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Spurs match reports

Southampton 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Weirdly Rubbish First Half

At the risk of sending mixed messages, I found myself concluding that our lot were today equal parts utter garbage and frightfully unlucky. I’ll start with the garbage, not least because that’s exactly what our heroes did.

Having sung antiphons of joy just two days ago, about the virtues of our press and energy in winning possession high up the pitch, against Palace, I was deeply disturbed to find the boot on the other foot today. But on the other foot it was, as our lot turned from high pressers to high pressees. Any time they even thought about bringing the ball under control in the defensive third, they were molested by someone in red and had possession unceremoniously snatched from them.

With our entire team oddly accepting that this was the way of things and there was nothing that could be done to prevent it, Southampton’s opener was alarmingly inevitable, and it prompted the nasty suspicion that matters would degenerate further.

But at that point, Fate cleared her throat, declared, “All change”, and with the red card and equaliser delivered in just about a single motion, we had ourselves a completely different set-up.

Now the fellows paid to spout forth on TV seemed pretty convinced that our heroes did little to merit a second goal, which is of course their prerogative; and on hearing this I declared them both asses whose opinions I would never again entertain, which is of course my prerogative.

For clarity, our second half performance was far from faultless, and might have benefited from swifter exchanges of passes or, whisper it, an input or two from Ndombele. Nevertheless, in going up against a ten-man defence I thought we had a pretty decent stab at things, particularly when getting behind their defence on the right flank. The fact that their goalkeeper made ten saves would seem to support the notion the Pretty Decent Stab theory; the problem being rather that most of our attempts went straight at the gigantic fellow, rather than texting his reflexes to the east or west.

This, one might reasonably counter, is just part of life; and, if anything, represented a failing of which we were the authors. After all, no prizes are awarded for directing shots straight into the keepers’ mitts.

2. Disallowed Goals

However, you will recall that, mingled with the utter garbage of the first half, I referenced our Frightful Bad Luck, and this took the stage and belted out its greatest hits in the second half. For all the missed attempts, the point of contention is that we twice put the ball in the net, as required, and were still denied the contracted rewards. And this, put bluntly, is just not cricket.

The offside decision was a nonsense, and on multiple levels. While red and blue lines were helpfully scrawled across the screen to indicate who was where, the fact that they were level with each other rather gave the game away.

This was telling enough; but for added farce, the line for Kane was drawn from his armpit, rather than his head or foot, both of which were comfortably behind the Coloured Lines of Doom.

And if one really wants to gauge the accuracy of the decision, one only needs to imagine whether Southampton would have complained post-match had the goal been allowed – which it is difficult to imagine they would have done, what with Kane having been level with rather than ahead of the defender.

The second point of dispute was the Doherty incident. In fairness, this was more subjective than the offside call, so I am more inclined to bow the head and accept this one with good grace, but it nevertheless had one scratching the bean and re-watching about thirty times to detect where exactly any offence occurred. It seems reasonable to assert that had this incident taken place anywhere else on the pitch, play would have been waved on merrily; but referees rarely miss an opportunity to toot away in favour of a goalkeeper, and if nothing else the whole thing put to good use Matt Doherty’s permanent, open-jawed, hangdog expression.

We certainly might have done more to force the issue against the ten men, urgency only really elbowing its way into the fray in the final fifteen or so – but having pretty reasonably deposited ball in net on a couple of occasions prior to this, one does waggle the arms a bit and chunter on about the injustice of it all.

3. Winks

The inclusion of both Winks and Dele in itself delivered something of a pre kick-off jolt; the fact that this pair were included at the expense of Skipp and Lucas, two of the shinier of our lights in recent weeks, nudged the stakes that bit higher.

Winks delivered an oddly mixed bag. So keen was he to be noticed that he eagerly devoted much of his energy into being the Player Most Regularly Caught In Possession, an award for which, as noted above, there was pretty stiff competition from all quarters, in the first half in particular. In mitigation, he did at least have the decency to hare back after the ball in an attempt to win it back, whenever he was pickpocketed or passed straight to the opposition, but in general in those early knockings one was moved to scrawl his name under the heading of ‘Problem’ rather than ‘Solution’.

At this point, however, Winks delved into his box of tricks, and delivered a couple of eye-catching plot twists, in the shape of two pretty glorious passes – each of which resulted in the ball obligingly finding the net, and one of which also brought about Southampton’s red card).

The first of Winks’ glorious passes was the one that had Sonny chopped down in the area; the second the one that Kane tucked away only to be called offside. For all his eccentricities, in spinning around multiple times before playing the most obvious pass anyway, and losing possession on the edge of his own area, he evidently does still have it in him to split a defence when the stars align.

4. Dele

Dele, however, did not have such riches to offer.

Being a generous sort, I’ll toss him a smidge of sympathy for being stationed in what appeared to be a Right Midfield sort of spot, which seemed to be neither one thing nor another – and most pertinently was definitely not a Supporting Second Striker sort of role, as such diminishing his chances of success pretty heftily.

When he did turn up to support attacks he did so from a wider berth, which might have been better suited to Bergwijn or Gil, rather than the late, central burst from deep on which his reputation was built.

