All Action, No Plot

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CL Final Preview: 5 Steps to the Final in the Lifelong Journey of a Tottenham Fan

5 things Tottenham must do to win here.
6 players who took Tottenham to the Final here.

1. The 1987 FA Cup Final

The day before the Champions League Final, and excitement levels have now shot fairly comfortably through the roof, and are gaily whizzing about in the stratosphere.
In a neat symmetry, AANP’s first lilywhite memory was also a Cup Final, the 1987 FA Cup, a cinematic viewing that made for a pretty fitting way in which to take one’s first step in this absurd journey.

At that stage I suspect I had little idea of what Europe was, let alone the Champions League ruddy Final, but there it began, in a terraced house in Tottenham in front of a black and white screen. The whole thing provided a neatly appropriate template for what was to come in the following three decades, and in particular this season’s Champions League romp – our lot would simply refuse to do things simply if they could instead be done in the most absurd, nerve-shredding fashion.

An early goal, a lead squandered and defeat achieved in barely credible manner – the seeds of the all action no plot approach were not so much sown as shoved down the throat. Our heroes, it was immediately clear, would insist on doing things the hard way.

As an impressionable youth I naively interpreted our second-minute goal that day as a sign that supporting Spurs would be a barrel of laughs, logic dictating that we would score at two-minute intervals for the rest of time.

Alas, the first, critical lesson of Spurs-supporting was yet to come. With the game poised at 2-2 in extra-time, our lot did not just contrive to lose, they flicked through the entire playbook of nonsense and picked out the most nonsensical option of the lot. A harmless cross bounced off the knee of Gary Mabbutt, and looped in a most geometrically-pleasing parabola over Ray Clemence and into the net. Death by own-goal, having led in the second minute. How very Tottenham.

Back in those days, before I had discovered the joys of a stiff bourbon, I digested proceedings by hitting the Lego bricks hard and recreating the barely credible scenes witnessed, but already there would be no turning back.

2: Gazza, 1991 And All That

By this stage the young AANP was already so obsessed with Spurs that it’s a wonder my parents did not cart me off to the nearest institution to have my head examined and some – any – other interests drilled into it instead. Every weekend was spent poring over Saint and Greavsie, Grandstand and The Big Match; every Monday saw me fill my ‘What I Did at the Weekend’ school books with a detailed analysis of Spurs’ fortunes.

Italia ’90 featured prominent contributions from Spurs’ two brightest young things, as well as the now familiar anguish of a drawn-out defeat, stretched out in the most dramatic fashion seemingly just out of cruelty from those on high.

The emergence of Gazza, all trickery and entertainment hammered home the fact that the game is about glory, about doing things in style and with a flourish. When he sized up the Arsenal wall at Wembley, and Barry Davies wondered if he were going to have a crack, I flew off around the place in the sort of celebration that would be unfurled again when Lucas Moura struck in the 95th minute.

The FA Cup Final that followed provided the template of virtually our entire Champions League Campaign in 2019, as, initially, everything that possibly could have veered off the rails duly did so. Gazza crumpled to the turf; Pearce belted home the free-kick; Gazza was stretchered off; Lineker had one wrongly disallowed; and then missed a penalty. This cycle of dismay and setbacks was to prove a solid grounding for the following 20 years or so – and certainly has me well prepared for defeat in some cruel fashion in the CL Final – but once bitten forever smitten, and the glimmer of hope remained.

Step forward Paul Stewart, and the head of poor old Des Walker, and the FA Cup was ours. Little did I know that it would be the first of only 3 trophies in my living memory (until, who knows, Madrid?)

Right up there with the celebrations with my family as Mabbutt lifted the Cup were the celebrations at St Francis de Sales school – a venue presumably well-recognised by most of lilywhite persuasion – the following Monday.

3. The 1990s

One does not want to denigrate the honest efforts of those who went before, but it’s a jolly good job that our heroes achieved both glory and glorious failure in those earlier years, because supporting Spurs in the 90s was a fairly joyless experience, and one compounded by the fact that most in secondary school were Arsenal fans.

There were little flashes of joy – my first visit to the Lane; Klinsmann scoring and then spinning around to stare me in the eyes in a rather generous and touching striker-to-striker moment; discovering that Steve Sedgley lived around the corner and knocking on his door for an autograph; Ginola’s glorious slalom vs Barnsley; the 1999 Worthington – but this was an era in which the hope was doing an impeccable job of killing me.

