Where was this lickety-split brand of football when we needed it earlier in the season? Throughout the first half, and even at 0-0, the one-touch interplay was slicker than a young bounder rolling into the office in braces and a shiny pair of cufflinks. Admittedly it was against a Villa side that looked suspiciously like it had been plucked from their mob of (rather mischievously entertaining) supporters, but nevertheless. Rollicking stuff. If ever there were an award for The Best 45 Minutes of Football At The Most Pointless Juncture of the Season, our heroes would be amongst the red-hot nominees.
Credit to Tactics Tim, in his valedictory charge, for spying that the opposition were but fan-based doppelgangers and accordingly going with two upfront plus a midfielder instructed to bomb forward and beyond. With Sandro holding fort, and Eriksen and Sig surreptitiously drifting infield towards that fun-filled centre, we had options a-plenty, leaving the various competition-winners entrusted with the Villa shirt for one day with little to do but step aside obligingly and let their ‘keeper face things single-handedly. And then as a particularly cruel additional prank they took a pop at him themselves, for our second. With friends like that, eh?
So tip-top was the build-up play in that first half that even our mishap-riddled full-back pair looked worthy of the epithet “Actual Professional Footballer”, Messrs Rose and Naughton taking time out from their season’s worth of misplaced passes to ping in a couple of wicked crosses and diagonals. Moreover, having spent all season resolutely knocking the ball sideways or backwards, Paulinho suddenly discovered the joys of actually progressing forward, in a manner vaguely akin to a blind man having the veil removed from his eyes, albeit with marginally less emotional impact. The opening goal was marvellously crafted, with the applause at AANP Towers ringing loudest for the cheeky, dinked lay-off provided by sideways merchant himself in the build-up. More was to come from Paulinho moments later, including a slide-rule pass for someone or other to blaze wide, proof indeed that after a full season the lad has finally begun watching and learning from Master Eriksen.
Naturally things tailed off in the second half, a gentlemen’s agreement having been brokered at the interval guaranteeing that all 22 of them they could all gently doze off – and that was that. The season that could not end soon enough has ended, the Sherwood era has (presumably) ground to an angry halt and the glorious Europa journey will be ours once more. Huzzah! If anything I rather suspect that the coming weeks will be a dashed sight more interesting around N17 than those just gone. Eyes peeled, as end of season awards will imminently this way come.
Shameless Plug Alert – Lest ye be feeling bereft of inane witterings and lilywhite marvels already, by all means browse the nearest bookstore for AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, which continues to decorate coffee tables and prop open doors the across the country.
So with the Top Four a fast-disappearing speck in the distance, the guillotine hovering over Tim and envious glances at Liverpool gently convincing the denizens of AANP Towers that a seventh-placed finish and quiet avoidance of Europa 2014-15 would probably do us the world of good, our heroes have decided to buck up their ideas and consolidate sixth. Thanks, heroes.
The Rarely-Seen Left Foot of Aaron Lennon
Still, Saturday will live long in the memory of all seasoned lilywhites, as for the first time since that winning goal vs Chelski circa ’05, there was a surprise guest appearance from Aaron Lennon’s left foot. Previously only employed for the purpose of enabling his unique strut, there it was in all its glory, sending in absolute peach of a cross for the forehead of young Master Kane. Oh that Lennon had pinged in such left-footed wizardry a little earlier and more regularly in his career, who knows what heights he might have scaled by now? But as it happens that cross on Saturday was a bit of a fluke.
Two More Strings To The Eriksen Bow
As ever, the magic ingredient in Saturday’s glory of glories was young Master Eriksen. Not necessarily in the sense of running rings around the Fulham mob, but the delivery of the free-kicks for Paulinho and Kaboul to do the necessaries was so downright vicious that it had me shielding the eyes of nearby impressionable infants. Even Paulinho, with his obsession for all things sideways and backwards, had little option but to apologetically tap the ball the requisite two forward inches required for doing the goal thing, so undefendable was the whipped cross from Eriksen.
And when Eriksen found himself the unwitting purveyor of a penalty for our visitors, he could be excused, not just for a season’s worth of gold dust in his boots, but because the penalty itself turned into an opportunity to add another million to Lloris’ summer transfer value.
