So here we go, without doubt the biggest game since our last eye-catching fixture for which three points were at stake. While the win over a pretty inept Everton had all and sundry proclaiming this lilywhite vintage the greatest thing since Danny Blanchflower sliced a loaf, the draw with uber-negative Wolves had Hansen imploring all Spurs-supporting MoTD viewers to find their nearest cliff-top and hurl themselves in anguish – so whatever the outcome against table-topping City the reaction will presumably border on the apocalyptic. Win, lose or draw, somebody somewhere will explode in a cloud of uncontainable hyperbole.
In truth however, “phlegmatic” is the word of choice at AANP Towers ahead of this one. Winning the title would be quite a bonus (never, ever in my wildest dreams did I anticipate writing those eight words), but we are third favourites for a reason, and defeat on Sunday would make that whole jamboree far less likely. What seems absolutely paramount is that we finish in the Top Four (preferably the Top Three), and this is ours to throw away. For that reason my uncontrollable shivers break out at the prospect of the impending games with l’Arse, Chelski, Liverpool and Newcastle. “Six-pointers”, as the sages knowingly intone, and if they speak thus then it must be so.
That said, if the closing rounds of the Rocky Balboa – Ivan Drago clash taught me anything it was that the best time to play a well-financed foreign giant is when he is sweating buckets and he’s taken such a hammering that his eye is beginning to swell. City are without the gloriously named Yaya chap, which should make Modders’ life a tad easier, and my spies tell me that they’re also missing a handy centre-back. Time to charge into battle with a cry of “Adriaaaan” methinks.
Being owned by one team whilst playing for another could potentially lead to quite the philosophical quandary on the halfway line when the two outfits meet, but alas we will be spared the sight of Adebayor slowly degenerating into madness on the centre-spot as he ponders his obligations and liberty, for he is ineligible. This may mean ‘Arry takes a punt on Pav producing his standard 1 minute of magic amidst 89 of standing about whingeing, or, as is the AANP preference, he lets Defoe off the leash to shoot from all angles and then look in disbelief as he is flagged offside.
Otherwise, for better or worse, our lot pick themselves. Dawson, Kaboul, Ledley, Sandro, Parker – jumble them up, name a few injuries and you get the gist. We are underdogs for this one, but in a season in which we just keep doing the unexpected by golly this would be some feather in the lilywhite cap. Fingers crossed
Three more points, and all comfortable enough, but this being AANP Towers, and we being Spurs fans, I react to third place in the festive season not by praising our heroes, but by flagging up areas for improvement.
Specifically, I do beseech our heroes to make life a bit easier for all concerned by walloping opponents out of sight once in a while. Where Man Utd and Chelski in their pomp, and Man City in praesenti, methodically crown their dominance of any given 90 minute to-do by banging in fourth, fifth and six goals past opponents, our lot seem more concerned with running rings around our foes on the edge of the area, rather than actually scoring with such frequency that Church elders issue warnings about the ill effects of such thrashings upon society.
The party tricks and fancy flicks are dashed good entertainment, but at one-nil I hope you do not begrudge my temerity in suggesting they might be a mite premature. Not that ‘Arry ‘imself appeared concerned today, withdrawing Messrs VDV and Sandro in the closing stages with all the breezy confidence of a man lighting a cigar as his team rattle up double-figures, while Modders’ waywardness in front of a gaping net from a distance of around half a smidgeon was worthy of an official UEFA investigation into darn shady betting patterns.
It may seem indulgent as we toast our 11th win in 13, but aside from the 4-0 win over Liverpool, our lot have not really translated dominance and superiority into healthy score-lines – and the concern is that if we fail to kill off games, opponents may sneak ill-deserved late equalisers that ultimately cost us points in May.