To his credit Dele did not shy away from matters. However, few mountains have ever been scaled or lands conquered simply by not shying away from matters. This was a time for brio and whizz, or at the very least for some seamless interplay with Sonny and Kane – but alas, Dele’s basket of S. I. with S. and K. was fresh out of produce, and he idled away his hour out on the right flank, getting sucked into pointless little skirmishes alongside Emerson Royal, which is the sort of activity that offers little value to anyone.

5. Doherty

With Reguilon bundled off the pitch for the avoidance of further unrest and general benefit of society, an unlikely opportunity presented itself for the rarely-sighted Matt Doherty. As ever, he delivered a performance that was well-intentioned and fully in compliance with company policy, but frustratingly light on any sort of quality.

With Doherty, as with the aforementioned Dele, a pretty hefty caveat must be swung into view, for here was another of our entourage who was dealt a fairly thankless positional hand. Doherty is evidently a soul who has been nurtured since birth for life on the right-hand side of the pitch, so all the good luck messages and back-slaps in the world would have been of pretty limited use to him once he was told to play out on the left.

And it very quickly became evident that his career as a left wing-back was indeed going to be considerably hamstrung, as the chap quickly took pains to indicate to the entire watching gallery that his left-sided lower limb was an appendage entirely foreign to him.

In fact, Doherty wandered about the place with the air of a man shocked to discover that he had a left leg at all. Having discovered it, however, he quickly made it plain that he was damned if he was ever going to be tempted to use it, with the result that every single time he touched the ball he shifted infield onto his right peg.

Gallingly, Doherty’s principal chances for glory fell to his left foot – but the man was nothing if not consistent, and preferred to contort his body into new and fantastical shapes rather than experiment with the mysterious limb, with the result that his various opportunities were belted by his right foot in every direction but the goal.

Ben Davies, bless his soul, did his best to ease the shock of left-leg-ownership that had beset Doherty, by taking every opportunity to motor off outside him and offer a bona fide left-footed option. But by and large, Doherty’s attacking potential was neutered, and by the end of proceedings our lot had pretty much given up on the left flank as an avenue of attack.

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Spurs match reports

Southampton 2-5 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

As 5-2 victories go this one was of the lesser-sighted ilk, that has one slapping the thigh in satisfaction, for sure, but also musing to one’s neighbour that we pulled it off without at any point playing particularly well. It would be a little crude to say that this was simply a triumph of lobbing balls over the top of a fairly clueless opposition defence – but only a little.

1. Ndombele

Premier Sports appear to have hit upon one heck of a market strategy judging by the midweek experience, of pocketing AANP’s hard-earned cash and promptly downing tools. However, in between the blank screens and random Serie A montages during our Europa jaunt on Thursday I did get to see enough of Ndombele’s cameo to suggest that if the stars align he could be the one that gets the pistons firing.

The shoulder-dips to wriggle free of minders were reminiscent of Mousa Dembele – blessed be his name – while Ndombele also appeared instinctively to look for those short, defence-splitting, diagonal passes whenever the aforementioned shoulder-dip had allowed him room.

After the torpor that had preceded, it made for pretty radical viewing, and although one rarely knows quite how the cogs whir inside Jose’s curious little mind it was no massive surprise to see Ndombele given the opportunity to peddle his wares from the off today.

And when he did end up in possession I thought he delivered more of the same. The problem was that he only ended up in possession about five times in the entire half, but it ought not to detract from the fact that each of those occasions made for a pretty pleasing highlights reel. Shoulder-dip-enabled wriggles and diagonal passes were very much the instructions being delivered by the voices in his head, and he held up his part of the bargain.

Early on he played a pass through the middle, and while both Sonny and Kane were each comfortably offside, the very fact that he possessed both the vision and chops to attempt such a thing – in a land in which Harry Winks was haring around demanding the ball just so that he could immediately roll it backwards ten yards – was the sort of encouraging stuff one gulps down.

Ndombele’s piece de resistance of course, was the moment bang on half-time in which he somehow managed to unite in one movement tribute acts to both Mousa Dembele and Luka Modric, arguably our two finest midfielders of the past twenty years.

The strength and control to pirouette was worthy of Dembele, and took out two Southampton defenders at once; the placement and weighting of the pass took out another two. Kane and Sonny delivered their lines with the professionalism one would expect, and we went into half-time with a parity that was barely deserved.

Much of the purring around that goal was directed towards Kane and Son, which was understandable enough, given that each made a pretty difficult task look akin to shelling peas stolen from babies – but here at AANP Towers we have rather the soft spot for those unsung heroes who assist the assist, and Ndombele’s contribution did much to alter the momentum of a game that was drifting from us a tad.

2. Lo Celso

So it was no real surprise to see Jose hook Ndombele immediately and dabble in a spot of Lo Celso for the second half instead.

And credit where due, where Ndombele’s contribution had vitally altered the scoreline, Lo Celso’s altered the general pattern of play. One does not want to massage the ego any more than is absolutely necessary, but a congratulatory nod is probably due to our esteemed head coach.

Lo Celso appeared to pitch his tent a good ten or fifteen yards further north of Ndombele’s stomping ground, and it allowed for a little more subtlety to the general tactic of lobbing the ball over the top and chasing.

With Lo Celso pushing further up the field, and Kane dropping into deeper pockets, the relationship between midfield and attack, which in the first half had been little more than strangers in similar garb exchanging suspicious looks, blossomed into something vastly more convivial. As if to cement the entente cordiale, Lo Celso duly assisted two of the assists in the second half., which obviously made him the toast of the town within these four walls.

