Six points in four days – but perhaps more importantly, a performance that in parts had us clearing our throats and purring. For around 25 glorious minutes we were treated to a glimpse of how the world might look if the wolf really does lie down with the lamb, famine and disease are shoved under the carpet and Spurs get their act together. That spell after half-time bordered on the marvellous, with play concentrated around the edge of the Sunderland area and – glory be – one-touch passes indulged in like newly-opened Christmas presents that the players could not get enough of. It was slick and quick, left Sunderland chasing shadows and brought about a couple of actual, real-life, close-range chances.
Holtby in particular seemed to skip around the place with healthy quantities of joy and élan in his soul, with able support from Dembele and Lennon. I still do not quite follow the finer points of the Select Chadli masterplan, particularly when young Townsend is huddled in the shadows stage left, but this is not the time to quibble – several small steps have been taken in the right direction, and I intend to celebrate by heading off to the Galleria to play arcade games with a flame-haired chum.
Having given this particular drum a hefty thump in our preview, here at AANP Towers we also mightily pleased to see young Defoe unleashed again, and while he did rather deviate from the script by scuffing the best chance \we have created all season, there was still enough movement and enthusiasm to work the Sunderland back-four into a sweat and ping a few efforts netwards, which seemed a fairly generous improvement on the Soldadoings of the season to date.
The potentially critical absences of Messrs Vertonghen and Chiriches were minimised, with Capoue making a decent fist of things at centre-back and Naughton generally steering clear of any of those ill-advised moments of buffoonery that occasionally seem to inter themselves into the minds of any full-back named Kyle that we have ever employed. The last line of defence had another wobbly one however, Monsieur Lloris enthusiastically peddling the latest in his line of circus japes to riotous applause from the opposition fans but more furious chin-stroking from all of lilywhite persuasion. One hopes that this is but a passing fad, as seems to be so common with the young folk these days.
Dawson: A Tribute. Of Sorts.
Not for the first time, a nervous final 15 or so could have been avoided if our earlier domination had been seamlessly translated into goals, but our heroes tend not to roll thusly, and a couple of scrambles duly transpired (and let there be no doubt we rode our luck with Sandro handball – one to remember when the gods of luck scorn us in the months to come).
However, within that final 15 we found ourselves indebted on a couple of occasions to our intrepid captain. For all his failings – most of which are magnified within the high defensive line we deploy – Master Dawson does love a spot of full-blooded last ditchery, presumably because when charging down a shot six yards out there is limited scope for his lack of pace to be exposed. Credit where due, he led the defensive line with aplomb, and three snaffled points there were.
This ought to melt the internet for a day or two, what?
Aside from any individual mishaps that contributed to the goals themselves (and I think I might have spotted one or two) the thing that really left me wanting to voice a few choice words of opprobrium was the general mentality when our heroes were in possession. Even at three, four or five goals down, and with the outcome no longer mattering a jot, for the sake of my own sanity I needed to see this Spurs team sprinkle just a modicum of creative ingenuity into proceedings, because frankly, aside from the occasional penalty I cannot for the life of me see where the next dashed goal – or even shot on goal – is coming from. Mistakes will happen at the back, but by and large our defence has muddled through this season. However, for all the possession we have had – all season, not just today – you can count the number of slick chances created on the toes of one foot, and it really is becoming a trifle perturbing.
‘Tis a criticism that could liberally be sprinkled across the team, but the lucky chappie attracting the brunt of the AANP ire today is Master Paulinho, for the painfully leaden manner in which he shovels the ball from Point A to Point B. For the first 30 or 40 minutes the deficit was but one, and we had plenty of possession in midfield, but whereas Sandro can perhaps be exonerated for lacking a surplus of creative nous, given that his principal duty is to hunt and destroy, the onus was on Paulinho to make the initial prompts and prods. Alas, Luka Modric he seemingly is not.
