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West Brom 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Not The Abysmal Showing I’d Been Promised

A confession of sorts to begin with, as it’s generally best to air these things at the outset – I did not view the game live, so by the time the telly-box re-ran the binge in its entirety I was already well aware of the outcome.

The reports I received gave the impression that it was one of those catastrophic affairs, in which the undead roam the streets, cars and buildings are set alight and humanity is generally going to pot. I braced myself accordingly, poured a more generous than normal dram of the good stuff and settled in.

And was pleasantly surprised. I hesitate to say it, as one prefers not to incur the wrath of one’s public, but I thought we started fairly healthily. Admittedly every set-piece swung into our area caused absurd levels of panic, but those were pretty rare as we cunningly hogged possession. Moreover this was not one of those turgid affairs in which the ball is monotonously shuttled sideways, and all and sundry stick rigidly to their place of dwelling, offering no movement.

Au contraire, there was decent movement and the ball was accordingly shoved around pretty nippily, as well as the usual work-rate that ensured we tended to win back the ball before most of the dignitaries had registered that it had gone. Toby was back in the fold, and wasted little time in pinging his diagonals, while the back-three allowed both Vertonghen to sneak into midfield and the wing-backs to set up camp well over halfway.

We made some respectable chances too – both Kane and Lamela were clean through, and Wanyama’s effort drew a save. Frankly, had I not been oddly blessed with the benefit of hindsight I would have suggested that while no classic, we seemed to be peddling our wares in honest fashion.

2. Short Corners

I appreciate that our Glorious Leader would have taken one look at the opposition teamsheet and decided that the aerial route was strictly for extreme circumstances only, but nevertheless the relentless barrage of comically inept short-corner routines that we delivered throughout did rather make one scratch the head.

There was one glorious throwback to the Anderton-Sheringham era, when Eriksen swept in a low corner and Kane swung a boot at the near post.

That aside one received the impression that precisely nobody involved in these little scenes had remembered their lines. It was questionable whether any of them had been rehearsed at all, as nobody seemed quite sure what was supposed to happen, and between two or three men in lilywhite they contrived to oversee an elaborate process of funnelling the ball back towards halfway, or allowing the ball to trickle apologetically out of play. A little more training ground time appears in order.

3. Toby and Danny Rose

Why these two were suddenly included yesterday, having been pretty unsubtly sidelined for months, is anyone’s guess.

Maybe Poch is keen to remind potential suitors of their value? Maybe he would like to see them sharpen up ahead of the World Cup? Maybe he simply puts all the squad numbers in a hat and picks them out at random?

Whatever the rationale, it was nice to see the pair back in lilywhite. Toby slotted in like he had never been away, and seemed to inspire Davinson Sanchez to similarly great heights. That said, the caveat should be added that this serenity applied only to open play, for set-pieces were an entirely different kettle of fish, with none of our lot looking remotely comfortable when peering upwards at the West Brom aerial barrage.

Danny Rose had a marvellous joust with the West Brom right-back Nyom, winning some and losing some but competing throughout like his life depended on it, which is not something that has ever been said of Ben Davies in the entirety of human history.

Rose’s push-and-shove with Nyom, who stood around two feet taller and three stone heavier, was possibly the highlight of the entire game, and although by the letter of the law Rose might have seen red for raising hand to face, the delayed and dramatic dive that followed from Nyom was good, wholesome comedy.

As with Kyle Walker back in yesteryear, Rose seems to be the sort of bean who cares deeply about his personal duels, and has more than a sprinkling of robustness in his DNA. Not the sort of character upon whom Spurs has traditionally built its reputation, and we will be weaker for his likely departure. Even if he did make quite the pig’s ear of his attempted clearance for the West Brom goal.

4. Lucas Moura’s Cameo

One presumes that next season Lucas Moura will be upgraded from Special Guest Star to Main Cast, because glimpses of him have been pretty fleeting since his January arrival, but generally worth the wait.

Yesterday was no exception, as he put his head down and made a beeline straight for the heart of the West Brom defence every time he received possession, drawing fouls and generally prompting our hosts to run scurry around in a bit of a tizz.

While Son, Lamela and Dele all have quick, jinking feet, none have Lucas’ capacity to run with the ball at pace. It nearly did the trick yesterday, despite limited air-time, and it would be good to see the young egg play a more prominent role in things when next season rumbles around.

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

Spurs 2-0 Watford: Four Tottenham Observations

Slightly stodgy stuff all round, but these routine 2-0 home wins are necessary fare. That I could only really muster three and a half observations tells its own slightly damning story really, what?

1. Lloris

Monsieur Lloris has found his head shoved in the stocks and pelted from several angles with fruit of questionable freshness in recent weeks, due to some fairly high-profile in-play choices made, but yesterday he was back doing the du pain et du beurre for which he earns the weekly packet, and it was a gentle reminder of why we fell in love with the chap in the first place.

There were three or four saves that jolly well needed to be made, at least one of which was probably worth a goal. The hecklers will no doubt mutter that extending a palm here and leaping horizontally there hardly makes up for the wild flaps and ill-judged lunges of recent weeks, but this at least was one for the credit rather than debit column.

2. Trippier – The Least Average

This was pretty perfunctory stuff from our heroes, a bit like watching a factory machine whirr, hum and dutifully churn out goods. Amidst this slew of 6 out of 10 performances I am willing to propose that young Master Trippier puffed out his chest just a little further than most.

This was not the second coming of Pele by any means, but the young nib beavered away pretty tirelessly throughout. He generally kept the back-door locked as necessary, but more eye-catchingly, at the faintest whiff of action in the Watford half he was disappearing over halfway in a puff of smoke.

In contrast to the oddly anonymous Davies on the other side of the land, Trippier was a pretty constant outlet on the right, and generally seemed to be in and around the vicinity whenever any mischief was perpetuated. Took one or two kicks to the shins and whatnot as well, and bounced back without too many tears, which is always pleasing to observe.

While his crosses did not always hit the mark, he did at least sling a merry half dozen into useful areas, and also assisted Kane for our second. Add that to the fact that he simply isn’t Serge Aurier and this was a pretty useful contribution from the well-inked scamp.

3. Vertonghen, Relatively Unsung Hero

My public may be unaware that Jan Vertonghen and I are practically bosom buddies these days, our paths having crossed on a pet project around Christmas, since when he has always meant to message me before, during and after each game, but presumably has never quite found the time.

When his heart skipped a beat at being named in the PFA Team of the Year, I’m pretty sure his first thought was to share his joy with his old mucker AANP – again, he just did not quite find the time, being an in-demand sort of egg.

It was an accolade well-deserved by my BFF, because while those around him might have whinged about their contracts, or thrown in occasional wobbly on-field moments, Jan (I’d like to think we’ll be on first-name terms) has generally mopped up with minimal fuss, and taken every opportunity going to bring the ball out of defence like a modern-day Beckenbauer.