The successes – of sorts – of both Lo Celso and Ndombele in their respective cameos in that third midfield slot does make one dizzyingly wonder quite how the cup of creativity might overfloweth if the two of them were paired together. But perhaps we cannot expect Jose’s attacking instincts to extend quite so far, and for the foreseeable it will be one or the other, with two midfield minders in attendance to keep a lid on any frivolity.

3. Dele Alli

Quite where Dele Alli fits into all this is one for the square-peg-round-hole specialists to mull over. Our Glorious Leader does have something of the vindictive ex-wife about him when it comes to picking a scapegoat and slinging some mud, so Dele probably ought not to take his squad exclusion too greatly to heart, but for this month at least he appears to have been identified by Jose as The Cause Of All Life’s Ills, so he had better get used to the feeling.

One might argue, and in pretty compelling fashion, given the evidence of the senses, that Dele’s particular bag of tricks is not quite the right fit for the current formation. However, I am inclined to think that if Jose wanted team Hotspur to include one Alli, D. Esquire then Jose would find a way to do so. It is not so much that the young eel does not fit the formation as that Jose is simply casting his admiring glances at other shiny toys in his box – and Dele will simply have to apply more make-up in order to win back those lost affections.

While there have been some rumbles of discontent about the place at the omission of the chap, it would be remiss to suggest that pitchforks are being sharpened and villages burned in indignation. His absence is not being particularly lamented. When on song, Dele has the technique – not to mention eye for goal – to make himself a nuisance in and around the opposition box.

But when off the boil – and let’s face it, for various reasons this has been the case for at least a season – he appears neither one thing nor another. Unless one of those things is a midfield presence who takes far too many touches in possession, sucking momentum out of attacks, in which case he is absolutely that thing.

The breathless nature of the fixture list in the coming weeks means that Dele need not sulk in the corner for too long, as his services will doubtless be required. The Carabao Cup must, after all, go on. He would be well advised, however, to take a cautionary glance over his shoulder, for with a sudden overload of attacking sorts mooching about the camp he will need to do more than simply go through the motions and attempt nutmegs every time he receives possession if he is to elbow his way back up the midfield pecking order.

4. Son, Kane… and Bale

Son and Kane naturally enough are the names in lights tonight, what with their clinical finishing and exquisite vision and passing. The humility overload as every figure in lilywhite attempted to pass credit to someone else did nauseate pretty swiftly, but that can be excused. They were five lovely goals, and whatever else is malfunctioning about the place we are dashed lucky to have those two up top.

Given what had gone before, this game seemed like it would result in anything but a five-goal salvo. The evidence of the first half suggested that this was set to be another dubious Jose performance, as low on fight as possession – but such is the benefit of having world-class strikers. Having been second best for half the game, our forwards randomly turned the scoreline into an absolute mauling before anyone had really registered how that midfield struggle of the first half was unfolding in the second.

And with the excitement of Bale’s return in recent days, it has made one reflect that the last time he was in our ranks, our lot were similarly low on a defined system. Back then, the plan as often as not was simply to cross halfway, give it to Bale and sit back in the knowledge that he’d likely find a way to score (typically by galloping forward twenty yards and then leathering it from distance, teammates present for decorative value only).

And in the first half at least, until Lo Celso did the honourable thing, the tactic seemed to be a variation on a similar theme – lob the ball into the final third for Son and Kane, and sit back in the knowledge that they’d likely find a way to score. The tactics barely need tweaking to accommodate Bale.

However, given that the excitement dial has simply exploded into a puff of smoke at AANP Towers, in a fashion not seen since Klinsmann’s signing was unveiled in ’94, one can be excused for simply waving away tactics and dreaming of quite how good the attack might look. If Kane and Son can magic up five goals between them at the head of a fairly rudimentary system, imagine what delights Kane, Son and Bale might provide. The mind boggles.

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Spurs match reports

Southampton 1-0 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. A New Low

Not being the sort who goes in for psychological lit., I couldn’t tell you much about the seven stages of grief, but I suspect that, in common with most others of lilywhite persuasion, I spent much of yesterday pinballing between most of them as yesterday’s ghastly horror unfolded before the eyes.

Now make no mistake, the eleven out there (plus the couple of stand-ins roped into it) are souls possessed of fine footballing pedigree. Employ the scientifically-proven AANP technique “Who Would Buy Them?” and you no doubt see each of them carted off to the upper echelons of the European game.

And it is precisely this context that drives the casual observer to madness. Rather than take the fairly logical step of transferring their natural wares onto the public arena, our heroes to a man spent the entirety of the game listlessly ambling around the pitch as if, while contractually obliged to be physically present, they were damned if they were going to devote an ounce of energy to the cause.

The mind absolutely boggles. Are they injured? Are they unwell? Are they all physically exhausted? What the hell is wrong with them?

Having reassured myself during the dreadful first half against Norwich that at least we could not be any worse, one rather rubs the eyes in disbelief at the depths plumbed thereafter.

The horrific specifics, not that we need much reminding, have included a striking lack of movement from those not in possession, a lack of invention from those in possession and a quite startling inability from any of them to hit their mark with even the most basic, short-distance passing.

