All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Spurs – PAOK Preview: Unleash The Muskehounds

Switching from the all-conquering, award-winning, glitz-laden superstars of our rollicking Premiership campaign to the prepubescent kids and want-away squad members on our midweek Europa jaunts is somewhat akin to putting down the Dumas novel in order to tune in to Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds – nobody in their right mind would dispute that it remains quite magnificent entertainment, but the whole forum is perhaps a little more frivolous.Thus we march into battle tonight knowing that defeat will do all manner of nastiness to our European campaign, but victory would all but see us through. None of which can really be taken seriously when one considers the red-hot Saturday/Sunday frolics of our first-choice mob in the League.

Still. There is still a cockerel on the shirt, pride at stake and a trophy to be won, eventually. Kane, Carroll, Livermore and Townsend will get their usual opportunities to impress, while Cudicini, Corluka, Gallas, Pienaar and Pav (if fit – and if not, then presumably Defoe) will add sprinklings of élan about the place. The reverse fixture against this lot was jolly hard work, but thus far on our home nights in Europe we have muddled through, so another three points ought to be the target once again tonight. All for one, and all that continental gubbins.

Rubin Kazan – Spurs Preview: Dashing Back for Kick-Off

Rarely do I expect our heroes to lose – away to the Manchester clubs are about the only fixtures this season in which I would regrettably project nul points – but to that roll of dishonour let the epithet “Rubin Kazan. Away. And With Kids” be added. Those Russians can rightly feel a tad aggrieved at having to slop back off to Siberia with nothing but commemorative THFC thermal underwear, for they had the woolly mammoth’s share of possession and chances that night, and are likely to cause us a fair degree of bother on their own patch.Our midfield looks particularly light tonight, with Sandro and Parker spared the air-miles, understandably enough, a blessing similarly bestowed upon Modders, Bale, Lennon, VDV and Adebayor. However, Gallas and Pienaar will gingerly tiptoe onto the 90×120 for the first time in a while; Livermore will head up the usual troop of Boy Scouts; and Gomes/Cudicini, Bassong, Defoe and Pav are also involved. Much will rest on the young shoulders of Livermore to win the midfield battle, but all things considered a draw would represent a decent achievement, while the 5pm kick-off time finally lends some point to the existence of ITV4+1. The dash back to AANP Towers commences imminently…

Spurs – Rubin Kazan Preview: Pav’s Big Night

Few things in life scream “Pointless Money-Making Charade!” quite like a Europa group stage game, but this one actually has relevance, sub-plots and all other sorts of curious goodies the like of which have rarely been seen on a Thursday night on Channel 5.On a formal note, this game is actually laden with group-deciding significance no less. We and the good folk of Rubin Kazan appear to be trotting along towards the dizzy heights of group leadership, so the glorious crown of UEFA Europa League Group A Victor is likely to be decided over 90 minutes at the Lane tonight, followed by a similar stint in some sprit-crushingly chilly corner of far-flung Siberia two weeks hence. I must confess that I tend not to wile away my hours examining the whys, wherefores and qualification criteria of the Europa League, but I suspect that winning the group would grant us relatively gentle opponents in the next round, so there is an incentive of sorts for triumphing over this Russian mob ce soir.

Moreover – they’re Russian! And we have Pav in our ranks! It will be like when Spock fought against the Vulcans! That’s right, a headline-writer’s dream, if Pav can somehow be cajoled to stop whingeing and don his shooting boots for the night. Might also help him secure the move back to the motherland that he presumably craves. 

The usual phalanx of kids will presumably be shoved out there again, and it’s made for interesting viewing in previous weeks, so AANP graciously grants permission for the policy to continue. Defensively however we have something of a problem, as only Bassong and Kaboul have the requisite number of working limbs for this one, and with Premiership concerns on Sunday ‘Arry would probably prefer to rest the latter. As such, a case may be made for young Livermore to deputise at centre-back, because frankly I’m not sure if anyone else has the requisite bullet point on their CV. Rose, Townsend, Kane, Carroll and possibly Walker are also likely to feature, as well as Giovani, and anyone else returning from injury (Lennon? Pienaar? Kranjcar?)

Presumably it will be a much sterner test than Hearts, PAOK and the Irish lot; but the AANP fiver is still being slapped down on the side of “home win”.

Newcastle 2-2 Spurs: Foul Language and Misplaced Passes

Blast, and other unseemly vituperations. Apparently armed with a game-plan to avoid, at all costs, ever stringing together more than three passes, our heroes stuck to the drill fairly resolutely throughout, and it’s two points a-begging, faster than you can say “someone track that Ba fellow, he’s making a late run into the area”.Admittedly all t’s were crossed and i’s dotted in the first ten minutes or so, with pressure applied and short passes passed as standard; but thereafter the four walls of AANP Towers resounded repeatedly to the sounds of groans and curses, as far too many in lurid purple picked the wrong option, or just displayed a rather wild sense of geography with their passing. And dash it all (if you pardon my French) even despite this blistering second-ratedness we could – and probably should – nevertheless have still won the bally thing. Two-one up in the last ten minutes, with possession and rather tasty chances in tow – it was jolly winnable in the final furlong, and yet we unwon it.

