All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Palace 0-1 Spurs: The Hole That Remains Unfilled

An opening day win is a small bundle of joy for which we should all be grateful, so while there are undoubtedly a few polite coughs and pointed looks when we reflect on the manner of the thing, ‘tis probably best to bow humbly, express our thanks and sidle off. Playing a newly-promoted mob on their own patch on the opening day carries a moderate health warning, given that their fledgling enthusiasm is as yet undimmed by an eight-game losing streak, so firm manly handshakes all round, but no celebration much beyond that.

Solid stuff from our new midfield mob, what? Paulino, and then Capoue, looked the sort of chaps who would sit down and order steaks without opening the menu, and for that the cuts of both respective jibs ought to be sincerely admired. One hopes that Dembele’s early withdrawal was not injury-related for he bounded around with pleasing gusto. There are few more pleasing sights in nature than Dembele on the charge, chest leaning forward, opponents bouncing off his burly frame. Between these three, and with Sandro to be sprinkled into the mix, the mental scarring inflicted by the nine-point turns and backward passing of Scott Parker, bless him, ought to be etched from the memory.

That VDV-Shaped Hole

For all the physique in central midfield however, further forward there was a lack of urgency that smelt suspiciously like complacency. The incessant to-ing and fro-ing up the flanks was understandable enough, but there was a conspicuous absence of neck-scruff grabbing amongst our heroes. Sigurdsson spent much of his time been unceremoniously dumped on his derriere, Lennon repeatedly raised hopes by dashing to the by-line before repeatedly incurring exasperation by hitting the first defender with his cross, and Chadli once again looked useful without necessarily terrorising the other mob.

All honest enough, and it was sufficient to despatch today’s opponents – ought to have been more, given the handful of clear second half opportunities – but the pulse only really raced due to nerves in the closing stages. Not for the first time in the past 12 months I found myself wistfully yearning for a chap with a sprinkle of creativity and vision to deliver that killer-ball. That VDV-shaped hole remains unfilled.

Elsewhere on the Pitch

Young Kyle Walker seems to become angrier by the week, which is no particularly bad thing. He more than anyone seemed to show a real urgency to get things done and will to win, and while it might ultimately lead to his on-pitch spontaneous combustion I would jolly well like to see some of his chums demonstrate similar passion.

Master Rose has never been the firmest favourite in this neck of the interweb, and the occasional simple pass did still go frustratingly awry, but by and large he took a leaf out of the Walker handbook and took every opportunity to express his anger, which was no particularly bad thing when it translated into the medium of winning 50-50s and the like.

Heart-warming also to see Kaboul make a gentle cameo, and Defoe running at the heart of the defence. All things considered there may be room for improvement hither and thither, but down the road that laughing-stock would kill for a three-point haul right now.

Spurs Summer Musings – Paulinho, Hudd & New Blue Socks

With a month or so until the new season lollops into view ‘tis a tad disconcerting no doubt that the Ghost of Transfer Windows Past is beginning to make disconcerting noises, for yet again there is no real sniff of a new striker, which already suggests that this is veering into final-hours-of-the-window territory. Hopefully one that will be more successfully revisited in the next few weeks, but until then we have one or two matters to pop into a Petri dish and pore over.

Paulinho (and Indeed Dembele)

Welcome to the fold Master Paulinho, a masterly career-move and not just because membership of the lilywhite elite earns you the right to an honorary bourbon at AANP Towers any time you jolly well please. A Brazilian axis of Sandro and Paulinho looks likely to bulldoze everything in its path, and while that may not fit the stereotypical image of his twinkle-toed samba-dancing compatriots it ought nevertheless to equip our heroes swimmingly for the hurly-burly of Premiership jousting.

On an equally exciting note, the arrival of this particular bounder potentially allows AVB to flash a knowing grin and, at the opportune moment, play The Dembele Gambit. Regular visitors to the AANP abode during the sepia-tinged era that was Season 2012/13 will be aware that snorts of displeasure were regularly to be heard in response to what was at times a mighty disconcerting lack of creativity in the final third. Admittedly the derring-do of the marvellous young Bale often papered over this particular crack by virtue of his subtle delivery of 30-yard howitzers to net, but the issue remained: our heroes lacked the requisite nous to thread camels through needle-eyes and defence-carving diagonal six-yard passes into the area. As a result the orb was typically shunted sideways – or popped out to Bale – while envious glances were shot at the likes of Mata and David Silva elsewhere. Holtby and Sigurdsson fought the good fight with plenty of willing, but without necessarily quickening the pulse (or, indeed, scything to ribbons opposing defences), while Dempsey’s 20-yard contributions tended to consist of volleys gently looped into the stands.