BAE: Some Constructive Criticism
Aside from the issue of dedicated profligacy, a wary eyebrow is raised at AANP Towers over BAE’s mastery of the art of Delivering Left Wing Crosses So Wicked They Should Be Sentenced To Community Service. Particularly notable in the absence of Bale, BAE had numerous opportunities to slap the orb into the area and dance a merry jig of satisfaction as bedlam duly ensued, but if you can tear yourself away for one moment from the most curious mental image of BAE dancing a jig of any type you may recall that most of his crosses rather missed the target of assorted lilywhite types eagerly charging forward. Not a cataclysmic failing by any means, but in a team that motors from strength to strength in all areas, the left-back position still occasionally strikes me as one that may be improved upon slightly.
Job Well Done, And In Testing Circumstances
However, free drinks are nevertheless in order for our heroes, for this was a pretty important three points. ‘Twas most vital that we reacted to defeat last week with victory today, and to do so with such general verve (aside from the last 20 mins or so of the first half) was jolly reassuring.
Moreover, this was achieved minus the twin jet-heeled threats of Masters Bale and Lennon. The re-jigging was a curious one, with Pav’s entry, and the presence of VDV and Modders meaning that just about everyone out there had the urge to charge away from the wings and into the centre, but the quality of our play remained high, as evidenced by the charmingly inclusive build-up to our goal.
A particular mention of approbation is due to Sandro, whose general propensity for tearing about hither and thither reflected well upon a chap starved of first-team opportunities. One jolly well hopes that at least one of Bale and Lennon are fit for action come Thursday night, but with regard to today’s doings, pats on the various backs ought to convey the general sentiment.
Switching from the all-conquering, award-winning, glitz-laden superstars of our rollicking Premiership campaign to the prepubescent kids and want-away squad members on our midweek Europa jaunts is somewhat akin to putting down the Dumas novel in order to tune in to Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds – nobody in their right mind would dispute that it remains quite magnificent entertainment, but the whole forum is perhaps a little more frivolous.Thus we march into battle tonight knowing that defeat will do all manner of nastiness to our European campaign, but victory would all but see us through. None of which can really be taken seriously when one considers the red-hot Saturday/Sunday frolics of our first-choice mob in the League.
Still. There is still a cockerel on the shirt, pride at stake and a trophy to be won, eventually. Kane, Carroll, Livermore and Townsend will get their usual opportunities to impress, while Cudicini, Corluka, Gallas, Pienaar and Pav (if fit – and if not, then presumably Defoe) will add sprinklings of élan about the place. The reverse fixture against this lot was jolly hard work, but thus far on our home nights in Europe we have muddled through, so another three points ought to be the target once again tonight. All for one, and all that continental gubbins.
More dedicated followers of AANP will be well aware that when I do eventually conclude fighting the good fight and prepare to meet my doom, ‘twill not be in a hail of bullets or blaze of glory, but coronary failure sustained while watching our heroes. While cheering the news that the various pokes and prods to ‘Arry ‘s cardiac area proved successful, I rather fear for him if he observed on the telly-box the inept tomfoolery of Monsieur Bassong in contributing to our downfall. On an evening when the more experienced, international types needed to lead by example, his ill-judged amble out of defence and straight into trouble inevitably led to a goal, as well as a booking, which may or may not have been officially awarded for jaw-dropping imbecility. I don’t mind admitting that when Gallas went off and the armband passed to the arm of Bassong, I could barely suppress a tut, so enraged was I. One rather hopes that someone averted ‘Arry’s eyes as the incompetence unfolded.
That Cudicini was in fine form says much about our performance, but this is hardly a slight upon the kids, whose brows were, as ever, furrowed with determination and effort. Of offensive threat there was none, Defoe and Pav given so little service and space that every time the ball did make its way to them they celebrated by charging into offside positions. In truth, the most notable developments of the night were the worrying sight of Gallas withdrawing injured, and the quite brilliant pun delivered by yours truly upon the arrival into the fray of young Parrett.
A win and defeat against this Russian lot, with no particular violation upon the equanimity of the goal difference between us, is probably what most of us expected. Progress remains likely, and the kids are learning, so there is therefore sanguinity in defeat, at least at AANP Towers.