Holtby and Lamela were similarly ineffective, the latter in particular bearing the deportment of a young man in desperate need of a few hearty steak sandwiches. The lad is probably best shunted into a box marked “One for the Future” and allowed to bed in accordingly over a period of months rather than years, for at present it seems that a mere puff of wind is enough to send him flying. Dembele at least seemed motivated by the white sticks and netting at the far end whenever he picked up the ball, and given his willingness to take on a man I wonder whether, not for the first time, whether there might be a case for playing him in the hole.
And an AANP match report during season 2013/14 would only be a unconvincing doppelganger were it to omit the traditional diatribe against Soldado, who once again carried himself like a blighter not terrifically familiar with any of those around him, or the ball, or the net, or the most basic concept of the game, particularly when a couple of early opportunities fell his way in those halcyon minutes when the score was but 1-0.
One could go on. However, between this lot and the English cricket team it just seems that if it is not one ball-based sport engineering the mother of all debacles it is dashed well certain to be another, and rather than wax lyrical about the ghastly lumbering of our defensive troupe I would prefer to bang my head repeatedly against a wall until next season comes around.
A point at Goodison probably ought not to be sniffed at, even if we cannot help but wonder what might have been, in that heart-warming first half in particular.
Our heroes came out of the traps as if feral animals scenting blood, hunting down the blue mob in packs and shoving faces into armpits like it was nobody’s business. Foremost amongst the cast in this respect were Holtby and Vertonghen, both of whom were particularly prominent as we piled forward in the first half. In the opening 45 in particular Holtby enjoyed one of his finest jaunts in lilywhite, while Vertonghen had the bright idea to saunter through Everton’s fairly flimsy right-hand side at every opportunity, and with Walker’s willingness to overlap meaning Baines was forced to mope around inside his own half, young Townsend bore the look of a man thoroughly enjoying his playground-esque brand of take-on-all-comers football. On top of which Sandro doing what every good beast should do, his repertoire including occasionally shoving aside the man-mountain Lukaku as if he were one of the diddy guests at my niece’s fourth birthday party.
The only frustrations in that first half were that we were left to rue using up our quota of penalties for the week; that Lennon evidently eyes his left foot as something completely alien, planted there by mysterious forces while he slept last night; and that poor old Soldado presumably suffers from halitosis or some such similar affliction, which means that no-one dared wander within 15 yards of him. Understandable enough, for these are delicate moments amongst chums – but aside from the awkward social context it does create the dickens of a problem because not a soul appears able to offer any support to Soldado in attack – and should he himself peel out to the right then we might as well aim for the corner flags, because nobody will pop up in the area.
Alas, albeit rather inevitably, life was not half as bright and breezy in the second half, as Everton upped their game and for significant periods we found ourselves penned further and further back. On the bright side, deep defending is grist to the Dawson mill, a world in which his lack of pace cannot be exposed, but his heart-on-sleeve penchant for last-ditch heroics come in handy.
To their credit our heroes continued fighting the good fight, and the intermittent second half attacks looked threatening, but as ever any shots of note were catapulted in from at least 20 yards.
‘Tis an issue that segues neatly into the ongoing Soldado issue. The blighter simply does not fit our system. Or maybe our system does not fit him? Either way, there are two crucial components to this - Exhibits A and B if you will, with the former being Soldado and the latter Our System - and no matter how we try to sugar-coat the issue they still remain about as successful a combo as two chaps trying to negotiate a particularly intricate transaction over the telephone while hindered by the fact that neither speak the same language.
It’s a muddle of a thing at the moment, because when he wants the ball fed into the channels we are busy recycling it in midfield, and when we need him to hold the thing up with a bit of sweat and body-strength he seems to be running away from the ball as if allergic to the thing. The end-result of which is that I can only remember about one and a half chances falling his way from open play all season.
Over in this part of the interweb I am still inclined to think that if we are in the Top Four by 1 Jan we will be there come the season’s end. Still, this goalscoring issue gives our intrepid leader something to ponder over in the coming weeks, in case it has passed him by in the last few months.
