All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Man City 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Excellent Result, Pretty Middling Performance

A wonkily-balanced beast if ever I set eyes upon one, this was a result that on paper merited the highest praise going, because as well being an all-conquering sort of mob, who routinely pummel their opponents for five of six of the finest, City were on a run of 15 consecutive wins, which even the most begrudging would admit is indicative of a team that knows what it’s about.

You would therefore think that a draw against this lot is something about which to make quite the song and dance. And yet…

Not to put too fine a point on it, and not to denigrate the efforts of our honest lot – but we were pretty bang average throughout. One understands the mentality of setting up to defend as if lives depended upon it, but there was little chance of this tactic holding out for the full 90 minutes, and as it happened it only lasted 20.
Nor was our defending much to write home about. Admittedly City don’t make such tangos particularly easy work, but for all the finery about the build-up to City’s two goals, our defending was pretty wretched fare, with runs not tracked and lethal strikers not appropriately shackled.

And aside from the goals, City did not just dominate possession, they fairly comfortably made a hatful of chances.

So defensively this was no particular masterclass, and going forward there was no great bite either. The bods inform me that we managed three shots in the entire game – one of which was Kane from halfway, and the other two of which we scored. And as the goals themselves were from a corner and a most peculiar long-range effort, it all points towards a performance in which we did precious little to trouble City in any department.

So much for the debit column. Squinting so that the glass is actually half-full, the fact is that we scored twice at the Etihad and came away with a draw. Precious few teams will do either of these things this season.

To play as poorly as that and come away with a point, against the current and likely future Champions no less, is the sign of a team that has some backbone to it. In seasons gone by we have fallen short in our away fixtures to the Top Six. No matter how we went about it, ultimately we achieved something pretty impressive yesterday.

2. KWP Survives

Pre kick-off the prognostications of doom amongst the great and good of AANP Towers were so heartfelt and unanimous that one might have been in the waiting room for the fires of Hades. ‘We’ll take a hammering’ was the gist of things around the campfire, with young Walker-Peters identified as the egg in for the worst of the treatment, being up against Sterling.

It is to KWP’s credit therefore, that he lived to tell the tale.
He was not quite flawless in his day’s work – Sterling had the freedom of Manchester for the first goal, and bested our man in a couple of one-on-ones thereafter – but nor was this the stuff of nightmares. Considering his defensive prowess alone, KEP certainly rolls up his sleeves and sticks to the task at hand.

He received a degree of help from midfielders in the vicinity, as I am sure Our Glorious Leader had mapped out ought to be the case beforehand, but with memories of Sterling tearing apart Trippier in last season’s Champions League, it was a mild relief to see that KWP possessed at least a vague sense of the guidelines around right-backing-vs-Sterling.

3. Playing Out From The Back

For the first 20 minutes our heroes did not touch the ball, at the culmination of which period City scored and all manner of problems arose. Immediately afterwards however, and for occasional short bursts thereafter, the gameplan from our lot seemed to be to pass out from the back.

Now as any right-minded soul will tell you, the sight of your team trying casually to one- and two-touch their way from their own penalty area up to halfway is enough to do the cardio apparatus some serious mischief. I’ve seen it with England, and yesterday our heroes had the AANP heart-rate surging through the roof as every one of them who received possession in and around our own penalty area casually left it until the last possible moment before releasing to a nearby chum.

Marvellously, and barely credibly, it often worked. With City attackers homing in on whomever of our mob were in possession, said man in possession would dip a shoulder and squirt the ball towards a colleague, who would gather it in the nick of time, dip a shoulder and squirt the ball onwards, and the whole death-defying system repeated.

At any given juncture in this precarious fandango, it appeared that an approaching City type would steal in and be away with the ball, and in on goal. As such, the whole thing could only be watched from behind the sofa.

But somehow, and to the credit of goalkeeper, defenders and midfielders, our lot generally kept their heads sufficiently to keep doing this, and successfully so.

In theory, this can be a pretty handy way of beating a high press and finding things opening up considerably on halfway. It retains possession – which is a pretty vital commodity against City – better than a goalkeeper’s punt upfield would. It’s just torture to watch.

4. Winks

Within this approach of playing out from the back, I’ll give a gentle doff of the cap to young Master Winks.

As noted in these very pages last week, when we’re pushing for a goal and in need of an incisive, defence-splitting pass, Winks is not necessarily the man. His safety-first mentality and tendency to protect possession first and worry about creating chances later means that he is not really the chap towards whom you turn when in need of attacking inspiration.

However, if the order of the day is protecting possession because failure to do so will result in City running rings – and passing triangles – around you, then Winks’ number ought to be on speed-dial, and I thought that yesterday, when we had those little spells of possession, he played the role of string-puller-in-chief with a decent slab of aplomb.

In terms of protecting the ball, dipping his shoulder, finding space and then giving it, he starts to remind me of Michael Carrick, from the misty-eyed days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name). Winks does not have the passing range of Carrick, but something about the way in which he protects possession gladdens the soul.

