1. The Return of Kaboul
Slaughter a calf! Inflate a balloon! Find a young maiden and go down on bended knee! For, ye gods be praised, Kaboul is back, and in the team, chest puffed, pace increasing, eyebrows immaculately plucked. The return of Kaboul quite possibly makes me happier than winning four-nil away from home. Three points is three points, but Vertonghen-Kaboul is a foundation on which a whole bally world of awesomeness can be built.
Moreover, the purring of this particular axis has the most desirable consequence of leaving Young Master Daws consigned to the thumb-twiddling HQ that is the substitutes’ bench, a position from which even he is unable to inflict calamity upon proceedings by the delivery of an ill-timed lunge. When masterfully-timed lunges were required yesterday Monsieur Kaboul delivered. Not necessarily a flawless performance, as the back-four did occasionally resemble four slightly wonkily linked pieces of Meccano, but the gist of thing is to rejoice and be glad.
2. The All-Action Switch Is Flicked
Moving ever so slightly up the pitch, it was a cause of more delight that the lethargy of Sunday afternoon had been binned, and every outfield player was instead embarking on a personal drive to lay siege to the Newcastle goal. With Bentaleb a lot further forward than has ever been the case, both full-backs deciding that they would spend the evening doing work experience in the wingers’ office and even our trusty centre-backs (another bow if you will, Monsieur Kaboul) unable to resist the urge to charge at the home defence, the entire troupe looked like they were having an absolutely riotous time. Until Newcastle countered.
A better team may well have taken advantage of this whiff of naivety, but that is probably something to be brooded over another day. We tore into Newcastle with gusto – never more enjoyably so than in that late attack when the ball was rolled to the right of the area and literally four Spurs players converged upon it unopposed – and for this we should once again rejoice and be glad.
3. Our Lot: Big Lads
As a wide-eyed, gullible and slightly annoying youth, AANP occasionally took time out from recorder concerts and spelling-tests to listen to his elders curse and bemoan the fact that for all their silky flair our heroes rather lacked a steely underbelly. Looking at the line of body-builders and tree-trunks that trotted out for the handshakes yesterday it seems reasonable to opine that those days are receding into the annals. Kaboul, Walker, Capoue, Dembele, Paulinho, Bentaleb and Adebayor are the sort of solid units one would not particularly enjoy trying to slyly shoulder-charge into the advertising hoardings, which, if nothing else, ought to make young Aaron Lennon feel well looked after.
From faintly ridiculous to borderline sublime in the space of three days, we now find ourselves not only three points off the CL spots, but seven points off the summit. Heavens above.
A one-nil home win tends to evoke images of rock-solid fortresses and lashings of risk-free discipline, but with the nerves jangling so hard they were almost audible pre kick-off, as the first ten minutes unfolded I began to muse whether this might turn into another one of those wretched thrashings we seem to take every month or so.
Midfield Muscle (Or Lack Thereof)
The midfield troupe in particular seemed to take one look at things and make an instant decision to dig furiously at the ground before burying their heads as far as they would go, with the result that Everton snapped and muscled their way to every loose ball in that opening spell.
The approach was typified by young Master Eriksen. While ‘tis pleasing to note that his transition into a Modric-esque string-puller continues to take effect gradually, through the medium of threading balls sweetly this way and that, when it comes to physical combat he demonstrates all the presence of a particularly malnourished waif, and for some reason the rest of our heroes seemed to take their cue from him. I was also rather underwhelmed by the contribution of Paulinho. That’s a lie of sorts actually, as I struggled to locate Paulinho until he was yanked off in the second half.
Wrongs were eventually righted in this area however. To his credit Dembele didn’t shirk the challenge, and seemed to impose himself more as the game wore on, at one point trundling forward with Everton defenders trying to wrap themselves around his legs and haul him down, in a vaguely Six Nations sort of way.