Ah, the first-time pass. Scourge of the ball-watching defender. Slicer of the well-drilled bank of four. And as conspicuously absent from our game-plan for the first half half or so as it was instrumental to operations thereafter.
The Opening Half-Hour: Ponderous
I spent most of those opening 30 minutes wanting to offer my kingdom for a first-time pass. Or some off-the-ball movement. Or any line of attack that was not based around Dawson, Chiriches and Vertonghen rolling square balls to each other (and occasionally back to Lloris to cede possession through the medium of a skyward punt). By goodness it was pedestrian stuff. And not necessarily the fault of the man in possession either, as the lilywhite cup could not have been accurately said to have overflowed with options. In fact, our heroes seemed content to adopt a Subbuteo routine of simply adopting a spot of turf and resolutely sticking to it for most of the first half, and with Villa content to soak up pressure and play for a counter-attack I found myself idly toying with nearby blunt objects with which to potentially bash in my own skull at the frustration of it all.
The goal itself may have been a tad fortuitous, but for a few minutes thereafter, and for most of the second half, life became decidedly more fun, as gaps opened up and we were able to get behind the Villa defence. AVB dashed well needs to refine re-examine that “Breaking the Deadlock” file, because having each man in turn ponderously take two/three/four touches before rolling the thing sideways neither strikes fear into bellies of the other lot, nor puts fire into bellies of our lot, nor has any humdinging effect on the bellies of anyone in the vicinity, which is really the whole point of the game.
The Bonny, Blithe and Gay Second Half
Marvellously however, as mentioned, things perked up after the goal, and moved on apace in the second half (bar the five-minute wobble when Benteke came on and seemed to bellow so loud that he made Daws and Chiriches curl into little balls and cry rather than try marking him). Glory be, our heroes began shifting the ball at pace, with first-time passes and movement and lots of little legs scurrying around, until the chances started to flow. The poor old full-back tasked with sitting on Townsend ran completely out of steam, allowing the young bounder to gallop to the line like it was going out of fashion, and to his credit he put his head down and sprinted for the line as often as he cut inside to let rip.
Amidst all this one ought not to forget to send a sizeable bouquet the way of young Sandro, who spent his afternoon harassing the dickens out of any Villa player who dared to think about starting an attack. Back in the days of yore, a youthful and rather wanton AANP would pass his summer mornings by catching ants and the like, and dropping them into spider webs, just to observe the manic reaction of the spider in galloping across and clambering all over the unfortunate young bean. And thus, like some human-sized two-legged spider, did Sandro snuffle the life out of Villa at every opportunity. Good to have the lad back.
And on to the latest installation of The Great Soldado Debate. The lad certainly knows what to do once inside the area, his goal today taken with aplomb – indeed several plombs. (And bonus points all round for the one-touchery that got him there in the first place.) But beyond that marvellous finish? Admittedly in the second half he put in some yards, making himself available down the right flank and holding up the ball (although it did not seem to occur to any of his chums to fill in the attacking void thereby created and bust a gut to get themselves into the area), but in the first half in particular one struggles to make the case for him having offered a plethora of options, and the Villa centre-backs seemed contented enough. ‘Room for improvement’ is probably the euphemism of choice.
Despite the slightly negative tone of these witterings it is a most contented AANP readying the nib for a spot of shut-eye tonight. All the necessary boxes have been duly ticked, and importantly so given the horrors of last time around. Concerns there be for sure, around that lack of incision as long as affairs remain goalless, but Rome was not built in a day, what?
That whole farce was so preposterous that for nigh on 20 hours since its conclusion I have been gently reclining in a darkened room with nothing but the dulcet tones of Julie London to nurse my hurting brain. If the sign of greatness is how one copes with adversity then our much-vaunted back-four ought to be wheeled out onto the High Road and pelted with rotten fruit and a selection of heavy, blunt metal objects, for their collective display of incompetence that ushered in the second and third goals. (Not that anyone should be particularly exonerated for the first goal either – a naughty push in Vertonghen’s back there may have been, but that West Ham were effectively able to play a one-two on our goal line smacks of somebody somewhere tripping over their own shoelaces.)
