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Spurs match reports

Fulham 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

Decency dictates that we start with this chap and do him a bit of homage. It’s hardly an unusual script – great swathes of tepid dross punctuated suddenly by a moment of quality from Kane completely out of keeping with the rest – but even more remarkable for it.

Covering the specifics first, and when Kane received the ball one would have hardly expected the Fulham gang to sound their klaxons and generally lose their heads. Admittedly, Kane receiving the ball just outside the area is not ideal for any opponent, but contextual factors at least seemed to be stacked marginally in their favour.

He received the thing with his back to goal for a start. This by no means neuters him, but one would have expected the Fulham ‘keeper at least to allow himself a short puff of the cheeks, for the immediate threat of a shot seemed pretty low on the Risk Assessment.

On top of which, Fulham had their back-line in position and ready to get down to brass tacks. The chappies on Sky Sports took to whining that one of the centre-backs might have moved half a yard more to the left or some such guff, but when such intricate witterings are being voiced it is time to block the ears and move on. Our attacking move was in what rugby bods might call its third or fourth phase, and Fulham were fairly well organised, with banks of four and five and whatnot all neatly arranged.

Moreover, on receiving the ball in this position of fairly bleak promise, it is not as if Kane then dipped a shoulder, unleashed a Cruyff and was suddenly clean through on goal. He, understandably, collected it and set off on the scenic route, around the outside of the area. If those in Fulham’s Control Room had started shooting each other quizzical looks, with hands hovering uncertainly over the button marked ‘Panic’, one would have understood, because through this manoeuvre Kane was, if nothing else, setting himself up on his right foot. Nevertheless, there was a whole gaggle of bodies stationed between him and the goal, so if alert levels had remained low one would have sympathised.

Kane, however, being of a different plane, cared little for any of the above, and simply spanked the thing, without even bothering to look. To repeat, it was a piece of skill entirely out of keeping with what any of what had gone before, and well worthy of winning a match of high quality, let alone this onerous dirge.

While the chatter in some quarters is that Greaves has two Charity Shield goals that have not been credited to his account, which would bump his tally up to 268, I am happy for the pedants to tie themselves in knots over that one. Kane would no doubt have settled for a deflection of a lesser-used body part while he looked the other way if it had added to his numbers, but for him to equal our record in this particular fashion felt particularly satisfying.

On top of which, sources of good repute have been reporting that the curious bean is actually interested in extending his contract at N17, which, while welcome news, does make me wonder if the poor fellow has lost his mind. Still, it all made for a match-winning innings and rounded off a fun night-time jaunt. Who knows, it might even make those who once considered him a rotter reconsider their stance.

2. Our Passing (First Half vs Second Half)

To say that things started poorly is to speak rather kindly of affairs. We were, as is so often the case, pretty dreadful from the off. Fulham sorts seemed to scurry down the flanks at their convenience, producing a steady stream of crosses into our area throughout the first half, with which our heroes dealt with varying degrees of assurance and success. I suppose the important stat is the big fat zero in the ‘Goals Conceded’ column, but this vulnerability did make me sweat a bit, or at least would have done if I had had any optimism left in me while watching Spurs these days.

Anyway, aside from the free pass Fulham received down our sides, I found myself registering considerable bafflement at the passing display by our lot in the first half. Obviously, this being Spurs, one is used to seeing experienced international players set about their tasks like they’ve never seen a football before, but even by our standards the errant passing on display was pretty tough to digest.

Of course, nobody is perfect, and the occasional pass that doesn’t reach its mark one tries one’s best to shrug off. There tend to be mitigating circumstances – proximity of an opponent, lack of options, pressure to clear danger – that sort of stuff.

But as I watched on with ever growing incredulity in the first half hour or so, our lot seemed routinely to pass straight to opposing players. Sometimes under pressure, sometimes under none. And not those near-miss passes, the sort when an attacking nib is trying to thread one through the eye of a needle to set a chum clean through on goal – this was just basic five-yard stuff inside our own half. For the life of me I couldn’t fathom what was going on.

Anyway, whatever the mysterious goings-on afoot, we made it through to circa minute 44 unscathed, at which point we then turned up the dial a few notches and gave Fulham a few things to think about for a pretty impressive spell of about three minutes, culminating in Kane’s goal. Which did make me wonder quite how things might have panned out if we’d found our range and given them a bit of going-over a little earlier in the piece, but sometimes it is best not to overthink these things.

In the second half, our heroes tightened things considerably, and Fulham barely had a sniff. As impressive as the defensive arrangements was the fact that having blunted any approaching danger, our troops, in eye-catching distinction to the first half, started passing the ball around opponents and out of defence as if pinging it through a field of mannequins.

It was jolly impressive stuff per se, but particularly in light of the nonsense that had preceded it in the first half, I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. Put it this way, if you were in the market for thirty seconds of crisp, one-touch diagonals, you need not have looked much further.

After a while, these little moves stopped happening in any real attacking sense – the on-field consensus seeming to be that one goal ought to be enough – but whenever possession was won in and around our own area, the impressive little triangles would kick off once more.

3. Son

Those who care about such things would probably hammer home the fact that Sonny, strictly speaking, set up our winner. This I suppose is true by the letter of the law but does have about it the sense of one claiming to be a chef after producing a plate of beans on toast.

Still, it is one for the tally, so good for him. But if anyone were to point to that and use it as a defence of his performance, I would personally lean over and give them a pretty meaningful eye.

Make no mistake, Sonny continues to struggle through matches well below par. Every attempted dribble ended in a calamitous ball of limbs as he was pretty much snuffed out at source. In fact, every time he simply tried to run with the ball it looked as if either his feet or the ball, or all of the above, were drenched in treacle and then deposited in quicksand for good measure. In short, this vexing trend of things just not quite clicking for him continued to vex.

The gentle pass into the path of Kane, for his goal, was something of a highlight, not just because it led to the goal, but simply by virtue of it being an instance of him successfully finding a teammate.

Now I doubt there is a soul alive of lilywhite persuasion and sound mind who advocates any particular draconian fate ought therefore to befall the chap. Nobody is calling for his head, or suggesting we slap a price-tag on him and cart him off to the highest bidder.

But given that we have invested in a fellow of the beans of Richarlison, it does not seem too radical a proposition to suggest we swap the two of them around every now and then, what? If Sonny is simply not firing as programmed, so be it. Let him sit out a game or two, and there will hardly be a dip in quality if we shove Richarlison on in his place with instructions to do his worst. Different sorts of laddies no doubt, but the Brazilian seemed pretty bucked while on World Cup duty (albeit playing as central striker), and more to the point he would do no worse than the Sonny of Season 22/23.

If Richarlison is still labouring under whatever the latest ailment might be, then one grudgingly accepts that he is best left on the bench for now. Otherwise, however, the whole bally approach makes little sense. If he is not started now, when Sonny is at his lowest ebb, then when the hell will he be started?

4. Our Travelling Fans

A note in passing on the racket kicked up by our lot in the stands. Dashed impressive, I thought. High energy and relentless from first whistle to last, the only shame being that it did not occur to the eleven on the pitch to emulate them, but one can’t have everything I suppose. At one point our fans even cleared the throats for a rendition of McNarama’s Band, which had me raising a particularly impressed eyebrow.

On this business of the polite requests for structural reorganisation within the corridors of N17, AANP waves a weary hand, happy to let those better informed exercise their democratic right. But I was certainly taken by the din produced, back-slaps all round.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Portsmouth: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Gil

AANP has never really been a dog person. No objection to the fine beasts, you understand, I’ve just not really got much connection to them. As such, happy to let them go about their business, and have them extend the same courtesy back. ‘Non-aggression pact’ about sums it up, and that’s the way it’s been for a few decades, until my sister recently came into possession of a pup of some breed unknown to me.

I mention this gripping aside because the sister’s pup’s behaviour is most prominently characterised by boundless energy and unshakeable optimism, in relation to whatever task it is approaching. And watching young Bryan Gil treating his every involvement in today’s game as if it were the most fun he had ever experienced, I was struck by his similarity to the aforementioned bonhomous canine.

Gil has now been a lilywhite 18 months, in which time he has not yet made 18 appearances – but if anyone thought that these deliberate oversights on the part of the Top Brass would dampen his spirits they will have some pretty comprehensive re-thinking to do. Rather than let week after week of inactivity (and a release on loan for six months) chip away at his mood, it seems simply to have heightened his excitement. I get the impression that each time he was omitted he simply became even more beside himself with elation, reasoning that his big chance was therefore even likelier to arrive the following week.

A charming attitude, and one he seemed determined to advertise to the entire viewing public once the game started. If he were not in possession he eagerly buzzed around seeking it; and once he received it he wasted no time in flicking through the repertoire to find the most effective means of making a positive dent in things. Watching his infectious enthusiasm I rather wished someone would throw a stick in his radius, just to see if he would bound after it.

Enthusiasm on its own, however, is not worth a great deal unless married to a certain degree of effectiveness (thought processes around this hypothesis might be aided by reflection on Oliver Skipp’s recent performances). Merrily, Gil was, for the second consecutive game, amongst the more eye-catching young pills on display.

We were treated at various points to stepovers and whatnot, and quick jinking feet, but also crisp and aware shot passes, the sort that bisect opposing bodies and give a sense of urgency.

Gil has pretty swiftly elevated himself to the sort who quickens the pulse every time he receives the ball – and given that a fortnight ago he had not yet made a League start for us, this is one heck of a trajectory. All sorts of complications stand in the way of him becoming a regular any time soon, and I doubt that any amongst us would try arguing against Kulusevski waltzing straight back into the cast list for the visit of Woolwich next week, but Gil has taken his opportunities with aplomb, and is looking an increasingly viable option.

2. Sarr

A spot of post-match hobnobbing with various Spurs-supporting beans suggests that I might be ploughing a slightly lonely furrow with this one, but I thought that young Sarr once again earned himself a respectful salute.

