Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Leeds: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte

As not one of our lot produced a performance greater than middling in quality (although, credit where due, as a collective they did at least have the decency to roll up second half sleeves and turn defeat to victory through sheer force of will), the principal focus of AANP’s attention, by the time the curtain came down, was our newest Glorious Leader.

I suppose the various media outlets about the land will have gorged themselves on the sight of him frantically waving every available limb from the sideline, and while this is perhaps the least important element of his role it was good to see him at least give a dam.

But of vastly greater interest in AANP Towers was whatever the devil he said at half-time. Naturally, I was not privy to it, but I’m pretty convinced that it would have been the stuff of Hollywood, because on the back of his tuppence worth, our heroes came out in the second half not so much all-guns-blazing as i) wondrously able to find each other with their five-yard passes, and ii) wondrously facilitated with their ability to sprint where previously they had loped. And as it turned out. both of these were pretty critical elements in executing the 180 degree turnaround that followed.

As mentioned, we were still pretty light on quality in that second half, but attitude and intensity were noticeably up several notches, so in terms of delivering his Churchillian stuff at the mid-point I think it’s fair to say that Conte hit the spot.

That said – and not wanting to nitpick any more than is strictly necessary – but in my idler moments since the final whistle I have wondered why whatever sweet nothings were whispered at half-time could not have been drilled into the cast members immediately pre-kick-off. Tactically, of course, there was no real knowing beforehand that, for example, that Phillips lad would pop up in Leeds’ central defence, causing Kane and Sonny’s minds to explode; but in terms of the general sentiment of simply charging around the place like the game genuinely mattered, this strikes me as the sort of instruction that might have been issued circa 16.25 GMT, thereby saving everyone concerned from going through the stress of it all.

It’s one of life’s imponderables I suppose, and the important thing here seems to be that Conte dragged a winning performance out of our lot, so well done him.

(For what it’s worth, I was also rather taken by the sight of him celebrating with some gusto with each individual player afterwards. None of them seemed to consider it quite such an achievement – and frankly that strikes me as a large part of the problem, but if he can instil in them the concept that each game is something for which it’s worth sweating every available drop, then maybe they might even care enough to give their all from opening whistle to last.)

2. The Good and Bad of Reguilon

AANP’s lockdown Spanish is still something of a work in progress, so I couldn’t inform my public whether or not there is an equivalent idiom to “All’s well that ends well” en español, but if there is then I’d wager that young Senor Reguilon cheerfully whistled it a few times last night.

It was entirely appropriate, given the nature of our performance as a whole, that his goal should have had its genesis in the unsightly combination of both a massive deflection and a ricochet off the post, but the alacrity shown by the chap in springing into action as soon as Dier struck his free-kick was worthy of the highest praise. I would suggest that he showed the instinct of a natural striker – but not even our own, much-vaunted striker shows that much spring in his step these days.

Moreover, as with Conte at the final whistle, the lifelong fan in me took a particular pleasure in seeing him celebrate his goal like it meant the world to him.

This was all a far cry from his role in the concession of Leeds’ opener. In what was a depressingly familiar tale amongst our defenders, of dozing off on the job and failing to carry out the basics, Reguilon simply let his man waltz by him to tap in.

Had he been bamboozled by trickery one might have waved a forgiving hand, but to be caught on his heels and outsprinted by someone who had given him a five-yard start was pretty criminal stuff. Should Reguilon continue to play under the new Grand Fromage – and he seems to have been designed specifically to fit within Conte’s system – then he’ll need to tighten up his defensive game, and sharpish.

Moreover, even Reguilon’s forte, of charging over halfway and into enemy territory, brought groans from the faithful during that dreadful first half. He was actually one of the more sprightly amongst our number, but one moment in particular had the natives offering some forthright opinions, as he led a bona fide counter-attack, veered infield, and as Leeds’ defence obligingly channelled their inner Red Sea and split themselves right down the middle for our convenience, he rather bafflingly opted not to play the obvious pass, to Emerson Royal clean through on goal, but instead carried on veering infield and off into the nearest cul-de-sac.

All in all, it looked set to be one of the less auspicious specimens from the Reguilon repertoire, so to end proceedings as the match-winner was an unexpected bonus for the fellow.

3. Emerson Royal

Not to be outdone when it came to moments of substandard wing-backery, over on the right-hand side Emerson Royal was busily making his own lamentable contribution to Leeds’ goal. He simply sold himself a little too easily in the build-up to that goal, allowing his man first to bypass him and then to hold him off, when really any defender with a shred of dignity would have explored a few additional means of preventing the opponent from haring away so.