(Insert Gag About the Lexical Flexibility of the Name ‘Kane’)
Three goals in three for young Kane, which must have Senor Soldado keeping his head down and dreaming of sunny Spain. Increasingly bearing the demeanour and gait of a man brought up on a diet solely of raw horsemeat – consumed without the assistance of either a knife or fork – Kane pleasingly demonstrated that his repertoire extends beyond lashing the ball with every ounce of energy from 20-plus yards, which I suppose counts as a step in the direction of becoming a more complete centre-forward. One would hardly suggest that in Kane and Adebayor we have a new Smith and Greaves, but each of them seem eminently capable of working opposing centre-backs into a healthy sweat over the course of 90 minutes.
So as this dismal mish-mash of a season stumbles to its conclusion there are at least a couple of straws clutched within the AANP fist. Lennon’s left foot is unlikely to be seen ever again in public, but where there is Eriksen there is hope, and with a little polish around the edges, and a steady stream of horsemeat, young Kane might prove an asset in next season’s Top Four push. A push that, on current form, is likely to be aided by the marvels of the Europa League, but such is life.
Poor old Tactics Tim has had a negative press at times, for papering over the nuances with buzzwords about passion and character and the like, but pre kick-off yesterday our glorious young leader emerged absolutely dripping in tactics. Nothing screams ‘I do tactics’ like sticking Walker in midfield and Lennon off the main striker, and by the time the first whistle blew we could barely move for the permutations. As things panned out, but for that ominous opening couple of minutes, things were fairly even in the first half, with everything very tight and compact and nairy a sniff of a half-chance. All of which is well and good, but it again leaves us wondering what the devil is the grand plan? As was the case under AVB, Sherwood seems to have a different idea every week, so as a result the personnel and formation changes each match and we start from scratch every time. In my idle moments of an evening I do occasionally ponder how our heroes would have fared this season if we had deployed the same XI (as far as injuries etc would allow) on a weekly basis.
The experiments involving Walker and Lennon made interesting viewing. Young Master Walker has long established himself as the Angriest Soul in North London, and his mood was hardly improved by the consequences of that bizarre backpass header, a moment which seemed to sum up the chap’s career as one of commitment and aggression laced with fairly frequent moments of mind-boggling mental negligence. Glossing over that particular error, the deployment of Walker in midfield was not a bad call. Hazard was indeed relatively well shackled, and there can be no doubting Walker’s body-strength, frequently showcased as an assortment of Chelski players simply bounced off him at various points. One suspects however that he will continue to be eyed askance by the White Hart Lane faithful as long as he keeps contributing to the opposition cause with those ‘special’ moments of his.
Lennon has previous in the hole, against these very same opponents if memory serves, Martin Jol having popped him there many moons ago. Alas, the blue mob were so well organised at the back that he barely had a sniff. Given his pace, and a willingness to amble forward that on occasion had him further advanced than Adebayor, it could in theory work - but the scattergun approach to formations amongst our lot may well mean that this particular experiment is shoved at the back of the cabinet and never seen again.
The Punch-Drunk Second Half
Back to the game, and what a dashed shame that the defence celebrated their first half shut-out by pouring themselves a few liberal half-time restorers and toasting one another non-stop for the duration of the interval. Those 15 minutes in the sanctity of the changing-rooms must have been an absolute riot – it is just a slight shame that as a consequence half the team wobbled out for the second half stinking of alcohol and barely able to tell one end of the pitch from the other. Thus did the bedlam ensue. Like teenagers let loose in Magaluf after their A-Levels, our lot began tripping over themselves and landing on their heads and forgetting which team they were playing for – heavens above there must have been some sore heads in the morning.
While we at AANP Towers are the last people to begrudge anyone an early-afternoon whiskey or two, it did seem quite a shame that having done all the hard work in the first half of keeping Hazard and Schurrle relatively quiet, they proceeded simply to present our hosts with goal after goal like that. In mitigation, one might suggest that the penalty and sending off put an end to the contest, and rather harshly so. However, while it seemed mighty rotten luck for Monsieur Kaboul to be chastised twice over simply for blowing his nose out of turn, or whatever the apparent misdeed was, he had got himself into a dubious position for carrying out the basics of his job in the first place.
Presumably few were expecting too much from this fixture in the first place, so there is little point in scratching this one until it bleeds. And yet, as if the circus act of a second half were not enough, we had Daws limping off, Kaboul facing a ban, Vertonghen looking suspiciously like he no longer cares, and a fixture list that is not about to ease up. It does rather hollow out one’s will to live, no?