However, after an hour we were trailing and in need of a goal, so he was rightly hooked.

5. Eriksen Anonymous

A bit harsh to single out Eriksen as under-performing, as few in lilywhite (or rather natty dark blue) did much to enhance their reputations yesterday.

However, the debate about the merits of otherwise of Eriksen rages on. To recap, the AANP view is that for a man of such talent, he ought to be the central figure in games, with everything going through him and emanating from him – much as was the case last week when he trotted on against West Ham. Too often, continues the AANP view, Eriksen will produce one or two gorgeous moments, which make it to Match of the Day highlights, but will be largely anonymous for the remaining 89 or so minutes.

The contrary view is that this does the chap an enormous disservice, that he was overworked last season – which explains his occasional quiet games – and that he is the one man in the team capable of producing game-changing moments of creativity from midfield.

To be honest I think it is possible to hold both views without contradiction, but that’s one for another day.

Yesterday, having been restored to the starting line-up, I looked pleadingly towards Eriksen for some on-ball leadership, but after 90 minute it felt that this was another one chalked up as a bit of a non-event for the fellow.

To reiterate, a little harsh to single him out, but in the context of the ongoing arguments about whether he really is indispensable to our cause, this was an opportunity missed for him to get on the ball and boss things.

All in all, points away to Man City are like gold dust. For all the grumbles about performance, this was one heck of a result for us, and should performances dial up a notch or two, as one would expect, we might be in for a decent ride this season.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

CL Final Preview: 5 Steps to the Final in the Lifelong Journey of a Tottenham Fan

5 things Tottenham must do to win here.
6 players who took Tottenham to the Final here.

1. The 1987 FA Cup Final

The day before the Champions League Final, and excitement levels have now shot fairly comfortably through the roof, and are gaily whizzing about in the stratosphere.
In a neat symmetry, AANP’s first lilywhite memory was also a Cup Final, the 1987 FA Cup, a cinematic viewing that made for a pretty fitting way in which to take one’s first step in this absurd journey.

At that stage I suspect I had little idea of what Europe was, let alone the Champions League ruddy Final, but there it began, in a terraced house in Tottenham in front of a black and white screen. The whole thing provided a neatly appropriate template for what was to come in the following three decades, and in particular this season’s Champions League romp – our lot would simply refuse to do things simply if they could instead be done in the most absurd, nerve-shredding fashion.

An early goal, a lead squandered and defeat achieved in barely credible manner – the seeds of the all action no plot approach were not so much sown as shoved down the throat. Our heroes, it was immediately clear, would insist on doing things the hard way.

As an impressionable youth I naively interpreted our second-minute goal that day as a sign that supporting Spurs would be a barrel of laughs, logic dictating that we would score at two-minute intervals for the rest of time.

Alas, the first, critical lesson of Spurs-supporting was yet to come. With the game poised at 2-2 in extra-time, our lot did not just contrive to lose, they flicked through the entire playbook of nonsense and picked out the most nonsensical option of the lot. A harmless cross bounced off the knee of Gary Mabbutt, and looped in a most geometrically-pleasing parabola over Ray Clemence and into the net. Death by own-goal, having led in the second minute. How very Tottenham.

Back in those days, before I had discovered the joys of a stiff bourbon, I digested proceedings by hitting the Lego bricks hard and recreating the barely credible scenes witnessed, but already there would be no turning back.

2: Gazza, 1991 And All That

By this stage the young AANP was already so obsessed with Spurs that it’s a wonder my parents did not cart me off to the nearest institution to have my head examined and some – any – other interests drilled into it instead. Every weekend was spent poring over Saint and Greavsie, Grandstand and The Big Match; every Monday saw me fill my ‘What I Did at the Weekend’ school books with a detailed analysis of Spurs’ fortunes.

Italia ’90 featured prominent contributions from Spurs’ two brightest young things, as well as the now familiar anguish of a drawn-out defeat, stretched out in the most dramatic fashion seemingly just out of cruelty from those on high.

The emergence of Gazza, all trickery and entertainment hammered home the fact that the game is about glory, about doing things in style and with a flourish. When he sized up the Arsenal wall at Wembley, and Barry Davies wondered if he were going to have a crack, I flew off around the place in the sort of celebration that would be unfurled again when Lucas Moura struck in the 95th minute.

The FA Cup Final that followed provided the template of virtually our entire Champions League Campaign in 2019, as, initially, everything that possibly could have veered off the rails duly did so. Gazza crumpled to the turf; Pearce belted home the free-kick; Gazza was stretchered off; Lineker had one wrongly disallowed; and then missed a penalty. This cycle of dismay and setbacks was to prove a solid grounding for the following 20 years or so – and certainly has me well prepared for defeat in some cruel fashion in the CL Final – but once bitten forever smitten, and the glimmer of hope remained.

Step forward Paul Stewart, and the head of poor old Des Walker, and the FA Cup was ours. Little did I know that it would be the first of only 3 trophies in my living memory (until, who knows, Madrid?)

