1. Coming Back From Behind
Given the frenzied build-up to this one, it was entirely predictable that within two minutes our defence would have waved obliging hands to guide various Newcastle players into our area and nod in an opener. It is one of the more peculiar traits of our lot. If there’s an opposition player making a return from injury, you can bet your mortgage on him scoring against us; if a reserve goalkeeper is being plucked from obscurity just sit back and watch him dive around the place like a feline with elastic in its joints.
So of course, with Newcastle’s takeover having been the front-page story all week one could guarantee that for our lot to concede early would be up there with death and taxes.
And for ten minutes or so, with the ref seemingly granting an amnesty on on-pitch violence, Newcastle players flung themselves in around the limbs, and it looked like we might be bullied into submission. The outlook was not promising.
Mercifully, thereafter it pretty quickly became evident that Newcastle were dreadful, so matters largely took care of themselves. The lad Saint-Maximin was a slippery sort, but that aside they offered nothing in possession, and even more usefully when not in possession they simply stood around and watched as our lot knocked the ball around them in leisurely fashion. The lack of pressure applied to our mob when we were in possession was mind-boggling, but given that one takes the rough as a Spurs fan, one damn well does not shirk an opportunity to take the smooth, and it does not come much smoother than it came yesterday.
However, while Newcastle’s surrender undoubtedly helped chivvy things along, a few words of acclaim are nevertheless due to our lot for not folding like a pack of cards in the face of the early onslaught, particularly as the technique of utter capitulation had been feverishly practised in the weeks before the international break.
This time, we went behind and dug in, Skipp in particular to the fore in ensuring that Newcastle could not simply waltz through to goal at will. It might have ended up as the most one-sided 2-3 battering ever seen, but at 1-0 down there was a genuine risk that the wheels might fly off, so bravo our lot for getting back into the game.
Much like a girl in a nursery rhyme, when Tanguy Ndombele is good he’s very, very good. It has taken a few weeks to stumble upon, but the 4-2-3-1 system, gifting him the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants behind the bona fide attacking trio without any compulsion to track back, is tailor-made for a man of his talents and outlook.
Yesterday he shone both as the creative spark through whom wholesome things happened, and also as an additional attacker, popping up in threatening areas to add weight to the general force of attack (witness Exhibit A, his goal).
When Ndombele first arrived, he struck me as a chap potentially in the Mousa Dembele mould – capable of gathering the ball in his own half and mazily bringing it over halfway, turning defence into attack, bypassing opposing midfielders and so on and so forth. The flaw in that plan, however, was that such a deep-lying role would require him to roll up the sleeves and sweat off a gallon or two as and when the need arose. And while Ndombele is capable of winning the occasional tackle, one can see that this is not the sort of thing that motivates him when he draws back the curtains of a morning.
Ndombele is the kid in the playground who delighted in dribbling around everyone else, and then going back and dribbling around them all over again just to rub it in their faces. Such kids are not motivated by the thought of tracking back thirty yards to intercept. With his defensive shackles removed, Ndombele can simply pop up in whichever attacking area tickles his fancy, and treat us all to his endless bag of foot-based trickery. By the time the curtain came down yesterday he seemed to be having an absolute blast.
Oh that Dele might have shown such flair when granted the same opportunities, rather than loitering on the ball endlessly and attempting countless nutmegs. For the foreseeable, the role is Ndombele’s.
As tends to happen when lining up alongside neon-lit sorts like Kane and Son, the performance of Lucas went rather under the radar, but for approximately the umpteenth consecutive occasion I thought he bordered on the marvellous.
Where Saint-Maximin receives possession and all around lose their minds, Lucas tends to do fairly similar things and the general reaction is to complain that Kane is dropping too deep. It’s possibly a stretch to say that Lucas is in the category as Saint-Maximin but he’s not far off, and this (and, I suggest, last) season he has gone up a notch by virtue of sorting out his compass and not charging off into cul-de-sacs.
