All Action, No Plot

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Modric, O’ Hara & A Last-Minute Winner – The Long Weekend at Spurs

Well that’s why it’s called All Action, No Plot.Away for one little weekend break, in the land of Erik Edman (note to eligible bachelors the world over – do Stockholm. No ifs, no buts – do Stockholm) and 48 hours later I return to find that all hell seems to have broken loose at White Hart Lane.

Luka 

Luka has broken a bone. Cancel everything. This is serious. No surgery needed – apparently he will be fixed by wearing a magic boot for the next six weeks – but anguished weeping and gnashing of teeth nevertheless echo around the walls of AANP Towers.

Only a couple of weeks ago I hastily cobbled together a ten-point wish-list for the season, and while most of the issues included were streams of consciousness rather than absolute ruddy imperatives, one point rather leapt from the page:

 

Look After Modric And Palacios Like Our Lives Depend On It
Our squad is looking impressive this season, with a couple of players competing in every position. However, Modric and Palacios are simply a class above, and as such are irreplaceable.,,, great lengths must be taken to avoid so much as a bee sting befalling them.

Not exactly rocket-science I admit, but I still wish extreme measures had been taken to preserve his fitness. Instead, rather than setting up an orb-shaped force-field around our Luka, some bright spark let him go near Lee Bowyer of all people.There is still plenty of creativity in the side – Lennon, Keane and the Hudd all contribute in their own special little ways – and we will still pick up points in his absence. There are also plenty of possible replacements out on the left – Keane, Giovani and Bentley spring to mind, and it’s possible that by the time you read this we might have yanked in Man City’s Petrov as an ad hoc replacement. So we will definitely take to the field with eleven players next time out, which is nice to know – but that’s not really the point.

Modric is that bit better than the alternatives and understudies, and most other players in the Premierhship. While he can still be slightly peripheral in that left-sided position, even though given carte blanche to wander infield, he is nevertheless always capable of sparking something every time he gets the ball. To be without him for the Man Utd and Chelski games is particularly galling. If something were now to happen to Palacios as well, I think those passing by AANP Towers will be treated to the undignified sight of a grown man openly weeping.

O’ Hara to Pompey 

The move to Portsmouth was announced at just about the same moment as the lad penned a new contract keeping him at the Lane until 2013, so he evidently remains part of the longish-term set-up. I am inclined to think that he might therefore have instigated the loan move himself, just to keep the blood circulating until the new year.

It appears that the Hudd has won the fight for the central midfield spot alongside Sergeant Wilson, at least until Jenas returns to fitness. O’ Hara would therefore have spent most weeks at Spurs twiddling his thumbs on the bench, with only the odd ten-minute cameo here and there. And so on; to repeat, it makes sense for him. In theory quite like the idea.

However, in practice it now leaves us suddenly a touch light in midfield. With Modric now joining Jenas in sick-bay, and Zokora long-gone, one more injury and somebody somewhere will have to thump the red alert button. As the transfer window ticks down, I suspect the issue may have been pointed out to management at the Lane.

Kevin Prince-Boateng Also to Pompey 

Spurs 2-1 Birmingham: Not A Match Report, I Didn’t See It

So amidst all the madness, there was also a football match. By all accounts the win was just about deserved on balance – apparently we made and missed more chances than they. I’m rather chuffed to hear that Birmingham set out to counter us with a nullify-and-frustrate 4-5-1. That’s the sort of treatment reserved for the big kids in the playground.

News of a ninety-fifth minute winner also prompted a cackle of satisfaction. Every game this season I have found myself harking back to the not-too-distant past, and remembering how Spurs teams of yore would have done so much worse than the current lot in an identical situation.

This week: Spurs teams of yore would have indeed undone the hard work of over an hour, by conceding an equalizer just minutes after taking the lead. However, previous Spurs sides would then probably have conceded a scrappy second in stoppage time. (Which we nearly did, admittedly). For us instead to go gamboling up the other end and pilfer the winnings ourselves suggests, yet again, that we’re getting the hang of this football lark.

It’s still early, but if at the end of the season we find ourselves challenging the top six or more, this is the sort of game at which we will all earnestly point as an example of how much steelier we are this year.

Plan B 

’Arry rarely needs an excuse to bang the Peter Crouch drum, and since Saturday he’s been making the quite valid point to Don Fabio Capello that the gangly one is a great option from the bench. Very fair point. He does indeed add something different, and one can well imagine how his arrival as a second half substitute must be greeted by tiring defenders who have spent all afternoon chasing the shadows of Keane and Defoe. As I noted when we signed him, his value as an impact-sub was perfectly illustrated in the fantastic England-Argentina friendly of late-2005:

 

With England trailing 2-1 Crouch was slung on for the last few minutes, and managed to make a sufficient nuisance of himself at crosses for Michael Owen to steal in with a couple of late goals.

