Despair – it has a reputation as a rather pejorative term, but as the definition is apparently simply ‘the absence of hope’ it fits in the whiskey cabinet quite snugly, what? For sure our lot will put Sunderland to the sword – or complicate things somewhat before stretching ahead in the final 10-20 – but even with a mooted million pound bonus being dangled in front of them, the chances of Newcastle doing the necessaries seem more Stuart Nethercott than Ledley King.
That said, our heroes would feel frightfully sheepish if they made a pickle of things today and then discovered that the ‘orrible lot from down the road had themselves dropped points, so AVB and chums have presumably given strict instructions to everybody to keep their heads down, sharpen their pencils and concentrate on their own exam papers.
‘Tis a big day for all amateur Freudians in the north London area, as the unhinged bag of acorns that is Emmanuel Adebayor lollops around the turf for possibly the final time as a lilywhite. By an act of complete randomness within the universe, his switch has been flicked this way rather than that in recent weeks, meaning that after months and months of Bad Adebayor we are now finally being treated to a few weeks of Good Adebayor. Another storming performance beckons.
A late charge is also being made by Dempsey to win over the unforgiving folk at AANP Towers, and while I would personally prefer to see Defoe deployed within a two-man attack when we play at home as overwhelming favourites, one would imagine that there will be enough incision to wrap things up today. AVB may also be tossing a coin today to decide which – if any – of Hudd and Parker should make way for Dembele. Given the impact he made last week, as being the only blighter willing to dribble past folk and straight into the heart of the opposition area, I jolly well hope he is indeed deployed from the off.
So once more unto the breach, for what is likely to be the latest in the never-ending stream of St Tottingham Days. But after the Chelski robbery of last season, and the lasagne thing, and moments like the Mendes goal – wouldn’t it be absolutely marvellous if an outrageous stroke of luck actually benefited us this time?
Stoke away is traditionally the cue for an AANP diatribe against the merits or otherwise of the long-ball game, and assorted elbows, long throw-ins and whatnot. This time however there are bigger fish to fry, and by golly our heroes need to be at the ready with chef’s hats tipped just so.
The curious goings-on of Wednesday night leave some food for thought. In defence there was the tale of two full-backs, with Benny again believing his own hype, repeatedly attempting moments of trickery closer to ridiculous than sublime and consequently getting himself and the team into pickle after pickle, a performance that had AANP murmuring that he needed to be taken out the back and shot (the common means of dealing with transgressions here at AANP Towers). On t’other flank by contrast, young Master Walker looked suspiciously like a whippersnapper who had stumped scientist types the world over by growing a third lung. The lad looked unstoppable whenever he bombed forward, and if Lennon is below par again today his interventions will be jolly useful.
Glory be, Dembele is reportedly back to fitness for today’s encounter, for the Parker-Hudd combo was painfully lacking in verve. Understandably so, for they are third and fourth choice, but no less galling for that. Hudd’s passing range swung bizarrely between scrumptious and plain awful, while Parker simply no longer looks good enough for games against the country’s finest. He might fare well enough against Stoke however.
And as for attack, head-scratching all round. Bale did his best to shake off the ‘One-Man Team’ tag on behalf of his team-mates (credit to Chelski for the shackling job, but AVB might hav countered this by moving him into the centre). Meanwhile, the suspicion grew that Adebayor is a 5 year-old trapped in a set of limbs too long for his control. As with AANP’s pre-school nephews, when things went well for him his spirits rose and he became amazing; when things go less well he dons the invisibility cloak. Fingers crossed then that he scores or assists approximately every 15 minutes today, as that would probably be enough to maintain an unplayable performance level throughout (as well as providing us with six goals).
Traditionally a point away to Stoke would be acceptable enough for our heroes, but anything less than victory today would almost certainly blow things for the season. No pressure then chaps.
