We probably ought to pour ourselves a stiff drink and get used to this. Those of us who like a dash of rip-snort with our morning Weetabix and Brahms took to banging our heads against the nearest wall yesterday, as not for the first time this season there were embarrassed coughs all round as our heroes raided the ideas cabinet and finding it bare. (Before all hell breaks loose on keyboards throughout the land this would probably be a good juncture at which to ring a loud bell with some gusto and hire Brian Blessed to holler “Context good folk, what?” Our brave lilywhites are pootling along at a healthy rate of knots, ripple the net just about every week and are even quietly doing a healthy trade in clean sheets these days. Top Four seems likelier than not, and in the grand scheme of things, AVB and chums are fulfilling their side of their bargain.)
However… the one-touch, pulse-racing stuff of yesteryear ‘tis not, and it bothers the dickens out of me to see them labour so against these defensive opponents. Anyone who has scuttled to their White Hart Lane seat pre kick-off on matchday will have seen that just before they disappear down the tunnel to don their kits our heroes bound around like particularly exuberant lambs playing 5/6-a-side, one-touch stuff – how dashed maddening then that come the game itself they played as if their lives depended upon taking at least two touches, giving opponents time to reorganise and avoiding off-the-ball movement at all costs. Curiously enough, the only moment of first-time ingenuity I can really recall was from Scott Parker of all people, prodding a second half pass into the path of Bale in the area.
QPR understandably enough stuck just about everyone in the west London area behind the ball and inside their area, and also took the depressingly effective step of dropping their full-backs so deep that neither Bale nor Lennon had a bally inch of space into which to run down the flanks. Alas, faced with a hoopy wall as far as the eye could see, our heroes simply did not have the zip or ingenuity to carve out an opening. Oh for a cunning diagonal ten-yard pass in the final third (dare I mention VDV?) or a mischievous scally with dribble-dust in his boots (dare I mention even Taaraabt, or someone of his ilk, to be hauled from the bench for bothersome afternoons such as these?)
And breathe… There ends the rant.
(Actually that’s a lie, for one further target of AANP ire is presumably boarding a plane for the African Cup of Nations. He may not have been overwhelmed by quality service, but Adebayor did not have the air of a man dashing hither and thither as if the need to score for his employers bordered upon obsession.)
The good fight for fourth is being fought pretty well, but the lack of off-the-ball movement and first-time passing will remain a bête noire in this corner of the interweb for many an inebriated evening. Still, AVB presumably does not just wile away his hours mixing cigarettes and alcohol in the wee small hours in order to makes his voice disappear beneath the realms of human detection, but does actually give some thought to such things. It will probably look a jolly sight more attractive next week against United, such are the quirks of the game.