Rarely do I expect our heroes to lose – away to the Manchester clubs are about the only fixtures this season in which I would regrettably project nul points - but to that roll of dishonour let the epithet “Rubin Kazan. Away. And With Kids” be added. Those Russians can rightly feel a tad aggrieved at having to slop back off to Siberia with nothing but commemorative THFC thermal underwear, for they had the woolly mammoth’s share of possession and chances that night, and are likely to cause us a fair degree of bother on their own patch.Our midfield looks particularly light tonight, with Sandro and Parker spared the air-miles, understandably enough, a blessing similarly bestowed upon Modders, Bale, Lennon, VDV and Adebayor. However, Gallas and Pienaar will gingerly tiptoe onto the 90×120 for the first time in a while; Livermore will head up the usual troop of Boy Scouts; and Gomes/Cudicini, Bassong, Defoe and Pav are also involved. Much will rest on the young shoulders of Livermore to win the midfield battle, but all things considered a draw would represent a decent achievement, while the 5pm kick-off time finally lends some point to the existence of ITV4+1. The dash back to AANP Towers commences imminently…
Me neither. In fact, I’m not sure there is a soul alive who understands quite how we managed to toddle off from that with a win, but bearing in mind the perils that lurk within the mouths of gift-horses I suggest we stuff the three points under our jumpers and sneak off before anyone notices.It might be an idea for Jake Livermore and Sebastien Bassong to bond over a Jason Statham DVD night or some other such bromantic activity, because last night neither seemed to be aware that the other was of the same species, let alone the same centre-back pairing. The Russians had a fair amount of joy poking and prodding at this soft and squidgy underbelly of ours, and frankly had enough possession and chances to wrap this up well before the last person left and the lights were switched off. Not for the first time AANP is left to muse that the difference between our mob and esteemed opponents is a sprinkling of class in attack.
While here I may as well cast an eye over the various performers of last night, before they are stuffed back in their packaging to warm the bench during Premiership games.
Make no mistake there were good saves from crazy, crazy Gomes, saves that secured our win, but he managed in 90 minutes to deliver more completely unnecessary scares than Friedel has done in seven full games to date. A line of thought is beginning to develop around these parts that the better the ‘keeper the less AANP notices him.
Meanwhile AANP continues to scratch its head in bafflement at Giovani. Admittedly the Spurs website runs a line propaganda that would have made that Comical Ali chap blush, but every time Giovani returns from international duty it is to tales of wondrous success and match-winning heroics emblazoned across tottenhamhotspur.com. Presumably ‘tis his evil and slightly more mundane twin turning out for Spurs in the Europa League, because the name aside there has been little about him to suggest any particular Latin panache.
Young Carroll had a cracking game in the centre, so neat, tidy, skilful and sensible that he might have had the letters M-O-D-R-I-C emblazoned across his back. Kyle Walker also excelled, whatever his limitations as a natural defender he expiated with oodles of bona fide jet-heeled pace. Out on t’other flank young Rose, for all his earnestness, was less wondrous in his doings – although a high-five is waved at him for fine and noble feet jinkery to win the crucial free-kick. BAE can sleep untroubled in the short-term at least, safe in the knowledge that his left-back spot is under minimal threat (not that there is likely to be much that causes the His Royal Unflappableness to lose his nightly shut-eye).
La Donna e Mobile
AANP’s various fun-filled escapades in the world of courting have introduced him to a range of female types, amongst the most incomprehensible of whom are those whose moods and behaviour swing wildly from one extreme to another at far less than the drop of a hat. Thus is Pav afflicted, for when good, as yesterday, he can be very good; and when bad, he is a whiny exasperating pest. Like one of AANP’s more temperamental would-be paramours, Pav was in buoyant spirits from the off yesterday, keen to fox Russia’s watching millions into believing that he is the main
человек in Premiership circles. Cue a performance of threat, a cracking goal and a general level of interestedness of which I had rather forgotten him capable.Add to all that a fair degree of luck, and Younes Kaboul producing the best cameo since Ben Stiller popped up with a ‘tache in Anchorman, and ultimately it turned into the three points that probably ought to see us through to the next stage of this interminably long saga. Lovely stuff.
