A rummy thing, football. Up diddly up, down diddly down, whoops poop twiddly dee, to quote one particularly sagacious soul – after which Man Utd win the whole dashed thing and our lot get edged out by that other lot. And that, it appears, is how football works. But when 38 games end with us essentially taking pride of place at the head of a 16-strong cohort of no-man’s-land stragglers, I am rather inclined to think ‘Dash it all, what’s the point?’
The Game Itself
Still, a game of football was there to be win, and win it we did, which I suppose ticks a box somewhere, albeit one of the more pointless boxes in football history. The urgency shown from the off was commendable enough, a clean sheet rather furtively sneaked its way into the stadium, we jolly well peppered the Sunderland goal throughout – oh that it counted a jot.
The mystery surrounding penalties at White Hart Lane remains as mind-boggling as ever. We can now add ‘Ill-Disguised Rugby Tackle Complete With Unsubtle Thump In Back’ to the list of offences, already including relatively uninteresting items such as ‘Handball’ and ‘Blatant Trip On Galloping Forward’, for which Spurs will most definitely not be awarded a penalty, and for which Bale will probably be cautioned.
On a general note I remain a little miffed at the use of just one genuine striker plus Dempsey, while Defoe picks his nose on the bench, in one-sided must-win games such as this. Similarly, the selection of two holding midfielders seems a little daft once the match pattern is established – although in fairness Parker remains convinced that he is the man to scythe open an opposing defence with one surging run after another, and AVB did eventually introduce Dembele into a fairly progressive role. While the patience shown by our heroes was probably to be lauded, and they did not simply resort to the aimless pumping of long aerial balls, someone somewhere might want to address our lack of lock-pickery, given that it was just about 90 minutes before said lock was unpicked (and even then ‘twas not done by any particular act of subtle wizardry and slick passing interchanges but rather by a sledgehammer swung by Bale).
An End-of-Season Thought On The Main Man
There was nothing particularly new about events on Sunday, but I hope you don’t mind awfully if I bang a favourite drum one last time, for while there is quite astonishing match-winning goodness in those size nines of his, Bale probably has room for improvement in terms of being the man to dictate games. Last season all things good tended to begin with Modric, and often travelled via VDV; whereas now Bale can be fairly peripheral for long periods (admittedly before then slapping the ball in from 20+ yards). The next step for him might be to evolve to match-bosser. Since he clearly is not doing enough for us already.
Further reflections on the season will follow in due course, and the more masochistic among us have already had hours of fun poring over the season’s fixtures to pinpoint the exact moment at which we threw it all away (Everton away? Fulham at home? Those blasted first three fixtures of the season?), but in terms of Sunday’s affair it was all rather hollow. And that’s it. Consummatum est, and in such disappointing manner that the whole bally thing might as well not have taken place. Dash it all.
Has the good ship Hotspur ever enjoyed such a serene voyage? From the moment that angry lad spat and walked this eased into an absolute stroll – one-way traffic throughout the second half, and even though the lead was but one goal there was none of the usual frenzied panic that accompanies the final five minutes. Most odd. Topping, but odd.
He Plays On The Left…
AANP will graciously leave the superlatives to others for now, but chin-stroking a-plenty in these parts after seeing the impact of our handsome young Welshman over the last week, when unleashed and allowed to gallop wherever he jolly well pleased. I suspect there is nary a lilywhite in the land who has not at some point grumbled that Bale plays on the left and on the left he should stay – but by golly when the urge grabs him he certainly knows how to leave a trail of destruction down the centre, what?
The young blighter is capable of spontaneously laying match-winning eggs from any position, but 90-minute match-bossing is a dish best served from the centre, and frankly just about anything at which it was worth tipping one’s cap on Sunday emanated from Bale’s careering frame. On top of which, this whole can of worms rather gets inverted and painted an odd shade of green when one considers our general paucity of strikers. The mind boggles.
A New Man-Crush
But never mind Bale – old news, and the lad will be off in a year or two. The future is Herr Holtby. Those boy-band looks are actually quite irritating to one growing old as grumpily as AANP, but the work-rate of Parker, coupled with the delightful attacking awareness and defence-bisecting first-time passes of some sort of VDV-Sheringham hybrid, most certainly strike the right note. With Dempsey putting every ounce of effort into assuming the Jenas position of Most Infuriating Lilywhite On The Payroll, the arrival of Holtby goes a long way to putting the ‘ahoy-hoy’ in ‘geronimo’, if you know what I mean. A Bale-Holtby-Lennon triumvirate merrily interchanging the night away behind Defoe/Adebayor suddenly turns the evening drink from one of fretful concern to blithe inebriation. And huzzah to that.