With apologies for the tardiness, and in no particular order (actually that is an untruth – the highlight was without doubt the mass brawl):
1. The Glory of the On-Pitch Melee
Media sages may drone on that ‘Nobody likes to see that’, but in truth there are fewer more entertaining sights in football than an on-field scrum, and that which ensued on Thursday night delivered hilarity of the highest order. Handbags were swung, fingers were jabbed, naughty words were shrieked, and we were also treated to the quite magnificent sight of the lad who received the red card bursting into tears and going beserk, before being shrouded in an Adebayor strait-jacket. Quite possibly the most fun we have seen at the Lane all season, and all topped off by the glorious Schadenfreude of seeing our visitors’ early time-wasting tactics rather spin round and nip them.
2. Adebayor’s Prowess
It is easy to hammer on about Adebayor, his impact and whatnot, but that second goal in particular was absolutely ripping stuff. For years in this corner of the interweb we have banged on about the need for a Drogba-esque brick outhouse of a forward to lead the line, and while Adebayor’s build is perhaps more stick insect than rabid wildebeest, the strength and technique to pluck the ball from the heavens on his chest, hold off the surrounding scrum and wrong-foot the keeper was scraped from the film that sits atop the cream.
3. Eriksen’s String-Pulling Masterclass
With Dnipro cunningly sitting back in the first half and forcing us to use poor old Daws as a rather unlikely creative fulcrum in the first half, it was a blessed relief that having gone behind our heroes finally bucked up their ideas, with Master Eriksen doing a sterling job of pulling the strings. Drifting infield and treating us to his full array of cute little diagonal passes, the young imp absolutely masterminded that ten-minute blitz, and much that was good either side of it too.
Admittedly this u-turn in attitude, creativity and movement did rather beg the question why they had to go two goals down before rolling up their sleeves, and indeed a more pertinent question of why the absolute dickens Eriksen was deemed surplus to requirements last Sunday as we flopped at Norwich – but Thursday night at least made it pretty clear to whom we should look for inspiration in the coming weeks.
4. Using Numerical Advantage
Many a time and oft has a team of 11 run out of fizz against a well-marshalled 10, but by golly our heroes wasted little time in identifying the pressure point and applying all they had to it until the opposition squealed. With our full-backs hugging the touchline, Eriksen and chums were able to ping the ball wide or cut infield according to the whim of the moment, and Dnipro simply did not have enough bodies in the vicinity to prevent it. A fourth goal might have relieved the pressure, but in the main the job was done well.
5. Poor Old Soldado
Even the most hard-hearted and cynical amongst us would have felt a little sorry for Senor Soldado, who to his credit took his offside goal like a wizened old pro. I hesitate to suggest that the floodgates will open once he scores – a likelier scenario is another 10-game drought, on current form – but the poor lamb is beavering away, bless him.
Confusing I know, and I realise that if the attention wanders for a day or two one loses track completely, but just so everyone is clear – this week the dial is being flicked over to “CRISIS”.
Not that that seemed to register with our heroes. Bless them, they had to play twice this week don’t you know, and chug through passport control and squat into their Easyjet seats and whatnot, so it was unsurprising that a few of them looked like they were just biding time until they received a leg massage. The central midfield mob looked anything but razor-sharp, with Paulinho ambling around like a passenger on the tube who sticks his earphones in, opens his Kindle and resolutely avoids eye-contact with anyone in the hope that the blasted journey might finish a bit faster if nobody notices him. Meanwhile Bentaleb did a pretty smart job of studiously avoiding any meaningful contribution - and as if by magic our heroes had reduced the contribution of three central midfielders to two, and at times just the one. A nifty piece of legerdemain, which can have observers rubbing their eyes and scratching their heads in bewilderment.
More entertainment was to be had behind them, as Messrs Rose, Dawson and Naughton tootled around like little wind-up cars that had been released across the carpet. ‘Twas a good day for all Dawson Bingo enthusiasts, as he over-committed and sold himself nice and early, made some of those heroic full-stretch blocks, won a few meaty headers and found time for a caution, all in all a fine advert for the centre-backery of Monsieur Kaboul. The sooner his latest malady is remedied the better for all mankind.
