All Action, No Plot

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Man City 4-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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So for those who had the slightest doubt, that is why it’s called All Action, No Plot.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was one of those madcap jamborees in which words just rather flit into the ether, and one is left gawping, a mere spectator, as utter madness unfolds. Five goals in the opening twenty – and even that did not compare with the quite gut-wrenching finale of unadulterated ridiculousness.

1. Nerves Shredded To Dust

It is not the first time this thought has occurred, but rarely have I been more struck by the notion that watching Spurs will be the death of me. I will simply keel over and be no longer for this mortal coil, the trusty blood-pumper simply not up to the rigours of watching our eleven heroes in lilywhite toying with the nerves.

To order things chronologically, there was simply no time to get one’s head around the unfolding madness in those opening ten minutes or so. They scored, and we scored, and we scored, and they scored, and – well, one gets the gist. Every time we tried to take a deep breath and get our heads around the permutations, another goal flew in and all that had gone before was as naught. It really was most discombobulating.

In the midst of those opening thrusts, Sissoko injured himself in a manner that was so innocuous it could only possibly have been pretty dashed serious, and in one of those decisions that was entirely in keeping with the utterly sanity-free nature of proceedings, Our Glorious Leader replaced him with Senor Llorente. And Sissoko was booked for being substituted. Really.

2. Llorente: Zero, Hero and All Things In Between

Might as well dwell further on Llorente and his impact on things. Both match-winner and cause of our near-downfall, the honest fellow’s introduction pretty much sucked the life out of all we had as an attacking force, at around the 40-minute mark.

Admittedly we were hardly bossing proceedings until then, but for all City’s razor-sharp potency in the first half we did at least possess a heck of a threat until that point. With Lucas and Sonny looking shifty, and bringing about two early goals, there was plenty about which the City back-line might ponder.

Llorente did his best, as ever, but rather than the desired effect of holding up the ball and allowing others to zip up in support, he lumbered this way and that, a good few yards behind the City back-line. His introduction inadvertently castrated our counter-attacking prowess.

And yet.

Cometh what seemed like our only foray into the City third, in that relentless second half, cometh the hip – and quite possibly the elbow, or wrist, or some other stray upper limb – of Llorente. For a chap whose forte is supposedly his heading, it was a pretty atrocious effort, his head nowhere near the ball – and it was also the most gorgeous finish I think I’ve ever witnessed. The AANP tuppence worth on the VAR call: not a clear and obvious error. So there.

3. Full-Back Struggles

Easy to criticise, and I’m not sure the fires of hell itself are as unforgiving as the rampaging forward thrusts of the quite majestic Sterling and De Bruyne – but Rose and, in particular, Trippier, were so adrift in those opening twenty minutes that the whole thing seemed to be in contravention to the rules.

Trippier is a mighty fine attacking threat against just about any team in the world, but he supposedly is a defender by trade, and his approach to containing Sterling was so weak as to be laughable, comprising, as it did, the grand plan of showing the chap onto his stronger foot. For goodness’ sake.

Rather harsh to zoom in on the full-backs when our entire team was being cut to ribbons fairly incessantly in the second half, but I did not think either full-back covered themselves in glory in their individual battles out wide. Oddly enough, when matters became a mite more last-ditch and backs-to-the-wall, and all a matter of blocking and hacking clear, they both looked a bit more dependable.

Worth emphasising also that Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld and my mate Vertonghen used every inch of their nous and defensive skill during that second half battering. Bravo, chaps. Lloris in particular, so often lambasted in these parts for his moments of startling wobbliness, delivered some top-notch palm extensions.

4. The Famous Soft Tottenham Underbelly

Easy also to overlook quite what a remarkable effort this was. In the context of not spending a penny on players for two transfer windows – against a team that flings around monopoly money – and to take the field without our main striker, one had only to look at our substitute options to get the sense that we would need something verging on the other-worldly to pull this off.

The departure of Sissoko in the first half simply made the dashed difficult unfeasibly testing. A glance towards the respective benches highlighted the fact that we are woefully undercooked for such top-level squad jousting.

No faulting the effort of those involved, but Wanyama looked every inch a player who has barely played in the last two seasons; Llorente looked every inch a man in his mid-thirties looking rather bewildered at the vastly trendier youths whizzing about him; and the options on the bench, of Walker-Peters, Davies, Skipp et al did not inspire lashings of confidence.

They deserve every ounce of praise therefore, for staying within touching distance throughout, forcing their noses ahead seemingly through sheer force of will, and then clinging on for dear life.

5. That Finale

I don’t mind admitting to my public that I felt physically sick throughout, and reached what one might term a lowest ebb when Sterling bundled in what appeared to be the winner in the dying moments of added time.

I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced the lowest conceivable low being instantly interrupted by the highest possible high, but it really ought to come with a health warning. For a game that I’d cheerily dismissed beforehand as a free hit, one that did not really matter in the grand scheme of things, and of vastly lesser importance than the domestic stuff on Saturday, this certainly drained the engine.

Utterly incredibly, we are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League – this after being within a few minutes of elimination seemingly throughout the group stages. And without any signings. And without our star striker. And so on and so forth.

Utterly bonkers, and utterly compelling all action, no plot stuff. Time for a stiff drink.

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Spurs 1-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. A Marvellous Team Effort

What splendid viewing that made. And all the better for being a couple of notches above and beyond wildest dreams.

Given recent form, the quality of the opposition and, frankly, the weathering effect upon the soul that three decades of Spurs-supporting inevitably has, the pre-match mood at AANP Towers was defeatist to the point of philosophical. “What the heck?” was the general, resigned tone, accompanied by suitably accepting shrug, “We aren’t expected or likely to win, so this amounts to something of a free hit.”

But goodness me, with the presumably strict tactical instructions of Our Glorious Leader ringing in their ears, our heroes played out scene after scene just about to perfection.

They hunted in packs as appropriate, but cunningly did so only at suitable junctures and as a team, similarly picking moments simply to sit off and let City mooch around in possession. While the sound of jangling nerves undoubtedly resounded a few times, particularly in the second half, as City buzzed around the edges of our area, they did not actually fashion a clear-cut chance, and Lloris was relatively untroubled.

Quite the triumph for teamwork then, but also as individuals just about every man in lilywhite – including subs Lucas, Wanyama and Llorente – excelled in their individual duties. Pre-match I had feared that 89 minutes of good honest graft might be undone by those increasingly typical moments of unforced madness that various individuals are liable to sprinkle around the place; but yesterday every man was near-faultless.

Sissoko was immense, carrying the ball forward like the slightly clunky ghost of Dembele and defending with non-nonsense force; Toby and Jan were watertight; young Winks repeatedly picked the sensible options, be they backwards or forwards; and Rose was a constant threat in his intriguing match-up with erstwhile chum Walker.

2. Lloris

Recent history dictates that if anyone were going to magic a calamitous error out of thin air it was our resident net-protector, but his handling was secure, and in saving the penalty he gave the entire place an almighty fillip.

This penalty-saving lark is becoming something of a habit, what? Which is all the more pleasing given that in his previous half-dozen or so years of employment I’m not sure I remember him diving into the right postcode when faced with a spot-kick, let alone saving one. Yet there he was, as clear as day, beating the thing away as if it were the most natural way in the world to right a wrong and inject a little fire into sixty thousand bellies.

