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Spurs match reports

Brentford 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Matty Cash (Stay With Me Here)

When Mother Nature was fashioning right wing-backs I fancy she sneaked off for a few minutes away from prying eyes, to surreptitiously create a red herring in amongst the quality stock, because Emerson Royal may have his talents (a debatable point, come to think of it) but wing-backery is not one of them. In fact, I’m still not convinced that this man is actually a professional footballer, in terms of the fine print and T’s and C’s. And yet history will record that this utter charlatan thrice appeared for Barcelona, which if nothing else goes to show what sorcery a cunning football agent is capable of.

To the surprise of no-one Emerson was at it again on Saturday, charging into cul-de-sacs like a toddler thrilling at a new game, and taking every available opportunity to make a pig’s ear of things when in possession.

There’s a broken record resounding with the four walls of AANP Towers, which continually belts out the refrain that for Conte’s system to work it blasted well needs a pair of pretty inspired wing-backs. Until Christian Eriksen returns we’re certainly not going to set any pulses racing in central midfield, where Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur are unfailingly polite and diligent, but respond with rather blank looks and the offer of a sideways pass when asked to create something. As such, the burden of expectation falls on those patrolling the flanks.

And this is where that pest Matty Cash lumbers into view, because until he took it upon himself to fling his entire body-weight at the knee of Matt Doherty a few weeks back, our lot could go about their 9-to-5 with at least one semi-decent wing-back in the ranks. Doherty seemed to have read the manual and got the gist of where to be and when. Even though, curiously, crossing the thing was never too high on his To-Do list, he still had enough good sense to plant himself in helpful attacking spots about the place.

Emerson, by contrast, is cursed with an inability to contribute helpfully to attacking matters – which to be honest, quite likely stems from his underlying inability to contribute helpfully to footballing matters more generally.

So when attempts to weave pretty meticulous routes straight down the centre came to naught, hopeful looks were cast towards the flanks for a spot of timely inspiration, only for those looks to fall upon Emerson Royal and become infused with a few shades of anguish.

Nor did the other flank bring a more productive harvest, being populated by young Sessegnon, who appears still petrified of his own shadow. All of which leaves me cursing with a great deal of spirit that damned Matty Cash (and, for good measure, Steven Gerrard, still hoovering up the goodwill around the place from his playing career to get away with such uncouth tactics as a manager). The Woolwich would do well to reward both with a handsome chunk of the winnings should they make the CL spot, because the absence of Doherty, while not the sole factor, has caused the whole operation to sag a bit.

2. Plan A

As alluded to above, the well of central midfield invention, if not quite bone dry, was certainly not threatening to spill over at the sides on Saturday.

That said, I’m not one to slap on the sackcloth and ashes and start bleating that our heroes simply moped about the place without caring a hang for matters of the turf. That was their domain last weekend vs Brighton. On Saturday vs Brentford, investment was at least made in the concept of prising out a chance.

The flanks were pretty derelict, arid territories, but our lot did have a couple of stabs at that business of quick, one-touching passing straight through the middle. And a chief inspector of such things might note that these endeavours met with some success. On a couple of occasions we successfully transferred the orb from circa. centre circle to circa. oppo penalty area with minimal oppo interference.

The problem was that by the time we hit oppo p.a. the whole operation ground to a halt, as we discovered that Brentford had populated the place with about fifty of their finest, and every possible avenue for entry was sealed off.

And that was pretty much the beginning, middle and end of Plan A. There was simply no way through via the centre, and our wing-backs were too dashed gormless to conjure up anything out east or out west.

3. Plan B

With Plan A thus fizzling out pretty much upon take-off, one could not impress enough upon our heroes the importance of a sturdy and viable Plan B, the sort that would force the Brentford mob to reconsider their lot in life and conjure up chances from new and exciting angles.

Unfortunately, while the theory of Plan B was sound, the reality of Plan B hit upon a pretty sizeable flaw, of the existential variety, in that it didn’t actually exist.

It’s difficult to say where the blame lies for this. Certainly the obvious direction for the accusatory finger to point is that of Our Glorious Leader, he being the nib tasked with devising such ruses. Conte appears very much a creature of tactical habit, wedded not only to his wing-backed 3-4-3, but also to pretty much an identical XI every week, if availability allows.

However, having played two games without registering a shot on target one might reasonably suggest that opponents are starting to get the hang of The Conte Way and, worse, finding ways to neuter it. And this, surely, is where the Big Cheese earns his monthly envelope, shrugging his shoulders at the unfortunate fate of Plan A and unveiling with a flourish some dastardly Plan B – and, ideally, also Plans C, D and E for good measure, if he is really in the mood.

Instead, Conte seems at as much of a loss as the rest of us, if the 3-4-3 and identical XI aren’t delivering the goods.

Now strictly speaking, if recording these musings under oath I would be in a bit of a spot, because this is a mild untruth. Cast your mind back to the rip-snorting draw with Liverpool back in December, and Conte lined up our heroes in a 5-3-2, to pretty decent effect when one takes all things into account.

These days however, Conte’s gambling blood doesn’t really extend much beyond flinging on Lucas for a ten-minute scamper and possibly Bergwijn in the dying embers of added time, neither of which really tear up the manual and indicate a wild and daring inversion of tactics.

Aside from Conte, I suppose one might direct a chastising poke of the ribs towards the actual players themselves, they being the souls in most direct command of proceedings. One never really feels comfortable attributing to footballers the capacity of enlightened thought and ingenuity, so it is perhaps asking a bit much of them to fix the tactical machinery mid-game. However, while it would be nice to see, unfortunately beyond Kane dropping into his little holes the market for such in-game player spontaneity is pretty much closed.

The alarming thing is that with only a handful of games left and precious little scope for further dropped points, we need a few viable alternatives and pronto. Actually, the alarming thing is the failure to hit a bally shot on target in two games, but you appreciate the forward-looking concern too.

4. Eriksen’s Corners

Of course, all such miseries and concerns rather faded away when one drank in the sight of Christian Eriksen treading the boards again, and long may he continue to do so.

His touch remains in pretty decent working order, and I noted with interest that the data bods awarded him the rosette for Most Distance Covered, which is the sort of stat that will do no harm to the Returning To Spurs rumours.

Back in his lilywhite days, my main gripe with the chap was that he tended to deliver his wizardry in fits and starts, flitting around the periphery of the match for much of it, rather than wading around knee-deep in the stuff from first whistle to last, as a man of his talent ought. Whether he is therefore the solution to our ills is debatable – although his advocates would make the pretty reasonable point that with him pottering around the midfield it is unlikely that we would go two games without a shot on target.

But aside from all that, what really caught the eye was the sight of him pinging corners and free-kicks about the place like a chap who’d been blessed with such ability since childhood.

Much has been made of the fact that three first-half corners were delivered pretty much on a sixpence to Toney at the far post. Anyone within earshot of AANP as these sailed over would have recoiled at the coarse and earthy language being gaily splashed around the place, such was my disgust at the complete abandonment of marking duties displayed by Sonny on these occasions, he evidently not being the sort for any of that enlightened thought or ingenuity I mentioned earlier (or even the plain common sense to spot the same thing happening and act upon it at the third time of asking).

However, the more charitable pundits about the place chose instead to focus their energies upon a spot of good old-fashioned sycophancy at Eriksen and his set-piece delivery, and I must admit that I did give it an eye. It was all the more remarkable to me, however, because one of the abiding memories of the chap’s final season in N17 was his bizarre inability to deliver a decent set-piece. It was quite the curiosity that so many of his corners would skim along the turf and straight to the first defender, incurring some early variations of that coarse and earthy language.

On Saturday, however, set-piece delivery appeared, once again, to have become his speciality, and it dashed well near enough sank us, leading to two rattles of the frame and one off-the-line clearance.

So much for Eriksen, and good luck to the honest fellow. As for our lot, one heck of an upturn is needed, and pronto, because this thing is slipping away. Strictly speaking it does remain in our hands – win all remaining fixtures, including the North London derby, and fourth is ours – but for any of the above to materialise, on-pitch matters need some pretty immediate and effective surgery.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Brighton: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Distribution

After games such as this one can pretty much close the eyes and point a moody finger in any direction, and one will hit upon a failing. And on Saturday one such failing was the complete absence of interest in attacking play from those dozing away in central midfield.  

What struck me as particularly galling was that the business of playing the ball from defence to attack was not one of those disasters beset in problems from start to finish. It was not one of those tragedies in which the knowledgeable onlooker can spot from a mile away that the whole scheme is destined for failure as soon as it begins. At various points during the game, the beginning of our play-ball-from-defence-to-attack strategy was actually pretty neat and tidy stuff.

For a start, any sniff of danger from what masqueraded as the Brighton high-press around our area was swatted away pretty dismissively. The control of possession demonstrated by Hugo, the three centre-backs and any kindly wing-back who happened to be passing by, was of sufficient quality to sidestep any hint of trouble around our own net. Manoeuvring the ball from A to B – with A being the feet of Hugo and B the feet of anyone else in lilywhite – was an operation for which our lot demonstrated all the requisite levels of competence.

So far, so good. Our lack of a single shot on target could not be pinned upon any perceived difficulties in emerging unscathed from our own penalty area.

At this point, however, the plan started spouting leaks. The challenge seemed to be not so much the risk of losing possession in our own defensive third, as much as the conundrum of how to do anything meaningful with it, at the same point on the map.