Crouch as Plan B – no problem with that. However, there is a rumour gathering momentum that he is about to become Plan A. Not so sure about that.With Modric out, it may actually be forced upon us – Keane switching to left midfield would naturally open a door for Crouch. However, if it means we starting pinging long-balls into orbit from the off, I’d rather not.

 

The invitation is still open to share your memories of White Hart Lane legends, in anticipation of Spurs’ Cult Heroes, a forthcoming book that rather does what it says on the tin. Feel free to add your memories of Jimmy Greaves here, of Jurgen Klinsmann here and Clive Allen here

Liverpool 3-1 Spurs: Ending With A Whimper, A Disappointing Finale

Well that, frankly, was pretty disappointing. I know it shouldn’t matter – far wiser heads have been calmly pointing out the various reasons why:

·         Context – We spent the first half of the season avoiding relegation. Anything above 18th was to be welcomed. Moreover, while victory would have taken us into Europe, today’s game was hardly the must-win affair that other teams found themselves facing. The guaranteed mid-table spot was fine.

·         Not Qualifying For Europe – Pride aside, this will undoubtedly benefit our League campaign next season, when top six should be mandatory, and top four could be guiltily whispered about behind the bike-shed. The benefits were exemplified this season, after our exit from the Uefa Cup, when Ledley became a regular and we went one-nil crazy.

·         To Be Fair, It Was Liverpool Away – I guess we’ve been spoilt by impressive form in the last three or four months, coupled with something approaching a hex on the top four, but let’s not forget that this was the Premiership’s form-team (ten wins in eleven) and probably one of the top four or five teams in Europe. On top of which they have been unbeaten at home all season.

·         Injuries, Absences, No Absolutely Urgent Need To Win – All mitigating factors. A full-strength Spurs team, with more at stake than a last-day procession, would arguably have made a better fist of it.


Yes, yes, all very good points, probably all quite true – but being sore losers, we at AANP Towers have been in no mood to buy any of it, and have instead moped angrily around the place today, stamping on old ladies’ feet and furtively elbowing small children in the head.

·         Completely Outplayed – Gallingly, it was one of our most lacklustre displays for some time. The game highlighted quite how important Wilson Palacios is to us, and how important it is that we bring in a decent understudy. The Scott Brown rumour has gathered momentum, and my one Celtic-mad chum has given the boy a vote of confidence, which we AANP Towers are tentatively happy to endorse – a “terrier” apparently, in the Roy Keane mould, although “he needs to develop”, which is a slightly worrying disclaimer. Having waited so long for a midfield enforcer it seems greedy to demand another, but with no Palacios doing the rottweiler act in front of the back four we looked a shadow of our more recent, late-season selves, and scarily similar to our early-season Two-Points-Eight-Games selves.

·         Completely Outplayed – Admittedly it’s not particularly inventive to use the same sub-heading twice in a row, but let that be a warning – I’m so irritated by today’s shoddy showing that I’m even eschewing literary decorum. This time I mean “completely outplayed” in the sense of embarrassment rather than tactics. Losing narrowly after a good performance is gut-wrenching, but does at least leave a sense of pride. By contrast, rather tamely capitulating, as today, leaves me clenching my fist in something approaching anger, and has the old ladies and young children of North London running for the hills. There didn’t seem to be a huge amount of pride in the shirt, more a weary and longing glance towards the Departures lounge at Heathrow. Yes they’ve done well to revive a season that started on life-support, but it’s a 38-game season, and today too many of them were trying to skive off work.

·         Gap in Class – Being a Spurs fan, delusion is in my DNA, so over the last few months I’ve been gradually peddling – to myself – the notion that we really are going to have a jolly good stab at the top four next year. Really. Today’s game unceremoniously highlighted the fact that there is a gulf in class between Liverpool and us. This sets some sort of record, as May 24th is probably the earliest I can ever remember having my perennial pre-season delusions of grandeur shattered. (That said, in the interests of objectivity, I should note that we only have to catch l’Arse, rather than Liverpool, to hit the Champs League, so the top-four delusion can be merrily pieced back together. And, the gap in class will surely narrow once Palacios and Lennon return).

·         Fulham Lost! – Dagnabbit, unlikely as it seemed prior to the game, victory would have seen us into Europe. Instead, the players looked for all the world like they’d been told at kick-off that Fulham were actually five-nil up, and accordingly just shrugged their shoulders and mooched around in auto-pilot.

·         Last Game of the Season – Some say that a team is only as good as its last game, and as a supporter, I’m only as happy as my team’s last performance. This feeble amble in the Merseyside sun is the memory I’ll be taking with me into the summer.