That the chap has not scored for Spurs in several years is pretty mind-boggling, as he’s up for every set-piece and has decent enough technique. Last night he had a couple of six-yard thrashes in the first half, and then nodded one against the upright, which seemed pretty rotten luck (although as my old man, AANP Senior is perennially fond of piping up, one only deserves credit for hitting the post if aiming for it, which rather makes a point).

For good measure, and seemingly on something of a personal vendetta against the Watford goal, he then went charging forward late on and showed pretty immaculate control to pluck the ball out of the air and lay it off for Kane’s offside ‘goal’. The poor blighter may not have got his goal, but he deserves credit for a season’s worth of pretty topping performances, and when he does eventually get in touch I’ll be sure to mention it.

3.5: Substitute Cameos

I rather enjoyed the little cameo off the bench from Lamela, full of unnecessary stepovers and whatnot. He has a delightfully languid air about him at times, as if determined to give the impression that this football lark is simply too easy for him, and simply being summoned to perform is beneath him. One or two Gallic types of yesteryear would not with approval that sort of arrogance. If he could just add the occasional end-product he would be one heck of a player.

There was also a rare sighting of Sissoko, who promptly bundled over someone illegally and then blazed over when clean through from inside the area. It was all rather comforting to behold, in a plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose sort of way.

With three clones of this fixture to come, we just need to wrap up the Top Four spot and give Kane a leg-up to the Golden Boot, before preparing for Russia.

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

Bournemouth 1-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Reaction to Defeat

“The true test of a team is not how they celebrate victory, but how they react to defeat.”

I’d be deceiving my public if I claimed that line – paraphrased, don’t you know – as one of my own. In fact I’m not sure who said it, and frankly with gags like that, whoever did say it could hardly have been the life and soul of a Saturday night jaunt on the town, but whatever the chap’s personal flaws he certainly had a point when it came to football.

The mood at AANP Towers over the last few days since Juve has pretty much boasted all the joyous revelry of the wake of a fondly-remembered family pet. Morose, gloomy and pretty starkly lacking even a splash of the traditional joie de vivre. I imagine it has been the same in lilywhite households across the land too, so heavens knows how the players felt as they laced up the footwear and prepared for today’s skirmish.

Unsurprisingly, they began proceedings with the same moroseness and gloom with which I had become so familiar in recent days, and when Bournemouth hit the bar and then hit the net within the first five minutes, the reaction to Wednesday’s defeat appeared to be one of general listlessness. The omens, it is fair to say, were pretty negative.
Matters worsened when the poster boy limped off, so our heroes deserve enormous credit for snapping out of their hangovers and raising their level.

Undoubtedly the scoreline flattered us, but the win was richly deserved, and in truth having lamented our lack of midweek ruthlessness in front of goal like one of the miserable Greek poets who only ever bangs on about the bad things in life, I was buoyed like nobody’s business to see us bury our chances so efficiently today.

I had remarked on these very pages last time out that there was a danger of feeling sorry for ourselves and needlessly dropping points; thumping backslaps all round then, to the players for bouncing straight back.

2. Front Four

As mentioned, the rolling of the precious Kane ankle might have been the cue for a general waving off the white flag and a whole cacophony of wailing and gnashing of teeth, so it was good to see that instead our lot took the opportunity rather sneakily to showcase their talents. There was something of “The King is dead – I say, rather than lament the chap, we could go and make names for ourselves here” about it all.

The decision not to bring on Llorente was hardly surprising, as the old bean simply is not at the required quality notch, irrespective of his Rochdale hat-tricks and whatnot. Moreover, tactically I had feared that wheeling him out would have made us a little too one-dimensional. Firing everything at a static beanpole, if you get my drift, for Llorente’s assets cannot be truthfully said to include indefatigable energy levels.

Instead, Lamela skipped on, brash young buck that he is, Son moved upfront, and those two, along with Dele and Eriksen spent the following hour buzzing around all over the place. The loose plan was Son up top; but each of the aforementioned appeared to have been granted carte blanche when it came to whizzing hither and thither into each other’s nominal patch of turf, and with the full-backs providing width we had a decent attacking armoury, even sans Kane.

Admittedly the full-backs’ actual crosses nine times out of ten ranked under the Pretty Dashed Woeful column, but their very presence helped stretched things, and like a broken clock Serge Aurier took time out from foul-throwing and other general acts of imbecility to deliver a peach of a cross for young Dele’s goal.

3. Life Without Kane

Digressing from the 90 minutes in question, the likely absence of Kane for presumably 4-6 weeks can hardly be greeted with thunderous cheers of acclaim, but we have managed without him for such periods in recent seasons, and today did demonstrate that we have the personnel to at least maintain the sprightly style of play.

The presence of Lucas on the bench provides another option, as I suppose does Llorente, in his own loveable way, so I suspect we’ll muddle through. Mind you, the first hint of a below-par showing and the internet will presumably combust under the weight of rabid commentators insisting that we cannot cope without the chap.

Much rides on our next two encounters.

4. Son’s Miskicks

Having retreated into his shell somewhat during February, Son has responded as one would expect to the indignity of being sold from the AANP Fantasy Football Team. He now boasts a couple of fancy new party tricks in his repertoire, as well. The rounding-the-keeper gag never fails to impress onlookers, and it was entertaining to see him wave an arm at Lamela as part of the routine to deceive the Bournemouth custodian into thinking that he would square the ball. The scamp!

But as deception goes, he will have to go some distance to top his array of miskicks. First the scuff onto his standing foot vs Juve, and this week the thump into the turf to create a delicate loop over the goalkeeper.

It does all suggest that he ought to stop watching Sissoko for his footballing inspiration, but on a less facetious note the chap should be applauded for getting into the right positions, and if a slice of luck is shoved his way then few can begrudge him.

5. Eriksen

So the record books will record for posterity that Son scored twice, and decades down the line few will be the wiser as to the intricacies of the job, but one really had to watch matters unfold with one’s own two eyes to appreciate the role played by Christian Eriksen in all of this.

Unruffled and in control throughout, he was patient in his passing, always looking for the killer ball but more often than not simply nudging it more straightforwardly if the circumstances dictated it. Yet he just makes things tick, and when the opportunity arises will supplement things with an outrageously well-spotted and weighted through ball.

The pass to Kane (for the disallowed goal which brought about the injury) was one such example, and the pass to Son for his second, while being simpler, was still delivered to perfection. I can certainly imagine some amongst our number who would have made rather a pig’s ear of that one.

Also worth noting the energy the chap displays week in, week out. Not for the first time he could be seen leading the chase when Bournemouth countered, shepherding the ball out for goal-kicks of all things.