Adebayor – Like A Girl In A Nursery Rhyme
Ultimately, we find ourselves needing to form an orderly queue to extend our thanks to Adebayor once again. Which is a little galling in a way, because the chap can be – and has been – a rotter of the first order. Like a pigtailed girl in a children’s poem, when bad he is horrid, but when good he is as close as we have come to a centre-forward of the Drogba mould, which is pretty much as the poem dictates, verbatim. His goal yesterday was a case in point, and it is certainly difficult to imagine Messrs Soldado, Kane or Defoe scoring thusly. However, if Sherwood can perform that strange alchemy that keeps him galvanised, and Good Adebayor lollops out each week, then presumably the points will keep ticking over. One dreads to think how events might have panned out, particularly in the first half, had Lukaku been present to lead the line for our visitors.
Man-Love For Walker. No? Just Me Then?
At the risk of attracting silence, some tumbleweed and an evil stare or two, before wrapping up I would like to clear my throat and profess a degree of man-love for the boy Walker. He seems to receive a fairly dubious press amongst the Spurs aficionados of my acquaintance, which seems jolly unfair, because few in the team display anything like his wild-eyed passion. Aside from stomping moodily about the place and calling upon his third lung to go tearing up the right every couple of minutes, I am always rather impressed with his ability to shield the ball out for a goal-kick – admittedly this ranks amongst the lowest victories that can be won during a game, but it still always prompts me into a nod of satisfaction. On top of which he effected a rather nifty piece of work in chipping forward the quick free-kick that set up Adebayor’s goal – remarkably quick thinking for a man who has carved out a side-career in on-field mental negligibility.
Somehow then, the bandwagon rolls on. Somehow, we are still but three points behind the all-singing all-dancing Liverpool team. Honestly, if that lot fail to make the Top Four this year, when their principal competition consists of our ragtag bunch and the worst Man Utd team in decades, then their entire playing and coaching staff deserve to be shot. Pardon the digression. This was by no means vintage lilywhite japery, but given the Cup Final feel to the fixture it was a dashed good effort, and keeps things simmering over nicely.
Bless them, Swansea genuinely are a team I would like to play every week. Like some sort of Tottenham Hostpur-lite, they really do not look the sort of troupe who like to get their shirts dirty with any of that tackling nonsense (although Chiriches and his pretty little face might beg to differ), and they would happily spend all day pinging short passes to one another if they could, even if doing so means creating all manner of difficulty for themselves in their own area, just because it all looks so pretty. In the final analysis, it feels a little bit like watching our first eleven playing the squad players.
In the opening half hour it did admittedly seem that our back-four were but one killer pass away from being rather brutally dismembered, but with each passing week it becomes ever more apparent that this is actually just a hilarious optical illusion of the Sherwood Era, and that Chiriches and Dawson actually have everything under control at all times, and are secretly smoking cigars rather than breaking sweat.
A pat on the back too for young Master Walker, who went steaming up the line with such vim and vigour that one imagines he eschewed the bus ride and instead sprinted all the way back to North London. Bentaleb also toddled around with the air of a young man who had arrived at the office with pencils sharpened and a nice clear agenda for the day. It is easy to see why the Brains Trust ’14 like the cut of his jib, for as jibs go his is cut with a pleasing mix of aggression and uncomplicated passing.
However, the shiniest star is saved for young Eriksen, who seemed rather at ease with life in a more central position. Indeed, the forfeiting of Soldado for Chadli had the salubrious side-effect of allowing the midfielders generally to buzz into each other’s territory whenever they spotted something that took their fancy, and this being Swansea it didn’t particularly matter who did what. Chadli himself did not exactly blow up anybody’s skirt, but the principle served well enough, and suggests that when fit again the future could look bright for Lamela.
AANP would not be the grumpy soul he is without a whinge or two about glorious captain, and indeed in the first half boxes were duly ticked as he went sliding full pelt in typically whole-hearted and ill-time manner at one point, and then executed that scarcely believable two-handed shove on a chap in the penalty area, a manoeuvre rather generously ignored by the ref. But by golly all was forgiven in the second half, when of all things he rolled a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass inside the full-back and into the path of young Master Walker, leading directly to our second goal. Who would have thought the old man to have so much cunning in him?