Heaven knows I malign the chap like the dickens when he errs, so it is only right to salute him today.

3. Sonny Saves Augments The Day

By the time Sonny popped up with his coup de grâce I would happily have traded in my right arm for a goalless draw, so it would be a slight mangling of the Queen’s English to suggest that the cheery soul saved the day, but by golly he certainly popped a cherry on the top of it.

At that stage, deep into the second half, City had decided to go about their business with a darned sight more urgency, and while we weren’t exactly clinging on for dear life, we were backtracking into that sort of territory.

As so often happens, the absence of Kane seemed to remove a chain or two from the being of Son, and he appeared more than happy to occupy the vacated limelight.

It is an odd quirk, that the sight of Kane limping off down the multi-million pound tunnel did not sear my very core as once it might have done. Make no mistake, yesterday was a fine advert for the honest fellow’s general hold-up play, and until Llorente came on we had no similar apparatus in operation. However, this lot are now pretty well-versed in the art of Kanelessness, and actually I was more alarmed by the sight of Sonny going down with a wince a few minutes later.

Sonny will presumably be the focal point in future weeks, and much therefore depends on the supporting roles of Lucas, Llorente and Dele (plus Lamela, if he returns to fitness). All told, the absence of Kane is not the terminal blow it might seem.

4. Eriksen

While most in lilywhite peddled their wares with intense concentration and sterling effectiveness, for much of the game, and in keeping with recent weeks, I paced the corridors with concern at the outputs of Master Eriksen.

His workrate remains as good as ever, but for an hour or so his distribution was decidedly careless. For a man of such ability to misplace ten-yard passes, or suck the momentum out of attacks by passing south, struck me as a real waste, and a poorly-timed one at that. It seems no coincidence to me that our flatness during February and March has coincided with his swerve into off-boil territory.

Mercifully, he righted numerous recent wrongs with that delightful chip into the path of Sonny for the goal, and in general in the final twenty or so minutes of proceedings he danced around the expensive place with some of the old menace.

5. VAR

In truth I prefer not to wade into any topic that doesn’t have Tottenham at its front and centre, and frankly if the rules state that Rose’s was a handball then I’m willing to accept that and toddle along because such is life.

However, the lack of consistency irked me, I don’t mind admitting. The fact that the penalty was awarded despite literally no appeals for a handball does not irk me (it merely suggests that none of them were particularly familiar with the current rules); the lack of consistency does.

I happened to catch snippets of the Liverpool game being played concurrently, during which a pretty similar accidental handball occurred, and VAR decided against a penalty award. All of which gives the impression that rather than mete these things out consistently, they might as well be adjudged by the toss of a coin. If they want a ridiculous rule then so be it; but dash it, apply that rule consistently.

On top of which, it appears that elbows to the head are now also above board, in the all-seeing eyes of video refs. Which is fine by me, if that approach will now be universally applied; one rather suspects it won’t.

A tad harsh on Rose to be yellow-carded too, but such are the mind-boggling days in which we live. Ultimately the whole curious affair simply provided our heroes with a greater sense of injustice with which to fire them along.

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Liverpool 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

For goodness’ sake, dash it all. Is there a more galling way to lose than through a last-minute own-goal, when you’ve actually done enough to win the thing?

Despite every element of it being perfectly above board and within the rules, this somehow feels like a gross injustice – not least because we should have been a couple of goals ahead by the time the clock rumbled over to 90.

1. Much Improved Performance. So That’s Nice.

It’s now one point from fifteen, which officially qualifies as Dreadful Form, but at contrast to the four preceding games, this one at least came with a performance that, for the second half at least, was pretty impressive fare.

Once the necessary tweaks had been made to the tactical levers and pulleys, our heroes rattled along with something approaching rhythm, pinging neat first-time passes and shimmying around in sprightly manner off the ball, which always makes for a winning combo. At one-nil down we took the game to Liverpool and gave them a thing or two over which to chew; and at one-one we looked particularly nifty on the counter, and really ought to have sewn the thing up with a few deliveries to spare.

2. Tactics, Tactics

Pre-game, much of the nattering at AANP Towers had been doleful recollections of how in previous games against the Top Six this season – including Liverpool at home – our wing-backs have flown off as far up the pitch as physics allows, leaving enough greenery behind them to set up a small farm and live off the land, and opponents have duly taken advantage like nobody’s business.

Consequently I barely dared to look at the set-up from the opening toot yesterday, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold. As it happened however, our lot went to the other extreme, with Rose and Trippier erring so far on the side of caution that at times the defence resembled a string of five centre-backs. With Sissoko’s ball-carrying neutered by the instruction to sit in front of the back-three and protect, matters were pretty decidedly awry, and Liverpool’s attacking full-backs had a whale of a time.

Credit to Our Glorious Leader then, from his lofty perch, for adjusting first to a 5-4-1 out of possession, and then to a 4-4-2. The Liverpool wide threat was largely neutered, and our lot began to impose themselves.

Our equaliser was thoroughly merited, and had any one of Eriksen, Dele or the wild shooting boots of dear old Sissoko converted the second half chances that came their way, I suspect most right-minded observers would have deemed matters perfectly reasonable, and given the green light. Which makes the wretched finale all the more galling, but such are the vicissitudes of life, dash it all.

3. Lucas: A Handy Contribution

By and large, Lucas Moura has underwhelmed a tad when introduced from the bench this season. Way back in August he was awarded one of those awfully modern Player of the Month awards, on the back of a match-winning dazzle at Old Trafford and a fistful of other handy contributions while those around him shook off the jet-lag from their World Cup adventures.

Since then, the starting nod alongside Kane has tended to be for Sonny, or occasionally Lamela, and Lucas has been shoved on as something as an afterthought for the dying embers.

At Anfield however, with Sonny having racked up enough midweek air-miles to travel to the moon, Lucas was in from the start, and immediately looked like he had a thing or two to tell the locals, and didn’t care how it would be received. It would be stretching things to say he ran the Liverpool back-line ragged, but he certainly carried bundles of whizz and pop every time he touched the ball, and he merited his goal.

4. Errors At The Back

Here in this corner of the interweb we have never been averse to a spot of pedantry, so while it might seem churlish to shine a great glaring light upon the marginal defensive errors that cost us the game, someone has to kick up a stink about these things.

Exhibit A was Kieran Trippier’s delicately-executed hokey-cokey in the first half, as he went in, and out, and in, and out again, when faced with Robertson and ball. The net effect was that the opponent was thoroughly untroubled, and obliged by swinging in a peach of a cross that was nodded in for Liverpool’s opener.

Worth noting that Exhibit A during the game happened to be something like Exhibit J or K or so, in Trippier’s own personal Case For The Prosecution This Season, because his performances since the World Cup have been littered with defensive errors. (He does deliver a wicked cross when up the other end of the pitch though.)

A pedant might point to Danny Rose’s half-moment of ball-watching at the death as Exhibit B, as this allowed Mo Salah to deliver his fateful header.