Elsewhere, I rather hope young Gareth Bale doesn’t take his football as seriously as we at AANP Towers, because he’s now gone two seasons without a league victory for us, which would have weaker men scribbling notes entitled “Goodbye Cruel World”. Local media outlets have been inundated with reports of sightings of UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and David Bentley on a football pitch – the brylcreemed one entering the fray in the first half after Jermaine Jenas broke a fingernail. Neither Bale nor Bentley made particularly compelling cases for their regular inclusions. Instead, as often happens, ‘twas the absentees whose stocks rose today.I suppose I was rather hoping that we would end the season with a bang, and it could barely have whimpered more if it were a sick puppy that had just seen its parents shot. However, it was one tired performance, with not too much at stake, at the end of a decent season, which has included a particularly impressive final few months. It would be unnecessarily pedantic to criticise too harshly – so do as I say kids, not as I do, and while biting our lips at today’s limp showing, let’s cheerily applaud their efforts for the season.

And don’t you all go scuttling of for the summer, because All Action No Plot will keep the flag flying – as well as general transfer ramblings, the Champs League final and England’s match against Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the next few days will see the unveiling of the All Action No Plot Awards 2008-09. Is AANP really going to have something positive to say about Jermaine Jenas? Who will win the much-vaunted Defender-Who-Looks-Most-Like-That-Croatian-Doctor-From-ER Award? And will the players us it as an excuse to tumble into Faces afterwards? It’s the award ceremony that has people across the land literally shrugging with apathy.

 

AANP has entered the perplexing worlds of  Facebook and Twitter – be a geek and get involved.

Spurs 2-1 Manchester City: Just What Did ‘Arry Tell Them At Half-Time?

With the season all but wrapped up, preparations are well under way for the AANP End of Season Awards. ‘Twas good of ‘Arry then, to produce a late contender for the Worst Half-Time Team-Talk of the Season gong, because whatever he said between 3.45 and 4.00pm yesterday, brought about a pretty stunning regression.I’ve often wondered what is said behind closed doors in the changing room – whether there is hardcore tactical sophistication from ‘Arry, or something rather cruder. I can certainly picture Robbie Keane shouting and pointing, Bentley relentlessly preening himself, Pav not understanding a word, and so on – but the style and content of ‘Arry’s pearls of wisdom intrigues me.

Whatever he said, one presumes that he didn’t actually instruct them to lose the plot and treat the ball like a hot potato, but nevertheless things just panned out that way in the second half. We somehow muddled through, but it was slightly a botched job, more like the heist in Reservoir Dogs rather than the flawless break-and-enter style jobs Tom Cruise delivers in the Mission Impossible films.

First Half Positives 

Good movement and fluency all round in that first half, Gomes a virtual spectator, and we could well have gone into the break with more than a one goal advantage. If we have learnt anything in 2009 it’s that we really ought to turn periods of superiority into more than one goal, but at least in yesterday’s first half the lack of further goals was not for want of trying.

The deployment of Robbie Keane on the left had us scratching our heads prior to kick-off, and was neither an unqualified success nor an unmitigated disaster. Messrs Bale and Bentley would probably have felt a little aggrieved to have seen the teamsheet, but such is life at the Lane these days, with Keane bizarrely undroppable, and indeed unsubstituteable, if such a word exists. The question of how to accommodate both him and Defoe is simmering away nicely, in time for the start of season 09/10.

Defoe himself looked sharp and lively. This was particularly welcome, as in recent weeks a lot of excellent build-up play has been frustratingly negated by a vague impotence amongst the strikers, and a consequent habit of rather over-passing in the final third. No such problems yesterday (in the first half at least), as there was a most welcome willingness all round to have a pop, led by Defoe.

The Weekly Jenas Rant 

The most reasonable explanation seems to me to be a lack of awareness of what’s going on around him. Whereas the Hudd or Modric will have a good idea of where they want to send the ball before they even receive it, Jenas seems amazed every time it comes near him. There follows the obligatory three or four touches as he acquaints himself with its dimensions and mechanics. Crucially, he then has to have a look up and around to see what else is going on, and just doesn’t have the vision to pick out anyone who isn’t immediately in his line of sight. The end result generally tends to be the same – turn around and knock it backwards (unless he starts daydreaming and gets caught in possession).

His propensity for the thoroughly un-creative backwards pass was particularly highlighted yesterday by its juxtaposition with Stephen Ireland in the opposition’s colours, a player whose instinct on receiving the ball is always to play a forward pass. A Lennon-Palacios-Ireland-Modric midfield would have me positively drooling with excitement. (See, I told you this would be a little more constructive than my usual Jenas-rant.)

Eggs is Eggs

Anyway, apologies for the digression. The second half implosion complicated things, but eggs is eggs and a win is a win.

