Categories
Spurs match reports

Everton 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. One-Touch Passing! Huzzah!

I haven’t paid too much attention to fan sentiment this weekend, domestic life being what it is, but I imagine that the internet has been creaking under the weight of Spurs fans chuntering like nobody’s business about our lack of shots on target. One might quibble that this is a tad rich, given that Lo Celso came within a cat’s whisker of scoring yesterday rather than hitting the base of a post – but the fact remains that we haven’t had a shot on target in an age, and the broader point is a strong one, that we lack a spot of thrust in the business area of the pitch.

Yet despite this, the mood at AANP Towers yesterday on watching the spectacle unfold, was decidedly bobbish, and I’ll tell you why. “Never mind that we haven’t created a chance worthy of the name,” was pretty much the chorus around these parts, “just look at how slick our passing game has become as we traverse from south to north!”

I appreciate the counter-argument would doubtless be along the lines that all the slick passing games in the world aren’t worth a dam if nobody at the business end is drawing back his arrow and letting rip – but I maintain, my spirits were buoyed immensely by the sight.

The reason being that for what seems like an absolute eternity – specifically ever since the arrival of Jose, however many moons ago – our passing, particularly from the back, seems to have degenerated into a stodgy mess in which nothing happens, but in an endless cycle of repetition. Close your eyes and I’m sure you can picture the scene as sharply as if it were happening again in front of you. It was chiefly characterised by each party taking turns to dwell on the ball around the halfway line, pivot one way, then another, waggle the arms rather pleadingly at those nearby – before passing sideways or backwards, for the exercise to begin again with a new principal.

Yesterday, however, whether by dint of the new formation or the new manager, the directive seemed to be for someone in defence to sneak a cheeky angled pass between the lines into midfield, at which point everybody involved donned their one-touch-outside-of-the-boot passing shoes, and within a blink or two the ball was being zipped over halfway and towards the final third.

Given the slow and turgid guff that had previously been peddled, incessantly, this was an absolute pleasure to behold.

Nor was it an isolated incident. Whenever we nicked possession from Everton, particularly when they were on the attack and hovering by our penalty area, a switch appeared to be flicked and everyone in lilywhite adopted one-touch mode, the aim of the exercise being to get up the pitch at a rate of knots, using no more than one touch each to get over halfway.

Now while it would obviously have been pretty spiffing stuff to have rounded off all this slick build-up play with a clear-cut chance or two – or even, dare I suggest, a goal – I’m inclined to think that playing this progressive way will inevitably lead to opportunities before long. Until that happens, I would qualify myself as moderately happy to watch our lot zip the ball around in such appealing one-touch fashion.

2. Passing Out From the Back

A related, if less inspiring, feature of Conte-ball has been the ongoing determination of our heroes to pass out from the back. “Nothing novel about that,” you might chide, and with some justification, but the Conte version of passing from the back involves doing so amongst a back-three rather than back-four, as well as wing-backs, goalkeeper, central midfielders and even occasionally Lucas all popping their heads in to lend assistance.

Whereas trying to pass out from the back within a back-four always seemed to have much of the Skin-Of-The-Teeth about it, somehow passing out from the back via the back-three and various supporting cast members comes across as a much more manageable operation – even if the protagonists are eminently capable of over-elaborating and gifting the ball to the opposition right outside our penalty area (witness Lucas in midweek ahead of Vitesse’s second goal).

To spell the thing out, within this formation the man in possession seems always to have more options when picking his next move, as opposed to those attempts of yesteryear within a back-four.

I suppose this approach is assisted to an extent by the fact that each of the aforementioned back-three (Davies, Dier, Romero) are, at least according to the official literature on the side of the tin, vaguely comfortable in possession (where ‘vaguely comfortable in possession’ could be contrasted with Davinson Sanchez levels of anxiety in possession that lead to him visibly panicking before either passing backwards or blasting the ball into no man’s land).

To be clear, however, this is not an element of our play that remotely excites me, unlike the one-touch stuff described above. This is merely an observation. It neither thrills nor devastates me; it merely happens, and I observe it. Done correctly and it can lead to the one-touch stuff, causing me to sit bolt upright and rub my hands with glee; but of itself it does little more than mark the passage of time.

3. Ben Davies

Inspired by his jaunt into the opposition penalty area to set up a goal in midweek, bang average Ben Davies yesterday seemed particularly keen to hammer home the point that that was not simply a one-off event, but an attraction that we might all become accustomed to seeing.

It makes for an interesting, additional tactical quirk. One would hardly say it is pivotal to our approach-play, nor does it define Conte-ball, but Davies’ sallies into the final third now seem to occur often enough to be classified as officially part of The Masterplan, rather than simply the whim of someone devastatingly unspectacular in everything he does.

And to his credit, and indeed to the credit of whichever member of The Brains Trust concocted this ruse, it adds some moderate benefits. With Reguilon hugging the touchline, and Son as inclined to cut infield, the presence of another left-footer lends – well, I hesitate to use the word ‘threat’, because I’m not sure Ben Davies could ever be described as ‘threatening’, but when he wanders upfield, waving his arms and definitely being present it presumably gives opposing defenders an extra bullet point on their To-Do lists.

4. Lloris

A complimentary mot or two seem due to Monsieur Lloris, not least because he is vaguely topical, after the VAR penalty call.