“Neat and tidy” seemed to be the anthem on his lips, and not a bad philosophy either, to bring into a day’s work as a slightly defensive-minded midfield bod. His midweek cameo had featured ticks in such columns as ‘Interceptions’, ‘Tackles’ and ‘Passes (sub-heading: Unfussy and Prompt)’. And, clearly one of those fellows who thinks that if he’s onto a good thing he might as well just keep peddling it over and over, he brought that approach from his substitute appearance vs Palace into his starting appearance vs Pompey.

With Skipp seemingly keen to elbow his way into the final third at every opportunity, Sarr played yang to that particular ying, positioning himself back at basecamp as something of a security guard for the midfield.

As against Palace, who were dead and buried by the time he emerged, one is hesitant to lavish too much praise upon a performance against a team that I don’t think managed two shots on target. Nevertheless, one can only hope, when one flings a young buck into the arena, that he will do all asked of him and to a decent standard, and in this respect it was a pretty successful afternoon’s work for Sarr.

3. Kane

Nevertheless, this was yet another of those performances that was drifting slightly aimlessly in the first half. One could see that various in lilywhite were remembering vague ideas and trying to apply them – Sessegnon popped in a stream of crosses that didn’t really hit the mark; Davies repeatedly trotted forward with a determined look on his map, before passing harmlessly sideways; Son dipped his shoulder and put his head down, before being robbed off the ball and left in a heap. And so on. Things were not really clicking. Things were not even doing whatever it is happens in the moments before they click. Life was just passing us all by.

So yet again it was left to Kane to drop a little deeper and perform his weekly alchemy. When he received the ball, 25 or so yards from goal, it appeared that a scene regularly witnessed was about to unfold yet again, for many in lilywhite had had possession in these sort of spots, and faced with pretty much every Portsmouth player stationed between ball and goal.

And yet, somehow, where all others had tried and failed to make any useful inroad, Kane simply forced his way through with that curious mixture of brute force, classy touch and sheer act of will. Before one could say “Was that an intentional one-two?” he had in one movement received the ball back from Sessegnon, escaped his marker, dug the ball out of his feet and set himself for a shot.

I suppose it hardly sounds like rocket science when spelled out like that, but yet again it was all of a level a country mile above that being produced by anyone else.

There then, of course, followed a shot like an Exocet missile, the sort of finish that would have had us gasping in a giddy mix of shock and joy if it had come from the clog of pretty much anyone else in our number – but when produced by Kane simply prompts a knowing nod, as if to say, “As expected, what?”

It was a moment worthy of winning a game, and helpfully changed the dynamics of what might potentially have been an awkward scrap, the sort that prompts dubious murmurings about the players, manager, chairman and so on. It also sets the chap up nicely to become our record scorer against slightly more notable opponents next weekend.

The second half in general did see an improved performance, the general sense after the opener being that we were more likely to score again than concede. While an all-singing, all-dancing, multi-goal salvo would have been fun, safe negotiation of these early rounds is pretty much all that is needed.

(Not that any of this detracted from the giddy excitement of three younger members of the AANP clan, visiting from Australia of all places, to see their first ever Spurs game – a charming reminder of how the lifelong attachment begins.)

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Spurs match reports

Palace 0-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Were we actually any good? Are we actually any good?

Given that the pre-match mutterings at AANP Towers were to wonder how the devil we would ever score again, the output a couple of hours later could not have been a more pleasant surprise.

By the time Doherty popped up to make it 3-0 the matter was essentially concluded, all remaining perspiration being expended merely because regulation required it, rather than out of any sense of mystery as to how matters might resolve. But here’s a thing – Doherty’s goal, sealing the game, came 20 minutes after Kane’s opener, meaning that the entire operation was essentially contained from start to finish within that short burst.

Thereafter Palace simply shrugged collective shoulders and moped about the place waiting for the final bell – you know the spirit of willing has disappeared when your centre-backs are being outmuscled by Sonny of all people.

And while that 20-minute, three-goal blitz was absolute manna from heaven, it did make one tilt the head at an inquisitive angle, and wonder whether our heroes have it in them to string together a full 90-minute performance.

Casting the mind back a bit, we started fairly punchily. Combinations here, corners there – it might not exactly have been thrill-a-minute stuff, but at least we took the starter’s gun as a prompt to bob onto the front-foot, rather than the usual business of sitting back, dozing gently and waiting to concede twice.

Disturbingly, however, this early fizz lasted somewhere between 15-20 minutes before going the way of all flesh. Thereafter, Palace pinned us back and the rest of the half seemed to consist of them pummelling away at us, with our heroes occasionally emerging to gasp for breath before the sequence was repeated. And this rather sorry pattern appeared likely to continue in the second half – when out of nowhere we took the lead and the 20-minute blitz ensued.

With our tails up and a healthy lead tucked away, our lot, naturally, looked transformed. And if we continue to look that way, and play that way, then not a whisper of complaint will emanate from these parts. But with the second half blitz coming from nowhere, I do still give the lip a nervous chew, because the general pattern of things at the end of that first half was no improvement on previous games.

Twenty-minute jollies are all well and good, but they won’t bring a three- or four-goal harvest every week. The rub of the thing is that our heroes need somehow to learn the mystical alchemy that is performing well for an entire 90 minutes. In a curious way, the random blitz of Palace in the second half – coming against the run of play, and yet doing enough within a short period to completely kill the match – highlighted what’s wrong as well as what’s right with our mob.

2.  Kane

Of course, only bothering to turn up for twenty minutes is a dashed sight easier when you’ve got leading the line an unstoppable beast operating at the peak of his powers and revving up all four cylinders. A rotter he may forever remain in the eyes of AANP, but by golly Harry Kane does sometimes elevate his play a good few levels above the mere mortals surrounding him.

One might be tempted to dismiss the header that got things going as the least of his contributions, and in a way I suppose it was, but even that was a pretty impressive feat. In particular I was rather arrested by the natty fashion in which Kane proceeded with take-off nice and early, then just sort of hung around in the air for about a minute and a half, taking in the South London sights from his vantage point of approximately ten feet up.

By the time Perisic’s cross actually reached him he was already well established as master of that particular realm, and merely took time out to flex a muscle or two and send flying the nearest Palace defenders, whose own measly attempts at doing the aerial thing had them no more than about six inches off the ground.

It was mightily impressive stuff. I’ve seen that Ronaldo chap do something similar. Heaven knows how it’s done – I’ve always found gravity, and physics and whatnot get in the way whenever I attempt it – but from the moment Perisic’s cross took flight there was a joyous inevitability about the way things would pan out.

The second looked even better. Young Bryan Gil fairly pinged the ball at him (which is by no means a criticism of the young frijole, for the situation absolutely demanded that the ball be pinged at a decent lick, or it would not have reached basecamp).

The ping having been effected, Kane’s task may have looked simple enough on paper – “Control the thing and spank it” – but all constituent parts of the exercise were actually mightily taxing, and the odds for most strikers would have been long. As it happened, however, Kane made it all look about as difficult as tickling the tummy of sleeping kitten.

For a chap whose close control often seems to me, at close quarters, to be a rather glaring fault in his DNA, that first touch was scarcely believable, consisting as it did of simultaneously killing the ball and delivering sufficient nudge that he didn’t have to break stride before lamping it. And then, as if simply to show off, Kane did not even bother to surface for a quick three-sixty, to find his bearings and locate X on the map. He simply put his head down and blasted the thing, into the best possible spot and at the hardest possible force.

Thereafter, with goals to his name, he unstrapped the pads and grabbed the new ball, so to speak, experimenting with his creative side by dropping deep and spraying the ball hither and yonder, for his chums to get in on the act. His pass released Sonny for what eventually became Doherty’s goal, and officially he also has his name pinned to the assist for the fourth – although that was possibly the least remarkable of all his contributions.

All told, it was one heck of a performance, an absolute masterclass.

3. Gil

Meanwhile, off to the right, young Senor Gil delivered possibly his longest and quite likely his best display in lilywhite.

As ever, from the off he was all buck and vim, bounding around like a lamb being released into a meadow specifically designed for the frolic. As mentioned above, our opening fifteen or so actually constituted something of a highlight, and at the centre – or, more accurately, the right – of much that was good was young Gil.

His interplay with Doherty, although rough around the edges, as befits a newly-formed and rarely-practised double-act, had about it plenty of energy and invention; and when left to his own devices Gil seemed delighted to have the opportunity to throw in a few stepovers and whip in something meaty.

He missed as well as hitting, particularly in the first half, various attempts to hoodwink or simply outrun his man ending in a battle lost, but the cut of his gib certainly ranked amongst the more likeable on display.

Like ten others in lilywhite, he faded as the first half wore on; but it was the second half that really was the making of the man. For a start, that opening goal, advertised above as “Coming from nowhere”, more accurately came from the size fives (presumably) of Gil. Receiving the ball centrally, with back to goal and a good 30 yards from goal, and, more pertinently, with no fewer than three Palace sorts in close attendance, Gil ducked and weaved a bit, held onto the ball, held off the Palace search party, and played into space the advancing Perisic.

It may all sound simple enough, but I was rather taken by it, given that he might easily have been muscled out of things, or opted for the safer option of simply popping the thing back towards halfway. (As a fun aside, watch the replay of Kane’s header and you might also spot both Gil and Perisic themselves jumping as if to head, at the critical moment, which rather tickled me.)

As mentioned, Gil also played to perfection the pass that set up Kane’s second. Here he deserves shiny little gold stars first for spotting the opportunity; then for having the nous to realise that the ball would have been to driven at Kane at a fair lick, in order to bring home any harvest; and thirdly for taking the risk to attempt it, when the slightest inaccuracy for that eye-of-the-needle stuff would have ceded possession.
 
And thereafter Gil rather enjoyed himself, and we him. Shimmies, shoulder-dips, quick passes – the young bean managed the game without getting carried away. He will presumably remain for some time one of the lesser cabs on the rank, but who amongst us wouldn’t want to see more of him as the weeks roll on?

