I remember in my school days occasionally studying those morbid poets who would rattle off 12 lines or so about a dying cat on the side of the road, evidently feeling that nothing could have better captured their mood at the time.
And I was reminded of those miserable souls last night when Sheff Utd slotted in their goal, because like a dying cat on the side of the road back in the day, at that moment nothing could have summed up our performance better than the sight before my eyes (specifically, the quite ridiculous ease with which that chappie gaily skipped through our defence.)
In a match that our heroes couldn’t have approached more casually if decked out in sun-hats and flip-flops, it made perfect sense that some lower-division soul should weave past 5 of N17’s finest without actually having to ride a tackle, before beating the ‘keeper at the near post of all blasted things, to really twist the knife in.
1. Hojbjerg’s Role In The Goal
Given that literally half the team were involved in the above dereliction of duty, it’s not difficult to go around pointing the finger with some meaning. Hojbjerg was one of the principals here. It drifted under the radar a bit, amidst the mass of limbs resolutely not putting in a tackle when the laddie went on his run, but immediately prior to that an attempted Sheffield United pass was aimed straight at Hojbjerg, who rather than control or clear the thing, pretended not to be there, turned away and let the ball bounce off him.
An odd one but no matter, thought AANP, convinced that the chap would rectify the situation at the earliest opportunity. And as luck would have it this opportunity arose pretty much immediately, the ball rebounding to the SUFC cherry, who duly put his head down and ran straight back at Hojbjerg. And while understands that our man was not really in the market for a wild lunge in order to regain position – this being the penalty area and all – I couldn’t quite wrap the bean around the choice of action for which he instead opted.
As this Ndiaye chap approached him, Hojbjerg took one step towards him and then promptly aborted the interaction, withdrawing his frame and waving his hands in the air in some gratuitous act of surrender.
This I absolutely could not stomach. Refraining from clattering the man would have been one thing, but explicitly showing the world that he would have no further part in Operation Tackle The Blighter – waving surrendering hands, forsooth! – was absolutely galling. Why did he not shepherd the fellow away from goal? What’s the point of avoiding concession of a penalty if you instead just let any dandy who pleases waltz right in and score? And what’s the point of being on the pitch at all if you’re not going to put body and soul into stopping the other lot? I ask you!
2. Porro’s Role In The Goal
Pedro Porro was next up, or, more accurately, simultaneously up. As the rebounding ball fell to Ndiaye to rather obviously cut inside, Porro dedicated his entire bodyweight to covering the outside. And having flung himself off towards the wrong postcode, Porro sized up his options and evidently decided that regaining his balance and charging back to rectify things was not The Tottenham Way. A fast learner, this one. So as Ndiaye set out scaring Hojbjerg into timid surrender, Porro simply gave up, deciding that he would grab the nearest bucket of popcorn and just watch how things panned out.
3. Sanchez’s Role In The Goal
Enter Davinson Sanchez (although I use the term ‘Enter’ pretty loosely, as that would suggest this particular wretch had something meaningful to contribute). With Porro and Hojbjerg having shrugged shoulders and let their man walk straight between them, Sanchez at least appeared to present a specific and considerable obstacle in between Ndiaye and the goal. It would not have taken too much effort, it appeared, for Sanchez simply to remain in between Ndiaye and the goal. The concept of effecting a tackle was probably a wild one at this point – this was Davinson Sanchez, after all – but simply standing firm and blocking off the fellow’s route to goal appeared both sensible and feasible.
Instead, as Ndiaye adjusted his compass and turned about forty-five degrees to his right, a move that raised the stakes but by no means sealed the deal, Sanchez’ brain began to melt at the complexity of what he was witnessing. At which point, he then appeared to malfunction and stop completely, dash it. He just stopped! Ndiaye carried on with his merry dance, and Sanchez stopped participating, as if the whole incident had evoked some unhappy memory from his childhood and he couldn’t bear to be involved any longer. What the blazes is wrong with this utterly mind-boggling fish?
Honestly, if I were Master of all I surveyed and granted endless power, there are a few obvious first steps I’d take. Curing some of the incurable diseases of course, and regular breaks during the working day for a refreshing bourbon – say one an hour, on the hour – but top of the list would be some form of legislation forbidding Davinson Sanchez from every darkening our door again.
4. Dier’s Role In The Goal
Eric Dier was next on the rollcall of ignominy. He at least had the dignity to appear interested, adopting that ‘long-barrier’ pose, with a knee on the floor, no doubt with the intention of saving the day by blocking whatever shot might be unleashed. I suppose in principle it was not a bad plan, given that Ndiaye was now very clearly at the ‘Fire’ stage of his ‘Ready-Aim-Fire’ routine. Where all else had lost interest and stopped bothering, Dier was essentially telling the world that he had had enough of this nonsense and was going to resolve it himself.
All of which would have been absolutely bucko if he could have got himself into position lickety-split. The shot would have been blocked, and the deadlock would have remained. But alas, Dier’s masterplan fell apart when it came to swift reorganisation of the relevant limbs. Dier, one sometimes feels, was intended by Nature for Walking Football, or some other sport played at a more sedate pace. As Dier was manoeuvring the knee towards earth and creaking the joints into the appropriate stance, the SUFC laddie was already sprinting off for his celebratory knee-slide. A nice idea, Eric, I felt like muttering, but far too slow for heaven’s sake.
5. Skipp and Forster’s Roles In The Goal
I actually felt a pang of sympathy for Oliver Skipp, who deserved better than to be found guilty by association in this ghastly affair, but he was last on the scene. No real blame attached here, it wasn’t really his problem to fix but he had a go anyway, flinging a pretty meaningful leg at the problem, but alas too late. The shot was already away.
And Forster? That whole mantra about not being beaten at the near post is arguably a little over-played, but it was still pretty crushing to see the whole sorry mess end in that way. One understands Forster prepping self for the action to reach its climax at various locations to his left, but he still ought to have included ‘A Shot To My Right’ in the old Risk Assessment.
And to be honest, beyond that goal it was difficult to muster words for anything else. Partly because the goal itself was one of those ghastly scenes it was difficult to stop seeing, even with the eyes clasped tightly shut; and partly because our heroes appeared not to possess one creative fibre between them for the entire duration.
The absurd insistence upon playing a back-three continued, even when up against a single Championship 37 year-old, and as a result our midfield remained, as ever, utterly bereft of creativity.
Having banged on all season about how this 3-4-3 system requires decent wing-backs to make it work, we finally took to the pitch with Signor Conte’s WBs of choice in situ, and then silently wept as the chosen pair were repeatedly swatted away without making a dent. Porro showed a spot of pace, so no doubt Eric Dier cast a few envious glances his way, but there is no escaping that this was dreadful stuff throughout.
And these repeated Cup defeats to lower-league side really seem to sum up the side we are – to wit, possessing neither the fight to match nor flair to hammer a lower-ranked team. (Which means, by the by, that I’m now expecting us to turn over Milan at home next week, as that’s precisely the sort of incomprehensible guff our lot would roll out.)