So a particularly knowing tip of the cap to Eriksen, but it’s high-fives and elaborate handshakes all round, for this might have been the moment when our season started to unravel. Not a bit of it.

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

Spurs 1-2 Juventus: Five Tottenham Observations

1. That Sickening Feeling

It was with a moody, morose, hangdog expression that I picked at the morning repast, I don’t mind admitting. One sometimes reads the phrase, “Sick to the pit of his stomach”, in murder mysteries and horror yarns and the like, and I never quite knew what the chap was getting at, although it sounded something one definitely wanted to swerve.
But now I know. Sick to the pit of my stomach. It pretty much hits nail squarely on head, when it comes to capturing the mood at AANP Towers ever since that blasted final whistle. The feeling of not wanting to get out of bed, even when you’re not actually in bed.

Or, more specifically, that feeling of having by and large, all things considered, outplayed a team over two legs, save for ten minutes in the first joust and five minutes in the second – and still ending up trudging home empty-handed and out of the competition for another year, after months of labour which actually begin at the start of last season when just qualifying for the bally thing. There’s something World Cup-esque about it all.

There were no injustices about which to complain (okay, the stamp on Son, the odd tenuous handball appeal – but if anything Lady Luck leant towards lilywhite), and no real complaints about the outcome. And yet the manner of the dashed thing is bitterly difficult to take. A lesson for us all, what?

2. Be More Clinical

And on the subject of lessons, they flew at us by the absolute bucketload yesterday. Most obviously I suppose was the need to make all the hay available when the sun is out and the conditions ship shape.

In the first half in particular we did a pretty topping job of opening up the Juve defence, and creating a decent fistful of presentable opportunities, but only scored one. The key protagonists, if not quite allowed the freedom of a fortnight back, were still looking pretty hot. Dembele was gliding, Eriksen was picking his men, Son was a little blur of whirring legs. But just the one goal. At half-time that seemed a pretty satisfactory night’s work, and there were back slaps all round; but how young and foolish we were back in those halcyon days of half-time.
In the second half it was more a case of well-set shots flying just wide of the mark. At school this would have earned that slightly patronising praise for effort, but yesterday it didn’t really tackle the meat of the problem, namely ticks in the Goals Scored column.

By contrast, Juve created two clear chances, tucked both away and that was enough. The lesson is not just obvious, it stands directly in front of you and raps you over the head with a blunt instrument.

Our heroes can certainly be proud of the fact that they twice took the game to that lot, outplayed them for large periods and created a hatful of chances. The next step, then, is to score goals at the slightest hint of an invitation, and in every period of dominance, because this stage of the Champions League is evidently pretty unforgiving, and points are not awarded for artistic finesse.

The Kane chance when he rounded the keeper; the Son effort dragged wide just before his goal; the Son header straight at the ‘keeper; Lamela’s slight delay in chasing the Kane header which hit the post – whereas in the Premier League, even against the top teams, another opportunity will likely toddle along (and if not, within seven days there is an opportunity to right all wrongs and forget about past mistakes), in the last 16 of the CL there is evidently a limit to the number of bites at the cherry over the course of 180 minutes, and if you miss your moment then you are simply plucked by the shoulders and tossed unceremoniously to the back of the queue.

3. Various Other Lessons Learned

Aside from simply sticking the thing in the blasted net from time to time, there was plenty else to learn from the way Juve got the job done, so I trust that our glorious leader and indeed those on the pitch took the time to whip out their notepads and scribble away like nobody’s business.

I suppose a lot of it could be filed under the loose heading of “General Savviness and Nous”. Things like tactical fouls, changing shape (and reacting to shape-changes), delaying play, and general game management. Some would probably be labelled fairly dark arts, but others are considerably brighter, and simply reflect a little exercising of the grey matter. Oddly enough it seems there’s more to playing football than simply playing football, which really makes one stop and think.

On a side note, amongst numerous other things I give credit to the Juve top dog for staggering his double substitution at the hour mark. Where most would simply have bunged both subs onto the pitch in one dollop, signalling a clear change of tack, the Allegri chap made his changes a minute apart.

Nothing too sinister in that, one might think, but as one of the TV bods pointed out, the effect was to give our lot more food for thought than their little minds could handle. Barely had they computed Sub No. 1 and the accompanying change in approach, than Sub No. 2 was galloping into view, and more time was spent by those in lilywhite scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the dickens was happening. Within five minutes, while we were still adjusting our dials, Juve had scored and it was all too late.

4. A Team In The Manager’s Image (For Better And Worse)

An Arsenal-supporting chum, of all things, noted to me that possibly the only flaw in the management style of Senor Pochettino is a slightly rudimentary approach to the art of substitutions, and I suppose I am inclined to agree there, because for all his qualities the old bean rarely turns a game on its head with his mid-match tinkering.

By and large we tend to muddle through anyway, but on occasions like yesterday some inspiration from Stage Right would certainly not have gone amiss. However, I suppose that, like the troupe out on the pitch, our glorious leader himself is also rather green behind the ears in these matters.

The whole team is very much in the manager’s image, which by and large makes for pretty topping stuff – the whole cast singing from the same hymnsheet as it were – but it also means that they share his few flaws, and the inexperience from top to bottom cost us yesterday.

5. Progress and Next Steps

It is often said that while you can take AANP out of the analysis I’ll be dashed if you can take the analyst out of AANP, and as such we probably ought to consider next steps.

Beating Bournemouth seems like a sensible starting point. Ordinarily this would go without saying, but given the soul-destroying nature of last night, Sunday’s game shoulders an extra wedge or two of significance. Get back on the wagon and despatch that lot, and our season remains on track. Feel sorry for ourselves and roll around morosely, and we might start dropping points, and before you know it the whole thing is falling apart and locals are running for the hills.

But on a cheerier note, there is pretty visible progress from one season to the next. A couple of years ago we stumbled and crashed through a fairly ghastly Europa experience.
Last season we were gifted a pretty cheery-looking CL group, and made a most awful mess of things, then did the same in the Europa.

This season we were pretty solid third favourites in a group of four, but topped the thing, beating the current champions, then rather cruelly were rewarded with a knockout against the other finalist, and made a respectable fist of things.

As trajectories go, the Pochettino Vintage is up there with some of the great parabolas of our time, and you cannot get much higher praise than that.

Spurs 6-1 Rochdale: Five THFC Observations

1. VAR, Apparently

Just as well we started thumping in goals from all angles in the second half, because by the midway point of the first half the two dozen or so brave souls who had made the pilgrimage to Wembley appeared ready to grab the nearest pitchfork and riot, in protest at VAR and the accompanying lunacy.