Starting with that penalty call, it was pretty uncontroversially correct, and really ought not to have escalated to the extent that it did. First glance, and the change in direction of the ball, was enough to indicate that Lloris must have stuck a paw on it. I’m a little surprised that the referee did not pick up on this basic principle of physics himself, but justice was done and life pootled on. Lloris can be commended for timing this intervention particularly well.

But more than this, I was rather intrigued, and gently impressed, by the way in which he dealt with Everton’s first half tactic of bunting the ball into orbit and letting the wind swirl it around a bit.

Nobody likes a gust of wind. It can’t be seen, arrives without warning and generally makes a mess of things, or at least threatens to do so. And for clarity, I’m not talking about a gentle breeze that tickles the chin; I refer to full-on gusts.

Everton cunningly decided to use these gusts to their advantage yesterday, by tossing the ball over the top of our centre-backs and chasing. The result was that what would ordinarily have been tucked neatly into the back-pocket without a second thought suddenly became a vaguely mesmeric battle with the elements, as Dier and Romero washed their hands of all responsibility, leaving it to Lloris to come charging forward to resolve things as efficiently as circumstances allowed.

Not the most dramatic stuff one will ever see, admittedly, but I thought he handled these potentially awkward spots extremely efficiently. Credit to him for his starting position, awareness to gallop forward and then presence of mind to head the ball clear each time it became clear that the wind would prevent it from sailing safely into the area.

All of which is really a polite way of apologising to the chap for omitting to praise – or even mention – him for his impressive performance vs Vitesse last week. I’ve been rather surprised to read of our supposed interest in potential replacement keepers for next season, given that he is looking as sharp for us as he has ever done. His clean sheet yesterday seemed a fitting reward for his week’s efforts.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

Categories
Spurs match reports

Everton 5-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. All Action, No Plot

Cut me open and you’ll find me bleeding lilywhite, and so on and so forth; and every defeat for our lot conjures up that hurtful feeling of being bitten in the leg by a personal friend, and so on and forth; but I have to admit, that having felt like my soul was being dragged from my very being while watching our lot resolutely defend their own penalty area for the last six months, to see the return of all-action-no-plot football last night brought a certain satisfaction.

As I will bleat to anyone within earshot, I would much rather see our lot lose while buccaneering like a whole regiment of particularly well-oiled musketeers, than settling for 28% possession and aimlessly hacking clearance after clearance, before conceding in the final five minutes anyway.

It might not be the opinion that has the masses flooding to the ballot box to formalise their support, but give me an-all-action-no plot display any day of the week.

And make no mistake, this was AANP of the highest order. A team denuded of Harry Kane always prompts a few pursed lips and quizzical glances about the place, but from the off our heroes took to the challenge like a bag of cats freshly released. The football in general was one-touch, which is always one of life’s more positive omens, bringing with it, by definition, a rapid shifting of the central orb from points A to B and back again.

Chances were created and shots taken at a healthy rate from the opening minutes onwards, and while it was an annoyance to see just about all of them disappear straight down the throat of the Everton ‘keeper, each routine seemed to be undertaken in the right spirit. The movement of each of the front four was lively; and both the nominal deep-lying midfielders, Hojbjerg and Ndombele, seemed to treat the opportunities to motor forward with all the relish of a pair of teenagers allowed out to their first party.

In short it was pretty unrecognisable from the defensive fare we’ve had rammed down our throats for so long under Jose, and while the first half hour or so brought only a one-goal lead and around half a dozen missed chances for a second, the entertainment alone was ample compensation for an underwhelming scoreline.

Looking back, but for the five-minute burst of defensive howlers before half-time we may have shaded the thing on balance – not that the book of events records such speculation. I suppose we can draw some mild consolation from the fact that we did not concede due to inviting wave after wave of pressure, or being in ragged defensive shape, but primarily due to forming a neat queue of individuals eager to have their own individual howlers given air-time, with Messrs Hojbjerg and Lloris oddly intent on stretching the boundaries of the calamitous.

Having clawed the thing back twice in normal time, it was pretty galling to see it all disappear in smoke at stumps – but while others may grumble, I was simply glad to have at least been entertained. Rather a 4-5 after extra-time, than an impotent 0-1 utterly devoid of invention.

2. Lamela

I must confess it is not immediately clear to me which particular ghost has elected to inhabit the wiry frame of Erik Lamela in these two and a half games since his latest return from injury, but I like the cut of his spectral jib.

In attitude as much as output, Lamela has been a joy to behold, all energy, urgency and will to win. While his actual stats might not necessarily have been flawless, he was the creative hub regularly enough, and his goal seemed a pretty fair reward for a few hours of good honest graft in the last week or two.

3. Lucas

The offering from Lucas was more of a mixed bag. In the credit column, his attitude was also admirable from the off.

Now I appreciate that this is akin to dishing out a sympathetic pat upon the head of the chubby lad in the class, and awarding him a prize for effort, but this upbeat, energetic take on life was pretty critical. Cast the mind back just a week or two, to the utterly lifeless showings against Chelsea and Brighton, and one realises that we cannot simply take for granted that our lot will career about the place like men possessed.

And while Lucas’ capacity to dribble into cul-de-sacs, and dismiss multiple opportunities to pass because he simply prefers to do it all himself, does drive the casual observer to a state of apoplexy, it was pretty vital that he devoted himself with energy to even these hollow pursuits, for this beavering contributed crucially to the general dynamism of the whole.