Elsewhere On The Pitch
Other points of note were distracting rather than particularly important. The first half West Brom aerial bombardment may have contained about as much subtlety as a spade to the back of the head, but it still had me yearning for Kaboul (and also prompted a bit of wondering around these parts as to what the future might hold for the overly-vowelled Lukaku).
Back in that era when our back-four were still being posed problems – an era referred to in the annals as ‘The First Half’ – there was a suspicion that Messrs Walker and Assou-Ekotto had but one brain cell between them, and were not using it particularly wisely, as they repeatedly made a mess of the offside trap and short passes and basic goal-side marking. No real harm done however.
Naturally enough, the Defoe injury was greeted by the sound of about a million exasperated Spurs fans slapping palms to foreheads and muttering in no particular order the phrases “Transfer window… strikers… injuries… Levy… Bother”. Mercifully, the all-singing, all-dancing virtuoso display from Bale, coupled with the charming start offered by Holtby and Togo’s ANC elimination, suggests that this may be a bullet dodged. All a tad precarious though.
However, all things considered (two away games, striker shortage, Sandro injury) this could reasonably go down as the footballing equivalent of a chap jauntily going about his business, with his lips emitting a cheery whistle no less. Toodle-pip for now.
The table continues to suggest that life is actually tickety-boo, but the brow furroweth with fresh earnestness around these parts, because hanging on for a narrow victory/draw, in games that ought to have been stopped after an hour for sheer cruelty to the opposition, now sits alongside inane twitterings and naughty-business-with-good-looking-but-vacuous-reality-TV-models on the list of favoured past-times of our heroes, with Maribor, Southampton and now Norwich providing recent evidence of this dubious trend.
This recurring business of taking the lead and then embarrassedly retreating and practically rolling out a red carpet for the opposition to wander back into the game, whether they want to or not, is frightfully sporting, but does have the dubious side-effect of leaving the army of lilywhite support wrenching out their hair and boiling their own heads in sheer, unabated frustration.What the dickens goes in their empty heads when they finally take the lead is quite beyond my ken, but for those perusing the interweb pre kick-off today – and I’m sure most of them do indulge in a spot of AANP while they go about their pre-match rituals - for goodness sake chaps, next time you have a mediocre bunch of rag-tag overweights and amateurs down on the ground, kindly whip out your medical encyclopaedia app, locate the blasted jugular, grab hold of the nearest weapon or stabbing implement and thrust repeatedly until blood spurts all over your garish green boots and the opposition are nothing but a twitching, bloodied, defeated mess.
And Don’t Think You’re Escaping Without Blame Young Man
Our glorious leader hardly covers himself in glory either, for his enterprising tactical approach of bringing on extra defenders when our opponents are ready to crumble, just to make sure that everyone realises the official party line is ‘We’re-One-Goal-Ahead-Of-A-Weak-Team-So-Rather-Than-Take-The-Game-By-Its-Neck-Scruff-And-Deliver-A-Thrashing-Let’s-Barricade-Ourselves-In-And-DEFEND-FOR-OUR-LIVES’. Which is not really the Butch and Sundance modus operandi. Just telling the troops to keep going and score again would probably do the trick, instead of this bizarre reversion to skin-of-the-teeth mode every time.
‘Twas noted by an onlooker after my last witterings that a hidden agenda lurks within the corridors of AANP, to unroot AVB, hurl him from the top floor and reinstall ‘Arry. To reiterate my response, the assorted denizens of AANP Towers tend not to roll thusly. ‘Give AVB a few years’ is very much the mantra being hummed morning, noon and night around these parts, after which we can assess if his range of party tricks extends beyond looking uncannily like a stubbly Vertonghen.
A troubling observation of the early days of his reign is undoubtedly that the fare peddled by our heroes these days has all the gung-ho action-packed content of a dreary black and white arty French film with subtitles, which strays somewhat from the blitz of attacking excitement to which we have been treated in recent years – but one imagines that this will be righted soon enough, particularly when Dembele returns and Adebayor is available again. The trade-off of VDV for Dempsey/Sigurdsson continues to look like shoddy business however, and I will take some convincing otherwise.
So Wigan roll into town today, and top of the wish-list at AANP Towers is that once our lot finally take the lead, they jolly well knuckle down and look for more. The frantic final 10 minutes plus injury time is not big and not clever.