If you are looking for some semblance of sanity or explanation in this direction you can jolly well look elsewhere, because AANP was even more discombobulated than usual. Not only were VAR decisions being made according to the toss of a coin or spin of a wheel, or whatever sorcery it is, but I had the pleasure of watching the whole thing unfold from the rear end of a bar in Malta of all places, which had wisely decided to shun the witterings of the standard commentators and instead peddle a marvellous range of 80s power ballads and 90s pop as the audio backdrop to proceedings. A pretty ripe deal, you might think, and I certainly would not trade it, but without someone narrating the thing it was blank looks all round whenever the ref’s eyes lit up and the VAR machine rolled into town.

So when Lamela’s early “goal” was disallowed, with replays showing nobody offside, no simulation and about as much physical contact as one would normally expect from a game of chess, I could do little more than exchange a quizzical look with my old man, AANP Senior, while R. Kelly warbled in my ear that he could fly.

The decision to award the penalty seemed a slightly rummy one to me, the foul having begun a good few metres outside the area, but having bravely fought off the attentions of his marker for as long as was bearable, young Trippier’s little legs could support him no longer. And while few juries would possibly have convicted on those grounds, Trippier wisely enough reasoned that where there is VAR there is hope for even the most unlikely infraction to be awarded; and Bryan Adams gently crooned his satisfaction.

That said, the decision then to disallow the Son’s goal made me cast a few severe glances around the place like nobody’s business. A Spurs-supporting chum of mine kindly sent me an image from the FA website no less, on the various dos and don’ts of penalty kickery, on which was inscribed the specific words “Feinting is permitted”. It’s permitted, dash it! If anything, the FA bods are practically encouraging it! And while Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” admittedly did a mighty job of soothing this particular savage soul, the injustice of it all had me chuntering away into my Maltese lager.

2. Attacking Trio

So it was with a cocktail comprising two thirds bewilderment and one third effrontery that I sipped the half-time restorer and was serenaded by that virile old devil, Marvin Gaye. VAR had stood virtually as an extra line of defence; our own defence had switched off a little too regularly for comfort, and the Sissoko-Winks defensive screen had a distinctly porous whiff about it.

The saints be praised then, that the attacking triumvirate of Lamela, Son and Lucas were going about their business with gay old abandon. Each one of them bounded around the place as if to say, “Hello! If we play our cards right there could be all sorts of goods on offer here,” and accordingly they came fully armed with trickery on the ball and a decent level of work off it.

Lucas in particular appears to do exactly as advertised in the catalogue, which ought really to be barely worthy of mention, but given that our history of big-money signings has the same calamitous air about is as the passenger list of The Titanic, this is actually quite the triumph. Unlike anyone else in lilywhite he seems capable of skipping past opponents at in Full Gallop mode. On top of which, the young bean knows when to hang on to the ball and when to give it, as evidenced by the part he played in more than one goal. While admittedly this particular flexibility has only been fully demonstrated to date in two encounters with Rochdale, it still gets the juices flowing, as it were.

And if one were to step back, stroke the chin and survey the wider landscape, one might even suggest that there is now a degree of competition or reserve for Messrs Eriksen and Alli. Admittedly nobody is in the class of the former, but having a couple of viable options is no bad thing.

3. Llorente

I suppose that having wasted no opportunity to throw curses around like confetti whenever Senor Llorente has tripped over his own feet, it is only right to doff a cap and raise a glass or two when he scores a perfect hat-trick.

Prior to that point it was the usual fare from him: delightfully-weighted lay-offs coupled with an infuriating inability – or maybe just stubborn refusal, who knows? – to throw his weight around, work up a sweat and win a few blasted headers.

However, his first goal was an exquisite finish, and thereafter he did what a good striker ought to do. While goals at home to Rochdale perhaps do not raise the chap’s stock to the extent that global markets will be in disarray, it does mean that his confidence will be heading north, his teammates might be a little less nervous about his presence than they were 24 hours ago, and Harry Kane was granted a night off.

4. The Usual Array of Slightly Bewildering Substitutions

Other luminaries were less fortunate than Kane, however. With the tie in the bag, and the weather atrocious, our glorious leader hit upon the faintly ludicrous area of instructing Mousa Dembele, the undisputed owner of the Most Important Whilst Being Most Fragile award, to don a t-shirt and go haring about in the snow for half an hour. And ten minutes later he had Dele doing the same.
Quite what the heck he thought any of the above would achieve is absolutely beyond me. No good could possibly have resulted, and there seemed, in shipping forecast parlance, a moderate-to-fair chance of someone hurtling through the snow to their doom.
On top of which, while Erik Lamela charged around the pitch on his weekly mission to get himself sent off in double-quick time, Pochettino saw fit to remove Son, and leave Lamela to challenge the referee to a thirty-minute game of Chicken.

For all his virtues – and the list is as long as they come – Pochettino does come across as an odd sort of egg when it comes to substitutions, the type who will see we need a goal in the final ten minutes and bring on Trippier for Dier.

5. Snow

It matters little I suppose, but if you are after a blow-by-blow account of the final half hour or so you are most certainly in the wrong neck of the woods, because I could barely see a blasted thing. Having spent five minutes shouting over Justin Bieber to suggest to AANP Senior that they might want to use a yellow ball, I finally noticed that they were indeed using a yellow ball, and it was adding nothing in the Visibility column.

Nice to see Walker-Peters get five minutes; nicer to see that the Grand Fromage opted against hurling on Harry Kane for a wince-inducing and pointless five minutes; and thoroughly heart-warming to see Walker-Peters sprinting away in celebration after presumably scoring his first Spurs goal, although in real-time it simply appeared that he was going through a rigorous warm-up routine sans ball.

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

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Lackadaisical From Top To Bottom

The quickest route from A to B, so the boffins used to instruct me, is in a straight line, which seems a reasonable enough way of approaching that particular conundrum; but if you are a member of the good ship Hotspur it pretty much is a condition of employment these days that anything resembling a straight line gets tossed out of the window, and the most convoluted and complicated way of doing things is instead selected. Be it Juve or Liverpool, or Newport or Rochdale, our lot have recently been quite taken by the idea of drawing out matters and increasing the tension minute by minute.

So, rather than scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes, as was briefly threatened, nerves were frayed, fingernails gnawed to bone and curses flung around like confetti, until the 89th minute for goodness sake.

Despite being utterly dominant from first bell to last, we managed also to be incredibly slack and error-strewn throughout. And whereas this is normally the cue to take a deep breath and launch into a tirade against Sissoko, today the culprits were the much-feted A-listers in our ranks, which makes the mind boggle a bit.

Eriksen and Dembele, upon whom one would normally bet one’s right arm to keep possession ticking over, kept gifting the ball to Palace as if they’d been practising it all week. Harry Kane, upon whom would happily wager the life of a less-cherished cousin to stick away a couple of six-yard chances, made rather a pig’s ear of his opportunities in the opening 88 minutes.