The Second Goal
Kyle Walker’s occasional moments of cerebral evacuation were never that entertaining in the first place, but now they are becoming a dashed nuisance make no mistake. I am generally loath to criticise the chap as he typically displays more fight than the rest of them combined, but on this occasion his pace was not enough to right the wrong of being caught near the halfway line when West Ham were bearing down on goal.
The Third Goal
Marvellous to see our brave young captain celebrate a new three-year contract with a typical moment of lumbering clumsiness, dangling a leg as the West Ham blighter skipped past him in a flash. He may exude lashings of gung and ho when winning headers, and think himself Hoddle incarnate as he pings those diagonal 70-yard passes, but Dawson’s bread and butter is to defend, and the chap has the turning speed of a dozy elephant and sprinting technique of one of the slower members of the Corluka clan. I am becoming rather fed up of seeing him discombobulated to within an inch of his life by a straightforward shoulder-dip and sprint routine. Watching a fleet-footed opponent dash towards him is akin to those prescient moments in the Final Destination films when some suspiciously good-looking young American lass envisages a cyclist crashing into a petrol tanker, being flattened by a falling piano and then having their head bitten off by a passing dinosaur. A useful squad member Dawson surely is, but the sooner Kaboul is fit and raring to go the better.
Not that young Vertonghen escapes blame either. To fail to catch a man running half the length of the pitch with the ball at his feet is unforgivable. Someone ought to tousle that immaculately-combed hair of his by way of punishment. That ought to elicit a few howls of anguish.
The First Hour
For all the idiocy that spread like a rash across the back-four in the latter stages it was still a rummy old thing to watch our lot dominate things for the first hour and then waddle off home three down to a team without a striker. In a sense it was fairly typical White Hart Lane fare, for many a time and oft have we hammered away at a defensive opponent and then been caught out at a set-piece. It seems a dashed shame though, because it felt like a goal was coming. Paulinho’s tendency to shoot from everywhere and aim at anything may incorporate as much wild missing as hitting, but his propensity to surge into the area to support the front man is a welcome one, and he seemed to push even further up the pitch after half-time, encapsulating a greater urgency amongst our troops.
Alas, Eriksen was denied much space, Lamela was fairly impotent when eventually introduced, and that whole left-flank business seemed to be quietly erased from our game plan. No particular need to panic, for I can hardly see Liverpool and Southampton challenging come May, but it is about bally time we put these meddling bottom half teams to the sword and tonked them with three or four early goals, rather than beavering away at nil-nil into the final half hour.
A curious affair that, neither hither nor thither. Or, more accurately I suppose, both hither and thither, for while some of the attacking interplay was eye-wateringly good (in particular that leading up to our goal and the two Paulinho chances), there was also a full second half’s worth of dross from our heroes. It has been a particular bête noire over the decades of my old man, the venerable AANP Senior, that just about every Spurs team he was watched will react to taking a lead by sitting deeper and deeper until said lead is relinquished, and right on cue yesterday, the second half saw us cede possession and initiative until the goal was duly conceded.
Various media-based sages have opined in recent days that our lot brim with as much quality as any other team in the division, but that what we probably lack is a bit of nous, and so it proved yesterday. When level heads and ball-retention were needed to weather the second half storm we were instead treated to attempts by Townsend, Paulinho and Dembele to dribble past just about everyone in sight. ‘Tis the sort of thing that comes with big-game experience I suppose.
Paulinho – The New Jenas (In A Manner of Speaking)
Still, there was plenty to keep us purring, in the first half in particular. As was noted by more Spurs-supporting chum Ian, Paulinho gallops up and back in a manner reminiscent of Jenas (sharp intake of breath) during that curious period in 2008 when the Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards flicked his amazing switch for a few weeks, helping us beat l’Arse 5-1 and win the Carling Cup. Box-to-box, with plenty of neat touches in between, the lad eats his fair share of greens, make no mistake. Dembele also looked sprightly and enterprising, and while, as noted previously, both these two were guilty of over-elaboration at times, it is generally encouraging to observe them seizing bull by horns and exploring the upper reaches of the pitch.