In recent weeks, Hojbjerg and, in particular, Bentancur and Kane, have attracted their fair share of awe-struck gazes through the ability casually to flick a ball first-time around the corner, and into space up the flanks for one of the attacking cohort to gallop after. As well as being the sort of scenic stuff one could bring a picnic to watch, such first-time flicks have had the pragmatic advantage of turning the narratives completely on their head, leaving opposition defenders galloping back towards their own goal and pulled apart in all sorts of directions.

And yet on Saturday, of those first-time flicks there was no sign. Instead, both Bentancur and Hojbjerg (Kane having been muzzled by that Bissouma fellow, who I’m sure would look fetching in white upper garments come August) seemed entirely preoccupied with the notion that if anything good were to come of things it would have to have its genesis in a first-time backwards pass. No matter the coordinates, or time of day, or any other consideration of external circumstance: first-time backwards passes had been adopted as the panacea for all ills, and any other consideration was tossed aside.

Now I’m all for the practice of one passing the way they are facing. If anything, I consider it a somewhat neglected art. At the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, few things in life can top a swift nudge of the ball backwards by a fellow who has his back to goal and senses opponents hunting him down. Done in suitable conditions, it can be precisely what the doctor ordered, throwing opponents off the scent and ensuring quick movement of the ball.

But note well the preamble: “in suitable conditions’; “the appropriate time”; and “appropriate place”. All key components, and yet merrily ignored by our heroes, who seemed to think that the backwards-pass routine was such a good yarn they should thrust it into the heart of whatever was happening, irrespective of whether the circumstances required it or not.

While the occasional backward pass can be a ripping little gag, doing it every dashed time one receives the ball starts to make the regulars raise an eyebrow and wonder if all is well at HQ.

While I appreciate that it is difficult to flick around a corner when everyone in lilywhite is static and all Brighton-folk are already in position and set, there were nevertheless opportunities to start attacks, when Brighton had committed numbers up the pitch. On such occasions, some effort had gone into bypassing the Brighton press, and finally the ball was funnelled up to Bentancur and Hojbjerg (and occasionally Son), with the stage set for them to ping the ball into the spaces ahead for attacking sorts to run onto – and instead they simply bunged the thing back into defence again, and everyone in Brighton colours re-took their sentry positions.

It was as if they considered that a quick shove of the ball back towards goal were some sort of triumph in itself, and once completed they could consider their jobs done for the day.

I suppose there are multiple contributory factors here, but from the AANP viewpoint our lot seemed to be missing one heck of a trick. Instead of zipping up the pitch, all in lilywhite ponderously rolled the ball around the halfway line, and by the time last orders were called it was little wonder that we had not managed a single shot on target.

2. The Absence of Doherty

I once heard a pretty ripping gag about chickens and eggs, the nub of which was to speculate as to which arrived on the scene first, which, when you stop to consider it, starts to make the mind swim a bit. I was reminded of this when trying to fathom the root of our problems on Saturday, because on the one hand, as documented above, our midfield mob appeared in no mood to set in motion anything of attacking promise – but on the other hand I did wonder if this might be because the supporting cast were neglecting their duties.

In recent weeks, Master Doherty has carried himself full of buck and vim, taking every opportunity to chip in with his tuppence worth on the right flank, and indeed infield from said flank. He, and whichever less talented equivalent has been patrolling the left flank, have been key components of our attacking apparatus. The front three have hogged headlines and statistics, but the two wing-backs have quietly been going about the place adding meat to things.

The absence of Doherty has now coincided with a game in which we have failed to strike a bally shot on target, which might sound like a spot of AANP amateur dramatics, but, rather disturbingly, is a statement of fact. And the point I’m driving at is to speculate as to whether the two are in some way causally linked.

Certainly, Doherty’s replacement, Emerson Royal, seemed in customary fashion to offer all the on-pitch value of a mannequin, making himself visible without contributing anything of the slightest value. However, it should be noted that on the other flank Senor Reguilon was similarly impotent – and frankly neither did any of the front three display the necessary wit or intelligence to escape the beady Brighton eyes upon them and enjoy a spot of freedom in the attacking third.

So to castigate Emerson in this instance might be a touch rough. Doherty, for all we know, might similarly have laboured pointlessly.

But nevertheless, I rather considered that if the central midfield consists of Hojbjerg and Bentancur – a couple of lads with plenty going for them, but not the fellows you’d back to create twenty goals a season – then your wing-backs are going to deliver some pretty special stuff going forward. And this was precisely the sort of prime fare that Doherty had been spewing forth until having his knee rearranged last week.

To suggest that Doherty has become the most important player in our setup would be laying it on rather too thick, but he was starting to look a pretty important sort of bean in the whole mechanism. One can only hope that Saturday’s ills were indicative of a wider – and isolated – malaise, rather than due to the absence of Doherty and Doherty alone.

3. Hojbjerg

Possibly not the sort of suggestion that will have the paying public hoisting me on their shoulders and sending down the ticker-tape, but in the absence of anyone else dangling a remarkable foot, I thought that P-E H Esq. at least had the decency to suggest he cared about things.

As ventured above, his tendency always to biff the ball back to Romero or Dier upon receipt had me banging the head against whichever wall fancied it, but as the game wore on and most of our lot stubbornly refused to give a damn, I did at least admire the fact that he did not simply slump his shoulders and slink off into the shadows.

In the final knockings, he and he alone could be seen diving into tackles, and, despite the above character assassination built entirely upon his insistence on passing backwards, he did eventually get the gist of things and try to carry the ball forwards once or twice as close of play beckoned.

Hojbjerg is actually a curious egg in that it becomes harder with each passing week fully to grasp what he does. There is a danger that he might simply turn into this season’s Joe Hart, viz. a man of limited playing talent whose principal role seems to be to shout at people. He does not possess either energy, passing ability, tackling ability, dribbling ability or any other ability – bar shouting at people – that really catches the eye, and as such there is a sense that he is merely keeping a seat warm for young Master Skipp.

And yet he fits rather neatly within the Conte system, by virtue of knowing how both to patrol in front of the back-three and ward off foes, and how to collect the ball from the back-three and shovel it along, albeit usually unadventurously. (He does occasionally demonstrate an appetite for an effective forward pass, but these are generally filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’.)

However, given that everyone around him was determined simply to mope about the place until they could scuttle off down the tunnel, Hojbjerg can, if he fancies, treat himself to the AANP going for the day, by dint of his perspiration rather than inspiration. And that rather sad state of affairs neatly captures the whole performance.

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Spurs match reports

Aston Villa 0-4 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Three Goals

A casual observer might reasonably expect the opening lines here to be on Goal 1, principally in the interests of chronology; but also to purr a goodish deal about Sonny’s ping, via, perhaps, a carefree chortle about the geographic wildness of Kane’s initial effort.

Alternatively, the same observer would presumably understand if I opened with Goal 2, on account of its dashed handy timing, arriving as it did at the opportune moment to quell a Villa beast still violent and snorting from its first half excursions; as well as a complimentary word or two on the upper-body dimensions of Kane that had Villa defenders bouncing off him; and the dead-eyed finish by Kulusevski, delivered like Midas in the Hollywood days when the going was still good for him.

Or indeed passers-by might anticipate me starting with Goal 3, dwelling in particular upon the surreptitious glance Kane gave, before receiving ball to his dome and chivvying it along with just the appropriate amount of pace and direction, with credits in the small print to Romero for the sort of pass that is well above the pay-grade of the average centre-back, and Sonny for taking a leaf out of the Kulusevski book of making potentially tricky finishes look no bother at all.

2. The Fourth Goal

But I’ll kick things off instead with Goal 4, mainly because it was one of those rare beasts whose every constituent element was a thing of such beauty that by the time its finale rolled around you were practically begging for someone to do the decent thing and stick the ball in the net.  

Astonishingly, the opening line was belted out by Emerson Royal, who had spent the entirety of the first half accommodating his opponents, either by casually letting them drift past him without objection or giving the ball straight to them whenever he happened upon it. I was therefore as taken aback as the next man to see him contribute so proficiently to Goal 4.  

His role in the project began with a rare outbreak of good sense, in getting first to the ball down by his own corner flag and then playing a one-two with Kulusevski, before shovelling on to Hojbjerg and God-speeding him along. This had the dual benefits of emerging from the aforementioned corner – something of a cul-de-sac at the time – and transferring our collective weight from back-foot to front.

Kulusevski for his part threw in a ballerina’s pirouette that had not one but two Villa sorts grasping at thin air and needing a brief sit-down to clear their heads. Fast-forward along some solid keep-it-simpling from Hojbjerg and Kane, and the ball was out with Sonny on the right, who, faced with ever-decreasing options, rolled the ball through the legs of the latest Villa defender queueing up for a spot of ignominy.

At this point Kulusevski took up the reigns again, but simply to report this is a bit like saying “Kong took on Godzilla”, a statement which might accurately capture the identity of the protagonists but actually omits much of the eye-catching nature of the moment. For Kulusevski, for the benefit of latecomers, was the bod who helped Emerson get the ball rolling five seconds earlier down by his own corner flag – and yet here he was, sprinting ahead of Sonny as the most advanced man in the attack, in what could be considered an absolute triumph for the fitness staff.

Kulusevski then took the opportunity to leave on his rear yet another embarrassed defender, the air by this time becoming thick with them, before looking up to pick his pass. And it was at this point that, as mentioned above, one dropped to one’s knees and positively pleaded with someone of Hotspur persuasion to deliver a fitting finale.

As such it was good work on the part of the creative souls who script such things that Son should pop up to complete his hat-trick, en route repeating his earlier gag involving the inside of the post, for added aesthetic value.