If it’s sunny optimism you want you are dashed well in the wrong part of the interweb. Get out while you can. A dull sense of foreboding has donned its slippers and smoking jacket, put its feet up and is idly flicking through the Raymond Chandler novels, having made itself quite at home at AANP Towers over the last month or so. While the lilywhite machine has gradually run out of steam, those rump-fed runyons at l’Arse and Chelski have ground out win after blasted win, and from this pessimistic viewpoint it is nigh-on dashed impossible to envisage the much-needed away win tonight. The combination of the Chelski attack-dogs misfiring and our heroes suddenly revisiting 90s dance and discovering both the key and the secret to ripping up an opposition defence just seems a little too unlikely. Fingers crossed AVB and the Brains Trust have a slightly cheerier outlook, what?
Having beaten Man Utd (away) as well as Man City and l’Arse, it is of course eminently feasible that we will run amok tonight and leave this particular ‘orrible lot rueing the day. And then of course there is the Bale factor – 15 seconds unsupervised would probably suffice.
The pessimism, however, emanates from the occasional fallibility of our high defensive line (neither Daws nor the magnificent Vertonghen could really, truthfully, hand-on-heart, claim that spinning around, scampering back and making crucial tackles in the blink of an eye are really their respective fortes), which means that one cunning diagonal pass and it’s Hugo time. And damn their eyes, Mata, Hazard and Oscar have been slipping in cunning diagonal passes since the womb.
On top of which, our heroes do not quite have the perfect balance of earnest toil and mind-blowing ingenuity. Things do still tend to tick impotently sideways and out to the wings. The van der Vaart-shaped hole remains, the cunning diagonal womb-bred passes conspicuously absence. And on Saturday by golly there were an awful lot of passengers in lilywhite.
Woe, woe, woe. And we haven’t even kicked off yet. If you have got this far down the page you will probably have inferred that AANP is going to be awful company this evening, so spare a thought for my old man AANP Senior, and pray fervently that the A-game that briefly surfaced for 15 glorious minutes against Man City is rekindled tonight. Our season just about hangs on it.
Crumbs. You may want to shield the eyes of your children, because this has the potential to turn into a right palaver. Southampton at home ordinarily ought not to elicit more than confident nod, but with things being what they are I think our heroes dare not sneeze in the wrong direction today.
It may be of some comfort that Southampton are not exactly knee-deep in the mire, but I suppose ‘tis unrealistic to expect them simply to roll over and allow us to tickle their tummies. Still, if they found themselves two-down with 20 minutes to go it would be marvellously obliging of them if they just gave up and went the way of all flesh. Oh that life at the Lane were that simple, what?
Having begun the season with the thunderous central partnership of Sandro and Dembele hoovering up all before them, we find ourselves with the slightly more idiosyncratic pairing of Parker and the Hudd as the curtain comes down. If ever there were a time for the Hudd to pick a perfect pass, or deliver any other sort of alliterative brilliance, this could well be it.
Ultimately however, I presume it will come down to Bale. The lad does have quite a sense of occasion, not to mention nerves of steel. Just as well, as I can barely bring myself to watch.
One final Herculean effort please chaps. Actually, six more such efforts, but you get the gist. After that ten-day hiatus it is all a mite breathless from now until the season’s end, and the drill is essentially win, win and win again – which sounds straightforward enough when hammered out in Arial 10, but is presumably going to be eked out in typically excruciating fashion by our heroes.
First up are the current champions, for the sort of to-do that will require a darned sight more cunning and brio than the average Sunday lunchtime transaction. Thank heavens then for the returns of Masters Bale and Lennon, who in their own unique ways, heralded and unheralded alike, add a touch of majesty to the earnest but occasionally sparkle-lite endeavours of their colleagues. The return to fitness of Defoe also provides an extra option, but I rather suspect AVB will stick with Adebayor, who, ludicrous penalty-taking aside, has showed some renewed energy in recent engagements.
Elsewhere, Dembele ought to be yanked aside immediately pre kick-off for a gentle reminder that this is no time for him to mooch around in the off-boil manner off Basel a week or two back, while Scott Parker will need to deliver the sort of performance that we all probably think is beyond him now. And if the back-four could tighten up a mite it would prove jolly timely too.
A tall order for sure, but not beyond the realms of possibility. We blinking well need to win this really (although, writing before any of the weekend fixtures, it is possible that others around us may drop points), so A-games all round please.