As well as Dawson’s Modric moment, there was also Kyle Walker’s quite glorious dummy in the final moments, that left some poor Swansea bean on his posterior, and the Eriksen cross for the opening goal, that curled so viciously I felt a little dirty just watching it. To their credit, both Dawson and Chiriches did the honourable things in central defence with minimal nonsense, particularly against an opponent such as Bony, who appears to have much of the barnstorm in his constitution.
A cheery day’s work then, and the glint in his eye will tell you that Sherwood has his little mitts set on that Manager of the Month award. The fixtures may have been kind, but the football is fun, the goals are rolling in at a healthy lick and the Top Four remains within spitting distance.
And so the interminable wait continues, amongst just about every Spurs fan of my acquaintance, for the Sherwood bubble to burst, so that those sharpened knives can be plunged with gusto. Nevertheless, it’s four wins and a draw in the league, and another win or draw would seem to be on the agenda today. The approach these days appears to be kill or be killed, so while the defence bears a permanent ‘skin-of-its-teeth’ take on life, up the other end the Eriksen-Adebayor-Soldado-Lennon axis poodles along in pretty fine fettle, and one or two of that mob will presumably be to the fore again today.
Depressingly enough there won’t be too many more opportunities to ponder this in the future, but Sherwood will presumably be scrawling in ‘Credit’ and ‘Debit’ columns respectively the various permutations of replacing Soldado with Defoe. I jolly well know where my own preference lies, but I presume we will again be treated to 70 minutes of Soldado sliding in to knee the ball up into the stands and pick himself up with that rather angry expression on his face as if it’s really all our fault for shouting at the telly-box in the first place.
The rest of the team picks itself these days, and that there is now consistency in team selection makes a welcome change from the slightly more haphazard take on things of the previous regime. The downside seems to be that one cannot stretch a limb these days without crashing into another soul who wants to hitch a lift on the Defoe Express and set off for pastures new. Holtby, Capoue and Chadli have all apparently toyed with the idea in recent days, and Lamela’s name is rarely far from a transfer gossip column. All of which makes me wonder what has happened, six months on, to the summer blueprint of creating a squad for all seasons, which was so enthusiastically endorsed by the suits in the corridors of power.
Meaty stuff I’m sure you agree, but a sizeable digression from the task in hand. I rather like watching Swansea, truth be told, and given their keep-ball style, and our new-fangled approach of back-to-front-as-quickly-as-humanly-possible this ought to make for entertaining viewing. As ever I rather fear for our defence, but all things considered we ought to out-score this lot.
Plus ça change and all that, what? The 4-4-2 business will win us more games than it loses, particularly given the Sherwood mantra that bonus points will be awarded for whizzing the ball from back to front as rapidly as humanly possible, a most edifying change from the sidewards sidewards catchy monkey snooze-fest under the previous incumbent. However, yesterday – and, one imagines, against most of the slicker teams in the country – we were simply outmanoeuvred in midfield. Like a broken clock shouting ‘Bingo!’ twice a day, Andy Townsend stumbled upon an unfortunate truth yesterday when he mused that l’Arse were taking better care of the ball, and that, coupled with their numerical advantage in midfield, rather did for us.
The Three Stooges
It is never too encouraging to see Curly, Larry and Moe line up across the back-four, and while the defensive line is not quite so high these days, blind panic still broke out with disturbing regularity at the back. Walcott’s pace had poor old Daws and Chiriches scuttling around doing their very best decapitated poultry impressions, and as they spun around in little circles and bumped into each other they could not have been more convincing if adorned with blood-spattered feathers. Were one to use the ‘”Who would buy them?” test of a player’s ability, it is difficult to imagine any top-half team pausing to stroke the chin and count the pennies.
There is at least some consolation in the fact that these are our third and fourth choice centre-backs (one hopes), but the news is worse out on the left. The excruciating little tizz into which young Master Rose imploded can probably be shrugged off as the sort of occasional mistake that befalls even the best of us, but the regularity with which he cedes possession jolly well makes me grind my teeth, and not in the good way mind.
