Since the players could not blow their nose without that wretch awarding another penalty this afternoon, it might simplify things to report on things by giving names to the various spot-kicks. So the one that involved Lampard, Lamela and possibly a gust of wind we shall christen ‘Reginald’; the red card fiasco will be ‘Phyllis’; our glorious opportunity shall be known as ‘Maxine’; and the other one can be ‘Greg’.
Opening blows had already been exchanged when Reginald struck. Lamela appeared to tickle Lampard with a feather, and that proved all the encouragement needed for our resident law-enforcer.
A salutary lesson here for young Lamela. Like Dier against Liverpool earlier this season (let’s call that one ‘Jan-Michael’, for simplicity), the alleged foul was as soft as the luxurious fur of some endangered species of animal, but the moral of the story is clear enough – just don’t give the referee the option to make such calls. There was no reason for Lamela to nestle up to Lampard from behind, as the City man waddled into the area. Leave him alone man, leave that to one of those chaps facing the right way. (Although ardent followers of ‘Greg’ might beg to differ, but more on that later).
I rather lost track of the chronology of the thing, but Greg was the clearest penalty of the lot, involving as it did Monsieur Kaboul’s latest real-time demonstration of his waning powers. Once upon a time this chap was quite the colossus - all barrel chest, thundering pace and perfectly-sculpted eyebrows. These days it seems that he has it in his contract to magic from thin air a seismic blunder, as if to illustrate to young protégé Chiriches in vivid HD precisely how one should create catastrophe in the heart of the defence. Bang on cue he flew into a needless, mis-timed lunge, and Greg was born. ‘Sacre bleu’, poor old Hugo presumably mutters to himself, as he views the carnage ahead of him, before pulling off his latest astonishing save. He deserves better.
Another from the Chiriches School of Complete Mental Absence, there could be no doubt that Fazio yanked back the forward, practically shoving the ref out of the way in order to do so. The whole wretched performance was delivered with all the surreptitiousness of a four year-old standing with hand in cookie jar and chocolate smeared all over their mouth, and for that this oak-tree of a man deserves nothing less than to have a limb hacked off with a rusty saw. It would not be stretching things to suggest that liberal quantities of salt be sprinkled across the bloody stump either.
But a red card? Dash it all, in order to be a ‘goalscoring opportunity’ the ball had to bypass two defenders, the striker had to gallop another ten yards and a nearby elephant had to jump through a flaming hoop. Admittedly, I suspect that if Phyllis had not been awarded our heroes would have found a way to concede anyway, but the nub of the thing is that there was a heck of a sequence of bits and bobs that needed crossing and dotting before the goalscoring chance actually materialised. And as such, the red card was even more cryptic than that slapped in Kyle Naughton’s face against West Ham on the opening day of the season.
Easy to forget when you slink off 4-1 down at the culmination of things, but with 20 minutes to go an unlikely heist was on the verge of execution. Penalty to our lot, with a chance to reach parity, if you recall.
In truth Maxine was a devious mistress, because the foul appeared to occur a smidgeon or two outside the area. However, the ref by this stage was well into party mood, pointing to the spot with all the gay abandon of a champagne-quaffing reveller, and frankly it was nice to be remembered by him.
Poor old Soldado’s was not the worst penalty ever - it ticked some of the standard boxes one dreams up for this thing (on target; low; heading more or less for the corner;) - but thus do cookies crumble.
Elsewhere – Capoue & Mason
Aside from the penalties there were all manner of bells, whistles, character developments and sub-plots. And none of them seemed to involve Capoue, on whom I kept a particularly watchful eye today, just for sport. What purpose did the chap serve? He held his position religiously enough, bobbing around five yards in front of the comedy act known as our back-four, but seasons will change and empires rise and fall before the blighter ever makes an intervention of note.
By contrast, young Master Mason bounded around with all the enthusiasm of a young puppy released into the back garden for his daily jaunt. The brio will presumably fade and cynicism settle in (a la Dembele and Soldado, par example), but he did not waste an opportunity to burst a lung for the cause today, and could frequently be sighted trying to socialise with his elders in the attacking triumvirate. Not afraid to fly into a tackle either, his challenge creating our goal.
