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City 1-2 Spurs: 7 Lilywhite Observations

1. Dreamland (For Now)

As my ill-treated cardiovascular system desperately creaked its way through those wretched “four minutes” of injury-time, I noted today – and not for the first time - that watching Spurs will presumably one day be the death of me. Having been in something approaching rude health at kick-off (a brief social binge to Malta will do that to a man), by minute 94+ I was little more than a slab of meat slung over a chair, fingernails gnawed into submission, and oxygen collected only by the most rudimentary gasps that sounded like a radiator from a bygone era.

A nerve-shredding finale, is what I’m driving at, but heavens above, take a step back and look at the end-product. For the first time in my life - and presumably a decent percentage of lives of the wider Spurs-supporting public - we can dare to dream about the title. Probably not much more than “dare to dream” at this stage, what with the night of a thousand Cup ties waiting to hurl our way key injuries and whatnot, and plenty of meaty league fixtures still standing in our way with folded arms and menacing scowls.

But nevertheless. Only one team in the country would not sidle up to us behind closed doors and surreptitiously offer to trade their position for ours. Twelve games to go, the final straight if you will, and we sit on the shoulder of the leader. Probably best to enjoy the moment, what?

2. A Different Breed These Days

It’s been said many a time in recent weeks and months, but this Tottenham vintage truly is a group that knows how to fry their eggs. A tad short on final-third wizardry they may have been, but in all other areas they functioned like a team of particularly well-oiled robots, rather like in corking 70s flick Westworld before (spoiler) they all went loopy. Ball lost? No problem, ball won back. By about half the team functioning in unison. Tight spot? A moot concern, for in a blur of white movement several players avail themselves – or Dembele just turns and turns again until the spot is considerably more airy. And so on.

All a mite deceptive admittedly, because in a first half that strangely resembled a giant game of moving chess, City actually made the better of the chances. That said, it was still encouraging to see the general control and composure being wafted around by our heroes in a game of this magnitude.

However, what really sent the mustard flying was the fact that City reacted to the injustices of life by flicking the switch marked “Warp Speed” and raising their game approximately eleven hundred notches, our heroes absolutely refused to curl up and die like so many of the insects from that experimental period in my primary school days. Whereas Spurs teams in just about every season I have ever watched would ultimately capitulate, gloriously or otherwise, somehow this lot clung on. And then went and won the bally thing.

3. The Lamela Pass, The Eriksen Finish

All season long, over in this corner of the interweb we have viewed the supposed Lamela renaissance with a fair degree of suspicion. The blighter undoubtedly works hard, but moments of creative magic that make one go weak at the knees have tended to be in fairly short supply, and if the chap isn’t doing that then what the heck, if you get my drift.

But credit where due. For whatever reason, those City players in the vicinity did not seem unduly concerned when he sauntered forward, and simply ushered him further into the meat of the thing. So further he duly biffed, before delivering something of a pointed gesture to all his doubters, by threading a delicate pass that could not have had more cheek if it had pulled down its trousers and waggled its exposed posterior. Well weighted, well-targeted and through the legs of a defender for good measure.

On top of which, the resurgent Eriksen appears to have picked up a thing or two about applying a cool coup de grace when the occasion merits. To this untrained eye it appeared at first that the chap had got the thing muddled in his feet, but instead, with all the cunning of a particularly Machiavellian fox he was simply inviting the monstrous Joe Hart to over-commit, before dabbing the ball past him. Slyly done.

And doesn’t he just have the happiest smile when he scores?

4. Wimmer

In a state of affairs that rather typifies the season, it seems a little inappropriate to single out one chap or another, for this was one of those occasions in which all eleven seemed to blend into a single, slightly compact beast. (Albeit a beast that had a Danny Rose in lieu of a left arm.)

That said, I have absolutely zero problem in contradicting myself in the blink of an eye by singling out several of them. The young chap Wimmer for a start. Rather sharp intakes of breath greeted the sight of Vertonghen being led off Stage Left a few weeks back, but Wimmer has done an admirable job, against some of the sharper tools in the striking box, and it was another intelligent performance from the oddly-shaped Austrian, particularly in the frantic dying embers.

5. Walker

Young Walker was another one who caught the eye. Up against Raheem Sterling he was happy enough to sacrifice the usual upfield gallivant, and instead put all his eggs in the basket marked ‘Deal With That Sterling Blighter’. And then he threatened to ruin it all in the closing stages of the match by unleashing his best Kyle Walker impression and repeatedly tapping the ball to the nearest opponent whilst falling over and generally endangering everything for which we had worked so hard, but isn’t that just part of his charm?

6. Rose

Rose, in the first half in particular, also caught the eye, albeit in the more traditional role of the ultra-attacking full-back (a phrase which comes dangerously close to making no sense). With everyone else in lilywhite jostling to cram themselves into a narrow strip of turf through the centre of the pitch, young Rose seemed to be high on a diet of 80s action heroes and spent the first half in particular getting so caught up in everything that he was quite possibly quipping one-liners with each piece of involvement. If he wasn’t blocking shots by throwing his body full-length at the thing at one end, he was pelting volleys off his own at the other, and so on.

7. Lady Luck

And so to the elephant in the room. As one of the more blinkered, one-eyed, Spurs-tinted spectacle-wearers, my take on the penalty is relatively predictable. However, one or two sages from various ends of the interweb have pointed out that Lady Luck does not look kindly (nor, evidently does Mark Clattenberg) upon multi-million pound footballers who attempt to block a cross by turning their backs on it. Had young Sterling taken a leaf out of the Danny Rose 80s Action Handbook every man and his dog would tonight instead be debating whether Yaya, Yaya Yaya might have got away with a bookable offence or two.