Right up there with the celebrations with my family as Mabbutt lifted the Cup were the celebrations at St Francis de Sales school – a venue presumably well-recognised by most of lilywhite persuasion – the following Monday.

3. The 1990s

One does not want to denigrate the honest efforts of those who went before, but it’s a jolly good job that our heroes achieved both glory and glorious failure in those earlier years, because supporting Spurs in the 90s was a fairly joyless experience, and one compounded by the fact that most in secondary school were Arsenal fans.

There were little flashes of joy – my first visit to the Lane; Klinsmann scoring and then spinning around to stare me in the eyes in a rather generous and touching striker-to-striker moment; discovering that Steve Sedgley lived around the corner and knocking on his door for an autograph; Ginola’s glorious slalom vs Barnsley; the 1999 Worthington – but this was an era in which the hope was doing an impeccable job of killing me.

4. The 2000s, Jol, Bale and ‘Arry

By the turn of the millennium I had had the good sense to start devoting my hours to booze and females, the former reliably assisting in the process of Spurs-supporting, the latter simply putting up with it (or not).

The prominent memory of my University years is turning on the radio for the classified results, having known we were three goals to the good at half-time, and in a millisecond registering a) disappointment that we had still only scored three at full-time, and b) confusion that the intonation of the classified results-reader was indicating that the home team had lost, which was most peculiar, because that could only mean that Man Utd had, in the second half alone, at White Hart Lane, scored the princely total of…

A League Cup Final defeat was thrown in for good measure, before Martin Jol – blessed be his name – strode in like a lumbering bear, and I was off to my first ever European night at the Lane, a second honeymoon if ever there were one.

The zenith of this was yet another glorious failure compounded by several early shots to our own feet – needing to overturn a first leg deficit against Sevilla we were two-down before those around me had even taken their seats – but this at least was where the tide began to turn.

UEFA/Europa nights became the norm; a scrawny left-back called Gareth Bale was making blunders that had me calling for his head; Modric and Berbatov were making grown men go misty-eyed around me; and when ‘Arry Redknapp joined, and kicked things off with a 4-4 draw at the Emirates, featuring a 40-yard Bentley lob and not one but two last-minute comeback goals, the All Action, No Plot blog was born.

And with each passing season, the name seemed apt if not exactly tripping off the tongue. Which other team, needing a final-day result, could lose half its members to food poisoning? Which other team could finally break its Top Four hoodoo, only to find that despised rivals who had finished sixth would conjure up a last-minute equaliser, followed by a penalty shoot-out win, to take the trophy and our CL spot?

Supporting Spurs meant signing up to a series of absurdities that were all perfectly acceptable within the legislation, but seemed unlikely, barely credible and always plain bonkers. The difference is that in this season’s Champions League campaign, those unlikely and bonkers moments have fallen in our favour. To date…

On the pitch we crept closer to glory, but inevitably fell short in ever more galling circumstances, culminating to date with a Semi-Final penalty shoot-out defeat this season. Off the pitch a slightly unlikely dream was lived as I penned a curious book on Spurs, and in the process spent various afternoons in conversation with that same Gary Mabbutt whose knee kick-started the whole thing. (And, of course, became best mates with Jan.)

5: Poch and the Champions League Final

So without sacrificing the glory glory entertainment, Our Glorious Leader has introduced consistency, and raised the bar. A few years ago, in the season in which Walker and Rose tore up the flanks, we were the country’s most entertaining team. Over the course of two seasons we amassed more points than any other team, without winning a trophy.

A variety of sticks were used to beat us, and one by one they have been confiscated with some stern words. After all, there was a time when we were the team that never beat the Top Four teams, or that never won away at Chelsea. We never won at Wembley apparently – shortly before we beat Real Madrid there.

And at the start of this 2018/19 season, with no signings, a squad wearied by the World Cup and no home of which to speak, the Champions League Final was the last thing on anyone’s minds. In fact when we made it to the Quarter-Finals, and then started the Semi-Final, the Champions League Final was still the last thing on this particular mind. Not until Lucas’ final flourish, the moment that, in common with every other lilywhite, I only have to close my eyes to see and hear, which is a rather nifty trick.

After approximately ten days of floating around the place with a permanent grin etched across the visage, it’s been approximately ten further days of excitement building, until these current levels, when I really do need a stiff drink and a lie down.

It does not end in Madrid of course – if the best part of four decades on this mortal coil has taught me anything it is that life tends to churn on fairly relentlessly – but from the 1987 FA Cup Final lost by an extra-time own goal, the all action no plot process has wound its way, via comeback after mind-boggling dramatic comeback, to the 2019 Champions League Final.

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WBA 1-1 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. Lloris Worth A Goal A Game

Once upon a time, in the big, cuddly teddy bear days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name), there ran a theory in AANP Towers that between them, Paul Robinson and Ledley King (even blesseder be his good name) were worth a goal to us every game, by virtue of their last-ditch heroics. Not a particularly watertight theory, you understand, no randomized control trial or pivot tables or anything like that, but certainly one spouted with the greatest seriousness in the watering-holes of North London by yours truly.