4. The 2000s, Jol, Bale and ‘Arry

By the turn of the millennium I had had the good sense to start devoting my hours to booze and females, the former reliably assisting in the process of Spurs-supporting, the latter simply putting up with it (or not).

The prominent memory of my University years is turning on the radio for the classified results, having known we were three goals to the good at half-time, and in a millisecond registering a) disappointment that we had still only scored three at full-time, and b) confusion that the intonation of the classified results-reader was indicating that the home team had lost, which was most peculiar, because that could only mean that Man Utd had, in the second half alone, at White Hart Lane, scored the princely total of…

A League Cup Final defeat was thrown in for good measure, before Martin Jol – blessed be his name – strode in like a lumbering bear, and I was off to my first ever European night at the Lane, a second honeymoon if ever there were one.

The zenith of this was yet another glorious failure compounded by several early shots to our own feet – needing to overturn a first leg deficit against Sevilla we were two-down before those around me had even taken their seats – but this at least was where the tide began to turn.

UEFA/Europa nights became the norm; a scrawny left-back called Gareth Bale was making blunders that had me calling for his head; Modric and Berbatov were making grown men go misty-eyed around me; and when ‘Arry Redknapp joined, and kicked things off with a 4-4 draw at the Emirates, featuring a 40-yard Bentley lob and not one but two last-minute comeback goals, the All Action, No Plot blog was born.

And with each passing season, the name seemed apt if not exactly tripping off the tongue. Which other team, needing a final-day result, could lose half its members to food poisoning? Which other team could finally break its Top Four hoodoo, only to find that despised rivals who had finished sixth would conjure up a last-minute equaliser, followed by a penalty shoot-out win, to take the trophy and our CL spot?

Supporting Spurs meant signing up to a series of absurdities that were all perfectly acceptable within the legislation, but seemed unlikely, barely credible and always plain bonkers. The difference is that in this season’s Champions League campaign, those unlikely and bonkers moments have fallen in our favour. To date…

On the pitch we crept closer to glory, but inevitably fell short in ever more galling circumstances, culminating to date with a Semi-Final penalty shoot-out defeat this season. Off the pitch a slightly unlikely dream was lived as I penned a curious book on Spurs, and in the process spent various afternoons in conversation with that same Gary Mabbutt whose knee kick-started the whole thing. (And, of course, became best mates with Jan.)

5: Poch and the Champions League Final

So without sacrificing the glory glory entertainment, Our Glorious Leader has introduced consistency, and raised the bar. A few years ago, in the season in which Walker and Rose tore up the flanks, we were the country’s most entertaining team. Over the course of two seasons we amassed more points than any other team, without winning a trophy.

A variety of sticks were used to beat us, and one by one they have been confiscated with some stern words. After all, there was a time when we were the team that never beat the Top Four teams, or that never won away at Chelsea. We never won at Wembley apparently – shortly before we beat Real Madrid there.

And at the start of this 2018/19 season, with no signings, a squad wearied by the World Cup and no home of which to speak, the Champions League Final was the last thing on anyone’s minds. In fact when we made it to the Quarter-Finals, and then started the Semi-Final, the Champions League Final was still the last thing on this particular mind. Not until Lucas’ final flourish, the moment that, in common with every other lilywhite, I only have to close my eyes to see and hear, which is a rather nifty trick.

After approximately ten days of floating around the place with a permanent grin etched across the visage, it’s been approximately ten further days of excitement building, until these current levels, when I really do need a stiff drink and a lie down.

It does not end in Madrid of course – if the best part of four decades on this mortal coil has taught me anything it is that life tends to churn on fairly relentlessly – but from the 1987 FA Cup Final lost by an extra-time own goal, the all action no plot process has wound its way, via comeback after mind-boggling dramatic comeback, to the 2019 Champions League Final.

Twitter. YouTube. Book.