4. Skipp

Less impressive was young Master Skipp. Not to chide the honest fellow, for he has delivered the goods often enough, and frankly he did well to clamber out of all the extenuating circumstances that engulfed him – recent injuries, and lack of match sharpness, and so on.

In the opening seconds Skipp actually hinted at great things, picking the ball up on halfway and setting off on a hike deep into enemy territory to set up a half-chance. I duly gave the hands a rub and settled in, for great things appeared to await.

Alas, they’ll have to come another day. Thereafter, Skipp couldn’t take two steps without making a wrong decision. He did not lack willing, which is always good to see, but generally erred in just about everything he did. I did feel for him when received his yellow card mind, Perisic having fed him an unnecessarily obscure sort of pass, forcing him to have a bit of a lunge, but it summed up his evening.

A shame, because with Bissouma miles off his own high standards, Bentancur out and Hojbjerg rarely given a chance to catch his breath, an on-song Skipp would be akin to a pretty handy new signing. He will, presumably, have a chance to atone in the Cup on Saturday.

5. Sarr

As if to hammer home the fact that Skipp was a long way below par, young Sarr came on and didn’t put a foot wrong for thirty minutes.

AANP being a man of honour and principle, in the same way that I excuse Skipp his aberrations and acknowledge the mitigating circumstances, I similarly caution against too much enthusiasm for Sarr, whose admittedly strong performance came in pretty welcoming circumstances. He bounded on at 3-0 and with Palace having thrown in the towel and begun looking rather longingly at the ref to put an end to things, and in that context one would hardly say that this was ever going to be the most fraught half hour of his career.

Nevertheless, where Skipp was mistiming tackles and being caught in possession, Sarr nailed his t’s and made sensible use of p. Again, one would expect him to feature at the weekend, and I hope he does so from the off, rather than a 30-minute cameo.

Sarr had barely featured in thinking at the start of the season, when the Bentancur-Hojbjerg-Skipp-Bissouma quartet were widely cast as our midfield options, but if he can make a better fist of the ugly stuff than any of the aforementioned then he’s a pretty useful option in the second half-and-a-bit of the season.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris’ Error

Having rolled up his sleeves and put a bit of effort into fighting the good fight midweek, I suppose Monsieur Lloris had a bit of credit in the bank come 4.30pm yesterday, so it says something about his performance that he was pretty firmly established as persona non grata at AANP Towers by around 5.15pm.

Dealing first with what might, in the interests of anatomical accuracy, be described as the chest-bump, opinions will naturally differ on whether or not play ought to have been halted, and frankly that part is of pretty minimal interest over here (AANP being the philosophical sort brought up not to question the ref). Of greater concern was the sequence of choices made by Monsieur Lloris as the episode unfolded.

In the first place he exited the safety of his area, and stepped out into the big, wide world – which was a reasonable enough choice. Crucially, he was first on the scene, which seemed to justify the decision, and while I am pretty much a novice in the mystical arts of top-level goalkeeping, it seemed to me that he had achieved the most risk-laden element of the procedure, and at this point needed only to blast the thing off into the atmosphere or sidelines or wherever, to round off a successful – if rather basic – mission. One of those missions aimed simply at preventing any harm, rather than achieving any great progress.

At least that was the expectation, on having seen him reach the target a good couple of yards ahead of the Newcastle chappie. What followed, alas, was a textbook example of how to make hard-earned midweek goodwill disappear in a puff of smoke. Rather than launching the thing off amongst the stars and being rid of it, Lloris picked this moment to perform a rather curious pelvic thrust at the ball.

Now I’m not picky about aesthetics when it comes to the dirty business of clearing one’s defensive lines. There is a time for looking pretty, and a time for sneering at the pretty stuff and simply getting the job done; and when a strapping forward is haring towards your goal, the time is pretty obviously for s.a.t.p.s.a.s.g.t.j.d. And with this in mind, if the pelvic thrust had been the optimal means for clearing danger, then I’d have been all for it. “Thrust away, squire”, would have been the gist of the communique from these parts.

The trouble was, as well as looking a bit of an ass, Lloris also failed to solve the impending problem. In fact, not only did he fail to solve it, he significantly worsened it. Rather than bring the ball under control (which was presumably the intention, because no pelvic thrust in the world is going to send a ball twenty yards into touch) this daft routine simply transferred its temporary ownership from his own sphere of influence to that of the Newcastle sort.

This was Lloris’ first failing. Scholars could debate long into the night whether or not his second was as bad; either way, it prompted a pretty meaty piece of instant feedback from AANP. For having lost the ball, there then occurred the aforementioned chest-bump. Such things will happen, and a decision as to its legality or otherwise rested with those in authority. But what took the biscuit was that rather than simply getting on with the day-job after this contact, and endeavouring to prevent Callum Wilson from doing any harm, Lloris instead tried to convince the referee, VAR, the gathered hordes and the audience of millions, that some form of assault had been carried out, by dropping to the floor in a manner vastly more dramatic than the whole dance had merited.

(A helpful tip for any simulation-spotters is that if the player’s arms shoot up after contact then he’s up to some dastardly misdeed; one’s arms tend to shoot down to break one’s fall, when genuinely sent to ground.)

It amounted to the cardinal sin of failing to play to the whistle. Goalkeepers do admittedly tend to receive oddly preferential treatment from referees, but nevertheless this was a pretty risky game for Lloris to play, and I have precious little sympathy for the fatheaded oaf in opting to hit the deck rather than rescue the situation. If he had cleared the dashed thing in the first place the eventuality would have been avoided in its entirety; failing that, if he had stayed on his feet and hovered over Wilson to prevent his shot, the goal might yet have been prevented.

Whether the Wilson challenge was fair game or foul play, Lloris’ dubious choices immediately preceding and following it did little to win him the soothing tones and comforting arm around the shoulders here at AANP Towers. Withering glares were more the order of the day, and the fact that the little black book is starting to fill up a bit with these sorts of incidents about the chap does little to brighten the mood.

2. Lloris’ Passing

As if all of that were not enough, we were then also treated to Lloris’ role – understated though it was – in the second goal conceded.

Not wanting to linger too long over the gory details, but the problem had its genesis from a Lloris pass out towards Sess, which leant heavily on height and loop, and skimped a fair bit on accuracy.

Of course, there were about twenty further hoops for the Newcastle laddie to jump through before the ball ended up in the net, and if either of Sessegnon or Lenglet had registered even the faintest level of interest in their designated duties then this particular chat would be assuming a vastly rosier hue. But instead, they took one look at what was happening and waved their respective white flags – Sessegnon sticking out a leg to register his presence, Lenglet not even managing that much – and from a situation of fairly low risk by the right-hand touchline, fifty yards out, Newcastle were suddenly two up.

Lloris may not have been as directly culpable for this one as the first, but his kicking is of a standard that really ought to have the security bods giving each other a concerned look and raising the alert level from Amber to Red.

Conte-Ball seems to rely heavily upon distribution from the nether regions, and while the onus typically falls upon Dier and chums, the fact that Lloris’ passing is dreadful removes what would otherwise be a useful option. The curious fellow can manage those 5-yard goal-kicks to his centre-backs without too much calamity, but anything more adventurous than that seems to frazzle his circuits.

The modern-day goalkeeper, unfortunately, needs to be able to pick out a wing-back hugging the touchline to within a yard or so, and preferably at a height conducive to straightforward control, without the need for said wing-back to contort the limbs and stetch about eight feet. And in this respect Hugo runs into some pretty serious problems.

As mentioned, when building from a goal kick, it leaves those in question straining a bit to retain control of the thing, as such inviting pressure back. The notion of beating the opposing press is great in theory, and sometimes happens via a nifty Romero pass or whatnot – but I struggle to think of a time when Lloris has bypassed the other mob and put us on the front-foot with his passing.

And aside from goal-kicks, all manner of hollow groans ring out when our lot begin in a position of some advance, bob the ball back towards halfway and then decide that if it were done when ‘tis done then ‘twere well it were shuttled all the way back to the least competent passer on the pitch. Such hideous fare not only terminates whatever attack had been in motion, it also just about guarantees that the ball will soon be back with the opposition.

A few years back, the inability of a goalkeeper to pick out a teammate with an accurate pass would have barely made the footnotes, let alone been an agenda item; now, as we watch our back-three awkwardly shuffle left to right and back again, Lloris’ poor passing is causing something of a hindrance to our attacking play.


3. Dier

On the subject of errant passing from the back, if the name ‘Eric Dier’ isn’t burning the lips of anyone else, it dashed well is mine.

Now I appreciate that I have to tread carefully here. One does not want to upset the natives. One respects the natives. Eric Dier is a bean with his own song after all, and indeed, I’ll belt it out as lustily as the rest of them. But this train of thought, which seems to have quite some momentum behind it, that he is some sort of deep-lying font of creativity on account of his passing, is one of those lines that will have me biting the lip, and engaging in a slightly strained silence.

Credit where due, Dier can pick a lovely pass. He picked at least two of them yesterday – both, I noted, diagonals, from somewhere left of centre to a coordinate in approximately an inside-right sort of spot.

But he also, far too often for my liking, lobs the ball forward in a straight line, and gifts possession to the opposition. He, in common with those to his immediate left and right, is also a little too eager to wheel around on his axis and roll the ball back to Lloris; and if you’ve read this far you’ll know that such a manoeuvre prompts howls of anguish from AANP Towers.

I suppose in this respect he has my sympathy, because if a centre-back is forced to head back to goal – and to Lloris of all people – it reflects pretty badly on those employed ahead of him to scuttle off into space and frantically wave their arms at him. If nobody is offering Dier a reasonable passing option, what, he might well articulate, is he supposed to do?

One thing he really ought not to do is fire the ball back in a fashion that looks suspiciously like a shot at his own net, but at one point in the first half he managed to do precisely that. Now it would be pretty unreasonable to castigate the chap for this unless he made a habit of it. Even the finest amongst us rather lose the thread of things every once in a while. But when a fellow like Dier, the sort who seems to buy pretty readily into the hype about being a passer extraordinaire, ends up slapping the ball just a yard wide of his own goal when under no pressure, one starts, after removing head from hands, to reflect that our entire approach of passing out from the back is in need of some pretty drastic surgery.