4. Out Substitutions and the Loss of Energy and Shape

The value of Lucas’ contribution seemed to become clearer once he was withdrawn. To put it another way, cast the mind back to the latter stages of normal time and the entirety of extra-time, when the subs were thrown on, and our energy disappeared along with our shape.

Where Ndombele had repeatedly dragged the ball from defence to attack for ninety minutes, offering a sixth attacking option that helped maintain a constant threat, Winks replaced him and promptly set about chiselling out one of the worst cameos in recent memory, capping off an array of misplaced passes with the concession of possession that led to the Everton winner.

For all his over-elaboration, Lucas was also missed once hooked, with Dele doing little to affect matters.

Most tellingly, the introduction of Kane seemed to slow down a lot of our attacking play, with the high-energy buzz of the opening hour or so replaced by a slightly more circumspect approach. At three-one down one can hardly quibble with the decision to send on the greatest goalscorer of his generation (and both Sonny’s cross and his diving header, for our fourth, together amounted to a thing of beauty), but the front-foot attacking style with which we had swaggered through the first half certainly sapped away.

5. Lloris

Ultimately though, four goals really ought to have been enough, and probably would have been but for the steady stream of individual clangers that littered the place.

Hojbjerg without doubt has enough credit in the bank to be excused his part in the mess, which comprised principally a heavy touch to allow Everton their first. Little doubt that he also clipped his man for the penalty, but I am inclined to exonerate him on the grounds that this did not appear one of those fouls that had been delivered on the back of hours of planning, our man instead seemingly bumping into the chap, as one tends to do in a crowded spot.

Winks, as mentioned, had a bit of a stinker all round, and played himself into trouble when he really ought to have known better.

But the rotten tomatoes ought really to be reserved for Monsieur Lloris. A lame duck might have done better with at least two of the goals; a World Cup-winning goalkeeper ought to have snaffled them with pretty minimal breaking of sweat.

The first was particularly lamentable stuff, given that the ball came straight at him, and that his chosen course of action was then simply to shovel the ball onwards in its journey, while falling backwards into the net. I suppose one can give him the benefit of the doubt with the second, and the penalty left him with little chance; but for the fourth he again struck me as being a little too keen to wave the white flag.

That fourth, from Richarlison, was at a pretty tight angle for the forward, and while it is not really my place to lecture Lloris, I do wonder if the outcome might have been altered if he had thought to display a little less goal, or maybe stuck out a paw in preventative manner as a means of voiding the attempt. Just a thought.

So it’s all slightly unfortunate that there’s a bitter taste in the mouth now that the dust has settled; but whereas in almost every previous week of the last couple of months the grumbles have lasted long into the night on account of having to sit through utterly dire fare, I take some solace in the fact that at least this, and in particular our play going forward, was entertaining fare.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. New Season, Same Dross

The cheery new-season optimism at AANP Towers dissipated after around 7 minutes, which feels like it might be some sort of record.

Having raced around immediately post kick-off as though they meant business, our heroes pretty swiftly reverted to type once those initial sprints had been sprinted, and spent the remaining 83+ minutes of the game displaying all those ominous traits that had wormed their way into the fittings at the end of last season.

Mistaking today’s opponents for Barcelona circa 2012 we generally sat off them, genial hosts that we are, and let them do as they please, wherever they pleased.

In possession, ‘Anything But Urgency’ seemed to be the mantra, as the ball was gently plopped this way and that in the slow, soothing and threat-free manner of a lullaby one might hum to a sleepy infant.

Service of any sort to Kane was unapologetically removed from the menu; a goal was conceded from a pretty rudimentary set-piece; and having gone behind our lot appeared to down tools and relax, seemingly under the misapprehension that this was a two-legged affair, and there would be plenty of opportunity to correct things at a later date.

Since his arrival Jose has seemed to enjoy reeling off a chorus along the lines of ‘Give me a pre-season and I’ll show you a team in my image’ – but the evidence of our eyes was that of a team whose dial has been set to ‘Underwhelming’ and is absolutely not for deviating from that course.

2. Hojbjerg

Since I write this thing under oath I might as well come clean and admit to my public that when Hojbjerg signed up, while not exactly moved to dancing a jig, I nevertheless went out of my way to nod in approval and insist to those within earshot that here was a smart purchase.

On paper, everywhere you cared to look there was a ticked box. The chap was evidently fond of a tackle, had the good sense to position himself in the sort of positions that upset opposition attacks at source, had run a lap or two in the Premier League and was reasonably well priced. A cure to all life’s ills he might not quite have been, but a dashed handy addition to the rack he most certainly was.

And, continuing the spirit of Bible-sworn honesty, I thought that his opening quarter of an hour in lilywhite did much of what was scrawled on the tin. He tackled, he positioned himself usefully within spitting distance of the back-four, he poked his nose in Everton’s business. It was low-key stuff admittedly, and no bones were shattered or worlds set alight – but it seemed to be the good, honest stuff of which behind-the-scenes midfield minders are made.

The commentary bods evidently disagreed, and with considerable strength of feeling, but in the early stages at least I thought it was all palatable enough. Being Tottenham through and through, one is inclined to give the newbies the benefit of the doubt, plus a little extra. To do otherwise would not be cricket.

However, as the hands of time continued on their relentless march, so Hojbjerg’s contributions became by turns less remarkable, then more ordinary, and then downright ragged, if you pardon the fruity language.