The overall sense was that there are one or two areas to be addressed, but that we are in good shape for next season. An understudy for Palacios, a better version of Jenas, a target-man, a solution the Keane-Defoe problem – these are tweaks and adjustments rather than a full-blown overhaul. A gentle makeover, rather than cosmetic surgery. (Although knowing Spurs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Redknapp sacked, Modric sold and two new right-wingers bought over the summer).

Seventh place is still manageable in theory, but unlikely. Opinion is neatly split straight down the middle on this. The absence of midweek games has coincided with a settled team, regular Ledley and hugely impressive form. A Europe-free season next time really ought to see us comfortably in the top six, and perhaps even pushing for fourth. On the other hand, I have loved our European nights, and our squad is probably big enough to cope. (Unlike Fulham’s, I’d suggest – a tenner on Fulham to go down next season?)

It’s likely to be academic. In the meantime, a generous ovation to the team from AANP Towers, for the white-hot home form. Bravo chaps.

Everton 0 – 0 Spurs: Redknapp In “Change-Of-Personnel-And-Formation” Shock

There are lies, damned lies and statistics, but a scoreline never spoke a truer word than Everton 0-0 Tottenham yesterday. We edged the first half, they edged the second half and neither ‘keeper had a serious save to make.There were some interesting sub-plots though. ‘Arry Redknapp has developed a serious allergy to change of any form, either before or during games. No doubt therefore, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth to accompany the twitches when he found that changes of both personnel and formation would be enforced.

With BAE and Lennon injured (some sort of twinge meant Bentley could only manage the bench), and Palacios absent – for desperately sad reasons – ‘Arry was forced to experiment. So experiment he did, with psycho-Scot Hutton, human-simian hybrid Bale and the incredible Hudd all playing the full 90 minutes; Defoe and Keane together upfront; and the whole lot of them jumbled together in a brand spanking new 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation.

Some experiments are blisteringly successful. Alex Fergusons’ deployment of Ronaldo as a striker helped turn Man Utd into possibly the best team on the planet. Alexander Fleming’s poking and prodding gave the world penicillin. Jeff Goldblum’s character created an awesomely slick piece of kit in The Fly, even if the ensuing bedlam did rather shift attention from its genius.

By contrast, the results of our new 3-5-2 were rather less spectacular than all these. It did the job, but is unlikely to be repeated if we have the personnel for 4-4-2.

 

The RegularsThe change in formation ultimately did not make a huge difference to the regulars. Every now and then Gomes’ wires got frazzled and he went a little mental. Trying to dribble round forwards, dropping crosses in his six yard box – that sort of thing. Comfy enough though, and another clean sheet. A fairly serene afternoon too for the centre-backs (it appears that Ledley found something more exciting to do in late-night London afterwards).With the season’s end approaching, Modric has the look of a superhero being gradually exposed to kryptonite. He’s still way ahead of other mere mortals, but his powers are waning. Passes which earlier this season were lined in gold are now being overhit. It’s fair enough – he’s worked non-stop all season. The spirit remains willing as ever, but the flesh is starting to look weak. Send the boy somewhere sunny for a couple of months, and let him put his feet up. Somewhere sunny that all provides an all-you-can-eat-buffet. He needs to put some meat on those bones.

The 3-5-2 allowed Keane to play as a genuine forward, and he even had a shot in the first half. However, he seems to have forgotten what the role requires, as was epitomised in the first half when Lescott slipped and Keane was rocking on his heels rather than devouring the leftovers. Unable to get the hang of playing in attack, he dedicated most of his energy to the one the aspect of his game in which he remains peerless – that pointing and shouting lark. Defoe looked sharp though. More food for thought as next season approacheth

 

 

The HopefulsSo what of the squad players, suddenly given rare opportunities to shine?The use of three centre-backs allowed Bale and Hutton, as wing-backs, to play to their strengths (bombing forward) while providing enough insurance to expiate for, if not exactly mask, their weaknesses (defending). Both made a pretty good fist of attacking, in the first half in particular. Neither were thoroughly convincing when defending, and I’d feel rather jittery if they were deployed within a conventional back four, but there were no real alarms. Still no win for our anti-alchemist, Bale, after almost two years in lilywhite.

The reversion to three in central midfield indicated that Palacios is so important to us – and the rest of our central midfielders so meek and mild – that it needs two men to compensate for his absence. A reserve of some sort, either young starlet or sage veteran, is needed in the summer.

Given that he had the platform of a three-man central midfield it was disappointing that Hudd failed to boss the game. He had his moments, pinging around a few of his usual dreamy Hollywood passes, but was a little too casual from short-range, fairly regularly poking six-yard balls into touch. It was the sort of performance that leaves the jury scratching their heads and waiting for the next piece of evidence.

Nice to see each of these chaps get 90 minutes though, and one wonders what the future holds for them. I expect that Bale will stay, at least until he finally registers a win for us; Hutton will hang around until the January 2010 transfer window to fight Corluka (quite possibly in a literal sense) for the right-back spot; and Hudd will hand in a transfer request citing his hunger. For first-team football.