4. Conte

The mood around the campfire is taking a bit of a dive, make no mistake.

Pre-match, the thought had occurred that we have been led a merry old dance by three of the traditional gang of 6 (Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd); and have toppled, albeit making the deuce of a palaver of it, various sides orbiting mid-table or lower. As such, Newcastle seemed a pretty solid test of our current status.

One might argue that we started sprightly, creating three or four reasonable chances. Skipp seemed to itch to shove things forward at every opportunity, and Sonny really ought to have put us one up. Benancur was a delight throughout.

Nevertheless, our best moments, as ever, came from the speedy counter-attack. The pattern was not one in which we, as the home team, asserted ourselves and hammered away. The inability to build from the back again loomed over our play.

Casually gifting two pretty avoidable goals did not help things, but these seemed completely in keeping with our play at the moment – sloppy; no strong plan or belief in playing from the back; frankly poor-quality football.

Our Glorious Leader took to the soapbox afterwards to bleat his usual refrains about needing more time and money and such bobbins, and one appreciates that it is unreasonable to expect us to have blown away all-comers. But after a year at the controls, one would reasonably expect us to blow away some comers. After a year, one would reasonably expect our football to be a little more enjoyable to drink in – and not to rely so strongly on Kulusevski.

Conte rarely wastes an opportunity to drone on about more transfers, and again one sees his point. But while some amongst our number do peddle some rot, there are plenty of talented sorts there – enough to play football that brings to the soul a little more joy than the current slop. Moreover, if he is set to walk away next summer – and there seems a moderate chance he might – it is questionable whether there is any sense in stuffing a chequebook in his hands and encouraging him to go to Disneyland.

The concern is that Conte seems actively to be encouraging the dreary stuff. He could arrange our troops to set about things with more fizz and bang; he chooses not to.

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. At Least Lloris Put On A Show, What?

This being a new day I thought I’d begin with a once-over of the positives from last night. Alarmingly, there was in fact only one, but never mind that, and step forward Monsieur Lloris.

There’s a train of thought that it’s a bit redundant to bleat, “We would have lost by such and such an amount if not for our goalkeeper,” because the whole point is that the fellow is our goalkeeper, and that making those saves is precisely his job within our team – but nevertheless seeing everyone in front of him simply melt away time after time, forcing the poor chap into about eighty different extended reaches, did seem a bit much.

Oddly enough, Lloris’ evening had threatened to get off to a pretty horrendous start. Just about his first involvement occurred when a United sort spotted him off his line after a botched clearance, and attempted a lob. These are usually pretty anticlimactic interludes, promising much but typically fizzling out on launch, and so it proved as the shot barely reached head height.

Now I’m no goalkeeper, but if I see a ball gently float towards me I prefer to take the old-fashioned approach and catch it, ideally keeping any additional fuss to a minimum. And this had appeared the designated tactic of Lloris, until at the last minute he appeared to lose control of just about all of his critical limbs, and somehow, from a standing start, ended up flailing around on the ground, only just managing to pat at the ball, and diverting it marginally wide of the post.

It had seemed a pretty ominous start, and had me bracing myself from one of those nerve-riddled routines of his between the sticks. However, in one of those nifty little quirks of fate, that moment actually turned out to be the cue for everyone else to peddle absolute rot, while Lloris transformed into something vastly beyond the realms of mortal man, pulling off a whole sequence of full-stretch saves from around that point until the end of the match an hour later.

One in particular (from Rashford, if I recall correctly) had him in full flight in one direction, but having the presence of mind to stick out a paw in the other direction, whence he had come, creating the overall effect of a chappie who had mastered the matrix and was able to defy physics by bobbing around faster than the eye could make sense of. It just seemed rather a shame that this whole exhibition was of pretty minimal value. I mean, it stopped us losing about eight-nil, so I suppose it could be argued that it did in fact teem at the edges with value, but you know what I mean. Losing cause and whatnot. Still, bravo Hugo – which is more than any other of the blighters deserve.

2. The Fabled 3-5-2

With the regular 3-4-3 having made dashed hard work of such luminaries as Forest and Everton so far this season, in recent days you couldn’t have lobbed a brick in North London without it hitting on the head someone pleading for Our Glorious Leader to switch to 3-5-2.

All such wishes were granted last night, as injuries to Richarlison and Kulusevski rather tied poor old Conte’s hands on this front (admittedly I think most reasonable folk of lilywhite persuasion would have gnawed off their own arm to have Kulusevski restored, he being pretty much the missing link in all this). And moreover, with Emerson by his own idiocy absented, we armchair experts even had the luxury of Doherty on the right. As such, the pre-match sentiment at AANP Towers was one of cautious optimism. Quietly smug, knowing smiles were very much the order of the day. This one seemed winnable.

Or at least it did until the game actually started, at which point it pretty swiftly fell apart at the seams. Having howled away that we were getting outnumbered in midfield with the 3-4-3, the sight of our lot having rings run around them in a 3-5-2 had the AANP map turning a pretty impressive shade of crimson. Numbers of pairs of legs, it appeared, had not a dashed thing to do with it. Quite frankly, our lot were utter rot.

It’s all very well pointing out that United were on pretty spiffing form, but if any team can make Fred look like a master of all he surveys then one has to wonder if there’s some deep-rooted failure lies within. And sure enough, the problems amongst our lot were so numerous that I started to look about me for parchment and quill, for simply trying to keep track in my head was becoming increasingly problematic.

Defensively, despite having five fine specimens neatly lined up across the back, with a further three doing the doorman thing in front of them, there were great yawning gaps out wide. When United did tuck inside, our heroes seemed pretty spooked by the novel approach being used against them, of quick, one-touch passing, and gaps promptly appeared amongst our clustered bodies. Out on our left, all of the years of experience and League Title medals about his frame did little to prompt Ivan Perisic to stop Anthony chap cutting infield with gay abandon.

There was a train of thought within the AANP circle that part of the problem was that Bentancur seemed to have licence to roam forward, leaving us understaffed further south. While true enough at the outset, thereafter it seemed that even if Bentancur got his coordinates bang on it was of little use.

Moreover, the 3-5-2 meant that there was no useful means by which to stop their wide chaps chugging forward at will, as Sonny and Kane were both narrow.

All of the above, and various other failings, created the bizarre scenario that our massed defensive ranks seemed bizarrely incapable of robbing United of the ball outside our area, or preventing either their passes or shots in around the same vicinity.

On top of which, whenever our lot did stumble upon the ball they made a point of stumbling back off it again pretty sharpish. Not one of them seemed to have the good sense to seek out a teammate when in possession, the drill seeming to be that life might as well be made as difficult as possible. And unable to play beyond the United press, the net result was a pretty incessant barrage of all things United, from bally start to bally finish.

The 3-5-2 will see better days, but by golly this was a mess.

3. Conte

Rather awkwardly, the whole sorry affair does rather make one shoot a dubious look at Senor Conte, and clear the throat in meaningful manner. Knocking over Forest and such rot is one thing; and if we were losing with grace and elan to Top Four types that would be another; but simply mooching about on the edge of one’s own area and waiting to be blown away, against each of Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd, really is a bit thick, what?

It’s the style of play, of course. Watching the likes of Newcastle and Woolwich bound about the place with gusto and attacking intent does make one scratch the chin and wonder why our mob couldn’t be cajoled into something similar. It’s not as if we lack the talented individuals for such things.

Instead, we have a slicker version of Jose’s anti-football, all defence and countering. Against the weaker teams it’s rarely much fun to watch; and against the better teams we barely hang on to the coat-tails.

The counter-arguments, however, are pretty loaded. It would be a pretty significant dereliction of duty as a fan of the good ship Hotspur to forget quite what a stinker poor old Nuno had left us in, and quite what a job Conte did of dragging the club up by the armpits and into the Top Four.

Moreover, by the end of last season, the football was starting to flow and the goals fly in from all angles. There’s a pretty reasonable train of thought that if we can get to the World Cup in or around the Top Four, then a similar gallop in the second half of the season, possibly nudged along by a January signing or two, would be just the ticket.

And then, as alluded to earlier, there’s Kulusevski. Now a cautionary note ought not just to be struck, but given the full gong treatment, because nothing increases the value of a young nib like his absence from the team. One can gloss over how good he actually is – simply the fact that he is not in a team that is performing badly is generally enough to convince the human mind that the lad in question is the answer to all prayers. As recently as last week this was the case for Doherty; already it is becoming the case for Spence; and one does not have to cast the mind back too far to find umpteen other examples.

Nevertheless, Kulusevski became pretty critical to our play in his guise as ‘Johnnie Linking Defence to Attack’, and also providing our lot with some creativity beyond simply ‘Kane Diagonalling the Thing into Son’. That surge in the second half of last season, to which I alluded above, owed much to the fact that Kulusevski was fit and firing in just about every game. His absence is keenly felt. Bring him back, or so goes the narrative, and the Jose-esque dross currently being peddled morphs into something vastly more palatable.

Either way, the garbage on show last night was nowhere good enough. The visit of Newcastle this Sunday therefore takes on a rather meatier hue – not quite Top Four sorts yet, they are certainly a notch or two above Everton and the like, so our performance as much as our result will be watched with a pretty critical eye.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Everton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bissouma, and Conte’s Tactical Switch

My Spurs-supporting chum Dave displayed quite the knack for trenchant observation when he summed up our first half as, “A lot of huff and puff.” I’m not sure too much expansion is required there. It made a pleasant change, I suppose, to see our lot start like they meant it and have the lion’s share of possession. And all of them were red of face and positively dripping with willing; but come half-time “huff” and “puff” were about the sum of it.

And I daresay that if left unchecked this rather dull routine, of poking at the Everton penalty area and promptly being repelled, might have gone on all night, but for the intervention of the gods, of all things. The gods of calf injuries, specifically, which was pretty rotten luck on poor old Richarlison, who had clattered around the place in his usual meaty style.  