Just about everyone else in lilywhite was similarly careless (young Sanchez can maybe be exonerated). It was almost as if the collective attitude was a carefree shrug, and the general sentiment that “Accuracy doesn’t really matter, Kane will presumably pop up at the death and we’ll win anyway, what?”

2. Aurier Finding New Ways To Be A Liability

As mentioned, Sanchez got his lines right throughout, which is no mean feat when up against a robust soul like Benteke, and alongside him, while his distribution certainly veered towards the errant, Dier nailed the bread-and-butter of keeping Palace forwards at bay.

Come to think of it, Ben Davies also mixed rough with smooth in a passable sort of way. The chap’s crossing tends to have a success rate that lurks in 50-50 territory, but as the game wore and the second half became one-way traffic he at least had the good sense to set up camp well inside the Palace half and provide a left-flank option.

And on that note, of picking a respectable position and giving the opposition something about which to brood, one should probably give Serge Aurier his due; he was always available. Here at AANP Towers we also noticed Aurier execute an impeccably-timed sliding tackle to spare our blushes, which beforehand I would have ranked as about as likely as a flying dinosaur landing on the pitch, so it just goes to show.

But whereas Aurier is normally an absolute liability in defence, he picked today to demonstrate that when it comes to fouling things up in the most ghastly and imbecilic manner, he is as capable of demonstrating these abilities in attack. Taking multiple foul-throws is really the sort of rot for which a professional footballer ought to have a finger lopped off, as well as sacrificing his entire weekly packet. Just to hammer home the farcical nature of Life as Serge Aurier, the blighter then managed to miss an open goal from around three yards by treading on the ball or some such nonsense.

3. Dele Alli: Dives and Penalties

There was an unsightly moment midway through the second half when young Dele flung himself to ground over the onrushing goalkeeper, with not an opposition limb in sight.

I do not have much problem with he or anyone else rediscovering the joys of gravity if – and it’s rather a crucial if – an opponent has bludgeoned, belted or even gently brushed against him. After all, referees will not award a free-kick if a chap stays upright; and if contact is made with man rather than ball, then a jury has every right to convict.

As it happened, Dele might have had a penalty not long beforehand, when a Palace defender (van Aanholt?) tried to dispossess him with a fairly wild swing of his peg. But the dive over the goalkeeper was an attempt to cheat, and while he is unlikely to be shoved in a dungeon and have the key lobbed into a nearby moat, the young buck will hardly be able to complain if he is politely told to biff off and amuse himself in other ways for three games.

Aside from the charge sheet against Dele himself, it is probably worth pointing out that we had an absolutely nailed on penalty (the goalkeeper against Davies) turned down in the opening moments, for no discernible reason other than that goalkeepers are sometimes granted licence to clatter folk. Kane might also have had a penalty, on a technicality, but life sometimes gives us these crosses to bear.

4. Team Selection

While most of the game was spent huffing, puffing and misplacing, the choice of personnel at the outset did make me arch a quizzical eyebrow or two.

The absence of Vertonghen was fair enough – a man is allowed to be injured every now and then – but while the same can officially be said of Alderweireld, it seems that the latter’s days in lilywhite might be numbered, which is a dashed shame.

Now I don’t really know the ins and outs of these contract negotiations, and while I would love to imagine that it is simply two men sitting opposite each other and shouting numbers back and forth, I suspect the truth is a little more complex; but could we not just find a way to give the chap the dosh he wants, through bonuses or hidden treasure or whatever it is? Heck, and do the same for the rest of them, if it means parity of payment. Seems a tad simpler than trying to identify another world-class centre-back at a bargain price, but then I’ve always been pretty nifty at solving all of life’s problems from this particular armchair.

Getting back to the teamsheet, I had actually swallowed a gulp or two when I saw the back-four announced, neither Dier nor Aurier being exactly the most watertight in the business, but I need not really have worried on that front, as Palace struggled to get over the halfway line.

The demotion of Son made sense, as the chap has slightly gone off the boil in recent weeks, following his all-conquering winter spell, and Lamela has looked sharp. Given that, one wonders how long before Dele serves some time on the bench.

I had also hoped that Lucas Moura would produce a little more than he did when eventually introduced, but the chap’s engine barely started. Early days though.

5. A Triumph For Football

In truth, the whole affair was fairly forgettable, but having spent the entire game trying only to defend, it struck me as good for football, and mankind as a whole, that the ultra-defensive approach adopted by Palace was rewarded with concession of a last-minute goal. The moral of the story was that being defensive doesn’t pay, and I can’t think of a more noble message to send to the children.

Rochdale 2-2 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

1. Aggression, or Lack Thereof

Should any passing strangely politely enquire whether we have the ability to field two separate elevens they can now be answered fairly emphatically in the affirmative, the evidence being paraded on the pitch at kick-off. Eleven completely different pairs of legs, from those that did the business in Turin, and if pre kick-off our glorious leader allowed himself a private moment of self-congratulation on the fact, who could have begrudged him?
However, should the line of questioning trickle towards the ability of that back-up eleven to bring home the goods as required, there may be one or two shuffles of feet and sheepish sideways glances.

In truth, the ability of the “reserves” paraded today is not in question, as most are internationals and by my reckoning around eight-elevenths of them would do the necessaries if flung into a Premier League game alongside their more vaunted associates. (Sissoko, Llorente and Vorm, since you ask.)

For some reason however, pitch them together at a lower-league ground and they collectively wobble away like nobody’s business, looking rusty even if they aren’t, and slightly bewildered by the pace, and the crowd, and even the very concept of a cup tie for goodness sake.

Now given that the above pretty much hammers home that this was a collective failing, one might opine that I’m something of a rotter for picking on one individual, particularly when that individual is as loveable and honest as Son, but such is life.

Son in fact at least had the decency to look interested and energetic throughout; his motivation was not really in question. Rather, he seemed to be lacking in willingness to get stuck into things and emerge with a few cuts and scrapes for the sake of the greater good. One can imagine that if offered a sword and shield before a gladiatorial biff, he would look at them in horror, and enquire if the whole affair could be settled without any need for physical contact. The spirit, one might say, is willing enough in Son, but the flesh is as weak as they come.

And so, predictably, the young nib could be seen pulling out of 50-50 challenges, getting wrestled off his chosen path and generally being bullied this way and that. And in a way, that was our performance in a microcosm, at least for the first hour or so.

2. Substitutes Raising The Entire Team

That general sentiment of tentativeness and dislike for the less fragrant elements of cup football only really began to change once the substitutes were shoved on. Admittedly young Winks came out in the second half looking suitably mortified for his error, and determined to atone by scurrying around for as long as his legs would obey, but by and large we continued to potter about the place with only a passing degree of interest, and if the final whistle had sounded and we had been eliminated I’m not sure the eleven on the pitch would have been motivated to do much more than shrug shoulders and enquire what was for dinner.