What on earth goes on in poor Soldado’s head is anyone’s guess, but the young wretch seems physically unable to score. Rather like the chap in the new Robocop film, his programming simply forbids him to do it, which is a dashed shame because as well as looking the dickens of a imbecile whenever he blasts the ball wide, had he taken the chance that was presented to him on a salver, with gleaming cutlery and a glass of vintage red, we would have been well set for all three points.
One might bemoan that wit and ingenuity were nowhere to be seen, but such protestation would be quibbled by the pedants amongst us, for there it was, huddled up on the subs bench watching life tick by. Maddening stuff, as our mob by and large just ambled through the motions, apart from the late, token attempt to batter their way through in the closing stages when Townsend came on to liven things up.
So the drill now is that the thumping of Newcastle is a thing of the past, and crisis time is upon us again because the Top Four are disappearing over the hills. Until next week presumably. Mean time we can all plunge our knives Sherwood-wards, and lament and howl and look longingly at the gap above us.
A one-nil home win tends to evoke images of rock-solid fortresses and lashings of risk-free discipline, but with the nerves jangling so hard they were almost audible pre kick-off, as the first ten minutes unfolded I began to muse whether this might turn into another one of those wretched thrashings we seem to take every month or so.
Midfield Muscle (Or Lack Thereof)
The midfield troupe in particular seemed to take one look at things and make an instant decision to dig furiously at the ground before burying their heads as far as they would go, with the result that Everton snapped and muscled their way to every loose ball in that opening spell.
The approach was typified by young Master Eriksen. While ‘tis pleasing to note that his transition into a Modric-esque string-puller continues to take effect gradually, through the medium of threading balls sweetly this way and that, when it comes to physical combat he demonstrates all the presence of a particularly malnourished waif, and for some reason the rest of our heroes seemed to take their cue from him. I was also rather underwhelmed by the contribution of Paulinho. That’s a lie of sorts actually, as I struggled to locate Paulinho until he was yanked off in the second half.
Wrongs were eventually righted in this area however. To his credit Dembele didn’t shirk the challenge, and seemed to impose himself more as the game wore on, at one point trundling forward with Everton defenders trying to wrap themselves around his legs and haul him down, in a vaguely Six Nations sort of way.
Adebayor – Like A Girl In A Nursery Rhyme
Ultimately, we find ourselves needing to form an orderly queue to extend our thanks to Adebayor once again. Which is a little galling in a way, because the chap can be – and has been – a rotter of the first order. Like a pigtailed girl in a children’s poem, when bad he is horrid, but when good he is as close as we have come to a centre-forward of the Drogba mould, which is pretty much as the poem dictates, verbatim. His goal yesterday was a case in point, and it is certainly difficult to imagine Messrs Soldado, Kane or Defoe scoring thusly. However, if Sherwood can perform that strange alchemy that keeps him galvanised, and Good Adebayor lollops out each week, then presumably the points will keep ticking over. One dreads to think how events might have panned out, particularly in the first half, had Lukaku been present to lead the line for our visitors.
Man-Love For Walker. No? Just Me Then?
At the risk of attracting silence, some tumbleweed and an evil stare or two, before wrapping up I would like to clear my throat and profess a degree of man-love for the boy Walker. He seems to receive a fairly dubious press amongst the Spurs aficionados of my acquaintance, which seems jolly unfair, because few in the team display anything like his wild-eyed passion. Aside from stomping moodily about the place and calling upon his third lung to go tearing up the right every couple of minutes, I am always rather impressed with his ability to shield the ball out for a goal-kick – admittedly this ranks amongst the lowest victories that can be won during a game, but it still always prompts me into a nod of satisfaction. On top of which he effected a rather nifty piece of work in chipping forward the quick free-kick that set up Adebayor’s goal – remarkably quick thinking for a man who has carved out a side-career in on-field mental negligibility.
Somehow then, the bandwagon rolls on. Somehow, we are still but three points behind the all-singing all-dancing Liverpool team. Honestly, if that lot fail to make the Top Four this year, when their principal competition consists of our ragtag bunch and the worst Man Utd team in decades, then their entire playing and coaching staff deserve to be shot. Pardon the digression. This was by no means vintage lilywhite japery, but given the Cup Final feel to the fixture it was a dashed good effort, and keeps things simmering over nicely.