Now one does not slander one’s fellow Spur lightly, and much less on debut, so a little perspective would not go amiss. This was no horror-show, it simply meandered into ineffective territory, which happens to the best of us.

But having been heralded as the sort of bean who would call spades spades and stamp down on any nonsense, it was a heck of a downer to see levels of midfield bite drop to zero, levels of midfield creativity fail to rise above zero and life drain away well before the curtain came down. Hojbjerg remains a good player, and the odds are that the coming weeks and months will demonstrate as much, but this was disappointing stuff.

3. Doherty

The other shiny new toy in the cupboard was shoved about a mile up the right wing and told to get on with it. Hopes were high for young Doherty, and who knows, if he had picked his spot six inches to the east or west when through on goal the headlines might be of the upbeat and celebratory variety.

Alas, his diem went un-carped, and instead we were left to reflect on a curious sort of performance that was neither one thing nor the other until he ran out of puff and had mercy shown.

He seemed to get the broad gist that his role was as much attacking as anything else, and it is worth remembering that by virtue of not being Serge Aurier he did not contribute anything in the way of kamikaze penalties or red cards from thin air.

At the same time, one got the impression as often as not that a geography lesson or two might be in order, as at times he seemed to be a member of the back-four in name only, being stationed a good twenty yards from the others even when on the back-foot.

Presumably other days will showcase better his crossing ability, but it was a shame that his expertise in this area was rarely used. The dash forward and one-two with Kane that led to his big chance did at least give the watching world a glimpse of the man’s capabilities, and I rather fancy that if the urgency he showed in driving into the Everton area in that instance were to become the norm, then the world would be a better place.

As with Hojbjerg, one would assume that better days will come.

4. Brighter Notes

Still feeling in honest mood I’ll confess that this is gearing up to be one of the shorter paragraphs of the memoirs, but I thought Davies made a passable contribution, and hared forward a few times as if he knew Danny Rose were watching and waiting for fresh material about which to complain.

Lucas also at least had the decency to look interested, even if just about every attempt of his to build a head of steam and become some unstoppable force of nature stalled at take-off.

And, gloriously, we always have Jose’ secret weapon, The Lightning Quick Counter-Attack From The Opposition Corner. In the absence of any other tactic, one deviously wonders if we might start deliberately conceding corners, precisely to create the platform for Sonny, Lucas and Kane to gallop the length of the pitch and fashion a one-on-one. Now if that’s not grounds for boundless, sunny optimism about the future, then frankly I don’t know what is.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Fight!

Fling around the words “fight” and “football match” in the same sentence and the chances are that the images conjured will be of burly sun-kissed sorts greeting one another through the crashing of plastic seats against skulls, the flailing of muscled limbs and the spraying of blood like nobody’s business, prompting the nearest politician to remind us how disgraceful it all is.

So if news had reached the uninitiated of the unchecked melee that was yesterday’s Lloris-Son confrontation, over-protective parents would no doubt have forbidden their offspring from ever again watching Spurs in action, for fear of uncontrollable violence breaking out on our screens at any given moment.

As it happened however, this was just about the most Spurs “fight” imaginable, with all the vicious thuggery of a token attempt at a tackle by Glenn Hoddle. Lloris’ scent for blood was so wild that he was moved to give a gentle push not to Son himself but to the chap standing in between him and Son; while Son for his part, looked like he was about to burst into tears, and wanted the solace of a hug from his mother, and pronto.

Nevertheless, it ranks as one of the highlights of Jose’s reign to date. Admittedly there’s hardly stiff competition on that front, but the sight of someone in lilywhite actually caring enough to do anything other than cruise through the game on autopilot was just about the most encouraging development of the resumption so far. And if some uncouth blasphemies were uttered in the process then so much the better. “All for a greater good”, was the motto on AANP’s lips.

With performances as bad as they’ve been since the 90s, and the good work of five consecutive seasons fairly thoroughly undone over the last 12 months, our mob have been typified by lack of urgency in attack, lack of organisation in defence – and, crucially, underpinning the whole sorry saga has been a general level of fight throughout the team that rarely extends beyond an unconcerned shrug of the shoulders. The sort of shrug that says “Things aren’t ideal old sport, granted, but one can’t expect me personally to do much to change things around here, and if you ask me mid-table obscurity is not such a bad thing”. In short, not the sort of shrug one wants to see from our brightest and best.

So to witness the captain come haring halfway up the pitch to have a yelp at a teammate (over what was actually a fairly minor indiscretion) was a most welcome departure from the norm. Whisper it, but if that attitude spreads then standards around the premises might even rise a notch or three.

Like or loathe them, young bucks like Kyle Walker and Benny Assou-Ekotto at least played the game as if their lives depended upon winning their individual on-pitch duals, and Lloris’ peculiar meltdown suggested that maybe an echo of that mentality lingers.

Some might make stern clucking noises, and point to Eric Dier’s attempt to clobber someone in the stands, various players whingeing about their contract situation and now a push-and-shove between teammates, and pontificate that if this isn’t the end of days then they don’t know what is. In these parts, however, Lloris’ little huff was most welcome, and it is fervently to be hoped that the attitude spreads.

2. The Return of Toby

Before the distraction of seeing peers and teammates attack each other with wild abandon, the highlight of what was, even by our recent standards, some pretty stodgy fare, was the return to honest employment of Toby Alderweireld.

To say that I reacted to news of his return like a child glimpsing a long-absent father-figure and promptly dropping everything in order to dash into his arms and receive a comforting embrace would be overstating it, but only just.