Thus ends one of the best weekends we have had in a while. The next few days at AANP Towers will be spent gazing lovingly at a picture of the Premiership table. The bubble may well burst in time, but for now this is absolutely rip-roaring stuff.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 1-0 Watford: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Davies

Amongst they many sunny innovations introduced by our glorious leader into N17 is the fact that when it comes to attacking, just about every man and his dog is heartily encouraged to fasten his bayonet, clear his throat and charge straight in. Admittedly Monsieur Lloris is excluded from all the fun, but at any given time we have at least seven men sniffing blood and yowling at the moon. That Kane and the three behind him will be primed to attack is a given, and Dembele is never particularly averse to puffing out his chest and bulldozing forward; but with Eric Dier obediently filling in as a third centre-back whenever we are in possession, licence is also duly granted to the full-backs to go hurtling forward at the merest whiff of an attack. (The casual reader ought to be made aware at this point that the strategy of employing a defensive midfielder to act as a locum third centre-back was first introduced by AANP on Championship Manager in the late ‘90s - albeit to slightly less devastating effect than the current Spurs vintage, as relegation was only avoided on the final day of the season as I recall.)

Back in the realms of the real world, young Messrs Davies and Trippier duly got stuck in like a pair of kids granted the bonus of opening a present on Christmas Eve of all things, as neither could be restrained from tearing forward into the final third. Davies in particular scurried forward like a man possessed, channelling is his inner Bale to set up camp in a position about twenty yards from the Leicester by-line, and the afternoon quickly became notable for the sight of him haring off into the area at approximately every thirty seconds.

Not that this gung-ho spirit alone was sufficient to win the game, cure cancer and end global poverty, for Davies’ final ball still tends to miss as well as hit – but no doubt about it, the mere presence of a left-back galloping at them in fifth gear undeniably had the Watford back-line exchanging worried looks, as if to say to one another “What ho!”

2. Trippier

A dashed shame that Davies’ forays brought little more than wistful groans from the crowd, for he deserved more. Merrily however, out on t’other flank, Trippier similarly took the hint and, having waved a cheery ‘Adieu’ to his chums in the lilywhite back-four, he spent the afternoon making himself at home in the role of de facto winger, flying forward as the right-sided member of our attacking septet. Clearly such things have an addictive edge, for not content with the role of flying winger he then went the whole hog and turned himself into a Number 9, poaching from inside the six-yard box. Young people will do such things. All a far cry from my days as an eminently forgettable schoolboy right-back when any journey north of the halfway line required a brief lie-down to cope with the drama of it all, but Pochettino knows his apples from his pears, and this season every outfield player is buying into the notion that ‘Someone has to score, dash it, so why not get involved?’

3. Profligacy

Mind you, it’s a good job that young Trippier did indeed take time out from the day-job to treat us to his Gary Lineker (circa 80s-90s) impression, because nobody else seemed to have solved the riddle of putting ball in net. Apparently we pinged in 26 shots during the course of yesterday’s binge – 26! - which really begs the question of what on earth is wrong with our heroes’ radars. Admittedly Gomes in the Watford goal was in elastic mood, but nevertheless. One goal from twenty-six shots is the sort of thing that ought to have the whole lot of them queueing up at the confessional. It is more of a side-note than a grumble, but it occurred to me as Watford won their first corner, with about ten minutes remaining, that by that stage the thing really ought to have been tucked up in bed with a soothing lullaby, rather than still hanging in the balance.

4. Lamela – Chadli

Pochettino comes across as far too good an egg to do anything as naughty as make rude gestures or anything similarly dastardly, but I do wonder whether he might have aimed a meaningful look at one or two observers, as he handed in his teamsheet. A fair amount of hot air and ink has been invested in questioning the depth of our squad this season (not least in these quarters, I should probably admit), but having made a habit of swapping his full-backs around like ping-pong balls under paper cups in some sort of magic trick, our glorious leader took his squad rotation to a new level yesterday by fiddling with the knobs and dials further up the pitch. Out went Dele Alli and Sonny Jimbo, and in came Lamela, the furry rodent that sits permanently atop Lamela’s head and Nacer Chadli.

Lamela and Chadli both did adequately enough without exactly leaving grown men quivering in speechless delight, but the proof of the pudding was in the scoreboard at around 16.52 GMT, and as such we can laud a selection well tinkered. Dele Alli was given some extra time to catch his breath and post on social media, or whatever it is the young folk do these days, and the world was reminded that there are plenty of ensemble members willing and able to slot into the spots behind the front man. And that, in as many words, is just about the point of squad rotation, no?

With Dembele having already had an enforced break this season, and young Wimmer having marked his replacement of Vertonghen with consecutive clean sheets, it appears that squad depth is not necessarily quite the headache that one had anticipated when the clocks went back a few months ago. Indeed, the only chaps whose services seem to be required come hell or high water are Dier (either in midfield or, in the Cups, at centre-back) and Kane. One does not really want to contemplate the consequences of a long-ish term absence of the latter, so we just won’t. The point is, changes can be made but our spine remains strong and the incoming personnel seem capable enough.

5. Second In The League!

And by golly, just look where we are now! Some may suggest that we have been here before, and there would be a modicum of truth in the claim – but not in mid-February, what? At the time of writing we are still at least five points clear of fifth, and still, bizarrely, in with a sniff of the title. Which is simply not a thing I ever thought would happen in my lifetime. My head currently says third, the minimum now must be fourth, and, absurdly, we have an outside shot at the title. A head-scratcher for sure. But given that at the start of the season I had realistically suggested fifth, there already seems reason enough to start sharpening the knives and throwing pointed glances in the direction of the fattened calf. Just about every Spurs fan I know has that sentiment of part-gloom, part-realism deep within their core, and consequently we are all fairly adamant that there something will go wrong between now and mid-May – but I am quite happy to worry about that at the appropriate time. For now, second in the league is a splendid way to end the weekend.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Palace 1-3 Spurs: THAT Goal & 4 Other Lilywhite Observations

1. THAT Goal

Hoddle-esque. Gazza-esque. A goal so good you would let it marry your daughter. Words cannot really do justice to the strike and technique itself, so instead I’ll waft over a couple of associated thoughts. The move in its entirety for example, had the jolly pleasing aesthetic quality lent to it by the fact that the ball did not touch the ground from the moment Kane swirled in his cross, to Eriksen’s cushioned header, to Alli’s one-two-three touch, swivel and shot.