All told, the outcome was rather a blow to the solar plexus, but for over an hour our lot dug away, and a point looked possible. The drill against Top Four teams seems to be clear enough – keep things tight (through team shape, rather than dazzling defensive prowess from the individual personnel), and scamper forward via Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela at every opportunity. At times this front three looked razor-sharp, but the salient point this season is likely to be whether they can score more at one end than the assorted clowns concede at the other, week in and out.
A quiet triumph for our glorious leader, this one. Coming on the back of the wretched Sunderland draw, and wretcheder West Brom defeat, the polite coughs around Pochettino had been increasing in volume all week, but credit to the man. The air around Finsbury Park presumably still resounds to the irate warbling of Wenger, who took a deep breath at the full-time whistle yesterday and has not stopped grumbling since, but this was a dashed hard-earned point for our lot.
This was not the time for coruscating interplay, merry quip and flashing badinage. This was not a time for Chiriches, and his Dali-esque take on the art of defending. Evidently not a fan of early 90s brat pack western Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, Pochettino sagaciously eschewed the notion of our heroes getting shot to death one after another in the quest for bravura headlines, and instead stuck to the markedly less glamorous – but infinitely more sensible – project entitled ‘Work Your Cotton Socks Off, Stick to the Plan And Take Home A Point’.
Kaboul and Vertonghen had the right idea, neither toddling off more than six paces from the other, and all around them in lilywhite were faces etched with concentration. Rose and Naughton in particular can puff their chests today, for rarely have two young beans attracted such opprobrium over their careers as this pair from yours truly – but they jolly well filled the unforgiving minutes with distance run yesterday.
The shiniest gold star however, without doubt goes to our trusty guardian of the net. Amidst all the hours of debate surrounding his frightfully modern role of sweeper ‘keeper, one sometimes forgets about young Lloris’ du pain et du beurre, but when push came to shove and the shots flew in yesterday he dashed well had every angle covered, beaten only by the elaborate full-body-wrap-around dummy thrown by the wretched Welbeck. Rather excitingly, one second half save even had the gods of goal-line technology awoken from their slumbers, which presumably had Jonathan Pearce’s brain melting out of his ears.
A Mild Regret
Not wanting to sound ungrateful about things, but given that throughout the entire game we only managed to touch the ball about seven times, it was mildly annoying that we made rather a pickle of two or three jolly presentable counter-attack opportunities, in the first half in particular. We did eventually get the final ball right – Lamela hitting the bullseye with his assist for Chadli – but one or two more of those in the first half and we might have had a two- or even three-goal lead to spurn. Ah well, live and learn, what?
A Glimpse of the Future
If our general game-plan was one of locking ourselves in a bunker and waiting for the ongoing alien invasion to pass overhead, the longer-term Pochettino approach was at least given a brief and stirring cameo when we took the lead. Much hot air has been expelled about the whole business of ‘pressing high up the pitch’, but with Adebayor ambling around with all the energy of doleful sloth this fabled approach has been as rare as a two-headed rabbit so far this season, so it was jolly heartening to see our heroes snaffle the ball just 30 yards from the opposition goal yesterday, and proceed to cross t’s and dot i’s until the net was rippling.
And to round things of, a round of applause to the unfeasibly young arbiter of proceedings, who did a cracking job of preventing a full-scale riot by cautioning Chadli for his irresponsible and over-the-top goal celebration. Goodness knows, the very fabric of society would have come crashing down around us if that fine bastion of the rulebook had not waved yellow in Chadli’s face. The relief in the corridors of power today has been palpable.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Such is life I suppose, but AANP is remarkably sanguine about the Late Own-Goal Fiasco. Mellowing with age, no doubt.
Dembele > Bentaleb
Pre kick-off, hearty roars of approval could be heard to resonate from every corner of the globe, as news filtered through that Bentaleb had been jettisoned and Dembele selected in his stead. No doubt a startled and dismayed Bentaleb instinctively looked sideways and backwards and backwards and sideways for explanations when the news was broken to him, but Sunderland away was no time for such unproductive ambling. All the possession in the world is of little use if we get nowhere near the opposition net, and while Bentaleb would presumably react to such a sentiment by slamming his hands on his ears and howling in dismay, Dembele dithers not. Straight from kick-off the chest was puffed out, opponents bounced off him and every time he received possession he looked to drive forward, and a positive tone was duly struck.