Creative juices also spilled pleasingly from the cups of the attacking sorts, with Sigurdsson again showing willingness to join the penalty area queue, and young Master Eriksen again looking like the awesome new kid in the playground who gets picked first every lunchtime.
Points to Ponder
On the debit side, days like these suggest that Soldado’s overall contribution might be a tad limited, and bless him Michael Dawson’s cruise liner-esque turning speed was exposed once or twice more. Presumably the medium-term plan is for Kaboul to return to the centre at some juncture, but against sharper attacking tools Master Dawson continues to look a tad fallible, while one of he and Vertonghen dropped an awful clanger in allowing Terry an unmarked header for the goal.
There are times when our heroes resemble a highly talented collection of strangers, but presumably in time the whole troupe will become a darned sight more cohesive – for example learning how best to play to the strengths of Soldado. The omens however remain fairly cheery (if cheery omens there can be) for season 13/14 in general. Nothing on the horizon at present to suggest that Top Four is beyond us.
An opening day win is a small bundle of joy for which we should all be grateful, so while there are undoubtedly a few polite coughs and pointed looks when we reflect on the manner of the thing, ‘tis probably best to bow humbly, express our thanks and sidle off. Playing a newly-promoted mob on their own patch on the opening day carries a moderate health warning, given that their fledgling enthusiasm is as yet undimmed by an eight-game losing streak, so firm manly handshakes all round, but no celebration much beyond that.
Solid stuff from our new midfield mob, what? Paulino, and then Capoue, looked the sort of chaps who would sit down and order steaks without opening the menu, and for that the cuts of both respective jibs ought to be sincerely admired. One hopes that Dembele’s early withdrawal was not injury-related for he bounded around with pleasing gusto. There are few more pleasing sights in nature than Dembele on the charge, chest leaning forward, opponents bouncing off his burly frame. Between these three, and with Sandro to be sprinkled into the mix, the mental scarring inflicted by the nine-point turns and backward passing of Scott Parker, bless him, ought to be etched from the memory.
That VDV-Shaped Hole
For all the physique in central midfield however, further forward there was a lack of urgency that smelt suspiciously like complacency. The incessant to-ing and fro-ing up the flanks was understandable enough, but there was a conspicuous absence of neck-scruff grabbing amongst our heroes. Sigurdsson spent much of his time been unceremoniously dumped on his derriere, Lennon repeatedly raised hopes by dashing to the by-line before repeatedly incurring exasperation by hitting the first defender with his cross, and Chadli once again looked useful without necessarily terrorising the other mob.
All honest enough, and it was sufficient to despatch today’s opponents – ought to have been more, given the handful of clear second half opportunities - but the pulse only really raced due to nerves in the closing stages. Not for the first time in the past 12 months I found myself wistfully yearning for a chap with a sprinkle of creativity and vision to deliver that killer-ball. That VDV-shaped hole remains unfilled.
Elsewhere on the Pitch
Young Kyle Walker seems to become angrier by the week, which is no particularly bad thing. He more than anyone seemed to show a real urgency to get things done and will to win, and while it might ultimately lead to his on-pitch spontaneous combustion I would jolly well like to see some of his chums demonstrate similar passion.
Master Rose has never been the firmest favourite in this neck of the interweb, and the occasional simple pass did still go frustratingly awry, but by and large he took a leaf out of the Walker handbook and took every opportunity to express his anger, which was no particularly bad thing when it translated into the medium of winning 50-50s and the like.
Heart-warming also to see Kaboul make a gentle cameo, and Defoe running at the heart of the defence. All things considered there may be room for improvement hither and thither, but down the road that laughing-stock would kill for a three-point haul right now.