On a separate note, young Alli must have one heck of a brand of confidence flowing through his veins, to even contemplate trying a gag like that. ‘Instinct’ seems to be the buzzword, but if he had had the general blues about his game, the way the match had treated him or life in general, he may well have looked simply to shovel the ball back whence it came and let someone else take responsibility. Mind you, he’s never exactly come across as a shrinking violet on the field.

One lilywhite chum messaged me to say that if you look at the ‘onrushing’ Palace defender tasked with blocking the shot, he decides against flinging himself body and soul into the path of the ball, and turns his back on the shot. Channelling his inner Vertonghen, if you will. Now this seems a rather joyless way to critique one of the finest ever lilywhite goals, but on watching the replay I take the point. Let’s not spoil the thing though, what?

2. Blur of Movement

Stepping out onto the balcony and taking a more panoramic view of things, this should go down as another cracking little win, one which  hammers home the point that this 2015/16 vintage are not as green as they’re cabbage-looking. For a second consecutive week, the rasping injustice of falling behind in a game we were absolutely dominating was deemed nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and they ploughed ahead with the policy line of jinking one-touch passes around the opposition area. There is nothing particularly new to our heroes about having to work right from the first toot on breaking down two defensive banks of four – our reputation evidently precedes us. What brought a rosy glow to the cheeks on observing events unfold was the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed manner in which they set about the task yesterday.

There have been times in weeks gone by (at least one of the Leicester games, maybe Newcastle at home) when our attempts to penetrate the impenetrable have essentially been, when broken down into raw constituent parts, a series of sideways passes. Earnest and willing, but a little lacking in creativity – more akin to repeatedly shoving a blunt knife at a lock and hoping something will give. Yesterday however there was all manner of off-ball movement, right from the moment the curtain went up. This lent itself fairly naturally to the full range of slick, short, first-time passes; and the gist of the thing was that we buzzed around with intent throughout, and particularly in the first half. Worth lobbing an honourable mention for this week’s chosen full-backs too, who set up camp firmly in the final third of the field, meaning that we also had a cracking spread of busy options spanning the width of the field from right to left. And by extension, the weekly tip of the hat to Dier, whose immaculate positioning enables the attacking juices of the aforementioned full-backs to flow so liberally.

3. The Latest Team Tinkerings

While one broadly understands the gist of things when it comes to Pochettino scribbling down the names of the chosen ones, there are an increasing number of spicy little sub-plots bubbing away under the surface. The full-back hokey-cokey for one thing, and in recent weeks, the choice of Dembele or Carroll (which is hardly a contest at all, but became a matter of concern when the Belgian was returning to fitness). The latest tete-a-tete has been between young Sonny jimbo and Eric Lamela. Son’s bravura midweek performance earned him the nod, and I was jolly glad to see it , for te much-vaunted Lamela Resurgence of 2015-16 has yet to utterly convince in these four walls of the interweb. Yes he certainly beavers away with the right attitude, chasing back and scrapping for things like anyway Pochettino minion should, but the chap’s principal role is as one of our resident Magicians-in-Chief, and in this respect he always seems to underwhelm a tad. Son, however, seemed to work things out pretty quickly, and set out taking on his man and thumping in his shots tout de suite. Given the strength of Chadli’s late cameo as well, I wonder if Lamela has suddenly been bumped down the list of cabs on the rank.

4. Substitutions

Generally out glorious leader seems to enjoy a degree of structure to his life. Who knows, maybe he is the sort to neatly fold his clothes on a chair the night before, and opt for a couple of Weetabix every morning with a banana for elevenses. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, he tends to avoid tearing up the teamsheet and trying all manner of new and exciting permutations if a like-for-like substitution is available. A polite ripple of applause then, for his decidedly more proactive move yesterday when we were one down, in hooking the ever-dependable Eric Dier, instructing Dembele to operate ten yards further back, and introducing Chadli into the attacking maelstrom. Most obviously, Chadli duly created one, scored a beauty (and delivered an absolute peach of a crossfield ball in the dying moments); and more broadly, it left us with eight outfield players blessed with a natural urge to burst forward and create (plus two ball-playing centre backs).

On top of which, the Pocehttino applecart was duly upset further by the hobble sustained by Vertonghen, which meant that for the first time this season our sacrosanct centre-back duopoly was separated, and young Master Wimmer was introduced. He did well enough, in increasingly frantic circumstances, but certainly had a solid game vs Leicester in midweek.

5. Lady Luck

One to remember next time we don the sackcloth and ashes, and bemoan the way of the world – at one apiece Palace managed to slap the crossbar twice in around five seconds. Crumbs. Mind you, Alli gave the crossbar a hefty thwack himself, so for those who keep track of these things I suppose there is much to ponder.

In the final analysis however, this was a victory well earned, built on superiority rather than good fortune. The first half in particular was absolutely one-way traffic, punctuated only by that blasted own-goal; whilst our three goals were all, in their own ways, absolute snorters – and a five-point gap is now in evidence, between us and the fifth-placed mob.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 4-1 Sunderland: 4 Lilywhite Points of Note

The Return of Dembele

Coincidence? Around these parts we certainly think not. For the last couple of weeks young Master Carroll has been hopscotching around the place, with pretty passes a-plenty and a very serious expression, which does not make him look any less like a 10 year-old but is noble enough. However, if a Dembele performance were to comprise pretty passes and hopscotch I think we could all legitimately worry that some deviant had stolen his very soul. The difference between a Spurs midfield powered (and I use the term in the loosest possible sense) by Carroll and one built on Dembele is pretty noticeable, and with the former traded for the latter we were back to winning ways. Yes he gave away free-kicks, and at times possession, but Dembele also shoved opponents aside and drove things forward. There will potentially be a time and a place for Carroll, and we all ought to get used to his waif-like frame as he is evidently one of the little brood of younglings that Pochettino is – creditably – trying to integrate into the big wide world. And N17 is after all the spiritual home of the pretty passer with lovely technique. However, the relief at seeing Dembele’s name back in the starting line-up was justified by his general air of belligerence throughout. Between him and Alli that notoriously soft and squishy Spurs underbelly is being given a few layers of reinforcement.