In terms of a late-season wobble, this ought to separate the Mild-Swaying from the Pillars-Crashing-To-Earth-All-Around-Us. After the slipshod events of recent weeks, and given the meddlesome lather in which we now find ourselves, there has never been a more apt time for someone with a glint in his eye and young floozy on each arm to swagger up to the bar and pay for everyone’s drinks for the rest of the night.
Oh that life were so straightforward. Keener students of current affairs may be aware that the regular cape-wearer-in-residence is currently indisposed, which leaves a lot of head-scratching amongst us licence fee-payers as to precisely who tonight’s hero will be. Dembele? Adebayor? Vertonghen? Now does not really seem the time to be rotating Friedel back into the frame, but thus will personnel presumably be selected (although grateful prayers can be murmured if Gallas’ injury prevents him from adopting his usual Europa slot). In midfield and attack there does not seem to be a great deal of choice, unless AVB suddenly gets the urge to spring a Huddlestone/Carroll-shaped surprise upon us. By and large therefore, the match-winners tonight will have to be one of those who huffed and puffed away on Sunday. If ever there were a time for Dempsey to silence the ever-growing horde of critics at AANP Towers…
AVB has spent all season shoving eggs into his Europa League basket and not caring a jot who sees him do it. Admirable sentiments for sure, but to limp home at the quarter-final stage after all this palaver would be an awkward one to explain to the parents. At this stage, and with everything teetering so dashed precariously, I personally would take Top Four over Europa, but frankly our fortunes in both seem intertwined at the moment – one way or another we need to stop the rot, and start winning every blinking game we play.
No Bale. No Lennon. And just in time for the most crucial multipack of fixtures of the season. Maybe Skynet did win after all.
‘Tis a test that ought to put some hair on the AVB chest. For all the huffing, puffing and neat technique, if our heroes are not scything teams open through nifty interplay and a killer pass of the VDV mould – and these days it tends to be the exception rather than the norm – the default setting does seem to be to look to Bale to magic up a goal from nothing, on his own. Time for AVB to stun the watching world, and Everton, with the mother of all Plan Bs.
On top of which, the absence of Lennon stirs some eminently forgettable memories of our lot taking to the field in lopsided manner and promptly turning a 12-game unbeaten run into a three-match losing streak. Presumably rather than the ill-advised solution of sticking Dembele onto the right wing again, the plan this time will be to muddle Messrs Sigurdsson, Dempsey and Holtby around the left, right and central positions, while letting Dembele run operations from the centre.
Elsewhere, Adebayor’s reign as Lilywhite Enemy Number One is reinforced by the game, with the usual array of mis-controls and air-kicks, but in truth I thought the blighter put the effort in on Thursday, his cause not helped by a lack of service. The defence at least ought to have a more solid look to it, with Lloris back and Gallas nowhere to be seen.
There really isno’t any margin for error now, especially with l’Arse churning out results, but Everton are themselves without a couple of key players, and if our lot can rediscover the zippy passing groove that occasionally surfaces it will matter not that Bale or Lennon are not on hand. Fingers crossed.
The Top Four vs Europa debate has become increasingly academic over the course of this season, because whatever the rights and wrongs AVB is clearly intent to keep hurling at kitchen sinks and first-team players at his Thursday nights, until that ineffably-shaped pot is in our mitts. As has been pointed out by various scribes, for all the potential hazards around fatigue this whole European campaign has, in general, been a rather edifying process for the mighty lilywhites, allowing the players time to dashed well understand the gravel-voiced murmurings of the grand fromage in the early part of the season, and also providing the occasional night of merriment and good cheer for the shuffling throngs on the White Hart Lane train platform. We might as well go on and win the whole dashed thing now, no? After all there barely seems another team qualified to do it.
A man with an unpronounceable surname is always worth a tip of the hat, so an entire football club possessed of what may – or may not – be a silent ‘s’ ought to be treated with a certain degree of deference. That said, we be the mighty Hotspur, and as such ought really to grind this lot into submission over two legs. Of greater concern at AANP Towers is the welfare of key personnel, for any sort of injuries to Bale or Dembele (or indeed, for the sake of our shape, Master Lennon) would be frightfully unwelcome at this stage of proceedings.