An interesting specimen, is young Royal. While not culpable of such calamities as were so frequently offered by Serge Aurier, and generally pretty committed to the cause, he nevertheless strikes me as the sort of bean who will as regularly lose his mano e mano duels as win them. And, bluntly, a hit-rate of around fifty per cent hit rate is not really good enough.

Going forward, as with Reguilon on the left, he certainly is not a man who needs to be asked twice, and tends usefully to station himself in pretty advanced positions. As such he seems to be handy enough, without necessarily being what any self-respecting judge would describe as ‘top-drawer’.

But in a sense, this is about as much as one can expect from a £25m defender, which does me scratch the loaf and wonder why we bought him in the first place. Competent going forward, and nothing special defensively, Royal is precisely the standard of player I would much rather we put back on the shelf when perusing the aisles, waiting instead for the real premium stuff.

However, here we are, and here he is, so fingers crossed that Conte weaves his magic and extracts the best from him. There is certainly the basis of a very good wing-back lurking beneath his outer crust.

4. Lucas

I offer comment on Lucas not because he features prominently in the list of nominees for either Most Prominent Hero or Villain, but more because his individual performance neatly encapsulated that of the collective, in the sense that he peddled no end of rot in the first half, and upped his game pretty markedly in the second.

In his defence, First Half Lucas did not shirk the challenge, he just hit the wrong notes over and over again. Every time he received the ball his eyes lit up and off he scampered, which in theory is the sort of stuff upon which kingdoms and dominions are built. In practice however, Leeds put a stop to him within about three paces, each time he set off. The net result was pretty unseemly, particularly as much of this seemed to take place within spitting distance of his own penalty area.

Things bucked up considerably in the second half, as he replaced the run-into-trouble approach with a vastly more productive flick-the-ball-swiftly-onwards scheme. This threatened to bear fruit within about thirty seconds of the re-start, freeing up that rotter Kane, and rewards were duly reaped later on.

Both Sonny and Lucas seemed to have the right idea from that point on, playing a tad narrower, flitting this way and that and, crucially, not dwelling too long on the ball.

And as mentioned, Lucas was not the only one whose performance improved markedly after the break. Young Winks missed as much he hit throughout, but if nothing else simply played a bit further up the pitch in the second half, and Hojbjerg also made himself more useful second time around.

Having taken my seat at the outset confident that two full weeks of Conte training would have had us fully prepped to steamroll some average opposition at home, this was something of a reality check, but for now it’s probably just important to win these things in any fashion going.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

Categories
Spurs match reports

Leeds 3-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bale: Worth It?

I suppose you may consider it an odd place to start, when we had Auriers and Diers performing unspeakable acts everywhere you cared to look, but the virtues and vices of Gareth Bale came into pretty sharp focus yesterday. Or, more accurately, the vices came into focus; the virtues were nowhere to be seen.

And in a way, that’s the critical issue surrounding the young bean. Being the assiduous followers of AANP that you are, I’m in no doubt that you’re all too aware that last week, on these very pages, I opined that aside from his hat-trick Bale contributed precious little to the cause. Which is not to denigrate the chap, for I think most of us would accept Hat-Trick-Plus-Nothing-Else as a weekly input from any of troops; it’s more just to state a fact – Bale doesn’t contribute much to our game in general; he doesn’t beaver tirelessly and track back; he doesn’t dictate games; he doesn’t relentlessly torment opponents.

What Bale does is produce goals out of nothing through moments of genius; and it could probably be argued that his very presence on the pitch is also of benefit in terms of scaring the dickens out of opponents for fear of what he might do at any given moment, which is a dashed important metric if you ask me. The psychology of an anguished opposing manager, after all, is not to be sniffed at.

Yesterday, however, there were no moments of genius to be seen, and as a result we were left with those aforementioned vices – the not-contributing-not-beavering-not-dictating and so on. The not-tracking-back element was a particularly sore point, given that it led to the concession of at least one of the goals (and possibly two, they do rather blur). Serge Aurier does not deserve much sympathy for the manner in which he goes about the day-job, but the thought did strike me as he was outnumbered for the umpteenth time yesterday that the humane thing to do would be to at least enquire whether he would like some support as Leeds bodies swarmed all over him. He can be blamed for many things, but not really for failing to be two people at once.

However, Bale did not offer him support; Leeds overlapped whenever they dashed well pleased; and the flip-side of having Bale in the team was exposed in pretty unforgiving manner.