3. Lloris

It should not be overlooked that such perfectly-choreographed happy endings would have been a lot less rampant if a few first half moments had fluttered to earth only slightly differently.

Villa having established straight off the bat that the contest was to be undertaken using bar-room brawl rules, augmented their output in more palatable fashion by the deployment of Coutinho in an array of pockets seemingly beyond the remit of any our heroes. The net result was a half composed entirely of a procession of Villa chances, coming so thick and fast that at times it appeared that several were happening simultaneously.

No doubt there are some vastly knowledgeable eggs out there who could take one look at that first half and diagnose precisely the causes of our difficulties. Here at AANP Towers however, we simply watched in horror, occasionally damning the lineage of all those involved, as possession was repeatedly lobbed back to Villa to encourage them to try again.

Naturally we could only peddle such rot for so long without someone making a useful intervention, so it was as well that Monsieur Lloris was keeping up with current affairs.

Now I don’t want to stretch things by suggesting that this one of those days on which he leapt around doing the impossible, extending the appropriate paw to angles that defied physics or faster than the naked eye could detect, or any other such eye-popping stuff. Lloris had a good game, but not one of those that has one querying whether some deity has taken possession of his frame.

There certainly were some decent interruptions on his part, notably the one from the young nib Ramsey, which seemed to require that our man extended his mitts upwards with all the express pace of someone rising towards the heavens after sitting on an upturned drawing pin.

By and large, however, Lloris occupied his time making saves the like of which one would expect from a fellow who has collected a World Cup doing such things. Villa sorts thumped the ball well within his orbit; he extended his frame and thumped the ball off in another direction. Why goalkeepers these days scorn the act of catching shots is rather beyond me, but the point is that he made a string of decent saves without which we’d have been in some bother.

He also plucked a couple of crosses from the heavens, which might not sound much but spared us some pretty awkward moments in toe-poke territory. In general, Lloris is a fellow who eyes with suspicion any plot of land more than two or three yards from his own goal line, and while this can, on occasion, prove quite the shortcoming, yesterday it turned out to be rather a handy quirk, as various of the crosses requiring attention seemed to have a flight path of near enough the goal-line.

And between Lloris’ first half necessaries, and the flawless whirring of our attacking cogs, this, like last week against Newcastle, evolved from something of a first-half struggle into an absolute second half canter. What with Woolwich’s comical implosions and our goal difference going through the roof, the whole business has become rather good fun again.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Having spent the last couple of years drooping his frame and acting like the whole football lark is a new one on him, in the last few weeks Matt Doherty has ripped off the mask to reveal that all along he was actually one of the better right wing-backs around.

It therefore seemed pretty cruel to react to the absence of Reguilon and Sessegnon by shoving him in at left wing-back. I mean, really. He’s only just found his feet, and now we jab a finger at him and say, “But can you do it on the left-hand side?”

On top of which, the re-jig meant that Emerson Royal and his mobile clown show was the custodian on the right. Moving our one decent wing-back to an alien position, in order to accommodate an infinitely less competent wing-back, seemed rather knuckle-headed thinking to me. As our heroes lined up at kick-off, I chewed a pretty nervous lip.

As it turned out, the one Johnnie completely unflustered by all this behind-the-scenes complexity was Doherty himself. These days it seems he wakes up each morning convinced he’s some distant relative of Pele, and not giving too many damns which flank he’s asked to patrol.

It actually works to Doherty’s advantage that he’s not really one for whipping in crosses all day and night. As far as Doherty is concerned, a wing-back’s job is to make himself available at various points up the flank, and indeed further infield, popping short passes to chums who fizz around nearby.

‘Interplay’ seems to be the anthem on Doherty’s lips, with ‘Whipped Crosses’ coming a long way down his list. And this being the case, it doesn’t really matter if he’s on his weaker foot, because even the weakest limb going will not stop a man adopting useful positions and dabbing handy five-yard passes that keep attacks healthily ticking along.

Our opening goal (the Ben Davies header) was a case in point. Naturally, much has been made of Sonny’s whipped cross for that goal, but rewind a good minute or so, and the corner was earned after Sonny went on the gallop from circa halfway to circa the six-yard box; and (stay with me here) rewind a further ten seconds or so and, crucially, this gallop would not have happened but for a perfectly-weighted, first-time, half-volleyed cushioned pass from Doherty.

For context, immediately prior to this, Romero and Lloris had been rolling the ball left and right to no real purpose, before the latter punted it upfield in the general direction of Doherty. Until then our entire game had been characterised by the absence of quick, forward-thinking distribution. Doherty’s first-time pass to Son admittedly did not look like much at the time, but I’d suggest that it was precisely the sort of injection of urgency we’d been begging for.

Admittedly I suppose we could keep on rewinding indefinitely, and count our lucky stars that the game kicked off at all, but having kept a pretty beady eye on Doherty and his left-sided escapades I clocked this one with approval.

As if to hammer home the point that being right-footed is neither here nor there if you tick all the other left wing-back boxes, Doherty then popped up with a goal at the far post, which is the sort of good habit to be encouraged in any wing-back, and even followed it up with some jiggery-pokery to set up Emerson to clown-shoe in our third.

2. Romero

Young Master Romero continues to raise his performance level drastically with each game, which by my reckoning means that he should become the best defender in the history of the game by approximately Easter Sunday.

When the match was long won, a four-goal lead established that even our lot couldn’t have messed up, I derived some entertainment from watching that Saint Maximin fellow scuttle away and perform step-overs and whatnot, looking for all the world like he possessed eight legs rather than the designated two. It generally required three in lilywhite to crowd him out on such occasions – except, however, when Romero sized him up.

There was a marvellous thrill in watching Romero trot over, cut through the bluster and fly into a challenge that pretty emphatically took ownership of the ball, whilst also uprooting young S-M and sending him a few feet into the atmosphere.

Simply to close the chapter on that violent note would, however, be to do Romero a grave injustice. The rattling challenges constitute only approximately 50% of the sketch. As has been noted with awe in recent weeks, part of the fellow’s magnetism lies in the fact that he also uses the ball with such good sense.

Romero tends to look for something fresh and spring-like when delivering a pass, as if to send the ball on its way with a message that he isn’t simply idling away the hours but genuinely believes that that act might be the start of something magnificent.

Which is not to suggest that every pass he plays scythes open the opposition: that is more the domain of rotter-in-chief, Harry Kane. Much of the time Romero’s passes are pretty gentle beasts – but they seem to me to have two critical points of delight.

Firstly, they are almost always forward, looking to advance the play by shifting the narrative from Defence to Midfield. Only in extreme circumstances does Romero go in for the rather negative business of bunging it back to the goalkeeper.  And secondly, they are generally very specific in nature, plastered all over with the name and whereabouts of the recipient, as opposed to simply being hoicked up the line with a fair amount of meat, for an unholy scrap to ensue between opposing members of the supporting cast.

It says much about the chap that when the ball rests at his size nines, rather than letting my eyes glaze over and contemplating the infinite, I crane the neck with a goodish amount of fevered anticipation.

3. Kane

I’m not sure whether Kane determines such things by poring over the data or simply tossing a coin, but this was evidently a day on which he decided that he would be Creator rather than Finisher, and after going through the motions a bit in the first half – like everyone else in lilywhite – he duly rolled up his sleeves and became unplayable thereafter.

I did wonder quite what the Newcastle tactical bods did with their time in the lead-up to this game, because Kane’s ability to drop deep and spray the ball wherever he damn well pleases is hardly an innovation. But as often as not when he picked up the ball around halfway, the Newcastle mob seemed to think he could be left to his own devices without causing any damage, seemingly oblivious to his ability to pick out teammates from just about anywhere on the pitch.

As ever there was some dreamy stuff, and the only shame was that he couldn’t be on the other end of his own passes. But I suppose that would be asking rather a lot, even for him, so we had to make do with him having the absolute time of his life in that withdrawn sort of role, orchestrating things like nobody’s business. In fact, by the end of proceedings he was starting to deliver no-look flicks and pings, which really are the hallmark of a chappie in his absolute prime.

Moreover, those around him started to pick up the rhythm of the thing too, realising that if Kane were in possession around them then they had better upgrade their own personal outputs. Thus it happened that Kulusevski started his dashes before Kane had even received the ball, and Emerson Royal – who in truth, rarely takes much convincing that he is a far better player than he actually is – began unleashing back-heeled passes and whatnot whenever his path crossed with Kane.

Of course, being a rotter, it is unclear quite how much longer Kane will remain a member of this particular parish, but while we’ve got him we might as well marvel at him.

4. Bentancur

Far fewer column inches will be devoted to young Master Bentancur. This strikes me as something of an injustice, for if column inches were to be dished out for artistry alone then Bentancur ought to have entire volumes written about him, as he both glides around the place and then typically picks a dickens of a useful forward pass, to chivvy things along and have the attackers snapping to it.

Even in that slightly moribund first half, when our heroes seemed to think that every pass required a detailed dossier of pros and cons before execution, Bentancur had the presence of mind to give the dashed thing swiftly, a hint rather lost on his colleagues.

This might not have been a day on which Bentancur’s passing brought obvious rewards – in terms of leading to goals and near-misses and the like – but with an egg like him taking possession of the thing in the middle third, life feels a lot less worrisome than it otherwise might.  

While Hojbjerg alongside him had one of his better days, I nevertheless remain impatient for the return of Skipp, and the unleashing of a double-act that promises to blow up the skirts of all onlookers. I rather fancy that Skipp’s energy would complement Bentancur’s smooth amblings around the place, and the overall effect would be ultimately to overwhelm all-comers.