For such reasons then should we allow ourselves no more than an understated nod of satisfaction at the prospect of The Dembele Gambit being effected, for while he may not be high priest amongst footballing conjurors he nevertheless has a penchant for dipping his shoulder, beating his man and thrusting deep into the fleshy underbelly of a newly-promoted defence.

Hudd

On a less salubrious note, alas, the arrival of Paulinho could result in a quivering of the upper lip and firm valedictory handshake with young Master Hudd. Whether or not Scott Parker features next season Hudd will certainly not be first choice in a squad already including the Sandro-Paulinho-Dembele triumverate, and one presumes that at 26 he will want to spend his time doing more than absent-mindedly twiddling his locks on the bench. Debate has raged since dinosaurs roamed the earth as to whether Hudd’s immobility renders him baggage (and dashed heavy baggage at that), or whether his Hodd-esque passing ability merits regular involvement, and at AANP we have been ticking the box marked ‘Hodd’ for years and years. However, murmurs around a move to Sunderland or Fulham have been increasing in volume, and the presence in the ranks of another pass-picker extraordinaire, in the form of youthful urchin Tom Carroll, would soften the blow of a Hudd exit. Frankly though, I could tap away at this keyboard for a further aeon and ‘twould make minimal difference, for the chap’s fate will almost certainly be decided by those residing beyond the four walls of AANP Towers. A shame.

Blue Socks

The other development of note at N17 has been the release of a new kit. Not altogether unsurprising, for the young rascals could hardly take to the pitch minus any apparel whatsoever. Nor indeed is the choice of colour a huge shock, what with lilywhite upper-body wear seemingly have been in vogue amongst our heroes for well over a century. Nevertheless, it would be remiss to let proceedings end without casting an austere eye over the latest sartorial choice. And exhale with relief, all ye kit-designing interns of Under Armour, for the home kit at least gains an upturned thumb from this corner of the interweb. (A mild untruth actually, for initially the dawning of a new kit was greeted with an unconcerned shrug and forty winks). A return to blue shorts is certainly preferable, but a whole heap of further brownie-points has been gaily sprinkled around for the choice of blue socks, for a man adorned thus seems to carry the authoritative air of one who knows how to tame a lion and fling a distressed damsel over his shoulder. The choice of away kit blue I can comment on but briefly, having had the retina scarred by that first glimpse, but as has ever been the case, if they ensconce themselves within the Top Four this season it will matter little what knitwear they select while so doing.

Spurs 1-0 Sunderland: Dash It All

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.

Spurs – Sunderland Preview: An Outrageous Stroke of Luck?

Despair – it has a reputation as a rather pejorative term, but as the definition is apparently simply ‘the absence of hope’ it fits in the whiskey cabinet quite snugly, what? For sure our lot will put Sunderland to the sword – or complicate things somewhat before stretching ahead in the final 10-20 – but even with a mooted million pound bonus being dangled in front of them, the chances of Newcastle doing the necessaries seem more Stuart Nethercott than Ledley King.

That said, our heroes would feel frightfully sheepish if they made a pickle of things today and then discovered that the ‘orrible lot from down the road had themselves dropped points, so AVB and chums have presumably given strict instructions to everybody to keep their heads down, sharpen their pencils and concentrate on their own exam papers.

‘Tis a big day for all amateur Freudians in the north London area, as the unhinged bag of acorns that is Emmanuel Adebayor lollops around the turf for possibly the final time as a lilywhite. By an act of complete randomness within the universe, his switch has been flicked this way rather than that in recent weeks, meaning that after months and months of Bad Adebayor we are now finally being treated to a few weeks of Good Adebayor. Another storming performance beckons.

A late charge is also being made by Dempsey to win over the unforgiving folk at AANP Towers, and while I would personally prefer to see Defoe deployed within a two-man attack when we play at home as overwhelming favourites, one would imagine that there will be enough incision to wrap things up today. AVB may also be tossing a coin today to decide which – if any – of Hudd and Parker should make way for Dembele. Given the impact he made last week, as being the only blighter willing to dribble past folk and straight into the heart of the opposition area, I jolly well hope he is indeed deployed from the off.