A rummy thing, football. Up diddly up, down diddly down, whoops poop twiddly dee, to quote one particularly sagacious soul – after which Man Utd win the whole dashed thing and our lot get edged out by that other lot. And that, it appears, is how football works. But when 38 games end with us essentially taking pride of place at the head of a 16-strong cohort of no-man’s-land stragglers, I am rather inclined to think ‘Dash it all, what’s the point?’
The Game Itself
Still, a game of football was there to be win, and win it we did, which I suppose ticks a box somewhere, albeit one of the more pointless boxes in football history. The urgency shown from the off was commendable enough, a clean sheet rather furtively sneaked its way into the stadium, we jolly well peppered the Sunderland goal throughout – oh that it counted a jot.
The mystery surrounding penalties at White Hart Lane remains as mind-boggling as ever. We can now add ‘Ill-Disguised Rugby Tackle Complete With Unsubtle Thump In Back’ to the list of offences, already including relatively uninteresting items such as ‘Handball’ and ‘Blatant Trip On Galloping Forward’, for which Spurs will most definitely not be awarded a penalty, and for which Bale will probably be cautioned.
On a general note I remain a little miffed at the use of just one genuine striker plus Dempsey, while Defoe picks his nose on the bench, in one-sided must-win games such as this. Similarly, the selection of two holding midfielders seems a little daft once the match pattern is established – although in fairness Parker remains convinced that he is the man to scythe open an opposing defence with one surging run after another, and AVB did eventually introduce Dembele into a fairly progressive role. While the patience shown by our heroes was probably to be lauded, and they did not simply resort to the aimless pumping of long aerial balls, someone somewhere might want to address our lack of lock-pickery, given that it was just about 90 minutes before said lock was unpicked (and even then ‘twas not done by any particular act of subtle wizardry and slick passing interchanges but rather by a sledgehammer swung by Bale).
An End-of-Season Thought On The Main Man
There was nothing particularly new about events on Sunday, but I hope you don’t mind awfully if I bang a favourite drum one last time, for while there is quite astonishing match-winning goodness in those size nines of his, Bale probably has room for improvement in terms of being the man to dictate games. Last season all things good tended to begin with Modric, and often travelled via VDV; whereas now Bale can be fairly peripheral for long periods (admittedly before then slapping the ball in from 20+ yards). The next step for him might be to evolve to match-bosser. Since he clearly is not doing enough for us already.
Further reflections on the season will follow in due course, and the more masochistic among us have already had hours of fun poring over the season’s fixtures to pinpoint the exact moment at which we threw it all away (Everton away? Fulham at home? Those blasted first three fixtures of the season?), but in terms of Sunday’s affair it was all rather hollow. And that’s it. Consummatum est, and in such disappointing manner that the whole bally thing might as well not have taken place. Dash it all.
It would seem after that particular nerve-wracker to swerve rather wildly from reality by suggesting that the Spurs go marching on. Limping on, perhaps, or maybe sputtering to a halt and having our constituent parts stuffed unceremoniously into a sack and dragged towards the finish line by Bale. A less catchy ditty though, what?
Glorious relief though that finale provided, it was rather a poke in the eye for the massed ranks of us who have been insisting all season that we are more than just a one-man team. The problem with this specific one man is that he is not the sort to pull strings and dictate proceedings like some boot-clad revolutionary. The game passed Bale by as much as it did any of the other lilywhite heroes, the only difference being that while the rest of them could have huffed and puffed away until next season without producing anything different, Bale can conjure match-winners from rather innocuous-looking starting positions way out on the right, or wherever else he may be. Our mob is still bereft of a conductor, through whom all business passes – but that is one to be addressed in the summer months. For now, the good fight continues to be fought.