If the previous week’s game vs Sheffield Utd had taught us anything, it was that our defence was an utter shambles, light on organisation and communication, and pretty much inviting all-comers to gambol within and do as they pleased. I mention this because in the areas of organisation, communication and giving the stern eye to all-comers hoping to gambol, Toby ranks amongst the best. He certainly strikes me as the best in our current ranks. Probably not scaling the peaks of yesteryear, when “Think again, laddie” seemed to be the catchphrase delivered to any opposing attacker who wanted to try their luck, but reports of his descent into immobility and redundancy seem pretty wildly off the mark.

And so, the quiet removal of the Dier-Sanchez axis, and return of Toby, immediately injected a sense of composure where previously it had been open season on panic. He might not be the fleetest of foot, but Toby immediately transmits an aura of calmness in defence – and given the cluelessness of last week we needed all the defensive calmness we get could our hands on.

The official party line was that Toby was back because he is better at playing the ball out from defence than Sanchez. This arguably is true, but it also rather kindly overlooks the fact that Toby is still a dashed sight better at judging flighted balls, intercepting, man-marking and organising.

As it happened, he was not tested too rigorously – but neither did he suddenly make himself noticeable by producing a horrendous misjudgement out of nowhere.

3. Lo Celso Underwhelms

Pre-match, I actually went as far as to look forward with some excitement to what the following 90 minutes would bring, because the teamsheet suggested that Lo Celso might be deployed in the sort of advanced position that would provide the perfect platform for one of his vision and technique to run the entire performance.

The stage was certainly set, with Winks behind him to do the tidying, and Sissoko available to do the legwork.

Alas, Lo Celso himself gave the air of one who had had an early look at what was on offer and decided that it was not for him. In the latter stages he picked one or two well-weighted passes, but by and large this was one of those games in which he seemed content simply to mooch along in fairly inconspicuous fashion.

I still retain confidence that he will be the chap around whom our team will be built, but yesterday was good opportunity for him to peddle some of those creative wares, and when the hour cometh, the man largely faded into the background.

4. Sonny: Man of the Match By Default?

During the dying embers of the game my Spurs-supporting chum Dave noted in socially-distanced fashion that one would have the dickens of a job trying to name a Man of the Match, and in this respect he spoke sooth. Even by our recent standards, this was about as turgid as it gets.

Mercifully, in Everton we played opponents even more devoid of inspiration than we are, which I would not have thought possible beforehand, but there you go, what?

I struggle to think of any clear chances created, nor many slick passing moves, beyond one in the first half involving Kane, Lo Celso and Son. Slim pickings, and it was entirely in keeping with a game in which moments of skill barely registered on the meter that the only goal was a deflection on a shot that was flying well wide of the mark.

Young Winks, I thought, buzzed around busily and tidily without ever doing anything remotely threatening in possession, but only Son really looked like he would give the Everton defence any cause for concern. There was rarely any end product, as the other lot got wise pretty swiftly to his trick of shifting onto his right foot and curling, but nevertheless, every time he got the ball he at least showed some urgency. (Albeit not enough to keep happy Monsier Lloris.)

And that was that. Another Spurs-supporting chum asked at full-time whether I would accept every game being like that if it meant winning a trophy, and I rather gagged a little at the prospect. Even in the short-term, we are faced with the ignominy of finishing in the Europa League position, which seems like the worst of all worlds. A thousand times better, of course, to have won last night than lost, but I rather sense that we’ll have to wait until next season to get a sense of Jose’s big grand plan.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Everton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. One Red Card and Two Penalty Shouts

First of all one wishes Andre Gomes well.

Yet at the risk of drawing a dirty glance or two, the severity of the injury ought not to colour one’s observations on the bread and butter of things – as was the case with poor old Monsieur Lloris a couple of weeks ago, whose arm injury did not exonerate a faux pas of pretty seismic proportions.

So today, though one did not particularly want to dwell on the replays of the incident, there seemed little to merit a red card, and the official rationale – that the challenge endangered the safety of the opponent – is hardly watertight stuff. A late challenge for sure, a yellow card offence most sages would agree, but the injury appeared to come from poor old Gomes’ landing.

This left our lot down to ten men for around fifteen or twenty minutes – as ever, there’s no knowing how we might have fared with eleven, but being down to ten was hardly of assistance.

As for the penalty shouts – a clash of knees by the Everton chap on Son, and a rogue, waving hand from Dele – the AANP stance, as ever, is that as soon as one makes contact with an attacker, or raises a hand in the area, one’s grounds for complaint quickly descend to wafer-thin levels. Don’t give the referee the option, and there will be no need to practice the poker face as the VAR bods do their stuff.

2. Yet Another Eriksen Off-Day

One does not like to denigrate one’s fellow man, particularly when they clock in for a shift at the office simply to put a loaf or two on the table, but this was pretty dreadful fare from most concerned, and Christian Eriksen obligingly epitomised the dross on show by turning in what is now becoming his trademark for season 2019/20.

The game was absolutely yowling for a midfielder with a sprinkling of class in his size nines to holler for possession and dominate proceedings accordingly. Eriksen’s CV certainly has enough about it to suggest that in circumstances such as these, he’s your man, but once again the Eriksen who spent his afternoon misplacing passes was a shadow of the chap who once picked out the eyes of needles and demonstrated the sort of technique of which we mortals can only dream.

