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Spurs match reports

Middlesbrough 1-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte’s Tactics

By and large AANP is not one go in for controversial opinions for the hell of it. ‘Live and let live’ is pretty much the anthem around these parts, leaving the stirring of hornets’ nests to those better suited.

So you can take it as a sign of how just deeply I was moved by last night’s rot that I’m willing to stick the neck out and chant an ode or two in opposition to Our Glorious Leader, a chap who’s generally been immune to criticism since donning the robes.

Now this is not to exonerate the eleven-plus on the pitch, who trotted around in half-hearted circles all night to no great effect. (Talking of which, if I hear one more player clear his throat and drone on about having to “learn lessons” and “do better” there’s a good chance that the next you hear of AANP he’ll have been arrested for murder.)

But even allowing for the doleful and half-hearted way in which our heroes went about their business last night, as if it were really a bit thick to ask them to play football for 90 minutes, I thought a decent chunk of the blame should be lobbed in the direction of Signor Conte.

Faced with a perfectly winnable fixture, against a side in a division below us for goodness’ sake, he seemed oddly convinced that Middlesbrough might pull off their masks and reveal themselves to be one of the great footballing superpowers of the modern age. As a result, the strict instruction was that we were to surrender possession, pull everyone back behind the ball and watch nervously, seemingly based on the principle that one never knew when our hosts might suddenly sit up and annihilate us. I suppose there is always that risk in any game of football, but it did seem to be an unnecessarily circumspect outlook.

One understands that in life one must exercise some level-headedness. It would be no good sticking ten forwards on the pitch and instructing them all to hare into the opposition area the whole time. Some common sense is key. And I suppose the A.C. Fan Club might point out that in the first half at least, the tactic could be said to have worked – Boro were kept at arm’s length, while our lot had the occasional sniff on the counter.

But nevertheless, watching on as our entire eleven camped behind the ball and held their breath, while our hosts ineffectively rolled the thing from side to side, I did think that we were laying on the caution a little too heavily. Without wanting to sound too outrageous, I wondered whether we might not adopt a slightly more adventurous spirit, by taking possession ourselves and keeping them penned back for a while.

Conte was having none of it however, and in the second half if anything the situation worsened, as any attacking sentiment remained well down the agenda, but our defence started to creak.

To his credit, Conte did briefly stick in his finger and give things a swish, rearranging from 3-4-3 to 4-4-1-1, for those who like to slap numbers on things. And while this – and specifically young Master Bergwijn – jolted our lot out of their slumbers and reminded them that they were actually allowed to attack, it also seemed to have the effect of removing whatever piece of frayed string was holding our defence together.

The ad hoc back-four struggled not so much with their new arrangement as with the very concepts of space and time. Ben Davies seemed not to realise that he was supposed to shuffle from centre-back to left-back; while  in Emerson Royal we have a blister who has spent his entire Tottenham career to date failing to master the basics of defending, so he was not about to right all his wrongs in the blink of an eye last night. Boro waltzed in amongst us whenever they pleased, and their goal felt as inevitable a progression as night following day.

As mentioned, none of those on the pitch (bar perhaps Bergwijn) seemed remotely concerned by the gravity of the episode, and as such they are all culpable here – but the nagging question at the heart of all this remains, viz. why on earth Conte set us up so passively in the first place.

2. Kane

Come the summer there’s a reasonable chance that that rotter Harry Kane will once again toss a toy from his pram and find some roundabout way to let it be known that, rather than stick around the place, he’d prefer to shove a few belongings in a rucksack and take off looking for shiny pots. But after last night’s guff, one element of this jars. It’s this business of Kane wanting to leave so as to win stuff.

On the face of it this is an understandable sentiment for any man of ambition. I have no truck with any fellow who would rather win a Cup Final than lose one. Dashed sensible way of going about things if you ask me.

But when Kane moans about it – or has his entourage leak a story to the press about it, which to be honest strikes me as not really playing the game – I butt in with an irate waggle of the forefinger.

The gist of my objection is that if Kane really wants to win a trophy so badly, then he can bally well go out there and win one. It’s not as if, come the biggest games, we omit him from the team and leave it up to everyone else to decide whether or not a medal will be hung around his neck. He is part of the set-up himself. In fact, he’s not just part of it, these days he’s the building block around which the whole damn set-up is constructed. This means that when it comes to winning trophies, the responsibility lies upon him more than anyone else about the place.

Were you or I to whinge that we wanted trophies, if nothing else everyone could agree that the whole thing is beyond our control. But for Kane, this business is very much within his control. One might say it’s his specialist subject. Winning trophies is precisely the thing he’s paid handsome sums to do.

So next time this pest has his minions issue a decree to the effect that he wants a medal and won’t stop whingeing until he gets one, I’ll direct his attention to the perfectly serviceable opportunity he passed up on last night. Supposedly in the form of his life, and up against a team from the division below, Kane reacted to the occasion by withdrawing into his shell in a manner that would attract admiring glances from nature’s most reticent tortoises, emerging only to stray occasionally offside and moan a bit about the opposition and ref, who will now have a goodish idea of what it feels like to be a Spurs fan reading the back pages in the summer.

A trophy has to be earned – which I suppose one might want to whisper if within earshot of the teachers on Sports Day – and frankly last night Kane missed the cut by some distance. If he therefore pipes up this summer, draped in a sense of entitlement, that he’d rather look elsewhere he’ll have a pretty meaty curse or two filling his ears from this quarter.

 3. Wing-Backs

As remarked earlier, this was not an occasion on which any of our lot will look back particularly fondly, I imagine. Kane and Son were oddly neutered, while anyone who rocked up in the breezy expectation of Winks and Hojbjerg providing any attacking vim was in for a pretty nasty shock.

In such situations, much depends upon the wing-backs to inject into proceedings some gaiety and spunk. After their triumphs of the weekend it seemed reasonable enough that Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty were again invited to go forth and do wondrous deeds, and in the early knockings it actually appeared that they might have some joy.

Sessegnon seemed game. One could admittedly fill a whole book with the various lessons he still has to learn, but he entered into the spirit of thing willingly enough and at least started the game looking like someone who knew that good things would come to those who pelted over halfway and up into the final third.

And on the right, having weighed up the options of parking himself north of the halfway line or south of it, Doherty seemed similarly convinced that more fun was to be had in attack. While not blessed with the same raw pace as Sessegnon, he nevertheless appeared to enjoy the licence to explore the attacking third.