But off he tottered, and at this point the plot took quite the unexpected turn. Being a simple soul, my immediate reaction on seeing Richarlison exit was to assume that one of Gil or Lucas would be thrust on in his place, to continue with the aforementioned r.d. routine. I mean to say, if one has a contraption, a small part of which snaps off, what could make more sense than to replace it with another identical part?

The Brains Trust, however, were evidently struck with alternative modes of thought, and on gambolled Bissouma, sprightly as you like. At which point, I furrowed the brow and narrowed the eyes, like nobody’s business. A defensive-minded nib for an attack-minded nib did not strike me as the sort of moment of inspiration for which The Big Cheese earns his bulging monthly envelope.

Of course you don’t need me to tell you that far from diminishing our front-foot potency, this rearranging of the pieces proved a tactical masterstroke, swinging the entire affair in our favour. What we lost in a third attacker we more than made up for in just about everyone else on the pitch beetling north at least ten yards, and where once Everton were casually enough knocking back everything we’d sent in their direction, they now flailed a fair bit with more than just a hint of skin-of-the-teeth about their defending.

Most obviously, Bentancur and Hojbjerg were able to pop up in vastly more advanced spots, safe in the knowledge that Bissouma was manning the rear. As if to hammer home this fact, the pair of them combined for our second, in what struck me as possibly the first time since they started playing together that they had both oiled into the final third at the same time.

Similarly, I can barely remember a time since the better days of Dele Alli that we had been graced with the presence of a bona fide midfielder arriving in the penalty area to see what it was all about – and yet there was Hojbjerg, most advanced of the lot, to put the game to bed.

One would need to get into the realm of parallel universes and whatnot to be absolutely sure, but it seems a reasonable bet that neither Bentancur’s little foray down the right nor Hojbjerg’s guest appearance in the area would have come to pass were it not for the fact that Bissouma was on the pitch and sticking to his defensive drill.

Bissouma himself was neat and tidy in what he did – a couple of busy snaffles here and there certainly won over the punters – but it was not so much what he did on the ball that won the day as simply being in existence. That is to say, by simply being on the pitch and in the right area, he got the rest of the machinery clicking.

Now this being the case, I was inclined to hoist Senor Conte up on my shoulders and carry him all the way home, slinging a garland around his neck for good measure. After all, and as mentioned, the Bissouma-for-Richarlison gambit had been a long way down the AANP list of options circa. minute 50, so I was mightily impressed by the chap’s lateral thinking.

And yet when I put to various fellow lilywhites this sentiment of gushing praise for Conte, they have generally greeted me with that funny look I so often get, the visual equivalent of a pat on the head for being innocent and rather simple. Because apparently, to everyone else in N17, the injection of Bissouma had been the most obvious thing in the world! Apparently nobody else even considered the use of Lucas or Gil, on account of their respectively being unfit and waif-like. So, what had struck me as a moment of tactical genius was actually pretty standard fare to the rest of you blighters, but there we go I suppose.

2. Everton Illustrate The Flaws of Conte-Ball

A digression at this point, for I noted in various post-match interviews that assorted members of the Everton mob were glumly pointing out that they felt they should have won. Had they taken either or both of those first half chances, went the gist, they would have fancied their chances.

Now, one sees the logic here, and the hypothetical is a reasonable one – had they been one or two goals up at half-time, there was little from the first half to suggest that we would have come back.

The issue here is that this argument required firstly that they took either of their only two chances – which they didn’t – and secondly that they avoided any defensive mistakes – which they didn’t. They missed both their chances, and Pickford then made a mess of a couple of things for the penalty.

I bring up all this because the Everton approach seemed to the AANP eye to have much about it of the style Conte has had us peddling in pretty much every game so far this season. And while it has worked for us, Everton yesterday illustrated quite how difficult it is to execute properly. It required all chances to be taken in attack, and no mistakes to be made in defence.

By contrast, in the post-Bissouma era yesterday we apparently had something like 8 shots in the 10 minutes immediately after the substitution – which rather relieves the pressure on the forwards. With that approach, one does not need to bury the head in the hands and bawl in frustration at a missed chance, because another one will be along soon enough.

The approach adopted yesterday, of playing higher up the pitch and fashioning numerous chances, seems vastly preferable to the usual Conte way, both to watch and in terms of the odds of actually winning games.

3. Bentancur

I touched earlier upon the positive impact of Bissouma upon the geographic inclinations of Bentancur, but it would be a disservice to the latter to suggest that his good deeds were due solely to the introduction of the former.

Far from it. Bentancur struck me as the standout performer throughout, beavering away aross all blades of turf like nobody’s business and silkily linking things together like it were the most natural thing in the world. The fellow’s passing is neat and tidy when aiding and abetting the defensive mob; but rather more inventive and exciting when given licence to shove on a bit, and both elements were on display yesterday.

Nor is he the sort who’ll quietly slink into the shadows when more robust duties are required. He can consider himself pretty hard done by to have been cautioned, for his tackling was generally in the ‘Firm But Fair’ category throughout, and that yellow card ought not to suggest otherwise.

All of which made it rather appropriate that he was the driving force behind our second goal. His little legs having wheeled away non-stop all game, one understood Harry Kane popping the ball up the flank and simply looking at him expectantly. Where others might have flung skywards an irritated hand or two, Bentancur scuttled after it in precisely the manner he’d scuttled after everything throughout the game. On top of which, he then had the presence of mind to look beyond the more straightforward pass to Sonny, and instead picked out Hojbjerg in an infinitely better position.

4. Doherty

It is perhaps a little mean-spirited, but with Emerson Royal’s domestic suspension still ongoing I found myself absolutely pleading with Matt Doherty to put in a bravura performance that might consign to the annals – or at least to first reserve – the willing but lamentably limited Brazilian.

The first half showing threatened to disappoint. It was not that Doherty was particularly bad, but rather that nobody in lilywhite found their groove. Everton had plenty of numbers back in defence, and whereas Perisic on the other side could resort to crossing with either foot, Doherty’s attacking game comprises one-twos and nifty darts – precisely the sort of fare that Everton’s massed ranks were able to stifle.

However, as with various others, Doherty was able to disengage a shackle or two once Bissouma arrived. Seemingly gripped by a greater spirit of adventure, he made the sort of forward bursts that Emerson will also make; but, crucially, seemed to have a vastly superior grasp of his options once there.

And various elements of his repertoire were duly exhibited. We were treated to runs towards the byline, outside the area; runs infield, to facilitate nifty diagonal passes; and even a couple of shots from inside the area – one of which led to the penalty.

Of course, it might be that Conte issues a very specific set of instructions – positional, distributional or along some other metric – that Emerson follows to the letter and Doherty cannot nail for love nor money. As a layman, however, I struggle to see how anyone of sound mind and pure intention would resort to Emerson over Doherty again, after seeing yesterday’s performance and comparing it to the countless maddening displays by the Brazilian.

5. Kane

As ever, it is easy to take for granted that rotter Harry Kane, particularly when his goals are of the scruffy ilk (or penalties – which even then does him a disservice, because despite the midweek miss I don’t think I’ve seen a better penalty-taker in all my puff). But when Kane hits something like his top form he becomes quite the specimen, and at the moment he appears to be doing precisely that.

His most recent goals may indeed have been three penalties and one off the shoulder, but there were moments yesterday that prompted a knowing grin to spread across the AANP map, for the evidence points to a fellow who is reaching the peak of his powers and is fully aware of it. In particular, his volley of a ball that dropped across his body and from the heavens, was a thing of some wonder, being the sort of technique that would have resulted in mere mortals shanking the thing off towards the corner flag, and quite possibly have splaying a limb or two about the place.

There was also a spin-and-shot in the second half, which deserved better than arrowing straight down the gullet of the goalkeeper, but which again served notice of the chap’s current sharpness.

For all his talents, I am struck just about every game by how bad his control is (witness his first touch in the build-up to our second, when the ball bounced off his frame as if hitting a wooden door), and at times this has extended to rather ungainly, bobbling attempts to dribble that probably seem a terrific idea in his head but manifest as clumsy stumbles into traffic. Both yesterday and midweek, however, Kane even seemed to hit upon the art of close-control dribbling, beating one man and nutmgegging another before popping off a shot yesterday, to add to his run past four defenders that earned a penalty on Wednesday.

All of which glosses over the fine creative work he does when he drops deeper. As mentioned, his initial touch in the build-up to our second goal yesterday was clunky in the extreme, but once he had the dashed thing under control his creative juices were up and away, feeding Bentancur with just the right weight, into space rather than into feet and in the process doing much to ease the nerves of those final few minutes.

While the first half was something of a struggle, the combination of incisive attacks and controlled possession made for vastly more enjoyable viewing in the second, and added to the promise of the midweek Frankfurt game, it all has a bit of excited chatter about AANP Towers that perhaps, finally, our lot might just have started to click.

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Spurs 3-2 Eintracht Frankfurt: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg

Hojbjerg seems to be a chappie who divides opinion amongst the better half of North London. The Brains Trust evidently rate him, as they keep him out there every available minute, but if the baying mob ever need someone in whom to stick the knife and give it a twist, the initials P.E.H. are rarely far from the lips.

This can at least partly be explained by the fact that he rarely gets the more glamorous assignments. While Sonny is belting volleys so hard they rip the net from its moorings, poor old Hojbjerg’s matchday highlights tend to occur in locations such as the halfway line, obscured by flailing limbs from all sides and typically taking take the form of an ungainly lunge to prevent catastrophe befalling in three passes time.

It is a measure of the aplomb with which he carried out the most menial tasks going that Hojbjerg managed to catch the AANP eye as one of the night’s premier cast members. For make no mistake, this was not a victory fashioned from a solid back-three. Far from it. This was a win built upon the occasional clicking of our various attacking parts – the defence appeared generally to be using a completely different playbook. In fact, if anything the defence seemed oddly intent upon sabotaging the whole thing at every opportunity, and without too much subtlety either.