Eriksen-sen-sen

As the first half wore on, and Sunderland’s dogged 10-0-Defoe formation proved quite the immovable object, the AANP cogs started to whir out a point about Eriksen’s effectiveness – or lack thereof. Then he went and scored, and scored again, which rather showed me, but I will conveniently ignore the small matter of those two fairly critical goals, and hammer home the point anyway. The chap seems to have lost that alchemist’s touch in recent weeks, what? In games like this particularly, and in the opening exchanges vs Leicester (Cup) last week, when a sprinkle of subtlety was needed about the place as a matter of urgency, to thread a pass through the eye of a needle or some such jiggery-pokery, the chap’s creative juices seemed to run a little dry. In fact, he went down a notch further in the first half hour today, and started misplacing straightforward six-yard passes.

The goals, naturally were welcomed, and it would probably be the decent thing of me to let bygones be bygones and simply slap the chap’s back and ask about the health of his family, but where’s the fun in that? He does seem to have gone off the boil a tad in recent weeks. I don’t mind lobbing into the air the theory that this might be at least partially due to being nudged out of his spiritual home, slap bang in the centre. Dele Alli appears to have dibs on the Number 10 role, while Dembele, as mentioned, does a fine job prowling up and down either side of the centre circle. All of which seems to leave Eriksen forced to set up camp in an inside right or left position. It ought not to make a difference to the price of eggs for a player with his natural ability, but somehow things just aren’t quite right with his size nines. None of which would be too concerning, but there appears to be a sort of pattern to things at the moment, whereby we start a game like a team of wild horses unleashed, fail to get an early goal against a massed rank of defenders, and gradually allow the opposition more and more oxygen, damn their eyes. Someone somewhere needs to find a way to unlock a packed defence, lickety-split.

Full-Back Mix-and-Match

It would appear that the Brains Trust have not tired of their Christmas toy, a shiny new full-back mix-and-match kit. An interesting one this, as quite a few debates have been thrashed out amongst my chums this season weighing up the relative merits and concerns around our various right- and left-backs. It is not entirely clear to me whether Pochettino is selecting them on a suitability basis – horses-for-courses, if you will – or simply deciding that one-game-on, one-game-off is the decorous manner in which such things should be done, but  either way the four in question are being kept on their toes. And then elbowed back to the bench.

So was Walker’s omission today his purgatory for the sins of just about every game in which he has ever played, when he has had that brain fade and gifted an opportunity to an opponent? Is Rose seen as the better option against weaker opposition because of his willingness to hare forward? But isn’t Davies just about doing exactly that anyway? Does it count for anything that young Trippier looks ever so slightly like a young, squashed up Wayne Rooney? Whatever the deep-lying narrative, all four of them seem to be pretty happy to have been given licence to slap the words “Gung-Ho” on their family crest and go flying up the flanks to provide 90 minutes of width to proceedings. Frankly it is dashed difficult to call a winner on either flank at the moment, and maybe that’s exactly the point. As sub-plots go, it is perhaps not quite on a par with Karl looking to avenge the death of his brother in Nakatomi Plaza, but nevertheless a useful conundrum has been added to the lilywhite mix.

Squad Tiredness?

Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but at some point before man colonises Mars will we need to rotate some of these chaps? Vertonghen, Alderweireld in particular (apparently the only game he’s missed all season was Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, which feels I’m pretty sure was played in black and white, it was so long ago), Dier and Kane seem to be reeled out come hell or high water.

There are no doubt associated risks with rotating, not least the likely drop in quality that they entail, what with every point being so vital. It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that we simply do not have an adequate substitute for Kane; and the fleeting glimpses of Wimmer have not exactly screamed that he is such a watertight deputy for Alderweireld or Vertonghen that the casual viewer would fail to notice the difference. Moreover, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that there is only one of him, so half of the centre-back combo will always be required (in common with the club management, I am assuming that Fazio is absolutely the last option conceivable).

Dier, one would have thought, could be allowed an afternoon off at some point with Bentaleb wrapped up on the bench each week, but this does not seem to be the way that Pochettino butters his bread. I would guess that one of the centre-backs plus Dier will start again against Leicester in midweek, which is all well and good, but we still have half a season to play, and sooner or later these chaps’ limbs are going to start dropping off.

There is, I suppose, a counter-argument that these chaps ought to be perfectly capable of playing twice a week. It is, after all, what a Champions League season would require. I nevertheless would like to see the aforementioned quartet occasionally yanked out of the spotlight every now and then, because if a tendon snaps or some similar fate befalls then we won’t look half as clever. And even if all tendons maintain fine working order, mistakes will presumably creep in (Alderweireld, for example, looked a little more fallible than usual last week in the Cup against Leicester, and while Kane has been blessed with a natural expression of exhaustion, his recent performances have not been quite polished).

In closing however, and dealing again with the present moment, it was another good day at the office. The response to defeat last week and to falling behind today was as positive as we could have hoped. 4-1 was a fair reflection of the way the cutlery was laid out, and the goal difference continues to prompt rubbed eyes and double-takes from seasoned Lane-goers across the land. The Top Four remains realistic.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Everton 1-1 Spurs: 5 Lilywhite Observations

1. Casting A Dubious Eye Over Tom Carroll

Carroll does have a dreamy touch, and if Premiership football were all about popping four-yard passes sideways, and backwards, and actually dispensing with boots and ball and just drawing pretty pictures of trees, then one suspects he would be revered far and wide as some sort of deity. But occasionally, the central midfield waltz seems to require hefty dollops of blood and thunder. Not to mention winning tackles, effecting clearances, tracking opponents and other fittings of similar ilk. And in these respects it seemed from my distant perch that Carroll was wafting his bat but missing the ball by a good foot or two, if you get my drift.

Now it may be that I have pre-judged the chap. You know how it is, you mark a blighter down as ‘nay’ rather than ‘yay’, and thereafter, even if he covers every blade of grass, and rescues a yelping maiden from a burning cottage for good measure, you still dock him points for messy handwriting. So maybe having knocked Carroll as a lightweight, waif-like, toothless, shadow of a lad by about the halfway stage, I may have been far too blinkered in my judgements thereafter. The TV folk certainly sung his praises, which rather goes to show.