All of which says nothing about the fact that when Southampton had the ball we scrambled around in their shadows as if up against world-beaters, rather than a decidedly average outfit whose most notable contribution to the season was to concede nine goals at home a few weeks back. And yet there they were, in glorious technicolour, beating us to ever 50-50 and bounding around more energy in every step.

So again, with a shake of the head and no lack of bewilderment, I ask what the hell is wrong with them?

2. The Positives

It’s a rather fetching kit, that dark number with the natty chest design.

3. Far From Convinced By The Midfield Set-Up

Make no mistake, I’m not sure any formation in the world could have righted the endless wrongs of yesterday. If every member of the platoon is struggling to play a five-yard pass, and cannot muster the energy to do more than jog while their opponent sprints, then the writing is already on the wall.

However, the general set-up – and in particular the mechanics slap bang in the centre of the pitch – do not really aid the cause.

Going forward, the midfield is not really the hub of creativity one would hope. As ever, the fault often lies with those not in possession, who offer precious few options, but rather hang their teammates out to dry. When Toby, Jan or even Ndomble or Eriksen were in possession, it did not require the country’s sharpest minds to sense their frustration at looking up, seeing nothing inviting, changing direction, still seeing nothing inviting and resorting to the aimless punt upfield.

Cast your minds back to the opening match of the Jose era, against West Ham, and we benefited from Dele, Lucas or Son dropping a few yards to receive the ball fairly centrally and on the half-turn. Mischief duly followed.

Yesterday it barely happened. The options instead seemed to be rather laboured progress down the flanks or the long ball out of defence, which veered swiftly from hopeful to hopeless. Quick and nifty one-touch stuff through central midfield and into attack was not on the agenda.

Ndombele has something about him of a man who can at least instigate some bits and bobs, and one would not mind seeing things built around the chap. One can imagine worse starting points and gameplans. In fact one does not need to imagine them because they’ve been on public display for the last few games. But for now The Ndombele Approach is not gaining much traction. When the chap does embark on a gallop, few around seem to notice or care, much less race up alongside him to offer support; and more to the point the poor lad is made of biscuits and cannot blow his nose without twanging a hamstring.

The onus therefore fell upon Eriksen and Lo Celso, which in theory should be the sort of well from which all sorts of goodness should gush. Unfortunately both were pretty comfortably outfought by their vastly less talented opponents, and when opportunities did fall their way to pull strings and solve the world’s ills, their compasses spun in all directions and passing accuracy went up in smoke.

4. Lack of Defensive Cover

Normally when matters in one respect are hitting some turbulence, one can at least console oneself that in some other respect there are encouraging shoots to offset the gloom. Silver linings, if you will.

So, when faced with the complete lack of invention, creativity or even the faintest clue going forward, one would normally remind oneself that such are the sacrifices to be made for defensive solidity. All for the greater good, as it were. Honourable stuff.

These, however, are pretty parlous times, and if you want defensive solidity the Tottenham back-line is one of the last places on earth you should park up.

Again, the lack of energy is pretty damning. Our back-four is in pretty wobbly shape, this much is true, but it is noticeable that they are receiving precious little support from midfield. The midfield bods neither hound in midfield nor race back to add muscle and numbers to defence.

In short, they seem to offer neither one thing nor the other, and this peculiar aimlessness with which they drift through matches seems to reflect a lack of direction from on high. The occasional visitor, on dipping their noses in, might conclude that no clear instructions have been given as to the sort of approach that ought to be adopted. And here, one would think, is where Jose earns the big bucks.

5. More Needed From Lucas

I don’t keep a tally of such things, but I think I’m right in saying that this month marks two years of Lucas at the club, and it’s fair to say his flame has only occasionally flickered.

Obviously there was the Champions League stuff, for which we will all be eternally grateful. A virtuoso performance at Old Trafford also stands out, and a hat-trick late last season. When in full flow, the fellow can be difficult to stop.

But by and large, he rolls out the one trick – trying to dribble around everyone in his path – and it seldom works. By force of will he helped to drag us into the game against Norwich, but yesterday was a more typical Lucas showing, of numerous mazy gallops off-course and into cul-de-sacs before being crowded out by a swarm of opponents and going to ground in a blur of limbs.

While there is value in his willingness to run at opponents, as this can help pull them out of position, the chap really ought to sit down and have a long, hard think about his end-product. There’s little point in taking them all on if the conclusion is that they then pick up possession themselves. Lamela is cut from pretty similar cloth in this respect.

6. Sessegnon Yet to Look The Part

Or, more accurately, Sessegnon looked every inch the part, because he was as poor as everyone else. As such he fitted right in amongst the dross, misplacing his passes and emerging second-best from his challenges as if he had the instructions to do so drilled into him every waking hour.

This is not to single out the poor lad. I only mention it because I had rather hoped that being the newest lamb in the fold maybe the general malaise had not spread as far as him. No such luck.
Any youthful innocence and joie de vivre has already been wiped from his being. The scars of being a member of THFC Circa 19/20 are already evident. One feels for him. Having arrived with such a reputation and with so much promise, he deserves better than to be dragged down as yet another rat on this sinking ship.

Plenty of time for him to find his feet of course, but as we wildly look about in all directions for someone to provide an instant spark, we should probably just look elsewhere and let him chug along at his own pace.