It was a shame then, that when opportunity did finally present itself, in the form of near-enough an open goal, Doherty went down the ill-advised route of blasting the thing with gusto and violence. It was a poor choice. One could have told him straight away that what the situation demanded was a cool mind and steady hand – or, in this case, foot. Simply rolling the ball towards the target would have sufficed. Doherty instead seemed convince that the solution required rather more emphasis, and almost evacuated the ball from the ground.


This was undoubtedly a setback, but, ever the optimist, I nevertheless reasoned that simply having got himself into such a situation reflected well on the chap. It would be a stretch to say that he and Sessegnon dominated things, but they did at least offer regular attacking outlets. One got the sense, at least at the outset, that their souls were fired by the confidence of recent events.  

At that point, it seemed that not only did this pair represent our best hope of ingress on the night, but their advances also carried some symbolic weight. The success of Conte-ball does, after all, depend on the wing-backs, and these two appeared to be catching the gist of things.

Unfortunately, whatever hopes and dreams these two carried in their first half were pretty unceremoniously stamped into oblivion thereafter. Their fortunes collectively fell off a cliff in the second half. Both seemed to drift out of the game in search of amusement elsewhere, and Conte, presumably feeling that one ineffectual wing-back is as good as another, hooked both before the end.

All of which means that the wait for a trophy will now enter a fifteenth year, our inability to string two decent results together remains entrenched and it is a pretty even thing whether our players, managers or we the fans are enjoying this least.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness.

1. Winks

Understandably enough the murmur about the place pre kick-off was around the return to the cast list of Messrs Son and Romero; but once all concerned spat on their hands and got down to it, the chappie who quietly emerged to AANP as having a say on things was one H. Winks Esq.

In a way, the current Winks vintage – Winks 3.0, you might say – requires for full appreciation an acknowledgement of what he is not. That is to say, Winks is not some all-singing, all-dancing box of trickery. If it’s Ndombele-esque body-swerves you’re after, of indeed Mousa Dembele-esque wriggles-from-tight-corners, then look elsewhere. And if you’re the sort who needs a Luka Modric eye-of-the-needle pass to get your pulse racing, then young Winks will not do much to soothe the savage beast lurking within.

Instead, on Saturday night, “neat and tidy” seemed to be the chorus on the lips of the fellow. I was rather taken by the manner in which our heroes regularly one- and two-touched their way out of ever-diminishing little defensive alleys, and Winks was as often as not front and centre of these operations. He availed himself whenever crisis (in the form of onrushing Brighton folk) approached a defensive chum, and having received the ball, did not stand around making speeches or counting his blessings, but swiftly shoved it along to someone better placed and less harassed.

A criticism of Winks, from this corner of the interweb as much as any other, has been his tendency, after surveying the terrain and weighing up all options, to take the rather excessive step of deciding that the slightest whisper of danger means the immediate cancellation of all forward-thinking possibilities. As a result, whatever the question, Winks’ answer has tended to be to go backwards.

This, however, might be described as Winks 2.0. The current, Conte-fied version (Winks 3.0) is by no means averse to passing backwards, but – crucially – does not view such retreat as the panacea to all that life throws at him. Winks 3.0 instead seems to be motivated primarily by an urge to do whatever the situation requires, as long as it’s done without too much hesitation.

This, at least to my uneducated eye, seems an infinitely more productive approach. It means that his primary motivation is simply to move the ball along, and preferably into a less troubled climate – and if that means going forward, backwards, underground or up into the atmosphere, Winks is on board.

And so on Saturday, we were treated to such delights as Winks dabbing little diagonals, Winks nudging the ball back towards goal, Winks chipping the ball square into space, and so on. The imp seemed to understand that what mattered was simply moving the object of the piece from Point A to Point B with minimal delay – and in the first half in particular this seemed to amount to a pretty critical part of the overall operation of pinching the thing from under Brighton’s noses and racing off on the counter-attack.

Winks was not perfect – the growing influence of Brighton’s Bissouma in the second half was evidence of that – but he seemed fully attuned to the company policy of swiftly turning defence into attack through swift distribution, and in this sense did enough to earn himself a much sought-after nod of approval from AANP.

2. Romero

As mentioned, Saturday brought about the welcome return of Senor Romero, and a welcome one it was too.

Everything seemed in working order, at least until his various sinews malfunctioned on 75 mins, but by then I think all concerned had seen enough to have any doubts about his return to the front-line suitably eased.

Part of the appeal of Romero is that he seems to do the majority of his business in an understated way, such that one wouldn’t necessarily notice he were there if one weren’t actively on the lookout for him. It helps that he is but one cog in an increasingly well-oiled defensive machine, all five of them (plus midfield helpers) seeming to know their lines and starting spots. The back-line was not necessarily impenetrable, but nor did it have the look of a gang hastily cobbled together with all concerned improvising their way through life. When on the back-foot, our defensive five appear to know their eggs, and Romero seemed perfectly content with his role and responsibility as bean-at-centre-of-things.

As well as simply being in the appropriate location at the appointed time, Romero also went off on the occasional wander to pretty good effect. If a Brighton wag had the temerity to scuttle into dangerous territory with the ball at his feet, Romero was perfectly happy to trot along after him and present himself as a rather imposing barrier, which in the circumstances seemed a reasonable enough approach.

On one occasion he was also temporarily possessed by the spirit of Beckenbauer, and accordingly went for a spin up over halfway and deep into opposition territory. Such day-trips appear to be heartily encouraged by Our Glorious Leader, and are facilitated by the presence of a back-three plus midfield minders, so we can probably get used to such raids.

3. Sanchez

On the subject of defensive eggs finding themselves tempted into the sordid world of the opposition half, Davinson Sanchez was oddly emboldened from start to finish.

Context here is crucial, for in all his appearances in lilywhite to date, Sanchez has given the impression that nothing distresses him more than finding the ball at his feet and being instructed to do something useful with it.

Go charging after an attacker, and Sanchez is in his element, bobbing from side to side like an out-of-control rowing boat until he is able to go charging into a challenge, sometimes taking ball, sometimes taking man, but always walking away from the crime-scene with the look of a man satisfied that he has done all asked of him.

Alternatively, if faced up by an attacker and given the opportunity to clear the ball to safety, Sanchez defers to no man in his ability to blast the thing as far from danger as possible, like a committed trooper hurling a live grenade out of his immediate sphere. There are few frills to Sanchez’ game, and one can almost read within his eyes that he sees no reason why there should be. Football, to Davinson Sanchez, is a game played by clearing all immediate danger, using whatever means necessary. Given this framework, he appears only too glad to have been blessed with the ability to draw back his right peg and deliver an almighty swing.