Still not really clicking, which is just about grumpily bearable against the European champions, but a darned sight more irritating against Slovenia’s finest. The lack of cutting edge in attack had me thumping my head repeatedly against the nearest wall from around midway through the first half. Injury to Adebayor was a shame, for this game had ‘Two-Man Attack’ scrawled across it in the sort of chunky font normally reserved for unintelligible graffiti. Elsewhere a couple of campaigns were given more scarcely-needed impetus, as the ‘Without-Bale-And-Dembele-We’re-Worryingly-Impotent’ brigade were given a second boost within a week, while the ‘VDV-And-Modders-For-Sigurdsson-And-Dempsey-Is-A-Slightly-Rubbish-Trade-Off-When-You-Think-About-It’ movement, which first stirred into life in August, is gaining credibility by the game.
‘Twas a night on which, given our lack of personnel to play two up front, our deeper midfielders Hudd and Sandro might have shown more attacking urgency. Lennon too just seemed too dashed nice as he went about his business, seemingly reluctant to embarrass his hosts by tearing them to pieces and instead settling for that pause-and-limply-pass-infield routine that is inevitably met with sighs of relief all round amongst the opponents.
here were a few moments - the lad Falque shook things up a tad on his introduction, and young Masters Caulker and Naughton put in decent performances, but ‘tis rather depressing to clutch at such straws after a bland draw against this lot. Having banged on about what a glitzy, glam competition this Europa thing is, AVB needs to inject some ingenuity and ruthlessness into the training ground protein shakes, and jolly well destroy this lot when they visit the Lane for the return fixture.
At times this week AANP has been reminded of those halcyon days studying for a Philosophy degree through the medium of countless hours (days? weeks?) on Football Manager, when occasionally the inconvenience of a match would interrupt the hours (days? weeks?) spent on the fine art of transfer dealing. Thus have events in the real world transpired, for the respective sagas of Modders, Daws, Hudd, Bassong, Adebayor, VDV, Defoe, Willian, Leandro and various others must now be interrupted for 90-odd minutes, during which our will heroes struggle to break down a resolute nine-man West Brom defence before being suckered by a scrappy poke from a set-piece.A second debut awaits for Adebayor, and although AVB’s nose did appear to grow as he insisted in yesterday’s press conference that Defoe remains part of his plans, our glorious leader nevertheless hinted that he might one day play Defoe behind Adebayor. This would seem to turn his 4-2-3-1 into a straightforward 4-2-4, but let’s not worry about the minutiae for now.
One of the failings of the ‘Arry era was the inability to break down nine-man defensive units. While AVB’s glossy, new, up-tempo formation had some joy against a an attack-minded Newcastle on their own turf, it remains to be seen how penetrative it will be against a band of merry man content to play from first minute to last for a nil-nil. Given the context, a scrappy, single-goal home win would be fairly gratefully received in this quarter.
Ah, gloomy hue of disappointment, how I’ve missed thee. After the dashed unfairness that was Chelski pilfering our Champions League spot with the final act of last season, a couple of months on and our heroes were straight back in the groove, slinking off home with nothing but empty hands and slightly hurt expressions, when they deserved to hold aloft the carcass of a freshly captured point. Merrily, smatterings of cautious optimism can still be detected if one squints a little and tilts the head sideways. The 4-2-3-1 rather forces our heroes to trot hither and thither, and the end result seems to be a healthy degree of off-the-ball movement and various options for the man in possession. The midfield five (for want of a better collective noun) seemed pretty happy with life in their respective roles, and galling though both conceded goals were, we were hardly scythed to pieces by the Geordie mob. Indeed, a couple of minor adjustments of the radar might have had us wandering in a half-time with a two goal lead to throw away - although as my old man the venerable AANP senior is always quick to point out, they only deserve credit for hitting the woodwork if they were aiming for it (and that would betray a slightly rummy approach to the game, what?)
That said, there was of course plenty to satiate the doom-mongers in our party. Defoe fought the good fight jolly well, but six foot three and fourteen stone he most decidedly isn’t, which leaves Daniel Levy 11 days to thumb through his wallet or start intravenously injecting Defoe with spinach and oily fish to turn him into some sort of Drogba reboot.
Messrs Lennon and VDV made a solid joint effort for this season’s prestigious Softest, Most-Ill-Advised, Worst-Timed, Never-Going-To-Get-The-Ball tackle, although my Spurs supporting chum Ian later opined that their clumsy clanking had begun outside the area. All rather moot now, one might sniff.