Young Walker tends to attract opprobrium on a regular basis, and admittedly yesterday, having done the hard work of racing back to catch Rosicky, it was a little odd that he opted not to intervene any further in matters to prevent the goal. However, I tend to exonerate the chap on the grounds that few men in Christendom seem to take things quite so seriously and passionately as he. Oh that all our lilywhite heroes cared as much about winning their individual battles throughout the 90.
The Unfortunate Lot of a Midfielder in a 4-4-2
The midfield beavered away, bless them, but that whole thing was rather a mismatch. Adebayor’s commendable exertions in dropping deep were not really enough to fight the fires, and when l’Arse got their groove on and started pinging the ball in neat little triangles one imagines there were a few embarrassed looks amongst Bentaleb and chums. On the bright side, when in possession and merrily bursting out on the counter our heroes look about one smart pass away from a one-on-one every time, with Eriksen and Lennon evidently being given all sorts of encouragement to bust a gut in search of goals. Eriksen in particular looks like he has a nice picture of things in his head. The execution still tends to be a little off-key, but one gets the impression that in time he will be quite the play-maker.
Whether Sherwood sticks with this approach for our trickier away-day assignments will make for interesting viewing in the coming months. The 4-4-2 gamble of losing the possession game but having excess numbers on the counter worked a treat vs Man Utd, but had us panting and wheezing a tad yesterday, and ultimately our glorious leader will probably be judged on results in those biggest of big games.
In this part of the interweb nothing really set the juices flowing like a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass that rips open a defence like a dismembered carcass. If it is played inside the full-back so much the better, and if, on top of all of the above, it is threaded through the legs of a defender en route to its destination, then it jolly well deserves a bonus point.
On which note, Señor Soldado can take a bow. The ball may bounce uncontrollably of the wrong limb whenever he gets within spitting distance of the net, but if ever a pass deserved to be dressed up in a tux and immaculate bow-tie, given a full two minutes applause and awarded a shiny statuette it was Soldado’s in the first half to set up Lennon for his early one-on-one.
While wittering on about the forward line, Adebayor, it seems, continues to eat his five a day, and another rip-roaring performance ensued. Whether holding up the ball, taking on Wayne Rooney of all people in a mano-e-mano tussle by our own corner flag or showing his contempt for that old gravity malarkey by hanging in the air for nigh on a minute and a half in order to head home our first, the chap bounded around with absolute lashings of verve and eagerness. Oh that the secret to his enthusiasm could be bottled and recycled on a weekly basis.
Elsewhere on the spectrum stretching from Most Welcome to Dashed Infuriating striking performances was young Harry Kane. He may fit into his lilywhite shirt like a steroid-enhanced oak tree but there the similarity with Monsieur Drogba ends. In his defence, Master Kane was almost certainly put through a condensed army boot-camp session during half-time, as that would reasonably explain why the lad looked absolutely shattered from the moment he puffed on to the moment he panted off at the final whistle, presumably just seconds before collapsing in a muscular heap in the tunnel. With fresh legs needed to hold up our attacking play and chase down every United defender in sight, Kane seemed to spend his minutes treading through wet concrete. (Although the moment when he stood offside and deliberately whacked the ball into the crowd did make me chortle.)
T’Other End of the Pitch
Hats tipped at a jaunty angle to the defence – and their chums from elsewhere – for holding firm in that nervy final quarter. Ranting about Dawson’s footballing prowess or lack thereof comes about as naturally to yours truly as letting the eyes glaze over and humming the theme to Beverly Hills Cop while the various marvellous womenfolk in my life rant about my lack of attention or some such thing, but if our intrepid skipper does one thing well it is put his body on the line for a humdinger of a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort. Defending deep removes from the equation his ‘pace’, and lets him get on with the meaty business of repelling the myriad crosses and shots fired in, and thus did he strain the sinews with gay old abandon for the cause.
None of which was quite enough to detract from the shortcomings of the boy Rose, who dribbled into trouble, was effortlessly dribbled past or misplaced his passes with fairly metronomic regularity. Meanwhile the jury remains in a quandary over Chiriches, who mixes sterling interventions with moments of thinking himself the Romanian Pele and trying to dribble past everyone in sight. The midfield seemed well drilled however, each seeming to pick the right moment to bomb forward and the right moment to roll up sleeves and muck in.