The usual selection larks and japes will ensue no doubt, with Friedel retained at the back, a soupcon of jiggery-pokery in defence and the usual midfield. Defoe is out and Master Dempsey is reportedly back, but Adebayor will presumably be unleashed once again to wreak his usual devastating brand of havoc across the Swiss back-line.
Traditional wisdom had it that a clean sheet and solid lead would be the order of the day, but this being N17, and the last round’s 3-0 home advantage having been transformed so effortlessly into a monumental pickle, it is difficult to know quite what the target tonight should be. Perhaps, in the finest tradition of a stag-weekend, we should just aim to make it through proceedings with no broken bones and no arrests, and then re-assess.
Unfamiliar territory, and I half expect that come kick-off players from both sides will simply stand around scratching their heads and gawping, because the game-plan here is a little tricky to establish. It may well depend on how Inter approach this, for should they show the sort of lack of interest displayed quite so vehemently in the first leg this could turn into one of the great tedious nights in our history, with both sides wiling away the time until the final whistle. Alternatively, should Inter score early our heroes will trip over themselves to reach the Panic Button. I suppose a third scenario is that our lot crunch down on the accelerator from the off and blitz Inter away again. C’est possible, one and all, but it really is a dickens of a task to predict beforehand how this one might transpire.
No Rest For The Wicked
AVB has suggested that young master Bale will be the only absentee, of the regulars, and while Dembele and Parker might benefit from a rest it is probably just as well to start with the usual troupe, and withdraw them in the second half if everyone is sticking obediently to the script. Having already had an enforced week off Aaron Lennon is apparently back in the squad, and as the principal speed-merchant in our ranks he has the opportunity to play quite a starring role, assuming we look for counter-attack opportunities (do excuse us at AANP Towers as we drift off to dreamily recall the magnificent breakaway goal that sunk AC Milan a couple of years back…)
“No alarms and no surprises,” warbled musical oddballs Radiohead a few years back, and if that were to be the gist of things tonight we could all light our pipes with subtle smugness this evening. History contains enough reminders of our capacity to complicate the uncomplicated, but the current vintage appear to have their heads screwed on reasonably tightly. One way or t’other we should prevail.
Another day, another dickens of a lip-smacking fixture for the good ship Hotspur. Merrily enough, our heroes have spent the week positively sneering at the reputations dandily waved around by opponents who dare share the turf – in particular the reaction to the final whistle on Thursday, when a comprehensive battering of Inter elicited little more than a couple of back-slaps and a business-like march back to the changing rooms, suggests that standards have been raised in N17. Pilfering the Anfield larders is not necessarily high on the list of Traditionally Straightforward Premiership Jollies, but our heroes can certainly approach matters in a buoyant mood, for should they play anything like they did on Thursday the red mob will probably wander off in a huff at not being allowed even a touch of the ball. But alas, ‘tis a new day, and our foes are unlikely to roll over and request a playful tickle of their tummies, in the manner of Inter. A slippery prospect looms; such challenges have been met with several shades of aplomb in recent weeks.
There is presumably a smidgeon of doubt around Aaron Lennon and his jazz-hands, so Sigurdsson-right and Holtby-left could be on the cards, which is far from being the worst amended line-up ever to traipse the greenery. Having oozed class as if afflicted by some puss-inducing malady in his last two outings at centre-back, Vertonghen would be well-advised to wring out every last drop of the stuff in preparation for an afternoon’s duelling with the multi-talented and renowned good egg Suarez. Dawson and Lloris will presumably return, and while Defoe attracted opprobrium in some quarters for the narrow-mindedness of his approach, his propensity for leathering the orb goalwards at every opportunity renders him the sort of foe to jolly well keep an opponent on his toes - and as such he seems a vastly preferable attacking option to Adebayor.
It seems safe to assume that a stern test awaits, but with our heroes now knee-deep in the tricky final slew of fixtures and faring well enough we can probably approach this one with cautious optimism.