AVB’s Choices of PersonnelYoung AVB will presumably spit out his dummy and bawl for a lollipop unless AANP affords him some column inches, so I oblige by questioning a couple of selections – notably the choice of Gallas ahead of Vertonghen. His prerogative, and Gallas performed steadily enough - I would just be interested to hear the rationale.
Elsewhere, the omission from the entire matchday squad of Hudd bodes ill and leaves me awfully concerned. AVB has some history of ostracising folk, and given that our new formation allows for a ball-playing central midfielder or two it would be a dashed shame if a rope were tied around the significant frame of Hudd and three burly chaps from the nearest building site were tasked with slowly hauling him out of the doors and along the High Road before slapping a note on him that read “FAO Martin Jol”.
Neither was Daws anywhere to be found. Injured, does anyone know? In truth, loveable and huggable though he may be, Daws has never quite been the very embodiment of reliability, but this was again, nevertheless, an eyebrow-raising call.
The Long GameRumour has it that Season 2012/13 will be, in common with every single one of its predecessors, a marathon rather than a sprint. This accords rather neatly with the AVB era, which does appear to be something of a long-term project. As such, issues such as supplementing the forward line and bundling Modders out of the exit will eventually be resolved, and the Top 4 may or may not be on the agenda this season, but in the longer term one can begin to see the blurry outline of a plan.
What ho! That all happened in rather a flash of Euro gubbins and fuzzy Olympic bonhomie, no? For those still drawing breath at the madness of it all I advise a jolly swift inhalation, for that clattering of hooves without is Season 2012/13, entering stage right at a gallop.Ave atque vale
Changes elsewhere as well, if the rumours are to be believed. A new kit has been launched, to a collective shrug across the land from those who only ever really cared about the Umbro ’91 effort. Truth be told I can barely muster the enthusiasm to comment on the switch to white shorts, for they are welcome to play in bin-liners if it helps them outscore all and sundry.
More interestingly, in a cunning bid to bring to the dressing room that sultry female physio from Chelski, Daniel Levy elbowed ‘Arry down the High Road and into the sunset, replacing him with the alarmingly young acronym AVB. Few at AANP Towers sniff at ‘Arry’s achievements at the Lane, but a suspicious eyebrow was raised at his shimmying and hip-swinging over the England job, as well as the Pontius Pilate-esque washing of hands at our tired limp along the final furlongs of last season. While there is a degree of apprehension around the appointment of the new chap it seems only right to bid him welcome and let him crack on with life, and as such he has an AANP hand placed quite firmly underneath his posterior for support.
Central midfield ought to be a forte, as between Parker, Sandro, Livermore, Hudd, Sigurdsson and VDV we seem fairly well-stocked in ball-caressing possession hogs, and the back four are sprightly enough to adapt to AVB’s high defensive line. Indeed, the prospect of a Kaboul-Vertonghen pairing, with Daws and Caulker (plus Gallas, if retained) feverishly twiddling thumbs in anticipation from the bench, helps to assuage the pain of Ledleylessness.
Erm… a centre-forward?
Out the exit door marches Master Pienaar, upon whom we have somehow made a profit. Elsewhere, Ms AANP has hurtled up the list of AANP’s Favourite Croats, by virtue of the rather rummy conduct of Modders (now edging perilously close to a stern talking-to from AANP), as well as the exits of his turbo-charged compatriots Kranjcar and Corluka. Doviđenja chaps. One suspects that fond farewells may also be sobbed by Gomes, Bentley, Gallas, Giovani and, if the footballing gods are feeling particularly benevolent, The Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards.
Further signings will presumably be signed, and mercifully the injury-list is currently limited to Parker, but nevertheless it appears that once again our heroes will trundle out for the first act a few 80s action heroes short of a Hollywood blockbuster. So be it. The time for daring and doing approacheth.
So it all comes down to a rather rummy type of Cup Final in which victory might not necessarily suffice. No need to remind anyone of all the permutations, with England managers and Bayern Munich and the alignment of the planets and so forth. Our heroes might be advised simply to concentrate on the glorious stretch of greenery that is White Hart Lane, and the 90-odd minutes that lie ahead. One suspects that at some point this evening the other necessary morsels of information will be made known.
Excitingly enough we have a bona fide selection dilemma to serve as a sub-plot. And not the usual “Adebayor-plus-who?” question that isn’t really a question at all. Danny Rose is nowhere to be seen (huzzah!). ‘Arry therefore has a choice to make at left-back, and the quiet option would be to slide Ledley back into defence and moving Gallas/Kaboul to the left (my preference would be Kaboul at left-back, due to the fact that the very sight of him striding forward does get the blood pumping somewhat). However, ‘Arry has not exactly ground out a reputation as being one to take the simple option if a square peg can be hammered relentlessly at a round hole in a manner that would make the toddling AANP nephews and nieces blush, so do not be wholly surprised to see Bale at left-back, Lennon moved left, VDV right and Gomes up top.