There is a growing sentiment that Lloris has not quite been the same dapper chap he once was since getting that clout on the head, and there was certainly a hairy moment when he gave a Gallic shrug and opted to flatten deserving miscreant Ashley Young. However, one cared rather little about this by the end of proceedings as he flung himself hither, thither and every point in between in order to repel our hosts, antics that were probably worth a hat-trick, if you get my drift.
A 100% Record in 2014
So far things are bright and beautiful on the good ship Sherwood. The 4-4-2 selection at the outset certainly gained a nod of admiration from these quarters, for showing, if nothing else, a willingness to live by the sword, even if carnage did appear to beckon, but for an hour or so we played a mighty impressive counter-attacking game, preventing United from fashioning any particularly straightforward chances while carving open a clutch of glorious ones ourselves. Things certainly took a wobbly swerve after United pulled back their goal, but all’s well etc. The only shame was that the delicious irony, of the big decisions going against United at Old Trafford, appeared to be lost on the humourless chappie manning their helm.
AVB having curiously opted against inviting me into his inner sanctum (despite that halcyon era playing Football Manager in my second year at Uni when I masterminded three consecutive wins to help Spurs avoid relegation on the final day of the campaign, admittedly having steered them to the foot of the table in the first place), I will never know whether, in that world of gravelly beards and even gravellier voices, our erstwhile supremo really did send our heroes out to battle with the order ringing in their ears to pass sideways and sideways again, ad infinitum, until their own brains, the brains of their opponents and the brains of all witnessing the dirge literally melted, forming a puddle of cerebral matter over which he could stand and wax lyrical about his project. Maybe he did, maybe not, but in the brave new world the drill seems to be to point the compass goalwards when plotting one’s next move, and the saints be praised for such a blessing.
One change that can most definitely be attributed to Sherwood and chums is the switch to two upfront, which once again paid dividends. In a general sense there seemed to be bodies in the box whenever we galloped forwards, and on a more particular note the combo once again brought about a goal, Soldado finding Adebayor in the build-up to the penalty. Whether this two up-front gambit will work away from home and against mightier opposition than today’s rabble remains to be seen – and will be seen jolly imminently as it happens – but today things panned out swimmingly.
If nothing else, the boy Soldado can take a mean penalty. (If you pardon the wild digression, watching Soldado step up with such confidence again has me wanting to eat my own elbow whenever I hear our national heroes bemoaning a penalty shoot-out as a ‘lottery’, as if the thing were entirely in the lap of the gods. Practise the bally things like Soldado evidently does and every penalty becomes a gift-wrapped opportunity to wed Mr Ball to young Ms Net.) Soldado might want to indulge in a little extra shooting practice from other angles, but at least the chances are now being created, and sooner or later they will presumably start flying in.
That said, one would probably caution him to steer clear of Paulinho when they toddle off for said shooting practice, because the Brazilian still appears to be aiming for a spot about 15 yards high and to the right of the net. Elsewhere, Adebayor is still beavering away like a man sniffing a new contract, or transfer, or whatever it is that perks the chap up every now and then, and while it sometimes does appear that the messages simply do not transit from brain to foot in time, his inclination to poke a first-time pass rather befuddles the opponent and endears him to me. Lovely also to see Lennon making hay, neatly topped off with a goal that had us all purring.
The Annual Rant Against Stoke.
While we might have been fortunate to avoid conceding a penalty or two in the first half, when limbs seemed to entangle in all manner of ways in our area, one of the most pleasing aspects of the whole afternoon was that, for a change, we gave Stoke an absolute roasting. London-based sentiment aside, I do not think there is a team I have abhorred more over the years than this lot. While dissent is good for any democracy, and therefore Stoke’s traditional anti-football is probably in some way healthy for the beautiful game, watching them push, pull, niggle and shove their way to countless one-nils at the Lane had me fearing the worst as we dominated without scoring for the first half hour. This being the new era however our heroes took the most impertinent step of sowing the thing up with twenty minutes to play, securing a three goal lead of all things. Most perplexing, but undoubtedly lashings of fun. Moreover, by breaking from tradition and taking the liberty of winning by more than just a single goal our lot have now moved on the exalted perch of a minus two goal difference. Minus two! Whatever next?