I could warble on about others, but, taking my cue from the players themselves, I have rather lost the will at this stage. Goodness knows what fresh hell awaits at the weekend, but the FA Cup may yet provide a positive – and shiny – appendage to the season.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. We Need to Talk About Serge

The little voices in Serge Aurier’s head seem only to whisper “Hero” or “Villain”, with little regard for the countless possibilities that lie between.

The old bean’s assets undoubtedly lie in the attacking third, with the positioning he adopts as a wide man complimented by a capacity to deliver the occasional whipped cross.

However, this modest return in the Credit column is rather blown out of the water by the numerous ills that clog up the Debit column. Since his arrival at the club he has racked up a number of utterly mindless red cards and penalty concessions, all of which are suggestive of a mass walkout by the brain cells and general dereliction of duty.

Yesterday Aurier offered precious little of value before chipping in with his usual moments of idiocy.

The first yellow card was needless in the extreme. One understands the concept of self-sacrificial yellow cards – hauling down an opposing chappie on halfway in order to stymie a counter-attack, that sort of sordid business. One does not condone such conduct, of course, but one follows the thought-process. Falling on one’s sword, and so on and so forth. Presumably in some cultures it can even have a certain nobility.

Aurier’s first yellow card however, against an opponent wandering away from goal and edging towards the side of the pitch, was rock-bottom on the list of Risks Worth Taking. It dealt with no threat, offered zero benefit to anyone and left the abysmal young fool with 65 minutes to spend tip-toeing across a tightrope.

As it happened he didn’t last 5 minutes. One might quibble – and several have – about the circumstances around the second booking, but when an old bean knows that his every move is going to be under the scrutiny of a referee with a touch of the Dolph Lundgren about him, that bean, if he has a jot of sense, reverts to his best behaviour and conducts himself impeccably.

Aurier, the poster-boy of recklessness, did enough to give Dolph a decision to make, and we – three days before facing Bayern Munich – were left to play an hour with ten men.

Credit to Sissoko, for doing a pretty flawless job of things as hastily-identified reserve right-back, but in general it is becoming something of a cursed position, and Aurier will have to do a heck of a job to win back some of that rapidly-draining goodwill.

2. We Need to Talk About Hugo

Given the circumstances surrounding the season – want-away players, thrown away leads – and the circumstances of the game, having just lost a man, one would think that the captain would have been precisely the chap to inject a modicum of calmness into proceedings.

Monsieur Lloris however, picked this of all moments to treat us to his best Benny Hill impression, and it is to the immense credit of all concerned that we managed afterward to regain the lead and then cling on to it.

Lloris’ talents (far more than Aurier’s) are pretty visible and regularly on display. His two second half saves – and in particular the instinctive one from the header – served as neat reminders of the chap’s quality when it comes to the basics of stopping the round thing from entering the rectangle.

Alas, it is impossible to ignore the bedlam that ensues every time the chap has the ball at his feet. Ever since Pep Guardiola dared every other manager in the Top Six to play out from the back, all have been too scared to refuse, with the result that even those goalkeepers who can’t pass six yards with tripping over their own feet are now expected to be modern-day Beckenbauers in their distribution.

Lloris’ short passing tends as often as not to lack sense, guile or even basic accuracy; one can see the hearts of Toby and Jan visibly sinking as the moment approaches, while Davinson Sanchez, when involved, looks every inch the man who wants to run off the pitch and disappear into obscurity; and opposition strikers, understandably enough, lick their lips and come charging into our area like kids towards the tree on Christmas morning.

Yesterday’s mistake was not the first – Lloris has done the same thing in a World Cup Final for heaven’s sake, and not learnt his lesson – but aside from whether or not such absurdity results in a goal conceded, it transmits panic throughout the defence and midfield, and invites pressure.

One understands that if operated well it can be devastatingly effective in bypassing an opposition’s press and creating counter-attack opportunities from halfway – but how often do we operate it well when Lloris is the string-puller-in-chief?

3. Cracking Second Goal

Mercifully, those further up the pitch are a darned sight better with ball at feet, and there will be few better examples of this than our second goal.

There was much to admire about it – but in the first place it was interesting to note that the genesis of the whole thing was a non-nonsense hoick up the pitch by Moussa Sissoko, a chap who could probably teach Lloris a thing or two about the art of Not Dallying Around, and in his native tongue, for added attraction.

Thereafter however, one just sat back and purred at the general magnificence that shone forth. Kane’s strength and cushioned header into Son was terrific. Son’s feet were quick, and having played in Eriksen he did not pause to admire his own handiwork but set off at a lick to avail himself further, in the process leaving behind his marker.

Eriksen similarly played an intelligent pass and then scuttled off to receive a return ball, leaving behind his own marker, and then it was up to Kane – whose first touch was actually not of the exquisite quality one has come to expect.

This mattered little however, because once in the area Kane’s eyes inevitably light up, and he inevitably finds a way. The speed of the whole thing was a delight, it reflected the quality of those involved, their awareness and technique. All that was left was for nobody else in lilywhite to decide to liven things up by gifting some advantage back to our visitors.

4. Kane’s All-Round Game

I have already gone a little misty-eyed at Kane’s involvement in the build-up for the second goal, and it served as a textbook example of how much the chap contributes all over the pitch, not just in delivering the coup de grâce.