 

Spurs 1-0 West Bromwich Albion: The Jenas Conundrum Continues

So one nil to the Tottenham, again. In the same way that a generation of kids will grow up knowing Gary Lineker only as the irritating orange bloke of MoTD, a generation may also grow up wondering why a Spurs blog is entitled “All Action, No Plot”.I jest. Four consecutive home one-nils may not exactly be all-action-no-plot stuff, but I am certainly not complaining. Another clean sheet, another three points, and while yet again we made slightly heavy weather of it, we certainly didn’t ever look like losing.

While it was not the most exhilarating performance we’ve produced of late we still created a number of decent chances, with pace and vision from the usual outlets of Lennon and Modric. The problem at times today, aesthetically at least, seemed to be a general lack of movement off the ball. Late in the first half Corluka was guilty of the World’s Worst Ever Attempt At A Stepover, but it was practically forced upon him by complete stasis from everyone else on the pitch. Even here there are mitigating circumstances – not least the fact that it is near the end of a long and difficult season. Also, this afternoon’s sunny clime was probably not entirely conducive to an energetic all-action-no-plot approach.

Get Madonna Off Robbie Keane’s iPod 

Keane duly bedded himself in a good fifteen yards behind Pav and got to work. There was some nice link-up play at times, and those flapping arms are still in fine working order every time he needs to whinge at the ref, but again I can’t remember him having a shot throughout the 90 minutes (the fresh-air kick in the first half technically doesn’t count). This was another performance to suggest that he’s not quite the same without Berbatov, Kanoute or even Mido alongside him. Interestingly, once Defoe was introduced, Keane pushed a lot further up the pitch.

Jenas – The New Wolverine 

And the rest of the time? Backwards, sideways, sideways, backwards. He did not play particularly badly, he generally kept things moving along, and his attitude, as ever, was fine. However, central midfield, particularly with Palacios acting as guard-dog, should be a font of creativity. Jenas seems more often than not to suck the life out of any momentum we have, in any given attack – taking three touches, then inevitably looking to pass backwards, sideways, sideways, backwards. Apart, of course, from when he scored the cracking match-winner from 25 yards. This is the frustration.

Jenas has been a good servant, and as he showed today is capable of the odd moment of class, but I just don’t think he’s consistently good enough to have a regular berth in central midfield if we’re serious about challenging for the Top Four. Use my scientifically-proven, logically flawless “who-would-buy-him?” technique to assess this. The top four sure as hell wouldn’t buy Jenas if he became available. Everton and Villa? I doubt it.  Man City, West Ham, Fulham? Maybe. Well, probably not Man City, given that they can afford Kaka and Messi, but you get the point. A team serious about the top four would not buy Jenas to boss their midfield. Personally I’d rather like to see Modders in the centre, if we get a left-winger (Joe Cole? Steed? Please not Downing)

Elsewhere On The Pitch

Pav had the air of a man who can’t wait for his summer holidays. Fair enough, as he hasn’t had a break in about two years. Defoe’s block on the post was worth a goal. The entire back-four was steady as ever. In fact, ditto that for the whole team, and a particular cap-doff to Gomes (and Modders of course, but that generally goes without saying). A little perfunctory, but another decent win, and more food for thought as 2009/10 approaches.

Man Utd 5-2 Spurs: When A Glorious, Backs-to-the-Wall Defensive Operation Goes Wrong

Sven’s England. They’re the ones to whom we owe royalties for breach of copyright after that second half, now down on record as officially The Worst Ever Attempt To Spend A Second Half Defending A Lead. Sven’s England regularly tried this approach, after scoring first in a crucial game. It actually worked vs Argentina, but then failed abysmally against Brazil, France and Portugal. It’s an unattractive way to win a game and, more trenchantly, typically it just doesn’t work.I’m not sure if it was an official order from the top, or an automatic instinct from the players, but they trotted out in the second half showing absolutely no desire to get over the halfway line. After a bright and breezy first half, with Lennon and Modders respectively bettering their full-backs, we cleansed ourselves of any semblance of attacking intent, and duly set about trying to win in heroic, backs-to-the-wall Alamo style.

That presumably was the theory, but in practice half our team seemed to disappear for 30 mins, only occasionally resurfacing to stumble and tumble around in their own area as Man Utd’s forwards went beserk.

Palacios normally wears underneath his lilywhite a t-shirt emblazoned with a giant “S”. As the designated enforcer in our team, he ought to have been in his element in the second half. Instead, I wondered if the ref had at half-time retrospectively sent him off for that appalling early two-footer, because I’m not sure he was even on the pitch in the latter stages. Rather than enforcing anything the team crumbled like a pack of cards. No plot.