Basel 2-2 Spurs: The True Villain Of The Piece Unmasked…

With curses duly bestowed to the interweb for breaking yesterday, preventing this from being a more timely posting…true villain of the piece as… Vertonghen! Except that that is not a particularly fashionable line of social media punditry to adopt, so dedicated truth-hounds that we are, an even closer inspection reveals that Vertonghen only had to make his challenge because possession was conceded when Daws chugged forward and mis-controlled straight to a Basel player, who played his pass into the gap vacated, leaving Vertonghen to cover. Which means that the actual villain of the piece can be unmasked as… Dawson! But that really would not be cricket, because the blighter was… what’s the phrase we used to use for Sol Campbell before we learnt to hate…? Colossus! Dawson was a colossus, becoming increasingly colossus-esque with each passing minute, so no blame there. (Apart from several madcap lunges in the first-half over which Basel forwards nonchalantly skipped.) And besides, going back to the red card, if one were to don the monocle and look closely at the replay it appears that Vertonghen did actually nick the ball. So perhaps it ought not to have been a red card, which means that the villain, inevitably, is… the ref! On top of which, the corner from which Basel scored their second mighty well looked like it should not have been awarded, having touched a home player last. Which points to the real villain being… the extra official who semi-squats on the goal-line and intensely stares at the action three yards away from him before looking up at the ref with a blank expression! Oh dash it all, let’s just blame Adebayor, it’s far easier.

I suppose Adebayor most conveniently matches the e-fit of “Dastardly Scapegoat” that was issued almost as soon as the deed was done on Thursday night – and he certainly made a complete pig’s ear of the penalty, but in the occasional moments of sanguinity that have interrupted the otherwise non-stop grump at AANP Towers since then, it has seemed reasonable to attribute both praise and opprobrium where appropriate.

In which spirit – yes, ‘twas a wretched penalty, but rather than hanging on for penalties with last-ditch blocks, cramping limbs and a couple of players appearing to need chest compression before they could get back on their feet, we might have continued with that momentum we gained after our second goal, and gone into extra-time on the front-foot with a realistic chance of scoring a third – and potentially decisive – away goal. That we lost this momentum is nothing to do with Adebayor, but due to the sending-off… which means that in the finest tradition of Scooby-Doo we can unmask the

Elsewhere On The Pitch

Frankly there is little inclination around these parts to do much else than sift half-heartedly through the wreckage and zip up a few body-bags, rather like in the post-climax scene in Terminator. Or indeed Alien 3. As against Everton last weekend there was a fair amount of controlled possession, but a distinct dearth of By-Jiminy-That-Has-Carved-Them-Open incisive passing from our lot. The ball was regularly shipped sideways, but with right-footers on the left flank and no natural right winger on the right (try babbling that after a few good bourbons), crosses into the box were at a premium. Which was rather a shame, as we looked to have the beating of them in the air. Dembele was a little off-kilter, but by golly Messrs Dempsey, Sigurdsson and Holtby pounded the treadmill, and Carroll made some useful little contributions, albeit without exactly bossing things. Whether or not Hudd might have become an influential midfield figure in extra-time we will never know, the re-jig forcing him back into defence, and ‘tis a blinking shame, because having created our second there was just a suspicion that he might have grown in influence.

 

Oh well. If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly. Except this being Spurs, it were done in excruciatingly long-drawn out and agonising fashion, with the not entirely salubrious side-effects of sapping the beans out of half of our squad and occasionally costing us Sunday points. All things considered however, I am actually rather glad for this season’s European jaunt, for as a long-term exercise it has its benefits (familiarity with the AVB way; experience gained of how to handle these nights; some impressive never-say-die Henry V stuff) and the nights themselves have thrown up more enjoyment than when done by the ‘Arry drill. Just an opinion, I hardly expect universal concurrence. days off then. Use them well.

Ten

QPR – Spurs Preview: Any Personal Motivation For ‘Arry?

The keener students of history amongst us no doubt recall that it was around this time last year that our whole bally season began to unravel faster than you can say “Not entirely convinced by these January transfer signings – and a spot of squad rotation hither and thither might not go amiss either, what?” An important time off the pitch then for the AVBmeister (particularly with Adebayor giving his latest display of that rock-solid commitment and dependency we have all come to know and love), but rejoice all ye of lilywhite persuasion, for on-pitch matters have panned out in rather topping manner in recent weeks. Indeed, word reaches this corner of the interweb that our glorious leader was even awarded December’s Manager of the Month gong, presumably by a team of genii who succeeded where AANP failed by erasing from memory the blasted late capitulation against Everton on 9/12/12.

Onward we gambol then, ensconced in third, but many a slip ‘twixt cup, lip and May 19th. There may not be an ‘i’ in ‘team’, nor indeed in ‘QPR’, but there are a handful in ‘Arry Redknapp’, and one imagines that for all manner of personal reasons our erstwhile leader will have been burning the midnight oil in his attempts to mastermind a final rude hand gesture in the direction of Levy and chums. This lot are therefore not to be taken lightly – although one nevertheless fancies that if we can get our noses in front at Loftus Road only complacency will let our hosts back into it (which is a rather ironic sort of statement, if you think about it).