5. Conte’s Attacking Substitution

On a final note, I was mightily impressed with Our Glorious Leader’s decision, in the final knockings, to replace Emerson with Bergwijn, and switch from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 (terms I use loosely, given the fluidity of it all, but you get the gist). I was jolly surprised too, for the record, but mightily impressed nonetheless.

Lest we overlook the context, this change was made when we were already 4-1 up, so hardly the sort of situation that called for flinging on an extra attacking body. If anything, I would have expected the rather dispiriting if understandable sight of Davinson Sanchez tripping over his feet and into the fray, stage right, while Sonny or someone similarly attack-minded made the long walk around the perimeter.

Quite what the rationale was I cannot be sure, Conte still opting not to single out AANP for a quick tactical chat about this and that after the curtain falls. However, if the thinking was to press the foot on the accelerator and up the goal difference while opportunity knocked, then I think I might have to hastily rewrite the will and bequeath everything I own to this genius of a man.

It has long been a frustration of mine that when dishing out a hammering, and faced with an opponent desperately wanting to exit the premises and disappear up the motorway, rather than taking full advantage and peppering them with attack after remorseless attack as the clock winds down, our lot will too often stroke the ball around between themselves, as if content that their work is done. The concept of making a bit more hay while the sun is blazing down like the dickens appears lost on them.

All of which made the Emerson-Off-Bergwijn-On gambit yesterday even more pleasing. And you can probably picture AANP’s delight when the thing brought near-instant rewards, with Bergwijn bobbing along for his customary goal. As well as the entertainment value of dishing out a good thrashing, these things may also have some practical value come mid-May when the points are totted up. It was only a month ago that our goal difference was ten or so worse than the other lot; now we’re ahead by a nose. Long may the needless attacking substitutions continue.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 West Ham: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bentancur

If young Bentancur had taken to the pitch wedged behind the steering wheel of a Rolls Royce I’m not sure anyone would have noticed, because he absolutely purred around the place today. I have quite the soft spot for those coves who can trap a ball on the half-turn and then switch angles and whir off on a completely new adventure, while – and here’s the rub – completing the entire project in one single movement. They give the impression of ticking about eight different tasks off the To-Do list in one swipe, generally uncluttering life.

Bentancur seemed hell-bent on making this his signature move today, and I was all for it. The ability to receive the ball in midfield while opponents converge has typically been the sort of duty greeted by our lot with the distant, petrified stare of a team of astronauts being told that the oxygen tank has been ruptured beyond repair. Panic settles in, and the best they can do is shovel the ball backwards and hope that such hellish conditions never occur again.

Bentancur, by contrast, swans around the place as if receive-ball-whilst-opponents-converge was a game he played on a daily basis when still being bounced on his mother’s knee. Time and again he received the ball half-facing his own goal, tamed the thing, swivelled into more appropriate alignment and then weighed up his options and picked a corker of a next step, all as if it were the most natural thing in the world. If West Ham rotters heaved on him he simply dipped a shoulder or two and sent them flying off into different postcodes.

It was masterful stuff, and meant that playing out from the back was not just some frantic escape route, but actually a stepping stone towards new and exciting attacks.

In previous weeks I have stuck something of an asterisk against Bentancur’s name, noting that for all his obvious dreamy goodness in possession, he was not always cognizant of the fact that there were eleven hulking brutes in opposition, doing their damnedest to tread on his toes and whatnot. He would occasionally dwell on the ball and react with some shock to being bustled off it, as if such things were not part of the T’s and C’s.

This wrong, if it could be described as such, appeared to have been righted yesterday. I kept a close on the fellow, initially to chastise him for any repeat of this offence, but swiftly because my eyes were simply drawn towards him in admiration.

If any lessons had needed learning about the pace of the game in these parts they had evidently been digested with gusto. The chap makes our team tick – perhaps not in the stats-obsessed manner of a Kane, but in a manner pretty critical to the entire apparatus.

2. Romero (and Passing Out of Defence)

If Bentancur were the critical link between defence and Kane attack, then we still needed to ferry the ball from defence to Bentancur in the first place, in order for the whole system to sound its bells and whistles.

And in the days not too long behind us, the responsibility for such missions lay at the trembling size nines of Davinson Sanchez, and occasionally young Master Tanganga. The latter, most neturals would assert, was sufficiently able to sort out his right foot from his left to be able to pick out a lilywhite shirt if pressed to do so; the former danced around the thing as if scared it would burst into flames, at best toe-poking it back to Lloris and wobbling back towards his own goal. The zenith of our passing ability with these sorts patrolling the back-line tended to be a solid biff towards the nearest wing-back.

All of which makes the presence of Romero at the right of the back-three an absolute blessing from on high. For a start, he welcomes the ball like an old friend with whom he has shared many a fond adventure. Rather than recoil in fear at its presence, and swing a leg at it like an axe-murderer getting down to business, Romero happily skips around with it by his side, much like small children used to cavort with their dogs in Enid Blyton books.

On top of which, as well as the obvious option of feeding Doherty wide on the right, Romero as often as not has both the presence of mind and the ice-cool nerve to look further infield for the next available point of contact.

I don’t mind admitting that, at first this, business of bisecting a couple of opposing midfielders in order to pick out Bentancur had the AANP heart skipping one or two pretty critical beats, and leaping up the throat and into the mouth. But the more I watched Romero deliver such passes – diagonally, fifteen yards forward and taking out a couple of opponents to reach Bentancur – the more I felt a quiet thrill.

There is a risk associated with the manoeuvre for sure, because any inaccuracy in direction or weight – or indeed Bentancur (or Hojbjerg or whomever) simply taking his eye off the thing – would result in conceding possession in a pretty frightful area.

But, as happens with these things, greater risk brings a greater reward. Bypass a couple of West Ham players en route from Romero to Bentancur, and suddenly our lot are within two shakes of a lamb’s tail of haring off towards the opposition area.

All of which is to say nothing of Romero’s actual defending, which was either top-notch or an isolated mistake swiftly followed by a top-notch recovery.

The above also overlooks the fact that Messrs Dier and Davies were also both willing and able to toe the company line in this respect. It’s pretty critical to the Conte m.o. that the defenders play the ball out from the back without succumbing to the urge to belt it over the horizon, and these three grow more comfortable by the week.

3. Kane’s Passing

Of course Harry Kane, being a rotter or some ilk, did not give a damn about all this fine spadework being applied in the background, and instead went about the place determined that if there were a headline going he was going to grab it.

In this regard Kane has fashioned for himself the particular advantage of being adept in two areas, namely those of creating and finishing chances. One might say he both maketh and taketh. If one cylinder is not firing for whatever reason, there’s a pretty strong chance the other will be; and thus did it transpire yesterday. His finishing was strangely awry, but it barely mattered, as he created all three of our goals and had a generous hand in the Sonny chance that hit the post too.

Kane’s pass for the opener was what you might call a triumph for hard work, involving as it did putting his head down, puffing his chest out, going for a run and then squaring the ball.  It was not a presentation dripping with aesthetics and finery, having much about it of the sweat-stained 80s playground footballer; but when the great minds thrash things out afterwards they’ll conclude it did the job.

This sort of stuff was pretty unusual fare from Kane, whose days of bursting past defenders seem to have long gone. He was on more familiar ground with his pass for our second, bunging in vision and weighting, and generally doing as much one could reasonably ask in such circumstances. Sonny still had to gallop forward and lash the thing, but the pass from Kane (and to him, from Bentancur) had the effect of cutting to ribbons much of the resistance around the place.

The assist for the third can probably be glossed over, owing more to the dull stupidity of the defenders around him, curiously drawn towards him and leaving Son to roam as he pleased ahead of them.

But for all these interventions, I was actually a little underwhelmed by Kane’s attempts to spray the ball around. The quarterback act is ripping stuff when it works, but he seemed to make three or four attempts in the second half – from an inside-right sort of spot around halfway, trying to pick out Son or Reguilon who were little more than specks in the distance on the left – and generally fouled up the mechanics, pinging the ball straight to the covering centre-back instead.

This is not to suggest that he should give up on the practice, or any such rot. On the contrary, I rather admire his gumption, and am all for a little risk-taking when on the attack. It just seemed to me that while he clocked his assists merrily enough, his attempts at the big, sweeping, crossfield numbers fell rather flat on each occasion he tried them yesterday. He can consider himself rather lucky that he found time to cram in three other assists, cunningly deflecting attention from his failings elsewhere.

(With apologies for going off-radar after the Brighton win – Covid rather knocks the stuffing out)

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-0 Everton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Quite the curiosity last night, with our lot seemingly having only to lace their boots and string three or four passes together in order to rack up five goals, but if one fellow arrested the attention it was Matt Doherty.

I suppose for avoidance of doubt it is best to clarify that his was no throwback to the golden years of Walker or Trippier, sprinting up the line in a blur or heels. Nevertheless, Doherty’s contributions, particularly on the attack, were sound and plentiful.

For a start, I was rather taken by the positions he adopted. If he had simply edged up the right touchline, adopting appropriate poses as the ball did its thing further infield, I’d have accepted this as a pretty adequate contribution and passed on to the next item on the agenda. Which is not to downplay such input. Not all wing-backs are blessed with this capability. Young Tanganga, for example, seems to let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’ when taking the role. So well done Doherty for passing this particular life lesson.

But what really caught the eye was the fact that he often squirted infield, ending up in what I suppose one might call a central midfield sort of position. My eyes did not deceive. In the very same patch of land on which I have been privileged to witness the likes of Hoddle, Gascoigne and Modric tread the boards, there was Matt Doherty. For added impact, and as if to hammer home that this was no mirage but an actual ploy devised by the great minds, Kulusevski appeared outside him in the space he was vacating, to provide width and bamboozle Everton minds further.