With the Sissoko-Ndombele axis behind him providing a fairly serviceable and solid base, and his position in the Number 10 role essentially giving him a free pass on the defensive front, the stage was set for Eriksen to enjoy himself and wow the regulars.

He did hint at a return to the Eriksen of yore on a couple of occasions – one first half pass from the centre circle almost had Son in behind the last defender; and a second half free-kick was neatly placed into a dangerous area behind the Everton defensive line – but really, when one pays one’s entrance fee and sees the chap’s name in lights, one expects a heck of a lot more from his performance.

3. More Glimpses From Ndombele

He’s still not quite motoring along like the reincarnation of peak Mousa Dembele, but Tanguy Ndombele is continuing to inch his way in that direction.

Ideally one would have liked the chap regularly to have picked up the ball just inside his own half, and within two shakes of a lamb’s tail have turned back-foot into front-foot, either via the medium of a particularly cunning pass, or otherwise a drop of the shoulder and short gallop north.

There were hints of this sort of thing, but generally the bounding fellow tended to adopt more of a safety-first option, turning back-foot into more of a position of calm than anything definitively front-foot, by picking up the ball in a position of potential peril, and finding someone nearby in considerably less peril. It wasn’t the sort of stuff that turned the game on its head; rather it put out the occasional fire and restored order to those in lilywhite. In a game desperately low on quality, it rather caught the wearied eye.

4. A Moment of Class From Dele

The rehabilitation of Dele Alli slowly continues. In common with everyone else who set foot on the pitch, he hardly delivered a performance that blew the mind and challenged everything we ever knew – but he did at least inject into the game our one moment of quality.

Son’s pass to him was pretty topping stuff by the way, and has been rather underrated, but once Dele had the thing in his possession he weaved his way goalward with admirable poise – aided, admittedly, by some comically generous defending – and then delivered a similarly pleasing coup de grace. Amidst the dirge-like goings-on of the rest of the game, the aesthetics of it all stood out a mile, and would have made for a fitting winner.

It hardly constitutes a return to the headiest heights for the young nib, but cumulatively the signs are beginning to stack up that the chap is remembering his lines. One would like to see him make some more telling contributions to our build-up play, and offer more regular goalscoring threat, but within a desperately sub-par team, Dele’s trajectory is at least a positive one.

So this most mediocre of seasons limps on. This really ought to have been won, for Everton lack either the quality of the bigger teams or tenacity of the lesser ones; on top of which they barely threatened until they did finally score. A chance missed then, and the wait for a genuine upturn in fortunes continues.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Categories
Spurs match reports

Everton 2-6 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

1. Our Glorious Front Four

If you are anything like me you might have tucked into your pre-match reviver with a nervous frown on your lips, because “Everton (away)”, as the first of four bashes in ten days, while not exactly having us barricading the doors and praying for divine intervention, nevertheless seemed a fruity prospect. Local intelligence dictated that a stern test awaited.

But then what does local intelligence know? Even when Everton went ahead, our rapier-like attacking thrusts had already been dropping hints like the dickens that our front four were in the mood for running amok, and at a hefty lick too.

Options wait eagerly in the wings – Lamela looked his usual rather arrogant, niggly self when unveiled in the second half, and Lucas, lest we forget, was talk of the town in the early weeks of the season – but there is little point arguing with the notion that Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son are about as irresistible an attacking quartet as one might find if languidly spinning a globe, closing one’s eyes and jabbing one’s finger at it to compare the options from some other part of the world. Best simply to let the notion wash over oneself and embrace it. Those four, when on song, are as close as one gets these days to unstoppable.

It was as much the case at 0-0 and 1-0 down as it was when 1-3 up and beyond.

It certainly helped that Everton opted to fight fire with all manner of flammable material, essentially opening up the double doors, laying down a red carpet and inviting our attacking quartet to make merry as they pleased, with great yawning expanses all over the midfield and precious little protection for a pair of centre-backs faced with both Son and Kane in attack.

2. A Cautionary Note on Winks

Before tucking into the main course, a cautionary word about young Winks, who by and large admittedly had a whale of a time in the centre, but who is beginning to display a worrying tendency to bite off a darned sight more than he can chew.

Every now and then he seems possessed by the urge when collecting the ball to put his head down and wriggle away from approaching swarms as if it’s all just one sunny jamboree in the local park. I’m all for encouraging the chap’s inner Modric, but there a few delicate steps to be taken by the young muskrat before he can consider himself anywhere near that sort of celebrated level, and he would do well to keep things a dashed sight simpler for now.

Taking leaf out of the book of young Skipp might not be the worst move at the current juncture, Skipp bounding on for a brief cameo in which he did not put a foot wrong either in possession or out.

3. Sonny’s Goals

But back to the fun stuff. Specifically Son’s first goal, which boasted two constituent parts of considerable swash and buckle.

In the first place, the first time pass from Kane was the swivel-and-ping of a man having an absolute blast, and not really caring who knows it. As against Arsenal in midweek, he demonstrated how there is so much more to his game than simply planting ball into net, with both awareness and execution at the top of the dial.

Everton at this point continued their theme of seasonal generosity, with Zouma and Pickford making balloon animals and firing each other out of cannons before bumping into each other, tumbling into a clown-like heap and daring Sonny to shoot into an open goal from a fast-diminishing angle.

But by heck how well he finished. Sprinting in the wrong direction and with daylight seeping away by the millisecond, it was a brilliant effort.