The usual suspects will presumably line up to hand me the keys, supplemented now by fit-again Benny and Scott Parker. Some sort of valedictory gift from Adebayor would be nice, but as ever the eye-catching performances are likely to emanate from the size nines of Vertonghen, Bale and Dembele, in their own respective ways. Get this right – as they jolly well ought – and a little extra pressure will sit upon the shoulders of the other mobs by the time AANP’s Soccer Saturday Imbibing Spectacular kicks off at 3. Chin chin!

Southampton 1-2 Spurs: As Straightforward As It Gets With Out Lot

Top four after a quarter of the season – and in a team sans Dembele, Kaboul, Adebayor, Parker, BAE and Lloris – there ought really to be few grounds for grumbling. And yet… Asking any Spurs fan not to grumble is like asking a 1920s dandy to stay in for the afternoon and peruse some Descartes – it rather flies in the face of that whole raison d’etre jamboree. Thus it transpires that top four though we may be, one jolly well hopes that AVB’s tactical genius extends to more than these slightly desperate attempts to cling on against teams skipping around the relegation zone. Our glorious leader can hardly be judged on 10 or so games, but performances to date have hardly been of the ilk of the majority under ‘Arry.

First Half Fun

In that joyous first half of course things were so entertainingly one-sided it seemed almost cruel, and the two-goal lead was the half-time minimum. Recent mumblings about lack of fluidity were merrily shoved back down the AANP gullet as Hudd had a whale of a time in those midfield acres, Bale did his usual thing and Lennon’s form continued to be as sparkly as many can remember in his lilywhite career.

The use of Lennon in particular in that inside right channel also has the merry side-effect of unleashing the increasingly angry young Master Walker to gallop up the flank, and while his form this season has not quite been what it was, one imagines that opposing left-backs would rather he just stayed in his own half and picked his nose.

Second Half Regression

So all tickety-boo by the break, prompting ill-advised musings in the AANP cranium as to whether this might be the day on which we racked up four, five or more. Wrist-slappings have been duly administered for such churlish optimism about our heroes’ capacity to get from A to B in the simplest manner possible.

Naturally enough, what followed was not the hiding of Southampton lives, but the gradual regression of our lilywhite lot (or black and grey quarters, or whatever the blinking heck that pyjama outfit is supposed to be. Quite what relevance those colours have to anything in our history is beyond me. Honestly, young people these days.).

Presumably the AVB order was not to drop back ten yards en masse and be a distant second to every other loose ball (at least one jolly well hopes that that was not the AVB order) but in the finest White Hart Lane tradition they certainly contrived to make dashed hard work of it.

Whatever the problem was, poor old Livermore did not seem to be the solution, but in calmer moments of reflection one expects he will improve in time. The overall contribution of Dempsey also remains a little mysterious, and Sandro has some way to go before he can be classified as Dembele-esque (although that close-range, near-decapitating head-block certainly go the juices flowing – good lad).

Plenty of room for improvement then, but one way or another we are picking up these wins, which is the nub of the thing I suppose. Not exactly comfortable though, is it?

Spurs’ Summer Doings Viewed From A Beady AANP Eye

What ho! That all happened in rather a flash of Euro gubbins and fuzzy Olympic bonhomie, no? For those still drawing breath at the madness of it all I advise a jolly swift inhalation, for that clattering of hooves without is Season 2012/13, entering stage right at a gallop.Ave atque vale 

Changes elsewhere as well, if the rumours are to be believed. A new kit has been launched, to a collective shrug across the land from those who only ever really cared about the Umbro ’91 effort. Truth be told I can barely muster the enthusiasm to comment on the switch to white shorts, for they are welcome to play in bin-liners if it helps them outscore all and sundry.

More interestingly, in a cunning bid to bring to the dressing room that sultry female physio from Chelski, Daniel Levy elbowed ‘Arry down the High Road and into the sunset, replacing him with the alarmingly young acronym AVB. Few at AANP Towers sniff at ‘Arry’s achievements at the Lane, but a suspicious eyebrow was raised at his shimmying and hip-swinging over the England job, as well as the Pontius Pilate-esque washing of hands at our tired limp along the final furlongs of last season. While there is a degree of apprehension around the appointment of the new chap it seems only right to bid him welcome and let him crack on with life, and as such he has an AANP hand placed quite firmly underneath his posterior for support.