First Gear (Or Lack Thereof)

For whatever reason, our heroes never really found first gear. The central core of Livermore-Parker understandably enough had their dials set to “Destroy” rather than “Create”, while out on the right in the first half, Bale generally had the doleful air of a man who had recently watched his national rugby side suffer an injustice or two, and consequently failed to deliver a performance that would blow up anyone’s skirt, even when dutifully taking up his natural left-hand abode. Modders showed sporadic flashes of invention, particularly in the second half, but when the media bigwigs put together a compilation for his Watch the Little Fella Bossing the Game With Footballing Alchemy In His Tiny Boots dvd, this particularly afternoon jaunt is unlikely to feature too prominently.

Polite Applause

Nevertheless, there are some certificates of merit to be dished out when the players next convene at school assembly. Young Livermore’s impression of Sandro was laudable, the tackle that helped create the penalty a notable highlight; and out yonder on the right Master Walker generally seemed to have understood the various dos and don’ts in defence. Mind you, if memory serves he might have done more to prevent the first goal (as might Livermore), and for all his spunk and brio on the charge, one suspects he is ill-served by the little grey cells when given time to think, around the opposition area.

Cracking finish from Defoe, although it will do little to settle the debate that occasionally surrounds him – the lovers will continue to point to his single-minded and darned effective approach to the game (blast the thing low and on target), while the haters will ask what he adds to the team when he fails to score. (AANP has pitched its tent, unfurled its sleeping bag and cracked open the Thermos flask in the former camp, since you ask).  A pat across the sturdy back of Kaboul too.

Not Looking Quite So Bionic

I suppose four games and 30 minutes was about as much as I was expecting from Ledley until Christmas, so to have been treated to all this (and the victories that inevitably accompany his presence) by mid-October has been something of a bonus. It is hardly most jaw-droppingly controversial statement of the millennium to suggest that Bassong is not quite a replacement of similar ilk – the lad chugged away earnestly enough, but if you can judge a man by the company he keeps, it is worth noting that Bassong was but one swish of a fountain pen away from calling the good folk of QPR his team-mates, at the end of the summer transfer window.

In a parallel universe Ledley played the full 90 and our lot hung on for three points, but having not been at our best an away point is probably acceptable, and on balance ‘twas a fair enough result. The next handful of games looks winnable. On y va.

Spurs 3-1 Shamrock Rovers: Shredding One’s Season Ticket

Presumably there were some onlookers last night so enraged by our inability to score as the game wore on last night that they tore up their season tickets at half-time, their apoplexy no doubt reaching such levels when we actually fell behind that they chopped off their own feet and howled for the entire team to be sacked. All things considered however it was fairly satisfactory stuff.For all our inability to score we plugged away in commendable fashion, boxes were ticked, pressure was applied, shots were shot. Indeed, that we fell behind was hardly due to any failing on our part (although I suppose Cudicini might have palmed away the free-kick in a manner less inviting of trouble).

Defoe and Giovani (just about) toddled off with ticks against their name, Lennon and Rose got used to the whole concept of green stuff underfoot and small white sphere once again, and, perhaps most pleasingly, Livermore and Carroll trundled through in fairly steady manner. It was not quite as smooth as a well-versed line delivered by a lounge-suit wearing silkworm at 9pm on Friday night, what with going behind to the Irish part-timers and all, but in the rich tapestry of Season 2011/12 it will be delineated as a fun, relatively low-key step in the right direction. Which, let’s face it, is tickety-boo. Roll on the big one.

Spurs – Shamrock Rovers Preview: Starting to Enjoy This

With fourth spot in the Premiership all but wrapped up it’s time for everyone to swing around and face this direction once again, just hither. I appreciate it can be jolly dashed mind-boggling these days trying to separate one competition from the next, but my spies tell me that tonight it’s Europa. Everyone got that?As it happens, I’m rather enjoying the deployment of the younglings in these midweek night-time gambols. In seasons of yore the only chance we’d get to see the likes of Livermore, Carroll and chums would be for 30 minutes at the end of an FA Cup demolition job on Peterborough, when the kids would be so concerned about making a good impression that I felt tense just watching them. Now, safe in the knowledge that there will always be a pointless European minnow pestering us again in a week or two, today’s youth can exhale, relax, play their natural games and give us a slightly better chance to assess how good they are, whilst secretly cursing the fact that kids half our age are already better than us.

