“That’ll do,” would presumably be the anthem at Casa Son this weekend, after that rousing exhibition. Those in the broadcast studios seemed pretty eager to advertise this as something far greater. Itching to herald the return of Peak Sonny, it seemed to me. Which one understands I suppose, for nothing attracts the masses like some overbeefed headline, but the reality struck me as being a tad more mundane – to wit, this was good, wholesome stuff but still some way from the Sonny of recent years.
Not to denigrate the young lemon’s goals, for they were amongst the finest of their vintage. ‘Aplomb’ doesn’t really do either justice, as both were despatched with a whole glut of plombs.
The warning signs had been there. In the first half on a couple of occasions he had adopted that pose of old, squeezing the ball from his feet, giving himself a yard or two and whipping the thing for all he was worth. The Preston goalkeeper had made a bit of a drama of blocking them off, seeming to dance all around them even when they were being rammed straight down his gullet. His closest chums had no doubt feared for him in anticipation of a moment when such shots were directed to more eastern or western extremes.
And in the second half it came to pass. Sonny married dead-eyed, bottom-corner accuracy to that whippy technique, and at that point one would have forgiven the Preston GK bod for stuffing his possessions into a bag, slinging it over his shoulder and clocking off for the evening.
Son’s first was absolutely top-notch stuff by just about any metric you care to think of. The poor old Preston defender who trotted out to challenge him would probably have thought that from about 25 yards the chances of significant damage ranked somewhere between ‘Moderate’ and ‘Low’, but this did not take into account the fact that Son was about to unleash a shot for the ages.
It was one of those that starts its journey gaily swinging well outside the line of the post, and then injects one heck of a plot twist, veering back into focus and inside the framework. For added panache it even ended up in the bottom corner, the footballing equivalent of shooting someone a look of quiet superiority. I can’t quite remember whether the Preston goalkeeper bothered to throw in a dive, but if he did it would have been strictly for ornamental purposes only.
The second goal was less about artistic merit and more a tale of clinical goalscoring. A scribe who simply wants to communicate the essentials and get on with their evening might sum it up as “Left-foot, close range”, which I suppose would get full marks for veracity, but would rather short-change the public. It may have all happened in the blink of an eye, but there was actually a decent amount of spadework to be done from the moment Perisic flicked the ball into Son’s path. A touch to control, a pirouette to shift the old balance from hither to thither, another touch to set the thing just so – all this was crammed into a single frame, and before you knew it Sonny was leathering the thing. By this point one rather felt for that hapless Preston goalkeeper as he dabbed a mournful glove at the ball whizzing past him.
So in terms of goals scored and the manner in which the aforementioned was undertaken, this was pretty sparkling stuff. Focus only on the goals, and you could – as did the BBC mob – make quite the song and dance about how all of Son’s woes were now behind him and he was now once again the master of all he surveyed.
However, not to put too great a dampener on things but while his finishing boots clicked smoothly into gear in that second half, various of the other crucial elements seemed not quite to have landed. The fleet-footed dribbles through crowded areas did not quite strike oil. Those gallops of his from deep and into wide open spaces rather spluttered and came to a halt. In short, this seemed not so much the Son of old as a pretty impressive attempted clone, which on the surface had it nailed, but on closer inspection still required that a few glitches be ironed out.
Nevertheless, a couple of goals against lower-league fluff were the sort of thing any capable doctor might have ordered. Bash out something similar in a week against Man City and we really can give the hands a gleeful rub and start referring back to his output of seasons past.
And perhaps the gentle nature of the opponents fed the thinking of Our Glorious Leader in opting for Sessegnon on the left, as an opportunity for the young fellow to cast aside his cares and make a goodish bit of hay.
Alas, with each passing game Sessegnon strikes me increasingly as one of those eggs for whom no amount of assistance will make much of a dent. One can only bang on about potential for so long, what? At some point the fellow will have to puff out his chest and start playing like a wing-back of near-enough Champions League standard. As with Sonny, one would have thought that lower-league fluff would provide a decent platform.