Formation 

Central midfield ought to be a forte, as between Parker, Sandro, Livermore, Hudd, Sigurdsson and VDV we seem fairly well-stocked in ball-caressing possession hogs, and the back four are sprightly enough to adapt to AVB’s high defensive line. Indeed, the prospect of a Kaboul-Vertonghen pairing, with Daws and Caulker (plus Gallas, if retained) feverishly twiddling thumbs in anticipation from the bench, helps to assuage the pain of Ledleylessness.

Erm… a centre-forward? 

Other personnel 

Out the exit door marches Master Pienaar, upon whom we have somehow made a profit. Elsewhere, Ms AANP has hurtled up the list of AANP’s Favourite Croats, by virtue of the rather rummy conduct of Modders (now edging perilously close to a stern talking-to from AANP), as well as the exits of his turbo-charged compatriots Kranjcar and Corluka. Dovi?enja chaps. One suspects that fond farewells may also be sobbed by Gomes, Bentley, Gallas, Giovani and, if the footballing gods are feeling particularly benevolent, The Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards.

Further signings will presumably be signed, and mercifully the injury-list is currently limited to Parker, but nevertheless it appears that once again our heroes will trundle out for the first act a few 80s action heroes short of a Hollywood blockbuster. So be it. The time for daring and doing approacheth.

 

 

Aston Villa 1-1 Spurs: Shooting Boots, & The Walking Calamity That is Danny Rose

Opportunity lost, as I’m sure all my fellow geniuses have also noticed. Should make for a frightfully exciting final-day finale though, what? As it happens our lot gave a dashed competent showing at Villa, so no particular complaints there. Plenty of intent, flair, movement and opportunity amongst our heroes, with the Lennon-right-and-Bale-left gambit loosely (though not rigidly) employed, creating a pleasing balance, while VDV and Modders crafted their usual array of intelligent triangles, and Sandro had another of his magnificent Chuck Norris days. In recent weeks some of our performances have hardly deserved a point, but this one merited three.

From this particularly hungover armchair spectator, the principal criticism de jour was that sometimes those chaps in lilywhite seem dreadfully reluctant to shoot. For a man who just a few days ago scored a goal sprinkled with celestial dreaminess, Modders seemed bizarrely opposed to the notion of repeating the feat, despite receiving the ball in a few highly agreeable patches of greenery just a few inches outside the edge of the Villa area. “By jove, have a crack my good man,” was the sentiment no doubt doing the rounds across the lilywhite spectrum, but mildly infuriatingly the little man seemed absolutely determined to jab the orb sideways to a chum. rather than blast a small hole in the top corner. VDV showed a greater proclivity for a vicious swing of the boot, but those two in particular could take a leaf out of the Bible According to Young Kyle Walker and thwack the ruddy thing as soon as the opportunity sidles into view. The goal scored by Villa in the first half perhaps gave an indication of quite how fruitful such an approach can prove, if repeated with some gusto.

And while I’m grumbling, when the devil will our lot score from a corner? Modders’ goal at Bolton was very much the exception, I think our first from a corner in well over 100 attempts, and there were almost 20 more in vain on Sunday. Part of the problem appears to be that with Adebayor typically peeling off to the back post we rarely have anyone patrolling the six-yard box with shooting boots primed when VDV swings them in. Within all of this I feel almost obliged to mention the name Defoe, and let others do with it what they will. But I’m sure ‘Arry is well aware of this, which is a relief.

The Latest Instalment in the Danny Rose Catalogue of Outstandingness

Playing with Danny Rose in our number is not exactly a million miles away from playing with ten men anyway, and having narrowly escaped a red card as soon as he appeared on the pitch, for that most unsightly, wonky red Mohawk, I’m not sure his repeated protestations (“He pushed me”) really exonerated him from a merited red card. Sans Rose our lot did just as good a job at sniffing out a goal, our ten men swarming all over Villa non-stop for the final half hour. Frankly few at AANP Towers would don sackcloth, ashes, black armbands and the like should those flailing Rose limbs never again be seen in lilywhite, for the boy is just not good enough.

A darned shame, these dropped points, given the opportunity so comically thrown our way by l’Arse a day earlier, but one final opportunity remains. Play this way against Fulham next week and our lot ought to prevail; the rest is in the lap of the gods.

