Not unusually for our lot this was a performance high on action and low on plot, the chaotic whole perhaps best represented by the various triumphs and misadventures of Destiny Udogie.
Taking things on a scale of Ripping to Ghastly, Udogie’s attacking inputs were productive and bountiful. There was more to it than just his goals: in the opening fifteen minutes or so, when we looked a good bet for the usual early salvo, Udogie was one of those at the forefront of the intricate pass-and-move stuff being furiously marketed.
Naturally, however, his role in our goals attracts the eye, and for both our first and third he was front and centre, albeit slightly off to the left.
Having laboured for so much of the first half against a deep-set and heavily fortified Brentford defence, I’m not quite sure how it came to pass in the first ten minutes of the second half that we kept catching them out of position, undermanned and generally disorganised and tripping over one another, but there we were. Gift-horses and all that.
And given this situation Udogie set about them with the relish of one who had elbowed his way to the front of the queue and could barely wait to be let loose. Udogie on the charge really is one of the finer sights in nature, a terrific combination of pace, technique, awareness, muscle and other wholesome stuff. When the call goes out for volunteers to stop the man in his tracks I can assure you that AANP would keep his head down and surreptitiously shuffle off into the background, and the Brentford mob similarly seemed not really to relish the fight.
For both our first and third goals, the marvellous specimen collected the ball around halfway and motored off towards the penalty area. For the first, having got this far and popped the thing off to Werner, he did not ease off with the air of one content with his night’s work and ready for a spot of refreshment, but treated the job as very much half-done and carried on sprinting. No doubt he benefited from a spot of bright and breezy fortune at that point – Brentford legs converging and the ball rebounding pretty kindly for him – but when one exhibits so many of the critical traits of an unstoppable force of nature, I tend to think that one earns a spot of luck.
And then, being one of those eggs who lives by the principle that if a thing works once it might as well be milked for a few more helpings of the good stuff, seven minutes later he set off on the charge again, sticking to the same geographical route – halfway line, left off centre – and opting to release the ball at pretty much the same moment.
At this point he did deviate from the blueprint, but it proved a strong choice, opting not to pass left to Werner but instead threading a pretty precise little number into Maddison in the penalty area, where further riches were to follow.
So three cheers for Udogie when gripped by the urge to make merry in the Brentford half; but by golly he did leave a trail of catastrophe behind him. In the first place the Brentford opener had at its genesis his misdirected pass on halfway. Under no pressure and with pretty much the entire cast list to aim at, it was careless in the extreme, what the racket-wielding folk refer to as an unforced error.
There is a sense in which that mistake for the first was considerably worse than that for the second, as the first was the sort you’d file under ‘Poor Play’, while the second seemed more along the lines of ‘Failing to Spot A Camouflaged Opponent’, which let’s face it, is one of the more unique categories around and not the sort of eventuality for which one trains.
Anyway, fail to spot him he did, and what ought to have been a bit of a cakewalk turned into the classic Nervous Final 20 At The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. All’s well that ends well of course, and young Signor Udogie remains a particular favourite around these parts, but the urge to load up, take careful aim and fire into our own feet remains bizarrely strong around the on-field practitioners of N17.
2. The Defence in General
Udogie may have stolen the limelight when it came to knuckle-headed decisions, but watching Brentford repeatedly stroll unaccompanied through our half of the pitch and right up into our penalty area, in the first half, did reiterate that nagging sensation at AANP Towers that something might not be quite right with our defence.
As individuals, each of VDV, Romero, Porro and Udogie are top-notch, bursting at the seams with all manner of qualities. However, shove them together and instruct them to Angeball for an hour and a half, and they pretty swiftly degenerate into a quartet of drunks unclear what sport they are playing.
I suppose part of the challenge is Our Glorious Leader’s instructions, which seem to be along the lines that when one of the quartet is in possession, at least two of the others ought to leave their designated posts and go find some space elsewhere. To call this laden with risk is to understate the thing. It only takes one casually misplaced pass, a la Udogie last night and the opposition is away, with half a pitch to gallop into unopposed.