The Attacking Triumverate
Matters were also helped no end by the attacking triumvirate of Chadli, Eriksen and Lamela. Where two weeks ago Chadli and Eriksen in particular flittered around with all the menace and intent of a pair of particularly absent-minded butterflies, yesterday the two of them and Lamela brought with them bucketloads of brio and gusto, and proceeded to slosh it all around the park with gay abaondon.
If there were a pocket of space in between Sunderland’s defence and midfield one or more of that lot were popping up in it, and if there were a cute, eye-of-the-needle pass in the vicinity you could bet every last penny plus a couple of stamps that the aforementioned would be trying their darnedest to deliver it.
Frankly, everything went swimmingly from start, through the middle, via a couple of sub-plots and just about all the way until finale. But dash it all, instead of running riot and popping away the six or so goals we more or less merited, things went vaguely awry each time at the final hurdle. The ball would ping off the woodwork, or splat against the chest of that gormless goalkeeper without him even realising. A last-ditch tackle here, a narrow miss there, and before you knew it we had conceded a bally own goal of all things, and were left wandering off at the final whistle scratching our heads in bewilderment.
The Exciting World Of Vlad Chiriches
Presumably Master Vertonghen had a stubbed toe or man-flu or some other such malady, to explain his absence from the entire squad. As a result, young Chiriches bounded up to the plate, and promptly convinced himself yet again that this was a school playground and his name was Pele. Paying scant attention to the basic principles of defending the lad simply could not prevent himself from trying to dribble past everyone in sight every time he touched the ball. Here is a bean who no doubt grew up watching and re-watching that Saudi lad from World Cup ’94 who picked up the ball in his own half and ran the length of the pitch before scoring. The law of averages suggests that one day Chiriches will do the same, and I rather hope we stick with him because in the medium-term a ball-playing centre-back is not to be sniffed at. But at present the chap ought to have the word ‘CALAMITY’ written across the back of his shirt, because his penchant for dribbling into trouble is as predictable as it is hilarious.
Chins Up, What?
Back to the grand scheme of things, and disappointment aside I that in the marathon that is The Pochettino Era this represented another vaguely successful outing. Two points dropped no doubt, but given that we will regularly face teams looking to sit back and stifle the dickens out of us, the performance was encouraging. Sideways passes and meaningless possession can go boil their own heads, for there was creativity by the sackful here.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
AANP has just biffed off on holiday this last week (Malta, since you ask), and these sunny retreats to foreign climes would not be worthy of the name if they did not at some point involve tracking down an English-themed watering-hole to watch Spurs get thoroughly dismantled, to the mirth of the nearby pink-faced denizens.
Despite the uncontainable urge amongst some of particularly dramatic ilk to race to the nearest hasty conclusion and yelp “Crisis! False dawn! Just not good enough, dash it!” this strikes me as but a stumble along a fairly promising path. A jolly chastening stumble mind, complete with unceremonious landing and all the trimmings, but not yet the moment to be inciting unrest amongst the nearest angry mob.
Midfield Creativity: AWOL
Particularly infuriating was the fact that that smug lot beat us at our own game, blast them – harrying off the ball, counter-attacking in a blurry burst of heels and generally executing some slick, incisive stuff in the final third.
By contrast, Bentaleb and Capoue seemed resolute in their determination to avoid anything with the merest whiff of deep-lying creativity (which potentially gives the Brains Trust food for thought in The Great Capoue Vs Dembele Debate, given the Belgian’s uncontrollable urge to puff out a chest and trundle goalward). The dull hum of inactivity behind them meant quite the onus on Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela to run riot. Alas, the first two in particular seemed not to care for such frivolous duties, seemingly content instead to bask in the glory of the previous week’s efforts, and other than the occasional long ball hoicked over the top there was nary a sniff of goal all afternoon.