So once more unto the breach, for what is likely to be the latest in the never-ending stream of St Tottingham Days. But after the Chelski robbery of last season, and the lasagne thing, and moments like the Mendes goal – wouldn’t it be absolutely marvellous if an outrageous stroke of luck actually benefited us this time?

Stoke – Spurs Preview: Lessons From Last Time Out

Stoke away is traditionally the cue for an AANP diatribe against the merits or otherwise of the long-ball game, and assorted elbows, long throw-ins and whatnot. This time however there are bigger fish to fry, and by golly our heroes need to be at the ready with chef’s hats tipped just so.

The curious goings-on of Wednesday night leave some food for thought. In defence there was the tale of two full-backs, with Benny again believing his own hype, repeatedly attempting moments of trickery closer to ridiculous than sublime and consequently getting himself and the team into pickle after pickle, a performance that had AANP murmuring that he needed to be taken out the back and shot (the common means of dealing with transgressions here at AANP Towers). On t’other flank by contrast, young Master Walker looked suspiciously like a whippersnapper who had stumped scientist types the world over by growing a third lung. The lad looked unstoppable whenever he bombed forward, and if Lennon is below par again today his interventions will be jolly useful.

Glory be, Dembele is reportedly back to fitness for today’s encounter, for the Parker-Hudd combo was painfully lacking in verve. Understandably so, for they are third and fourth choice, but no less galling for that. Hudd’s passing range swung bizarrely between scrumptious and plain awful, while Parker simply no longer looks good enough for games against the country’s finest. He might fare well enough against Stoke however.

And as for attack, head-scratching all round. Bale did his best to shake off the ‘One-Man Team’ tag on behalf of his team-mates (credit to Chelski for the shackling job, but AVB might hav countered this by moving him into the centre). Meanwhile, the suspicion grew that Adebayor is a 5 year-old trapped in a set of limbs too long for his control. As with AANP’s pre-school nephews, when things went well for him his spirits rose and he became amazing; when things go less well he dons the invisibility cloak. Fingers crossed then that he scores or assists approximately every 15 minutes today, as that would probably be enough to maintain an unplayable performance level throughout (as well as providing us with six goals).

Traditionally a point away to Stoke would be acceptable enough for our heroes, but anything less than victory today would almost certainly blow things for the season. No pressure then chaps.

Spurs – Southampton Preview: Nerves of Steel

Crumbs. You may want to shield the eyes of your children, because this has the potential to turn into a right palaver. Southampton at home ordinarily ought not to elicit more than confident nod, but with things being what they are I think our heroes dare not sneeze in the wrong direction today.

It may be of some comfort that Southampton are not exactly knee-deep in the mire, but I suppose ‘tis unrealistic to expect them simply to roll over and allow us to tickle their tummies. Still, if they found themselves two-down with 20 minutes to go it would be marvellously obliging of them if they just gave up and went the way of all flesh. Oh that life at the Lane were that simple, what?

Having begun the season with the thunderous central partnership of Sandro and Dembele hoovering up all before them, we find ourselves with the slightly more idiosyncratic pairing of Parker and the Hudd as the curtain comes down. If ever there were a time for the Hudd to pick a perfect pass, or deliver any other sort of alliterative brilliance, this could well be it.

Ultimately however, I presume it will come down to Bale. The lad does have quite a sense of occasion, not to mention nerves of steel. Just as well, as I can barely bring myself to watch.

Spurs 3-1 Man City: The Incredible Hudd (& Other Superheroes)

Quite the 80th birthday present for AANP Senior. Is there a more joyous sight to behold in nature than a tide of adrenalin-pumped lilywhites pouring forward in wave after wave of irresistible attack at a sun-baked White Hart Lane?  A spritely cheetah catching a young upstart of a gazelle and tearing it to pieces perhaps? That scene in Terminator 2 when Arnie shoots the padlock while riding his bike, then reloads seamlessly by twirling the shotgun around in his hand, and shooting another padlock? All worthy of a moment’s silent admiration, and reason if ever it existed to top up the tumbler with a fresh splash of bourbon in a gesture of unadulterated admiration – but by golly the sight of our heroes simply overwhelming the current champions in that mesmerising final 20 minutes, to the soundtrack of the most remarkable White Hart Lane din, was enough to make me smash a bottle of champagne against the side of the nearest ship, so rip-roaring were the events unfolding.