All of which had me rubbing the eyes and raising a puzzled finger on Saturday night, as we were treated to regular viewings of Sanchez charging up the right and towards the promised land of Brighton territory. What the hell possessed the chap is anyone’s guess. Personally, I blame Ben Davies, whose forays up towards the enemy penalty area in recent months have evidently not gone unnoticed in the Colombian quarter.

Admittedly, Sanchez’ actions betrayed the mentality of a man whose strategy seemed to be to act first and think later. He would set off full of buck and brio, looking every inch a fellow driven by an irresistible spirit of adventure – but on approaching halfway, reality seemed to hit and he typically slammed on the brakes, suddenly aware of the practical implications of his behaviour.

It’s a pretty telling indication of the state of things when one turns to Emerson Royal for help, but as it dawned upon Sanchez that all eyes were on him and that the thing at his feet was a real, live football, Emerson suddenly became the life-raft to which he felt the urge to attach himself.

At one point, unless my eyes deceived, Sanchez even found himself up in something like a centre-forward position. The whole thing was most peculiar in truth, but here at AANP Towers we were all for it. All too often we have been treated to the sight of Sanchez receiving a harmless pass and doing his best not to spontaneously combust at the shock of it all, so if he is prepared to venture like some new-born lamb, over halfway and up along the right flank, then it seems a more productive approach to life.

4. Kuluslevski and Bentancur

The other headline of the evening was the unveiling of our shiny new toys. Actually, the headline as far as AANP was concerned was the burst of pace shown by Sonny to set up our third goal, a blur of heels so rapid that the nearest Brighton defender completely lost control of his limbs and all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, and somehow found himself dribbling the ball unstoppably towards his own goal.

(The sub-headline of the evening was Ben Davies randomly unleashing an inch-perfect fifty yard cross-field pass to Kane.)

Back to the debutants. Kuluslevski was given half an hour or so entertain himself, and did so principally by making clear to the gallery that he has one preferred trick and will keep repeating it until time is called. In fairness, the old “Cutting Infield Onto Your Left Foot” gambit was sufficient for Arjen Robben to carve out an entire career, so Kuluslevski might argue that this is no bad tree up which to bark. Nevertheless, after seeing him put into practice this same manoeuvre a fourth time in his single cameo I did wonder about the extent of the research taken into this chap.

Bentancur on the other hand was given only five minutes, a period he put to good use in diving straight for the heart of the action in central midfield. One obviously hesitates to read anything into a five-minute teaser, but nevertheless I was encouraged by the fellow’s gusto in homing in on the busiest hub, as well as his neat footwork and one or two well-judged interventions.

He even found time to pick up a caution for a foul low on subtlety and high on efficiency, in putting a stop to an opponent’s forward intent by simply grabbing him by a couple of his limbs and refusing to relinquish. Again, what struck me here was not so much the specifics of the interaction as the general message it sent: for here was a soul concerned only to stop the other chap prospering, and if that meant brazenly committing Rule Violation 101 in full view of the ref then our man had absolutely no compunction. And I rather liked that about him.

Of course, the coming weeks and months will tell us a lot more about both, but it was nevertheless handy that each could take in a personal tour of the place. More broadly, given that Brighton are no mugs, a comfortable win against them should go down as a pretty slick evening’s work.

Tweets hither

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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.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Middlesbrough

1. Much Improved, One-Touch Performance

That puts a rosier glow on the cheeks, what? A win that that was vastly more comfy and snug than the scoreline suggests, and delivered with the sort of breezy panache that makes one wonder what all the fuss has been about.

Now at this point one probably ought to pause, scour the surroundings and dive behind the nearest, sizeable inanimate object, to shield oneself from the countless caveats being slung this way. Foremost amongst these caveats is probably the fact that Middlesbrough just didn’t put up much resistance, instead tripping over themselves to allow us a goal at the earliest possible opportunity, and thereafter sitting back and allowing us to pass triangles around them for as long as we pleased.

So be it, folk these days will have different approaches to life’s problems. It’s a consequence of democracy, apparently. However, there have been a pretty thick stack of fixtures this season against the Middlesbroughs of this world – teams that, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, simply don’t possess that much God-given quality – and we have made quite the elaborate pig’s ear of swatting them aside.

So on this occasion I am pretty content to accept that our opponents were not amongst the finest ever to grace turf, and nevertheless bask in the glory of a match deservedly won and, more to the point, a performance that hit all manner of right notes.

Crucially, for much of the game, our passing was of the one- or two-touch variety. This sort of fare is not only easy on the eye, but – and here’s the rub – has the added benefit of being the sort of stuff that can cut an opponent to ribbons before they know what has hit them.

Where it has been hiding these past few weeks I could not say. Why our heroes have opted against its use I do not know (although I could hazard a guess that better opponents do not simply step aside and wave us along with adoring eyes). But from the off we were in full Quick Passing Mode, and the suggested dosage did not disappoint.

I don’t mind admitting that our weekend approach (which, you will recall, consisted largely of trying to soak up Liverpool pressure and then blast long balls forward in the hope of sneaking a goal) made my eyes bleed and soul howl. This judgement was met with some pretty stern words from various quarters, with knives sharpened and spears pointed, as if to suggest that mine was not an opinion that would win the public vote. Democracy, once again, in action.

Despite the negative press, I stick to my words, and was therefore greatly soothed by last night’s offering. Credit to all involved, both for looking to pick an early pass at every opportunity, and for constantly buzzing around off-the-ball, in order to provide passing options for those in the hotseat.

2. Lo Celso Continues to Make The Right Noises

Foremost amongst those doing the off-ball buzzing were two of our vaunted Argentine cousins. Lo Celso has taken a little time adjust, but his various cameos have tended to include flickers of promise, and yesterday, given the platform of a starting spot against weak opposition, he looked like a chap who enjoys this sort of thing.

As mentioned, his energy levels ticked over at a healthy rate throughout. Rather like Mary’s little lamb, he was in pretty constant attendance of any of our lot who found themselves in possession, scurrying towards them with arms outstretched and no doubt wide, pleading eyes.

This in itself is a positive, because too often in recent weeks our play has been characterised by one lone chap dabbing at the ball while looking around pleadingly for a chum to avail themselves.

But on top of this movement malarkey, I also enjoy seeing the light bulb in Lo Celso’s head suddenly flicker on when he has the ball at his feet, an idea form for an incisive pass and the whole routine culminate with an attempt to pick a particularly sneaky through-ball.

Admittedly a lot of these sneaky through-ball turn out to have been a lot more exciting at the stage of being initially pitched than as an end-product, given that they were quite often intercepted in transit. But still. In a world in which Harry Winks receives the ball on the half-turn but opts to send it back south to his defenders, seeing Lo Celso instinctively look for a killer pass into the path of a forward gives one hope for a brighter future.