Exhibit C, however, was Monsieur Lloris’ nonsense of a non-save. It seems to be quite the fashion amongst the young folk who bear the mitts and stand between the posts these days to push and punch and do everything but catch the blasted ball. It’s an absolute blight upon society, and Lloris deserves a good thrashing for such wispy nonsense.

On top of which, his errant clearance actually sat neatly at the root cause of the opening goal we conceded. The time to look at other goalkeeping options has arrived.

5. Danny Rose Popping Up Everywhere

Danny Rose, once he had been sucked out of the ultra-defensive mode that saw him glued to the back-three in the early stages, did what Danny Rose does, and took it upon himself to forage forward with that familiar, angry air of one who is being continually wronged. It makes for splendid viewing.

Rose was then indulged in his preference for a full-time placement further up the field, as we emerged in the second half in a shiny 4-4-2, of which he played left midfield. This naturally played to his strengths, and reminds us also that we should be grateful for the flexibility of my personal chum Jan Vertonghen.

Not that Rose’s dalliance in midfield lasted too long, as he ended up back at left-back once Sonny arrived, but I do quite enjoy seeing him being unleashed in midfield, even if he does start to think he’s Pele and take on all-comers.

And as a valedictory point, the highlight of AANP’s day was arguably the gorgeous cross-field ball from Kane to pick out Trippier in the build-up to the equaliser. Quibblers have duly insisted that the ball was rolling – whether it should have stood or not, it was a ping of the highest quality. Allied to his hold-up play when dropping deep, and his robotic scoring ability, the man’s talents are mind-boggling.

One would hope our heroes take the spirit of the second half here, as well as any perceived injustice about the ultimate nature of the demise, and unleash it in the spanking new bowl on Wednesday.

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

Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

1. The ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ School of Defending

Hindsight being a pretty flawless sort of gem, it is easy for us to playfully nudge each other’s ribs and chortle, “Well that was pretty easy pickings, what?”

But being Spurs fans in general, and having sat through the first 40-odd minutes in particular, I think we can probably all swiftly reach a consensus that this was actually one heck of a delicate operation, and one which, but for six inches here and a millisecond there might have seen us one or two down by half-time and stewing in our juices like nobody’s business.

A three-goal lead we might have held at kick-off, but Dortmund came out of the traps at a fair old lick, and emanated the strong whiff of a team that would go on to nab a second, third and fourth if they could just get that first.

Enormous credit is therefore due to the entire N17 cast for defending as a team, particularly in the first half. Like those rather natty shoals of about a hundred fish that you see weaving this way and that in perfect synchronisation, as if controlled by a single mind, our defence and midfield diligently shuttled hither and thither as Dortmund prodded away like the dickens.

Normally this sort of guff wouldn’t earn a second glance at AANP Towers, where the teeth have been cut on a strict diet of the non-stop, all-action swash and buckle that has lent its name to the place; but there is a time and place for such things, and the drill last night was quite rightly to keep the door shut at all costs during the initial blitz.

This is not to say that our heroes were flawless in their defending as a collective. Had they been, there would not have been need for the last-ditch heroics peddled by Messrs Lloris, Vertonghen and Davies at various junctures.

Nevertheless, I got the impression that if one were to pluck a lilywhite at random and slice him open, one would have discovered intense concentration levels and a strict game-plan coursing through his veins. Our lot were hell-bent on keeping Dortmund at bay.

2. What Lloris Does Best

So as mentioned, the generally topping work done by all eleven was embellished in timely fashion by a couple of goal-worthy challenges from certain members of the back-five; and when even these lines were breached, Monsieur Lloris produced the sort of performance that in truth he’s probably owed us for the past couple of seasons.

Some saves were straightforward, and some were absolutely first rate. Usefully, Lloris was not in discriminatory mood, and did the necessaries with all of them.

In a way, the slightly desperate, last-ditch, backs-to-the-wall nature of the thing in the first half played neatly into Lloris’ hands. The chap seems to be at his best when instinctively thrusting out a paw to repel a close-range snapshot.

Shoot at his legs and there is a moderate-to-good chance the ball will find a way through. Ask him to come dashing from his line to mop things up and any sort of fresh hell might transpire. But simply fire the ball at him from a distance of 5-10 yards, as Dortmund did repeatedly in the first half, and he’s precisely the sort of nib you want manning the phones.

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

Not that Lloris’ heroics and the collective spirit of defence made the first half much more bearable. For all the thrill of seeing a Davies limb extend or a Vertonghen toe intercept, the respite rarely lasted more than around 5 seconds before the next Dortmund wave was upon us. For almost the entirety of the first half we were unable to retain possession, our on-the-ball subtlety rarely extending beyond simply blooting the thing to halfway and trying to regroup for the next yellow attack.

In between staving off heart attacks, the thought did strike me that we would have benefited immensely from a spell of possession, just for its own sake. Not with the aim of pelting towards the Dortmund area in search of an away goal, but simply to relieve the pressure.

Instead, out on the greenery, the only intention seemed to be to launch the ball north, in the hope that Kane and Son might magic a goal out of nothing. The net result was that neither were able to hold up play and we were immediately back under the cosh. What we were crying out for was actually a spot of sideways and backwards passing, with zero attempt to encroach on Dortmund territory, and every intention of simply controlling the game for a few priceless minutes.

Being the sort of egg who’s all for a spot of irony during their daily routine, it did strike me that in recent weeks I have hit something pretty near apoplexy at the sight of Toby, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Winks and Sissoko pinging the ball sideways and backwards ad nauseam. When the games against Burnley, Chelsea and Arsenal were absolutely howling out for some urgency, invention and blasted forward forays, our heroes intransigently pivoted, and pivoted, and then rolled the ball sideways.

Contrast with last night, when all they seemed capable of doing in the first half was attempting unnecessarily and unsuccessfully to force the ball forward. I don’t mind admitting I swept a hand across the fevered brow on more than one occasion.

Mercifully, the penny dropped from about the 40-minute mark, as Dortmund’s enthusiasm for the chase dwindled. Thereafter, our heroes began to look like they were starting rather to enjoy themselves. Aware that it simply did not matter whether they passed forward or backward as long as they retained the ball, they began to lead Dortmund a merry dance, occasionally feinting to attack, and then rather cruelly about-turning and shuttling the ball across the back-line.

4. Kane Adulation

And that, in truth, was pretty much that. Half-time arrived with our heroes in possession, and the early second half goal gave every one of us the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned spot of exhaling.

Being an absolute machine, Harry Kane did not pause to mess around when presented with his one and only chance. The chap’s Champions League stats already boggle the mind a tad, and the circumstances around his goal yesterday were impressive – one might make the case that the very best strikers need only one chance in the crunch games, and Kane is very much of that ilk.

On top of which, he spent much of the rest of the game pottering around winning free-kicks while strongly outnumbered. A cracking performance from whichever angle one views it.

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

A tip of the hat also to Eric Dier, who returned from witness protection looking like these were the circumstances for which he had been born to play.

Thrown on with half an hour to go, instructed to protect the back-four and generally ensure no alarms, he did so with discipline and aggression, as one would expect, but also threw in a neat line of simple and effective short passes that kept the pressure off and gradually sucked the will to live from the Dortmund mob.