“I hope you’re right. I really do.”
Thus spake surly space lady Ripley, in the Muppets-based whodunit Aliens, when informed by a cocksure chum that everything would turn out just tickety-boo (shortly before things actually went rather awry, when one examines things objectively). Her sentiment of mingled hope, trust and wariness might well be mumbled at the gleaming bonce of Master Levy, for as non sequiturs go this is one of the ilk to have me howling with frustration. Just a few weeks ago we were still contenders for the Top Four, and even now on Christmas Eve we are but four points off said land of milk and honey, but this whole bizarre episode seems to have achieved such a recalculating of aims and ambitions that Top Six is now seemingly the accepted target. What the dickens sort of masterplan is that?
Our all-seeing chairman may well deserve a stern word for letting the guillotine drop without giving much thought about how to dispose of disembodied heads. Ridding the Lane of AVB was not necessarily a bad call, given the style of play we had been sucked into, but it served little purpose if nobody adequate were lined up. Presumably the 18-month contract will be terminated six months in, with the accompanying Levy death-stare, should our heroes fail to progress to the heady heights of sixth by the season’s end, or should someone with but a modicum of experience become available, but it seems a strange approach to shrug shoulders, close eyes, jab a finger onto a 2002 squad poster and accordingly entrust a season and a half to Sherwood. Few top-half teams would appoint Tim Sherwood as Master of their Universe, so it frustrates the bally juices out of me that we have done so.
If ever there were a time to be a fly on a wall, it was during negotiations yesterday, notwithstanding the potentially fatal effects of cold weather upon the poor blighters’ life-cycles. If I understand correctly Sherwood seems to have talked himself into an 18-month deal on the basis of one home defeat to West Ham, one madcap victory against a Southampton team whose defence and goalkeeper seemed to be playing the wrong sport, and through use of the bluff that he wanted it long-term or not at all. All of which suggests to me that Sherwood is one of the greatest orators of our time. Should the walls come crashing down on this curious little experiment then a career as FBI negotiator-in-chief blinking well ought to beckon.
Thus concludes the diatribe however. Time to back the chap, and hope that things turn out better for us than for Ripley and her chums (spoiler alert – they didn’t make the Top Four, if you follow my gist). If the Southampton selection were a gamble based on the fact that he knew not whether it were his last game, his new longer-term contract might encourage him to indulge in a tad more circumspection, in the form of a more recognised holding midfielder. Playing two in attack has already born fruit, the squad is certainly strong enough to rub shoulders with the great and good, and with a festive fixture-list that could be more foreboding we are but one string of wins away from a media meltdown about 2014 in fact being a lilywhite year.
Now that’s the spirit. Having attracted the opprobrium of AANP pre kick-off for the unpardonable crime of simply being Tim Sherwood, the young bean has earned himself a commemorative bust on the mantelpiece (in truth it will more likely be a sketch of a stick-man left on the window-sill – but the sentiment remains pure) for scrawling the most hilariously gung-ho teamsheet since Ardiles got a little carried away.
It certainly does not merit him the gig full-time, and better teams will absolutely tear us limb from limb if we continue down this route, but in ludicrously entertaining contrast to weeks gone by this was marvellous fun to behold, not least because a plethora of bona fide goalscoring opportunities were created, as our heroes tripped over themselves to get in on the penalty area fun.
There were various pleasing aspects to Sherwood’s reckless decision to gambol down the all action no plot route, including the rapidity with which the ball progressed from point A to point B, facilitated by some pretty nifty one-touch stuff. Eriksen can revel in the glory of a gold star for his part in this, although it comes with the proviso that he can do yet more to dictate things, and I was also pleasantly surprised by Chadli’s contribution when he toddled on.