3. Lamela Takes His Chance

In his own unique way, Erik Lamela was also at the hub of much that was good about our lot last night.

One sympathises with whichever poor soul was once paid to teach the infant Lamela his alphabet and three-times tables, because in adulthood the chap appears to be a fidget, so goodness knows what he was like when asked to weld himself to a tiny seat and stay there.

Lamela’s engine ran permanently throughout, and given the amount of possession we had in midfield it was just as well that it did. Like Lo Celso he was pretty constantly on the move, giving our deeper-lying sorts a constant moving target, and giving the Middlesbrough defence plenty about which to mull.

His goal was delightfully finished, but it was the opening salvo that I particularly admired, featuring the young nib chasing back to pickpocket his man, before whirring off into the area. The end-product is not always there with Lamela, and he does have a tendency to dwell too long on the ball, but at a time when our general play has looked lethargic and half-hearted, his presence perks things up no end.

4. Tanganga’s Education Continues

The great and the good were pretty misty-eyed about young Tanganga by the time the curtain came down on proceedings. One understands of course, for one likes to see the local lad take his chance, and he has certainly made a good fist of things in his two games so far, going toe-to-toe with a pretty exalted opponent on Saturday and then adapting well to a tweak in position last night.

To have flung the Man of the Match wreath around his neck struck me as maybe getting a little carried away, mind. He has exceeded expectations to date, and displayed plenty of the good, honest traits that one seeks in an imposing defender, but he is also decidedly rough around the edges.

He made a few mistakes last night – leaping in to challenges with the enthusiasm of youth, when circumstances might have called for simply standing his ground, and so forth. This is not at all to chide the young bean, but simply to suggest that it seemed a stretch to consider him the best player on the pitch.

That said, with Davinson Sanchez sporadically losing all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, Father Time rather cruelly giving Jan Vertonghen a poke in the ribs and Serge Aurier having repeatedly proven that for every positive forward run he will also generate an equal and opposite defensive calamity, the emergence of Tanganga – quick, strong, willing and pretty capable either picking the right pass or on the charge with ball at feet – has been one of the most positive developments for a while.

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Spurs match reports

Palace 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Different Cup Tie, Same Pattern

I’m not sure where the viewing public stand on this, but personally I’m not a fan of our recent trend of turning in pretty rotten first half performance and giving ourselves two-goal deficits and whatnot. Something about the whole approach strikes me as rummy, and few would argue that it mades life a dashed sight more complicated than it needs to be.

Nevertheless, our heroes were at it again this afternoon. Admittedly this first half was a step up from that against Chelsea on Thursday, as on this occasion we did actually acquaint ourselves with the ball. Near-monopolised the thing in fact.

But with Dier and Skipp sitting in front of the back three, the well of creativity through the middle was absolutely bone dry. Those in lilywhite having therefore been instructed that the route to salvation lay in the form of young Walker-Peters on the left, the ball was obligingly shoved over to the lad on regular occasions in the
first half, to do with as he pleased.

Alas, nature has decreed that Walker-Peters’ left foot is predominantly for balance and aesthetics, so crosses to the head of Llorente were at a premium, as he simply cut back onto his right foot and pottered around in that little corner of the pitch, and for all our huff and puff, chances were at a premium.

2. The Life And Increasingly Trying Times of Kieran Trippier

These are odd times to be Kieran Trippier. Cast the mind back to the halcyon summer of 2018, and the fellow was starting to emerge as something of a national treasure.

A personal highlight at AANP Towers, was the focus with which he stepped up to take his penalty vs Colombia, marching up to the spot with the look of a man whose head was about to explode due to the intensity of his concentration levels, before slapping the ball with military precision into the top corner and marching back again, cranial explosion still very much on the cards.

The whole glorious episode gave the impression that if one’s life were to depend on a man burying a penalty, Trippier’s name would be up there on the list, not far behind the likes of Messrs A. Shearer and H. Kane.

Fast forward six or so months and the chap’s stock has taken something of a tumble, no doubt about it. Aberrations both in and out of possession have become distressingly commonplace. And now, as if to emphasise the point to any kindly onlooker still inclined to give the poor bean the benefit of the doubt, he even makes a complete pig’s ear of a penalty that one suspects would have made quite the difference to things.

Nobody misses these things on purpose, of course, but that moment was of the utterly avoidable ilk that has one slapping one’s thigh and wondering what the dickens else might go wrong.

3. Lamela

Since returning from his latest injury Lamela has been rather heavy on bluster while delivering precious little in the way of end-product – bar a neatly taken penalty, which I suppose ought not to be underestimated in these troubled times. Today however the bouncy young imp received the message loud and clear, and entered the fray choc full of strut and tricks, injecting a hitherto unseen energy into our activities from a central position of which he clearly approved.

Whereas in the first half those in possession tended to pause, and stroke chins, and ponder a handful of life’s great mysteries before doing anything with it – and even then doing little more than passing sideways – Lamela’s compass was pointing very decidedly northwards, and every time he received possession he hared off towards the Palace goal.

The effect was invigorating. Whether directly from Lamela’s size nines, or just taken by the general principle he brought with him, the team as a collective upped their zest and urgency.

The combo work between Lamela and Trippier out on the right was also pretty niftily done, but alas, as with everything we tried, it all come to nought.

4. Foyth

There are some situations in life one would rather shift to the poor unfortunate standing at one’s side. Being chased around town by a shape-shifting cyborg killer, for example, or idling one’s way down a path only to realise and enormous boulder is rolling along in hot pursuit.

And to that list I think I would add having the slippery eel Zaha racing towards you, with nothing in the way of a safety net other than a vast expense of greenery.

In such circumstances I was rather impressed with the young man, for caught on the counter a couple of times, as we inevitably were, I was rather inclined to fling my hands skywards and accept the worst. Foyth, however, took the opportunities to display that he is made of sterner stuff, and kept his eye on the ball, stopped Zaha in his tracks and got on with things.

Admittedly it amounts to barely a shimmer of light behind the pretty stormy-looking clouds that gather about the place, but it made for a pleasant surprise, particularly given Foyth’s general penchant for occasional defensive clangers.

So a chastening few days, littered with bad luck, individual mistakes and injuries littered in every dashed corner you care to look, but such is the nature of the beast. Three winnable games approach, nine points from which would be one heck of a fillip.

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Man Utd 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

Apologies for ambling in a day late with this missive, you can blame it on the post-prandial snifter, which turned into two or three and a night carousing with the best of them in south London. Yesterday, consequently, I was in no fit state for human consumption, which seemed rather apt given the tame manner in which our season had fizzled out the day before.