So is he worth it? Is it worth effectively carrying a passenger each game, albeit one who, as last week (and most weeks) is capable of producing a goal or two from nothing? As you might expect from a blog that in its very name endorses the approach of action and waves a dismissive hand at the planning that goes with it, I’m all for Bale’s occasional moments of magic, and quite happy to give him dispensation to biff off into the background the rest of the time, as long as he produces the goods, say, two games out of three. Which he does.

Others would no doubt beg to differ, and indeed the contrary opinion seemed to be championed pretty firmly by the previous Grand Fromage at N17.

I do, however, acknowledge that the deployment of Bale becomes a bit more questionable when literally half the team are allergic to hard work and defensive duties. One does wonder whether the balance is quite right when somehow each of Kane, Bale, Son, Dele and Lo Celso are stuffed within the framework.

2. Aurier: Exasperating

As mentioned, Monsieur Aurier was hardly inundated with offers of support; but at the same time his usual dereliction of defensive duties was proudly on offer, with not a hint of self-consciousness.

It will come as little surprise to anyone associated with the sport that Aurier’s brightest moments were on the front-foot, and if he were stomping forward safe in the knowledge that an abundance of defensive sorts gathered behind him I think we would all rest a little easier, and maybe even wave him on his way with an encouraging shout or two.

But, as articulated at some length above, there was precious little assistance forthcoming from Bale, while Lo Celso and Dele were similarly ill-inclined to push to one side all attacking inclinations and bury themselves in the defensive duties that awaited.

Aurier, understandably enough targeted by Leeds, generally came out second-best in his scraps with the Leeds bod Harrison; and if that is disappointing but excusable, his reluctance to bust a gut in returning to his sentry post was simply not cricket. To clarify, the request here was not that he rush back to help a chum in need; it was that he rush back to do his own core duties, dash it all.

3. Dier: Dire

If he were receiving a health dollop of benefit of the doubt in the previous five or six years, it appears that popular opinion has swung pretty firmly against Eric Dier after yesterday.

As the cross for the first goal flashed towards him and into his path Dier presumably weighed up the options, and would surely have considered taking the agricultural but blisteringly effective route of hammering the ball off into the sunset.

Instead, seemingly struck by the urge to give vent to his more creative juices, he appeared to select as his method of choice for countering the danger the option of swooning out of the ball’s path and allowing it to continue on its trajectory. Unhindered by any intervention from Dier it absolutely zipped across the six-yard box, and while Reguilon joined the long list of erring lilywhites in dozing away at the back-post, before prodding it towards his own net, the damage was already done.

Now as with Serge Aurier, Dier’s cause was hardly helped by the pretty damning dereliction of duty of those around him. For the second goal Dier did make a point of calling Hojbjerg into his office as the move was beginning, and instructing him to keep an eye on the eventual goalscorer Bamford – a task that Hojbjerg appeared to consider beneath him.

When the cross did eventually whizz into the area, Bamford’s run was blissfully unhindered by Hojbjerg, but the striker then appeared right on the shoulder of Dier who reacted, as Barry Davies might have put it, by not reacting. Instead, in another of that catalogue of unexpected defensive decisions that really keep the audience on their toes, Dier responded to the immediate threat by adopting a pose of absolutely ridigity. If any passing cad happened to be in the market for Elgin Marbles this would have been mightily impressive stuff; but in terms of the matter at hand it proved ineffective, and Bamford tapped in.

(Nor should it be overlooked that the whole bally thing originated with Dier needlessly looping a defensive header straight into Leeds attacking possession).

By the time of the third goal any semblance of formation or defensive coherence had long since gone the way of all flesh, but Dier nevertheless did not miss the opportunity to exacerbate matters, first by playing Leeds onside, and then by doing a pretty rotten job of preventing the decisive square pass.

Dier apologists could legitimately point to the chap’s attacking contributions, for he took it upon himself to trundle off on a handful of bizarre, but surprisingly effective excursions up the left flank of all places. On top of which some of his long passing was pretty handy (one notes that the long diagonal pass from deep, banished under our former leader, has made a pretty triumphant return under that Poch disciple Mason).

Nevertheless, as with Aurier, the exasperation lies in the fact that Dier’s principal role is to defend, and until he excels in that, or even masters the basics, one doesn’t really care a hang for what he does beyond the halfway line.

4. Hojbjerg: Disappointing

This was one of those occasions on which one could probably have had a pretty curt word in the ear of all eleven, plus any substitutes who felt compelled to throw in a poorly-judged Rabona, with only Monsier Lloris really escaping censure.

However, as much as anything else because his standards are normally higher than those around him, I was pretty dashed disappointed with Hojbjerg.

