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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.

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Wolves 2-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Mild Joy

Well the first thing to do in such trying circumstances as these is to search for the positives, what? Actually, I mislead my public. The first thing to do is re-start my heart, check that the pulse still throbs away in honest fashion and apologise to all those offended by my bellowed curses of rage uttered at around 2100 hours last night.

But the second thing is to search for the positives, and in a sense, this was quite the triumph. After all, it feels like I have wittered away game after game this season the same old crushing lament, that we cannot and do not and will not take our blasted chances. To illustrate the point, just consider how bonny, blithe and gay our CL prospects would like if we had done.

And in that context, I strongly propose that we pop every champagne cork available to celebrate that on a day on which we didn’t play particularly well, and barely deserved a one-goal lead, we managed to establish a three-goal lead of all things, through the medium of three pretty clinical finishes.

Moreover, all that on a day in which the game-plan took a pretty drastic 90 degree swivel after just one minute when poor old Dembele was replaced by Sonny.

And that just three days after our second game in three days, making this our third in sixth.

So while the post-match interview faces could not have been much longer, I was whistling a pretty upbeat number come whisky and cigars last night.

2. Kane

It is a peculiar quirk of AANP Towers that we tend not to remark too often on the heroics of Harry Kane.

Should Serge Aurier attempt a six-yard pass I’ll have the notepad open and nib dipped in ink; if Michael Vorm cleanly gathers a gently lobbed pass there’ll be steam coming from the AANP typewriter; but Harry Kane can bang in goals of every angle, distance, size and gender, and one will find barely a mention in the AANP footnotes.

Well this feels as good a time as any to right that particular wrong, because the hard-working buck certainly caught my eye yesterday.

Having been completely starved of the ball in the opening thrusts, he evidently decided that any time it popped into his sphere of influence thereafter he would not hang around for How-do-you-dos but simply get his head down and thrash the thing goalwards before anyone in gold knew what had hit them.

There was a low first-half effort that the keeper saved; one in the second half when he shifted the ball a yard right from a standing start and curled it; plus a couple others. None of which involved much in the way of preliminaries, all of which were struck pretty crisply.

And then he scored while running the wrong way and falling backwards and with three Wolves bodies blocking the goal.

His logic-defying antics have become so much the norm that one can easily greet them with a simple shrug, and a yawn, and a comment to a neighbour about the weather. When in truth the chap should have a vat of liquid gold poured all over him in order to commemorate what a fabulous plyer of his trade he is.

3. Foyth

If Juan Foyth ever decides to put pen to paper on his time at the Lane he’ll have one heck of an opening chapter to kick things off.

Before cracks appeared in the sky and the four horsemen dropped in on him, I actually thought he made a decent stab at things. He certainly brought the ball forward out of defence with the air of one trying very hard not to look concerned.

His actual defending landed fairly squarely somewhere between Triumph and Disaster, and that came on the back of 90 minutes against West Ham midweek that had natives nodding appreciatively.

One should not just excuse his two penalty concessions mind. Trippier no doubt should hang his head in shame for his role in the first, but nevertheless Foyth’s foul was as open-and-shut a case for the prosecution as one will see.

And while I’m no scholar of psychology, I can’t help thinking that Penalty B was in part prompted in some way by Penalty A. That is to say that I doubt that the young, confident buccaneering Foyth of the first half would have hauled down his man quite so despairingly as he eventually did for the second pen. The boy’s confidence, it appeared, had taken a thwack.

4. Lamela

Amidst the furrowed brows, and scraped points, and endless soul-searching of recent wins, the gusto and vim of young Senor Lamela has lit up the place like a particularly well-oiled beacon.

The goals rather neatly garnish things, but of greater import is the young egg’s general vivacity. Whereas at West Ham in the league a few weeks ago he displayed the full gamut of party tricks, last night was more a showcase for his indefatigable energy levels, as he bounded towards a succession of Wolves defenders, often in hopeless causes, but never losing his enthusiasm for the task.

It rather evoked the spirits of Messrs Walker, Rooney, Tevez, Rose et al. Whether he does it for love of Spurs or just because his very fibres have been natured and nurtured thusly, the end product is a chap who is able to marry non-stop off-ball workrate with some jolly effective attacking trickery and, now, end-product.

5. Other Parish Notices

Having subjected Monsieur Lloris to a healthy dose of the infamous and red-hot AANP ire, the like of which hell hath no fury, it seems only cricket to give the old bean his dues when he hands in his homework on time and with legible handwriting.

So let the annals record that in the second half he delivered three saves that managed the impressive feat of simultaneously looking both straightforward and not entirely straightforward, if you get my gist.

The chap still couldn’t save a penalty if his life depended upon it, but this was a welcome reminder of his virtues.

By contrast, the sooner we can yank Ben Davies out of the N17 door and cast him into a field full of those weeping and teeth-gnashing souls one always reads about, the better. The chap is a pest, make no mistake, a footballer of stunningly average abilities far too many basic errors.