1. A Cracking Goal In Every Way Imaginable

And yet things had all kicked off so swimmingly. Admittedly we did not quite repeat the ten-second salvo of a couple of months back, but Kane still managed a neat pirouette and shot before the patrons had taken their seats, and in the opening ten minutes Eriksen and Sonny were bobbing about like they owned the place. In short, we looked every inch the dapper gentlemen ready to tear up the town, and it was little surprise when Dele slid in to bulge the net with such gusto.

A cracking goal from start to finish too, with Davinson Sanchez somehow squaring a circle by making a fairly straightforward route-one punt look something like a thing of beauty. A doff of the cap to Messrs Young and Pogba, for obligingly wafting out of position, but in the blink of an eye defence had become attack, and of all people young Master Eriksen was tearing away.

What followed was good enough to impregnate the watching hordes, because the cross whipped in by Eriksen was an absolute belter. It really deserved to be slapped into the net, and when Dele obliged at a rate of knots, judges throughout the land were scribbling 10s on their scorecards, because in terms of aesthetics the goal was off the charts.

2. An Atrocious Goal in Every Way Imaginable

To describe as a dashed shame the fact that it was pretty swiftly negated does not begin to sum things up. The equaliser was all the more galling for the fact that it was pretty emphatically of our own making, dash it all.
The trouble started when the wretched Vorm needlessly and inexplicably chipped the ball about ten feet above Vertonghen’s head and out of play. His options at the time were manifold, he had time to light a cigar and contemplate his summer hols before acting, and yet he simply blooted the ball out for a throw, level with the edge of his own penalty area.

The ensuing throw-in wibbled its way to the other side of the penalty area, where Dembele took the reins, and one would have expected a healthy period of world peace and prosperity to ensue. Alas, Dembele, in a rare display of mortal frailty – albeit one that lasted pretty much his entire 78-minute stint – chose that moment to throw in a stinker, and with the United end of the pitch beckoning, opted needlessly and inexplicably to dip back towards his own goal, and in doing so pretty much presented the ball to Pogba, gift-wrapped and with a neat bow on top.

Dembele allowed himself to be shoved to ground for good measure, and nobody in our defence was quite ready for the cross which then followed. Credit to the other Sanchez – the rotten one – for a downward header off balance and all sorts, but matters were certainly compounded by Vorm needlessly and inexplicably opting to stand and watch the ball ping past him. The concepts of sticking out a limb or, heaven forbid, launching himself after the thing were a long way down the Vorm agenda. He was of strictly decorative value, and he did not care a jot who knew it.

3. Poch’s Selection Errors: Vorm

Which ties in neatly to the decision to select Vorm instead of Lloris. I understand that Vorm had been the Cup-tie choice, which made some sense when we were mooching around the lower-league teams in the early rounds with bigger fish to fry in Europe and elsewhere. Those were the moments for Walker-Peters, Llorente and Vorm. Understood.

But an FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United is hardly the time for sentiment, what? If ever there were a time to roll up one’s sleeves and say, “Hoy! Time to sharpen the bayonets and go hell for leather, no mistake!” it’s an FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United. And if it hurts the poor lamb’s feelings then I’ll cry a river for him at a later date.

Moreover, on a pedantic note, if the idea were to drop Lloris for these occasions, why was he on the bench? If the chap is in the squad, play him. Admittedly, he has been littering stadia across the land with his mistakes in recent weeks, but if there is one thing he does still do with aplomb it’s pull of a heck of a save. Which would have proved a useful trait as both goals 1 and 2 whistled within clutching distance of the decorative Vorm.

4. Poch’s Selection Errors: Toby Alderweireld

Yes, yes, I understand the principle – mutter about grass being greener elsewhere and you can expect a stint on Poch’s Naughty Step, followed by an undignified elbow off the premises, and our glorious leader has to display consistency and ruthlessness. No “I” in “Team” and all that. But there dashed well is an “I” in “FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United”, and to leave out our best defender – again, in the squad, but on the bench – was a move so petty I wanted to grab the nearest unsuspecting sort and shake him.

He may not be of our gang for much longer, but we still pay the chap his wages, however paltry he may consider them. He is still our player, so why not use him while we can? And while Sanchez has his many, many assets, who amongst us would not feel better with Toby patrolling the back door at night?

Who knows how life might have panned it had Toby played, it is one of life’s great imponderables, but I have a suspicion that for a start he might have made a better fist of things than the two in situ when the cross was swung in for Alexis Sanchez’s header.

5. Killer Instinct (Or Lack Thereof)

The latest media narrative – following on from Totteringham’s Day, the Wembley Curse, beating Top 4 teams away and so on and so forth – is this business of failing to win silverware. And much though I’d have loved a trophy, the opinion at AANP Towers is that Top Four finishes and improvement in the Champions League is indicative of far greater progress than an FA Cup will ever evidence.

The notion of being “Spursy”, “bottling” our operations and so on and so forth also gets wheeled out pretty much whenever we fail to win a game these days, which is simply a cross we have to bear and as much a reflection on a bunch of players long since retired as it is on the current mob.

More pertinently, one thing which sidesteps the use of statistics for one’s own convenience, or historical performances that have little to do with the current day, is the fact that our present lot could show a heck of a lot more red-blooded killer instinct when the chances arise. Against Juve at home, and Man Utd on Saturday – two of the biggest occasions of the season – we were in the ascendancy, created chances a-plenty, but scored just the once and padded away in fairly self-satisfied mood, only for a less expansive but more savvy opponent to pilfer the goods from under our noses.

If these two occasions have taught us anything it ought to be the value of taking what few chances come our way in crunch games. If we’re enjoying a fifteen-minute period of revels and gaiety, let’s score at least twice. If we’re giving an opponent a pummelling, let’s make sure the scoreline reflects it. One gets the gist. These unpretty but effective sides will as likely steal a goal against the run of play, and it is little use bemoaning how well we played and how dominant we were.

And breathe…

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Spurs 6-1 Rochdale: Five THFC Observations

1. VAR, Apparently

Just as well we started thumping in goals from all angles in the second half, because by the midway point of the first half the two dozen or so brave souls who had made the pilgrimage to Wembley appeared ready to grab the nearest pitchfork and riot, in protest at VAR and the accompanying lunacy.