Fast forward a decade or so, and a similarly evidence-lite theory is beginning to surface around Monsieur Lloris. We come to take these things for granted now, in this halcyon era of unbeaten runs and all-action pressing and whatnot, but last week against Chelski and yesterday, quite remarkably, against West Brom, he pulled off saves of the absolute highest order. Both of which seem to have drifted a little past the public consciousness, ensconced as they were in the midst of a couple of draws that ranked slightly higher on the huff-and-puff scale than on the corresponding blow-your-skirt-up-with-non-stop-pulsating-action axis. But the point remains – Lloris has done the preventative equivalent of scoring a sensational goal, in both of the last couple of games.

2. Absence Makes The Heart Grow A Mite Fonder

Those of you cursed to have been within muttering distance of yours truly last weekend would have had to put up with assorted grumbles along the general line of young Mason’s energy and enthusiasm are all well and good for general Premiership fare, but the blighter has always seemed to lack that dose of je ne sais quoi that elevates a man to the higher echelons of these things in the crunch fixtures. He certainly puts in a shift – last week being a case in point – but in the biggest games of the season simply tearing around the place is not sufficient. As a replacement for Dele Alli, in a game against the champions, the decisive spark he failed to provide. Hardly a damning criticism, more just the genera way of things.

Yesterday however, with Mason trussed up in swathes of bandages somewhere off-stage, it dawned on me as the second half wore on that by golly we could use some of that energy, bite and young incandescence with life, with which he typically bounds in either headless or head-bearing fashion.  West Brom were beginning to win every loose ball, and when even Eric Dier’s trademark trundle was failing to win us the 50-50s, the thought occurred that maybe we might have benefited from removing one of the front four, who deal more in sparkle and fancy trickery, and bringing on a man like Mason, who has somewhat more about him of the canine straining at the leash. Just to wrest back control of the thing.

All academic of course, but funny how absence makes the heart grow stronger in these situations.

3. The Centre-Backs – Only Human

In a train of thought that veered rather dramatically off the rails, I ended up last night wondering what the opposite of ‘invincible’ might be. Just plain ‘vincible’ seemed to tick the boxes, except that it’s not really a word, which seemed a fairly critical stumbling block. All of which came about as I observed Messrs Vertonghen and Toby going about their gainful employment yesterday.

No doubt about it, this pair are as solid and reliable a centre-back combo as we have trotted out in many a long year, but this is not to suggest that they are entirely without flaws. Witness the moment when Vertonghen was outpaced and then rather easily barged aside by a thundering opponent in the first half yesterday, after the pair of them failed to deal with a fairly unceremonious punt down the middle. Exhibit B was Toby’s decision to leave to the gods of the six-yard box a ball he could easily have cleared in the closing stages, presenting a chance for a West Brom winner that had Kyle Walker scrambling to hack the thing clear.

‘Only human’, as the chap said to Keanu Reeves towards the end of The Matrix, when holding a gun to his head, and it captures the gist of the thing about Vertonghen and Aldeweireld. A fine pair they are, but such has been our solidity at the back this season that it has been easy to forget that their little Flemish axis will occasionally be breached.

And maybe that’s the nub of the thing – few sides are pootling along in quite such fine fettle as our lot this season, but they are only human, and jolly young humans at that, so mistakes will be made. Back in August few of us dared to hope for much more than a top-five finish, so it would be remiss to chide them for failing to meet heightened expectations. They’re getting there. It remains ill-defined precisely where ‘there’ is, but they most certainly are getting there.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Fulham – Spurs Preview: Cagey and Defensive Away Performance?

Anyone else feeling a little sorry for the boy Defoe? He couldn’t be much sharper if he had great big glinting blades attached to his elbows, and yet come matchday he is left to watch on pensively as VDV ripples the net like it’s going out of fashion. The ultimate ignominy – inclusion amongst the tots and second-raters for the trip to Russia – cannot possibly have lightened his mood. Poor blighter.

Still, if he sits it out again tomorrow, VDV does his usual trick and we toddle off home three points better off, there will be no complaints from this quarter. It would be quite delightful if our heroes cocked a snook at the age-old notion that the away team must dig a trench on the edge of their penalty area and station ten bodies therein. Mercifully, our lot seem rather to enjoy the breakneck, back-and-forth basketball approach to away days, whereby caution is left bound and gagged in the dressing room, and harum is joyfully united with scarum for the best part of 90 minutes. Grist to the mill of Lennon, Bale, Walker et al, one would assume.

Seasoned fantasy footballers will be well aware of the threat posed by that Dempsey character, while other points of note about our esteemed opponents are that they are managed by Martin Jol (blessed be his name) and have decided this season to play in their pyjamas. On paper – and indeed at the Lane – we would turn this lot over with the usual mixture of first half aplomb and decidedly less second half urgency, so this really should be another three point affair. Over to you, chaps.