With Winks and Sissoko seemingly playing every minute of every game these days, and hobbling off accordingly, the return of Dier, particularly in this sort of mood, is most useful.

6. All Grown Up

Two years ago our heroes were gifted a fairly straightforward draw, and failed to progress from the group.

One year ago our heroes topped a group containing Real Madrid, then outplayed Juve for all but 13 minutes over two legs, and failed to progress past the Round of 16.

This year our heroes have delivered absolutely textbook Home and Away leg performances, and now gambol on to the Quarter Finals. The evidence mounts in pretty compelling fashion to suggest that they improve year on year.

No doubt they will continue to lose the occasional game against big teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’) and occasionally lose to smaller teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’), but the two very different and devastatingly effective performances in this tie – following a group stage in which we faced elimination unless we scored in the last 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and six fixtures – points towards a team that is getting the hang of this lark.

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

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

If not quite a full-blown disaster, this ongoing implosion has all the core ingredients, in pretty much the right measures and with all requisite utensils.

The casual scattering of six points in half a week has left brows furrowing like nobody’s business, and should we lose to that ‘orrible lot on Saturday – which on present form, is a pretty conceivable scenario – the gap will have narrowed from the chasmic 10 points of what seemed like yesterday, to a thoroughly slippable 1 point.

1. Too Dashed Slow

Rather disappointingly, our heroes simply picked up where they had left off against Burnley. There was a general air of men treading through quicksand throughout, on top of which several feted luminaries seemed to have the dickens of an issue bringing the ball under control. Numerous seemingly perky counter-attacking opportunities were beheaded in their infancy when one of Sonny, Lamela or whomever stumbled upon the ball and let it slip away.

Having weathered any early storm, matters were pretty even at half-time, but the pattern changed after Chelsea’s opener. Thereafter they seemed fairly content to sit back, squeeze everyone into neat defensive formation and, truth be told, light cigars.

For rather than cause them any discernible difficulties, our lot – earnestly but thoroughly ineffectively – took to dwelling on the ball. Every man in possession swivelled this way, and then that, and then hit upon the brain wave of going back the first way again on the off-chance that it might miraculously have opened up invitingly in the preceding 1.5 seconds; meanwhile Chelsea simply cleared the cigar smoke and waited.

The game was crying out for some lilywhite urgency, some swift, one-touch hopping around this way and that. A few neat first-time passes, a triangle here and one-two there might have been sufficient to prise Chelsea from their fort. But alas, it was four-touch stuff as a minimum, all the way.

As a principal but by no means sole culprit, I noted, with pretty aghast eyes, that young Winks made the highest number of passes, with a 97% accuracy rate – but how many of those did the slightest dashed jot of good? Wouldn’t it have been preferable for him to try something a tad more incisive, say attempting 6 or 7 killer balls, on the off-chance that 1 or 2 would strike oil? Heaven forbid, it might have disturbed his pass accuracy stats…

2. Eriksen Decidedly Off The Boil

The game was screaming out for Christian Eriksen to have the whiff of battle in his nostrils, and start pulling strings from midfield like there were no tomorrow.

But alack, the chap simply mooched around with the air of one who would rather be sitting on a small fishing boat in the middle of a calm lake, straw hat on head and toothpick in mouth. He looked, in short, like a man who had taken a look around and thought, “Stuff this, I’m off to Madrid.”

Where we needed some sort of conduit between the southern axis of Sissoko and Winks and the more northerly mechanics of Eriksen-Son-Lamela, the Dane kept his head down and did his best to blend into the background.

3. Lamela Not Fit For Purpose

Earlier this season Lamela hit something of a purple pitch, running at defenders with something that could officially be registered as “menace” and popping up to nab goals with pleasing frequency.

Quite what his injuries have been nobody seems quite sure – the official party line is the rather generic suggestion of “Hip Problem”, although the rumours that have reached AANP Towers make the mind boggle – but since his latest return, for all his purposeful scuttling, he has achieved precious little whenever in possession.

In common with every one of his chums he was wont to dwell on the ball, and with Chelsea intent on pressurising through the medium of The Swarm, he lacked the requisite nimbleness of foot to produce anything remotely productive.

On the bright side, with the referee calling an amnesty on all fouls for 90 minutes he did at least avoid his customary Yellow Card For Mistimed Lunge, but when that is the extent of one’s victory, one jolly well has to slink back and re-read the job description, what?

4. Oh, Trippier!

As one pretty well versed in the art of the Own Goal, on the back of around a thousand of the dashed things in my well-meaning but uncommunicative 5-a-side moonlighting, I am reluctant to do little more than dismiss last night’s circus act with a well-chosen curse and some choice gesticulations.

One might quibble that as schoolchildren, as well as being taught to play the recorder and recite that verbs are doing words, a pretty core element of education is that if you pass back to the goalkeeper, do so wide of the posts, just on the off-chance that should he go haring off in the wrong direction no more lasting damage will be done.

Oh that the infant Trippier had paid more attention in class. Instead, faced with the onrushing Lloris, a man who at any given point in his life looks thoroughly clueless as to what course of action he ought to take, Trippier forgot his ABC, and the consequent toe-poke killed off our chances. Such moments are all part of life’s rich tapestry, I suppose.

Not that the blame lies entirely at his door – I apportion blame in fairly equal ratios between the two protagonists – but it all makes for the most bizarre year in the life of young Master Trippier, whose football career not only seemed to peak with that free-kick in the World Cup Semi-Final, but has now seemed to plumb to its lowest depth and, finding it quite fun, set up camp and stay there. Generally loose play in the right-back area all season has been topped off first by a woeful penalty miss, and now by the most comical of own goals. One fears that in order to complete the set, a red card will be his before the season is out.

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

Spurs 3-1 Leicester: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Skipp

With various A-listers still quarantined, and Dortmund looming fast into view, Poch yet again dipped into his box of selection tricks, and this term emerged with young Master Skipp in midfield, with Sonny and Llorente upfront.
Now young Skipp may in time prove to be world football’s natural heir to Andres Iniesta, but this afternoon’s performance was not the one to secure him amongst the pantheon of greats.

In theory I suppose he did little wrong, for every time one of our number were in possession around the centre circle, young Skipp would station himself about three yards away and demand the ball. While this was a noble enough approach to life, in practice it actually served precious little benefit. At best he would receive the ball while practically standing on top of the passer – and while facing the opposite direction. Play was not spread, pressure was not relieved, life’s problems were not solved.

In his defence poor old Skipp drew the short straw, for that spot on the left of the midfield diamond has proved a tricky one to fill to date for even more seasoned pros. Sissoko seems to have mastered the art on the right – and peddled an impressive line in Messi-esque gliding dribbles today, as if to emphasise the fact – but an equivalent on the left is lacking. Leicester had the better of things in midfield, and for all his youthful scampering Skipp did little to impose himself upon proceedings. Better luck next time.

2. Lloris And The Rarest of Rarities

A penalty save from Hugo Lloris is about as rare in these parts as a left-footed unicorn, but credit where due, our resident last line of defence picked an excellent moment to perform this particular party trick.

Leading we may have been, but Leicester were jousting away with the best of them, and would have been good value for parity if not a lead. At 1-0, conversion of the penalty might have swung the thing pretty ominously towards our visitors, and I for one can hold up my hands and confess I had written off the spot-kick as a fait accompli, and was already contemplating a final half hour with scores level and pressure mounting.