Now all of this would in itself have been something to relate to the grandchildren, one of those ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, but what really sealed the thing was the passing range then unleashed by Doherty, from this temporary midfield berth. For reasons best known to the gods, the young nib took it upon himself to morph occasionally into Christian Eriksen, and start pinging defence-splitters about the place.

I goggled. Everton fell apart at the seams. Pundits up and down the land simply ignored it, because Matt Doherty does not fit anyone’s thrilling, pre-ordained narrative. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, first destroying Everton to create Kane’s first, as mentioned above, and then clipping one over the top of the defence for Kane’s second.

Now there is plenty more work to be done in the project to turn Matt Doherty into the beating heart of this Tottenham team, but this was a pretty fine start. After all, having thrown around £25m at Emerson Royal in the summer, and then stood back and watched as he failed to deliver one successful cross in six months, it is fair to say that the wing-back experiment was meeting with pretty limited success.

The exploits of Doherty in the last couple of games therefore, with a goal, three assists and some splendid vision and execution on his passes, suddenly has an inner voice whispering that we might have at least a temporary solution on our hands.

2. Kulusevski

With each passing game, the AANP dial becomes ever redder, burning with shame at the early aspersions cast on the character of young Master Kulusevski.  Back then, in his opening cameos, I lamented the heaviness of his touch, the leaden-natured manner of his pace and the one-footedness of his general outlook on life.

My about-turn has been swift and complete. I suppose that early opinion of him was coloured by the fact that he was not Lucas Moura. Conditioned by affection and loyalty towards the latter, I huffed a fair bit when Kulusevski was introduced and failed immediately to introduce a spring-dance into proceedings such as by twinkling past three defenders and falling over.

Kulusevski, however, brings other attributes to the arena, by the bucketload.

Plucking one at random, one gets the impression that he does not slink out of the club canteen on steak day. The chap appears a pretty sturdy construction. I was particularly enamoured of the fact that at one point in the second half last night, when an Everton blister effected his best Cristian Romero impression and attempted to saw Kulusevski horizontally in half with a wild swing at the legs, our man tottered briefly, took stock and deciding that life actually wasn’t so bad after all carried on motoring down the flank.

My previous slight about him possessing a right foot for balance and aesthetic purposes only, can also be dismissed without further stain on his reputation. Naturally enough, the man has his preference. Only human to prefer one lower limb to the other, but whereas previously I would have sworn on all that was dear to me that Kulusevski would not have crossed the ball with his right peg if his life depended on it, yesterday he casually unloaded a few just to pass the time.

While it would be a stretch to describe the effect as sensational, it did make one raise a pleasantly surprised eyebrow. For as is well known, if a nib renowned for using his left foot and only his left foot starts using his right foot, well then the blighters in opposition will have to stop and swill things over in their mind a bit when getting involved in an exchange of views.

All of this was fruity stuff of course, but the real show-stopping part has been the man’s input in the final third. The dink to Son for his goal yesterday, the pass for Reguilon’s goal, and numerous other understated contributions in the past few games. Kulusevski might not have the crowd-pleasing appearance of a Lucas Moura gathering a head of steam and dancing one way and t’other, but he seems a pretty effective addition to the ranks, particularly in tandem with Doherty.

3. Kane

That rotter Harry Kane was at it again, and he really is a sight to behold. His input from midfield was actually a little more muted than against Man City and Leeds. The spirit was as willing as ever on this front, but the flesh a little weak – understandably enough given that whenever he touched the ball around halfway a mob of enforcers in Everton colours were swiftly dispatched to jostle and harass the chap.

However, the joy of Harry Kane is of course that he is at least two footballers in one, and if the creative juices have a lid placed upon them, the goalscorer that lurks within pretty swiftly comes lurking without.

Thus it transpired yesterday. As one who, in their younger days, rather fancied themselves in attack, I am well aware of the perils that await when clean through on goal and with plenty of time to run a finger down the index of options. Mercifully, a chap like Kane has his thoughts unclouded by any such detail, and, always keen to introduce a business-like touch into proceedings, tends simply to belt the thing home and be done with it.

Thus was his first goal executed yesterday. While it looked straightforward fare to the mere mortal, my days of glory in the Amateur Football Combination Division 6 North render Kane and I kindred spirits, and I am therefore better positioned than most to attest that his finish was mightily impressive. We strikers know.

The second however, was the sort of stuff that even had the AFCD6N veterans drawing a sharp intake of breath. One could pen a pretty hefty tome detailing the various ways in which that finish might have gone wrong, and yet Kane’s views on such opportunities were apparently the same as his views on the first half opportunity: viz. just belt the thing home and be done with it.

4. Sessegnon

Oddly enough, the ball was set rolling last night by young Master Sessegnon, his being the cross that the Everton laddie thoughtfully bulleted into his own net.

I say oddly enough, because after a couple of half-decent games Sessegnon was again looking last night like an egg for whom life as a footballer was a bed of roses until one introduced the actual football into the equation.

It was notable that for that opening goal his interaction with the ball was pretty limited. Ultimately, at its crescendo, he admittedly had to kick the thing, but his primary responsibility in the operation was simply to get his head down and run. And this at least is an art he seems swiftly to be mastering.

Helpfully he was up against Seamus Coleman in this undertaking, a gnarled old bounder who has been plugging away for about a century and a half, and who, as such, was likely to concede a few yards of pace and gasps of air to our young whippersnapper.  Accordingly, Sessegnon triumphed in the foot-race, and then, courtesy of Ben Davies’ laser-like accuracy of pass, was left only with the task of closing his eyes, swinging his left foot and hoping for the best.

To his credit, it was an excellent cross, pacy and delivered into a threatening area. And after this zenith, Sessegnon’s game degenerated pretty rapidly. I would suggest that his touch deserted him, but this would be to insinuate that his touch was ripe, ready and in situ in the first place. Not for the first time, he spent his evening being buffeted off the ball or tripping over the thing when attempting to take it out for a stroll.

At one point, having lost the ball, he hit upon the electric idea of crashing to earth and attempting to grab his opponent from the floor with his arms. He missed, of course, and the immediate consequence was a booking for Sonny, who had to intervene with a more socially recognisable foul.

As if to emphasise the learning that remains for Sessegnon, Reguilon replaced him and scored with his first touch.

I will repeat the mantra of recent weeks that the young fellow has a future ahead of him, but for present engagements I would rather see Reguilon on the left, mirroring the contributions of Doherty on the right.

5. Well-Crafted Goals

Unlikely though it sounds now that the lid has been put in place and the game lowered into the ground, Everton actually began things in the ascendancy. More to the point, our players seemed quite content for this to be the way of things.

Put another way, Everton pressed high up the pitch, and in that maddening way of theirs, our lot seemed to accept that this was simply an inescapable fact of life. Rather than resist it the collective attitude around the back-line seemed to be that they might as well all accept it with good grace as beyond their remit to influence.

Those opening exchanges troubled me. Principally, what rankled was the rather fat-headed way in which those in lilywhite attempted to pass their way casually out from defence. One understands the theory of course, and when well executed it can prove a delightful little routine, complete with promising finale.

But, crucially, last night it was not well executed. In fact, repeatedly, it was executed with a care-free frivolity that seemed entirely inappropriate to the occasion. Just about every time we tried those cute little passes around the Everton mob, the whole operation fell apart within spitting distance of our own area, and trouble loomed. Mercifully, Everton were utter rot from start to finish, and would not have scored if they had played until Easter, but I still did not look the manner in which our gang were going about things, and my stern glares towards them no doubt communicated as such.

And yet, despite insistence upon this strategy that was equal parts moronic and lackadaisical, within the blink of an eye our heroes were two or three goals to the good and skipping towards the finish line without shedding a bead of perspiration between them.

The key to it seemed to be simply to pick and execute a small handful of some absolutely glorious passes. The sort that would have the Sky mob purring if delivered from the size nines of de Bruyne or Fernandes, but rather pass under the radar when wheeled out by Ben Davies and Matt Doherty.

Exhibit A was Ben Davies’ pass around the defender and into space for young Sessegnon to gallop after. As mentioned, Sessegnon is a creature of pretty limited means, but point him in the right direction and release him from the traps, and you’re in business. Davies’ pass did precisely that, and deserved shiny gold stars for its weight and placement, both of which were immaculate.

This was soon followed by the lightest of dinks from Kulusevski, to put Sonny in the clear. Closer inspection revealing that not only did it put Sonny in the clear but it also made the brain of the nearest Everton defender explode, as he weighed up the benefits of chasing the ball and chasing the man, and found them tugging him with equal weight in opposite directions.

Matt Doherty’s pass for the third was the best of the lot, having the effect of lining up the entire Everton defence and then scattering them all over the place. Not many passes in football are so effective that they make the opposition players forget that a ball even exists, and start spinning around and bumping into one another, but this pass seemed to do that.

And as mentioned, Harry Kane isn’t the sort to put a hand on a hip and stand watching, admiringly – he simply ran off and scored – but had he been that sort he’d have noted with some admiration that he had time to jog the entire perimeter of the pitch before taking his shot, such was the devastating effect of the pass from Doherty.  

It was all breathtakingly simple in the end, and in a way justified the insistence upon all those curiously ill-planned attempts to pass out from the back. As it turned out, we only needed one of those to work and like magic our forwards and wing-backs were in on goal.