Spurs 2-1 Everton: The Nerve-Shredding Final Ten Minutes

 

AANP did a Landon Donovan on Sunday and missed the entire ruddy thing altogether. If you want a blow-by-blow, warts-and-all account of Sunday’s magnificence you may be disappointed, as I was keeping tabs on big Martin Jol (blessed be his name) – a not entirely salubrious stag weekend culminating in a trip to the Amsterdam ArenA on Sunday lunchtime, to watch Ajax vs Utrecht (4-0, lest ye be wondering).

I did manage to catch the last ten minutes or so of the win over Everton, and mighty nerve-shredding stuff it looked too. However, for the finer points of the Pav-Defoe partnership; the broader contribution of Pav; the hygiene levels at Spurs’ training ground; and why Bentley was omitted altogether (I’m presuming injury/illness?) I can do no better than shrug. The general gist, as I understand, seems to be one of the Sven Goran Eriksson performances – first half good, second half not so good.

Some Plus-Points, From A Distant Vantage-Point

Without having seen the game there seem to be a handful of positives to take home and nurture lovingly. From this rather detached perspective a win over Everton is splendid news. After the various stumbles of January and February, victory against one of the in-form teams in the division is hugely welcome, and, I must confess, something of a surprise to this observer.

The goal-shy attitude of Jan/Feb has seemingly been addressed, and what had threatened to develop into something of a stigma can now be ignored for a few weeks. Jolly good timing from Pav, whose renaissance is virtually worth a new and rather expensive signing.

An impressive result without either King or Lennon is also cheering news. With Lennon one out for at least six further weeks it looks like we’ll have to make the Champions League without him – a tall order, but wins (and goals) in his absence are encouraging, for there have certainly been times when we seem to lack a little shaven-eyebrowed sparkle to unlock defences.

Ten Games Left

So just when it looked like our lot were wobbling wildly off the top-four road they’ve only gone and strung together back-to-back wins. Outrage and pessimism come so naturally to us Spurs fans that many of us had been writing off our Champions League chances with quite some gusto a couple of weeks back; but such sentiments have hastily had to be shelved, as we somehow find ourselves back in fourth. (Fret not, oh ye mongers of doom – it seems a pretty safe bet that there will be plenty more chances over the next ten games.)

Such have been the peculiarities of this season that a four/five-match winning streak would almost certainly create some daylight between us and one or two of the challengers for fourth – and we now have a chance to do exactly that with Blackburn, Stoke and Pompey up-coming in the League (although this would be far too straightforward, so I am instead bracing myself for another maddening spree of dropped points against that lot. Followed by wins at home to Chelski and l’Arse.)

There may be games in hand to factor in, but with ten matches left we are in fourth place – and which of us would not have taken that last August?

AANP’s first book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, will be in shops from 6 Marchwith Gary Mabbutt signing copies that day in the Enfield Waterstones – but is available to pre-order now from Tottenhamhotspur.com, as well as WHSmith, Amazon , TescoWaterstones and Play

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

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

Spurs 4-0 Peterborough (Belatedly): Win The Whole Thing? Why Not?

(Apologies for the tardiness – deadline week on the book Spurs’ Cult Heroes)
The FA Cup? Why not? The only team that ever seems to beat us in knock-out competitions has itself been knocked out, and for our part we look capable of despatching anyone on our day. This is not a reaction to our win on Saturday, far from it, but rather a reaction to the exit of Man Utd. They were the one team I simply could not envisage us beating. Anyone else, and we could make a game of it, but there seemed to be as much a mental block as a quality gap with that lot. Now, however, the outlook is a little different. Chelski and l’Arse are obviously the ones to eye warily, but we’ve got Cup pedigree against both. Man City, Villa and Liverpool would be tricky, particularly away from home, but all are eminently beatable. I rather fancy our chances this season.Daydream over. Here at AANP Towers the response to the Peterborough game was a contented nod and scan of the fixture-list. A scrappy, nerve-jangling 94th minute winner would have sufficed – although we’d laid into them had that been the case – but our heroes deserve credit for getting the job done fairly routinely.

The habit of making bucketloads of chances is positive; the relatively small proportion of chances converted less so. It proved another exercise in breaking down a side that had come to the Lane essentially to frustrate, and while this time things panned out swimmingly, in future we may need to be a little less profligate.

Defoe – Accurate

My old man, the venerable AANP Senior has been fond of preaching over the years that a player only deserves credit for hitting the woodwork if he was aiming for it – in which case full marks to Jermain Defoe. The only explanation for that early shot which hit the bar, when it was surely easier to score, was that he actively sought to avoid the netting and instead aimed for the frame. And a fine job he did too.

Life Without Lennon

The question of how to cope without Lennon was initially addressed by rather stretching the definition of “winger”, with Modders and Kranjcar roaming anywhere they jolly well pleased. I could sit back all day and watch those two do their thing. If Niko Kranjcar were English the nation’s media would drool over him, yet the lad seems strangely under-rated beyond N17, in a Steed type of way. Not complaining mind, if anything this means he’s less likely to be prised away by Man Utd.