Naturally, there was no shortage of good old-fashioned apoplexy when the penalty was awarded (my instinct on first glance and full speed was that, as the ball ended up in front of Gomes and behind Carrick, it must have been won by the former). However, to attribute the defeat to a dodgy refereeing decision would be to miss the point. Our mentality had been to defend deep and for our lives throughout the second half. To survive, rather than compete. Once that strategy had been adopted, one way or another United goals were a-coming, whether or not the ref helped them out.

In recent weeks we’ve won a clutch of one-nils – but not by camping in our area and desperately trying to repel kitchen sinks being hurled in our direction. We’ve at least tried to attack, and work an opportunity for a game-clinching second, even if we’ve been rather shot-shy and pass-happy.

I’m not suggesting that a reckless, all-guns-blazing, kamikaze attacking mentality would have won the day (although we wouldn’t have fared much worse with such an approach). However, by demonstrating that we were still keen to score more we might have defended further up the field, and caused United some problems of their own – as we did in the first half.

Sigh.

 

Rare Praise For Bent, Slapped Wrist For Keane – And Normal Service Resumed By JenasBravo Darren Bent. Gosh it feels strange to say it, but after scolding him last week for not showing sufficient aggression in attack, I was rather impressed by the way he took his goal. He showed a willingness to muscle in and compete, against the two best centre-backs in the country. Fortune duly favoured the brave, and he banged home his chance. Given that there wasn’t a man in lilywhite within about five miles of him for most of the game, he did what he could.And yes, that last sentence was indeed an ill-disguised snipe aimed at you, Mr Keane. I caught him red-handed in the midfield yesterday, right next to Jenas, and occasionally deeper than Corluka. I presume the idea was for Keane to drop deep, in order to allow Palacios to pick up Berbatov, or some such tactical gubbins. Whatever. Keane’s a striker, so boot him out of the midfield and let him strike.

I’ve been back on medication this week, after my insane ramblings

 

last Sunday bemoaning the absence of Jermaine Jenas. Well, you’ll pleased to know that normal service has resumed. With all the fickleness of Danielle Lloyd in a players’ lounge, I now ditch that argument, and instead pick up one of my many “Get Rid of The Boy Jenas” placards.I had complained last week that no other midfielder shows any inclination to attack the penalty area, and that JJ should therefore be sprinkled in gold and given his own halo. However, as was pointed out to me in the interim, for all his willingness to push forward, no other player is quite as capable of slowing down a Tottenham move when in possession. How could I have forgotten? For yesterday, there he was, at it again, gleefully resuming the habit of a lifetime as if he’d never been away. Passes went sideways, backwards, to Man Utd players, out of play – anywhere but forwards. Maybe his sense of direction was thrown by the presence of Keane standing alongside him, some fifty yards from goal.

Another observation from last week was that

our midfielders rarely helped out poor old Bent by getting into the area. When Modric eventually dared to enter the precious eighteen-yard sanctum yesterday, he scored. Hmm. There’s a link there, somewhere, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.Sigh.( And I can assure you, these sighs are better than the foul-mouthed screams I was spitting out yesterday.) If we wanted

a gauge of how far we’ve come, we got it: we have goals in us, against the best, but we still lack experience and a killer instinct. Still a couple of positions that need improving.However, in the final analysis it was just one defeat. Four games left, and seventh is still manageable.

Spurs 1-0 Newcastle: Lamenting The Absence of Jenas (No, Really)

One of these days, watching Tottenham will be the death of me. They’ll score early and dominate, but then instead of scoring a second against submissive fatted calves bred specifically for the slaughter, they’ll spend the final hour earnestly faffing. I shall chew my nails, squirm and curse; and then swear and kick people; and finally become so wound up by the faffing that my heart will pop and I’ll keel over.It was another good win – some lovely, swift, counter-attacking, coupled with a solid defence, with the enforced reorganisation handled with minimum fuss. But my goodness it would have been so much more pleasant and sedate if we could have scored a second. That would have taken the game by the hand, dressed it in its pyjamas, read it a bedtime story and put it safely to bed. Instead it all became a tad nervy as the clock ticked down. Opposition more inspired than Newcastle might have made us pay.

Lack of Presence in Attack

I have a gnawing sense that we lack a real potent presence in attack. For all the possession, and some delicious one-touch build-up play, we regularly seemed to have only one man in the opposition area. It’s breeding a tendency to try to walk the ball into the net, and play increasingly intricate and precise short-passes around a crowded area. It’s good football, and against the largely impotent Geordies ‘twas sufficient – but a real beast of a man in attack might give a cutting-edge, and make life harder for defenders.

I’m starting to wonder whether Keane has developed a twinkle in his eye for one of our midfielders, as he’s been dropping deeper and deeper in recent games, doing most of his work in the area well behind the striker and generally spending more time than is healthy around the midfield. It’s usually good work – full of energy and awareness, but he rarely seems to be in the penalty area. To be honest I struggle to remember the last time he actually had a shot.