Few things in life scream “Pointless Money-Making Charade!” quite like a Europa group stage game, but this one actually has relevance, sub-plots and all other sorts of curious goodies the like of which have rarely been seen on a Thursday night on Channel 5.On a formal note, this game is actually laden with group-deciding significance no less. We and the good folk of Rubin Kazan appear to be trotting along towards the dizzy heights of group leadership, so the glorious crown of UEFA Europa League Group A Victor is likely to be decided over 90 minutes at the Lane tonight, followed by a similar stint in some sprit-crushingly chilly corner of far-flung Siberia two weeks hence. I must confess that I tend not to wile away my hours examining the whys, wherefores and qualification criteria of the Europa League, but I suspect that winning the group would grant us relatively gentle opponents in the next round, so there is an incentive of sorts for triumphing over this Russian mob ce soir.
Moreover – they’re Russian! And we have Pav in our ranks! It will be like when Spock fought against the Vulcans! That’s right, a headline-writer’s dream, if Pav can somehow be cajoled to stop whingeing and don his shooting boots for the night. Might also help him secure the move back to the motherland that he presumably craves.
The usual phalanx of kids will presumably be shoved out there again, and it’s made for interesting viewing in previous weeks, so AANP graciously grants permission for the policy to continue. Defensively however we have something of a problem, as only Bassong and Kaboul have the requisite number of working limbs for this one, and with Premiership concerns on Sunday ‘Arry would probably prefer to rest the latter. As such, a case may be made for young Livermore to deputise at centre-back, because frankly I’m not sure if anyone else has the requisite bullet point on their CV. Rose, Townsend, Kane, Carroll and possibly Walker are also likely to feature, as well as Giovani, and anyone else returning from injury (Lennon? Pienaar? Kranjcar?)
Presumably it will be a much sterner test than Hearts, PAOK and the Irish lot; but the AANP fiver is still being slapped down on the side of “home win”.
With fourth spot in the Premiership all but wrapped up it’s time for everyone to swing around and face this direction once again, just hither. I appreciate it can be jolly dashed mind-boggling these days trying to separate one competition from the next, but my spies tell me that tonight it’s Europa. Everyone got that?As it happens, I’m rather enjoying the deployment of the younglings in these midweek night-time gambols. In seasons of yore the only chance we’d get to see the likes of Livermore, Carroll and chums would be for 30 minutes at the end of an FA Cup demolition job on Peterborough, when the kids would be so concerned about making a good impression that I felt tense just watching them. Now, safe in the knowledge that there will always be a pointless European minnow pestering us again in a week or two, today’s youth can exhale, relax, play their natural games and give us a slightly better chance to assess how good they are, whilst secretly cursing the fact that kids half our age are already better than us.
In terms of personnel One Aaron Lennon will apparently be disappearing into the distance beyond some poor Irish full-back tonight, while Danny Rose and Steven Pienaar are also in line for returns. Presumably various youngsters have been given permission to leave school early in order to play tonight too, while such occasions also tend to mark the appearances of Pav, Bassong and Corluka before they are shoved away into the background once again as more pressing concerns arise at the weekend. Whatever the personnel one would expect our lot to be too strong for Shamrock tonight.
Fare thee well Carling Cup 2011/12, it’s been one rip-roaring, lip-quivering heck of a ride, with highlights including the mesmeric second round bye, and the frantic googling of the name Massimo Luongo. However, when we turn back the yellowed, sepia-tinged parchment that records these travails, the outstanding memory will undoubtedly be one man and his quite astonishing inability to get anywhere near saving penalties. In a feat barely permitted by the laws of the space-time continuum, Gomes managed to dive the wrong way for all eight penalties. The poor blighter does not seem to do low-key and inconspicuous, and while the shoot-out episode can probably be excused as unfortunate, with each passing week it seems likelier that he will offer equal measures of the sublime and ridiculous between someone else’s goal-posts come the January transfer window.Gomes’ bizarre directional misjudgements handily distract attention from a pretty woeful performance by the boy Pav. Unless he’s belting in 25-yard screamers he tends to spend his time ambling around the pitch, weighed down by a giant chip on his shoulder. The awful penalty was in keeping with a typically lethargic performance. Time to call in Mr and Mrs Pav for a few choice words on their son’s attitude, methinks.