Step forward Master Hojbjerg, who from the off made clear he wasn’t in the market for any defensive clownery. While those around – or, more specifically, behind – him bumped into each other and played fast and loose with possession, Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself as a matter of personal pride that no individual duel would be lost, and for good measure any loose ball would be seized.

On top of which, the sound fellow also identified the value in adding his presence to our attacks, and could regularly be spotted tagging along as our heroes motored over halfway and towards the Frankfurt net.

Indeed, such was his daring in this regard that he even managed to do that for which we’ve been crying out from our right wing-backs all season, viz. scuttling past a couple of opponents on the right, reaching the byline and delivering the perfect pass, in teeing up Sonny for his wonder-strike.

There’s an important asterisk to shove in at this point, for it should not be considered that this assist was the sole contribution of the man, nor that for this reason alone has he earned top billing for the day at AANP Towers. Had he simply done his best Emerson Royal impression at this juncture and slowed to a stop before knocking the ball into the nearest defender and frantically waving his arms, Hojbjerg’s would still have been a standout display. His cross for Sonny simply added a little garnish, to a performance that was otherwise drenched in sweat and lactic acid.

2. Sessegnon

Fans of A-listers are no doubt demanding to know when the acclaim for Sonny and Kane will kick in, but next on the roster is young Sessegnon.

Following the Hojbjerg example, Sessegnon made sure he carried out all the dull admin work, diligently tracking his man and dangling an appropriate leg, and generally adopting a risk-free approach to life when in his own half that some of his more experienced associates might have done well to ape.

But it was when revving up the engine and hurtling off towards the Frankfurt goal that Sessegnon really caught the eye. It is hardly a secret that The Conte System involves frequent knowing nods towards the wing-backs when on the front-foot, so it was a joy to see 50% of those wing-backs taking the hint and hitting the final third at a fair old lick at every opportunity.

Sessegnon created the headed chance for Richarlison in the opening knockings; weighted a lovely pass for one of Sonny’s saved chances; wormed his way into two clear goalscoring opportunities himself; and, while the record books will simply gloss over the fact without so much as a blot of ink, his head of steam into the Frankfurt area handily lured away the last remaining defender, which allowed Sonny the space to spank home his second.

Those who know AANP best will be aware that I’ve generally regarded young Sessegnon with a rather stern and unforgiving eye, but that same knowledgeable mob would also attest that I’m nothing if not fair – and if the young whelp plans on making a habit of performances like this he’ll be most welcome to pull up a perch and enjoy a splash of the good stuff at my expense.

3. Sonny and Kane

The murmur around the place at about the hour mark was that this might have been the best our lot have played all season.

(Of course, it couldn’t last, and despite not adding the fourth goal that would have sewn the thing up, they rather regressed somewhat as the game wore on, in much the style of a mob who had just added a fourth goal and sewn the thing up. On top of which, they somehow managed to make playing against ten men look like playing against twelve, which had me clutching at my fellow man in alarm on more than one occasion; but our lot will persist in making the hardest possible work of things.)

Back to the good times, and before and after half-time it would be no exaggeration to say that at times our lot absolutely purred. Key to this, it struck me, was that, for possibly the first time this season, Sonny and Kane simultaneously found something like their groove. To date it seems to have been one or t’other. On Tuesday, it was both. On top of which Richarlison was as eager as ever, all elbows and upper-body strength, generally making himself a nuisance to opponents and a most useful accomplice to teammates.

I banged on rather interminably at the weekend about how Son’s powers are reduced considerably when he drops deep and tries to hold up or link play, as opposed to a far more potent deployment at the apex of things. Against Frankfurt however, he was restored to his former glories. The ball was generally pinged towards the vicinity of Kane, handily attracting Frankfurters to him like moths to a flame, and Sonny raced off into the wide open expanses ahead.

It brought about two goals and numerous other glorious moves, the sort that decency really demanded ought to have resulted in further additions to the scoreline. And various other supporting cast members, no doubt inspired by what they saw, were moved to contribute in their own specific ways. As mentioned, Hojbjerg and Sess contributed to Son’s second; and even Emerson, otherwise as fat-headed as ever, pinged the pass into Kane that set up Sonny for our first of the night.

As mentioned, Kane seemed to have the Frankfurt defence on the fabled piece of string about which the N17 faithful love to sing, manoeuvring them in whichever direction he fancied in order to release his chums. This seemed to be the tactic of choice, and was working a treat; so you can picture my surprise when Kane took it upon himself to set off on the charge and stumble his way past four defenders before being bunged to the ground. Now admittedly this was not Ginola vs Barnsley in ‘99, having about it more clunk than class, and owing a certain debt of gratitude to the good old-fashioned ricochet.

Nevertheless, it was a heck of a run for the chap, who had a look in his eyes that said “I will not be beaten (unless anyone touches me in the area, in which case I’m hitting the deck pronto”). In a season that has oddly failed to come alight to date, that run by Kane, coupled with Son’s volley, provided the biggest hint yet that our forward line might be about to spring into life.

4. Gil and The All-Action-No-Plot Finale

As mentioned, having been well in control, our lot contrived to very nearly throw the whole blasted thing down the pan in the utterly bizarre final ten or so.

As the hour mark came and went, and despite my imploring yowls from afar, those on the pitch resolutely stuck to the approach of complacently mooching from side to side rather than hammering away at the Frankfurt goal. Even when Frankfurt were reduced to ten, the party line seemed to be to conserve energy for future fights.

Our Glorious Leader can take some part of the blame for this too, the move to replace half the outfield players bringing about a noticeable dip in standards. (One understands in theory the decision to take off Dier when on a yellow card, but it nevertheless struck me as an ill thought-through gambit, resulting as it did in the dreaded combination of Emerson and Royal on the right side of defence.)

With the urgency visibly draining away from our mob, it was utterly predictable that Frankfurt should pull one back – via the usual dreadful contribution from Emerson – leaving the entire viewing public to endure major coronary episodes, right up to the final kick of the game.

In the midst of all this poor old Bryan Gil was flung on. As cameos go it was about as entertaining as they came, albeit revealing nothing we didn’t know before: the lad is a box of tricks, and boasts not an ounce of muscle on his frame. Each of these aspects were illustrated for all to see, as he twisted a succession of defenders inside out before being clattered out of the way by one whose patience had run out.

The whole episode of the second penalty was rather a lot to take in, featuring as it did a Gil run being abruptly terminated when he forgot to take the ball with him; after which a Frankfurt johnnie rather charmingly waited until everyone had vacated the defence before gifting it back to him; at which point he seemed set to dribble past everybody who came within ten yards of him; before being upended so that Kane could belt the penalty off into the High Road.

Gil might still have had his moment of glory, when Kane had the opportunity to roll him the ball for a tap-in; but, seemingly convinced that what his failed penalty had lacked was even more power, Kane absolutely blasted the cross towards the poor chap, who produced a horizontal leap that looked mightily impressive, but was ultimately of little value given his failure to be eight feet tall.

Thus we ended the night high on action and pretty empty on plot, as is our way. Still, the improvement in attacking interplay and numerous clear chances created – without resorting to sitting back and countering – bodes very well. On top of which, the pre-match consensus had been that a win, delivered in any manner, was crucial – so for all the late madness, this ultimately was a job well done.

Tweets hither

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Spurs match reports

Sporting 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness – gallivanting the States, timings a bit off

1. Emerson Royal

Fans of E. Royal Esquire – and there must be some, by the law of averages and whatnot – might want to avert their eyes at this point, or go for a spot of shut-eye or something. The signs are ominous for him after all: after a late and pretty thorough collapse, in which the man himself was in the vicinity for both goals conceded, and also bungled the best of the chances we created at t’other end, for him then to be first on the list of Talking Points, in a rag with a bit of a history of sticking the knife into him, suggests that the following is not going to be garlands around his neck and rapturous applause.

He actually contributed one of our better first half moments, digging out a cross from the by-line that flashed past around five rather panicked Sporting dignitaries and right across the face of the goal, dash it, with not a single natty sky-blue uniform in sight.

So to shower the fellow only with oaths and criticism would be unfair. In the first half in particular it was pretty much a Standard Emerson Royal Production out on the right – little to recommend it, but nothing too egregiously wrong either.

But part of the problem is that Conte-ball requires a heck of a lot more than a Standard Emerson Royal Production on the right. Conte-ball relies greatly upon the wing-backs to do much of the heavy-lifting going forward.

Out on the left Master Perisic had the right idea, in theory at least. Forward he bobbed, and when he slung in his crosses they were creations of some quality, ticking various useful boxes like ‘Trajectory’, ‘Pace’, ‘Direction’ et cetera. It has been some time since the good ship Hotspur has boasted a fellow capable of such inviting delivery from out wide, and while, all told, this was not his finest hour (in particular, when we were out of possession the Sporting nibs seemed to tiptoe past him at will) one at least saw some benefits to his presence.

Emerson, on the other hand, yet again demonstrated some willing to attack without ever really researching the detail of what this would entail. Quite why the hell Matt Doherty has remained persona non grata this season, particularly after warming to the role at the end of last season, beats the dickens out of me, but there we go. Emerson it is.

And Emerson it was who thrice failed to deliver his lines when the Sporting back-line did its Red Sea thing and allowed him to swan right through to goal. Not necessarily the easiest chances in history, for sure, but I’d have given a limb or two for any of those chances to have fallen to one of the front-three (well, on current form perhaps not Sonny, eh?)

That said, I suspect we would all have settled for a point as the clock ticked over to 90. Now to lay the blame squarely at Emerson’s door for that opener really would be a bit thick. For a start it was a peach of a delivery, definitely in the realm of ‘Mighty Difficult to Defend’. Moreover, the post mortem suggests that the Sporting fellow who did the deed was the man-marking responsibility of that rotter Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Emerson ended up closest to the action at the key juncture, and had he attacked the ball with the conviction of a man whose very life depended upon getting to it first he would have cleared the thing with plenty left in the account.