All of which came about, incredibly enough, after a dispiriting hour in which the dream looked set to die. The willingness of our heroes could not be faulted, but in the early stages ‘twas eerily reminiscent of many a Saturday evening in the nightspots of London, when AANP has attempted to woo the good womenfolk of London by delivering a ten-minute stream of unfunny bluster, before a rival cad strolls by to instantly sweep the young maiden off her feet with little more than an arched eyebrow. Thus was our valiant but slightly desperate gameplan of headless chickenry swiftly punctuated by one effortless flash of genius from Tevez, and lo – we trailed.

The pattern changed little thereafter, our attacking trio of Dempsey, Bale and Sigurdsson conspicuously lacking the nous of a Tevez, while ahead of them Adebayor gave a glimpse of a dystopian future in which teams play without a striker.

AVB’s Moment of Glory

But enter stage left the sort of managerial jiggery-pokery so barnstorming it can shoot pterodactyls out of the sky whilst blindfolded. While here at AANP Towers the suggested solution was nothing more progressive than a plaintive whinge about swapping strikers, AVB turned the universe on its head by switching from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, and unleashing the Hudd. Memories of the introduction of Jamie Redknapp at half-time in the Euro 96 England-Scotland match no doubt came flooding back to the lot of us, as Hudd instantly brought with him the perfect polygamous marriage of calmness, vision, technique and hair, giving us complete control and a nifty selection of dreamy, defence-splitting passes. The lad looked like he owned the ruddy pitch, and with Holtby buzzing around like a demented wasp ahead of him, Bale flicking the ‘Magic ’ switch on his left boot and Defoe showing the sort of bloody-minded eye for goal that Adebayor would not know if it slapped him in the face with a wet fish, all pretty swiftly became right with the world.

This does create a wonderful few conundra for AVB, around whether to select Defoe or Adebayor next up (relatively straightforward methinks); and whether to go with the brand of sorcery that Hudd delivers a little too effortlessly, within a 4-3-3, or the tireless but slightly directionless pirouetting of Parker, in a 4-2-3-1 (perchance more of a poser). These are queries for another day; now is without doubt still the time for making merry and, frankly, rubbing our eyes in disbelief. Where on earth it came from is slightly mystifying, but our heroes have got their groove back, and it was rollicking stuff.

Spurs – Man City Preview: A Straightforward Drill

One final Herculean effort please chaps. Actually, six more such efforts, but you get the gist. After that ten-day hiatus it is all a mite breathless from now until the season’s end, and the drill is essentially win, win and win again – which sounds straightforward enough when hammered out in Arial 10, but is presumably going to be eked out in typically excruciating fashion by our heroes.

First up are the current champions, for the sort of to-do that will require a darned sight more cunning and brio than the average Sunday lunchtime transaction. Thank heavens then for the returns of Masters Bale and Lennon, who in their own unique ways, heralded and unheralded alike, add a touch of majesty to the earnest but occasionally sparkle-lite endeavours of their colleagues. The return to fitness of Defoe also provides an extra option, but I rather suspect AVB will stick with Adebayor, who, ludicrous penalty-taking aside, has showed some renewed energy in recent engagements.

Elsewhere, Dembele ought to be yanked aside immediately pre kick-off for a gentle reminder that this is no time for him to mooch around in the off-boil manner off Basel a week or two back, while Scott Parker will need to deliver the sort of performance that we all probably think is beyond him now. And if the back-four could tighten up a mite it would prove jolly timely too.

A tall order for sure, but not beyond the realms of possibility. We blinking well need to win this really (although, writing before any of the weekend fixtures, it is possible that others around us may drop points), so A-games all round please.

Spurs 2-2 Everton: Oh For An Eye-Of-The-Needle Pass

Watching our heroes fight the good fight sans Master Bale was quite an educational experience, from which the AANP conclusion was, not for the first time this season, to yearn wistfully for a VDV-esque creative type. Sideways, and sideways once more, seemed to be the mantra, even in the final half hour when sleeves were rolled up and battle-cries sounded. Players piled forward, and we spent most of our time in the final third – but the absence of a man blessed with the ability to spot and then deliver a pass through the eye of a needle had me wishing for a solid brick-based structure against wish to bang my head in frustration. Hats are certainly tipped towards the players for retaining possession with short passes when the temptation would have been for ghastly long aerial balls, but the lack of anyone with the guile to play a cute, defensive-splitting 10/15-yard diagonal pass that released a forward into the area was dashed frustrating.