On a brighter note, there was a return for Sandro, and another clean sheet. Moreover, as we in the stands become more familiar with Masters Livermore, Carroll et al, it is reasonable to assume that they are similarly becoming more comfortable in the environs of the big wide world.
In closing, permit me if I may, to take you back to our last Carling Cup penalty shoot-out failure, way back in 2009. After hearing ‘Arry trot out the obligatory line about penalties being a lottery, I managed to prevent my blood from boiling just long enough to dig out these thoughts from yesteryear:
Tossing a coin is a lottery. Russian roulette is a lottery. The National Lottery is a blinking lottery. A penalty shoot-out is not a lottery, you hear me?Get a penalty during 90 minutes (or indeed extra-time) and hands are slapped and little jigs danced. Admittedly such joy is promptly replaced with unbearable tension and biting of nails in the build-up to the kick itself, but the point remains that during the course of a game, a penalty is seen as a cracking opportunity to score. There ought not to be any reason why the same twelve-yard pot-shot suddenly becomes a moment of doom-laden hopelessness during a shoot-out, prompting managers to concede defeat and reducing arrogant bling-toting players to spineless, mal-coordinated naysayers.
Nor is the actual taking of a penalty a complete lottery. Admittedly, the nervous tension of a 90,000-bodied stadium, and millions upon millions of TV spectators cannot possibly be replicated on a training ground. However, practise 50 spot-kicks in the week leading up to a Wembley final, and if called upon you would at least be comfortable with the technique, run-up, spot you’re aiming for etc. Heaven forbid however that the players actually dedicate themselves thus.
This isn’t a complaint about the outcome on Sunday. I actually thought that with Gomes in goal we stood a pretty good chance in the shoot-out. And I give credit to Bentley and O’ Hara for having the
cojones to step up. I’m just disappointed still. Actually, make that gut-wrenchingly devastated, and absolutely livid, but with what I know not. Dagnabbit that should have been our cup. And now on top of it all I have to listen to every man and his dog tut sympathetically and tell me that it’s ok because it was all a lottery anyway? SOD OFF AND LET ME STEW IN MY OWN MISERY.It’s a futile, and mildly pathetic rant, but I either slam it down here in literary form, or burn with red-hot pokers the eyes of the next person to inform me sagely that penalties are a lottery.
Europa League or Carling Cup, which ought we to want less? It’s a tricky one. The Europa League trophy is a sizeable beast, and its lack of handles gives it a pleasingly Neanderthalic edge – one cannot help but handle it in rough, uncouth manner when raising it aloft, which is rather apt after 90 minutes of blood and thunder. The Carling Cup on the other hand has three handles, which is just plain weird, and ‘Arry will no doubt have taken this into account ahead of kick-off.However, we only need to win five games to make the Carling Cup Final, whereas five games in the Europa League won’t get us much further than half-time against Shamrock Rovers. Presumably the strategy in both tournaments will be to use the reserves, kids and those returning from injuries in the early rounds, before putting pedal to metal in the later stages. As such, everyone’s favourite gifted-yet-calamitous Brazilian gets to pop his cheekbones once more tonight, Gomes lining up between the sticks. With Gallas and Sandro returning, and Bassong, Corluka, Pav and presumably Giovani also involved, our lot ought to make a decent fist of it. The opposition won’t need too much introduction, it having been only five minutes since we were treated on a weekly basis to the sights of Crouch looping headers harmlessly into the stands, Sergeant Wilson mis-placing six yard passes and updates on the official club website about Jonathan Woodgate’s latest injury setback.
In all competitions we have five clean-sheets in seven games to date this season, and while it won’t matter a jot how we fare ce soir if we’re still pushing for fourth come next May, it would still be most satisfying if we could furtively eke our way into the quarter-finals of this thing, as has been our wont in recent years.