One nil was bad enough, but if Emerson’s failings in the first goal could arguably be excused, he really ought to be given a good public thrashing for his role in the second.

Senor Romero does not escape blame here either, making a pretty ham-fisted attempt – and I use the term pretty dashed loosely – at preventing the laddie getting his shot off, and not for the first time in recent weeks.

But it was Royal whose input really made the lip curl in utter disgust. He simply let the chap waltz straight past him, for heaven’s sake. Through his legs, forsooth! Shoulders slumped, pace down, energy barely registering, looking for all the world like he was simply off for an amble in the other direction.

Should he be delivering such high quality in the other 89 minutes of this and every other match as to make himself undroppable I would probably wave him along after a sharp click or two of the tongue (as I essentially do with Messrs Kane and Romero). But Emerson is anything but undroppable. Hook the bounder, fit Doherty for the necessary costume and let’s at least benefit from the latter’s attacking contributions.

2. Lloris

Heaven knows it was a thump and a half to the solar plexus to lose the bally thing thusly, but if there were one amongst our number who would have been excused an even heftier curse or two it was probably poor old Monsieur Lloris.

The poor sap appeared to have saved us a point with his flying leap at what had appeared to be the death, tipping around the post at full stretch one of those curling efforts whose trajectory seemed to scream ‘Bottom Corner’. Coming as it did in minute 89 it seemed a reasonable move to thank the chap for rescuing a draw, before simply bunging away the corner and awaiting the final whistle.

A dashed waste then, to see the resulting corner fly straight back into the net so earnestly protected just moments before, but sometimes life takes these opportunities to illustrate that if it is not one damned thing it will be another.

Had things petered out goallessly I fancy that Lloris would have been a solid bet for the Outstanding Performer gong, at least from our lot. When Sporting counter-attacked for the first time, way back in the in the early knockings, Lloris was on hand to do the full-stretch thing; and when Edwards dusted off his quite sensational Maradona impression it was again left to Lloris’ reflexes to keep the net undisturbed. He, if no-one else, seemed to merit a point.

3. The Son – Richarlison – Kulusevski Love Triangle

Conte has long established himself as one who knows his beans, so there will be precious little criticism of his preferred methods of skinning cats from this quarter, but I nevertheless allowed myself a raised eyebrow when the team news filtered in. Having banged on about the need for squad depth at various points since his N17 coronation, it is a tad rummy to see him so wedded to near enough the same XI, and galling when both performance and result fall flat.

Most eye-catching was this business of again selecting Kulusevski as the odd man out, while Sonny again started. This is of course a point under the heading of ‘Form’ rather than ‘Class’, and I’m not sure any one of sound mind doubts that Sonny will tearing strips out of opposing defences soon enough (indeed, his contribution in getting the Marseille monsieur sent off last week should not be forgotten in a hurry).

But frankly the fellow is off the boil, while Kulusevski has noticeably upped the overall performance level as soon as ushered in, no matter what the role he is asked to fulfil.

Richarlison, like Kulusevski, seems a pill who is on an upward form trajectory, similarly providing a series of headaches to opponents. The understanding of and partnership with Kane could do with a little finessing – witness the mistimed runs for one-on-ones that were flagged offside – but in general the fellow is worth his place.

Now I must hold up a paw or two and confess that I’m not quite sure who plays on which side if Sonny is removed and the equation becomes Richarlison-Kane-Kulusevski, and it might be that there is a significant impediment to this set-up. Frankly, however, I’m inclined to think that such an issue ought to be surmountable for these three. Grown men and all that.

Who knows what plans Our Glorious Leader had had in place for the postponed City game, and what plans he has in place for the upcoming Leicester game – but for the time being at least, it would seem uncontroversial to pluck Sonny from the frontline and utilise Kulusevski.  

4. It’s Been Coming

A bitter pill and all that, and I’d guarded pretty zealously the concept of picking up points while playing badly – but now that we’ve lost, and the dust is settling, I do scratch the bean and wonder if this might be a useful prompt. Encourage the assorted cast members to buck up their ideas, if you know what I mean?

While we sit prettily enough in the Premier League table, and have had a couple of tricky fixtures, I’m not sure we’ve played particularly well for more than half an hour in any game so far this season.

The trend had actually been to start each game with a dreadful, dirge-like apathy, so in that respect at least one improvement was made yesterday – our lot started each half full of beans, pressing high and generally trying to impose themselves. But yet again, it was rather fleeting stuff, and on balance we looked as likely to concede as to score.

As mentioned above, I’m pretty reluctant to chide Conte, so it is in a spirit of well-meaning altruism that I suggest a couple of changes, to either or both of personnel or playing style. If wing-backs or central midfielders need rearranging then rearrange like the dickens; if a more creative centre would deliver the eggs then inject creativity like the stuff is going out of fashion. Either way, this particular mob has a lot more talent than has been displayed in the last couple of months.

Frankly, the AANP dollar is still on qualification from the CL Group Stage and a Top Four finish, but we might as well try to make it a little easier for ourselves, what?

Another of those polite AANP requests: if any of you fine folk know of Vegas venues that show Premier League games, do be a frightful sport and wing over the details, would you? Much obliged.

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Spurs match reports

West Ham 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Half: Actually Not Too Bad

Obviously when sifting through the wreckage, shaking the head sadly and tutting knowingly, it seems almost inappropriate to reflect that in the first half things had actually been pootling along fairly comfortably. And yet, when the curtain came down at the halfway stage the mood at AANP Towers was that this was probably the best we’d looked since Day 1. A low bar, admittedly, but still.

For a start, whereas at Forest on Sunday the entire concept of a midfield was ignored and everyone involved just slapped the ball up to the front three at the earliest opportunity, in the first half last night our lot pinged the thing through the pitch in neat, little diagonals. From defence the ball would roll along to Hojbjerg or Kane dropping deep; and from there be worked in another neat little diagonal to Kulusevski or Sonny or Perisic; and the net result was that we regularly worked our way from back to front in bright and breezy fashion. Although none of this was remotely Brazil 1970, our opponents seemed to have their minds blown by it, simply standing around gawping as our heroes slid passes around them at half pace.  

The biggest early impediment to all this was that blasted VAR delay, after which our lot rather dozed off and the other lot remembered their obligations. Even so, by half-time it did feel like anything less than victory would represent a pretty major faux pax on our part.

In particular I was rather taken by the way that rotter Harry Kane made use of the wide, open spaces nearer halfway, West Ham seemingly oblivious to the trouble he can cause from such positions and he accordingly picking forward passes hither and thither.

Perisic was another who caught the AANP eye, ever willing to explore the lane ahead of him and ever able to deliver a decent cross. Indeed, the winnings from Perisic’s recent crosses have been considerable – the VAR incident here, the penalty against Forest on Sunday, the late equaliser against Chelsea (from a corner admittedly) and a near-miss header from Kane against Wolves.

On top of which, the fellow is as wily as they come, well-versed in the murky arts that facilitate the shielding of the ball and winning of free-kicks and whatnot. Not since Edgar Davids have we been blessed with one of these more experienced eggs, who manages to deliver the goods with little more than a knowing wink and spot of upper-body muscle.

2. Our Goal

I alluded earlier to the crispness of some of our first half interplay from defence onwards, and rarely was this better exemplified than in our goal, a move of such slickness it looked like they’d been rehearsing it for weeks.

In the first place it came about when the defensive siren was being sounded, with the other lot on the attack and attempting to tiptoe their way into our area. At this juncture Eric Dier made a couple of his better life-choices, firstly in stepping forward from the defensive line to intercept an opposing forward pass. This having been done he then rattled through the options, and rather than belting the ball to within an inch of its life, slid the thing about ten yards north to the waiting Kane.

As mentioned, despite having turned into an art-form the practice of dropping deep, and having given fair warning of his ability in this sector for a good three or four years now, West Ham seemed utterly oblivious to the threat posed by Harry Kane in such situations. There were few complaints from AANP Towers. Kane collected the ball ten yards outside his own area, toddled along with it another ten yards and then biffed it out to Kulusevski, in about the time it takes to murmur, “Defence into attack”.


One of the marvellous things about Kulusevski is that he is the sort of bean who’s happy to run first and think later, seemingly living by the maxim that life will present a solution further down the line. Having collected the pass from Kane around the halfway line he injected a little more urgency into the move, flicking the dial from “Saunter” to “Gallop”, which in turn was a signal for Kane and Sonny to rev up and pick their supportive spots. Kane went outside, Sonny inside, and by the time Kulusevski had arrived at the edge of the West Ham area all sorts of options were presenting themselves, fitting confirmation of the Swede’s aforementioned life motto.

It would be easy to overlook, but in dinking inwards, giving the impression of being the sort of fruit who’s about to ping a shot with his left clog, Kulusevski did just enough to sway all three claret shirts around him in one direction, leaving the streets free for Kane to charge off in the other direction. As his pièce de résistance, Kulusevski then timed his flicked pass to perfection, ensuring that Kane was onside and his view unimpaired for the climax of the piece.

Sonny’s luck being what it is these days, an opposing sort got in first to poke the ball home, but rarely has an own goal been crafted with such beauty and precision.

As mentioned, come half-time, although a long way from first gear, AANP gazed upon the breadth of the domain and greeted it with a fairly care-free shrug. Matters seemed in hand.

3. Their Goal

Matters, however, then pretty swiftly u-turned. For a bod who appears to pride himself, and build entire empires, on defensive organisation, one can imagine that Senor Conte would have been out for blood after observing the goal we conceded, sloppiness oozing from its every pore.

At the time the throw-in was (rather dubiously, to my beady eye) taken, both Perisic and Hojbjerg were looking in directions other than the ball, which at any level of football is pretty thick stuff.

Had Perisic been on the right planet he might have assisted with the general operation to nullify Antonio, but by the time the penny dropped matters had progressed and the danger heightened. Now Perisic is something of a favourite around these parts, but there are times in life when one has to put one’s foot down. All the whipped crosses and wily know-how in the world doesn’t count for much if one is then going to drift off to the land of fairies when a throw-in is being taken within spitting distance, dash it.