Frankly, in all my years of Spurs-gazing I do not recall seeing Lloris diving into the right postcode when facing a penalty, so I don’t mind admitting I gawped and blinked and rubbed the eyes once or twice before digesting what had transpired.

(As an aside, the award of the penalty itself seemed pretty dashed soft when one compares and contrasts with the similar meeting of limbs that brought about Sonny’s yellow card in the first half. The inconsistency between the two calls prompted no end of grumbling at AANP Towers, but life – and particularly refereeing decisions – will send us these crosses to bear, so best we all just shrug the shoulders and take it with a philosophical smile.)

3. Danny Rose Brings Back The Slide Tackle

Come hail or shine, Danny Rose always blusters around the field as if personally aggrieved at the circumstances in which he has been thrust, and typically with a particular axe to grind against his opposing right-sided attacker.

The attitude is refreshing, as that level of aggression is not really something one would associate with the Tottenham Hotspur of years gone by. Kyle Walker used to possess it in spades, and it generally meant that irrespective of whatever else was happening in the broader geographic area, he was not about to lose his own personal duel. Frankly we could have done with some of it in midfield today, but that’s a chapter for another time.

Entertainingly, Rose’s general foul mood resulted in him deciding that today would be the day to unleash sliding tackles at every given opportunity. It made for some pretty nostalgic viewing, as slide tackles seemed to go the way of all flesh at around the same time as cassettes and shell suits. It was gloriously retro stuff, not least for the looks of outrage etched across the faces of the Leicester nobility deposited on terra firma.

4. Poch On The Defensive

Where normally we hog possession but find ourselves up against a nine-man defence, or super-human ‘keeper, or some combo of the above, today we rather forgot our lines, and spent as much of the game fending off Leicester thrusts as performing those of our own.

As hinted at above, our midfield were at times outfought, not helped by a defence that seemed oddly keen to dabble in the porous. With Skipp failing to impose himself, and Llorente offering his trademark lack of mobility, we occasionally looked like we were down to nine men.

Thank heavens for the stand-out moments of brilliance. Eriksen’s delivery for our first, and precision finish for the second, sandwiching a couple of critical Lloris saves, pretty much won the thing.

Amidst it all, Our Glorious Leader seemed to take an oddly low-key perspective on things, making as many defensive substitutions as the rules permitted as he sought to protect what he had, in a remarkable departure from the all-action-no-plot approach to life.

Hard to fault the approach I suppose (not that that will stop me trying), not least because ultimately we won, but also because the switch to a back-three made sense when Vardy appeared; while the replacement of Llorente with Wanyama, while a little more dull and sensible than the Moura alternative, simply made it more difficult for Leicester to claw things back in the final ten minutes.

5. Making The Best of Life Without Kane and Dele

Having kept a careful eye on these things I can confidently suggest that this was the umpteenth time we have eked our victory this season without playing particularly well, and most satisfying they typically are too.

How the devil we are doing it is something of a curiosity. It would be a mangling of the English language to suggest that we have coped with ease with the absences of Kane and Dele, but we have found ways to edge past Newcastle, Watford and now Leicester. Be it wringing every last drop of value out of Llorente, relying on random moments of Eriksen brilliance or simply pinning the weight of the world upon the dependable shoulders of Sonny, we muddle through.

All that said, I would be pretty amazed if we emerged in credit from the first leg of the Dortmund joust, but in the league at least this has been a pretty critical and thoroughly impressive run of Kaneless success.

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Arsenal 0-2 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

So all those “North London is red” cackles seem pretty ill-judged now. A peculiar bash this one, as Arsenal arguably had most of the chances, without ever looking in the slightest like winning. In fact the final 20 or so passed off with all the peaceful serenity of one of those delightful afternoon naps in the sun, when the greatest exertion is simply waving a lazy hand at passing flies.

1. Dele’s Goal

I trust the viewing public will understand if I dispense with chronology and skip straight to the evening’s highlight, because Dele’s goal was of the sort to be placed in a commemorative box and paraded at family reunions.

As part of the preamble the young scoundrel plucked Kane’s cross from the skies, which was neat and tidy but hardly the sort of stuff to have those in the stalls jumping to their feet and strewing flowers around.

At this point I think most self-respecting bookies would have pulled down the shutters and announced that they had stopped taking bets on ball ending up in net, because it was a fairly routine opportunity. And yet herein lay the beauty of the thing, because even before we mere mortals had a chance to process the sequence of events – and certainly before Master Cech in the Arsenal goal had had a chance to get his bearings and adjust his feet and wave his arms – Dele was already taking the plaudits, having dinked away with all the impudence of the Artful Dodger at his most artful.

Having spent much of last year over-elaborating simply for the heck of it, this season the point appears to have wormed its way into his brain that at his best he is on a level above most others on the pitch, and can therefore change games, rather than dribbling into odd little cul-de-sacs in midfield.

2. Kane’s Impact

Son, Lucas and Dele himself all buzzed around in their own ways, but each offered the same sort of thing in attack, if you get my drift. If glancing over the CV of each you would no doubt be impressed, but might struggle to differentiate one from the other with any emphatic judgement, and as a result all our attacks were cut from similar cloth – namely intricate and sneaky, with trickery at every corner.

Enter Kane, and within 60 seconds or so he had demonstrated a useful alternative piece of apparatus, and our lead had doubled. A goalscoring anomaly he undoubtedly is, but the young bean’s work in deeper pastures continues to boggle the mind. On this occasion it was trapping on his chest the sort of 50-yard punt that would have had an evens chance of sending me flying across the turf if I had attempted the same.

That done, he took one look, and weighted a pass into the path of Dele that pretty much begged to be despatched as a matter of decency.

3. The First Goal

And while I’m at it, it seems only right to pay a little deference to the first goal too.

Dele’s assist again illustrated the point made above, that when on song he effortlessly rises to a level above the rabble surrounding him. It was a pass identified while most onlookers were still adjusting to the bodies falling to earth around him, and executed to perfection.

And neatly finished by Sonny, just as my mind was flitting back to his saved one-on-one vs Barca around this time last week.

Naturally enough, with that impeccable judgement that his earned me my armchair seat a million miles away from the actual football, I spent the opening exchanges lamenting the presence of Son in a game of this feist. Certainly if you’re advertising for someone to lose 50-50 battles in the heat of battle, then he’s the man to hang your hat on.

But just trying to imagine having to defend against him makes me want to sit down in a darkened room for a few minutes and compose myself, and despite the Barca miss he is quite the dab-hand in front of goal. Many a time and oft I have used these pages to vent an anguished howl or two at our wastefulness in front of goal; yesterday the mantra on all lilywhite lips was “Clinical finishing”.

4. The Weekly Sissoko Adoration

Well, almost clinical finishing. The one notable chance that went begging was that which fell to Moussa Sissoko, and such is the chap’s tortured history in front of goal that as he the ball rolled invitingly towards him most self-respecting bookies were pulling down their shutters and announcing that they had stopped taking bets on ball launching into orbit.