An isolated incident it most certainly was not. In fact, look back at the early stages of our first goal and one will note that the impetus is initially injected by Kane picking the ball up deep, muscling various others out of the way and giving a sensible pass.

The chap is a veritable all-rounder, with numerous strings to his bow and all of them pretty dashed impressive.

As if to emphasise the point he also had a shot from the halfway line that missed the mark by only a foot or so.

5. Ndombele Beginning to Show Flashes

In general, our lot made an excellent fist of trying circumstances yesterday. Winks was close to immaculate; Eriksen seemed oddly buoyed by the challenge of having to wear a defensive hat; Lamela was the right substitute at the right moment.

In truth, in the second half Ndombele wandered around with the look of a man wondering what he had signed up for, and his wearying limbs were rested before the final toot. However, in the first half he showed glimpses of the chap about whom we all became so giddy with excitement in the summer.

On several occasions he received the ball on the half-turn, wriggled away from one or two challenges and either dabbed the ball to a chum or drew a foul. It was the sort of stuff that just hinted at the ghost of Mousa Dembele, that ability to turn back-foot into front-foot in the blink of an eye.

Still a work in progress no doubt, but the omens are positive. His penchant for popping in the opposition area to thwack one into the net is also something of a bonus.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

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Spurs match reports

Southampton 1-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Full-Backs Exposed

I think it’s fair to conclude that that did not really go as planned. Instead of taking the game to our hosts from the off, we were a tad off-colour and distrait, and the early initiative having been up for grabs for any willing taker, Southampton had a whirl at it.

In the first 45 they opted to drill away at our flanks, which made them hay by the absolute shedload, and it would not be stretching things to say that certain members of our all-star cast rather obliged them in this endeavour. Messrs Son and Sissoko simply peered over at their full-backs and decided that they would rather give the whole jamboree a wide berth, offering precious little more than moral support, and leaving Davies and Aurier to fight the actual physical battle on their own.

When these things are discussed over port and cigarettes later this evening, the full-backs might make the point that that was really not quite cricket, and should they be feeling particularly fruity might even introduce, as Exhibit A, the goal that we conceded, its genesis indeed arriving from a waylaying of Aurier. All deeply unsatisfactory, even if the weeping and gnashing off teeth lasted only around a minute or two.

2. Conditions. Which Affected Both Teams Equally, Mind

This slight dereliction of duty on the part of Son and Sissoko was indicative of a wider sloppiness across the ranks. Presumably when accustomed to playing on the sort of pristine lawn on which one would normally crack open the croquet set and get boshing, one raises an eyebrow or two if instead presented with a sodden bog being lashed upon from the heavens.

Our heroes certainly did seem to approach the task as if having just had the rug whipped from beneath them, and to suggest that they struggled a tad through the conditions would not be overstating the case. Passes as often missed their targets as hit, control became a near-mythical entity and anyone trying to run with the ball at feet quickly came to curse the decision as they stumbled and bumbled like an entire squadron of Moussa Sissokos.

The current vintage are at their best when nudging first-time passes to one another, and that particular brand of quality output was in desperately short supply. All the more galling that Southampton seemed to adjust better and do the first-time thing rather more niftily at times (although that might just be a view coloured by the mournful, pessimistic lenses of an observer who has seen two points frittered away).

3. To Absent Friends, Part 1: Eriksen

Can’t really blame the chap for sitting it out with a hot drink and some paracetamol, because man-flu is scientifically proven to make one’s head explode if not kept in check, but Eriksen’s all-seeing eye and unique brand of sorcery was most certainly missed. As lamented earlier, our one-touch game was replaced by a giant bowl of stodge, and whereas these things usually have Eriksen at their hub, like a human heart doing the decent thing and keeping every other organ on top of its game, today there was simply an awkward impotence about the place.

Replacing Eriksen with Sissoko is like being told on entering the gladiatorial arena that your sword and shield are being replaced by a scrunched up ball of paper but best of luck anyway. One is inclined to make a fist of things, but cannot escape the sense that the odds have been rather cruelly reversed and things are about to take a turn for the nightmarish.

Pre kick-off I had, with what turned out to be fairly outrageous optimism, opined that I would rather Eriksen were missing for this game than the upcoming ones vs Man Utd, Arsenal and so on. Quite the misjudgement. We simply do not have another of his ilk in the ranks. Personally I would have opted for Lamela over Sissoko – although in truth, I would have volunteered to play myself rather than pick Sissoko. The point is that we are too reliant on Eriksen, and lacking a suitable deputy.

4. To Absent Friends, Part 2: Lloris

Monsieur Lloris was also sniffling his way through proceedings from his sick-bed, meaning the rarely-spotted Vorm was duly trotted out. I have to admit I did not envy the chap, who appeared to be on a hiding to nothing with the heavens flung wide open and every drop of rain available being sloshed around the surface.

Credit to the bean then, for getting his mitts onto everything that came his way. The own-goal left him with little in the way of an escape-route, but in addition Southampton fired in a handful of low shots that slid across the tur, and had the AANP heart leaping the odd somersault or two, and it was to Vorm’s credit that he snaffled up everything with a decent slab of assurance.

5. Dembele: Frustrated and Frustrating

If there were one man who perhaps might have conjured up a little inspiration, it was possibly Dembele. He seemed to have been encouraged to run with the ball and do as he pleased, and briefly it looked like this might do the trick, for he certainly does it have in him to glide past two or three of the opposing fish with barely a sideways glance.