Had any one of Sessegnon, Sanchez or Emerson been guilty of this they’d have had the book – and various heavier, blunter instruments – thrown at them by AANP, so there is no reason for Perisic to escape censure. The fellow deserves stern words and a brief thrashing.

Meanwhile Hojbjerg, another who really ought to know better, was, unbelievably, similarly gazing elsewhere at the crucial juncture. In his defence he was at least facing the ball, and had seemingly turned his head to yell at someone in the way footballers like to do to pass the time, but it was still a heck of an oversight.

Worse than this however, once he had refocused on current affairs, he (along with Bissouma) was far too slow to respond to the forward dart of Soucek. Both Messrs H. and B. had a couple of yards on Soucek, and yet while the latter built up a head of steam, our two did not accelerate beyond a common jog. By the time Hojbjerg bucked up his ideas it was far too late, while Bissouma didn’t even reach the point of bucking up ideas, and simply ambled along providing decoration to the piece.

All in all, a pretty soggy goal to concede, and one which rather summed up much of our play in the second half. Inevitably, Richarlison immediately brought a little spark when introduced, and one might charitably suggest that an away draw in a London derby is no small fry, but really, throwing away a lead against this mob was pretty criminal stuff. They were not particularly good; but frankly, neither were we.

4. Bissouma

I mentioned young Bissouma’s input – or lack thereof – into the goal conceded, and it summed up a rather underwhelming first start for the chap.

I actually thought his early knockings were pretty encouraging. He seemed more comfortable than most in receiving possession, unflustered by the presence of opposing legs around him and generally doing a pretty good impression of Bentancur when it came to receiving and redirecting the ball around the halfway line.

Matters started to take a turn for the murky when he picked up his yellow card. This in itself was pretty fat-headed stuff – unlucky though he was to be penalised for a foul, seemingly on the basis of crowd reaction rather than the referee having actually seen anything, thumping the ball away in response marked him out as a pretty dim cove.

If one wanted to quibble one might have cleared the throat and politely mentioned that thereafter he didn’t always have to play the way he was facing, his habit of popping the ball straight back to Davinson Sanchez frankly doing more harm than good given the latter’s pretty limited passing ability (it seems no coincidence that Emerson barely offers an attacking threat when Sanchez rather than Romero lines up for company inside him).

By half-time, it seemed from my vantage point that Bissouma had morphed from Bentancur to Winks during the course of proceedings, so it was some relief to see him approach the second half in a marginally more offensive spirit, receiving the ball on the half-turn and generally looking north for a useful pass to pick.

Nevertheless, it was all a little disappointing. Of his fabled zeal for intercepting and tackling there were only glimpses, and as mentioned, his role in the goal conceded was lamentable.

None of which is to write the chap off; far from it, he is one of the shrewdest signings we’ve made for some time. Just a shame that his middling performance last night was in keeping with all around him, and led to the forfeiting of a couple of quite obtainable points.

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Spurs match reports

Nott’m Forest 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Richarlison The Bounder

One of the more agreeable outcomes of Sunday’s festivities was the revelation that there are few things in life more entertaining than seeing an absolute bounder at his most dastardly, as long as the aforementioned b. is draped in your team’s colours. Richarlison’s little production was marvellous stuff, as guaranteed to delight his followers as it was to incense his opponents.

Naturally enough it incurred the spluttering apoplexy of great swathes of the population, incensed at the sight of Man Providing Entertainment During Game (although oddly accepting of the Forest chap whose response to being offended was to hack Richarlison at the knee, the principle here seeming to be that hurt feelings matter more than hurt limbs).

Here at AANP Towers the reaction was pretty rapturous, my inclination being to march over to Nottingham, hoist the chap on my shoulders and ferry him around the pitch to drink in acclaim from all sides. If Richarlison’s to-do list for Sunday included ‘Endear Self To N17 Fanbase’ he certainly hit upon a fool-proof way of doing it, the chap breezing his way towards cult hero status with a crack like that.

And more broadly, the sight of such chicanery being peddled by one in lilywhite was all the more welcome, for adding a little bite to what has, for as long as I’ve been watching, been a team with far too soft an underbelly. Rascals like Richarlison, Romero and the late, lamented Lamela add the sort of devil to proceedings that is guaranteed to rattle even the most serene of opposing minds. There is a limit to such things of course, and one wouldn’t want the entire collective to approach each game as some sort of gangland showdown, but anything that makes opponents bristle and provokes a degree or two of ire will be warmly welcomed around these parts.

2. Richarlison The Genius

Richarlison’s unspeakable acts rather detracted from his other critical input of the day, in quite gloriously creating an unmissable chance for our second.

It was all the more impressive for its genesis coming at a point in play when, from an attacking point of view, all appeared to have been lost, at least temporarily. Matters might have been resolved more swiftly and conventionally had young Sessegnon not dithered at a rather crucial moment (a moment that seemed to me to illustrate that for all his youthful exuberance, he rather lacks the nous and wiles of Perisic).

And one would have been forgiven for flinging arms towards the heavens, and settling in for another five minutes of Forest keep-ball, had Richarlison not stomped over to the left flank to take matters into his own hands. Moreover, with the ball edging off towards the sideline, and a Forest player commandeering that patch of land, the odds were not stacked in his favour. And yet, none of this seemed to strike the young imp as any sort of problem.

Of the Forest blighter, Richarlison made light work. One solid biff of the upper body, and the F.B was as a felled log, effectively removed from the picture. There then followed the issue of how best to distribute his newly-acquired winnings, for between Richarlison and the lone lilywhite figure of Kane were five red shirts plus a goalkeeper. However, where most mere mortals would have seen challenge, Richarlison appeared to see only opportunity. What followed was the sort of moment that makes one widen the eyes and feel the lower jaw loosen from its moorings, for the chap was somehow struck by the notion that the appropriate thing to do would be to unleash a peach of a ball with the outside of his boot.

Look closely enough and I’m pretty sure one would spot that the ball itself was smiling, because everything about the delivery was perfect. Arc, curl, height and geometric plotting were all immaculate, to the extent that I’m not sure Kane needed even to shuffle his feet in order to bop the thing home.

Here at AANP Towers we have long regarded The-Weighted-Ball-Inside-The-Full-Back as without peer when it comes to aesthetically pleasing passes, but frankly Richarlison’s ball for Kane has turned on its head everything we thought we knew about the art.

3. Davinson Sanchez

Those who know AANP best would no doubt take one look at the heading ‘Davinson Sanchez’ and brace themselves for a few paragraphs couched in the fruitiest Anglo-Saxon. I remember a gag from my A-Level days in which one fellow said of another fellow, “I come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” which just about sums up my usual take on young Sanchez. This time around, however, it seems the square thing to do is slather a bit of praise on the chap, because he seemed from my vantage point to get better and better as the game progressed.

That said, the start was pretty inauspicious.  He managed to orchestrate an illegal tangle of limbs within literally the first ten seconds of the match, which was pretty heavy going even by his standards, gifting Forest a free-kick in a dangerous position and prompting an agonised howl from AANP Towers.

Naturally enough, his every touch thereafter prompted a nervous tension to wrack my entire being, but in possession he kept things simple and when called upon to defend I’m not sure he put too many feet wrong.

As the minutes ticked by and he chalked off a frankly preposterous nine hours without conceding, he even produced a casual Cruyff turn inside his own area, as if to hammer home the point to any remaining naysayers that actually, in Davinson Sanchez country, nothing could be simpler than keeping opposing strikers at bay.

Messrs Dier and Davies obviously played their part, but I struggled to shift the gaze too far beyond the figure of Sanchez, gently batting away all attempts to sneak past him. Make no mistake, Romero will be welcomed back with open arms the very minute the assembled First Aiders give the nod, but for now I can do no more than salute Davinson Sanchez, for a job well done.

4. Conte-Ball

Scour the back pages for the scoreline only and one would assume that this was routine stuff. Two-nil, plus a missed penalty, at a newly-promoted mob, seems to tell a pretty straightforward story.

The blow-by-blow account, however, speaks of an infinitely less comfortable affair, in which our lot barely had control of the dashed thing for any sequence lasting longer than thirty seconds. Moreover, in the first half in particular, Forest were not purely kept at arm’s length, but were short-triangling their way into our holiest of holies, popping the ball along inside our area. That they barely managed a shot on target all game was due in no small part to the massed ranks of lilywhite bodies arranged in protective formation inside the area, and willing to fling every available appendage in the way of the ball.

The whole pattern of proceedings, was bizarre in the extreme. Whenever we did obtain possession, the drill seemed to be to leg it up the pitch as fast as humanly possible, and pop off a shot – an exercise that never seemed to last more than about twenty seconds, but which nevertheless proved oddly successful. It meant that despite minimal touches of the ball, and a complete bypassing of central midfield throughout, our lot actually racked up a good half-dozen near misses in each half, which amounted to a darned sight more than Forest managed.

And yet at no point (until the second goal, circa 80 minutes) did we seem to have control of things. Au contraire, our general game-plan appeared to have much about it of skin-of-teeth. I’m sure I was not alone in feeling deeply uncomfortable in seeing wave after wave of Forest possession – generally not amounting to too much, admittedly, but emitting ominous noises nevertheless.

And yet, by setting up with a central midfield pair, Conte seems almost to concede that we will perpetually be outnumbered in that area. He seems almost to be gambling that our defensive five, plus Bentancur-Hojbjerg, will do all the defensive necessaries, and our front three, plus wing-backs, will produce as many chances as needed. Which, oddly enough, on both counts is exactly what happened on Sunday.

So one might argue that it works, but by golly it’s not much fun to watch. And had the Forest bod learnt how to head a ball midway through the second half, it would not have worked. There were shades of Jose’s defend-defend-counter, and although our countering was pretty effective, and with better finishing would have eased the nervous strain considerably, the whole thing did make me wonder if we might not try to approach games by actually bossing possession and dominating things.