Apart from that he did not put too many feet wrong. His performances have become a mesmerising phenomenon. He remains utterly imperious, and yet this being despite – as the skied shot illustrated – so oddly lacking in the finesse of a natural footballer.

However, as Arsenal had done to us a couple of weeks back, so last night we successfully strangled the life out of them every time they touched the thing, with an instant press that no doubt had onlooking packs of hounds nodding admiringly; and Sissoko – along with the indefatigable, if error-riddled, Winks – was central to the mechanics of this.

5. Gazzaniga Reassures Again

Elsewhere, Paolo Gazzaniga continues to throw a few choice lumps of earth over the grave of Michel Vorm’s Spurs career. His shot-stopping is what most obviously catches the eye and no doubt brings him the glamorous women and fast cars, and as if to hammer home the point he thrust out his paws to such good effect last night that they were worth a couple of goals.

It is praise of a pretty dashed high order to state that when I see his name on the teamsheet, the second thought that springs to mind is that there is no need to panic about the absence of Monsieur Lloris. (The first thought is, naturally, to reminisce about our first Gazza.)

A stern eyebrow did however waggle northwards when Gazzaniga took his Lloris impression a little too far and began fooling around with the ball at his feet, a block-headed move that very nearly let Arsenal back into the game, but the broader point remains that he is an entirely able deputy between the sticks – and that puts him streets ahead of Vorm.

6. Davies At Centre-Back

A final observation on the personnel was young Ben Davies. Never exactly a favoured son here at AANP Towers, primarily due to being pretty thoroughly average in all respects, I’ve been intrigued to see the chap nudged into the left side of central defence in recent days.

This is not quite the bold and pioneering manoeuvre it might appear on first glance, Davies having cut his teeth on the left side of a back-three while on national duty, but to see the chap become our fifth centre-back of the season has still been enough to prompt chattering amongst the paying punters.

When passing judgement it is easy to suggest that he is better suited to life at centre-back than dashing up the wing, simply by virtue of not being required to do any attacking or, more pertinently, deliver any crosses. Whereas at left-back his crosses either into the first opponent or ballooned into vast expanses beyond the back post have me tearing out my hair, at centre-back he is required to concentrate on defence and defence only.

And this, to his credit, he did solidly enough. His reading of the game was sound, and as a result he made useful interceptions throughout the piece.

His was not an entirely blameless showing, mind. After the Gazzaniga first half error Davies took the wild thin-air swing of a man testing a newly-attached limb for the first time; but by and large the experiment proved successful – and also spared young Foyth what might have been a tortuous return to the lions’ den.

So a good night all round, and while the fixture pile-up does begin to sport a rather ominous look about it, superiority over that horrible lot down the road has been reasserted with minimum fuss.

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Leicester 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

I’m not sure how public opinion will come down once the votes are in, but by my estimation this ranked amongst the best results of our season.

Before you gather your rotten tomatoes and start flexing your throwing arm, consider the evidence. Leicester, though not world-beaters, are no slouches, and had been in pretty rare fettle prior to last night’s events. On top of which, this rather cruel habit of the Fixture Gods, of scheduling a game every five minutes or so, continues unabated. Barcelona await on Tuesday, and to that end, most crucially, we entered battle with our two key weapons safely ensconced in training gear on the bench.

Throw in the usual raft of injuries – Dembele, Sanchez, Trippier, Lamela, Wanyama – and by the time the preliminaries were done I was fully expecting our heroes to drop a couple of points at the minimum.

1. Life Without Kane and Eriksen

After his disastrous Foyth-For-Toby gambit around this time last week, I don’t mind telling you that AANP was in unforgiving mood when the teamsheet went up in lights, revealing both Kane and Eriksen to be surplus to requirements. The eyebrow shimmered upwards with displeasure, make no mistake.

Now admittedly, ever since the World Cup, yours truly has been near the front of the queue of those yowling that Harry Kane needs to be given the occasional night off with his feet up and a mug of something warming in his hands. Pretty rich, you might therefore say, of me to yowl with equal displeasure when that very same wish is granted. And you would in fact have a fairly watertight point.

But the nub of the thing is that to drop one key player at a time might seem like common sense, but to drop two in one go, dash it, is really taking one heck of a chance.

Or so the argument ran pre-match.

As things transpired, Our Glorious Leader played his hand to perfection, keeping our star men about as fresh as a particularly buoyant couple of daisies ahead of the date with Barcelona, whilst maintaining league form that, if not quite relentless, feels like it’s about seven eighths of the way there. A mumbled apology duly falls from the AANP lips and wings its way Pochwards.

That said, for around 45 of 46 first half minutes we did scuttle around with a distinct absence of cut and thrust.
Kane’s absence, while hardly something for which one can compensate with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders and a carefree whistle on the lips, is nevertheless one of those trials in life with which one learns to cope. Not even Sonny’s own parents would suggest that he has the bulk and build to hold up the ball like Kane, and indeed the chap seemed to present all the physical presence upfront of a particularly wet piece of card, but with his pace and trickery he is at least capable of posing a threat as a striker. Lucas similarly has enough about him to make an opposing defender scratch his head and curl a lip or two.

Eriksen’s absence, however, is an altogether thornier subject to broach over post-prandial coffee. Nobody else in the team can pick and execute his brand of scything chances, and while we can tinker with formation and personnel until blue in the face, we look a darned sight more ordinary without him. That we ultimately won at such a cigar-puffing canter is a credit to Sonny for his quite marvellous opener, and Dele for a fabulous all-round performance.

2. Dele

Dele has never quite blown my skirt up as one would expect of a 50-goal midfielder, but by the time the curtain came down on proceedings yesterday I was one of the first out of my seat strewing the stage with flowers and yelling for an encore.

Eriksen he might not be when it comes to unpicking a lock with minimal fuss and a hefty dollop of suaveness, but the young imp still has a heck of a lot of technique and good-old fashioned schoolboy skill in his size eights. Last night he took the opportunity to rattle through a back-catalogue of his Greatest Hits, doing a passable impression of a young Gascoigne in the process.

What really made the world a sunnier place was that his dribbling and flicks were integrated within a pretty sound all-round display of decision-making. Whereas previously he has simply hogged the ball for the heck of it, ignoring the imploring pleas of better-placed colleagues, last night he seemed surprisingly alert to the fact that passing the thing was a real and credible option, and he hit a healthy balance between solo dribbles and well-judged distribution.

One still gets the impression that he would rather gnaw off his own arm than dish out a pass, but he mixed it up to good effect. In the absence of Kane and Eriksen, he seemed quite happy to take the lead, and his goal – though marginally the wrong side of the law, if we quibble about these things – was as richly deserved by the individual as by the team.

3. Full-Backs: No Longer A Forte

I saw this point made in one of last week’s evening papers, so if you already caught it yourself you might want to potter off and pour yourself a cheeky whiskey at this juncture, and rejoin the action in a couple of paragraphs’ time.

It’s the old gag about the current vintage of full-backs vs the circa 2015/16 vintage. Back then, Walker and Rose struck the fear of God into just about any opposing wide-men and managers you cared to name. They genuinely were amongst the best in Europe, and in a team full of assets and prized individuals had made a pretty solid stab at being the pick of the bunch.