If you are looking for some semblance of sanity or explanation in this direction you can jolly well look elsewhere, because AANP was even more discombobulated than usual. Not only were VAR decisions being made according to the toss of a coin or spin of a wheel, or whatever sorcery it is, but I had the pleasure of watching the whole thing unfold from the rear end of a bar in Malta of all places, which had wisely decided to shun the witterings of the standard commentators and instead peddle a marvellous range of 80s power ballads and 90s pop as the audio backdrop to proceedings. A pretty ripe deal, you might think, and I certainly would not trade it, but without someone narrating the thing it was blank looks all round whenever the ref’s eyes lit up and the VAR machine rolled into town.

So when Lamela’s early “goal” was disallowed, with replays showing nobody offside, no simulation and about as much physical contact as one would normally expect from a game of chess, I could do little more than exchange a quizzical look with my old man, AANP Senior, while R. Kelly warbled in my ear that he could fly.

The decision to award the penalty seemed a slightly rummy one to me, the foul having begun a good few metres outside the area, but having bravely fought off the attentions of his marker for as long as was bearable, young Trippier’s little legs could support him no longer. And while few juries would possibly have convicted on those grounds, Trippier wisely enough reasoned that where there is VAR there is hope for even the most unlikely infraction to be awarded; and Bryan Adams gently crooned his satisfaction.

That said, the decision then to disallow the Son’s goal made me cast a few severe glances around the place like nobody’s business. A Spurs-supporting chum of mine kindly sent me an image from the FA website no less, on the various dos and don’ts of penalty kickery, on which was inscribed the specific words “Feinting is permitted”. It’s permitted, dash it! If anything, the FA bods are practically encouraging it! And while Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” admittedly did a mighty job of soothing this particular savage soul, the injustice of it all had me chuntering away into my Maltese lager.

2. Attacking Trio

So it was with a cocktail comprising two thirds bewilderment and one third effrontery that I sipped the half-time restorer and was serenaded by that virile old devil, Marvin Gaye. VAR had stood virtually as an extra line of defence; our own defence had switched off a little too regularly for comfort, and the Sissoko-Winks defensive screen had a distinctly porous whiff about it.

The saints be praised then, that the attacking triumvirate of Lamela, Son and Lucas were going about their business with gay old abandon. Each one of them bounded around the place as if to say, “Hello! If we play our cards right there could be all sorts of goods on offer here,” and accordingly they came fully armed with trickery on the ball and a decent level of work off it.

Lucas in particular appears to do exactly as advertised in the catalogue, which ought really to be barely worthy of mention, but given that our history of big-money signings has the same calamitous air about is as the passenger list of The Titanic, this is actually quite the triumph. Unlike anyone else in lilywhite he seems capable of skipping past opponents at in Full Gallop mode. On top of which, the young bean knows when to hang on to the ball and when to give it, as evidenced by the part he played in more than one goal. While admittedly this particular flexibility has only been fully demonstrated to date in two encounters with Rochdale, it still gets the juices flowing, as it were.

And if one were to step back, stroke the chin and survey the wider landscape, one might even suggest that there is now a degree of competition or reserve for Messrs Eriksen and Alli. Admittedly nobody is in the class of the former, but having a couple of viable options is no bad thing.

3. Llorente

I suppose that having wasted no opportunity to throw curses around like confetti whenever Senor Llorente has tripped over his own feet, it is only right to doff a cap and raise a glass or two when he scores a perfect hat-trick.

Prior to that point it was the usual fare from him: delightfully-weighted lay-offs coupled with an infuriating inability – or maybe just stubborn refusal, who knows? – to throw his weight around, work up a sweat and win a few blasted headers.

However, his first goal was an exquisite finish, and thereafter he did what a good striker ought to do. While goals at home to Rochdale perhaps do not raise the chap’s stock to the extent that global markets will be in disarray, it does mean that his confidence will be heading north, his teammates might be a little less nervous about his presence than they were 24 hours ago, and Harry Kane was granted a night off.

4. The Usual Array of Slightly Bewildering Substitutions

Other luminaries were less fortunate than Kane, however. With the tie in the bag, and the weather atrocious, our glorious leader hit upon the faintly ludicrous area of instructing Mousa Dembele, the undisputed owner of the Most Important Whilst Being Most Fragile award, to don a t-shirt and go haring about in the snow for half an hour. And ten minutes later he had Dele doing the same.
Quite what the heck he thought any of the above would achieve is absolutely beyond me. No good could possibly have resulted, and there seemed, in shipping forecast parlance, a moderate-to-fair chance of someone hurtling through the snow to their doom.
On top of which, while Erik Lamela charged around the pitch on his weekly mission to get himself sent off in double-quick time, Pochettino saw fit to remove Son, and leave Lamela to challenge the referee to a thirty-minute game of Chicken.

For all his virtues – and the list is as long as they come – Pochettino does come across as an odd sort of egg when it comes to substitutions, the type who will see we need a goal in the final ten minutes and bring on Trippier for Dier.

5. Snow

It matters little I suppose, but if you are after a blow-by-blow account of the final half hour or so you are most certainly in the wrong neck of the woods, because I could barely see a blasted thing. Having spent five minutes shouting over Justin Bieber to suggest to AANP Senior that they might want to use a yellow ball, I finally noticed that they were indeed using a yellow ball, and it was adding nothing in the Visibility column.

Nice to see Walker-Peters get five minutes; nicer to see that the Grand Fromage opted against hurling on Harry Kane for a wince-inducing and pointless five minutes; and thoroughly heart-warming to see Walker-Peters sprinting away in celebration after presumably scoring his first Spurs goal, although in real-time it simply appeared that he was going through a rigorous warm-up routine sans ball.

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Rochdale 2-2 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

1. Aggression, or Lack Thereof

Should any passing strangely politely enquire whether we have the ability to field two separate elevens they can now be answered fairly emphatically in the affirmative, the evidence being paraded on the pitch at kick-off. Eleven completely different pairs of legs, from those that did the business in Turin, and if pre kick-off our glorious leader allowed himself a private moment of self-congratulation on the fact, who could have begrudged him?
However, should the line of questioning trickle towards the ability of that back-up eleven to bring home the goods as required, there may be one or two shuffles of feet and sheepish sideways glances.

In truth, the ability of the “reserves” paraded today is not in question, as most are internationals and by my reckoning around eight-elevenths of them would do the necessaries if flung into a Premier League game alongside their more vaunted associates. (Sissoko, Llorente and Vorm, since you ask.)

For some reason however, pitch them together at a lower-league ground and they collectively wobble away like nobody’s business, looking rusty even if they aren’t, and slightly bewildered by the pace, and the crowd, and even the very concept of a cup tie for goodness sake.

Now given that the above pretty much hammers home that this was a collective failing, one might opine that I’m something of a rotter for picking on one individual, particularly when that individual is as loveable and honest as Son, but such is life.