The personnel and formation ought not to matter too greatly – at home this ought to be three points, and the rest is beyond our control. As ever, it’s the hope that kills me.
Opportunity lost, as I’m sure all my fellow geniuses have also noticed. Should make for a frightfully exciting final-day finale though, what? As it happens our lot gave a dashed competent showing at Villa, so no particular complaints there. Plenty of intent, flair, movement and opportunity amongst our heroes, with the Lennon-right-and-Bale-left gambit loosely (though not rigidly) employed, creating a pleasing balance, while VDV and Modders crafted their usual array of intelligent triangles, and Sandro had another of his magnificent Chuck Norris days. In recent weeks some of our performances have hardly deserved a point, but this one merited three.
From this particularly hungover armchair spectator, the principal criticism de jour was that sometimes those chaps in lilywhite seem dreadfully reluctant to shoot. For a man who just a few days ago scored a goal sprinkled with celestial dreaminess, Modders seemed bizarrely opposed to the notion of repeating the feat, despite receiving the ball in a few highly agreeable patches of greenery just a few inches outside the edge of the Villa area. “By jove, have a crack my good man,” was the sentiment no doubt doing the rounds across the lilywhite spectrum, but mildly infuriatingly the little man seemed absolutely determined to jab the orb sideways to a chum. rather than blast a small hole in the top corner. VDV showed a greater proclivity for a vicious swing of the boot, but those two in particular could take a leaf out of the Bible According to Young Kyle Walker and thwack the ruddy thing as soon as the opportunity sidles into view. The goal scored by Villa in the first half perhaps gave an indication of quite how fruitful such an approach can prove, if repeated with some gusto.
And while I’m grumbling, when the devil will our lot score from a corner? Modders’ goal at Bolton was very much the exception, I think our first from a corner in well over 100 attempts, and there were almost 20 more in vain on Sunday. Part of the problem appears to be that with Adebayor typically peeling off to the back post we rarely have anyone patrolling the six-yard box with shooting boots primed when VDV swings them in. Within all of this I feel almost obliged to mention the name Defoe, and let others do with it what they will. But I’m sure ‘Arry is well aware of this, which is a relief.
The Latest Instalment in the Danny Rose Catalogue of Outstandingness
Playing with Danny Rose in our number is not exactly a million miles away from playing with ten men anyway, and having narrowly escaped a red card as soon as he appeared on the pitch, for that most unsightly, wonky red Mohawk, I’m not sure his repeated protestations (“He pushed me”) really exonerated him from a merited red card. Sans Rose our lot did just as good a job at sniffing out a goal, our ten men swarming all over Villa non-stop for the final half hour. Frankly few at AANP Towers would don sackcloth, ashes, black armbands and the like should those flailing Rose limbs never again be seen in lilywhite, for the boy is just not good enough.
A darned shame, these dropped points, given the opportunity so comically thrown our way by l’Arse a day earlier, but one final opportunity remains. Play this way against Fulham next week and our lot ought to prevail; the rest is in the lap of the gods.
Two games, one point, one goal, third place – it may sound like a convoluted ‘Arry’ catchphrase, but as we approach Important Finale Time that is the nutshell summary of our position, if you bend your neck and squint a bit. The usual hopes and concerns apply of course – a more clinical touch from Adebayor and VDV in front of goal; Bale and Lennon on their appropriate wings; Sandro to crunch anything that moves; and young Rose to retain possession at least once in every half-dozen touches.However, this being Important Finale Time the plot becomes more labyrinthine than that Inception gubbins from a year or two back. As well as simply needing to deliver an almighty thwack to Villa (and then Fulham at home next week), we also need Norwich to muster a draw or more against l’Arse; could jolly well do with Man City doing something nasty to Newcastle; and while we’re at it we might want to bolster our goal difference with wins greater than anything l’Arse manage. On top of which we might as well invade Roy Hodgson’s dreams and have a 360 degree rotating fight with Chris Foy.
Hardly straightforward, and it does rather make me reflect wistfully on the blasted defeats to QPR and Norwich, and the points thrown away at the death against Swansea and Man City earlier in the season – but such is the existence of the Tottenham fan. Let us at least despatch Villa, and then reconvene for a fresh session of nail-chewing and permutation-grasping next weekend.