When all around him are letting their standards slip, here is a man who seems to take it as a matter of deep ancestral pride that his remain at the highest levels. Goodness knows, therefore, what got into him yesterday, but if there were a pretty basic error to be made he seemed to be front of the queue.

His appetite for pressing and ankle-snapping at least remained undimmed throughout, but in possession in particular Hojbjerg was oddly errant. As already remarked, he was also pretty negligent in the basic duties on at least one of the goals conceded, and given the more progressive tendencies of those around him in midfield one would have expected him to be a tad more mindful of his defensive obligations.

5. Lo Celso: Glimpses, But Not Enough

Still, in the first half at least, without ever really showing an inclination to tear up Yorkshire and lay claim to the place, our lot did occasionally illustrate that when the mood takes them they can be almost effortlessly devastating.

Both the legitimate goal and the disallowed effort (a goal that we would hardly have merited, but which undoubtedly ought to have stood – and which may well then have changed the dynamic of the piece) were brief showcases of much that is good about our attacking sorts.

Ever since that glorious night in the San Siro, when Modric released Lennon, who raced half the length of the pitch before squaring for Crouch, I have lamented the lot of the unsung hero who provides the penultimate pass. It’s dashed Fantasy League football that has done this, by formally recognising the ‘Assist’; but those who, like me, hold close to their bosom the deep-lying creator will appreciate the importance of the chap who sets the ball rolling before the assist.

Yesterday, for both our allowed and disallowed goals, Lo Celso was the anonymous hero. Under pressure, around halfway, he twice wriggled sufficiently to escape enemy clutches, and twice showed presence of mind to play a forward pass to Son. On both occasions Sonny laid off to Dele, and rewards were duly reaped. It might not sound like the most devastating contributions, but I would be willing to bet the mortgage of AANP Towers that in a similar situation young Harry Winks would have pirouetted for all he was worth back towards his own goal and played the safe option.

So while one applauds Lo Celso for both his good sense and smart work in executing this operation, seeing these two particular passages did make me yearn for him to take the hint and keep peddling exactly the same trick rather more frequently. Not to put too fine a point on it but we were absolutely crying out for someone to control possession, collecting it from defence, rolling forward over halfway and playing an effective pass into attack. Lo Celso did it twice, but really ought to have done it a heck of a lot more. Ndombele, one presumes, breathes uncomfortably close behind him.

6. Dele: Reminders of His Talent

And further up the pitch, Dele’s contribution to these two goals were pleasant reminders of the impudent, attacking input he can provide to such occasions. Rather a shame that they were in a losing cause – and indeed that one was farcically disallowed – as it suggests that they might simply be lost in the mists of time rather than being as indelibly etched in the memory as I fancied they deserved to be.

The notion that this chap could be ostracised for almost the entire season does make one fling up the hands and beat the chest rather, but if there were doubts about Dele’s abilities I imagine that a run of half a dozen or so games will sweep them aside.

I don’t doubt that plenty will have their say about his contributions elsewhere on the pitch, in tracking back and helping out the nibs behind him, all of which might be legitimate enough; but given that he was picked as a Number 10 role, I thought his two contributions to the ball ending up in the net illustrated that he is pretty worthy of the role.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-0 Leeds: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. High Press

After four pretty dispiriting performances and results, I would guess that I was not the only one who would have bitten off a nearby arm for a scrappy one-nil win. It’s therefore little exaggeration to say that to emerge from a tricky-looking tiff, against an in-form mob, with a breezy three-nil was not far off manna from heaven.

So the usual roll of back-slaps and high fives are in order. More specifically, a noticeable improvement in the piece was that our first two goals came about by virtue of the central midfield pair pinching possession in the sort of areas of the pitch that they have dared not tread in recent weeks.

The final third, the attacking third – call it what you will, but generally it has been strictly off-limits to most in lilywhite, with even Messrs Sonny and Kane only making the most fleeting visits over the last month or so.

And yet there, in glorious technicolour, strode first Hojbjerg and then Winks, intercepting misplaced passes just outside the opposition’s own area. Hojbjerg fed Bergwijn, who nobbled himself a fortunate penalty; Winks fed Kane, who slipped in a peach of a pass for Sonny.

Given that their regular posting is around sixty yards further south, as well as the fact that Jose comes across as the sort of cove who would rather chew off his own arm than let one of his underlings stray from a defensive station, one can only surmise that this tentative dip of the toes into the world of higher pressing came about by design rather than accident.

