All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

Preston 1-5 Spurs: Has Crouch Done Enough To Become Plan A?

If you want to save yourself time you might as well just cast your mind back to the first round tie away to Doncaster – five more goals, away from home, and despite the occasional early scare the gulf in class eventually told. Deja-vu all over again. It’s not the Tottenham I grew up with I tell ye. Instead of stumbling, slipping and generally making things unnecessarily complicated against lower-league opponents, we turned in a pretty clinical display. Frankly, I’m suspicious.Crouch Makes His Case 

And yet… The sentiment persists from over here that he is best deployed as Plan B for us. Hang on, hang on, hear me out. Against weaker opposition – lower league teams and even bottom-half Premiership sides – he will play well, and we will play well, and everyone lives happily ever after. I don’t’ mind him as Plan A on these occasions. But in the big games, against top four teams and also our main rivals for the top six, I’m not convinced he is the right man for the job, and a hat-trick against Preston is not a sufficiently convincing argument. He will still inadvertently encourage too many long balls, and against top teams rarely has same impact when on the pitch from the start as he does when introduced against tiring legs as a late impact-sub. Just an opinion mind, and the floodgates can now be considered officially opened for the plethora of angry voices arguing otherwise.

Elsewhere On The Pitch… 

As in the previous round, the emphatic scoreline might have been very different had it not been for some smart goalkeeping in the early stages. It was a return to the good old days for Gomes, with the sublime and the ridiculous merrily co-habiting. If I may be pedantic, a clean-sheet would be nice at some stage, but as long as we outscore the opposition on a regular basis I won’t kick up a fuss.

Job Done

All told it was a very professional performance. Preston are no mugs, in good from near the top of the Championship, but we quelled them, scored early, and then treated them to a spot of spirit-sapping keep-ball in the second half. That second half mentality really did induce some approving head-nods and even some thigh-slaps from this quarter. It really took the sting out of the game, and was reinforced by the team turning superiority into goals. A third five-goal haul in a season barely six weeks old really is good stuff. These displays may have been against weaker opposition, but Spurs teams of the past have tripped up, and on the back of two defeats a ropey performance would have prompted some murmurs of concern. Job done. Bravo.

 

Your memories are still welcomed on Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, the latest to be featured in Spurs’ Cult Heroes, a book looking at White Hart Lane legends, due out next spring. Feel free to leave your memories – or browse those of others – here, while those of others can also be perused/added to: Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here, Gary Mabbutt here Graham Roberts here

Zokora, Gunter, Dogtanian and the Scary Crouch Rumour

Ahoy-hoy. You may have noticed an eerie silence descending over AANP Towers in the last fortnight. Apologies – ‘twas initially intended as no more than a short break for an All-Action Stag Weekend (the impressive casualty list including A&E for the stag, a broken limb, a black eye, two lost phones, one lost wallet and a lost passport). It then morphed seamlessly into a full-blown two-week period of plain bone idleness on my part, at least in the world of Tottenham ruminations. All revved up now though, and with plenty about which to report, which makes a pleasant change this summer.Do-Do-Do Didier 

Plenty has already been said about Zokora’s departure on other corners of the interweb, and the consensus – that he was a headless chicken – is one with which I agree. His time in lilywhite was epitomised, for me, by his moment at the end of the 2008 Carling Cup Final – the adventurous dash forward, crowned by wild flailing shots when he sighted goal. His energetic style ought to make him a success in La Liga, where the game is typically a mite slower. A likeable enough chap, but the good folk of AANP Towers are not particularly bothered to see him go.

That is not meant to sound harsh, for Zokora was certainly committed to the Tottenham cause – which we all appreciated. It is more that the departure of players, even those for whom I feel great affinity, no longer bothers me, for such is the nature of the game. As a crestfallen whippersnapper, I desperately tried to maintain a stiff upper lip when Dogtanian waved goodbye to his parents and set off to seek his fame and fortune. The incident taught me a valuable lesson: that people in all walks of life – be they colleagues, animated Muskehounds or favoured footballers – inevitably move on, no matter how much they are cherished. Zokora was never a player I cherished particularly, and I therefore greet his departure with little more than a blasé shrug. Zokora was Premiership standard and Palacios is Champions League, so the business done in 2009 represents progress for Spurs.

