With the season all but wrapped up, preparations are well under way for the AANP End of Season Awards. ‘Twas good of ‘Arry then, to produce a late contender for the Worst Half-Time Team-Talk of the Season gong, because whatever he said between 3.45 and 4.00pm yesterday, brought about a pretty stunning regression.I’ve often wondered what is said behind closed doors in the changing room – whether there is hardcore tactical sophistication from ‘Arry, or something rather cruder. I can certainly picture Robbie Keane shouting and pointing, Bentley relentlessly preening himself, Pav not understanding a word, and so on – but the style and content of ‘Arry’s pearls of wisdom intrigues me.
Whatever he said, one presumes that he didn’t actually instruct them to lose the plot and treat the ball like a hot potato, but nevertheless things just panned out that way in the second half. We somehow muddled through, but it was slightly a botched job, more like the heist in Reservoir Dogs rather than the flawless break-and-enter style jobs Tom Cruise delivers in the Mission Impossible films.
First Half Positives
Good movement and fluency all round in that first half, Gomes a virtual spectator, and we could well have gone into the break with more than a one goal advantage. If we have learnt anything in 2009 it’s that we really ought to turn periods of superiority into more than one goal, but at least in yesterday’s first half the lack of further goals was not for want of trying.
The deployment of Robbie Keane on the left had us scratching our heads prior to kick-off, and was neither an unqualified success nor an unmitigated disaster. Messrs Bale and Bentley would probably have felt a little aggrieved to have seen the teamsheet, but such is life at the Lane these days, with Keane bizarrely undroppable, and indeed unsubstituteable, if such a word exists. The question of how to accommodate both him and Defoe is simmering away nicely, in time for the start of season 09/10.
Defoe himself looked sharp and lively. This was particularly welcome, as in recent weeks a lot of excellent build-up play has been frustratingly negated by a vague impotence amongst the strikers, and a consequent habit of rather over-passing in the final third. No such problems yesterday (in the first half at least), as there was a most welcome willingness all round to have a pop, led by Defoe.
The Weekly Jenas Rant
The most reasonable explanation seems to me to be a lack of awareness of what’s going on around him. Whereas the Hudd or Modric will have a good idea of where they want to send the ball before they even receive it, Jenas seems amazed every time it comes near him. There follows the obligatory three or four touches as he acquaints himself with its dimensions and mechanics. Crucially, he then has to have a look up and around to see what else is going on, and just doesn’t have the vision to pick out anyone who isn’t immediately in his line of sight. The end result generally tends to be the same – turn around and knock it backwards (unless he starts daydreaming and gets caught in possession).
His propensity for the thoroughly un-creative backwards pass was particularly highlighted yesterday by its juxtaposition with Stephen Ireland in the opposition’s colours, a player whose instinct on receiving the ball is always to play a forward pass. A Lennon-Palacios-Ireland-Modric midfield would have me positively drooling with excitement. (See, I told you this would be a little more constructive than my usual Jenas-rant.)
Eggs is Eggs
Anyway, apologies for the digression. The second half implosion complicated things, but eggs is eggs and a win is a win.
The overall sense was that there are one or two areas to be addressed, but that we are in good shape for next season. An understudy for Palacios, a better version of Jenas, a target-man, a solution the Keane-Defoe problem – these are tweaks and adjustments rather than a full-blown overhaul. A gentle makeover, rather than cosmetic surgery. (Although knowing Spurs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Redknapp sacked, Modric sold and two new right-wingers bought over the summer).
Seventh place is still manageable in theory, but unlikely. Opinion is neatly split straight down the middle on this. The absence of midweek games has coincided with a settled team, regular Ledley and hugely impressive form. A Europe-free season next time really ought to see us comfortably in the top six, and perhaps even pushing for fourth. On the other hand, I have loved our European nights, and our squad is probably big enough to cope. (Unlike Fulham’s, I’d suggest – a tenner on Fulham to go down next season?)
It’s likely to be academic. In the meantime, a generous ovation to the team from AANP Towers, for the white-hot home form. Bravo chaps.