Presumably it was a tactic tailored to the opposition (as Leeds certainly did play an interesting brand of ‘fast-and-loose’ with their distribution from the back), so we should probably not settle back, order popcorn and watch out for the sight of our midfield anchors roaming the final third on a weekly basis. But nevertheless, it was a joy to behold, and, pointedly, brought great reward.

2. Attacking Ambition vs Defensive Safety

So it was all very welcome stuff – and yet…

Having shown a little ambition, and been richly rewarded, I don’t mind committing to paper the fact that I was a mite disappointed to see the ambition-reward approach dispensed with for the final twenty, as our lot sat back and defended for the last quarter of the game. Dismiss me if you will as a misty-eyed romantic of the all-action-no-plot ilk, but I was rather hoping that we would continue in the vein of the previous half hour and keep probing for more.

I suppose if Jose were asked to justify his approach to these things he might do worse than point to today’s opposition. Such was the adoration lavished upon Leeds today by the voices at BT Sport that one might have thought that were running away with the game, but The Book of Facts clearly states that for all their commitment to attack they were still taking a bit of a hammering. (I suspect a few English managers would goggle with incredulity at the adulation received by Bielsa for steering his ship to a 3-0 defeat.)

Pretty pictures count for little if you troop off three down; and conversely, spending 20 minutes casually swatting away all-comers from the edge of your own penalty area is a lot more palatable when three-up.

But be that as it may, the reversion to deep defence for the last quarter of the game did seem a tad over-the-top. For around a third of the game – specifically, the couple of decent chunks either side of half-time – our lot, while not quite purring, were well in the ascendancy. We were giving Leeds a working-over, as I’ve heard it put, and moreover were making a bit of hay while we were at it. Sonny’s goal was a reward for some enterprising play, and while Toby’s was not directly brought about by any slick attacking, the corner from which it emanated was a decent legacy of the creativity with which we streamed forth.

We were making chances, committing men forward and scored enough to wrap up the points nice and early. For around thirty glorious minutes one could forget that the last four games had ever happened.

And then, having established the three-goal ascendancy, there seemed a quite deliberate decision made by all in lilywhite to trot back to their posts and casually repel for the final twenty or thirty minutes. It just seemed a bit much.

Again, I accept that the principle did make a heck of a lot of sense. Few amongst us will need reminding of the horrors that can befall when failing to take due care over a three-goal lead, so just shutting up shop was an absolute dream for the pragmatists. On top of which, Leeds’ over-commitment made them pretty ripe fodder for the counter-attack.

Nevertheless, here at AANP Towers, I’m still inclined to mutter – even as a restorative 3-0 win materialises in front of my eyes – that a lead can be more securely held if we actually have possession of the ball, as was the case after half-time, rather than letting the other lot have a free hit for twenty minutes, sitting quite so deep and inviting them to do their worst. Hugo did not have to make a taxing save; but when we surrender possession the risk is there. A corner here, a deflection there – why not eliminate these possibilities by instead hogging possession ourselves?

3. Winks (and Sissoko)

After the unceremonious happenings at Wolves, in which his radar was not so much a tad wonky as completely malfunctional, young Master Winks may have considered himself a little fortunate to have retained his spot today. Mercifully for all concerned, this was a vastly improved showing.

His energy levels have rarely been in doubt, and he applied himself with the usual zip, quite possible benefiting from improved fitness too. More to the point, his passing seemed more accurate, albeit I have no idea whether the stats would support such wild claims. And on top of all this, the young beagle seemed imbued with a spirit of positivity today, that inclined him to pass forwards as often as not, which has not necessarily always been the case.

I have heard it postulated that whereas Sissoko is the bean one wants alongside Hojbjerg when lining up for a bit of a scrap, in which possession will be surrendered and off-the-ball work-rate is everything, Winks will be the egg of choice on a stage in which we do actually see something of the ball and have a bit more need for creativity.

In fact, one might say this theory was neatly proved today, with eighty-odd minutes of Winks-based front-foot play eventually giving way to ten minutes of Sissoko, at which point the drill was very much to protect what we had and keep Leeds arm’s length from the front door.

Make no mistake, Winks still has room for improvement, but this struck me as one of his better days, and justified his inclusion ahead of Sissoko.

4. Doherty

Having barely registered that Doherty was on the pitch, or has even contributed to the cause at all this season, the chap made his presence felt in the dying embers, funnily off by ensuring his presence was removed.

One can generally argue with second bookings that one or other of the yellows was heavy-handed fare from the resident arbiter of the law (although I’m not sure today anyone has a word of protest), but the AANP counter-argument tends always to be that the player concerned deserves to have his head flushed down a toilet for even giving the referee a decision to make.