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Spurs match reports

Middlesbrough 1-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte’s Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Kane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 3. Wing-Backs

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Spurs match reports

Leeds 0-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Decent Winks Moment

Given current circumstances at N17, I suspect most of us would have taken an early goal in just about any format, but there was particular delight to be had in celebrating an opener such as yesterday’s, which had about it finery in its every component.

For a start, there was the role of young Winks. As has been well advertised for some time now, Winks is the sort of bounder who is liable to swing pretty heavily in one of two polarising directions. Sometimes a buccaneering type, adventure coursing through the veins and happy to smatter handy passes about the place; but oftentimes a rather tiresome egg, shovelling the damn thing sideways and then trotting after it to demand it back, only then to shovel it backwards and repeat the whole routine from the top.

Yesterday, however, he played the game. Collecting the ball on the half-turn inside his own half, he made his first smart choice in giving the rudder a yank so that he was facing the Leeds end; then followed up with a second S.C. by scampering off like a terrier that has spotted a goodish looking tennis ball, his little legs taking him to the heady heights of the halfway line.

At this point, with options abounding thanks to the movement of his superiors in attack, young Winks took the opportunity to melt the AANP heart by playing my favourite pass in the world. If you’ve ever wandered these parts before you’ll know exactly the one I mean, and are probably rolling your eyes and urging me to get on with it – but nothing makes this particular spine tingle quite like a perfectly-weighted pass inside the full-back, and Winks hit the sweet spot.

2. Sessegnon

And at this point, young Master Sessegnon grabbed the mic and seized the day. If Winks displays flashes that are occasionally good and occasionally bad, poor old Sessegnon has been accumulating nothing but the rotten stuff of late. If ever a blighter needed to dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and unwrap a spot of game-changing produce, that blighter was Sessegnon.

Having been let off the leash by Winks’ pass Sessegnon duly ticked all the necessary boxes – haring onto the thing and then delivering a peach of a cross into the centre, the sort of cross so invitingly whipped that only a man of the dullest intelligence would have contrived to miss out on it.

Nor was this an isolated incident, which is more the point really. On the front-foot, Sessegnon played with the gay abandon of a soul strangely untroubled by any of his recent trials. In recent weeks he has merely tiptoed forward, with the sheepish air of a cove who, not feeling he belongs, considers his best options to be either bursting into tears or running away to the safety of his own half – in short, anything but contributing in confident and productive manner.

Yesterday, however, he bobbed about the place like a man from whose shoulders the weight of the world had recently been removed, and who was dashed well going to celebrate the fact.

Take a look at our second and third goals, and the chap furthest up the pitch on the left was Sessegnon. With Sonny dragging the Leeds right back infield as if a small animal on a string for sport, there were acres in front of Sessegnon and he duly bounded into them at every opportunity.

My soul was also stirred by the quality of his crossing. As noted, the delivery for Doherty’s goal was the sort of good stuff that attracted top marks for everything from geometrical precision to the timing of the gag, and in the early stages of the game in particular, seemingly well aware that he was onto a good thing, he took to dashing down the left and pinging crosses into the area as if the whole thing were a new toy that he couldn’t get enough of.

The early flurry then subsiding, it was time for Sessegnon to ditch the frivolity and get on with the more sombre business of defending his corner. With the elastic-legged Raphinha up against him this threatened to be taxing stuff. Now admiring though I am of Sessegnon’s all-round performance yesterday, I hesitate to turn this into some sort of propaganda leaflet for the chap. So let history record that he made a moderate stab of the defensive side of things, but life in this quarter was not without its hitches.

In plain English, once or twice he was bested. Once or twice, of course, he himself emerged triumphant from the battle of wills and limbs; but once or twice he was bested. In sum, therefore, I suppose you could say it was an even sort of thing.

A sterner judge than AANP might also note that he received a caution for one of his less impressive endeavours, and also contributed a pretty ghastly pass that put into motion the sequence that saw Lloris go racing off into a different postcode, leaving the Leeds chappie to make a pig’s ear of an open goal. All side-splitting stuff come the punchline, but let it not be overlooked that its genesis was the errant boot of Sessegnon.

So all told, definitely one of the lad’s better days, and promising stuff for all who consider paradise to be a world littered with wing-backs who can offer value in the final third; but let it not be overlooked that he is not yet fitted with the all the necessary equipment.

3. Doherty

And on the subject of wing-backs who can offer value in the final third, Matt Doherty looked frightfully pleased with himself for his early contribution, and as well he might.

His finish itself was well taken, but probably no more than that. I think we’d have all have felt pretty disappointed if he had spooned the ball off into the atmosphere somewhere wide of the mark, given the quality of the delivery and relative lack of impediments standing in his way. So well done him.

But more than the finish, the impressive thing here was that Doherty had first hit upon the idea of bolting into the area as the apex of the attack, and then had undertaken the necessary spadework to ensure that this dream became reality.

Had any of Kane, Son or Kulusevski assumed the role of ‘Unnamed Extra Applying Finishing Touch’ one would have breezily shrugged it off as part of the day-job, and joined in with the back-slaps and high-fives as if the whole process were the most natural thing in the world. Arriving in the area to apply the finishing touch is, after all, one of the first bullet-points on the job description of such folk.

For Doherty to have dabbled in this area, however, makes one sit up and chew the thing over a bit. For a start, this was no freak occurrence. Sometimes, for example in the aftermath of a set-piece, a bean such as Davinson Sanchez or Eric Dier or whomever might find himself slap bang in the middle of the six-yard box with the ball bouncing kindly at his right foot and the goal at his mercy. Serendipitous, of course, but hardly part of the masterplan.

Doherty’s arrival as leader of the cavalry, however, seemed to be the conclusion of something that had had a good deal more production value and rehearsal time. When Winks received the ball in his own half – even before he had turned to set off towards the halfway line – Doherty had taken that as his cue and was already switching to Sprint mode, overtaking each of Kane, Son and Kulusevski in the process.

Obviously a joyous conclusion was then reached in this particular sub-plot, but the broader narrative seemed to be something along the lines that here, finally, was an example of a pair of wing-backs making maximum use of all the natural assets bestowed upon them by Mother Nature.

I have rarely been shy of preaching on these very pages of the positive, transformative effect that a good, wholesome, attacking pair of wing-backs can have upon a team, and the contributions of both Sessegnon with his cross and Doherty in having the good sense to motor to the front of the queue, demonstrated this.

Of course, playing a team as tactically naïve and wide open as Leeds did chivvy the thing along no end, and by the final knockings even Emerson Royal was popping up in the centre-forward position, so one ought probably ought not to get too carried away by either the system or the contribution of Doherty. But nevertheless, it was heartening stuff.

One question that remained unanswered by yesterday’s goings-on was around the crossing of Doherty. Emerson’s repeated attempts in this area over the last few months have driven me close to apoplexy, so I tuned in yesterday with pretty feverish anticipation of what delights Doherty might bestow. Alas, I’m not sure I remember him delivering one cross the whole game. The early knockings bore fruit from the left, and later on our tactic became counter-attacking via the size nines of Kane, so there is no further evidence to submit.

4. Kane

But when that rotter Harry Kane is drifting off into his own little world, far advanced of the mere mortals around him, I suppose it does not really matter whether or not one’s right wing-back can cross or not. Such considerations recede in importance. This seemed also to be the train of thought of Kane. In fact, just about every other position on the pitch, and the identities of those occupying them, seemed to recede in importance in the mind of Kane, in the second half, as he took it upon himself to orchestrate every bally thing.

It was ripping stuff. As and when the whim took him, he would collect the ball on the half-turn and calmly bisect with one expertly-judged pass the entire Leeds back-line, with all the languid ease of a man stroking his knife through butter. These moments caused a bit of sensation, leading to such highlights as Doherty’s one-on-one and Sonny’s goal.

But as well as the headline-grabbing stuff, what really caused the punters to murmur was the fact that as the game wore on he gradually just assumed a position of complete control of everything that was happening on the pitch. It rather reminded me of that skinny fellow in the cinematic flick “The Matrix”, who after a while exerted so much control over the ones and zeroes that he just sauntered about the place doing as he bade, and the assorted villains could do little more than say, “Righto”, and leave him to it.

Thus did Kane dominate things. Just wandering about the midfield, collecting the ball and doing whatever he damn well pleased with it. If he were not our best striker he’d arguably be our best midfielder, and towards the death he could be spotted tracking back feverishly in the right-back vicinity, as if to make a further point.

As last week against City, so yesterday against Leeds, his actual goal seemed almost an afterthought, despite being one heck of a finish. Many an inferior striker would have been overcome by the arc of the pass, the angle from which the ball dropped, the tightness of the angle to goal and multiple other taxing elements at play. Kane simply extended a casual limb and deposited the thing in the net.

5. Chances Conceded

Four-nil is obviously a thrashing in anyone’s book, and after the events of recent weeks, when the general sentiment has been that if it is not one thing it is dashed well going to be another, it was a very welcome turn of events too.

Leeds for their part looked like they could keep playing until the end of the year without scoring, such was the dizzying wealth of ways in which they contrived to miss fairly straightforward opportunities. And while this no doubt made for entertaining viewing, it did stir some nameless foreboding deep within me. That is to say, they seemed to carve us open rather too often and too easily, what?

Obviously one does not want to bring down the mood of the thing. If an away day brings four goals and three points then I would be the last person to request that the noise is kept down. But whereas last week we were so systematically organised that City could barely fashion a clear chance – relying on a goalkeeping flap and an iffy penalty – yesterday Leeds seemed to carve us open every five minutes.