Gunter to Forest 

Still, unlike Zokora, Gunter is young enough to improve. As such it would have made some sense to loan him out for another year, or at least collect a fee which reflected his potential for improvement.

This is hardly a cause that will instil in me the urge to make a placard, yell into a megaphone and upturn parked cars, but it certainly had me raising a surprised eyebrow.

Downing to Villa – Huzzah! 

Football is Back – Huzzah! 

Cheers too for the inclusion in the starting line-up vs Exeter of Danny Rose. While I accept that one Under-21 starlet does not a Busby Babes team make, we are nevertheless verging on notoriety for our reluctance to blood home-grown youth, so Rose’s presence in the first starting XI of the pre-season rather warmed the AANP cockles. He’s an exciting prospect, and I sincerely hope that one or two from Rose, Bostock, Obika, Livermore et al at least become regulars on our bench this season. Polite applause also for the disco feet shown from Livermore in setting up Defoe’s goal from Bournemouth.

Jeers, however, for the pairing of Keane and Defoe as our front-two for the Exeter game. Really? Is that the best strike pairing ‘Arry could muster of after a whole summer’s thought?

Crouch? Ye Gads No! 

(Interestingly, I last season heard either Graham Taylor or David Pleat mention on the radio that Crouch’s general uselessness in the air is due to the fact that, as an elongated teen, he rarely had to jump to win headers, and therefore never really worked his lower back, to develop a Les Ferdinand-esque leaping ability.)

AANP’s famous Who Would Buy Him? technique for gauging a player’s quality is already being implemented, with Sunderland and Fulham trying to lasso him. Champions League he ain’t, yet he is one of the few players in whom ‘Arry has gone on record to report interest this summer. I would rather persist with Pav, and have Obika on hand as our fourth striker.

England 2-1 Ukraine: If It Ain’t Broke…

It wasn’t particularly broke, it didn’t need fixing. Curious then that Fabio suddenly came over all Norman Bates, picked up an axe and started swinging wildly until something was indeed broken.Lennon was doing a decent job on the right. He had not set the world alight, but there was always a threat, a bit of a buzz, whenever he got the ball and ran at his man. “Menacing” might be the word I’m after. That part in a horror film where the delectable and scantily clad young jezebel finds herself on her own in a dark house – you get the feeling something worth watching is about to happen, even though it might be a red herring.

Lennon on the right offered a genuine attacking threat, balancing (albeit asymmetrically) the Cole-Barry-Gerrard-Rooney combo from the left. At least, that’s how it was in the first half. The withdrawal of Lennon ten mins into the second half robbed England of their only pacy outlet, and coincided with the drop from “urgent” to “perfunctory”.

The introduction of Beckham ought to imply a general shoring up of things, with the game in the bag and 15 mins to go. Instead he was brought on with only a one-goal lead and 35 mins to play. Beckham didn’t get within 30 yards of the Ukraine by-line.

However, Beckham did provide the cross for the winner, which is basically his raison d’être in the team these days, and is something Lennon generally can’t do (certainly not from deep). So was Fabio right after all to withdraw Lennon? The case in his defence – Beckham’s assist – has been made; the prosecution argues that his introduction of Wright-Phillips once Ukraine had equalised indicates that Capello recognised the need for pace missing since Lennon’s withdrawal.

I guess the conclusion is that the whole bally lot of them rather lost urgency in the second half, and the replacement of Lennon with Beckham was a contributory factor – but, when it was needed, Beckham offered an attacking threat, albeit in a vastly different way from Lennon.

The Rest of Them

Elsewhere, it’s broken-record time, as Gerrard’s performance for country was again patently less impressive than his typical displays for club (which is the cue for all Liverpool fans to create life-size models of All-Action-No-Plot Towers and then burn them down in incandescence). Gerrard remains a square peg in a round hole for England. He is most effective behind the front man; but this would negate Rooney, who in a different sort of way is also most effective behind the front man. The bar ain’t big enough for the two of them.

