1. The First Twenty Or So
And that, lest there be any confusion, is why it’s called All Action, No Plot.
Easy to forget after a binge like that, but way back in the opening 20 or so minutes our heroes were playing some of the best football I’ve seen in any season at N17. These racy starts have become something of a trend amongst our lot, one amongst a number of bobbish habits instilled by Our Glorious Leader in double-quick time, but in a pleasing break from recent tradition we actually had the good sense to turn complete domination into an early goal (and were a moderately-sized whisker from two).
Maddison may not be credited in the record books in years to come with any meaningful contribution to our opener, but by golly he was front and centre of the action – albeit from a temporary left-back mooring. His was a pass for the ages, transferring events from defence to attack, and taking out the entire Chelsea midfield in one thoughtful swipe of the clog.
Nor was it particularly anomalous. Everywhere one looked there was the sight of a lilywhite playing what on paper would seem a pretty nondescript pass – not much more than ten yards, A to B, ordinary fare – but actually delivered in such a way as to temporarily remove from action at least two or three Chelsea rotters, and turn the rest of them completely on their axis.
These passes came from our centre-backs, from our inverted full-backs, and actually from pretty much anyone who happened to be wandering in the vicinity bedecked in white. Typically played first-time and typically reversed, they were lightning-quick, and Chelsea could barely get a sight of the ball, never mind a touch. Had life continued thusly for the following seven-ninths or so of the match, I can only assume we would have racked up dozens of goals and beetled away up the High St still top of the pile.
I was also settling in for a full evening of Brennan Johnson and his assorted delights. Pre-match I had rather hoped that he might get the nod, he having displayed in his two or three cameos that instant grasp of the mechanics that seemed every week to befuddle Richarlison. Not wanting to wade into any debate about who is actually a better player, it nevertheless seems apparent that the former is a better fit for this particular position and in this particular team than the latter. A dashed shame then, that life being what it was, young Master Johnson’s night was pretty abruptly curfewed – and not for the first time. At the current rate, he might actually get to complete a full 90 for us some time around 2028, what?
2. The Non-Sendings Off
“Dashed shame” is how I described it, but in this I perhaps misled my public, or at least withheld a decent wedge of the facts. For while the departure of Johnson was duly mourned, the events that precipitated it were a pretty different kettle of fish, and the AANP mood was not quite as forgiving.
Taking things in calendar order, Udogie’s two-footed lunge was as thick-headed as it was peculiar. I’ve never understood the strategic thinking behind a two-footed lunge. Apart from the fact that just about any referee with a pulse will delight at the chance to thrust a red card in the relevant face, it’s also such an odd manoeuvre. Unnatural, is what I mean. And one does not really need to have played football at the highest level to appreciate that. In fact, one only really needs to possess feet. In my experience, natural motion is generally a one-foot-at-a-time affair, anything else typically leading to physical disarray and a pretty significant confusion of the limbs.
So had Udogie had stretched a single leg for all his worth, I’d have been with him. Had he slowed down and attempted to block off young Sterling, I’d have understood his thinking. But to interrupt his usual stride pattern, specifically to introduce into proceedings an entirely unnatural act was rummy enough; to introduce such an act in the knowledge that it is specifically flagged as being immediately worth a red card – well, to say AANP was perplexed is to understate things.
Had his follow-through clipped the man – and that was well beyond his control, and in the lap of the gods – he could have had no complaints about a red card. Rather than moaning at the ref, I would have strongly urged the defender himself to have his head examined and do a spot of mental arithmetic or something, to jimmy the grey matter along.
Next up was Romero, another who seemed oblivious to the fact that we were giving the other lot a pretty emphatic tonking, with little cause to upset the status quo, and decided instead to pick up the nearest axe and swing.
Once again, his little off-the-ball kick at an opponent seemed unnecessarily to invite a dubious appraisal of things by the ref. And once again, had the officials taken a militant view there would not have been any grumbling towards them from over here, but a few paragraphs of the coarsest Anglo-Saxon directed at the player instead.
3. The Sendings-Off
Romero somehow walked away from that one with his rap-sheet in pristine nick, and perhaps by this point considering himself invincible in the eyes of the law he continued hacking away until spotted and ejected. As a side-note, I do rather miss the days when winning the ball was sufficient and not too many cares were given about the follow-through, but it’s pretty common knowledge that leaving studs on a shin as a parting-gift will receive a pretty dim eyebrow from VAR these days. Once again there were no complaints about the decision, only hands flung skywards at the fat-headedness of our man.
And that really was the turning-point – or the first of them at least. That led to the removal of Johnson, at a point at which it seemed clear that he was well on top in his own private debate out on the left, and ensured that Chelsea’s temporary dominance of possession would become more permanent.
As it happens, I’m actually inclined to shrug off Udogie’s second yellow card. He’s still a prime dolt for his two-footed nonsense earlier in the piece, and admittedly he ought really to have listened to the cautionary whisper from the angel on one shoulder, urging him to exercise a spot of restraint, rather than bowing to the demands from the devil on t’other shoulder, encouraging a lunge on Sterling when he’d already been booked.
But as I say, I had a degree of sympathy, because he had just foiled a 3-v-2 attack by Chelsea, rather heroically and against the odds – and who amongst us has not got a little carried away by a moment of success and promptly over-egged the thing?