But, as the cliché so neatly puts it, what a difference a couple of seasons, a huge transfer fee and personal ambition in a right-back, and a bout of depression, homesickness and injuries in a left-back makes. Walker is off dancing with the stars, Rose is a puzzlingly neutered version of his old self, and whichever personnel we use these days one’s instinct as an onlooker is to hold the breath and fear the worst.

Trippier, for all his whipped crosses onto the ample Kane forehead, sits rather awkwardly within a back-four as opposed to outside a back-three, as if itching for someone else to do the defensive stuff so that he can motor on into attack.

Aurier, while having generally cut the wild and reckless horizontal lunges from his game, is still neither one thing nor another, being both average at defending his patch and middling at attacking another’s.

As for Davies, the blighter would have my hair going a rich and glistening shade of grey if he had not already caused me to yank out great clumps of it in sheer frustration. His defending, as with the aforementioned, is generally no more than adequate – and quite often a few shades short of even that.

And as for his attacking, I can barely remember the last time one of his crosses hit the sweet spot in the heart of an opponent’s area. The Data Analysts amongst you will I’m sure report that the majority of his crosses bounce harmlessly off the nearest opponent. Even his less adventurous distribution seems oddly ill-executed, with misplaced passes and frequent instances of his being dispossessed seeming to litter the highlights reel.

To his credit, his infield pass ultimately set up our second goal yesterday, but this struck me very much as one to be filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’. The young sore’s calling in life may well be within the safety-netted no-man’s-land that is the left side of a back three.

In general however, whomever one picks from the models on offer, our full-back selection is no longer a thing of menace and threat.

4. Doing Remarkably Well – Despite Evidence To The Contrary

Getting back to the specifics, Leicester were oddly obliging about things once Sonny had struck oil right on the half-time gong, and the second half was about as serene as I’ve witnessed Spurs in seeing out one of these away wins.

Lloris did eventually have to make a couple of saves, but nothing of the ilk to have one clutching feverishly at the nearest friend for support. Toby and Jan were unruffled at the back, which bodes well for Tuesday and makes one yet again rue the team selection vs Arsenal, and while young Winks does often opt to for the safety-first option of a backwards pass when something a little more adventurous would not go amiss, his was a very secure performance, laced with an occasional forwards surge.

One cannot really go into the Barcelona game with any sentiment further north of hope, but even should the worst happen and we fall into the doom-laden pit of despair that is the Europa League, we still find ourselves in remarkably fine health. This despite playing 10 of 16 games away from home; despite ‘home’ itself now emitting a decidedly unwelcome whiff; despite muscle injuries for 9 of our 12 World Cup Semi-Finalists; and despite the fact that aside from one (vs Chelsea) and a half (vs Man Utd) games we have yet to play genuinely well, in the truest sense of the word, all season.

Start actually playing consistently well and good knows where we might end up.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Arsenal 4-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Observations

1. Outfought

Every now and then there comes a time in one’s affairs when one realises that things have not quite gone precisely to plan, and have in fact fouled up to pretty rotten levels. And at such times one really has little option but to smarten one’s tie, take a deep breath and face the world with a stiff upper lip and some of the honest spirit that was presumably hoovered up with gusto by those bygone era Christians who were spending their days being thrown to lions and other such unwelcome appointments.

This seems to be one of those times. Frankly our lot were outfought pretty much throughout, and there is no doubt the better team won. Unpalatable stuff to drink in, of course, but best digested swiftly.

Right from the curtain-raise Arsenal seemed to want the thing more, and the outlook didn’t really change much from that point. It had the air of those occasional away-days at West Ham, or the visit to Chelsea a few years back when they wanted to stop us winning the title – in short, the opposition’s cut and thrust had the air of stuff on which their last breaths depended.

As we did to Chelsea last week, so, with a neat symmetry did we have done to us this. Anybody in lilywhite who had possession was not given half a moment to reflect and glory in the fact, because packs of Arsenal blighters were swarming all over them, kicking and shoving and generally being a nuisance. Somehow our heroes failed to adjust to this way of thinking, and the whole operation pretty much fell apart at the seams as a result.

After around 20 minutes we did produce a spell of some neat and incisive little darts, and snaffled two goals out of it, which was a roaring return. When allowed to play, we trotted out decent stuff – but there’s the rub. By and large we just weren’t allowed to play, and for all the pushing and shoving we lacked a collective approach to the thing which took the fight to Arsenal and allowed us to get on top of them.

2. Individual Errors

Being a little too meek in the tackle and sluggish to the loose ball is bad enough in such hell-for-leather contests as this, such an approach being pretty much the polar opposite of that ordered by the doctor at these times.

But the whole dashed thing is sent plummeting to new depths when some of the key personnel involved start flinging around like confetti a whole slew of baffling acts of incompetence. Yet there in black and white they were, from minute one onwards. Worse, the specials from this particular list were trotted out by various esteemed members of the defence, behind whom of course there really is little else in the way of a safety net.

Aurier, Davies and Foyth were the principal early offenders, dwelling and dithering on the ball while numerous red shirts homed in on them, setting a dismal tone which their comrades adopted with a little too much gusto. In such circumstance one might have hypothesised that shifting play a good 60 yards up the pitch might have helped relieve the pressure, but the priority appeared to be kamikaze, so whenever he could Monsieur Lloris tried playing the ball out from the back. Naturally, every effort to pass the ball out from goalkeeper to back-four ended in near-calamity.

This sort of over-elaborate nonsense ought really to be swiftly consigned to the scrapheap, but of itself it doesn’t necessarily signal catastrophe. When the ball is lost out wide or in midfield, reinforcements can be summoned and last-ditch tackles made. The matter can be escalated. Disaster need not necessarily be declared. What really leaves matters in an irretrievable state is the most peculiar brand of idiocy that leaves an opponent clean in on goal, as peddled by some of those elder statesmen who really ought to know better.

Vertonghen’s handball as an early example. At a time when we desperately needed to keep our heads down, weather the storm and wait for Arsenal’s early energy to peter out, just about top of the list of Things To Be Avoided At All Costs was to randomly stick out a paw and concede one of history’s least necessary penalties.

Perhaps lower on the scale of Utter Insanity, yet hardly a moment to be paraded as a triumph for wisdom, was Eric Dier’s sliding attempted tackle on Torreira for the fourth goal, which was mistimed by around an hour, and was inexplicably executed behind rather than in front of him.

Moreover, 90 minutes featuring Juan Foyth would not be 90 minutes featuring Juan Foyth without some sort of error both utterly avoidable and seismic in effect, and the young boil duly obliged in the second half, with one of his copywritten moments of daydreaming while in possession, allowing Arsenal to scamper away and score their third.

3. Foyth Instead of Toby

On that note I’m inclined to pass a hand over a pretty fevered brow and wonder what the dickens Our Glorious Leader was thinking in picking Foyth ahead of Toby in the first place.

One understands and indeed applauds the sentiment of easing young Foyth into the rather unforgiving world of top-level centre-backery, but one would equally be fully justified in waggling a finger and protesting that there is a time and indeed a place for that sort of thing. Particularly when the whelp in question has a penchant for rustling up mistakes from thin air, like some sort of magician completely missing the point of his gig.