Not many alternatives, alas, with both Rose and Vertonghen injured, but Walker-Peters might legitimately clear his throat and shuffle discreetly towards the front of the room next time Our Glorious Leader is compiling his teamsheet.

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Spurs 3-0 Apoel: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Big Night for Llorente

Greeted with half-hearted shrugs and myriad empty seats though this meaningless dead rubber might have been to the naked eye, last night’s joust was absolutely loaded to bursting point with meaning for various members of the supporting cast.

Chief amongst them was senor Llorente, who, pretty much since stepping through the hallowed gates of N17, has been haunted at every turn by the ghosts of Messrs Janssen, Soldado, Postiga and various others, all giving him knowing looks and pointedly clearing their throats every time he misses a gilt-edged chance.

His frightful lack of goalscoring form has really not done anyone any favours, because while he was never about to bustle Harry Kane out of the starting line-up, as sure as night follows day we needed someone confident and at least minimally capable to strap on the pads and hold up an end for meaningless cup fixtures and maybe the occasional straightforward league jamboree. In short, the chap needed a goal like bally-o, and we all needed it every ounce as much.

Fortunately, cometh the hour, cometh the meek kitten that obligingly rolled over to have its tummy tickled. Forget the pre-game civilities – Apoel peddled absolute rot throughout. So far, so good. However, the whole operation still required Llorente himself to raise a finger and press the button at the appropriate junction, and mercifully he did so with élan. His first touch, swivel and execution were all right on the money, and while he might not win any Goal of the Season competition for his strike, it was still a nifty piece of duck-and-weave, and one he won’t object to seeing replayed a few times back at casa Ll.

An honourable mention too, to his general all-round play, although we all knew about that already. As at the Bernabeu a couple of months back, the strapping blighter displayed a remarkably delicate – and geographically-minded – touch about him, producing all manner of weighted lay-offs and cushioned headers for his strike partner, to the tune of one goal and one assist. I’m not sure he will ever fit the uniform of a bona fide impact sub, but as a Sheringham played from the start he has a definite value.

2. A Big Night for Foyth, Aided and Abetted by Sanchez

Life in the heart of our defence has been subject to some pretty merciless scrutiny ever since Toby Alderweireld limped off a few weeks back, for the whole defensive cast has had the look of The A-Team without Mr T since his departure.

Quite rightly, our glorious leader opted to treat Messrs Vertonghen and Dier to a night out at their nearest watering hole rather than put them through another 90 minutes of injury-risk, and as a result we switched to a back-four, and a central defensive pairing, of young Messrs Foyth and Sanchez.

First things first, they were certainly not up against Neymar and Messi, but one can only play the ball one is bowled, and to their credit those two rarely put a foot wrong. Sanchez may have been the senior partner, but Foyth demonstrated the confidence to bring the ball out, or occasionally step forward and intercept, and all was relatively rosy in the defensive garden.

It does not really solve the problem of replacing Toby, but we now at least have a pairing who can spare Dier and Vertonghen the need for duty during FA Cup engagements, so this was another box ticked.

3. A Big Night for Georges-Kevin N’Koudou

To date, GKN’s appearances have tended to take the form of a desperate wish for him to be the sort of impact sub he really isn’t. Every time his spring is wound up, and then released as he enters the pitch, I get the impression that this might literally be the first time he has every played football with team-mates. This chap has been brought up on a strict diet of the playground game of “Wembley Singles” (other names presumably exist), whereby each player is on his own, and is tasked with dribbling past literally everybody else and scoring, in order to progress to the next round. Passing is eradicated from the exercise.

Thus it was last night, and thus it ever was, with GKN. There’s an uncut diamond lurking inside there, if you get my drift, for the chap has pace, and a trick or two, but there is a crushing inevitability about the fact that ultimately it will all come to nought. Apart from the time his shot caught a rather natty deflection and landed proudly in the net.

Congrats to him for living the dream, but whatever the question (and I think it is “How the devil do we unpick a massed defence – do we have a dribbler who could peddle his wares to drag opponents out of position?”) GKN is still not the answer.

4. Son > Dele?

In a season that has begun to drift pretty dangerously in recent weeks, one of the absolute blazing beacons of light within the whole shipwreck has been everyone’s favourite Korean. He was at it again yesterday, buzzing around hither and thither, and showing the sort of movement in between the opposition defence and midfield that presumably had the aforementioned defence and midfield scratching their heads and saying “What ho, who the devil is supposed to be marking that blur of movement?”

While Dele continues that same tired trick of hanging on to the ball for far too long and then being disposed while trying something fancy, Son, in the same supporting striker role, makes the opposition work for their wage, and chips in with a lovely line in curled finishes, which start outside the post and spin inside the net.

He was at it again yesterday, in much the same way as he is at it every time he is selected, and it would be a thoroughly understandable call if he were selected as the support man to Kane, leaving Dele on the sidelines, to contemplate the physics of a fall from grace.

What ho ho ho! AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, would make quite the stocking filler, and is available at Amazon.

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