Watching them tip-toe time and again to the very brink of our net, I did feel a sense of concern. Had we conceded at three-nil you would not have found a bullish, confident AANP, insisting that ‘twas merely a flesh-wound. You’d have found instead a deeply troubled AANP, convinced that some terrible fate lurked, and was going to upgrade from “lurking” to “dashed well happening” in a matter of minutes.

That we didn’t concede that first goal seemed to owe little to our own defensive capabilities, and much to the inability of Leeds to hit the target.

I suppose it is not one about which I should lose too much sleep, for the next game will be another day, and we may well tighten things up both in defence and in those more porous parts of the midfield. And for large parts of the second half in particular, our game-management and control of possession actually ticked along reasonably well. Nevertheless, for all the frivolity about the place at the final whistle, it seemed to me that a soft warning had been sounded, which those in power might do well to cast an eye over.

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Spurs match reports

Burnley 1-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Classic Spurs

First things first: of course, none of what played out last night will have come as any surprise to anyone who’s ever put more than five minutes of their life into supporting Spurs.

Having put heart and soul into beating the league leaders – who’d only lost twice all season – on the Saturday, it was the most natural progression in the world for exactly the same Spurs eleven then to splutter like a dying engine three days later against a side near enough bottom, who’d only won twice all season, dash it. Barely a Tottenham fan of my acquaintance registered even a flicker of surprise at the sequence of events.

It had a grim but absolutely irresistible inevitability about it. Anything else would have been like those stories you hear of a butterfly flapping its wings in Germany and inadvertently setting off a volcano in Peru as a result. Upset the status quo and before you know it things are spiralling. For Spurs not to have lurched from glorious on Saturday to impotent last night would have set off some pretty catastrophic natural disaster elsewhere.

And not only was it inevitable we would lose, it was inevitable we would lose in precisely that fashion too. Being hounded in possession, toothless going forward and, of course, conceding a pretty avoidable header from a pretty unnecessary free-kick. All against the backdrop of rain that fancied laying it on thick for a night, and a gigantic Burnley striker off whom each of our lot bounced in turn.

The goal itself was one of those routines at which we might have had 57 centre-backs stationed in the area and still somehow have failed to prevent the critical header. It is difficult to close one’s eyes and imagine a world in which we do not concede precisely this goal to a team in the relegation zone.

Naturally, Monsieur Lloris took one look at the ball drifting into the six-yard box at eminently catchable height and made a swift and emphatic decision not to get involved, the whole concept of moving from his line being one which he has for around ten years now considered well beyond his remit.  

So, whereas the defeat against Southampton had me tearing clumps of hair from the scalp, and the nonsense against Wolves had me thumping the loaf against the nearest brick wall, last night’s elicited little more than a shrug absolutely loaded to the brim with resigned acceptance.

2. Conte’s Reaction

As mentioned, for those of us who make a habit of watching Spurs, this was all pretty familiar stuff. Not exactly the fare that sends us home with a cheery whistle on our lips, but at least we’ve all long known what we’re letting ourselves in for.

For poor old Antonio Conte however, this evidently landed pretty heavily. One does not need to have framed diplomas on the wall to know that he was taking it thick. It’s easy to forget when you’ve been watching our lot week in and week out for a lifetime, but sudden exposure to the madness of Tottenham Hotspur can be pretty damaging stuff, and a real-time example of it was playing out in the post-match sparring last night.

Now I’ve never actually seen a man still alive after having had his soul removed, but from the haunted, vacant look in his eyes I’d be willing to lay a few bob that such a fate had befallen Signor Conte last night. While on the one hand I wanted to lay a consoling hand on his shoulder, at the same time it seemed wiser to tiptoe quietly away and let whatever demons were tormenting him have five minutes, to see which way things would go.

And that was before he’d even opened his mouth. If his look, of a man well and truly broken by Spurs, were not already enough to have us  wondering if there were a professional on hand equipped to deal with this sort of thing, the words he came out with dashed well had us all dropping what we were doing and sprinting to our panic stations.

Obviously at the time this was the sort of stuff that had us goggling a bit, for although some of his speech patterns lacked perfect coherence, it did not require the keenest intelligence to pick up that here was a chap unhappy with his lot in life. More specifically, Conte seemed to be wondering out loud if the role of Master and Commander of the Good Ship Hotspur were really worth the monthly envelopes.

But sometimes the thing to do in life is take a step back, and just see how things land. Obviously, this is a mantra one would preferred our defence and goalkeeper not to have adopted around minute 71 last night, but drinking in Conte’s pearls of wisdom in front of the cameras each week, I start to get the sense that here’s a lad who might benefit from the deep-breath-and-count-to-ten approach.

So now, twenty-four hours on, I suspect that he’s probably surveying the world around him in more considered fashion. Maybe he looks back on last night with a certain sheepishness; maybe he doesn’t. But while various sub-plots might bubble away behind closed doors, any notion of him thrusting hands into pockets and mooching off, never to return, can, for now, probably be considered unlikely. I suspect we might all just have to get used to his airing of unedited, real-time sentiments – and he to the infuriating world of managing our lot.

3. On-Pitch Impotence

As to matters on the pitch, aside from the goal conceded the whole bally thing just had one gnawing at one’s arm in frustration. It was that sort of performance.

Taking things in their proper order, in the first half we struggled to keep heads above water. The worry here is two-fold, because for a start a side second from bottom ought not to be strangling the life out of us; and secondly this is hardly an isolated occurrence.

One can point to the weather, and the fact that Burnley had just won with a clean sheet days earlier, and the alignment of planets and so on and so forth – but really, there’s no excuse. This is a side that went into their appointment nineteenth in the league, and at this stage of the season that can hardly be laughed off as one of those unfortunate misunderstandings.

And as mentioned, in recent weeks several teams have hit upon the notion that if they just press our midfield sorts in turn, then soon enough the whole damn edifice will come crumbling down.

Bentancur has dropped the occasional hint that he is the type of bird who doesn’t mind where or how he receives the ball – it’s all the same to him, he’ll just bring the thing under his spell, drop a shoulder or two and roll it onwards without ceremony.

The rest of the midfield mob, however, view opposition pressure as one of those evils in life from which there is no escape and against which there is no cure. Hojbjerg, Winks and too many of our defenders appear all to malfunction if an opponent scuttles in too close by. Possession may be retained, but if so it is not done with any degree of comfort or control – and frankly half the time possession simply isn’t retained.

And in a way this general unease amongst our midfield when in contact with the ball wouldn’t really matter so much if our wing-backs could be relied upon as dependable sources of inspiration.

But Sessegnon continues to stare at his feet as if only recently bequeathed to him, and Royal remains impeccable in all areas of his work apart from attacking and defending. It was notable that the best right-sided cross of the night came when that rotter Harry Kane took it upon himself to demonstrate that as well as half a dozen other positions he may also be our best right wing-back.

With four defeats in five, a midfield that cannot create, wing-backs who cannot cross and a manager who appears one defensive clanger away from a complete breakdown, one might suggest that the outlook is not entirely sunshine and blue skies. Our next opponents, Leeds, have just shipped six, which I suppose some might view as a positive – but it is probably in the best interests of the club if someone has a word in Conte’s ear about how that particular narrative tends to pan out.

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Spurs match reports

Man City 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kulusevski

I probably ought to do the square thing here, and shove in one of those little pre-emptive speeches before I hit the ripe stuff, because although he’s only been hovering about the place five minutes I’ve not wasted an opportunity to stick the knife into poor old Dejan Kulusevski during his Tottenham career to date.

I suppose it shows how much I know, but those very early impressions did not have me clearing some floor-space to dance little jigs of delight. A solid-looking chap, for sure, but it struck me that his muscle and sinews did little to disguise a first touch that contained too much meat when finesse was required. Add to that his single trick, repeated far too often (cutting in on his left) and the AANP verdict was decidedly middling.

Fast forward to around 19.30 GMT on Saturday night however, and such was the change in impression made upon me that I was strongly considering naming my first-born after the chap.

In the first place Kulusevski drew the short-straw on the tactical front. Man City, being of sound mind, naturally took one look at our lot and made it a priority to spend the entire match targeting Emerson Royal and his surrounding landscape. Our Glorious Leader therefore made the eminently sensible call to parachute in some permanent support for Emerson – with the net result was that poor old Kulusevski had to balance life as principal supporting actor every time Sonny and Kane combined with the additional demands of being a full-time auxiliary right-back alongside Emerson.

A testing agenda at the best of times, this particular trial had a few additional bobbish notes thrown in for good measure. For a start, our man was up against the most testing opposition going. Sterling and Gundogan didn’t stop eyeing him throughout for any false moves; while on the other hand the nearest ally in attendance was Emerson, who with the greatest will in the world does tend rather to flit in and out of things when it comes to his defensive duties.

And yet Kulusevski took to the challenge like an absolute trooper. In the defensive quarter, diligence seemed to be the buzzword. Actually, in the D. Q. there were a heck of a lot of buzzwords – “discipline”, “concentration”, “fitness” and so on, and one probably need not grapple with the specifics of the most appropriate word to get the gist: here was a fellow happy to put in a shift.

Surveying the scene in the aftermath, one would probably remark that for all Man City’s beavering down that flank, their success in the neighbourhood was limited. One certainly does not have to cast the mind back too far to recall occasions when our right side was a door flung wide open to welcome in all-comers, but on Saturday night efforts were made from start to finish to impose some sort of order upon the area, and Kulusevski’s sweaty paw-prints were all over it.