In his defence, AVB moved to remedy this by throwing on first Hudd and then young Carroll, the two most likely to deliver one of those aforementioned defence-splitters, and Hudd in particular mastered the intricacies of the ‘sideways’ to ‘forwards’ switch with some aplomb (if you pardon the digression, watching Dempsey labour away in his devastatingly ineffective style throughout I did wonder if AVB might be tempted in future to stick one of Hudd or Carroll alongside Parker, and push Dembele into the attacking hole..?). In general however the style of play does not differ particularly without Bale – he being the type to produce moments of magic rather than pull strings and dictate proceedings. With or without Bale, we lack a string-puller.

Not that our heroes should be described as toothless, or impotent, or in any other way biologically wanting. Dembele, for a start, is a marvel of a man. Time and again he charged forward like exactly the sort of beast in a BBC wildlife documentary that one would want to keep a healthy distance away lest he trample you to your doom. And Adebayor, good grief, exhibited all the signs of a man who has certainly discovered the wisdom of yanking his lamp from underneath the bushel and proudly popping it onto a very public stand, and jolly well tapping his neighbour on the shoulder and share the good news while he’s at it. If the injury-blitz is particularly ill-timed, then the discovery, in the final furlong of the season, of the cobweb-streaked artefact that is Ye Long-Lost Forme of Adebayor could prove mighty serendipitous.

Things would probably have panned out a little more rosily if the urgent mentality adopted after conceding the second goal had been stumbled upon a little earlier, but I suppose ‘tis vaguely understandable that the early goal led to a period of self-congratulatory meandering. Hardly commendable, but understandable nevertheless.

In the grand scheme of things this does rather strike me as two points lost rather than one gained, primarily because the rotters around us have taken the hint and started grinding out wins come hail or shine. As was most aptly expressed by a lilywhite fan on the tellybox this weekend – onwards and sideways.

Spurs 2-2 Basel: Ouch

I’m not sure anyone saw that coming, from AVB all the way down to AANP. Blinking heck, Basel were as slick as any opponent we have played all season, their attacking interplay as good as the Chelski front three who six-yard-passed us to oblivion back in the early autumn. They may masquerade as a Swiss club side, but Basel played like a team of Bond villains – laughing in our faces as they pretty effortlessly repelled most of our attacks, and then slicing us open at will with interplay so fizzy our heroes could barely see them, let alone keep pace with them. Presumably up in the posh boxes their bald chairman stroked a cat and laughed rather evilly as it unfolded.

In the first half hour our mob seemed to be going about business in a fairly honourable way – ‘sharp technique’ and ‘good ball retention’ amongst the boxes being dutifully ticked off, with Messrs Holtby, Parker and Dembele in particular earning their little gold stars. All of which would please the Ofsted inspectors, but the truth that dare not be mentioned was that we were hardly blowing up anybody’s skirts, with barely a well-crafted goalscoring opportunity on the horizon.

And frankly it went downhill from there. Half the team filled the full-back positions at one point or another, and were duly skinned alive, and Gallas looked suspiciously like a man closing his eyes and guessing, until he just gave up and wandered down the tunnel early.

In fairness, the two-goal salvo was a worthy effort, the goals being forced in through sheer willpower as much as any particular finesse, and our heroes deserve credit for not folding as lilywhite teams of yore have regularly done. But it did seem, particularly in that final 30 minutes once Holtby’s energy was removed, that we were on the end of a rather peculiar 2-2 hammering.

On top of which both Lennon and Bale made unscheduled exits, prompting a flurry of understandable pessimism to fill the North London air. (Although on a medical note, I would point out that many a time and oft has AANP rolled over one ankle or t’other in the manner of Master Bale last night – and although there typically tends to follow 24 hours of stiff upper lip-inducing pain, luridly coloured and over-sized ankle swelling, several hours of tedium in Chase Farm A&E and several futile attempts to engage the young nurses in playful conversation, I actually tend to be back up and peddling my limited footballing wares again within a week. The moral of the story is slap some ice on it, give him an ankle strap and he ought to be back for the Man City game right as rain.) (Unless he’s actually torn his ligaments to kingdom come, or broken the thing, in which case we are all in a rather a bothersome fix.)

Pardon the digression. A final word or forty-two on the Basel episode of last night – it would be jolly impressive if our opponents play quite as well again in the second leg, but a testing evening undoubtedly awaits. Our heroes might be advised simply to forget the notion of away goals and just concentrate on outscoring them.

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