4. Dele’s Goal

On another occasion I would have rattled away about the technique deployed by Dele to keep low his shot when the ball was bobbing and bouncing at him like an over-animated yo-yo, but when there are five other goals to choose from, Dele’s finish merits little more than a shrug and a polite ripple of applause, before we all excitedly chatter about the Eriksen volley or passing move for Kane or whatnot.

Mind you, the build-up to Dele’s goal had a hefty swig of punch to it. Sissoko’s one-two was fairly pleasing on the eye, and like a broken clock surprising us twice a day the big man also managed to nail a perfectly weighted pass, into the path of Son. The rest is history, but that build-up neatly encapsulated much that was sublime about our forward play today – swift, incisive passing, aided by intelligent, buzzy movement.

5. Eriksen’s Goal

Oh to have in any walk of life the ability that Eriksen has when striking a football. I suppose such things are a little easier to attempt at 3-1 up – the shoulders are less hunched, the spirit runs a little freer, the whole soul sways this way and that with a casual air as if to say “Well it doesn’t really matter either way, does it, whether I make a pig’s ear of this or the sweetest connection imaginable?”

And of course, this being Eriksen, he went down the route of a connection so sweet I pledged my undying love to it, there and then. Watch the replay closely and you’ll notice the ball itself is smiling as it flies in.

6. Kane’s Second

If you’ll excuse the disservice done to Trippier’s free-kick-taking abilities, I will coast blithely past Kane’s first, and instead cut straight to the business of ogling and salivating and stamping my feet at the second.

The numbers bods counted precisely umpteen passes in the build-up to this one, which I’m pretty sure automatically qualifies it for some sort of award for Services to Aesthetics. In fact, at the outset of the move, when our back-four and Lloris were carefully slipping the ball this way and that around our own area, my old man AANP Senior, whose lifetime of Spurs-supporting has understandably imbued him with a certain cynicism when watching, grumpily opined that he was not the most ardent supporter of the policy of playing out time in such joyless fashion.

Hush, aged one, I might have replied – but didn’t – because within approximately a dozen more glorious first-time passes in neat triangles around the hapless Everton mob, we were breaking away down the left like a bunch of escaped convicts breathing in glorious freedom.

Davies, in a rare moment of not-incurring-the-wrath-of-AANP, fed Son first-time, who whizzed it across to Kane first-time, who did what Kane does; and the whole thing had me purring away like a cat who stumbles upon a whole vat of the semi-skimmed good stuff.

So of the 4 games in 10 days, the least winnable one has been won. Traditionally I would sullenly mutter that we will probably undo all that good work in the next game or two, but this Spurs team repeatedly and pointedly demonstrates the stern stuff of which it is made, so shoots of festive optimism pop forth. Have a merry and blessed Christmas.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Categories
Spurs match reports

Everton 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Slow Start

Cantering past Inter in a pre-season jaunt is one thing, but the whole purpose of those warm-up jamborees was to ensure that our entire mob snapped into the agenda as soon as the referee tooted his whistle to begin 2015/16. Alas, our heroes took to the first half with all the dash and verve of a languid cat casually settling in for forty afternoon winks.

There was a sizeable slab of onus on the dainty shoulders of Eriksen in that first half, to grab the thing by the scruff of its neck, but instead he preferred to ruffle its fur and tickle its tummy. Alli and Lamela applied themselves with suitable levels of huff and puff, but success in these matters is measured by skewered opposition defences rather than beads of perspiration.

Inevitably enough, in a nostalgic nod to the days of Stephen Carr at the turn of the century, our most meaningful threat seemed to emanate from right-back, where Kyle Walker gleefully took one deep breath and proceeded to motor up and down the line non-stop for 45 minutes, like a particularly fleet-footed cheetah hitching a lift on one of those modified supercars that are capable of breaking the sound barrier.

The Everton defence, however, sailed through that opening 45 in remarkably unconcerned fashion. Mover, there was a whiff of fallibility each time our centre-backs were made to turn and run. As if to put a representative stamp on things, Monsieur Lloris then hobbled off stage right, and matters were most certainly in rum territory when the half-time pips sounded.

2. Pochettiono Lives By The Sword

If affairs in the first half were undertaken with a distinct air of the underwhelming, they jolly well perked up a notch second time around. Much of this was due to the introduction for the first time in lilywhite of young Master Janssen – and particularly for the cunning decision to play him alongside rather than instead of Kane. As such, our glorious leader can bask in the warm glow of his first congratulatory gold star of the new season. His decision to dispense with resident guard-dog Eric Dier, in order to accommodate Janssen in a two-man attack, was a jolly bold one only ten minutes into the second half.

The risk of duly dying by the sword was lingering in the air, but the move paid dividends. With two strikers flaunting their wares, the Everton rearguard found themselves working overtime, and our supporting cast of Lamela, Eriksen and Alli started to enjoy things a little more.

3. Bodies In The Box

One of the problems of playing Kane as a lone striker last season was that he often resembled the deeply unpopular chap at school, left to mooch around on his own, not a chum within twenty yards of him. How it warmed the cockles then, bang on the hour, to see Walker whip in a cross towards more than one lilywhite shirt in the penalty area. Lamela showed the hunger for the fight that is fast becoming a trademark of sorts, in getting his immaculately-coiffeured crown to the thing, and thereafter it became a Tottenham-run affair.