But of course the joy of Kulusevski’s performance was that he managed to be two people at once. The dependable workhouse routine having been executed admirably in the defensive third, when we ventured forward he was equally as willing to infest the more exciting areas of the paddock. And if in previous weeks I have ground a disapproving jaw or two, on Saturday night the chap completed a pretty swift redemption.

For a start, his goal was taken with casual air of a man peeling a particularly accommodating banana. This was all the more impressive given that the serene route of an open goal, which Sonny had no doubt envisaged when playing his square pass, had morphed into one of considerably greater challenge by the time the ball actually reached Kulusevski – not least because a City sort had galloped back and stationed himself rather pointedly in the face of our newest hero. It was therefore to Kulusevski’s infinite credit that he remained thoroughly unfazed, even having the presence of mind to nutmeg the City bod.

And at the risk of reading a darned sight too much into some of life’s trivialities, I did also detect on the umpteenth viewing that Kulusevski’s reaction to scoring was in similarly casual vein, comprising little more than a shrug, a yawn and a rather stony-faced expression of boredom whilst being mobbed by chums, as if to suggest that this was the sort of thing he did to pass the time.

On top of which, he then delivered just about our first successful right-wing cross of the season, in creating the winner (and again celebrated by turning back and dolefully walking towards halfway, the strange fellow).

Admittedly the City lad tasked with preventing his cross seemed to lose all interest in the sport and simply nodded him through, but it was still a peach of a cross. A different kettle of fish from Lucas for sure, but in games such as these in which a we require someone with eyes in the back of his head as well as the more traditional arrangement, young Master K could fit the bill.

2. The Defensive Set-Up: Dier

Post-match, there was a pretty sombre air in the Sky Sports studio as the assembled brains moaned about how City’s possession merited more – but I thought this overlooked the more telling stat that our lot piped up with more Shots On Target than their lot. Actually, the most telling stat was in the ‘Goals’ column, but you get the point – for all their possession, City couldn’t actually edge near enough our net to really spit on their hands and get cracking.

Our Glorious Leader obviously takes credit here, for opting for a back-five-plus-Kulusevski approach that ought to be enshrined in a museum as a model of watertightness. Impressively, all six of them seemed to function as one, shuffling north, east, south and west as if bound by shackles across the waist. And here I thought much credit went to the returning Eric Dier.

As has been often remarked around these parts, set Dier off in a foot-race, or tell him to turn around and not be out-sprinted by a forward, and trouble isn’t far off. But in these backs-to-the-walls operations, in which no pace is required and deep defending is the order of the day, the chap pretty much shoots a knowing wink and spends ninety minutes directing operations, emerging at the other end in a deuce of a sweat but triumphant nevertheless.

And so it panned out here. If City’s goals had emanated from the sort of dashing routines demonstrated by our lot, I might have chewed a nervous lip and marked Dier as one for questioning in the aftermath.

But City’s goals were nothing of the sort. The first was a cross equal parts harmless and hopeful, which Lloris treated with the sort of idea that there are times in a goalkeeper’s life when the last thing one should do is catch the bally thing; and the second was one of those penalties which can only be avoided by those blessed with detachable arms. In short, neither City goal came about because of any flaw in the performance of the back-five six.

3. The Defensive Set-Up: Romero

And even more impressive than Dier in the midst of all this gallant security was Senor Romero. Be it blocking, shadowing, tackling or whatever other noble task required, Romero seemed either to come with pre-loaded expertise, or to learn pretty dashed quickly on the job.

When one thinks back to the wild panic with which Davinson Sanchez has treated every involvement with the ball in recent weeks, one’s gaze towards Romero only becomes more admiring. I’m not entirely sure how rapidly he shifts from A to B, but as with Dier, parking up within a back-three and marshalling visitors with an air of authority is the sort of task-list that brings out the best in the man.

On top of which, the young nib is incredibly adept with ball at feet too. In general, upon receipt of the thing near-ish his own goal he resists the urge traditionally embedded into Spurs defenders to view it with horror and stumble over their own feet as all manner of potentially horrific consequences terrorise them.

Instead, Romero treats matters with appropriate sentiment. Set a striker upon him and he’ll crunch the fellow; but simply roll a football to his feet and he’ll control the thing, look around and pick his pass. Sometimes it will be square and harmless, which is as much as one would expect from a centre-back. But the beauty of Romero in possession is that as often as not, he’ll skip the ‘Harmless’ level and plunge straight into ‘Handily Taking Out Several Opponents’.

Re-watch the third goal and you’ll see him twice receive the ball on halfway, and twice sneer at those advocating that the 95th minute away to the champions dictates a safe sideways nudge. Instead, on both occasions he transferred matters 10 yards north, very much with the air of a man keen to turn his present bounty into even greater future riches, and on the second occasion Bentancur – a fellow who, while occasionally taken by surprise by the rigour of things, nevertheless displayed a dreamy touch throughout – spun forward to Kulusevski the sort of glorious, defence-splitting pass of which Winks, for example, would not dream.

4. Sessegnon

This being AANP Towers I obviously cannot let pass our finest display of the season without grumpily dragging into the office at least one of our number for a stern eye and verbal lashing, and on this occasion it’s young Sessegnon.

Mitigating circumstances abound, of course. In recent history the young pill has struggled to make it to the half-hour mark without some calamity striking him. It is therefore unsurprising that when battle commences he does not stride about the place with the confident vim of a man who knows his worth. The lad’s confidence has been hung, drawn, quartered, pelted with rotten fruit and hacked at a bit with an axe for good measure. One sympathises.

Nevertheless, seeing him yet again interact with the football as if it were trying to attack him was a bit thick. I presume that in his lighter moments, away from the noise of the crowd and glare of the cameras, young Sessegnon demonstrates an ability to move from place to place as well as the best of them. No doubt he’s mastered the art of moving one leg, and then the other, and then the first leg again and so on. Heavens, he probably can do all of the above while nurdling a ball along the ground too.

But stick him on the pitch and all that training and muscle memory rather cruelly deserts him, and he seems instead utterly incapable of getting the machinery working. His every touch seemed to bring about a U-turn in the narrative, as possession switched from lilywhite to light blue.

Moreover, one got the impression that his was a career in which he had somehow escaped ever having to compete against an opponent, such was his shock and inability to deal with the buffeting of his fellow man. To say that he was easily muscled off the ball would be to understate things.

Nevertheless, Sessegnon persisted, and deserves credit for sticking to the plan. Defensively he held his position, and given that he had the likes of Foden and De Bruyne lurking in his postcode he did a solid job of at least standing them up and forcing them to look elsewhere.

Moreover, just about the only moment I can remember him retaining possession was in his contribution to the second goal. No particular bells and whistles about it, but he was there and reeled off his lines correctly (in feeding Son), so I’m happy to slather praise upon him for it. Unlike certain others in lilywhite, I remain convinced that he is one who might yet rediscover the glories of his previous lives and prosper.

5. Kane

Naturally one can hardly skirt over proceedings without giving Kane some of the old oil.

The AANP heart, being formed primarily of ice and stone, does little in the way of the forgive-forget routine, so I remain dubious of the fellow’s broader motives – but by golly he brought his A-game on Saturday night.

Those who know me best will know that few things make the AANP heart flutter quite like a well-weighted pass inside a full-back, and the specimen produced by Kane in the build-up to the opener deserves its own special gong at whatever might be the next awards ceremony going.

The vision, direction and weight of the thing was absolutely as ripe as they come. When the grandchildren come clustering around decades hence, and ask for the highlights of my innings, the witnessing of that Kane pass will be the headline.

Nor was it an isolated incident. Kane’s vision and execution throughout oozed class from every pore. There are times when his obsession with midfielding rather grates; but when he starts high, drops 5-10 yards, receives the ball on the half-turn and fizzes a pass onto a postage stamp, one cannot help but cast an admiring eye.

Handily, the fellow also chipped in with a couple of goals. Occurring as they did, almost as afterthoughts, rather hammered home the fact that he was the hub of creativity rather than simply the chap in fancy garb who applies the finishing touch. Nevertheless, both were well taken, his second goal in particular a decent exhibition of the virtues of barrel-chested upper-body strength.

6. Our Goals and the Counter-Attack Myth

A final musing is on the nature of our goals.

It is naturally tempting to suggest that this was opportunistic stuff. The well-rehearsed narrative would have it that our heroes defended for dear life, and then nicked the ball and raced off to score.

The truth makes for a more interesting narrative, at least for those who like to don the spectacles and get a handle on the fine print.

Our first goal came from playing out from a goal-kick; our second from playing out from a goal-kick; Kane’s miss came from playing out from a goal-kick but with the added drama of losing and then regaining possession inside our own half; and the third was the happy ending to a minute-long story of our patient possession. Of nicking-and-countering there was not a whiff. (Well, perhaps a whiff about the Kane miss, when we lost and then regained possession – but not really countering in the classical sense of their entire team camped high up around our area.)

In truth, the telling element of all this is not so much around anything big and clever from our lot, as the rather fat-headed choice from City to station their defenders high up the pitch, leaving vast expanses for Kane’s passing and midfield runners to exploit. Nevertheless, once in possession our heroes knew the drill each time, and there was something of the well-rehearsed about the way in which the ball was swiftly transferred from one protagonist to another. No standing on ceremony here; our lot were quick and punchy.

As mentioned above, even in the third goal, when patient possession was the order of the day, the sudden injection of pace came from a first-time pass from Bentancur, out to Kulusevski on the right. Precious few teams will defend as high, allowing the tactic of Kane-passes-for-midfield-runners to thrive; but the progressive passing from Romero, and first-time pass from Bentancur to set up our third, gave a glimpse of where our creative sparks might lie for future bouts.