But the moments that struck me were when he let Barkley wander past him and then wrapped his arms around him to give him a hug - rather than tackling him - to earn a booking; and when we broke on the left, he received the ball twenty yards from goal and produced from nowhere his best Jermaine Jenas impression by swivelling towards his own net and knocking it backwards fifteen yards to groans from across North London; and the astonishingly inept attempt at a clearing header late on, which bounced off the top of his head in a manner completely bereft of any control, to an Everton chappie who lashed a volley goalwards to draw an outstanding palm from Lloris. Rather a mouthful, but gist of the thing is that Carroll gives the impression of a boy who is only loitering there because his parents have forgotten to collect him.

2. Vertonghen

A big day this, for those charged with keeping things under lock and key. Belgium are apparently the best national team in the world at the moment, which ought to have made today’s game about the standard of a World Cup final if you think about it, but irrespective of that curiosity Messrs Vertonghen and Alderweireld had a challenge and a half in front of them, in the shape of the considerable frame of Lukaku. Being the sort of chap who always struck me as likely to be completely at home diving head-first through a brick wall, our two centre-backs needed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and by and large they made a solid fist of things. Not all their own way, and the nerves rather frayed a bit towards the end when everything stretched and the pressure ratcheted up several notches, but he was shackled as well as such behemoths can be.

However, if there were one moment that had me uttering a few choice curses it was the goal we conceded. Well, naturally enough I suppose, but particularly Vertonghen’s role in it. I’m not sure he can be faulted for losing the initial header to Lukaku – let us not forget the capacity to headbutt brick walls and suchlike – but why the dickens did Vertonghen turn his back on Lennon as the latter took his shot? This man’s very bread and butter lies in the act of preventing exactly that by any legal means necessary, and he gets paid sackloads for the privilege. Fling every limb at him, dash it. Take one full in the face if you have to.

(While on the topic, it also struck me as a bit odd that Lloris grasped at the thing with his wrong hand (his left), but it seemed a fairly futile cause by that point in any case.)

3. Rip-Snorting First Half

Truth be told, these are relatively minor gripes, and ought not to form chorus and the first couple of verses when the whole thing is eventually committed to song. Our first half was akin to one of those runaway trains that one sees in action films of a certain era, but which never actually happen in real life. Hurtling along at a rate of knots, sparks flying and all sorts. That poor old Kane and Davies failed to strike oil with their respective long-range efforts is to be solemnly lamented, as Kane’s could not have been closer and Davies’ almost ripped the net from its frame. (Although as my old man, AANP Senior is never slow to point out, they only deserve credit if they were aiming for the woodwork.)

Even aside from the close shaves however, our heroes looked at the peak of their powers in the first half. It was as well as they had played all season. The goal conceded was a rotten injustice, but such is life I suppose, and to their credit they kept beavering away until the break. When they play thusly one really does think that they are capable of staying in the Top Four.

4. The Ongoing Ode to Dembele

Not to harp on again about the personnel who were picked in central midfield, but in a quiet moment tonight, as we swirl away our Sunday night bourbons and reflect on life, I suspect many a Spurs fan will wistfully think of what might have been had Dembele been growling around in the centre. Barkley had his moments, and the substitute they brought on had a bit of bite to him, but Dembele when in the mood can snaffle up such opponents like a bulldog chewing at a sausage roll. As the game wore on and Everton exerted more pressure, the heart yearned for yet another Belgian to enter the fray and start barging folk around.

5. Weary Limbs

Pochettino is evidently a man who knows his apples from his oranges, so I would not dare presume the right to criticise - but if I were to be so impertinent I would respectfully clear the throat in the direction of a little squad rotation. Preferably the sort that does not involve young Master Carroll. Our heroes looked a little jaded as events progressed and Act Three hurtled towards its denouement, and Everton almost profited. Something similar occurred a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle, when again the players looked bang out of gas. The brow furrow, what?

Chadli and Son were dutifully thrown on, but might a fresh pair of legs be in order in the engine room? Amidst the evening gloom one could pick out the frame of Bentaleb on the bench, and there might be worse ideas than introducing him for the closing stages, to ensure that angry flecks of spittle continue to fly until the end. Moreover, Harry Kane will sooner or later splutter to a halt and require roadside assistance, although one suspects that the Brains Trust are fully aware of the need to scratch this particular itch.

A closing sentiment? Wonderful, wonderful goal from Dele Alli – the pass, particularly the control, and the very smart execution. Ten festive points is a strong haul. Bonne année.

Spurs 3-0 Norwich: Three Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane

Naturally enough much is made of young Master Kane, but on this particular corner of the interweb we tend not to focus so much on the chap’s bread-and-butter of thrashing the little thing into the net and jogging off to general acclaim. His link-up play, his strength, his work-rate – all pored over at various times within the dank four walls of AANP Towers, but his goalscoring I tend to take for granted.

It’s a wrong that ought to be righted, and yesterday’s second goal seems as good a prompt as anyway. When Dele Alli rolled him the ball there was a definite whiff in the air of something promising, but nobody in their right mind would suggest that chance of any description had been slapped on a plate and slid his way. There was plenty of work to be done, and plenty of opportunity for things to go awry.

All credit to the chap then, for plucking from thin air half a yard of space, by virtue of a little shift in balance and some nifty feet, and before either Norwich defender or goalkeeper had set themselves he had lashed the thing inside the post. Mighty impressive, in various respects. Hardly goal of the season, but a cracking self-made effort, which practically screamed “I’m a striker in form and feeling pretty perky about life, what?”

2. Set-Piece Routines

Our much-loved lilywhites are famed for many things, virtually bursting at the seams with tradition and all stuff of traditional ilk, but in one aspect we have been fairly painfully and conspicuously negligent over the years. I speak of the fad for set-piece delivery, and more specifically, for goals gotten by virtue of set-piece wizardry that is plucked straight from the training ground and imitated, just about verbatim, in the stadium itself during show-time. In years of watching our lot the only time I can remember this whole concept bearing any fruit was the Anderton-Sheringham two-step of a couple of decades back.