Adebayor showed a hint of spirit, as did Lamela in the second half, like a couple of puppies haring round after the ball, but for all their gusto there was precious little effect, and by and large ignominy was jolly well in her element and having an absolute whale of a time. This being Spurs such things happen, but the imperative for Pochettino and chums now is to ensure that this is most certifiably the exception rather than the rule.
And to round off a rather doleful few days we have now bid rather hasty farewells to a couple of the elder statesmen. Few could make a convincing case that Daws is still of top-rate Premiership quality (the highlights of his Hull debut appeared rather cruelly to corroborate this), but the blighter could not have been more committed to the lilywhite cause if he were hatched from a cockerel’s egg laid in the centre of the White Hart Lane turf. And by all accounts a thoroughly decent old bean too. Oh that a spot could have been found for him as a permanent mascot leading the players onto the pitch each week. Gone, but absolutely not forgotten, I suspect that it is not just at AANP Towers he will be welcome to a free bourbon any time he jolly well chooses.
Amidst the hullaballoo of it all, the bods at the top have sneakily shunted Sandro down the exit chute as well. Of quality and endearing commitment he had plenty, and the weekly axis of awesomeness that he formed alongside Dembele a couple of years back will live long in the memory, but the point has been made that the poor blighter was rarely in good health, so the rationale for selling him is understandable, if nevertheless regrettable.
Two long-serving troops is probably enough for one episode of this particular soap opera, but despite a few swirling murmurs Monsieur Kaboul remains in situ. Time is not in the habit of waiting for the good mortals of this sphere, but in Kaboul’s case Time seems to have legged it while the Frenchman’s back was turned and disappeared into the distance. No longer the colossus of two or three years back, the Liverpool game was the latest indication that the chap has lost several yards of pace, and is adding a distinct flavour of fallibility to proceedings at the back. Captain by default he may be, but he looks less and less the inspiring leader with every passing minute. One rather hopes that the new chap Fazio is fully-clad and limbered up, because his appears the next cab on the rank.
I would imagine that unborn children leapt in their mothers’ wombs on Sunday, given that we managed to produce our slickest display since ‘Arry was last at the Lane. One could barely move for an interchange of cunning short passes between our heroes that had the QPR players spinning in circles and crashing into each other - the third goal in particular being notable for being the first in history to be preceded by literally a million uninterrupted passes.
This interplay was largely facilitated by the manner in which our heroes buzzed around off the ball like a swarm of particularly indignant white-clad bees. So often the scourge of Tottenham teams in the last couple of seasons, when possession has swung drearily from right to left and back again, due to all and sundry standing idly – and statically – by with fingers up nostrils and hands on hips, this time off-the-ball movement abounded.
Every bit as pleasing as this was the almost demented fashion in which our lot beavered away when QPR were in possession. Sycophantic fawning toward the new manager it may have been, but Messrs Lamela and Eriksen, hardly renowned as the brawn-laden, ball-winning terriers of the team, seemed absolutely demented in their pursuit of QPR ankles at which to snap – one such Eriksen challenge pilfering possession and setting in motion our opening goal.
As well as off-the-ball movement, another wrong of previous seasons that was promptly righted was popping away a goal bright and early. Last year our lot seemed to think it against the rules of the thing, but on Sunday early domination was duly turned into an opening goal at the ungodly hour of ten minutes past kick-off. On top of which, they then flicked the switch to ‘Clinical’ and turned dominance into so many goals that the thing was over by half-time. Where will it all end?
Elsewhere on the pitch
Lamela quite rightly earned himself the drool of a thousand seasoned observers, finally starting to resemble the hero of all those Youtube clips we pored over last summer. The lad also seems to have mastered the curious art of sporting four different hairstyles simultaneously, but young people will do such things.
Young Master Chadli took his chances with aplomb, or indeed several plombs, and there were further reasons, at both ends of the pitch, to muse that Daws-out-Dier-in will prove one of the niftier pieces of transfer legerdemain that the N17 Brains Trust ever produce.