Later on we had that delightful cameo from the boy Rose, definitely more in the Lennon mould than Corluka when it came to going for a gallop. I recall a well-informed gooner mate raving about him, rather enviously, when we first signed him a couple of years ago. I rather hope that he doesn’t venture down that well-trod route of a loan to League One side and eventual transfer, but alas our reputation for developing youngsters is hardly encouraging.

Of the other reserves, Bale and Hutton continue to look the polar opposites of those for whom they deputise. Always had a soft spot for Bale, ever since his gung-ho emergence under Martin Jol (blessed be his name). While he continues to look cracking value going forward, he still fails to instill confidence as a defender. Fingers crossed that this is not a problem in the coming month.

Boxes Ticked 

To think that we would have drawn Man Utd yet again, had they remained in the competition, beggars belief, and is grist to the mill of conspiracy theorists throughout the South Stand. Instead it will be Leeds – not straightforward, but home advantage ought to be enough.

 

AANP’s first book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, is now available to pre-order from WHSmith, Amazon , Tesco, Waterstones 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 

Spurs 2-0 Everton: Squad Depth & The Benny Hill Penalty

We’re great when we’re winning. Opponents are forced to push forward, and we duly pick them off on the break, with the clinical precision of a trained sniper (until Keane starts stumbling over his own feet). We have the players, including those on the fringes of the squad, to counter with pace and inventiveness, on top of which it makes for a cracking spectacle.It doesn’t really solve the problem thrown up on Saturday, of what to do when the opposition sits deep and the opening goal is impossible to come by; but that’s for another day. Most neutrals would verify – when we score first, we’re a great team. It was honours even in the opening exchanges last night; but once we had our goal, Everton pushed forward and we look ever more potent on the break.

Personified By Hudd 

It all worked out swimmingly, with even Assou-Ekotto indulging in some party tricks by the end of the game. Although we were well worth a two-goal victory, Everton had their chances, but, pleasingly, Gomes was equal to all of them. Dawson, again was immense at the back, while Sergeant Wilson snarled and harried like any good guard dog should.

Plenty in Reserve 

Bentley: Imagine how good Bentley and his hair gel would be under a manager who loved him and in a team which made him their focal point. No-one doubts his technique and skill, but rarely has it been put to particularly good use in lilywhite. Yesterday however, while a little hit-and-miss in the early stages, he ended up turning a performance I am tempted to label “virtuoso”.

The control was immaculate, stepovers effective, crosses generally dangerous and work-rate exemplary. Different sort of player from Aaron Lennon, but with the ickle one unavailable for Saturday, it’s nice to know that we have ourselves a Bentley in good form. He may perhaps have got a little carried away with all the party tricks but the ability to beat a man is quite a weapon to have. On those frustrating occasions when a defence needs unlocking, he at least carries the potential to jink past a defender and make some space (a quality that could hardly be attributed to Hudd). On another day, as we are all well aware, those constant Maradonna impressions will come to nothing and he will be maddening to watch, but last night it worked.

Bale: Good to see Bale looking up to speed as well, particularly in a midfield position which I think suits him better than full-back. The memories of his first few matches in lilywhite, under Martin Jol (blessed be his name), linger long in the AANP memory, so it is with pleasure that I note he turned in a good performance. A genuine left-footer on the left of midfield gave us a nice shape, and it’s a handy alternative to Kranjcar.

Pav: Poor old Pav. Not his night, was it? Suspicion, bordering on certainty, remains that we’ll be bidding him “?? ????????” come January.

Hutton: When God made Corluka, it appears that he out of curiosity he took all the ingredients and reversed them, to see what the polar opposite would look like. The result was Alan Hutton – a quick, bald, attack-minded right-back who, one suspects, does not give an awful lot of thought to defending. He did well enough, and the combo with Bentley worked well.

Would Have Been So Much Simpler If Keane Had Blasted It Into A Corner

By golly, when Hudd gets them right his shots look likely to tear the net from its moorings, yesterday being a case in point. Couldn’t help but note that his expression on scoring was that of a man who felt he had been copping unfair flak from AANP the previous day…

As for the penalty – what a glorious throwback to the days of manic playground football, when the next-goal-wins rule comes into play and all hell breaks loose amidst a ruck of bodies and two jumpers. From spot-kick to net-bulger there were six efforts on goal. Crikey. All that was missing was the Benny Hill theme tune. Poor old Tim Howard is entitled to feel a little aggrieved, after making more saves in ten seconds than your average Premiership ‘keeper will make in two full games against Stoke, and credit is due to Keane for some nifty technique in finally scoring; but that does not excuse various other moments of profligacy on his part. For the love of God, sharpen up man, before the visit to l’Arse.

Happy days then – a convincing win, clean sheet, back-slaps all round. Chelski, l’Arse and Man Utd remain in the Carling Cup, but another trip to Wembley is conceivable.