Well you can consider the 2015/16 vintage to be negligent no longer, for the Set-Piece Routine is emerging as a most pleasing additional shoulder-cannon in the armoury. Admittedly there was no such goal scored yesterday (I’m not sure that purists would consider a penalty to be a bona fide member of the set-piece club), but we came within about nostril hair’s breadth of one in the first half. And the eye-catching thing was that it was straight from the conveyor belt. Definitely a song-and-dance that I had clocked before. You probably know the one yourself by now – Eriksen whips in a corner with an extra dollop of venom, and one of Dier or Alderweireld gets the bit between their teeth and positively roars their way towards the front post to biff one from forehead towards netting before the opposition know what has hit them.

It seems to have brought about a good half-dozen freebie goals already this season, on top of which there have been a number of incidents such as that which occurred fairly early in proceedings yesterday, whereby the Eriksen-Alderweireld combo is rattled off but concludes only with a save of the smartest order from the opposition ‘keeper.

A moot point on all this, is how the devil we get away with it on a weekly basis. Every team in the Premiership seems to cart around at least a dozen supporting staff, and the TV coverage alone appears to record just about every conceivable statistic and angle, from the direction in which the striker parts his hair to the number of times the reserve full-back surreptitiously picks his nose while on the bench. It is beyond me therefore as to how on earth no opponent to date has either spotted or come up with a reasonable counter-measure to our devastatingly effective yet fairly straightforward corner routine. Not that I’m complaining mind, but it seems an odd one.

3. Showboating

Our heroes did a commendable job yesterday of first weathering an early jab or two from Norwich, and then turning the screw with two goals before half-time. The visitors could hardly be said to have run riot in the opening exchanges, but they certainly did wave their arms around and cause a spot of unrest, and concession of the opening goal would have complicated matters. Credit then to our lot for keeping the sheets clean in the first place, and thereafter not throwing away the lead, as has happened before.

Nevertheless, the curmudgeonly old crank in me still baulked a little at the sight of the fancy flicks and tricks being wheeled out when the beast still had more than a breath of life in it. Two-nil is not really the time at which to be slipping on a posh frock and playing for the cameras. Lamela’s latest rabona was actually excusable, as it made sense for a heavily left-footed type to twist himself accordingly, but the general gist of the thing was to party like it was 1999 and as if we were 5-0 up and cantering. I would much rather they collectively put their heads down and focused upon strangling the life out of things, dash it, by going four or five ahead, before breaking open the party bags.

But maybe that’s just me.

The usual suspects each earned their weekly honourable mention – young Alli once again linked the middle end to the front end with cunning and energy, and his natty combos with Kane seem to improve by the week (although one of these days he will get himself sent off for picking a pointless fight); and Lloris made a couple more blink-and-miss reaction stops. All told, it was a mighty satisfactory bottle of eggs. The pessimist within still mumbles about squad rotation and wonders if Eriksen could turn things up just a smidgeon, but these are worries for another day. A fine piece of work, and the Top Four remains eminently doable.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. The Dembele-Shaped Hole

Carroll flitted around the periphery of things looking like a schoolboy, or a ballerina, or a schoolboy ballerina – and with about as much impact as any of the above. Where Dembele (the new improved version) would stick out his chest, grab the game by the scruff of the neck and power from deep straight through the centre of the thing, bludgeoning past all in his way be they friend or foe, Carroll, bless him, hopped and skipped and poked in an occasional dainty foot.

I probably ought to lob up a disclaimer at this juncture, for this is not meant to be a character assassination of the more general sort. I actually have a soft spot for the young pimple, in a Glenn Hoddle sort of way, as he has lovely feet and picks the occasional fruity pass. Something of the Huddlestone about him. (And that goal on Thursday was impudent and delightful in equal measure)

Bother and grumble however, today he started fairly ineffectually and his contribution diminished thereafter, to the point at which in the second half the only sightings of his waif-like figure seemed to be a yard behind the closest Newcastle player. It felt like playing with ten men, with a  hole slap-bang in the middle of the engine, which is a cause for concern because there will presumably be more days when Dembele is laid low between now and May. Young Carroll, I would venture, has slipped beyond Bentaleb and Mason in that particular rank of cabs.

2. Europa Fatigue?

Call me suspicious, but did anybody else notice a distinct air of energy levels sinking to ground level, and not stopping there but burrowing deep within the turf, in that second half? It may have been mental fatigue, it dashed well looked like they were physically spent, but for whatever reason the performance fizzled out entirely.

Neither midfield nor attack seemed capable of holding onto the thing in that second half, and Newcastle snapped up every loose ball going ahead of the nearest shell of a lilywhite. Bless their cotton socks, the poor lambs could barely stick one limb in front of the other by the conclusion, with a couple having to be scraped from the ground at the final whistle by those chaps who wander around afterwards poking the turf with their pitchforks.

Matters this season have revolved rather crucially around the screen in front of the back four. Alas, young Master Dier, the sort of young buck who at the best of times looks like he would rather like to pause events and take a few swigs of O2 to keep things ticking over, waddled around like a car stuck in mud today, second to too many loose balls, and misplacing passes as if in a competition to rack up as many as possible. This unfortunately set the tone for things around him, as nary an attempted through-ball from any one of our fabled attackers did the intended job of slicing up Newcastle like a knife through butter. In fact, more often than not, misplaced ten-yarders outside the Newcastle D tended to be the starting point of one of their counter-attacks.

Europa fatigue? C’est possible. Whatever the cause, our glorious leader needs to don his thinking cap and solve it, because this lot cannot sustain the all-singing, all-dancing, high-octane, full-throttle approach for 90 minutes twice a week until the end of the season.

3. Time for Fresh Legs?

The team has pretty much picked itself all season, barring a Davies here and a Son there, but whichever one of numerous staff in the dugout is responsible for ringing the bell that summons fresh pairs of legs ought to dust off his best suit, because his services are required pronto.

Bentaleb might have been shoved into the thick of things at some point today, to stick out an elbow, shout a rude word or two and generally ignite the thing like the cantankerous young pup he is. Given that he is now presumably fit enough, it might be peeling off the protective layers and playing him from the off in the coming weeks, if only in the interests of saving Dier from collapsing to his knees like the sorry chap in Platoon.