Aston Villa – Spurs Preview: Dashed Complicated

Two games, one point, one goal, third place – it may sound like a convoluted ‘Arry’ catchphrase, but as we approach Important Finale Time that is the nutshell summary of our position, if you bend your neck and squint a bit. The usual hopes and concerns apply of course – a more clinical touch from Adebayor and VDV in front of goal; Bale and Lennon on their appropriate wings; Sandro to crunch anything that moves; and young Rose to retain possession at least once in every half-dozen touches.However, this being Important Finale Time the plot becomes more labyrinthine than that Inception gubbins from a year or two back. As well as simply needing to deliver an almighty thwack to Villa (and then Fulham at home next week), we also need Norwich to muster a draw or more against l’Arse; could jolly well do with Man City doing something nasty to Newcastle; and while we’re at it we might want to bolster our goal difference with wins greater than anything l’Arse manage. On top of which we might as well invade Roy Hodgson’s dreams and have a 360 degree rotating fight with Chris Foy.

Hardly straightforward, and it does rather make me reflect wistfully on the blasted defeats to QPR and Norwich, and the points thrown away at the death against Swansea and Man City earlier in the season – but such is the existence of the Tottenham fan. Let us at least despatch Villa, and then reconvene for a fresh session of nail-chewing and permutation-grasping next weekend.

Spurs – Norwich Preview: Five Things I’d Ruddy Well Like to See From Spurs Today

If there is a crumb of consolation to be neatly divided out between the thousands of frustrated lilywhites worldwide, it is that we do at least have our Tottenham back. When ten points clear in third, it would have been far too straightforward simply to have wrapped things up with neat efficiency and weeks to spare. Instead, doing it in heart-stopping fashion, and quite possibly facing up to final-day disappointment of some sort – is so quintessentially Spurs it almost makes the chest swell with pride, albeit in between the howls of frustration and vituperations of unholy fury.

Norwich are being led our way this afternoon, and it would be jolly pleasing if the aforementioned frustration and fury could be unleashed upon them like a pack of ravenous alien queens, coming out the walls, impregnating them via the mouth and bursting out from their yellow shirts to run amok. Such a scene would be quite the panacea after the frustration of Sunderland away. And while on the subject, a variety of other remedial measures spring to mind. Goodness me, this is starting to feel suspiciously like a list of Things I’d Ruddy Well Like To See This Afternoon…

1. An Early Goal

We all know the drill – Norwich sit back and soak it up, as our lot send the possession levels rocketing towards triple figures, and Messrs Parker and Friedel are near-redundant throughout. All this could be avoided if we score early, forcing the visiting blighters to abandon the Defend, Defend and Defend Some More approach. Score early and I would happily wager we’ll be at least two up by the break, such are the joys of picking off a team that actually bothers to venture forward.

2. Or Late A Late Goal

Birds do it. Bees do it. L’Arse, Chelski, Utd and City do it, so can our lot please learn the slightly devious art of sneaking a late, late goal when we need it most.

3. Play Defoe

As opposed to having both Sandro and Parker picking their noses and watching from afar while we camp around the opposition area.

4. Make A Change

Ideal though it would be for ‘Arry simply to get it right from kick-off, things that are broke do indeed need fixing, and quite frankly the sooner the better. 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes – but giving Defoe eight minutes against Sunderland was most infuriating.

5. Three Points

A draw away to Sunderland could vaguely be excused on paper and whatnot – failure to beat Norwich at home would require someone’s head on a plate. Beat them, chaps.

Spurs 3-1 Swansea: Tactical Successes All Round

Thank you, thank you – AANP is happy to take the credit for this long-awaited upturn in fortunes, having all week told anyone within earshot of a cunning Eight-Stage Plan to guarantee we finish fourth. As it happens, the first stage – Win The Next Game – is identical to the following seven stages, but it was nevertheless with some pride that yours truly watched our heroes effect the plan to perfection. Perfection, I tell ye.

Swansea – Eminently Likeable

However, before basking in the glory of my tactical masterplan, it seems only right to heap all manner of praise upon our vanquished foes. Employing their ‘keeper virtually as an eleventh outfield player, as a sweeper under strict instructions not to go long at any point, Swansea resolutely passed and passed and passed, even when under pressure in defence. The way the game is meant to be played dagnabbit (note ye well Tony Pulis and any Stoke fans in the wrong part of town). Admittedly Swansea’s almost religious dedication to the passing game landed them in a lot more trouble than it was worth, as they repeatedly lost possession in their own half, but nevertheless, today football was the winner. Actually, Spurs were the winners, but as long as l’Arse lose out I don’t think anyone is grumbling.