4. Janssen Debut

The introduction of Janssen then was certainly a turning point of sorts, but one would be rather stretching things to say that the chap himself made the difference, if you get my drift. The change in formation did the necessaries.

Janssen himself? Well no doubt about it, his jib is cut in a way that meets with approval here at AANP Towers. He boasts the sort of commanding frame that one would generally steer clear of, seems to know his left from right when it comes to linking up play and partaking in general one-touchery, and by and large seemed happy enough to run the good race and make himself a nuisance.

A shame then that he was unable to apply the coup de grâce when the goal beckoned like an inviting lady of the night, but such is the run of things. One senses that he has enough of an all-round game for his name to flash in neon lights in the not too distant future.

5. Wanyama on Debut

Nice to have Wanyama in the fold. Where last season the absence of Dembele would result in the Panic Gong being hastily sounded as Mason or some such middling sort was foisted into the middle, this time round it does at least seem like we have a first-reserve who looks at home on sentry duty. Wanyama strikes me as the sort who would quite happily spend all season chasing down an opponent like a feral animal sensing blood, winning the ball, giving the aforementioned opponent a healthy shove into the bargain, and playing a simple five-yard pass to a nearby chum. A useful summer signing.

Not without his flaws, mind. One would hope it is not too obvious a sign of things to come that his first half was punctuated with concession of a pair of central free-kicks, one of which led to the Everton goal, the other bringing a fingertip save from Lloris. Three red cards last season suggests that dedicated adherence to the rules and regulations is not the chap’s principal asset.

6. Six On A List Of Five. I Spoil You.

And thus we up and run. An opening day fixture away to Everton, particularly under new management, did not look the most straightforward task conceivable, and so it proved. Mildly irksome in truth, as I would happily venture that with a head of mid-season steam we might have turned them over, but in such ways do cookies crumble.

Having started sluggishly last season, one hopes that our heroes will be firing on every cylinder available by next weekend, because these dropped points do not really contribute to a barrel of laughs come May.

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

Categories
Spurs news

Everton 1-1 Spurs: 5 Lilywhite Observations

1. Casting A Dubious Eye Over Tom Carroll

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

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

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

2. Vertonghen

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

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

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

3. Rip-Snorting First Half

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

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

4. The Ongoing Ode to Dembele

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

5. Weary Limbs

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

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

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

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Everton: Musings On A Successful Cup Final

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…

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.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Everton 0-0 Spurs: Will Someone Somewhere Please Solve The Wretched Soldado Problem?

A point at Goodison probably ought not to be sniffed at, even if we cannot help but wonder what might have been, in that heart-warming first half in particular.

First Half

Our heroes came out of the traps as if feral animals scenting blood, hunting down the blue mob in packs and shoving faces into armpits like it was nobody’s business. Foremost amongst the cast in this respect were Holtby and Vertonghen, both of whom were particularly prominent as we piled forward in the first half. In the opening 45 in particular Holtby enjoyed one of his finest jaunts in lilywhite, while Vertonghen had the bright idea to saunter through Everton’s fairly flimsy right-hand side at every opportunity, and with Walker’s willingness to overlap meaning Baines was forced to mope around inside his own half, young Townsend bore the look of a man thoroughly enjoying his playground-esque brand of take-on-all-comers football. On top of which Sandro doing what every good beast should do, his repertoire including occasionally shoving aside the man-mountain Lukaku as if he were one of the diddy guests at my niece’s fourth birthday party.

The only frustrations in that first half were that we were left to rue using up our quota of penalties for the week; that Lennon evidently eyes his left foot as something completely alien, planted there by mysterious forces while he slept last night; and that poor old Soldado presumably suffers from halitosis or some such similar affliction, which means that no-one dared wander within 15 yards of him. Understandable enough, for these are delicate moments amongst chums – but aside from the awkward social context it does create the dickens of a problem because not a soul appears able to offer any support to Soldado in attack – and should he himself peel out to the right then we might as well aim for the corner flags, because nobody will pop up in the area.

Second Half

Alas, albeit rather inevitably, life was not half as bright and breezy in the second half, as Everton upped their game and for significant periods we found ourselves penned further and further back. On the bright side, deep defending is grist to the Dawson mill, a world in which his lack of pace cannot be exposed, but his heart-on-sleeve penchant for last-ditch heroics come in handy.

To their credit our heroes continued fighting the good fight, and the intermittent second half attacks looked threatening, but as ever any shots of note were catapulted in from at least 20 yards.

Soldado

‘Tis an issue that segues neatly into the ongoing Soldado issue. The blighter simply does not fit our system. Or maybe our system does not fit him? Either way, there are two crucial components to this – Exhibits A and B if you will, with the former being Soldado and the latter Our System – and no matter how we try to sugar-coat the issue they still remain about as successful a combo as two chaps trying to negotiate a particularly intricate transaction over the telephone while hindered by the fact that neither speak the same language.

It’s a muddle of a thing at the moment, because when he wants the ball fed into the channels we are busy recycling it in midfield, and when we need him to hold the thing up with a bit of sweat and body-strength he seems to be running away from the ball as if allergic to the thing. The end-result of which is that I can only remember about one and a half chances falling his way from open play all season.

Over in this part of the interweb I am still inclined to think that if we are in the Top Four by 1 Jan we will be there come the season’s end. Still, this goalscoring issue gives our intrepid leader something to ponder over in the coming weeks, in case it has passed him by in the last few months.