Alas, things did not really click for him today, and he was as likely to be swarmed upon and diverted as he was to do any good wholesome damage. In the end he reverted to bundling folk over and waving his arms around, and the whole drama ended rather soberly with a booking and a substitution.
If we cannot ping quick passes we need someone capable of beating a man, and today we had neither.

So the Top Four is still eminently doable, but equally looking quite the delicate operation, if you follow. The next month or so will require some deep breaths, rousing performances – and Eriksen restored to full health.

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Spurs match reports

Southampton 2-3 Spurs: Sherwood Goes Down The AANP Route

Now that’s the spirit. Having attracted the opprobrium of AANP pre kick-off for the unpardonable crime of simply being Tim Sherwood, the young bean has earned himself a commemorative bust on the mantelpiece (in truth it will more likely be a sketch of a stick-man left on the window-sill – but the sentiment remains pure) for scrawling the most hilariously gung-ho teamsheet since Ardiles got a little carried away.

It certainly does not merit him the gig full-time, and better teams will absolutely tear us limb from limb if we continue down this route, but in ludicrously entertaining contrast to weeks gone by this was marvellous fun to behold, not least because a plethora of bona fide goalscoring opportunities were created, as our heroes tripped over themselves to get in on the penalty area fun.

There were various pleasing aspects to Sherwood’s reckless decision to gambol down the all action no plot route, including the rapidity with which the ball progressed from point A to point B, facilitated by some pretty nifty one-touch stuff. Eriksen can revel in the glory of a gold star for his part in this, although it comes with the proviso that he can do yet more to dictate things, and I was also pleasantly surprised by Chadli’s contribution when he toddled on.

As well as the most welcome instruction to attack whenever in possession, the game-plan also seemed to involve hunting in packs high up the pitch when not in possession, which had its perks no doubt, but also brought about some disconcerting wobbles when Southampton counter-attacked and, our midfield looked on from about 20 yards behind the play. Still, such are the Ts and Cs of living by the sword, and as if to emphasise the point our glorious leader sneered at the very concept of trying to protect the lead by trading Soldado for Defoe with five minutes remaining. Marvellous stuff.

Other points of note

Goodness knows how Monsieur Lloris felt when he saw the teamsheet proclaiming that the entire defensive responsibility of the afternoon pretty much hinged upon Dawson and Chiriches, but Daws, to his credit, kept it simple this week,  generally deploying the no-nonsense approach. Chiriches increasingly comes across as a gullible sort of imp, regularly selling himself by flying hook, line and sinker in one direction at the faintest dip of a shoulder from an opposition forward, but this can probably be expected of one’s fourth choice centre-back. The new chappie Bentaleb seemed suspiciously confident about life, and the joys of two up-front were once again displayed for all to see, but the highlight of the afternoon may well have been the look of something between bewilderment and disdain etched across the face of the ref as Adebayor jigged away his little celebration. While I would not trust Sherwood to run the rule every week, it was absolutely rip-roaring fun.

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Spurs news

Southampton – Spurs Preview: A Potential Flaw In The Levy Masterplan?

Here at AANP Towers we are honourable men. When Dogtanian waved farewell to the folks and left for pastures new, the upper lip did no more than quiver. When baited by rival fans in the office every dashed Monday, reminding me of my idle gloats the preceding Friday and collecting their winnings, while the boss wanders by and reminds me that the pretence of working is more effective when the computer is actually switched on and why must I look at him in such a gormless way, I treat the defeat with stoic resolve, determining to make an even larger wager the following week because that will teach them all. And thus do I unashamedly admit that when the burly security chaps marched up to AVB, grabbed him mid-sentence, frog-marched him out of the premises and unceremoniously dumped him onto the High Road, I did little more than shrug, reasoning that that might well have been the right course of action, and licking my lips at the prospect of our imminent upturn in fortunes.

Alas, the upturn has not quite materialised. In fact, the grand plan of sacking one chappie, lassoing another, more capable chappie, depositing him into the leather chair and watching the marvellousness unfurl has hit an early but quite critical snag. Suddenly, the realisation dawns that Master Levy might not necessarily have the entire strategy mapped out. In fact, it is not particularly clear that the plan even extended to the hiring of a new bean at all, but that he laboured under the misapprehension that firing AVB would in its entirety signal a glorious conclusion of affairs – because quite where he goes next, or even what sort of blighter is brought in next, does not yet seem obvious. That Tim Sherwood may or may not be at the helm for days, weeks, months or even – horror or horrors – permanently is about as underwhelming as an action film in which the pillars are tumbling down and the hero ambling up stage left to save the day actually turns out to be merely Ben Affleck.

Nothing personal against Sherwood of course (or Affleck for that matter), but one suspects that the opportunities for success might not necessarily be maximised by leaving the office intern in charge of the entire A to Z of things for a few weeks, even if the aforementioned does do a sterling job of booking meeting rooms and whatnot. However, this is what we have for the immediate future, and having deployed a bright and breezy 4-4-2 for the first home adventure, Sherwood now has to decide how to go about things away from home, against a Southampton team who seem to be sufficiently well versed in the intricacies of the game. Who knows, Levy might also be using the opportunity to cast a furtive eye over Saints own grand fromage, Mr Pochettino.