Son in fact at least had the decency to look interested and energetic throughout; his motivation was not really in question. Rather, he seemed to be lacking in willingness to get stuck into things and emerge with a few cuts and scrapes for the sake of the greater good. One can imagine that if offered a sword and shield before a gladiatorial biff, he would look at them in horror, and enquire if the whole affair could be settled without any need for physical contact. The spirit, one might say, is willing enough in Son, but the flesh is as weak as they come.

And so, predictably, the young nib could be seen pulling out of 50-50 challenges, getting wrestled off his chosen path and generally being bullied this way and that. And in a way, that was our performance in a microcosm, at least for the first hour or so.

2. Substitutes Raising The Entire Team

That general sentiment of tentativeness and dislike for the less fragrant elements of cup football only really began to change once the substitutes were shoved on. Admittedly young Winks came out in the second half looking suitably mortified for his error, and determined to atone by scurrying around for as long as his legs would obey, but by and large we continued to potter about the place with only a passing degree of interest, and if the final whistle had sounded and we had been eliminated I’m not sure the eleven on the pitch would have been motivated to do much more than shrug shoulders and enquire what was for dinner.

So it was left to the subs to address matters. They were introduced iteratively, and our performance improved in direct proportion. Lamela and Dele brought with them not only energy, speed of thought and some deft touches; they also managed to haul everyone around them up to a fairly similar level.

Quite why we could not have started with that same sharpness is beyond me, but I suppose we should just be glad that it transpired at all. Lamela and Dele suggested the novel concept of picking their way through Rochdale midfield and defence, and the rest of our heroes cottoned on to the idea and joined in, as if it were the first time they had ever heard of such a scheme but by golly they wanted part of it.

3. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose Randomly Upping His Game

If Son’s timidity in the face of a flailing limb or two were frustrating, but mitigated by that willing spirit, the contrast in Danny Rose’s attitude pre- and post-substitutions was downright bizarre. For the first hour or so the Rose locker was utterly bereft of willing spirit. The young bean seemed to do little more for two thirds of the game than go through the motions, as if to wave his arms and wonder out loud why some people were picked to play away to Juventus while some other people were picked to play away to Rochdale.

All of which made some sense, for here, after all, is a man who, when not happy with his lot at N17, will grab the nearest megaphone and broadcast the fact to society at large.

But what followed made for pretty odd viewing, because as Lamela, Dele and Kane popped in to wave hello, young Rose went through the gears at breakneck speed, until he ended up as some sort of Gerrard-esque driving force ploughing straight through central midfield and towards the Rochdale penalty area. Willing spirit, flesh that was anything but weak – by the time our second goal came round Rose had discovered the whole bally lot.

(And then he lost his bearings slightly for the equaliser.)

4. Moura Looks A Nifty Sort

The silver linings in all this admittedly took quite some locating, they not being of the ilk that jostled for position and yelled “Me! Me! Me!” in a desperate attempt to make themselves stand out from the crowd.
However, the newbie looks a fun sort of fish, what? If “Lack of match practice” were the official party line, the memo sure as heck did not reach Moura Towers, because the young buck tore about the place like a kid on Christmas morning.

He managed in the opening ten minutes the sort of feats that nobody at Spurs has done in several season – viz. waltz around opponents for the sheer joy of being alive. A pretty handy type of name to have in one’s address book, if you get my drift.

A (near-enough) debut goal will also do the honest fellow some good, I imagine. And a propos that equaliser – and at the risk of having the universe collapse under the weight of absurdity – I must commend Monsieur Sissoko for a perfectly-weighted through ball for our newest recruit. Odd, isn’t it?

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Spurs 2-0 Newport: Four THFC Observations

1. Squad Depth Like A Military Parade

Pre kick-off, our glorious leader made every change conceivable to the starting eleven, which, he’ll be delighted to know, was fine by me. Bigger fish await, and all that. Amongst other things this gave the opportunity to parade to the watching world the full extent of our squad depth, as one understands some of our foreign cousins are rather fond of doing, as if to say to neighbours, “Don’t you get any ideas, you bounders.”

While hardly comparable to the bankrolled elite who trouser several hundred thousand big ones per week, when fully restored to health our list of first reserves is nevertheless of respectable ilk. Hardly world class, granted, but enough there to suggest if some players exit stage left while others enter stage right, there will not be any discernible dips in quality in the majority of positions.

Accordingly, when the curtain went up we were able to showcase one of the best centre-backs in the country, a central midfield pairing potentially capable of going toe-to-toe with most in the Champions League, and a couple of inside forwards of nimble mind and fleet foot. Useful tins of muck to have knocking around in storage, as the pointy end of the season beckons.

2. Lackadaisical Start

Having suffered the indignity of having to appear at a lower-division pitch a couple of weeks ago, and almost paid the price for such thinly-veiled snobbery, the replay appeared a more straightforward proposition, given the size and quality of the pitch if nothing else. It did, however, require our chosen few to fasten the bayonets and get into the spirit of the thing, for at least long enough to put the whole ruse to beyond doubt.

In truth, things did not initially unfurl in as hot a manner as was hoped. In the opening five minutes or so, the curiously chosen buzzword was “lackadaisical”. A funny old term, given that it looks like a flower and is routinely mispronounced despite being about as phonetically straightforward as they come; but it pretty much summed up the way of things in our back-line straight from kick-off.

The much-peddled system of playing from the back was rolled out once more, but cast members in defence insisted on taking every chance available, as if convinced that they were impervious to harm. Passes were despatched in errant manner on the edge of our own area of all places, and an ominous sense arose that we were approaching the whole affair in far too slapdash a manner. Newport, in those opening breaths, hared about with decent gusto – and amongst our lot, “lackadaisical” just about summed it up. “A better team,” a voice in my ear seemed to whisper, “might have made hay, don’t you know, and then where would we be?”

Mercifully, however, that was about as hairy as things got. Newport ran out of steam, and thereafter our heroes remembered what the whole wheeze was about, and light-heartedly went about sealing the deal.

3. Returnees Picking Up Where They Left Off

No alarms and no surprises, as the chap warbled, just the reinforcing of various stereotypes.

Son and Lamela darted around in good spirits, and were generally at the heart of all moments of inspiration. Lamela certainly seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, looking sharp and mischievous, and ended up strolling around the place with rather a swagger, as if this were his game and he would dashed well do as he pleased. It was good to see, and the young buck provides a useful option should any part of the Alli-Eriksen-Son axis fail to motor as advertised. (As, one hopes, will Lucas Moura).

Winks was neat and tidy, if a little reluctant to play some of the more incisive passes of which he is capable, and complemented well the blood and thunder of Wanyama, whose shooting has returned to a more familiar a style.