Brentford had clearly not just received the memo but had put in a fair amount of time studying it and turning it into a complete thesis, and as a result pressed our back-four at every opportunity. In turn, our back-four, diligently sticking to the values of Angeball, kept dicing with death – trying to pirouette around the opponent and so forth – achieving a success rate of approximately 50%.
As well as this business of losing possession on halfway and sprinting back to try saving the day in the nick of time, I also noted the pretty dubious behaviour of Cristian Romero in Brentford’s first goal. Having done the hard work of keeping pace with – and indeed gaining some ground on – Toney, rather than finish the job by steaming across and executing some form of meaty block, Romero opted to hold his line and give Toney a free hit at goal, which seemed unnecessarily generous.
In Romero’s defence, I understood the rationale – he presumably wanting to prevent a square pass to the onrushing Maupay, and banking on VDV’s pace take care of Toney. Nevertheless, it did strike me that he slathered on the business of backing off a bit too heavily. The key to the manoeuvre ought to have been subtlety, in edging towards Toney whilst keeping a watchful eye on Maupay, thereby keeping Toney in two minds. Instead, he might as well have hired one of those planes to fly over the stadium with a banner proclaiming that he was going to back right off Toney and block the pass, so if Toney wanted to get his shot off then the floor was his. I did not approve.
And my mood darkened further after Vicario saved the shot, as Romero simply slackened the shoulders and downed tools, evidently of the opinion that he had played his part in the scene, and the leftovers could be taken care of by those around him. It was quite the dereliction of duty, and an odd one coming from a chappie who does not seem himself unless flying full-blooded into some challenge or other, but off he clocked and Maupay seized the moment.
The curious lapses from Romero and Udogie can, I suppose, be excused as human error; but this business of being caught on halfway and then duking it out in a sprint to goal is rather more structural. It appears that we are stuck with it, however, as just one of those consequences of Angeball, the only remedy for which is simply to keep scoring more than the other lot, which should be a wheeze.
Fair to say it’s been a slightly underwhelming start to life in lilywhite for Herr Werner. He seems enthusiastic enough, and is obviously blessed with the ability to motor from A to B at a fair old lick, but once he’s got himself into a dangerous position he seems not quite to know what do next (or, in the case of shooting, how to do it). The general impression is of one whose northernmost tip simply cannot keep up with his southernmost base, those whirring little legs outpacing his brain each time.
The vexing trend continued in the first half yesterday. Presumably under instruction, both he and Kulusevski tucked inside, to relatively narrow positions, which seemed right up Brentford’s street, and in general he seemed to pick wrong options.
However, life improved considerably in the second half. In the build-up to our first goal he pulled his usual trick of racing off into the distance in a puff of smoke, but where previously he has stuttered, and paused, and had a bit of a think, and then a bit of an overthink, this time he was a bit more committed in his conclusion, cutting back, sidestepping a couple of defenders and feeding young Udogie.
This seemed to do the chap a world of good. When released again a minute or so later he took it as his cue to deliver his finest moment yet in our colours, racing off again as is his preference, but then eschewing the usual option of slowing things down to pick through his options, and instead firing the ball across goal with a note pinned to it on which was scrawled the invitation ‘Tap me into the empty net, bitte’. Young Master Johnson duly licked his lips in the centre.
That particular sequence earned Werner a spontaneous ovation from AANP Towers. The obsession with inverted wingers, forever cutting inside to deliver their produce, has its value no doubt, but given that Werner’s pace will generally position him a yard ahead of his man, it does madden me somewhat that he repeatedly sacrifices that yard in order to cut back onto his right foot. There was no such rot last night for the second goal – once Werner was away, he evidenced a show of faith in his lesser-spotted left foot and it worked out splendidly for all concerned.
As with Kulusevski when stationed on the right, I yearn for him to display a bit more confidence in his weaker foot – and I do scratch the head and wonder how an elite-level player can get by in life with such reluctance to use it – but last night’s rich harvest ought to give him a spot of the old oil on this front.
And as a valedictory note, marvellous to observe that the resurgence of Richarlison continues apace, his goal arguably the least emphatic contribution of a night that included a decent repertoire of hold-up and link-up play.