So it was left to the subs to address matters. They were introduced iteratively, and our performance improved in direct proportion. Lamela and Dele brought with them not only energy, speed of thought and some deft touches; they also managed to haul everyone around them up to a fairly similar level.

Quite why we could not have started with that same sharpness is beyond me, but I suppose we should just be glad that it transpired at all. Lamela and Dele suggested the novel concept of picking their way through Rochdale midfield and defence, and the rest of our heroes cottoned on to the idea and joined in, as if it were the first time they had ever heard of such a scheme but by golly they wanted part of it.

3. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose Randomly Upping His Game

If Son’s timidity in the face of a flailing limb or two were frustrating, but mitigated by that willing spirit, the contrast in Danny Rose’s attitude pre- and post-substitutions was downright bizarre. For the first hour or so the Rose locker was utterly bereft of willing spirit. The young bean seemed to do little more for two thirds of the game than go through the motions, as if to wave his arms and wonder out loud why some people were picked to play away to Juventus while some other people were picked to play away to Rochdale.

All of which made some sense, for here, after all, is a man who, when not happy with his lot at N17, will grab the nearest megaphone and broadcast the fact to society at large.

But what followed made for pretty odd viewing, because as Lamela, Dele and Kane popped in to wave hello, young Rose went through the gears at breakneck speed, until he ended up as some sort of Gerrard-esque driving force ploughing straight through central midfield and towards the Rochdale penalty area. Willing spirit, flesh that was anything but weak – by the time our second goal came round Rose had discovered the whole bally lot.

(And then he lost his bearings slightly for the equaliser.)

4. Moura Looks A Nifty Sort

The silver linings in all this admittedly took quite some locating, they not being of the ilk that jostled for position and yelled “Me! Me! Me!” in a desperate attempt to make themselves stand out from the crowd.
However, the newbie looks a fun sort of fish, what? If “Lack of match practice” were the official party line, the memo sure as heck did not reach Moura Towers, because the young buck tore about the place like a kid on Christmas morning.

He managed in the opening ten minutes the sort of feats that nobody at Spurs has done in several season – viz. waltz around opponents for the sheer joy of being alive. A pretty handy type of name to have in one’s address book, if you get my drift.

A (near-enough) debut goal will also do the honest fellow some good, I imagine. And a propos that equaliser – and at the risk of having the universe collapse under the weight of absurdity – I must commend Monsieur Sissoko for a perfectly-weighted through ball for our newest recruit. Odd, isn’t it?

Juve 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

1. That Calamitous Start

As calamitous starts go, this one was the poster-boy of a generation. It felt like just off-screen there must have been dodgy fitting collapsing and pipes springing leaks, because on the pitch every conceivable error in the book was being dredged up and paraded to the paying public in the most ghastly manner.

A doff of the cap to Juve, mind, for that inventive free-kick sorcery, straight out of the France ’98 Argentina vs England Manual. Beneath his simmering rage, I wondered if our glorious leader appreciated the irony.

And while on the subject, a further admiring tilt of the old bean to Higuain for the over-the-shoulder volley.

But from our lot it was slapstick of the highest order, an impeccably-observed if curiously-timed homage to the opening five minutes of the Naked Gun sequel. Entertaining fare, I suppose, but one did rather get the urge to murmur, “Not really the time, chaps, nor the place, come to think of it, what?”

In truth, we have some history in the department of Beginning The Biggest Game of Our Lives in Utterly Kamikaze Manner – see the Young Boys qualifying jaunt a few years back, under ‘Arry, which was redeemed after an appalling first half; or indeed the opening ten against Real Madrid the same season, which was most decidedly not redeemed.

Most irritating to AANP was the fact that we were 2-0 down without having been outplayed in any real sense. If Juve had torn us apart one would have been pretty morose about life, but one would have accepted a 2-0 deficit. But simply to hand them a two-goal lead, before anybody had broken sweat, struck me as simply complicating life for the hell of it. These young people, eh?

2. Eriksen Cracks It On The Big Stage

But at the nine-minute mark, the change in mentality from our heroes was the sort of stirring stuff that awestruck children learn about in classrooms. Utterly unfazed, unpanicked and with a steely determination, and confidence in their abilities that one more typically associates with swashbuckling heroes in adventure yarns, our lot simply knuckled down and went about righting wrongs like nobody’s business.

And chief amongst wrong-righters was Christian Eriksen. I feel like I now need to spend a good day and half in a confessional when I think back to the days, a year or three back, when on these very pages I penned odes of mild protestation against the chap for his seeming inability to step up on the biggest stage.

“The young sport simply isn’t hot enough when things get shaky” was pretty much the gist of it, circa 2015, “Dash it, he needs to take a game by the scruff of its neck and show the bally thing who’s boss.”

Well, loathe though I am to take credit for these things, Young Master Eriksen has clearly been poring over his AANP annals, because the chap set about unpicking the Meanest Defence Ever Seen like a master locksmith last night. Clever diagonals, whipped crosses, long-range shots, deft feet, off-the-ball scurrying and rasping long-range shots – Eriksen had the complete package last night, and no praise is too high for the rascal.

3. Dembele Cracks It On The Big Stage. Again.

If Eriksen were creator-in-chief, Dembele was some sort of similarly-ranked chappie keeping the engine well-oiled throughout – which may not sound like high praise, and I suppose isn’t really, so I should add that his performance, for the fourth crunch game in a row, was world class.

The Juve midfield, who my spies tell me are no assortment of mugs and dunderheads themselves, could not get near him, and in that respect have some stories to swap when they next get together with the Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal midfields, for an evening of bourbon and blackjack.

It has long been a habit of AANP to chew the fat with my old man AANP Senior, and opine rather wistfully that a man of Dembele’s talent could be a terrific asset to the whole show if he were just nudged a further fifteen yards up the pitch and started assisting and scoring. Making more of an impact, don’t you know?

Tommyrot, as it transpires. The chap pretty much manages the rotation of the earth on its axis from his position in and around the centre-circle, creating a base upon which Eriksen and chums can crack on with things in the final third.

4. Hustle

The Eriksen-Dembele double-act stole the show, but the supporting cast to a man (well, near enough, but more on that anon) backed them up with the sort of lung-busting performances that sweep the board in awards season.
It was very much a night for the troupe as a whole to demonstrate their boundless energy. This was rarely better exemplified than in the general pandemonium spread by our heroes in the home midfield and defence, in the build-up to our first goal.

In the minute or so preceding it I’m fairly sure Lamela and Dier flew in for a thumping challenge on each other, such was the feistiness emanating from every lilywhite pore; and for the goal itself, Eriksen pretty much slung a Juve player to the floor before feeding Dele, for Kane’s goal.

If Juve thought that the two-goal lead in eight minutes was the precursor to a night of gentle revelry and japes they were pretty wildly off the mark.