And with that in mind, Doherty is deserving of censure, for a challenge of that ilk (in the last minute, with the game won and when already on a yellow card) was strongly indicative of a vacuum between his ears.

Of the seven summer imports, Doherty has made a fairly robust case for being the most underwhelming. Even Joe Hart, for all the on-field jitters he can bring, has, in the AANP book on these things, been a welcome addition if for no other reason than being a vocal presence who holds his teammates accountable, within a squad that traditionally errs on the timid side.

Doherty however, has come across as a chap still letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would”, as they say. When opportunity presents for him to be of value in the attacking third – supposedly his forte – he has an air of neither-here-nor-there about him, as if not sure if he should really be so high up the pitch, and when thus stationed seems curiously prone to passing backwards, often errantly, thereby sucking life out of our attacks.

A lot has been made of the adjustment he has had to make from wing-back to full-back, and frankly I think this is indulging him a little. He has enough experience, he should be able to make the necessary tweaks and get cracking.

No, it’s been a disappointing couple of months, with his biggest contribution seemingly the inadvertent improvement he has brought about in Aurier.

All that said, I fully expect him to come good, if not in the latter half of this season then at some point in the next, and if it takes him a year or so to find his feet then he wouldn’t be the first. But in the shorter-term, he has the opportunity to sit out the next game and ponder on his sins.

Categories
Spurs preview

Leeds – Spurs Preview: Look After Lennon

Naturally enough, murmurs will be murmured and chins stroked about the various merits or otherwise of our heroes going hell for leather at the FA Cup. The opinion that matters most is that of our shrill-voiced leader AVB, and in a far-from-straightforward gambol such as this, team selection will say much of his priorities.

The drum being banged at AANP Towers this weekend is to forget about the children and instead please think of Aaron Lennon. While the handsome young Welshman remains tormentor-in-chief, Lennon has added Sagacity in Decision-Making to the already well-established qualities of Feet Moving At A Blur, Left-Back Left Gasping and Jazz Hands Whirring. However, while Bale is quite the physical specimen these days, I do hold my breath every time Lennon winds up and sprints off, for fear that one of his hamstrings might roll their eyes and just give up on him. For an FA Cup 4th Round tie I would dare to recommend that Lennon and his little legs are spared the rigours of a full 90 minutes, or even a full 45. Give the blighter the day off.

The choices at full-back will be of interest, with Walker below par and Naughton not really in his comfort zone on the left – if he is feeling particularly adventurous might AVB put Benny on the left and Naughton on the right? Hudd, Dempsey and Sigurdsson might also expect some game time, and Friedel will presumably be in goal. It has been mentioned that our heroes have a squad strong enough to field two distinct and quite capable starting XIs, and while choice of strikers in the second XI would be of interest, the gist of it is clear enough. Time for our heroes to give a pointed reminder of aforementioned squad depth.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Leeds 1-3 Spurs: The Reason For David Bentley’s Resurgence?

In between various planes and trains back from Morocco I managed to catch yesterday’s goings-on at Elland Road, and jolly heartening they were too. One of my brothers, for whom the rigours of parenthood mean that Spurs-watching is less frequently indulged in these days, texted afterwards to note that, as the first full Spurs game he has seen in around a year, he was pleasantly surprised by our performance. He has a point, for it was an all-round performance of the sort to which we have grown accustomed in recent months – general neatness in possession, while creating a healthy number of chances. It is perhaps easy to lose sight of this amidst the frustrations of umpteen missed chances and haemorrhaged Premiership points, but on the whole these days we play an extremely attractive brand of football, and progress over the last 12 months has been exceptional.Interesting to reflect on how the team has evolved even within the space of half a season, partly through accident and partly through design. Having shot out of the traps back in August with Modric, Keane, Lennon and BAE in the ranks, last night we eased through with Kranjcar, Bale and Bentley each looking impressive. Whisper it, but recent weeks have shown that there really is a degree of squad-depth there, albeit still with a few bad apples in the White Hart Lane barrel.

This article, forwarded to me today by a particularly highly-regarded Spurs-supporting chum, makes the point that much of our progress has been due simply to the improvement of quality, on a player-for-player basis, over the last year or two. To borrow from the article:

Jermain Defoe is a better version of Darren Bent, Wilson Palacios is a better version of Didier Zokora, and the Spurs boss feels that Gudjohnsen is a better version of Keane. 