Kane too might be a candidate for an afternoon with his feet up and a good book, as his run of having played a competitive game every day since he was 4 years old stretches on. His spirit is certainly still willing enough, but today he was not quite the exemplar of hold-up play. Although I am not particularly convinced that any of Chadli, Lamela, Son or the boy Clinton are exactly the sort of centre-forward one would expect to roll off the conveyor belts at the factories that churn out these things, the festive fixture list will presumably see one of them don the cape and deputise for a game or two.

No need to don sackcloth and ashes just yet, but a few too many draws and now an awfully flat defeat have temporarily burst the bubble that was floating around the place. Such is life, but the first half was fairly sunny and spiky, and a return to such ways next weekend would cheer the soul no end.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

WBA 1-1 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. Lloris Worth A Goal A Game

Once upon a time, in the big, cuddly teddy bear days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name), there ran a theory in AANP Towers that between them, Paul Robinson and Ledley King (even blesseder be his good name) were worth a goal to us every game, by virtue of their last-ditch heroics. Not a particularly watertight theory, you understand, no randomized control trial or pivot tables or anything like that, but certainly one spouted with the greatest seriousness in the watering-holes of North London by yours truly.

Fast forward a decade or so, and a similarly evidence-lite theory is beginning to surface around Monsieur Lloris. We come to take these things for granted now, in this halcyon era of unbeaten runs and all-action pressing and whatnot, but last week against Chelski and yesterday, quite remarkably, against West Brom, he pulled off saves of the absolute highest order. Both of which seem to have drifted a little past the public consciousness, ensconced as they were in the midst of a couple of draws that ranked slightly higher on the huff-and-puff scale than on the corresponding blow-your-skirt-up-with-non-stop-pulsating-action axis. But the point remains – Lloris has done the preventative equivalent of scoring a sensational goal, in both of the last couple of games.

2. Absence Makes The Heart Grow A Mite Fonder

Those of you cursed to have been within muttering distance of yours truly last weekend would have had to put up with assorted grumbles along the general line of young Mason’s energy and enthusiasm are all well and good for general Premiership fare, but the blighter has always seemed to lack that dose of je ne sais quoi that elevates a man to the higher echelons of these things in the crunch fixtures. He certainly puts in a shift – last week being a case in point – but in the biggest games of the season simply tearing around the place is not sufficient. As a replacement for Dele Alli, in a game against the champions, the decisive spark he failed to provide. Hardly a damning criticism, more just the genera way of things.

Yesterday however, with Mason trussed up in swathes of bandages somewhere off-stage, it dawned on me as the second half wore on that by golly we could use some of that energy, bite and young incandescence with life, with which he typically bounds in either headless or head-bearing fashion.  West Brom were beginning to win every loose ball, and when even Eric Dier’s trademark trundle was failing to win us the 50-50s, the thought occurred that maybe we might have benefited from removing one of the front four, who deal more in sparkle and fancy trickery, and bringing on a man like Mason, who has somewhat more about him of the canine straining at the leash. Just to wrest back control of the thing.

All academic of course, but funny how absence makes the heart grow stronger in these situations.

3. The Centre-Backs – Only Human

In a train of thought that veered rather dramatically off the rails, I ended up last night wondering what the opposite of ‘invincible’ might be. Just plain ‘vincible’ seemed to tick the boxes, except that it’s not really a word, which seemed a fairly critical stumbling block. All of which came about as I observed Messrs Vertonghen and Toby going about their gainful employment yesterday.

No doubt about it, this pair are as solid and reliable a centre-back combo as we have trotted out in many a long year, but this is not to suggest that they are entirely without flaws. Witness the moment when Vertonghen was outpaced and then rather easily barged aside by a thundering opponent in the first half yesterday, after the pair of them failed to deal with a fairly unceremonious punt down the middle. Exhibit B was Toby’s decision to leave to the gods of the six-yard box a ball he could easily have cleared in the closing stages, presenting a chance for a West Brom winner that had Kyle Walker scrambling to hack the thing clear.

‘Only human’, as the chap said to Keanu Reeves towards the end of The Matrix, when holding a gun to his head, and it captures the gist of the thing about Vertonghen and Aldeweireld. A fine pair they are, but such has been our solidity at the back this season that it has been easy to forget that their little Flemish axis will occasionally be breached.

And maybe that’s the nub of the thing – few sides are pootling along in quite such fine fettle as our lot this season, but they are only human, and jolly young humans at that, so mistakes will be made. Back in August few of us dared to hope for much more than a top-five finish, so it would be remiss to chide them for failing to meet heightened expectations. They’re getting there. It remains ill-defined precisely where ‘there’ is, but they most certainly are getting there.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 4-1 West Ham: 4 Lilywhite Observations

1. Man-Love For Dembele

As is the vogue these days, all manner of stats have been trotted out to do homage to the performance of Dembele. Tackles, touches, passes, interceptions – the man apparently won the numbers game hands down, which is excellent news for those who like their pivot tables on a Monday morning. In more practical terms it was, as ever, a joy to observe the chap in such fine fettle. Blessed with his curious combo of barrel-chested Samsonesque strength and footwork smoother than a particularly debonair silkworm, Dembele has the capacity to float like a butterfly while stinging like an angry minotaur, and games are being duly dictated from his lair in the centre.

2. The Best And Worst of Walker

It feels like ever since AANP was but a twinkle in the eye, the life and works of K. Walker Esquire have divided opinions amongst the lilywhite hordes. Bang on cue, both the prosecution and the defence made fairly compelling cases, and one suspects that nobody who previously held an opinion will have seen a reason to change course.

For the best part of proceedings Walker spent the day tearing up the wing to offer cheery companionship to whomever had the ball infield, acting for all the world like a de facto winger. On top of which he appeared for much of the thing to have his defensive duties down to a t, producing on a couple of occasions that signature upper-body move of his - the one that shields the thing as it trickles out of play, while an opponent tries in vain to budge him and simply bounces off. Even when he picked up a rather daft booking for handbags in the latter stages I was happy enough to shrug it off, for the chap was simply showing some fire in his belly, and over the years that has been a rare commodity. Then came his goal, a sumptuous finish to a cracking little move – and all seemed right with the world.