Bent just lacks the confidence – or maybe arrogance – in front of goal to lead the line, in a Shearer or Drogba-esque way. Bent has speed and strength, but rather than boss and bully defenders he seems inclined to keep them informed at all times of his whereabouts, and politely request permission to go running around their patch. This is lovely for any girl who wants to take him home to meet her parents, but rather less useful in the cut-throat trades of line-leading and net-bulging. Start shoving defenders out of the way man, and snarl and spit and demand their lunch-money.

Defoe does at least look willing to shoot when he gets the ball, but at three feet four does not exactly have the physical presence to scatter defenders and hold up the ball. Nice to see him back though.

A Truly Astonishing Admission

I can barely believe that I’m typing this, nor can the winged pig looking on, aghast, at my window, but in a way I missed Jenas today. Seasoned All-Action-No-Plotters will no doubt be scratching their heads and checking for naughty substances in my blood stream at reading this, for I’ve rarely disguised my exasperation at the man. However, a player’s stock often rises when he is absent, and with our midfielders seemingly waiting for parental permission before entering the opposition area, I did guiltily wonder if Jenas would have made a difference. It’s what he does (get into the oppo area), rather than how he does it (mis-hit his shot).

Palacios, understandably, and Hudd, less forgivably, preferred to loiter 5-10 yards outside the area and ping in the occasional long-range thunderbolts. Awesome technique, for sure. However, when we countered at break-neck speed it would have helped to have had someone arriving Jenas-like in the area to support Bent, especially with Keane ditching the day-job to give his top chat to Modric or whomever.

Obafemi Martins

I had been dreading the visit of Obafemi Martins all season. As I’ve previously noted, I remember Emile Heskey,

about 10-15 years ago, when at Leicester, just bulldozing straight through the middle of our defence and walloping the ball into the net. When Martins entered the fray I feared a similar performance, especially with no Ledley around to calm my fraying nerves. He may not be the most refined, but Martins duly set about bludgeoning defenders aside, in a manner that probably had Darren Bent running for the hills in horror. Mercifully, the bull-in-a-china-shop routine extended to his rather erratic shooting. When the transfer window re-opens, would Martins provide an answer to our lack of presence in attack? Not necessarily, but I wouldn’t mind buying him just so that he never plays against us again.Elsewhere on The Pitch

The Hudd was generously given the freedom of White Hart Lane by the Newcastle midfield. He duly enjoyed himself, with a range of passing so sumptuous that on listening  carefully I discerned that it was accompanied by the dulcet tones of angelic choruses, as if ordained by some celestial authority. This was all very wonderful, but I suspect we’ll barely notice him against Man Utd at Old Trafford next week. Still, right man for the occasion today.

It’s taken a while – the best part of a season in fact – but I have finally held up my hands, raided the AANP coffers and paid up for membership to the Assou-Ekotto fan club. I shall still eagerly monitor the Gabriel Henize rumours, but the Braided One is looking better and better each week.

Cruel luck for Dawson, having waited so long for a starting-place, but his injury opened the door for Hutton. He certainly impressed going forward, but sterner defensive tests probably await in the future. The Corluka-Hutton battle for right-back will make interesting viewing in future weeks. Personally I lean towards the Scot as a partner for Lennon on the right.

Modric – legend.

Palacios – legend.

Three more points, and well-deserved. Bravo lads, yet again. I maintain that if there is constructive criticism to be levelled it is that a second goal in such games will ensure a rather pleasanter finale, but all told this was a comfortable and well-deserved win.

Spurs 1-0 West Ham: Defeat of A Faceless Henchman

Really not sure about this whole business of enmity with West Ham. I’m supposed to loathe that lot, but it just seemed like too much effort to scream abuse at them until my face turned purple, or go wandering the High Road afterwards armed with a deranged stare and a machete, or whatever the kids are using these days.I don’t want to sound disloyal, and their fans certainly become rather excitable – but I just don’t care about them enough to hate them.

They’re not based particularly close to us. Their manager is quite likeable. They will end up selling the best of their players to us anyway (before we in turn sell them on to Man Utd). I only know one Hammers fan and he’s a decent fella. I guess what it boils down to is that they just aren’t any real threat to us. Even if they finish above us they’re no real threat to us – in terms of history, fan-base, financial backing or long-term prospects.

With this in mind I didn’t bother antagonising them when previewing the game (they nevertheless bit anyway). And now I can’t be bothered to gloat about victory. West Ham are no ?ber-villain to me; they’re just another faceless henchman to be despatched, en route to a bigger showdown. Another game ticked off, another three points in the bag. That’s as much vitriol as I can muster I’m afraid.

And so to some things that caught the eye on Saturday.