In terms of personnel One Aaron Lennon will apparently be disappearing into the distance beyond some poor Irish full-back tonight, while Danny Rose and Steven Pienaar are also in line for returns. Presumably various youngsters have been given permission to leave school early in order to play tonight too, while such occasions also tend to mark the appearances of Pav, Bassong and Corluka before they are shoved away into the background once again as more pressing concerns arise at the weekend. Whatever the personnel one would expect our lot to be too strong for Shamrock tonight.

Stoke 0-0 Spurs (7-6 pens, dammit): One Heck Of A Ride

Fare thee well Carling Cup 2011/12, it’s been one rip-roaring, lip-quivering heck of a ride, with highlights including the mesmeric second round bye, and the frantic googling of the name Massimo Luongo. However, when we turn back the yellowed, sepia-tinged parchment that records these travails, the outstanding memory will undoubtedly be one man and his quite astonishing inability to get anywhere near saving penalties. In a feat barely permitted by the laws of the space-time continuum, Gomes managed to dive the wrong way for all eight penalties. The poor blighter does not seem to do low-key and inconspicuous, and while the shoot-out episode can probably be excused as unfortunate, with each passing week it seems likelier that he will offer equal measures of the sublime and ridiculous between someone else’s goal-posts come the January transfer window.Gomes’ bizarre directional misjudgements handily distract attention from a pretty woeful performance by the boy Pav. Unless he’s belting in 25-yard screamers he tends to spend his time ambling around the pitch, weighed down by a giant chip on his shoulder. The awful penalty was in keeping with a typically lethargic performance. Time to call in Mr and Mrs Pav for a few choice words on their son’s attitude, methinks.

On a brighter note, there was a return for Sandro, and another clean sheet. Moreover, as we in the stands become more familiar with Masters Livermore, Carroll et al, it is reasonable to assume that they are similarly becoming more comfortable in the environs of the big wide world.

In closing, permit me if I may, to take you back to our last Carling Cup penalty shoot-out failure, way back in 2009. After hearing ‘Arry trot out the obligatory line about penalties being a lottery, I managed to prevent my blood from boiling just long enough to dig out these thoughts from yesteryear:

 

Tossing a coin is a lottery. Russian roulette is a lottery. The National Lottery is a blinking lottery. A penalty shoot-out is not a lottery, you hear me?Get a penalty during 90 minutes (or indeed extra-time) and hands are slapped and little jigs danced. Admittedly such joy is promptly replaced with unbearable tension and biting of nails in the build-up to the kick itself, but the point remains that during the course of a game, a penalty is seen as a cracking opportunity to score. There ought not to be any reason why the same twelve-yard pot-shot suddenly becomes a moment of doom-laden hopelessness during a shoot-out, prompting managers to concede defeat and reducing arrogant bling-toting players to spineless, mal-coordinated naysayers.

Nor is the actual taking of a penalty a complete lottery. Admittedly, the nervous tension of a 90,000-bodied stadium, and millions upon millions of TV spectators cannot possibly be replicated on a training ground. However, practise 50 spot-kicks in the week leading up to a Wembley final, and if called upon you would at least be comfortable with the technique, run-up, spot you’re aiming for etc. Heaven forbid however that the players actually dedicate themselves thus.

This isn’t a complaint about the outcome on Sunday. I actually thought that with Gomes in goal we stood a pretty good chance in the shoot-out. And I give credit to Bentley and O’ Hara for having the

cojones to step up. I’m just disappointed still. Actually, make that gut-wrenchingly devastated, and absolutely livid, but with what I know not. Dagnabbit that should have been our cup. And now on top of it all I have to listen to every man and his dog tut sympathetically and tell me that it’s ok because it was all a lottery anyway? SOD OFF AND LET ME STEW IN MY OWN MISERY.It’s a futile, and mildly pathetic rant, but I either slam it down here in literary form, or burn with red-hot pokers the eyes of the next person to inform me sagely that penalties are a lottery.

Spurs – Liverpool Preview: A Sight to Behold

Never mind the game today, have you seen Sandro’s hair? Heavens above. The fellow has done the most extraordinary things… have yourself a perusal at around 1.50 on this clip.Of secondary importance is the visit of that red mob. In what might as well be a 17-team division competing for fourth spot, Liverpool, along with those relentless purveyors of comedy at the Emirates, represent our principal rivals – which makes this quite the key clash in the grand scheme of things.

There’s a lip-smacking midfield battle in prospect, because if Modders, Parker and Henderson can stop fiddling with their hair long enough to lock horns, with Charlie Adam also in tow (but alas Sandro and his coiffure still sidelined), this could be quite a rambunctious to-do.