Gerrard on the left is fine against Slovakia, but one wonders if he’ll be quite as effective on the left in the latter stages of a World Cup. Personally I’d go with J. Cole left, and Gerrard-Barry in the centre, with Gerrard having more licence to attack than Lampard currently does. The whole business of Lampard playing a more “disciplined” – i.e. defensive – role had me flailing my arms and muttering in frustration all night.

My man-crush on Rooney continues, but that darned red mist enveloped him once again.

James – calamity.

Ashley Cole – strangely beset by an identity crisis that had him thoroughly clueless as to his nationality, with the result that he spent most of the game passing to Ukrainians. Someone dig out the boy’s passport and talk him through it.

Terry – good assist, and smartly-taken goal, but reckless in conceding the free-kick for their goal. Oh that Ledley’s knee was healthy.

Crouch’s goal was also smartly-taken, but the celebrations for both goals were rubbish. Crouch at least had the decency to look thoroughly embarrassed by whatever the hell he was doing. The Terry-Rooney routine was as appalling as it was perplexing.

However, the bright and breezy take on the game is that we were excellent in the first half, patient and dangerous; and when we absolutely had to raise our game in the second half we did. Three points is all-important in qualifying. If/when we make the World Cup Finals, no-one will care about that dodgy half 30 mins in the second half vs Ukraine in April.

England – Ukraine Preview: JT, Rooney and Darren Bent’s Confidence

For all the well-deserved plaudits, we didn’t learn much about England on Saturday. Rather reminded me of a wedding rehearsal – polite, happy, didn’t count for anything. Slovakia played like footballing eunuchs and were duly thrashed at a canter.Ukraine, and their occasionally-preceding definite article, ought to prove a slightly different kettle of fish – but only slightly. Fifa’s curious ranking system has Ukraine within the top 20, and it is worth noting that, like England, they made the World Cup quarter finals in 2006. Shevchenko and chums are no mugs then – but this is the sort of straight-faced diplomacy trotted out by the players, in those excruciatingly bland pre-match press conferences sprinkled with phrases like “We won’t be underestimating them… No easy games at international level…”

Cutting through the blandness, and Fabio’s England, on the back of some perky form and with a team brimming full of Champions League connoisseurs, certainly ought to beat Ukraine at home. It’s unlikely to be quite as merry a cakewalk as on Saturday, but we still ought to win. While our position five points clear of Croatia gives us some margin for error, it would be better to have that in hand for the trip to Kiev, or visit of Croatia to Wembley. Ukraine at home is not really the time to slip up.

John Terry

After the maternal members of the Terry family tried their hands at shoplifiting last week, there seemed grounds to suggest that at the weekend the family brain cell was being used by the England captain. This argument was promptly shot down at Wembley when JT ensured that a certain Crouch goal was disallowed for offside, by tapping in from one yard, when the ball was already past the ‘keeper and heading for the net. Better it happens in a friendly, I guess, but hardly the most impressive display of tactical acumen. Looks like Rio will be back to partner him on Wednesday.

Roooo-ney, Roooo-ney 

A propos Rooney, the news that Crouch has recovered from injury suggests that Wednesday will see the beanpole up top, with the human gargoyle in that scrumptious position just off the main striker. Nods of approval at AANP Towers. Presumably Gerrard will continue on the left, where he did a good job on Saturday. The link-up play between him and Rooney has inevitably attracted plenty of praise, but he’s nevertheless a square peg in a round hole out there, and a better team then Slovakia (a fairly wide-ranging criterion admittedly) could expose both his right-footedness and defensive lapses. However, it seems this is his home for now, so he might as well bed in and make himself comfy.

The injuries to Heskey, Carlton Cole and Crouch led to some speculation over who would be called up. Michael Owen and Kevin Davies were the names being bandied around. In those kits I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Terry Thomas make an appearance. As it happened our very own Darren Bent got the nod.