Would not a saner approach be to let Foyth bed in on home turf, and against opponents a little less likely to challenge for the top of the tree? We have about half a dozen such appointments in the coming month alone. And then, once proven in such circumstances to deliver without fouling up, fling him into an away day at The Emirates?

Evidently not. He made it through 90 minutes against Chelsea, but most certainly got away with his standard error (the unpunished foul on Hazard). On this occasion though, which ought really have to been one for as solid a foundation as we had, Foyth brought his box of mistakes and sprinkled them liberally throughout.

It would be galling enough, but the sight of Toby, fit and well, looking on from the bench is enough to make a grown man sink his head in his hands and wonder aloud where the devil it will all end. (One never knows, of course. Toby might have done a worse job of things, or simply not have been fit enough. The AANP eye, however, is jolly sceptical.)

One defeat does not a disaster make, of course, but with a game every 3 or 4 days until the new year it will be pretty important to bob back into shape at the earliest opportunity.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Foyth

When Juan Foyth’s name and number was fanfared pre-kickoff, we lilywhite hordes did the civil thing and wished the young bean well, with images of his rather painful flurry of mishaps from last week’s debut trot still pretty fresh in the memory.

The early signs in this week’s concerto, it seems fair to say, were not the rosiest. A clumsy foul here, a strong contender for the 2018 instalment of Most Idiotic Concession of a Corner there, and within fifteen minutes one was already casting anxious glances in the direction of Our Glorious Leader as to whether the decent thing might simply be to hook the young fish and let him pass out the rest of his lilywhite days in the U23s.

Such a rush to judgement proved wildly misguided. Thereafter, young Foyth handled himself with several hefty slabs of aplomb.

Now one might argue that the Palace attack, baring as it did all the threat of a kitten entangled in a ball of wool, did not pose the fiercest threat, particularly when shorn of young Master Zaha.

However, spirited defenders of the boy Foyth might very reasonably counter by pointing to the weather, the nerves, the rollicking home crowd and the fact that everyone in Palace colours had read the memo recommending that whenever young Foyth went within sniffing distance of the ball he was to be homed in upon by anyone in the vicinity not otherwise engaged. The nub of the thing is that this was no cakewalk for the chap.

To his credit as a ball-playing footballer, and as a man of mental fortitude and fire-filled belly, he metamorphosed during the following hour or so into one heck of a dependable egg. His composure in possession did give the occasional palpitation but was broadly laudable, while his actual day-job of defending became increasingly impressive, in a right-place-right-time sort of way.

With Messrs Sanchez, Vertonghen and Dier at differing stages of fitness, Foyth’s performance does makes the world seem a cheerier place.

On top of which, his goal was poached with impressive swiftness of thought and movement, and was greeted with pretty unrestrained joy by his colleagues, which suggests that he’s a popular chap amongst the gang.

2. Sissoko

It speaks volumes about the instantly forgettable first half that its highlight was a marauding stroll past four opponents, finishing with a blocked shot, by one Moussa Sissoko, but that was where we found ourselves.

Let not that detract however, from the latest oddly impressive showing from our limited but effective cult hero.

Seemingly now fully aware that his role in proceedings is simply to follow two or three basic instructions, Sissoko patiently fed early balls to Trippier/Aurier in no-frills fashion; obediently tracked back to assist the aforementioned in defence as required; and occasionally trotted out his mesmerising dispossess-and-gallop routine.

Simple it might have been, but it also became pretty dashed effective, and as all around him laboured to unpick the Palace defence Sissoko suddenly started to emerge as a star shining particularly brightly amongst the lilywhite ranks.

By the time the second half was in full swing, the honest fellow was beginning to display hitherto unknown flashes of quality. A delightful first-time cushioned lay-off, some wrong-footing of oncoming foes whilst on the charge – it was bewildering, but mightily impressive stuff.

I still wouldn’t trust the blighter to knock a square pass five yards to a team-mate unchallenged if I were told to pick any professional footballer ever and have my life depend on it, for he retains within his genetic constitution something of the clumsy and calamitous; but in recent weeks the applause for Sissoko at AANP Towers has segued from ironic to sincere.

3. Lloris

The occasional panicked flap there may have been, but this will go down as one of Monsieur Lloris’ performances from the column marked “Game-Saving Stuff”.

Some saves were relatively routine, and some were of the faster-than-the-naked-eye-can-clearly-detect ilk, but after an unflustered opening hour or so our resident gate-keeper was called upon on several occasions, and can reflect with some serenity today as he collects the weekly envelope that this was a salary well-earned.

Doubts still nibble away, around his catching, kicking and sprinting hopelessly from his line, but the case for his abilities as a shot-stopper is pretty cut and dry.

4. Lack of Forward Thinking in Midfield

If sitting through the opening hour made your heart swell and pulse race then you’re made of sturdier stuff than I.
Palace, as noted above, might as well not have bothered crossing halfway for all the threat they offered until around the 70-minute mark; but our heroes, for all their possession, seemed to consider actually exploring the route to the opposition goal to be way down the list of priorities.

It was pretty infuriating stuff to behold, particularly in central midfield. Perhaps the weekly diet of Eriksen, with his keen eye and delicate thread of pass, has spoiled me, but none of those employed for the task seemed to cotton on the fact that taking their own sweet time about things, and looking sideways and backwards as a first instinct, served only to swell the massed ranks of Palace defenders.

Where Dembele or Winks will receive possession and immediately explore the options that lay in a northerly direction, yesterday Wanyama, Sissoko and Dele seemed to treat forward distribution as the absolute last resort.

A win is a win, as sure as eggs is eggs, and a goal from a set-piece has value in its own special way, but good grief – until we nabbed them on the counter late on there was precious little about which to beat the drum and yell a rousing chorus.

5. Hanging On. Again.

So after a turgid opening hour in which we hogged possession and did nothing with it; and a ten-minute spell after our goal in which we hogged possession and smoked cigars a little more nonchalantly than a one-goal cushion really merited; the game culminated in the inevitable nail-biting final twenty minutes in which we desperately clung on to the lead with the sort knuckle-whitening tension of which Hitchcock would have been proud.

On paper this string of victories, and the cosy position snugly ensconced within the Top Four, might give the uninitiated the impression that all is bright and breezy at Casa Tottenham. Oh that this were so.

The truth is that given the choice between an eternity spent in the fires of hell or the opportunity to escape and instead watch Spurs trying to close out a win, the souls of the damned would as likely as not opt for the never-ending flames, for there really is no strain upon the nerves comparable to seeing our lot doing the last-ditch routine for the final ten-to-fifteen, particularly given that they will have spent the previous half hour casually missing chance after chance.

Somehow, incredibly, we pull it off every time, in the sort of fashion that would have Houdini stroking his chin suspiciously. But this skin-of-the-teeth stuff seems utterly unsustainable; and if it is indeed sustainable it should frankly be banned on the grounds of being damaging to public health, because viewing it is enough to prompt any man of even the most regular constitution yelp in anguish and start birthing kittens.

Can someone please instruct our heroes to do the honourable thing and start wrapping up these matches by three or four goals so that we can all let the final ten minutes drift by with the serenity of an ocean cruise?

That aside, this was most satisfactory.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

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