5. Aurier: A Liability

That said, the Achilles’ Heel in the whole set-up was, as ever, Serge Aurier. Just the sight of the name on the teamsheet inspires nothing short of unsullied dread in the AANP bosom, and so it transpired, with a typically block-headed lunge for the penalty, and an inevitable second-half caution, which Juve ought really to have exploited.

One gets the impression that Pochettino subjects a bag of fruit to pretty microscopic analysis before purchasing it, so he presumably has some pretty weighty dossiers on Monsieur Aurier, but egads the chap looks undercooked at present.

To the list of Real Madrid and West Ham can now be added the name of Juve, for beneficiaries of his Fly-In-First, Question-The-Sense-Of-The-Bally-Thing-Later philosophy.

6. Vertonghen, Underrated Hero

Naturally enough the limelight is hogged by the creative chappies up at the pointy end of affairs, and few would begrudge them this. Further back however, on a weekly basis ever since Toby hobbled off stage left with a grimace and a below-par hamstring, Jan Vertonghen has strode around the place like a man possessed.

Both in his reading and anticipation of what fate might befall, and in his speed to deal with any immediate crisis that befalls the back-line, the chap is pretty faultless. It can appear pretty fraught work, because for all the dominance we have exerted in recent games, the opposition have had plenty of attacking talent, and the occasional chance has inevitably loomed.

Vertonghen has taken on the mantle of defensive leader pretty emphatic fashion, and yesterday he once again packed his A-Game and displayed it throughout.

6. Some Musings on The Rather Odd Approach From Juve

This being a strictly lilywhite corner of the interweb I tend never to care a hang for the opposition tactics, grumbles, hopes and dreams. I have to admit however, in this instance I did put myself in the stylish loafers of a Juve fan for a few choice moments, and found the whole spectacle rather rummy.

The questions that leapt to mind, reading from North to South, were as follows:

1. What the dickens were they playing at?

2. Specifically, was the grand plan really just to set up camp on the edge of their own area, unfurl a sleeping bag or two, clink together their flasks of cocoa and simply bed in for 80 minutes and wait for the second leg?

3. Do their fans sit through that sort of bilge on a weekly basis? Do they enjoy it? Because it looked like the most frightful old muck to me.

4. Is their record of not having conceded a home goal since approximately the 1970s a result of channelling the spirit of Sven’s England in the ‘00s, and defending for their lives from minute one? (I confess, that one is more of a rhetorical shot – the answer seems a pretty firm negative, best delivered with an accompanying look of disdain.)

I suppose the point I’m drilling at, in an admittedly roundabout way, is whether Defensive Mode In Extremis was their strategy from the outset, or whether, having stumbled gaily upon a two-nil lead after eight minutes they simply looked around at each other, shrugged shoulders collectively and thought that there were worse ways to whittle away 80 minutes on this mortal coil than adopting a 4-6-0 and playing out time?

So, as mentioned, I’m not in the habit of dipping my nose into the affairs of other teams – but if you’re going to break a habit of a lifetime, might as well do it with gusto. More to the point, while I back our heroes to beat anyone at Wembley, we can probably expect a far shinier, sleeker Juve to knock on our doors in three weeks time. Robert Patrick’s T-1000, to yesterday’s ageing T-800 Schwarzengger. The first leg could hardly have ended better, especially considering how calamitously it began, but the tie is far from over.

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

Spurs 1-0 Arsenal: Four THFC Observations

1. Second Half Performances

I think any jury would agree that the first half was a fairly cagey affair. Not a million miles away from a game of chess I suppose, with one side nudging a pawn forward a step or two, and the other side dangling an experimental bishop to survey the battlefield. Their lot were denied a chance by a pretty rotten call from the linesman; our heroes fashioned one that was a mite too high for the forehead of Kane; and at half-time the thing could hardly have been described as a pyrotechnic spectacular.

When the cast reassembled for the second forty-five however, a completely different kettle of fish was produced. En masse, our heroes went up a couple of gears, took the lead and but for some pretty wayward work in the Finishing-Touch department would have delivered an absolute thrashing.

I wonder if you happen to notice a trend in recent weeks? Against Man Utd, our heroes went at it hammer and tongs in the second half, leaving United to simply wilt away and give up the thing completely at around the hour mark. Then against Liverpool last week, following a fairly mediocre stab at the first 45, we overwhelmed them in the second half, restoring parity and looking odds on to wrap up matters until that slightly madcap final five minutes. And then yesterday, another run-of-the-mill first half was followed in the second by the most one-sided 1-0 hammering you will see.

The gist of the thing is that Pochettino’s current vintage are capable of producing the dickens of a second half performance when necessary. The energy levels shoot off the scale, and three of the best in the country have been utterly unable to live with us.

One might well want to pause on the general back-slapping and cork-popping to ask some pretty salient questions, such as why it takes us 45 minutes to reach these levels (to which the answer might be that the opposition themselves are pretty stoked in the first halves of these tete-a-tetes, but run out of steam while our lot go into overdrive in the second halves); and why we aren’t evidencing our dominance with a whole hatful of goals each time.

But on the back of seven points from these three crunch games, through the use of pretty much identical personnel, it would be miserly in the extreme to wag admonitory fingers and complain about one thing and another.

2. Off-The-Ball Press

Having the privilege of observing yesterday’s narrative unfold in the presence of an Arsenal-supporting chum, I noted that at several points he lamented the manner in which his team surrendered possession.

Well he might have complained, but one need not scratch too far beneath the surface to identify a critical cog in the whole Cause-and-Effect narrative on this point. For as befell United and Liverpool in recent weeks, this was not a case of Arsenal randomly falling apart, but of Tottenham hounding them down until they broke.

That horrible lot kept ceding possession primarily because they were subjected to levels of harassment, press and general bother that in other walks of life would border on the uncouth, if not the downright illegal.

Our mob, from front to back, are fast mastering the art of winning back possession high up the pitch, with all the relentless tenacity of a team of rabid dogs, and then haring off into attack once more. It is jolly impressive stuff, and neatly complements the variety and gusto with which we attack when actually in possession.

3. Missed Chances

For all the off-ball press and on-ball creativity, one could not help after a while glance at what was unfolding on the pitch, and then at the scoreboard, and then back to the pitch, with rather a furrowed brow. Dominate a team thusly and we should dashed well have a hatful of goals to show for it. Instead, we squandered chances with all the carefree abandon of a couple of young lambs gambolling in a field without a care in the world.

In a sense it did not seem to matter, for in a second-half that was simply a procession of Tottenham near-things, another gilt-edged opportunity was always just around the corner and the players on both sides knew it. But in another sense, the suspicion started to nag that our heroes were missing the point of the whole spectacle if they kept bypassing one chance, shrugging their shoulders and eagerly bobbing up and down in anticipation of the next one. The logic, I began to suspect, was flawed. There was a simpler way to go about this.