Injury to Townsend threatens to derail things somewhat, particularly if the Sherwood gospel preaches touchline-hugging wingers, but the squad boasts enough attacking types, so one of Sigurdsson, Lamela or Chadli will presumably be unleashed. A more defensive-minded chap in the holding role might also be advisable, after Dembele was deployed in that spot midweek, while in defence it will presumably once again be a case of using anyone fit enough to hobble over the line.

It would be a dashed shame if our whole season were to lose momentum because of a yuletide wobble, but such a circumstance lurks menacingly around the corner. The talent is there, and under AVB our away form was generally positive enough, but our very recent history does little to engender expectations of unparalleled success. One can but hope.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Southampton: On We Limp

It would seem after that particular nerve-wracker to swerve rather wildly from reality by suggesting that the Spurs go marching on. Limping on, perhaps, or maybe sputtering to a halt and having our constituent parts stuffed unceremoniously into a sack and dragged towards the finish line by Bale. A less catchy ditty though, what?

One Man

Glorious relief though that finale provided, it was rather a poke in the eye for the massed ranks of us who have been insisting all season that we are more than just a one-man team. The problem with this specific one man is that he is not the sort to pull strings and dictate proceedings like some boot-clad revolutionary. The game passed Bale by as much as it did any of the other lilywhite heroes, the only difference being that while the rest of them could have huffed and puffed away until next season without producing anything different, Bale can conjure match-winners from rather innocuous-looking starting positions way out on the right, or wherever else he may be. Our mob is still bereft of a conductor, through whom all business passes – but that is one to be addressed in the summer months. For now, the good fight continues to be fought.

Anaemia

Curiously, for a match on which so much was riding, our heroes opted to a man to produce one of the most anaemic displays in recent memory. Hudd occasionally stroked an impeccably-weighted pass, and Kyle Walker beavered away, but that rather unpleasant sound in the distance is that of the AANP barrel being scraped in search of match highlights, for there was precious little of note from anyone, and after 80 minutes the dream appeared to be dying. The only chances I can recall were the early Defoe snapshot, and the little move involving a Hudd pass, Adebayor back-heel and inevitable Dempsey waft into the stands. The better chances were Southampton’s, in the first half at least, and once again Lloris saved our jambon. On the debit side, Benny had one of those days, producing all manner of suicidal buffoonery that but for the grace of God might have cost us our season, and Daws showed, not for the first time in his career, that it does not really require complex equations from Mensa’s finest to leave him floundering.

Probably best not to dwell on such things. To play badly and eke out a win is vaguely cockle-warming, and ‘tis difficult to imagine our mob being quite so toothless once again for Wednesday night’s cup final. A job needed doing and was done, albeit ultimately by our one man again. Three more points, and the dream remains alive.

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Spurs preview

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.

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Spurs match reports

Southampton 1-2 Spurs: As Straightforward As It Gets With Out Lot

Top four after a quarter of the season – and in a team sans Dembele, Kaboul, Adebayor, Parker, BAE and Lloris – there ought really to be few grounds for grumbling. And yet… Asking any Spurs fan not to grumble is like asking a 1920s dandy to stay in for the afternoon and peruse some Descartes – it rather flies in the face of that whole raison d’etre jamboree. Thus it transpires that top four though we may be, one jolly well hopes that AVB’s tactical genius extends to more than these slightly desperate attempts to cling on against teams skipping around the relegation zone. Our glorious leader can hardly be judged on 10 or so games, but performances to date have hardly been of the ilk of the majority under ‘Arry.

First Half Fun

In that joyous first half of course things were so entertainingly one-sided it seemed almost cruel, and the two-goal lead was the half-time minimum. Recent mumblings about lack of fluidity were merrily shoved back down the AANP gullet as Hudd had a whale of a time in those midfield acres, Bale did his usual thing and Lennon’s form continued to be as sparkly as many can remember in his lilywhite career.

The use of Lennon in particular in that inside right channel also has the merry side-effect of unleashing the increasingly angry young Master Walker to gallop up the flank, and while his form this season has not quite been what it was, one imagines that opposing left-backs would rather he just stayed in his own half and picked his nose.

Second Half Regression

So all tickety-boo by the break, prompting ill-advised musings in the AANP cranium as to whether this might be the day on which we racked up four, five or more. Wrist-slappings have been duly administered for such churlish optimism about our heroes’ capacity to get from A to B in the simplest manner possible.

Naturally enough, what followed was not the hiding of Southampton lives, but the gradual regression of our lilywhite lot (or black and grey quarters, or whatever the blinking heck that pyjama outfit is supposed to be. Quite what relevance those colours have to anything in our history is beyond me. Honestly, young people these days.).

Presumably the AVB order was not to drop back ten yards en masse and be a distant second to every other loose ball (at least one jolly well hopes that that was not the AVB order) but in the finest White Hart Lane tradition they certainly contrived to make dashed hard work of it.

Whatever the problem was, poor old Livermore did not seem to be the solution, but in calmer moments of reflection one expects he will improve in time. The overall contribution of Dempsey also remains a little mysterious, and Sandro has some way to go before he can be classified as Dembele-esque (although that close-range, near-decapitating head-block certainly go the juices flowing – good lad).

Plenty of room for improvement then, but one way or another we are picking up these wins, which is the nub of the thing I suppose. Not exactly comfortable though, is it?