Bless them, Swansea genuinely are a team I would like to play every week. Like some sort of Tottenham Hostpur-lite, they really do not look the sort of troupe who like to get their shirts dirty with any of that tackling nonsense (although Chiriches and his pretty little face might beg to differ), and they would happily spend all day pinging short passes to one another if they could, even if doing so means creating all manner of difficulty for themselves in their own area, just because it all looks so pretty. In the final analysis, it feels a little bit like watching our first eleven playing the squad players.
In the opening half hour it did admittedly seem that our back-four were but one killer pass away from being rather brutally dismembered, but with each passing week it becomes ever more apparent that this is actually just a hilarious optical illusion of the Sherwood Era, and that Chiriches and Dawson actually have everything under control at all times, and are secretly smoking cigars rather than breaking sweat.
A pat on the back too for young Master Walker, who went steaming up the line with such vim and vigour that one imagines he eschewed the bus ride and instead sprinted all the way back to North London. Bentaleb also toddled around with the air of a young man who had arrived at the office with pencils sharpened and a nice clear agenda for the day. It is easy to see why the Brains Trust ’14 like the cut of his jib, for as jibs go his is cut with a pleasing mix of aggression and uncomplicated passing.
However, the shiniest star is saved for young Eriksen, who seemed rather at ease with life in a more central position. Indeed, the forfeiting of Soldado for Chadli had the salubrious side-effect of allowing the midfielders generally to buzz into each other’s territory whenever they spotted something that took their fancy, and this being Swansea it didn’t particularly matter who did what. Chadli himself did not exactly blow up anybody’s skirt, but the principle served well enough, and suggests that when fit again the future could look bright for Lamela.
AANP would not be the grumpy soul he is without a whinge or two about glorious captain, and indeed in the first half boxes were duly ticked as he went sliding full pelt in typically whole-hearted and ill-time manner at one point, and then executed that scarcely believable two-handed shove on a chap in the penalty area, a manoeuvre rather generously ignored by the ref. But by golly all was forgiven in the second half, when of all things he rolled a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass inside the full-back and into the path of young Master Walker, leading directly to our second goal. Who would have thought the old man to have so much cunning in him?
As well as Dawson’s Modric moment, there was also Kyle Walker’s quite glorious dummy in the final moments, that left some poor Swansea bean on his posterior, and the Eriksen cross for the opening goal, that curled so viciously I felt a little dirty just watching it. To their credit, both Dawson and Chiriches did the honourable things in central defence with minimal nonsense, particularly against an opponent such as Bony, who appears to have much of the barnstorm in his constitution.
A cheery day’s work then, and the glint in his eye will tell you that Sherwood has his little mitts set on that Manager of the Month award. The fixtures may have been kind, but the football is fun, the goals are rolling in at a healthy lick and the Top Four remains within spitting distance.
Plus ça change and all that, what? The 4-4-2 business will win us more games than it loses, particularly given the Sherwood mantra that bonus points will be awarded for whizzing the ball from back to front as rapidly as humanly possible, a most edifying change from the sidewards sidewards catchy monkey snooze-fest under the previous incumbent. However, yesterday – and, one imagines, against most of the slicker teams in the country – we were simply outmanoeuvred in midfield. Like a broken clock shouting ‘Bingo!’ twice a day, Andy Townsend stumbled upon an unfortunate truth yesterday when he mused that l’Arse were taking better care of the ball, and that, coupled with their numerical advantage in midfield, rather did for us.
The Three Stooges
It is never too encouraging to see Curly, Larry and Moe line up across the back-four, and while the defensive line is not quite so high these days, blind panic still broke out with disturbing regularity at the back. Walcott’s pace had poor old Daws and Chiriches scuttling around doing their very best decapitated poultry impressions, and as they spun around in little circles and bumped into each other they could not have been more convincing if adorned with blood-spattered feathers. Were one to use the ‘”Who would buy them?” test of a player’s ability, it is difficult to imagine any top-half team pausing to stroke the chin and count the pennies.
There is at least some consolation in the fact that these are our third and fourth choice centre-backs (one hopes), but the news is worse out on the left. The excruciating little tizz into which young Master Rose imploded can probably be shrugged off as the sort of occasional mistake that befalls even the best of us, but the regularity with which he cedes possession jolly well makes me grind my teeth, and not in the good way mind.