‘Arry’s Tactical Success

Having executed a roll of the eyes so grandiose the little orbs almost tumbled out into the hinterland, on hearing of the selection of both Sandro and Parker in midfield, AANP is content to admit an error, for ‘Arry’s selection worked a dream in the first half. With our front men treading dangerously close to arrest for harassment of the Swansea back-line, the midfield selection gave Parker the licence to push up and press whomever was next in possession for our guests. Many times and oft therefore, did we pickpocket the Swansea midfield and merrily lay siege to their goal, and by half-time the lark had joined Bale on the wing and all was right with the world.

Then in the second half, when the scores were levelled and a tad more urgency was needed, ‘Arry gambled successfully again, removing Sandro, bringing on Lennon and switching to 4-4-2. Ah, is there a sweeter sight in Christendom than Lennon scampering down the right wing, jazz-hands dementedly a-whirring, while just over the horizon our handsome young Welshman lingers on t’other flank, eyes up his full-back and lets out a meaty laugh of doom?

Lennon’s contribution may have been brief, but it was time enough for a couple of darts, a crucial assist and a glimpse of the future. A glorious future, in which our children run freely, the lion sleeps with the lamb and the remaining seven stages of our march to 3rd place are successfully completed by virtue of having Bale on one flank and Lennon on the other for the rest of the season. Onwards! Thirdwards!

Spurs 1-1 Stoke: The Pointless Meandering of Bale, & Other Grumbles

Full-blown, undiluted apoplexy does not translate particularly smoothly into the written word, so ‘tis perhaps just as well that after a good night’s sleep and couple of early morning whiskies AANP is now in slightly more philosophical mood than at the final whistle last night, when the denizens of the South Stand took time out from making rude gestures at the Stoke fans to stare in horror and cover the ears of the nearest small child while I emitted an unmistakeable, loud tut. Accompanied, I’ll have you know, by a shake of the head that had been brewing from nigh on the first whistle of the evening.Mercifully, a degree of perspective has settled upon me in the alcohol-fuelled haze. I recall now that on perusing the fixture list a few weeks back, Stoke at home and Chelski away appeared the trickiest of the remaining engagements. With the ilk of Norwich, QPR et al to come thereafter, a slightly cheerier sequence of results beckons – to which end a point against Stoke might not be so bad in the final analysis.

By Golly Last Night’s Proceedings Did Make The Blood Boil Nevertheless

Still smarting from their ludicrous victory over us earlier in the season, my expectations for our esteemed guests were lower than the belly of a particularly depressed rattlesnake, and sure enough their goalkeeper began his time-wasting routine over goal-kicks in the very first minute. After which, they adopted an admittedly well-drilled 9-0-1 formation and bedded in, adding nothing of value to the lives of anyone in the stadium, and pausing only to catapult the ball Crouch-wards. Little wonder that their unfortunate fans include a rugby song in their repertoire.

As for our lot, the usual concerns wearily paraded themselves. Despite creating our last two goals from the left wing, and generally looking like he had the beating of their right-back whenever it took his fancy, Bale was again allowed to spend his time meandering fairly pointlessly wherever the dickens he liked, as long as it posed minimal attacking threat. The memory of his burst through the centre against Norwich several months back has faded; his urges to go central should now be the exception rather than the rule.

On t’other flank the absence of Lennon continues to have ‘Arry et al scratching their heads and staring blankly at the teamsheet. Niko Kranjcar was the beneficiary of the pre-game coin toss to decide who begins on the right, but appeared to be labouring under the burden of an invisible elephant strapped to his back throughout his 45 minutes. Slower and less interested by the game, he seems hell-bent on bidding us “Dovi?enja??” come the season’s end, and has now even slipped behind Ms AANP on my list of favourite Croats. The ignominy.

‘Arry’s England Credentials To The Fore Once Again 

Inspired by this cunning tactical nous, our lot invested oodles of huffing, puffing, corners that failed to clear the first man and ultimately a general mentality of frenzied panic, the combination of which at least rescued a point. However, with possession apparently in excess of 70%, and the usual two dozen attempts on goal, it ought to have been more. Most frustrating, and now that blasted lot from down the road are crowing once again. Time for another whisky methinks.

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