Most sensationally however, AANP has considered issuing a grovelling apology to one D. Rose Esquire. While it would be stretching things a mite to suggest that he has morphed into one of the elite, his pirouette and delicious pass for Adebayor’s goal had me positively purring. Do that week in, week out from now until next May and I may well revise my opinion of the uncontrollably-limbed scamp.
Disproving the usual disclaimers
Of course, this being Tottenham and I being a follower, I had barely pootled along to the train station before all manner of gloomy caveats and disclaimers had sprung to mind – but then such dreary pessimism is what makes us Spurs fans so adorable, no? Thus did I muse that this was only QPR, and the season is but two games old, and we will probably have gone to rack and ruin by Christmas – but a voice seemed to whisper in my ear “Au contraire, AANP, not so.” And a dashed good point this imaginary friend made, for last season I bally well lost count of the number of times we dominated possession against second-rate opposition, looked a tad bereft of creativity and had our pockets picked by some bundled set-piece nonsense. So if this season our lot turn over two lowly teams, good on them. Six fewer points to worry about come May, and I dare say at least one of the (likely) Top Five will drop points at home to QPR at some point.
On top of all of which, our heroes sit pretty atop the tree. Absolutely spiffing stuff.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Regular frequenters of this corner of the interweb will be well aware that here dwells no particular fan of Kyle Naughton, primarily for the crime of simply not being Top Four/Five/Six standard (although in addition to this he also spent most of last season convincing me that he was still a whippersnapper with plenty of time to improve, rather than being 25 years of age – 25! – the swine).
However, even at my biased and most wildly unfair it is nigh impossible to attach blame to the blighter for yesterday’s sending off. A handball no doubt (it was hardly filled with cynicism and malice, but his hands were well away from his body), but the mind has been boggling for a good 24 hours now in an attempt to make that a red card offence. Yank back a man as he hares down on goal, or swing wildly at his kneecaps and one can expect to be sent on one’s way, but Naughton’s handball seemed a couple of yards – plus one top-notch goalkeeper – away from being prevention of a certain goal. If resident arbiter Chris Foy dishes out reds for that sort of thing one dreads to imagine the mirthless existence of the children at Foy Towers, who presumably are tossed into a cellar whenever they fail to clear their plates, and are dealt half a dozen lashings for every misspelt word in their homework.
However, once Foy had meted out his own unique brand of justice, to their credit our heroes clung to parity for a good half hour. All the more impressive when once considers that in similar circumstances in the corresponding fixture last season, when we went down to ten men at a similar point in the game (Kaboul doing the honours) the whole bally lot of them collectively wilted like a particularly world-weary sunflower.
A cheeky nod of approval too in the direction of our latest glorious leader, for the post-red card tinkering he effected. Where convention dictates that in such circumstances the nearest meandering forward should be hooked off and Dawson, or the nearest approximation, duly plonked at the back, Pochettino intriguingly left the entire front four in situ, giving nary a glance at his subs, and instead shunted the resident prodigal Capoue from the defensive shield in midfield into central defence. 4-2-3-1 neatly became 4-1-3-1, and although we pootled along fairly gently thereafter it warmed the heart to see that the sending off was not automatically the prompt for a downing of all attacking tools and reversion to safety-first defence.
Elsewhere on the Pitch
Goodness knows what they feed defenders out in Portugal, but young Master Dier certainly drifted forward for his goal without batting an eyelid or breaking a sweat, and a doff of the cap is duly directed towards him. Elsewhere ye olde problems that were ever present at left-back reappeared with a sunny wave, as Danny blasted Rose allowed himself to be turned inside out by Steward Downing of all people.
Further up the pitch the famed Pochettino alchemy cannot yet be said to have truly been effected across the green and pleasant land, as Lamela missed as often as he hit, but frankly it was just nice to see him lolloping out the place from the off, as if the whole sorry mess of his debut season had never happened.
The rather unique circumstances of this one make it a touch difficult to draw too many conclusions, but bragging rights over that ‘orrible lot are always welcome, a last-minute winner allows for particularly unbearable smugness in the office on the Monday morning and three points away from home is most satisfactory way to get proceedings underway.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
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.