Young Walker tends to attract opprobrium on a regular basis, and admittedly yesterday, having done the hard work of racing back to catch Rosicky, it was a little odd that he opted not to intervene any further in matters to prevent the goal. However, I tend to exonerate the chap on the grounds that few men in Christendom seem to take things quite so seriously and passionately as he. Oh that all our lilywhite heroes cared as much about winning their individual battles throughout the 90.
The Unfortunate Lot of a Midfielder in a 4-4-2
The midfield beavered away, bless them, but that whole thing was rather a mismatch. Adebayor’s commendable exertions in dropping deep were not really enough to fight the fires, and when l’Arse got their groove on and started pinging the ball in neat little triangles one imagines there were a few embarrassed looks amongst Bentaleb and chums. On the bright side, when in possession and merrily bursting out on the counter our heroes look about one smart pass away from a one-on-one every time, with Eriksen and Lennon evidently being given all sorts of encouragement to bust a gut in search of goals. Eriksen in particular looks like he has a nice picture of things in his head. The execution still tends to be a little off-key, but one gets the impression that in time he will be quite the play-maker.
Whether Sherwood sticks with this approach for our trickier away-day assignments will make for interesting viewing in the coming months. The 4-4-2 gamble of losing the possession game but having excess numbers on the counter worked a treat vs Man Utd, but had us panting and wheezing a tad yesterday, and ultimately our glorious leader will probably be judged on results in those biggest of big games.
In this part of the interweb nothing really set the juices flowing like a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass that rips open a defence like a dismembered carcass. If it is played inside the full-back so much the better, and if, on top of all of the above, it is threaded through the legs of a defender en route to its destination, then it jolly well deserves a bonus point.
On which note, Señor Soldado can take a bow. The ball may bounce uncontrollably of the wrong limb whenever he gets within spitting distance of the net, but if ever a pass deserved to be dressed up in a tux and immaculate bow-tie, given a full two minutes applause and awarded a shiny statuette it was Soldado’s in the first half to set up Lennon for his early one-on-one.
While wittering on about the forward line, Adebayor, it seems, continues to eat his five a day, and another rip-roaring performance ensued. Whether holding up the ball, taking on Wayne Rooney of all people in a mano-e-mano tussle by our own corner flag or showing his contempt for that old gravity malarkey by hanging in the air for nigh on a minute and a half in order to head home our first, the chap bounded around with absolute lashings of verve and eagerness. Oh that the secret to his enthusiasm could be bottled and recycled on a weekly basis.
Elsewhere on the spectrum stretching from Most Welcome to Dashed Infuriating striking performances was young Harry Kane. He may fit into his lilywhite shirt like a steroid-enhanced oak tree but there the similarity with Monsieur Drogba ends. In his defence, Master Kane was almost certainly put through a condensed army boot-camp session during half-time, as that would reasonably explain why the lad looked absolutely shattered from the moment he puffed on to the moment he panted off at the final whistle, presumably just seconds before collapsing in a muscular heap in the tunnel. With fresh legs needed to hold up our attacking play and chase down every United defender in sight, Kane seemed to spend his minutes treading through wet concrete. (Although the moment when he stood offside and deliberately whacked the ball into the crowd did make me chortle.)
T’Other End of the Pitch
Hats tipped at a jaunty angle to the defence – and their chums from elsewhere – for holding firm in that nervy final quarter. Ranting about Dawson’s footballing prowess or lack thereof comes about as naturally to yours truly as letting the eyes glaze over and humming the theme to Beverly Hills Cop while the various marvellous womenfolk in my life rant about my lack of attention or some such thing, but if our intrepid skipper does one thing well it is put his body on the line for a humdinger of a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort. Defending deep removes from the equation his ‘pace’, and lets him get on with the meaty business of repelling the myriad crosses and shots fired in, and thus did he strain the sinews with gay old abandon for the cause.
None of which was quite enough to detract from the shortcomings of the boy Rose, who dribbled into trouble, was effortlessly dribbled past or misplaced his passes with fairly metronomic regularity. Meanwhile the jury remains in a quandary over Chiriches, who mixes sterling interventions with moments of thinking himself the Romanian Pele and trying to dribble past everyone in sight. The midfield seemed well drilled however, each seeming to pick the right moment to bomb forward and the right moment to roll up sleeves and muck in.