Instead, I noted fairly early on in proceedings a rather gloomy correlation between Sessegnon arriving Stage Left to deliver his lines, and our move, whatever it happened to be, immediately breaking down. If he tried to take on his man, he failed. If he tried to deliver a cross, he failed. I didn’t witness it, so cannot be sure, but have a feeling that if he had tried to write his own name or recite the alphabet, he would have pretty quickly come a cropper, and trudged off with that usual, melancholy expression that is becoming so familiar.
If this is to be his lot in life – I mean filling in on the left in the occasional low-stakes jaunt – then I suppose we can all muddle through. Make polite noises and avoid any awkward conversations about where the hell we would be should the Perisic engine ever splutter to a halt. But if Sessegnon is ever to develop and progress into a first-choice ripsnorter of Rose-esque quality then he really needs to get a wriggle on.
The occasional 8-out-of-10 would be a solid start, and really, by this stage he ought to be stringing together several of those consecutively. Instead, Sessegnon seems rarely to elevate himself above a 6, and more typically, as last night, he registers a performance so ordinary that it feels kinder not to rate him but to gloss over his presence altogether, and bang on a bit about Son and Danjuma and whatnot instead. With that Destiny fellow apparently crossing t’s and dotting i’s out on loan in Italy, it might be that the remaining few months of the season represent Sessegnon’s last stand in lilywhite.
With the game near enough won, Conte did what any right-thinking bean would do, and swapped around the pieces on the board. In fact, Conte had already licked his lips and exercised his creative juices, with the selection of Perisic as the central attacker, but the second goal brought a slew of changes that frankly had me struggling to keep up.
Of course, Danjuma was the most fascinating sight, the entirety of AANP’s knowledge of the chap prior to his arrival deriving from one of those computer games one ought to know better than to dip into.
He seemed to make a solid stab at things, what? Full of beans, and no qualms about waving a few angry limbs at whomever was in earshot and calling a spade a spade. His very first involvement was pretty breezy stuff – giving and going, that sort of jolly rot, and very nearly finding himself clean through.
He didn’t have to wait too long for his moment of glory either, and while even his closest family members would struggle to build an argument suggesting that his strike was an aesthetic masterpiece, his goal was nevertheless a triumph for such virtues as arriving in the designated spot at the designated time, and generally sharpening one’s elbows and showing a willingness to pop into the area and have a sniff.
Less glamorously, and a fair few yards further south, I thought this was the best little cameo from young O. Skipp Esq. to which we have been treated all season. Having looked quite the appropriate fit whenever he featured last season, this time around things have been more stop than start and more miss than hit. A lack of game-time has obviously not helped, but last night he popped up with all the usual willing, and then, impressively, proceeded to get just about everything right every time he touched the ball.
One doesn’t read too much into these things of course, as there can be few gentler introductions in life than coming on when two goals up against a lower-league side, but nevertheless, having witnessed Bentancur shimmy about the place for an hour looking comfortably better than all around him, it was heartening to see young Skipp similarly do all that one would hope of the competent, modern midfielder.
And finally, as ever, young Gil came on and tore around like an over-excited puppy. A few neat passes, some quick feet and a handy contribution to the third goal represented a decent ten minutes’ work from the likeable young sprout. Despite a few eye-catching recent performances it appears that Gil remains a few notches down the pecking order, with rumblings of a loan move echoing about the place. Such is life, I suppose, but I do rather enjoy seeing these glimpses, and would welcome more.
All things considered, this was a pretty satisfying evening’s work. A second successive clean sheet, a rest for Kane and goals for Sonny, a debut goal for Danjuma and some decent substitute contributions make for as serene a Cup away day as one can imagine. I don’t mind admitting that I put in a worried gulp or two when I saw we’d been drawn away to a Championship side, but even during the slightly stodgy first half there was never a point at which we looked in danger of fouling the thing up.