Alas (and inevitably, his detractors would say), there then followed not so much a mental aberration as a decision en masse by every one of his brain cells to vacate the premises, and Walker delivered his token Walker moment. Two or three minutes that summed up the blighter in a microcosm (well, two microcosms I suppose). A favourite he remains in this corner of the interweb – but detractors gonna detract.

3. Alli And Dier Pick Up Where They Left Off

Much has been made of the elevations of Alli and Dier to the national stage, and on their returns to the Lane they duly did the sensible thing by picking up where previously they had left off. Alli remains a little rough around the edges, understandably enough, but even when he makes the odd wrong decision or his touch lets him down, the nature of his play – by which I mean that willingness to breeze into the penalty area and sniff around for scraps – gives all sorts of benefits to the team as a whole. One does not have to squint too hard to recall the days when poor old Kane (or whomever) would be checking his armpits and breath for explanations as to why nobody would go anywhere near him. With Alli in the team (and nods of acknowledgement are also due to young Sonny Jimbo) there is at least always a second body in attack to keep the opposition defence honest.

This being Spurs, and old habits die rather hard, so naturally the air in AANP Towers pre kick-off was rich with the smell of pessimism. Where Heskey, Martins, Benteke and others had gone before, yours truly was envisaging Andy Carroll going today – namely the little road named Bundle The Soft-Centred Lilywhite Defenders Out Of The Way And Bludgeon In A Goal Avenue. The probability was amplified by our bizarre brittleness in the face of the aerial challenge from that ‘orrible lot up the road a couple of weeks back.

Credit therefore to the back-four and, in particular, Young Master Dier, for standing up to Carroll, shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow. Ironically enough, where this gloomy doom-monger had prophesied all manner of woe from set-pieces, it was glorious to observe a cracking set-piece goal from our lot instead. Both delivery and movement were worthy of a tip of the hat.

4. A Goal In Poch’s Image

When Senor Pocehttino downed tools and hits the sack for his eight hours of tired nature’s sweet restorer, I would hazard a bet that the goal that afforded him the most pleasure was the third. A goal cast in the manager’s very own chubby little features, it was born of energetic, high pressing by the younglings, swarming all over the opposition defence. The gist of the thing is typically to make the opposition punt the ball aimlessly towards us in our own half, so to bypass all that and pilfer a goal was quite the well-earned bonus.

So in the final analysis it was nutritious and delicious goodness all round. It ended up with near total dominance – four goals, the woodwork a couple of times, a dozen shots on target and plenty of showboating – but the game had begun evenly and feistily, and our lot ground down the visitors and forced their way ahead. Being young and sprightly they will presumably stumble here and there, but this was an absolute triumph for the Pochettino way, and they duly deserve a day or two of basking.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

It’s like the thing never went away. Varying degrees of huff and puff, and a smattering of invention that was far too late to be of any consequence, and without playing particularly well or badly the thing was done.

Midfield

The selection of Dier ahead of Mason was shiny and new, but the headlines were grabbed by Bentaleb’s decision to rock up for work still in sunglasses and flip-flops, Hawaiin shirt on back and the distinct whiff of alcohol on his breath. The cat was out of the bag pretty soon, for while he did his best to keep his head down and mooch around in the shadows, all too often he was thrust into the spotlight, and responded by passing the ball to the nearest man in red. He will have better days – in fact every remaining day of his life is likely to be better – but the euthanasia effected by Pochettino shortly after the break was completely understandable.

A Sorry Ode to Own Goal Perpetrators

Ostensibly the fall-guy, truth be told I felt bundles of sympathy for Master Walker. The galloping young cove as ever gave every ounce of effort, and by and large stomped around to fairly solid effect. One of the few entertaining sub-plots to the piece was the joust between Shaw and Walker, and I rather thought our man edged it, by virtue of his barrel chest and third lung. Whether he was tearing up and back, little legs going like the clappers, or spreading his arms like shields of steel in order to escort the ball safely off the vicinity, he just about seemed to win his little personal mano-e-mano. A shame then, that the whole binge was rendered fairly meaningless by that well-intended but ultimately fatal intervention that decided the thing.

I always feel a twinge of sympathy for any man who pops one into his own net, as he always seems to be an ill-deserving buck. In general, it’s a law of science that if the o.g. perpetrator had not spent all that effort charging into his defensive position, an opposing forward would have had something approximating a tap-in. Today was a case in point, with young Walker angrily sprinting back to make the world right, and duly bustling Rooney aside– only to then do the dastardly himself. On top of which, all manner of patronising epithets and backslaps are then duly administered, as if the chap were a bit simple in the head. The whole string of events made young Walker, already the angriest young man in the Premiership, just about ready to pop in a blur of apoplexy – but such is the unfair lot of the own-goal meister.

The Attacking Quartet

Not sure about this mob. The components seem broadly to make sense – a designated central lump, and three mischievous shysters flitting around behind him – but somehow, rather than seamlessly weave together, all four sat in their own designated spots and did not come within a country mile of clicking.

There’s an untruth actually. In the opening exchanges there were one or two moments, and Eriksen might have done better with that early lob when slipped in with a knowing nod and wink by Kane. By and large, alas, these two, plus Dembele and Chadli, kept to themselves, seemingly content to preen around with the knowledge that they were jolly skilful individuals. The thought of banging heads together to create more than the sum of parts seemed strictly off-limits.

It’s the sort of tragic scenario that makes one find a quiet spot and brood. Dembele, Chadli and Eriksen are each, in their own ways, jolly alluring when they purr into gear, and in Football Manager it would probably work a dream. But in reality, one rather expects the pre-nuptial to be dusted off and popped in the post, if you follow my drift.

If It Were Done When ‘Tis Done

And thus, with all the dark inevitability of a Greek tragedy, we limped off with heads bowed. No shame in it, and no doubt we will bounce back – but already a spot cosily ensconced just outside the Top Four feels like it has been reserved. The result, the performance, the general gist of being not quite good enough suggests that the Spurs we know and love is all revved up and ready to trundle.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

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