 

As ever, all are most welcome to leave memories – and browse those of others – regarding some of the players to be featured in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here 

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

Shakhtar 2- 0 Spurs: Mission Accomplished

So mission all but accomplished then ‘Arry? Elimination from Europe virtually guaranteed, and mercifully we can look forward to far fewer of those pesky football matches that just seem to get in the way of the manager’s true raison d’être (trying out his latest gags on the sycophants at press conferences), and the players’ weekly trips to Faces. 

Last night’s was not the worst performance I’ve ever seen – until the last 11 minutes it appeared that we would, unbelievably, return to the Lane as favourites to progress (‘Arry would have loved that – “More f*ckin’ games? I don’t f*ckin’ believe this…”). Neither, however, was it the sort of inspirational stuff that instils in a man the urge to beat a tiger to death with his bare hands and make love to fifty beautiful women before singing God Save The Queen and tucking into his fish and chips. No-one attacked that cross like their life depended upon it. In fact no-one went near that cross in any fashion whatsoever, and one-nil it was. The defence plumbed to new lows for the second, and while it had me turning green and bursting out of my clothes, the whole sorry incident seemed to encapsulate precisely the attitude of indifference being peddled all week by ‘Arry.

Somehow, the mentality has become one which accepts and commits to defeat in certain games, before they’ve even begun. ‘Arry has been banging this drum all week, and last night it was visible in the players on the pitch. Have these people no shame? Have they no pride, in themselves or the club? Irrespective of the competition, it’s a football match, a professional football match. It begins at nil-nil and the point, once upon a time, was to win it. We may and probably will stay in the Premiership, but its beginning to feel like we’re selling our souls to do so. We ought not to be resorting to this. What sort of professional sportsman decides, in advance, to settle for losing a contest? If this football business is too taxing for you then sod off to a golf course or bingo hall or something, but don’t destroy our club’s reputation and tradition.

Deep breath.’Arry’s chosen solution to the problem (I use the term loosely) of footballers having to playing football matches is to lose the knock-out ones. An absolutely ridiculous and wildly irrational alternative would be for Spurs to try winning such games – because, let’s face it, no-one complains about fixture lists when they’re successful.

A couple of years ago we reached the latter stages of the Uefa, semis of the Carling and finished fifth in the league – and by golly you’d have heard a mouse sneeze in the middle of a stadium-wide chorus of “I love Martin Jol” (blessed be his name) before you’d have heard anyone grumbling about the number of games we had to play. The explanation for this, bizarre though it is, seems to be that baffling, science-defying instrument that is The Psyche of the Common Sportsman. This is constructed such that more games just aren’t a problem when they are being won (see Man Utd for real-time illustration of this point).

For Spurs to implement this would admittedly require some degree of responsibility on the part of the management and players – undertakings such as non-stop graft on the training pitch, fitness work, repeated drills on set-pieces, shooting practice, tactical instructions… ah maybe ‘Arry’s right – it’s far easier just to lose games.

The counter-argument is that it is better for us to lose in the Uefa, minimise the risk of injuries from excessive games and preserve our Premiership status. I appreciate the point, but I don’t see the issue as so black and white. There is a straightforward middle ground – of doing our damnedest to win the Uefa games anyway, and still preserving our Premiership status. Willing participation in the Uefa need not necessarily mean that we’re automatically doomed to relegation from the Premiership. Another imbecilic notion this, but I reckon it might just be possible to try winning games in both the Uefa and the Premiership, without stretching the poor lambs to the point of mental exhaustion and physical breaking-point.

Players will pick up injuries, without doubt. However, our squad contains enough players who ought to be comfortable taking to the field as required. To spell it out, here’s one full team:

Cudicini; Hutton, Ledley, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Modric, Bentley; Defoe, Keane.
Here’s another full team:
Gomes; Bale, Dawson, Chimbonda, Corluka, Three-Touch O’ Hara, Hudd, Zokora, Jenas; Pav, Bent.
(And just for a laugh here’s some more player names: Gunter, Campbell, Taraabt, Dos Santos, Ricky blinking Rocha.)
The squad is big enough, ugly enough and damn well expensive enough to cope. Good enough? On paper, yes. On grass – well, we’re one point off the relegation zone…

Shakhtar were ok, but they were hardly footballing gods either. They were beatable. They will be beatable in a week’s time. However, such is ‘Arry’s commitment to defeat that he’s already promising to drag youngsters from the Academy (and probably the Paxton Road) onto the pitch for their debuts. I think we can kiss goodbye to the chances of overturning a two-goal deficit.