The Darren Bent Confidence-O-Meter 

Sat 7 March – Recalled to the Spurs starting XI against Sunderland, the dial on Bent’s Confidence-O-Meter stirs into life and hits 4 out of 10. However, a trademark Bent miss high into the north-east sky, sees the dial return to rock bottom, with our hero considering packing it all in.

Sun 15 March – Bent keeps his place in the starting XI for Villa, and the dial pings upwards again. His sensational two-inch tap-in sees the dial go right off the scale. Winning goal! Victory at Villa! The man is a hero – at least inside his own head – and his confidence has never been so high!

Weds 18March – Forgets to take the bin out for collection. Confidence begins to slump.

Sat 21 March – Retains his place in the starting XI, for visit of Chelski, and all is right with the world again. To his credit he worked his hoopy socks off, and contributed worthily to another fine win. These happy thoughts have the Confidence-O-Meter right up at level 10. However, every time he remembers that he didn’t actually score, it drops down several levels – such is the brittle existence of a “confidence player”. Just stay positive Dazza!

Sunday 29 March – The Bent Confidence-O-Meter explodes irreparably after Fabio calls him up for international duty, following injuries to the first 18 strikers on the list.

So it’s a good day to be Darren Bent. Or at least it was until he did his knee in training and Fabio called up Agbonlahor. Crouch and Rooney will start up front for England, and if things are going to plan I’d imagine Fabio will replace a striker with a midfielder in the closing stages, which will mean precious little action for either Bent of Agbonlahor.

Milestones for Terry and Beckham 

On a final and belated note, AANP Towers politely and sincerely applauds Terry on winning his 50th cap, and similarly lauds Beckham on his 109th. One suspects that this newly-set record for outfield appearances will itself be surpassed soon enough – the modern-day international calendar seeing to it that the Ukraine game is Rooney’s 50th for England, at age 23. Nevertheless, while subtly steering clear of any sort of debate over his selection, I suggest that, whatever his off-pitch shenanigans, Beckham’s attitude in an England shirt always seems to be one of fierce and honest commitment. If all goes to plan more applause will be ringing out on Wednesday night.

‘Arry at the January sales

With the honeymoon over, the side struggling and reinforcements seemingly needed in every position, all-action-no-plot casts a wary eye over a handful of ‘Arry’s (supposed) shopping list…

Stewart Downing (Left winger, ‘Boro, £8-£12 mil) – Yegads ‘Arry, don’t do it! I’ve only ever seen him play well once (Eng vs Germany). He’s naturally left-footed, and as such would balance our midfield, but so is our Welsh simian Gareth Bale. Save around £10 mil and give Bale a chance. And encourage the midfielders to get into the area before investing in another crosser…

Craig Bellamy (Striker, West Ham, £6 – £8 mill) – Wrote on this one yesterday, and my opinion hasn’t changed overnight. Good striker, but a walking asbo, who has never settled at a club due, presumably, to his penchant for attacking team-mates with golf clubs.

Shay Given (Goalkeeper, Newcastle, Maybe £3 mil?) – Tempting, but this is like heading to the supermarket when hungry, and consequently buying food you just don’t need. Gomes is doing fine at the moment.

Lassana Diarra (Defensive midfielder, Real Madrid, £20 mil) – Out of stock.

Jermaine Defoe (Striker, Pompey, £10 mil give or take) – Pompey may sell if the debt stories are true, and the lad certainly knows the route to goal, but ineligibility for Europe might be offputting. Can’t really see it happening, much as I’d love to.

Peter Crouch (Striker, Pompey, £10 mil give or take) – ‘Arry bought him at Pompey, and might be tempted by a goalscoring target-man. Again, ineligible for Europe.

Emile Heskey (Striker, Wigan, £3 mil or less, as his contract’s running down) – Hardly a proven goalscorer, but has, over the last 12 months shown an ability to hold up the ball and buy time for languid supporting midfielders to amble into the area. Exactly what we need then.

Matthew Upson (Centre-back, West Ham, £6 mil or so) Only likely if West Ham are forced into a Woollies-style closing-down sale. Their chairman is Icelandic, so this may indeed happen. With King and Woodgate falling apart, and Corluka ineligible in Europe, we could do with a reliable centre-back.

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