alongside Hojbjerg, young Master Skipp beavered away in his usual understated manner, and as ever I was all for it.
I suspect that beyond N17 few would afford him more than a shrug of the shoulders and a nonplussed look, but his lack of glamour ought not to mislead. Skipp keeps things ticking.
I suspect I have prattled on about this before, but I am particularly drawn to the fact that if a winning pass does not immediately present itself, he does not dwell or dither. The chap distributes as if on a timer. Speed – of distribution – is of the essence, in the mind of young Skipp. Whatever the circumstance, his motto is that gag about things being best done when done quickly, and if that means he should simply shovel the ball sideways or backwards then it’s fine by him, seemingly aware that there will be another day and another opportunity to show his full passing range.
And it is quite some range. We saw a few weeks ago when he set Richarlison free for a disallowed goal, that he has in his armoury a pass of the 40-yard ilk, and he was at it again yesterday. Neither led to goals, but both – one in each half, from memory – found their man and helped turn defence into attack pretty neatly.
On top of which, he also set off on a couple of healthy, long-distance gallops, as circumstances dictated were prudent. Running at full pelt with the ball for 40 yards or more is pretty impressive stuff, and it all nudges towards the sense that here is a lad who might eventually grow into quite the all-round sort of bean.
Not that there were any headlines for young Skipp. That was Sonny territory yesterday.
One might, I suppose, if in particularly curmudgeonly mood, complain that Sonny did little of note apart from score one and pop up with a spot of behind-the-scenes assistance for the second – but this, to me, would be pretty rich stuff. The whole point of Sonny is to score and do a spot of behind-the-scenes lifting and shifting for others to score, so if he can check both boxes I think the appropriate reaction is a slap on the back and reminder that his bank account will be credited in due course.
His goal was an absolute dream. Different goals please in different ways of course, but Sonny in particular has long had a line in those curling efforts that start outside the post and curve inwards, leaving the goalkeeper fully extended and still falling short, for added aesthetic pleasure. I suppose part of the reason we see so few of them from him these days is that various opponents nowadays know better than to let him try that particular party-trick. It was a delight therefore, to see him unleash it once more, for old time’s sake.
And as mentioned, he also did his best, in understated fashion, towards the second. Once Romero had won possession near halfway, the ball was fed to Son, who for reasons to be fully investigated, had at this point popped up on the right flank. Sensibly, rather than try this season’s choice routine of running into a brick wall and tripping over his own feet, Son opted to pop off a quick pass; and what a pass he popped. The nutmeg is one of AANP’s personal favourites at any given point in any given game; when it is effected in the build-up to a goal, all the better.
Son’s nutmegged pass was just the excuse for which Hojbjerg had been looking to bound forward, and as mentioned above, the Dane duly did his thing. Sonny may have offered little else in an attacking sense, but if this is to be his weekly output then I would happily sign him up to it pronto.
5. An Oddly Enjoyable Win
I emerged from that win in vastly better spirits than anticipated. Admittedly, this is not least because I fully expected our heroes to collapse in a heap at the first sign of trouble, but even though we had less possession, and were not half as competent in midfield as the other lot, this produced one of those ear-to-ear grins across the map.
I suppose it is partly because in those moments when we did counter, the mechanics seemed to whirr and hum as well as they have done for some time. A low bar, admittedly, but still enough to get me off my seat a few times.
Kulusevski, while still not exactly the swashbuckling hero of last season, seemed to have a few vague recollections of dance routines and jinky steps that have served him well before. In the second half, I fancied that we even looked likelier to score than they did. At one-one, with the game approaching its finale, I experienced something other than the usual dread; and all of this, coupled with the marvellous pause before our second goal, put a spring in the step and song on the lips.
No doubt we had a couple of helpful interventions – or, I suppose more accurately, benefited from the absence of a couple of unhelpful interventions. The AANP tuppence worth is that the disallowed goals were scrawled from the record books rightly enough, but the penalty shouts were another matter.
However, the outrage accompanying all this has been rather entertaining. One understands the Brighton howls of indignation. Tough to swallow, no doubt. More than happy to administer a sympathetic pat, if it helps. But it is all rather amusing, what? One would think, from the outpouring of apoplexy that no other side has ever suffered a VAR bruising since the thing was unveiled. And frankly, the rarity of benefitting so obviously from a spot of VAR fumbling has contributed all the more to making this an absolute delight. Heaven knows we’ve suffered at its hands often enough in the past, and will no doubt do so again soon enough – so that being the case, I’m happy to throw back an extra bourbon in celebration of it tonight! But a sympathetic pat to our guests, of course.