Curiously, for a match on which so much was riding, our heroes opted to a man to produce one of the most anaemic displays in recent memory. Hudd occasionally stroked an impeccably-weighted pass, and Kyle Walker beavered away, but that rather unpleasant sound in the distance is that of the AANP barrel being scraped in search of match highlights, for there was precious little of note from anyone, and after 80 minutes the dream appeared to be dying. The only chances I can recall were the early Defoe snapshot, and the little move involving a Hudd pass, Adebayor back-heel and inevitable Dempsey waft into the stands. The better chances were Southampton’s, in the first half at least, and once again Lloris saved our jambon. On the debit side, Benny had one of those days, producing all manner of suicidal buffoonery that but for the grace of God might have cost us our season, and Daws showed, not for the first time in his career, that it does not really require complex equations from Mensa’s finest to leave him floundering.
Probably best not to dwell on such things. To play badly and eke out a win is vaguely cockle-warming, and ‘tis difficult to imagine our mob being quite so toothless once again for Wednesday night’s cup final. A job needed doing and was done, albeit ultimately by our one man again. Three more points, and the dream remains alive.
Quite the 80th birthday present for AANP Senior. Is there a more joyous sight to behold in nature than a tide of adrenalin-pumped lilywhites pouring forward in wave after wave of irresistible attack at a sun-baked White Hart Lane? A spritely cheetah catching a young upstart of a gazelle and tearing it to pieces perhaps? That scene in Terminator 2 when Arnie shoots the padlock while riding his bike, then reloads seamlessly by twirling the shotgun around in his hand, and shooting another padlock? All worthy of a moment’s silent admiration, and reason if ever it existed to top up the tumbler with a fresh splash of bourbon in a gesture of unadulterated admiration - but by golly the sight of our heroes simply overwhelming the current champions in that mesmerising final 20 minutes, to the soundtrack of the most remarkable White Hart Lane din, was enough to make me smash a bottle of champagne against the side of the nearest ship, so rip-roaring were the events unfolding.
All of which came about, incredibly enough, after a dispiriting hour in which the dream looked set to die. The willingness of our heroes could not be faulted, but in the early stages ‘twas eerily reminiscent of many a Saturday evening in the nightspots of London, when AANP has attempted to woo the good womenfolk of London by delivering a ten-minute stream of unfunny bluster, before a rival cad strolls by to instantly sweep the young maiden off her feet with little more than an arched eyebrow. Thus was our valiant but slightly desperate gameplan of headless chickenry swiftly punctuated by one effortless flash of genius from Tevez, and lo – we trailed.
The pattern changed little thereafter, our attacking trio of Dempsey, Bale and Sigurdsson conspicuously lacking the nous of a Tevez, while ahead of them Adebayor gave a glimpse of a dystopian future in which teams play without a striker.
AVB’s Moment of Glory
But enter stage left the sort of managerial jiggery-pokery so barnstorming it can shoot pterodactyls out of the sky whilst blindfolded. While here at AANP Towers the suggested solution was nothing more progressive than a plaintive whinge about swapping strikers, AVB turned the universe on its head by switching from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, and unleashing the Hudd. Memories of the introduction of Jamie Redknapp at half-time in the Euro 96 England-Scotland match no doubt came flooding back to the lot of us, as Hudd instantly brought with him the perfect polygamous marriage of calmness, vision, technique and hair, giving us complete control and a nifty selection of dreamy, defence-splitting passes. The lad looked like he owned the ruddy pitch, and with Holtby buzzing around like a demented wasp ahead of him, Bale flicking the ‘Magic ’ switch on his left boot and Defoe showing the sort of bloody-minded eye for goal that Adebayor would not know if it slapped him in the face with a wet fish, all pretty swiftly became right with the world.
This does create a wonderful few conundra for AVB, around whether to select Defoe or Adebayor next up (relatively straightforward methinks); and whether to go with the brand of sorcery that Hudd delivers a little too effortlessly, within a 4-3-3, or the tireless but slightly directionless pirouetting of Parker, in a 4-2-3-1 (perchance more of a poser). These are queries for another day; now is without doubt still the time for making merry and, frankly, rubbing our eyes in disbelief. Where on earth it came from is slightly mystifying, but our heroes have got their groove back, and it was rollicking stuff.