I cannot help but furrow the brow at the prospect of Suarez and/or Carroll making merry amongst the Tottenham back-line, the Uruguayan’s bag containing all manner of tricks, while Carroll, for all his issues with fitness and the bottle, strikes me as precisely the sort of hulking nuisance who has traditionally tossed aside feeble Spurs centre-backs and blasted into the top corner. I fret. Much depends on the presence or otherwise of Ledley alongside Kaboul, for none of Bassong, Corluka or Livermore inspire much confidence.

Mercifully, up the other end of the pitch, the odds seem to be stacked towards lilywhite as Adebayor faces up to Carragher, who appears to have been studying the rugger world cup just a little too diligently. The world seems a brighter place with a bona fide striking presence pounding the turf in lilywhite, and as such I’m optimistic that the Liverpool net will bulge many a time and oft this lunchtime. Keep them quiet at the other end and the points will be ours – in which context Ledley’s fitness is key.

PAOK 0-0 Spurs: First Day at School

AANP’s bosom swells with pride in announcing that the youngest nephew this week began school this week, poor blighter, and similar feelings of satisfaction and reminiscence no doubt occurred to ‘Arry as he sent forth the various assorted whelps and whippersnappers still too young to watch Goodfellas, to do us proud on the corner of some foreign field last night.Encouragingly, to a boy they all seemed happy to play the Tottenham way, possessing an instinct to pick a 10-yard pass at any given time, rather than walloping the ball skywards at the first sniff of trouble. The kids may have lacked a little thrust in the final third, but they can hardly be chastised for this, given that the same affliction has weighed so heavily upon the various feted international strikers – and Peter Crouch – employed over the last 18 months. Livermore seemed pretty determined to demonstrate that he can make it in the big bad world of central midfield without a grown-up holding his hand; the new chap Falque showed the occasional moment of eyebrow-raising, nod-inducing flair; while it is too early to tell whether Harry Kane will make it as a top-level pro at the quite disgusting age of just 17, but whatever career the young blighter embarks upon I suggest that he’ll make a darned good fist of it, for in the field of blistering self-confidence he was mightily well-stocked.

Bar the last few nervy minutes our kids held their own, and were certainly unlucky not to win a penalty, although history suggests we’d have contrived to miss it anyway. If you excuse me a moment of optimistic, misty-eyed speculation, the fact that just about our third choice XI (nine injured, plus another ten rested) can hold PAOK to a draw, in front of what sounded like the blood-thirsty mob from Gladiator,  then we ought to go on and win this whole ruddy nuisance of a competition. With one or two additions our kids could probably see us through the group stages, and thereafter, with the cream of Europe otherwise engaged, I hazard that Bale, Modders and VDV would pulverise all-comers at a canter; but whether it will be worth fielding the big guns in the latter stages, as the Top Four race narrows to its conclusion, is presumably a different kettle of fish.

(As a valedictory note, I leave you with the heart-warming sentiments of PAOK boss Laszlo Boloni: “It was a nice game”. Bless.)

PAOK – Spurs Preview: Babysitting Duties

‘Tis held in some quarters that as a whippersnapper the schoolboy ‘Arry would wile away his hours yelping “Wolf!” with tedious regularity, but on Saturday even the cynics amongst us realised that his “bare bones” mantra could be objectively verified. The adage has it that actions speak louder than words, so when young Giovani was shoved out onto the pitch for a few minutes it became evident that ‘Arry spoke sooth, and our lot really were struggling for personnel. (I’m rather a fan of Giovani as it happens, but that particular can of worms sits aside from the point at hand).While Modders, Bale, Parker and Adebayor are firmly ensconced within great big blankets of cotton wool, back at North London HQ –  and VDV has been excluded altogether from the personnel list for the entire group stage of the Europa League – señor Giovani will join forces with Masters Kane, Carroll, Livermore and chums, to unleash the sort of youthful assault on the senses not seen since unkempt, pre-pubescent beat combo Hanson stormed to the top of the charts. It won’t all be acne and high-pitched voices though, as Pav, Bassong and Corluka will have to suffer the ignominy of babysitting duties tonight, while poor old Gomes has precious little to gain from a one-off appearance like this – play well and it will matter not, Friedel will return on Sunday; but drop a clanger and the pace at which he is chivvied towards the exit door will increase.

While the name is familiar enough, from various European competitions of yesteryear, I confess my knowledge of PAOK Salonika is minimal, and frankly, without wanting to irk the UEFA suits unduly, there is little to suggest that that tonight’s fixture will imprint itself indelibly in the minds of all those who scramble out of the office in time. With a further 15 games (I think) to go in order to win this trophy ‘Arry’s attitude of plain irritation towards it is understandable, and given that the kids are out in force an away draw – with no further injuries – would probably constitute a decent result.

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