Bentley’s attitude in recent weeks has been admirable. Cynics may suggest that his motivation is personal rather than team-oriented, and personally I reckon his lip has been quivering with rage ever since Kranjcar arrived to steal his crown as Team Pretty-Boy, but whatever the reason I hugely approve of his approach. He has put his head down, slapped on even larger amounts of hair-gel and worked hard, producing decent quality both when delivering crosses and when cutting infield. He is by no means the finished article, and the smart-money remains on him heading elsewhere in the summer, but it is good to see him rising to the challenge.

Defoe 

Statistics could probably be reeled out to counter the “flat-track bully” claim (and from memory I can pick his goal against Man Utd earlier this season and a harshly-disallowed goal at Anfield, as well as a blinding strike against l’Arse a few years ago as examples of strikes against the top-four) but the little drum I’ll bang here is that even if he is deemed no more than a tormentor of English football’s less-refined urchins this is nevertheless a mighty handy quality to have at a club with Top-Four and trophy aims. Long may it continue. Given our struggles this season against those sides we ought to be demolishing, the occasional Defoe hat-trick against a weak defence is quite welcome, and if the moniker best describing him is that of “flat-track bully” that elicits little more than a shrug.

Honourable Mentions 

 

Some of the others however, still appear stuck permanently within cruise control. He probably can’t help it, but by smiling and sticking out his tongue each time he misses a chance Crouch gives the impression that settling for second-best is not a problem. Tottenham players should be cursing, swearing and ready to kill with their bare hands when they miss chances or concede goals, and by golly they should be busting a gut to make sure it does not happen again. In short, we need to see them reacting on the pitch with the same passion we show in the stands.

Jenas

Really, what’s the point?

Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley

It was only Leeds, but it might have been a lot worse. Many Spurs teams of yore would have started timidly yesterday, given the venue and the weather, but to their credit our lot played well for all but the ten minutes or so prior to half-time. Removing foot from throttle after taking the lead does not rank too highly on the list of The World’s Greatest Sporting Ideas, but that aside it was a pretty professional performance. A nod of approval too for the none-too-subtle attitude towards closing out the game in the final minutes, all and sundry displaying a quite stoic determination to head for the corners and run the clock down. Bolton away is tricky but winnable – a description one might pin to the tournament as a whole.

 

AANP’s first book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, comes out on 16 Feb and is now available to pre-order from WHSmith,Amazon , TescoWaterstones and Play 

And as ever, all are most welcome to leave memories – and browse those of others – regarding some of the players to be featured in Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Danny Blanchflower here, Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Martin Chivers here, Alan Gilzean here, Pat Jennings here, Cyril Knowles here, Steve Perryman here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jürgen Klinsmann here, David Ginola here, Paul Gascoigne here

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-2 Leeds: A Dying Art Lives On At The Lane

We at AANP Towers are firm proponents of the dying art of chivalry, always happy to whip off the jacket and place it over a puddle for a lady to walk across, or leap into a burning building to save a one-armed orphan; but once on the football pitch I would positively encourage our lot to dispense with the p’s and q’s, and instead adopt all the airs and graces of a gaggle of behooded youths at a train station. Alas, our heroes are just too darned nice sometimes. When we needed ruthlessness last night, and a good violent kicking was required of opponents who were down, we instead extended the hand of comradeship at every given opportunity. Defoe’s penalty; Jenas’ back-pass; the usual disparity between our attempts-on-goal and goals-scored tallies; and of course, when all else failed, a bizarrely reckless and unnecessary penalty-area challenge in the sixth minute of injury-time. Model citizens the lot of them, and their mothers would be proud, but 30,000 at the Lane would rather see a Neanderthalic savaging of the enemy.The technical quality of our players is not in doubt. Crisp one-touch passing looks wonderful when it works (Exhibit A – our second goal), and if we are two or three goals to the good our football really is lined in gold. At the risk of sounding like a broken record however (a record first produced back in the ‘80’s) when up against a team determined to slug it out we are constantly found wanting. Our lot need to draw inspiration from someone in the centre, but as ever our default switch last night was set to “dainty”. Jenas, Hudd, Modders, Kranjcar – none are the sort to whom we look with confidence when a clinical despatch is called for.

Sergeant Wilson added some bite when he came on, and his burst set up the second goal, but by and large he has been below par this season. It is a crack we have typically papered over with early goals followed by lightning-fast counter-attacks. More often than not, this approach will be sufficient for victory, but all the nine-one wins in the world will not disguise the fact that we still lack a true leader in central midfield, who will take the game by the scruff of the neck and go charging into attack like that beardy chap in the film about Sparta.