Of the other key returnees, Rose played with decent energy, and it was nice to see him resuming that habit of yore, whereby he cannot simply stumble to the floor, but has to fly horizontally around three feet off the ground before hitting the deck.

And possibly the most pleasing sight of all, Toby Alderweireld rolled up, not a hair out of place, to amble through proceedings unbothered and unscathed.

4. The Lost Causes

Naturally, some of the less vaunted members of the troupe were also let loose, and, in a manner of speaking, they did not disappoint either.

Sissoko was as clumsy as ever. I had rather laughably harboured hopes beforehand that a lower quality of opposition might make the cove appear more sophisticated – by comparison, don’t you know – but evidently there is just no refining a certified buffoon. He simply did what he usually does, forcing his way through any crowded alley, misplacing as many passes as he nailed, and generally making life seem pretty dashed complicated.

There was a perverse symmetry to the fact that he created a goal by firing the ball straight at an opponent and seeing it ping off him in a different direction.

And Llorente did everything we have come to expect of the chap. Further evidence was offered that in a previous life he may have been an enormous cushion, as he spent the first hour or so gently laying the ball off to nearby chums with warmth and love.

Running, as ever, was rather a tall order for the chap, and made for pretty painful viewing, as his limbs moved one at a time, as if controlled from on high by a particularly nervous puppeteer. Alas, his two golden opportunities flashed inches wide, as if to convince anyone stopping by that he could play football all night without ever scoring.

The suspicion remains that should any ill fate befall Kane, then Son will be pressed into service atop the tree before the siren ever sounds for Llorente.

So no reason to slaughter the fattened calf, but as these things go it was a jolly enough little bash, and the 90 or so minutes achieved by Toby, Rose, Winks, Wanyama and Lamela feel like they could prove useful as sub-plots in the coming weeks.

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Newport 1-1 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

I suppose the non-Spurs-supporting mob who traverse this Fair Isle allowed themselves a chuckle or two at our expense yesterday. In fact, I can do more than suppose, I can report the point as one of fact. And the reason I can do the aforementioned is that just about every blasted one of them spent the game helpfully reminding me, via the medium of the humble telephone-based messaging system, of such critical points as the scoreline, the time elapsed, the league placement of our opposition and other such salient information.

One cannot really blame them. Society’s greatest spin doctors would struggle to paint yesterday’s debacle in a salutary light. No doubt about it, the brow was doused with a pretty liberal sprinkling of perspiration as the game entered its final breaths, and it seems a suitable penance to have to start up the engine again in a week or two, when all concerned in lilywhite would much rather put their feet up with a box set and a bourbon.

1. No Stomach For The Fight

Anyone sniffing around pre kick-off for some indication of what was to come would have perused the teamsheet and promptly mooched off elsewhere to continue sniffing. A couple of subtle swaps at the back, but at least three quarters of them would still have lined up in a Premiership game without even quivering an eyelid, let alone batting one.

However, Messrs Dier and Vertonghen in particular appeared to have breezed up in body only, their spirit having been left back in North London. Our hosts set about the binge with gusto, as would be expected, but instead of going toe-to-toe and slugging it out, Dier and Vertonghen looked utterly affronted that anyone should be brazen enough to try tackling them in a football match of all things.

It was a cycle that repeated throughout the first half. Newport tore away at the contest like a team of rabid dogs; Vertonghen and Dier looked aghast every time their pristine white shirts were sullied. If they had wanted to satirise the societal gap between the haves and have-nots they could not have done a better job of it if they had been practising for months.

2. The Midfield

Similarly, the teamsheet gave few causes for concern when the eye dribbled down to the midfield. In fact, the teamsheet made one pause, gasp and murmur a wide-eyed “What ho!” when they eye dribbled down to the midfield, for a combo of Sissoko, Dembele and Wanyama hinted that we were in the business of removing the neighbourhood’s rowdier elements from the local dancehall, with meaty force strongly encouraged.

What transpired was underwhelming. Those three pounded around like a trio of automatons, all legs and no brain. It was as if none of them were particularly aware of the purpose of the mission, beyond perhaps meeting a certain number of footsteps by the time the curtain came down.

Oddly enough, Sissoko was the most proactive of them, but in general it was not immediately obvious which goal our midfield were charged with attacking, which ought to have the warning bells clanging away like the dickens.

3. Llorente, Where Is Thy Sting?

The memory is a little hazy in my advanced years, but I fancy that when news broke of the last-minute snaffling of Llorente last summer – from under the noses of Chelsea, no less – I might have grabbed a passing stranger an performed a neat pirouette, such was my satisfaction. On this very corner of the internet I sang the chap’s praises, and breathed a couple of hearty sighs of relief that we now had an experienced and capable striker available to deputise for Kane on such occasions as Cup ties against fourth-tier opposition.

And to give Llorente his due, the lumbering giant has a touch that could bring an end to world wars and send hollering toddlers gently to their slumbers. One imagines that a ball could be fired at him from a cannon and he would deftly cushion it, and, if feeling particularly rosy, maybe even weight a glorious five-yarder slap-bang into the path of some onrushing chum.

That sort of stuff cannot necessarily be taught, and as such one would think that Llorente has a pretty critical talent when it comes to being one of the most talented chappies going.

Alas, the very act of tying his shoelaces seems to expel every last ounce of oxygen from the old bean’s lungs. He gives the impression that he would rather be tied to a chair and have some nefarious scoundrel in a mask bludgeon his fingers with a hammer – as happened in a moving picture flick I stumbled upon recently – than work his way up to a sprint. The act of running is simply more than Llorente’s body can handle.

A team featuring Sissoko might already reasonably be considered to be one man light. Having Llorente wandering around, looking longingly at the blurry leg movements of those around him doesn’t half exacerbate things.

4. Kane, And A Modicum of Dignity

While all around him looked either disgusted at having to be involved in matters so beneath them, completely uninterested in the game, or one of the various points in between, Harry Kane at least had the dignity to become increasingly frustrated with how the tale was panning out.

The young fish appeared to care, and while his involvement tended to be of the peripheral variety in the first half – picking up the ball with back to goal on halfway and being promptly swarmed upon – he looked just about ready to swing a right hook at anyone who taunted him.

He was also responsible for our one moment of note in the first half, hitting the post as a pointed reminder that he is pretty much the hottest thing in Europe at the moment.

Mercifully, the whole bunch of them as a collective upped their game in the second half, Son and Dele arrived to raise the standard notch or two and, so on so forth. Precious little positivity to be gleaned from that mess, but hopefully we can all move on and never speak of it again. It remains our likeliest trophy this season.