As well as the most welcome instruction to attack whenever in possession, the game-plan also seemed to involve hunting in packs high up the pitch when not in possession, which had its perks no doubt, but also brought about some disconcerting wobbles when Southampton counter-attacked and, our midfield looked on from about 20 yards behind the play. Still, such are the Ts and Cs of living by the sword, and as if to emphasise the point our glorious leader sneered at the very concept of trying to protect the lead by trading Soldado for Defoe with five minutes remaining. Marvellous stuff.
Other points of note
Goodness knows how Monsieur Lloris felt when he saw the teamsheet proclaiming that the entire defensive responsibility of the afternoon pretty much hinged upon Dawson and Chiriches, but Daws, to his credit, kept it simple this week, generally deploying the no-nonsense approach. Chiriches increasingly comes across as a gullible sort of imp, regularly selling himself by flying hook, line and sinker in one direction at the faintest dip of a shoulder from an opposition forward, but this can probably be expected of one’s fourth choice centre-back. The new chappie Bentaleb seemed suspiciously confident about life, and the joys of two up-front were once again displayed for all to see, but the highlight of the afternoon may well have been the look of something between bewilderment and disdain etched across the face of the ref as Adebayor jigged away his little celebration. While I would not trust Sherwood to run the rule every week, it was absolutely rip-roaring fun.
Here at AANP Towers we are honourable men. When Dogtanian waved farewell to the folks and left for pastures new, the upper lip did no more than quiver. When baited by rival fans in the office every dashed Monday, reminding me of my idle gloats the preceding Friday and collecting their winnings, while the boss wanders by and reminds me that the pretence of working is more effective when the computer is actually switched on and why must I look at him in such a gormless way, I treat the defeat with stoic resolve, determining to make an even larger wager the following week because that will teach them all. And thus do I unashamedly admit that when the burly security chaps marched up to AVB, grabbed him mid-sentence, frog-marched him out of the premises and unceremoniously dumped him onto the High Road, I did little more than shrug, reasoning that that might well have been the right course of action, and licking my lips at the prospect of our imminent upturn in fortunes.
Alas, the upturn has not quite materialised. In fact, the grand plan of sacking one chappie, lassoing another, more capable chappie, depositing him into the leather chair and watching the marvellousness unfurl has hit an early but quite critical snag. Suddenly, the realisation dawns that Master Levy might not necessarily have the entire strategy mapped out. In fact, it is not particularly clear that the plan even extended to the hiring of a new bean at all, but that he laboured under the misapprehension that firing AVB would in its entirety signal a glorious conclusion of affairs - because quite where he goes next, or even what sort of blighter is brought in next, does not yet seem obvious. That Tim Sherwood may or may not be at the helm for days, weeks, months or even – horror or horrors – permanently is about as underwhelming as an action film in which the pillars are tumbling down and the hero ambling up stage left to save the day actually turns out to be merely Ben Affleck.
Nothing personal against Sherwood of course (or Affleck for that matter), but one suspects that the opportunities for success might not necessarily be maximised by leaving the office intern in charge of the entire A to Z of things for a few weeks, even if the aforementioned does do a sterling job of booking meeting rooms and whatnot. However, this is what we have for the immediate future, and having deployed a bright and breezy 4-4-2 for the first home adventure, Sherwood now has to decide how to go about things away from home, against a Southampton team who seem to be sufficiently well versed in the intricacies of the game. Who knows, Levy might also be using the opportunity to cast a furtive eye over Saints own grand fromage, Mr Pochettino.
Injury to Townsend threatens to derail things somewhat, particularly if the Sherwood gospel preaches touchline-hugging wingers, but the squad boasts enough attacking types, so one of Sigurdsson, Lamela or Chadli will presumably be unleashed. A more defensive-minded chap in the holding role might also be advisable, after Dembele was deployed in that spot midweek, while in defence it will presumably once again be a case of using anyone fit enough to hobble over the line.
It would be a dashed shame if our whole season were to lose momentum because of a yuletide wobble, but such a circumstance lurks menacingly around the corner. The talent is there, and under AVB our away form was generally positive enough, but our very recent history does little to engender expectations of unparalleled success. One can but hope.