Instead, we have Jermaine Jenas. The lad must be quite sensational in training, because he certainly never does anything during an organised game to merit inclusion. At one point yesterday we were treated to the sight of Jenas’ annual Burst-With-The-Ball-From-Deep, a gallop of fully 60 yards on the counter-attack offering a charming hint of just how good a player he might be if he did the same thing throughout the game, every game. He does not do this every game however; he does it once a blue-moon, typically finishing by knocking the ball sideways to an opponent, to the inevitable vocal accompaniment from the stands. The point of his existence continues to be pondered by all bar a succession of Tottenham and England managers.

Elsewhere on the Pitch… 

For all his single-mindedness in front of goal from open-play (and that early attempted lob-volley was rather eye-catching) Defoe’s penalty-taking is truly woeful. The award of a penalty ought to be greeted with back-slaps and satisfaction; instead I can barely bring myself to watch either him or Keane step up. It is a pretty damning indictment of these two that I now find myself scanning the periphery of the area to see who is most alert for the rebound.

More excitingly, The Rarely-Sighted Pav may have reminded ‘Arry that rather than just being a foreign chap with a mullet always loitering in the background his preferred trade is actually that of a professional footballer. Fingers are crossed here at AANP Towers that the Russian is given another chance on Tuesday night.

A decent shift from the boy Bale, although few have ever doubted his attacking prowess. He will face sterner defensive tests, but for various reasons – pace, left-footedness, crossing ability, age – he remains in favour at AANP Towers, the news of which will make his weekend I’m sure.

In need of a leader we have not held back in heaping praise upon Michael Dawson in the last couple of months, and one or two crunching tackles again yesterday indicated why. The fellow’s commitment to the cause is a welcome contrast to so many around him, but a couple of wobbles against Liverpool and then the penalty conceded yesterday were reminders that he does still rather act first and think later. We all love to see someone diving in across the turf and sending an opponent flying, but there is a time and a place, and Daws erred pretty spectacularly on both counts in the dying seconds.

The Road to Wembley 

 

Categories
Spurs preview

Spurs – Leeds Preview: The Quest For Ignominy Continues

Well this could turn into comfortably the worst week we have had for a while. After the frustration of Hull and the woeful ineptitude at Liverpool, a Cup-tie against lower-league opposition gives us an inviting platform for thorough and nicely-rounded humiliation.It’s been a decidedly painful week to be a Spurs fan, the players having left no stone unturned as they methodically explored every means possible in their quest for ignominy. Horrendous misses, defensive blunders, a fair share of bad luck and a dismal timidity in the face of a challenge have all been proudly evinced by our heroes over the last seven days. With l’Arse having taken top-spot in the Premiership it’s been target-practice for my colleagues in the office this week, and worryingly it is not particularly difficult to imagine the situation worsening around seven o’ clock tonight.

However, had this game taken place this time last Saturday, there would be far less concern. Leeds may have shown in the last round that they are capable of providing a stern test, but until we kicked off against Hull we were in cracking form, free-scoring at one end and miserly at the other. The Liverpool capitulation has certainly left AANP psychologically scarred, but one bad game ought not to ruin our season. I suppose such a tendency to over-reaction is programmed into supporters of most clubs, but having waxed lyrical at the victory over the might of West Ham a few weeks ago, the sackcloth and ashes which have greeted the Liverpool defeat is similarly over-the-top, and the reality is probably somewhere in between these extremes. A couple of strong performances at the Lane over the next four days will be the equivalent of a smack in the face with a wet fish, which I fancy is what we all need at the moment to snap out of this blip and get our season back on track.

There does not seem to be much chance of ‘Arry taking any chances with wholesale changes here, so we can expect a pretty strong line-up this evening. No Lennon, Ledley or Hudd, and Danny Rose might get a game against his erstwhile employers, but by and large it will be the usual suspects wandering out to the Star Wars theme at 5.15pm.

As I remarked after the 3rd round win over Peterborough, the elimination of our recent knock-out nemesis Man Utd from this season’s FA Cup makes the competition a darned sight easier for us to win, and consecutive home ties to lower-league opponents suggests that the gods are playing their part. As is the case every time we play weaker opponents at the Lane, the first goal today will be vital. Score first, and life ought to be a little easier.

 

AANP’s first book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, comes out on 16 Feb and is now available to pre-order from WHSmith, Amazon , TescoWaterstones and Play 

And as ever, all are most welcome to leave memories – and browse those of others – regarding some of the players to be featured in Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Danny Blanchflower here, Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Martin Chivers here, Alan Gilzean here, Pat Jennings here, Cyril Knowles here, Steve Perryman here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jürgen Klinsmann here, David Ginola here, Paul Gascoigne here

You can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, follow on Twitter here