This new, improved Lucas now picks up the ball and leaps past two or three flailing challenges, before – and this is the crucial bit – doing something useful with the ball. Typically, he either plays a sensible and pretty darned effective pass, or gets hacked down (witness Exhibit B, his role in Son’s goal – a goal that exemplified all that was good about both his and Ndombele’s performance).
I’m also rather a fan of the fact that Lucas does not feel chained to his flank, or even his starting position, but is happy to gallop infield and central as the mood takes him, whilst always beavering away with the general aim of heading towards goal. As mentioned, he tends to feature relatively lowly on the list of superstars, but I’d suggest he’s been one of our best performers this season, and is a pretty critical cog in the 4-2-3-1 machine.
The halcyon days of peak Rose and Walker might be long gone, but on his good days young Senor Reguilon does remind us of all that a good attacking full-back should be, and yesterday was one such day.
As I recall he arrived on these shores with something of a reputation for getting amongst the goals, so whenever he does treat us to his forward-looking forays I feel that it is the least we deserve. Yesterday, with Newcastle presenting such limp opposition it evidently struck him as rude not to gallop forward at every opportunity, and he augmented our play well.
With Sonny always happy to cut in towards goal, and Ndombele making fairly frequent guest appearances on the left, Reguilon’s presence helped contribute to the collective application of foot to Newcastle’s throat. His presence alone gave them a set of positional problems to deal with, on top of which his output was pretty impressive too, not least in setting up our opener and then getting Shelvey sent off.
On top of which he also helped save someone’s life, which I’m not sure even peak Rose and Walker ever did.
5. Son’s Corners
It would be easy to relegate this to a footnote, but by golly Son swings in some delicious corners.
It does not seem so long ago that I would perch on the balcony of AANP Towers and yowl in frustration at the sight of Christian Eriksen raising one arm (what is that about? Why do all corner-takers raise one arm before flinging over their product? No matter what sort of corner, they always raise one arm) and then sending in an abysmal corner that barely reached the shin of the first defender, an output all the more frustrating given the undoubted talent of the man.
By contrast, Sonny never really struck me as the sort who would be a set-piece wizard, and yet there it was in glorious technicolour, a whole slew of corners whipped right into the business-end of the penalty area, and really meriting more than for everyone to stand and gawp at them. It was a real shame that Lucas hit the bar from one of them, because I can’t remember seeing our lot so consistently deliver them so well.
6. Dier’s Mistake
Anyone who has had the privilege of playing alongside AANP will know that I am no stranger to the occasional own-goal, and as such I am rarely inclined to criticise the man who does the deed. The way I see it, scoring an own goal is generally an indication that a defender is at least in the appropriate sort of area, to carry out his duties and typically has just had too little time to react to a ball rapidly approaching (one might point to Exhibit C, yesterday, Dier’s own own goal).
So it is not for the own goal that I chide young Master Dier. It is for the needless and rash concession of the free-kick, in the dying seconds, that brought about the own-goal in the first place.
What the hell was Dier thinking, charging out of position and blundering through the back of his man so? And this, to be clear, is a multi-faceted complaint. For a start, when has the blunder-through-the-back approach ever resulted in anything other than a free-kick? Secondly, the whole routine was thoroughly unnecessary, given that the Newcastle player had his back to goal, was out near the touchline and at least 30 yards from goal. And thirdly, the entire team had managed the game to near-perfection until that point. Granted, we had not scored the fourth that we really ought to have, but that aside we simply did not let Newcastle touch the ball – either rolling it around amongst ourselves at the back, or neatly playing between the lines further forward.
It was thoroughly professional game management, ruined by Dier’s clumsiness and rashness – and very nearly cost us the win (credit to all concerned for then managing the following five minutes expertly, not allowing Newcastle to touch the ball).
That aside, Dier had a good game; but this is hardly the first time he has committed exactly that sort of foul, and a central defender of his experience ought by now to have cut those mistakes from his game.
But let it not distract too much from another well-deserved win, in challenging circumstances. Back-slaps all round.
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