 

Cudicini Arrives, and The Reunion Continues With Chimbonda

This bewildering January transfer window looks set to become even more discombobulating, with the news that stroppy Pascal Chimbonda is on his way back to the Lane, gloves, leggings and all, just six months or so since being packaged off to Sunderland by Wendy Ramos et al. While opinion might be split on the wisdom of this move, there can’t be many Spurs fans who aren’t pleased to hear that we’ve also snapped up Chelski reserve ‘keeper Carlo Cudicini on a free.Although I’m generally reluctant to pass judgement on the character of a man I’ve never met, Chimbonda certainly came across as less than thoroughly likeable. The odd story of his mercenary antics was followed by a rather public and self-centred tantrum on being substituted during last year’s Carling Cup Final. Lucky then, that the point of football is not to make friends and invite neighbours around for tea, but is actually geared towards winning matches (although this may be news to some of our midfield). Whatever his personality traits, Chimbonda is a pretty handy defender. Not long ago he was being courted by  Chelski as one of the best right-backs in the country, as well as which he’s a versatile so-and-so, which could prove handy what with Ledley’s legs falling apart, Hutton out for the season and Corluka ineligible in Europe. The reported figure is likely to be around £3mil, and I can certainly remember times when we’ve paid more players of lesser quality.

The return of Chimbonda, hot on the heels of Defoe, has me wondering who else might renewing old acquaintances at N17. Robbie Keane was left out of the Liverpool squad on Sunday, and with admirable maturity responded by staying at home altogether. It’s not inconceivable that he could cast a nostalgic glance back down south, remembering the victory jig against l’Arse, the walk up the Wembley steps to lift the Carling Cup, and his legendary encounter with yours truly on Bill Nich Way, when he posed for a picture. Such memories were the stuff of dreams, and it would be only natural if he were to yearn for a return to such former glories. Indeedy, I’ve heard that ‘Arry has over the last 24 hours spoken of his admiration for Keane and how much he’d love him at the Lane etc etc, but then ‘Arry seems to say that about must Premiership players with a pulse. Of the other possible candidates for a reunion of Martin Jol’s (blessed be his name) class of 2005 – 07, I’d personally love to see Steed back at the Lane, but I suspect Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia’s head would literally pop if we tried to sign any more of his squad.

The news of Cudicini’s arrival – on a free transfer moreover – has been greeted with vigorous nods of approval and murmurs of commendation at All-Action-No-Plot towers. Until Cech parked up in England, Cudicini was regarded as one of the best ‘keepers in the league. Gomes has become one of our best players since the weekly calamities of the start of the season, but there can be little argument that we needed cover in the department, and Cudicini goes beyond that by offering genuine competition. I also prefer that our reserve goalkeeper (if indeed Cudicini is to be the reserve) is an experienced head, rather than Alnwick, or, as has very occasionally been mentioned in months gone by, Joe Hart. With Shay Given being touted at upwards of £5 mil, Cudicini is a smart signing in just about every sense.

They may not be spring chickens, but both Chimbonda and Cudicini are proven quality in the Premiership, and in these days of inflated price tags, both have come pleasingly cheap. After the early January talk of Stewart Downing, the purchases of Cudicini and possibly Palacios, along with Defoe and Chimbonda, represent pretty decent business, on paper at least. Would you believe it, I’m actually feeling quite upbeat.

Spurs – Wigan preview: Alas, we’re a cup-team once more

I suspect I wasn’t the only one waking up on New Year’s morning with a horrible sense of dismayed realisation. As I tried to figure out whose flat I was in, and get rid of the sickly sweet taste of JD-cointreau-lemonade in my mouth, the terrible truth slowly dawned in me – Spurs have once again become a cup team. 

As far back as I can remember Spurs had always been better in the cups than the league, but under big scary Martin Jol (blessed be his name) it looked like things were about to change. Two consecutive fifth-placed finishes, and phrases like “consistency”, “top four” and “Champions League places” were being bandied around. It was all so tantalisingly close… 

On New Year’s morning however, with the sounds of my first ever Hogamanay still pounding around my head, it occurred to me that those two seasons were the exception rather than the norm. As I gasped for water and scrolled quizzically through the photos on the digital camera (where was that? who was she?) I realised that it simply isn’t becoming of an all-action-no-plot team to boast a strong defence, produce consistent performances and grind out single-goal wins. Instead, we’ve left that approach to Villa, who have also purloined our blood-the-young-English-talent approach. For our part we’ve reverted to the occasional blitzkrieg performance amidst a slew of moribund defeats to the division’s lowliest, a habit far more typical of a cup-team. Mid-table mediocrity, and the occasional trophy – it should be our motto.  Never mind audere est facere, let’s go with “Purgamentum in medii mensae, aliquando tropaeum 

Wigan at home is a game we ought to win, irrespective of the competition, venue, year or alignment of the planets. Quite why we’re playing on a Friday night is anyone’s guess. As if I wasn’t already sufficiently confused by the whole business of waking-up-in-a-strange-flat-and-coming-back-into-the-office-for-one-day-which-feels-like-Monday-but-is-actually-a Friday. I get the feeling ‘Arry wouldn’t be entirely dismayed if we got knocked out tonight, given our current fixture list (his twitch will go into overdrive if it goes to a replay) but having seen Cardiff and Millwall make the final in recent years I’d like to see us take it seriously

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