There is a growing sentiment that Lloris has not quite been the same dapper chap he once was since getting that clout on the head, and there was certainly a hairy moment when he gave a Gallic shrug and opted to flatten deserving miscreant Ashley Young. However, one cared rather little about this by the end of proceedings as he flung himself hither, thither and every point in between in order to repel our hosts, antics that were probably worth a hat-trick, if you get my drift.
A 100% Record in 2014
So far things are bright and beautiful on the good ship Sherwood. The 4-4-2 selection at the outset certainly gained a nod of admiration from these quarters, for showing, if nothing else, a willingness to live by the sword, even if carnage did appear to beckon, but for an hour or so we played a mighty impressive counter-attacking game, preventing United from fashioning any particularly straightforward chances while carving open a clutch of glorious ones ourselves. Things certainly took a wobbly swerve after United pulled back their goal, but all’s well etc. The only shame was that the delicious irony, of the big decisions going against United at Old Trafford, appeared to be lost on the humourless chappie manning their helm.
AVB having curiously opted against inviting me into his inner sanctum (despite that halcyon era playing Football Manager in my second year at Uni when I masterminded three consecutive wins to help Spurs avoid relegation on the final day of the campaign, admittedly having steered them to the foot of the table in the first place), I will never know whether, in that world of gravelly beards and even gravellier voices, our erstwhile supremo really did send our heroes out to battle with the order ringing in their ears to pass sideways and sideways again, ad infinitum, until their own brains, the brains of their opponents and the brains of all witnessing the dirge literally melted, forming a puddle of cerebral matter over which he could stand and wax lyrical about his project. Maybe he did, maybe not, but in the brave new world the drill seems to be to point the compass goalwards when plotting one’s next move, and the saints be praised for such a blessing.
One change that can most definitely be attributed to Sherwood and chums is the switch to two upfront, which once again paid dividends. In a general sense there seemed to be bodies in the box whenever we galloped forwards, and on a more particular note the combo once again brought about a goal, Soldado finding Adebayor in the build-up to the penalty. Whether this two up-front gambit will work away from home and against mightier opposition than today’s rabble remains to be seen – and will be seen jolly imminently as it happens – but today things panned out swimmingly.
If nothing else, the boy Soldado can take a mean penalty. (If you pardon the wild digression, watching Soldado step up with such confidence again has me wanting to eat my own elbow whenever I hear our national heroes bemoaning a penalty shoot-out as a ‘lottery’, as if the thing were entirely in the lap of the gods. Practise the bally things like Soldado evidently does and every penalty becomes a gift-wrapped opportunity to wed Mr Ball to young Ms Net.) Soldado might want to indulge in a little extra shooting practice from other angles, but at least the chances are now being created, and sooner or later they will presumably start flying in.
That said, one would probably caution him to steer clear of Paulinho when they toddle off for said shooting practice, because the Brazilian still appears to be aiming for a spot about 15 yards high and to the right of the net. Elsewhere, Adebayor is still beavering away like a man sniffing a new contract, or transfer, or whatever it is that perks the chap up every now and then, and while it sometimes does appear that the messages simply do not transit from brain to foot in time, his inclination to poke a first-time pass rather befuddles the opponent and endears him to me. Lovely also to see Lennon making hay, neatly topped off with a goal that had us all purring.
The Annual Rant Against Stoke.
While we might have been fortunate to avoid conceding a penalty or two in the first half, when limbs seemed to entangle in all manner of ways in our area, one of the most pleasing aspects of the whole afternoon was that, for a change, we gave Stoke an absolute roasting. London-based sentiment aside, I do not think there is a team I have abhorred more over the years than this lot. While dissent is good for any democracy, and therefore Stoke’s traditional anti-football is probably in some way healthy for the beautiful game, watching them push, pull, niggle and shove their way to countless one-nils at the Lane had me fearing the worst as we dominated without scoring for the first half hour. This being the new era however our heroes took the most impertinent step of sowing the thing up with twenty minutes to play, securing a three goal lead of all things. Most perplexing, but undoubtedly lashings of fun. Moreover, by breaking from tradition and taking the liberty of winning by more than just a single goal our lot have now moved on the exalted perch of a minus two goal difference. Minus two! Whatever next?