Kane (twice), Lamela (twice), Dele, Son and Trippier all made rather a pickle of eminently presentable opportunities, on top of which Eriksen’s free-kick would have hit the top corner but for a timely paw from Cech.

And as has been well documented, we were jolly well nearly made to pay, which would have made the whole game seem like an act of the basest treachery. The moral of the story seems to be to score and score again, and then once more for luck, when the opportunities arise; but these young folk do like to do things their own way.

4. Dembele, Yet Again

After a collective effort like that, and particularly having just penned reams and reams about the team’s off-the-ball work en masse, it does seem rather a disservice to the majority to single out one or two for particular approval. I imagine the legal bods representing Messrs Kane and Eriksen, for example, might raise an eyebrow and have the headed notepaper at the ready on hearing that praise is being lavished elsewhere. Nevertheless, Mousa Dembele continues to deliver absolute tour de force performances.

If the common denominators across these three distinguished results has been our second half performances, the man at the hub of those second halves has been Dembele.

I suppose in this age of shiny statistics the casual passer-by might poke his head in and wonder what the fuss is about, because the old sport rarely scores or sets up goals. But by golly he makes the world a brighter place, and manages to make the hurly-burly of crunch Top Six games look about as serene and effortless a breeze as simply floating down a river in a paddle-boat with a newspaper over one’s head.

You know the drill – power, control, and a unique ability to retain possession even when baying hordes pursue him at every turn. Injuries never seem far away, poor chap, but when he is in this sort of form he simply purrs, which rather makes me purr, and after a while all there is is Dembele gliding away from people and a heck of a lot of purring.

Whether he will be in any shape to dust himself down and go again on Tuesday in Turin is debatable, but his absence on that stage would be a shame, both aesthetically and in terms of the nuts and bolts of winning the game. We shall see.

Spurs 2-0 Newport: Four THFC Observations

1. Squad Depth Like A Military Parade

Pre kick-off, our glorious leader made every change conceivable to the starting eleven, which, he’ll be delighted to know, was fine by me. Bigger fish await, and all that. Amongst other things this gave the opportunity to parade to the watching world the full extent of our squad depth, as one understands some of our foreign cousins are rather fond of doing, as if to say to neighbours, “Don’t you get any ideas, you bounders.”

While hardly comparable to the bankrolled elite who trouser several hundred thousand big ones per week, when fully restored to health our list of first reserves is nevertheless of respectable ilk. Hardly world class, granted, but enough there to suggest if some players exit stage left while others enter stage right, there will not be any discernible dips in quality in the majority of positions.

Accordingly, when the curtain went up we were able to showcase one of the best centre-backs in the country, a central midfield pairing potentially capable of going toe-to-toe with most in the Champions League, and a couple of inside forwards of nimble mind and fleet foot. Useful tins of muck to have knocking around in storage, as the pointy end of the season beckons.

2. Lackadaisical Start

Having suffered the indignity of having to appear at a lower-division pitch a couple of weeks ago, and almost paid the price for such thinly-veiled snobbery, the replay appeared a more straightforward proposition, given the size and quality of the pitch if nothing else. It did, however, require our chosen few to fasten the bayonets and get into the spirit of the thing, for at least long enough to put the whole ruse to beyond doubt.

In truth, things did not initially unfurl in as hot a manner as was hoped. In the opening five minutes or so, the curiously chosen buzzword was “lackadaisical”. A funny old term, given that it looks like a flower and is routinely mispronounced despite being about as phonetically straightforward as they come; but it pretty much summed up the way of things in our back-line straight from kick-off.

The much-peddled system of playing from the back was rolled out once more, but cast members in defence insisted on taking every chance available, as if convinced that they were impervious to harm. Passes were despatched in errant manner on the edge of our own area of all places, and an ominous sense arose that we were approaching the whole affair in far too slapdash a manner. Newport, in those opening breaths, hared about with decent gusto – and amongst our lot, “lackadaisical” just about summed it up. “A better team,” a voice in my ear seemed to whisper, “might have made hay, don’t you know, and then where would we be?”

Mercifully, however, that was about as hairy as things got. Newport ran out of steam, and thereafter our heroes remembered what the whole wheeze was about, and light-heartedly went about sealing the deal.

3. Returnees Picking Up Where They Left Off

No alarms and no surprises, as the chap warbled, just the reinforcing of various stereotypes.

Son and Lamela darted around in good spirits, and were generally at the heart of all moments of inspiration. Lamela certainly seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, looking sharp and mischievous, and ended up strolling around the place with rather a swagger, as if this were his game and he would dashed well do as he pleased. It was good to see, and the young buck provides a useful option should any part of the Alli-Eriksen-Son axis fail to motor as advertised. (As, one hopes, will Lucas Moura).

Winks was neat and tidy, if a little reluctant to play some of the more incisive passes of which he is capable, and complemented well the blood and thunder of Wanyama, whose shooting has returned to a more familiar a style.

Of the other key returnees, Rose played with decent energy, and it was nice to see him resuming that habit of yore, whereby he cannot simply stumble to the floor, but has to fly horizontally around three feet off the ground before hitting the deck.

And possibly the most pleasing sight of all, Toby Alderweireld rolled up, not a hair out of place, to amble through proceedings unbothered and unscathed.

4. The Lost Causes

Naturally, some of the less vaunted members of the troupe were also let loose, and, in a manner of speaking, they did not disappoint either.

Sissoko was as clumsy as ever. I had rather laughably harboured hopes beforehand that a lower quality of opposition might make the cove appear more sophisticated – by comparison, don’t you know – but evidently there is just no refining a certified buffoon. He simply did what he usually does, forcing his way through any crowded alley, misplacing as many passes as he nailed, and generally making life seem pretty dashed complicated.

There was a perverse symmetry to the fact that he created a goal by firing the ball straight at an opponent and seeing it ping off him in a different direction.

And Llorente did everything we have come to expect of the chap. Further evidence was offered that in a previous life he may have been an enormous cushion, as he spent the first hour or so gently laying the ball off to nearby chums with warmth and love.

Running, as ever, was rather a tall order for the chap, and made for pretty painful viewing, as his limbs moved one at a time, as if controlled from on high by a particularly nervous puppeteer. Alas, his two golden opportunities flashed inches wide, as if to convince anyone stopping by that he could play football all night without ever scoring.

The suspicion remains that should any ill fate befall Kane, then Son will be pressed into service atop the tree before the siren ever sounds for Llorente.

So no reason to slaughter the fattened calf, but as these things go it was a jolly enough little bash, and the 90 or so minutes achieved by Toby, Rose, Winks, Wanyama and Lamela feel like they could prove useful as sub-plots in the coming weeks.

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