4. The High Line
The injuries, of course, were just dashed bad luck. All season there has lurked in the background the nameless fear that an injury or two might rip the spine from our lot, but we had chugged along thus far unscathed, mainly due to the absences being enforced on a strictly one-by-one basis.
Well last night that all went up in flames. Last night I got the distinct sense that if it were not one bally thing it would damn well be another. Romero’s red was followed by VDV’s hamstring, which was followed by Maddison’s ankle, which was followed by Udogie’s red, and there went our spine, for the moment and for the foreseeable.
This four-part calamity, however – and in particular the removals of Messrs VDV and Romero – served only to introduce possibly the most eye-catching segment of the production, which is saying something on a night of 5 goals and 5 disallowed goals and 2 red cards and countless VARs.
The high-line, featuring at its heart Eric Dier, was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. Defensively – and let’st start with the defensive aspect – it was utterly bonkers. Dier is a loyal servant, and a vocal presence apparently, and various other things that sound good and might serve pretty well in the SAS or some such – but a lightning-quick athlete he isn’t. As such, I found myself holding my breath each time Chelsea dithered around the centre-circle, and our lot lined up on halfway, ready to turn and sprint back to goal.
But it actually happened so often, pretty much most of the time the ball was in play, that I quickly worked out that holding my breath every time was not the way forward. Not enough oxygen. Anyway, we were helped out in this operation by the fact that Chelsea, for all their millions, were actually pretty vacant between the ears themselves, either too impatient or not quite bright enough to time their runs behind us.
On top of which, young Signor Vicario (more on whom later), turned out to take to the role of Auxiliary Sweeper in His Quieter Moments with a casual shrug that did a disservice to quite how capable he was. Whenever Chelsea did time their runs correctly and race off towards goal, they were generally greeted by the well-timed presence of a goalkeeper yet to put a foot wrong, in comparison to a few thousand feet he’s put right in his time at N17.
And so it happened that from a state of pessimism and doom, the mood at AANP Towers swiftly turned into one of enjoyment and hilarity. No matter what Chelsea did, they seemed utterly incapable of what ought to have been completely straightforward, and one could almost taste their frustration.
Whenever they did get behind us, Vicario swept up; and when he didn’t sweep up he made an extraordinary save, or one of our panting outfield mob caught up and hacked it away – and the general sense increasingly developed that this was going to be an absolute blast to watch.
It couldn’t last forever of course, but I have since wondered how it might have played out with VDV in the fold, even down to nine men. I rather fancy that Chelsea could have played all night and they would have failed to pick that particular lock.
Anyway, Big Ange seemed pretty unrepentant about it all, and while it made for a fascinating watch while we were defending, I have since filled the idle moment by wondering what the rationale might have been. The best I can come up with is that by playing such a high defensive line, our attackers were able to continue the high press of Chelsea defenders, and sniff around for opportunity. Or, put another way, down to nine men, Big Ange still wanted us to attack.
As if the game itself wasn’t non-stop, madcap entertainment, I discovered later on that Nicolas Jackson had had the Man of the Match rosette pinned to his breast, which afforded me another chuckle, he having delivered one of the worst striking displays I’ve seen at the place.
From the AANP monocle the standout performer was pretty comfortably the lad Vicario. Again, it was easy to lose in the mists of time, but in the first half, when still 11 v 11, he pulled off a now customary Save-That’s-Actually-Worth-A-Goal, sprawling full length to his left and, that done, having the presence of mind to extend a beefy paw, to make sure of things.
There then followed his quite sensational display of judgement and timing in repeatedly scampering from his line and facing down the assorted Chelsea forwards while Dier and chums were struggling to keep up. On top of which he made some further, remarkable saves, flinging every available limb and, I’m pretty sure, his face into the way of danger to ensure that Chelsea were kept at bay and the hilarity continued.
For the umpteenth time this season I reflected that this was the sort of super-human produce of which our former custodian could only have dreamt. I’m not too sure whose brainwave it was to drag Vicario over to these shores; I’m pretty sure I gave him a murky and quizzical eye when he did arrive; but by golly I’d sell every material possession I own, and quite possibly throw in my soul too, to ensure he stays in N17 long into the future.
Three rousing cheers for Vicario then, and an additional yip thrown in for Hojbjerg too. I’m yet to be convinced that he’s really the man for Ange-Ball, but if ever there were a situation for which he most certainly is the man it’s when the team is down to nine-men. I half-expect his eyes lit up when the red cards were flashed. Hojbjerg scowled and tackled and crunched his way through proceedings, clearing one shot off the line and generally giving the impression that he was born to play in this particular match.
It’s just a shame we couldn’t quite hold out; and then, having failed to hold out, couldn’t quite nab the equaliser, before Chelsea finally worked out how to beat the world’s most obvious offside trap.
But by golly, if one is going to lose one might as well as go down swinging, and I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed such game, determined and entertaining swinging as that. We could all have done without the final three or so minutes of injury-time and what was contained therein; and I know that to admit enjoying a Spurs defeat is one of those cardinal sins for which one is expected to make a grovelling apology on some social media nonsense; and if we entertain while getting stuffed every week then I’ll have a pretty solid rethink.
But this was, yet again, just thoroughly entertaining stuff, the sort of fare I could happily gobble down for an hour and a half every week for the rest of my days. As you’re no doubt aware, the AANP blog began on a wave of still-flowing adrenaline the morning after our 4-4 draw at The Emirates, and last night’s adventure was two hours of the same madcap nonsense. Long may it continue.