1. Ankle

I only really began to notice how many times per day I pivot on my ankle once I’d sprained it. Admittedly this has little to do with Saturday’s game, but as it’s been my Thought Of The Day for a record seven consecutive days I figured I’d mention it.

2. Too many of our midfielders require Palacios alongside them to look good 

The Hudd continues to polarise opinion. Did he play well or not? To be honest, judgements on this were probably made prior to kick-off. The Hoddle-Reincarnated camp point to his catalogue of gorgeous passes; the Fat-And-Lazy camp point to his general lack of mobility and life-depends-on-it energy. Mind you, the thought of unleashing a Hudd-Palacios midfield combo against Newcastle next week does rather set the pulse racing.

(Some have naughtily suggested that Hudd’s inclusion on Saturday was just a means of advertising him to potential summer suitors. Honestly, as if our glorious leader would be so cynical. Tsk tsk.) 

Zokora’s performance reinforced my opinion that if we really are to mount a serious challenge to the Top Four next season we’ll need to bring in a better understudy for Palacios.

3. Top Dollar Can Buy Top Class 

By contrast our Pav cost £14 mil and has shown he can cut it on the international stage. He had his back to goal and was offering no obvious threat, but put on his dancing shoes, turned his man and scored a peach of a goal. Out of nothing. Reminded me of his goal vs Burnley at home – just a little flash of class, which separates men from boys. It’s the bit of quality you can get when you pay top dollar (or, bearing in mind that Bent cost more than Pav, when you spend top dollar wisely). He still cuts a frustrating figure a lot of the time, but those moments remind that form is temporary, but class is permanent.

4. Modric – So Good He’s Biblical 

So a happy Easter. A win against West Ham, but it might as well have been West Brom for all I cared. Anything less than three points vs Newcastle next week would be pretty shoddy. Thereafter things could get tricky, but we’re definitely safe from the drop, and Europe is still possible. Bring on the next of the faceless henchmen.

Blackburn Rovers 2-1 Spurs: Gritted Teeth

Profligate:
adj.

1. Given over to dissipation; dissolute.

2. Recklessly wasteful; wildly extravagant.

 

Perhaps not precisely the word then, but as the second half wore on, comfortable though it all looked, the sense grew that we really needed to convert all that possession and all that slick build-up play into a second goal. We threatened a few times, but did not create the really clear-cut opportunity our play merited. “Recklessly wasteful” might not necessarily encapsulate the problem, but we certainly wasted 80 minutes worth of very good possession.As a result, through gritted teeth I at least try to console myself that we played well. Play like that for the final eight games and we ought to make Europe. Still three points lost though.

Women

If short-diagonal-passes-inside-the-defender were women they’d be alluring brunettes with flawless hour-glass figures, and I’d salivate while staring at them too. Some of our football, particularly on the counter, was a delight to behold.

If Wilson Palacios were a woman he’d be a scary fat bird. I would desperately try to avoid eye-contact, and generally steer clear. For 80 minutes Palacios demonstrated why he’s exactly what Spurs have needed for so long in midfield, allowing others around him to try those little sultry-brunette-style diagonal passes.

(N.b. Painful to admit it, butI ought to mention that Jenas is looking the part at the moment. Nothing spectacular, still gets caught in possession occasionally, but he’s generally moving the ball intelligently, and supporting the front men.)

The Big Decisions

While it was our own fault for not scoring the second and wrapping up the game, there is not much doubt that the sending off of Palacios swung the game. General discombobulation followed in our defensive lines.

However, it’s long been a mantra here at AANP Towers, whether playing or watching, never to criticise the ref. The day I play the perfect game, making not a single  mistake, is the day I perhaps earn the right to have a go at him. Until then, whatever the ref says, goes.

The penalty: seemed fair enough. Having been six or seven yards away when the cross was played the defender had some time to get his arm out of the way. Seen them given, seen them not given; on this occasion it was given.

The second yellow card: on first glance it also seemed fair enough – rather clumsy. The slow-mo replay then suggested that it was actually rather unlucky, as young Wilson did make a valiant and fairly successful attempt to duck out of the challenge.

Such musings are academic though: the ref gave the penalty, and showed a second yellow card to Palacios. So, through gritted teeth again, I’ll accept the latter decision and move on.

Sam Allardyce Is Bad For Football 

In between pickling my liver and dancing badly for three years, whilst at uni I stumbled across Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. It states:

 

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

Seems fair enough. Generally prevents such unholy deeds as rape, pillage and suchlike. If Kant’s categorical imperative were applied to Allardyce’s brand of football, no-one would watch any more and the game would die.I could have understood if he resorted to the centre-back-as-auxiliary-striker in desperation, in the final 15 mins, but to do so from half-time onwards was an astonishingly brazen admission of his philistinic approach to the so-called Beautiful Game. Did he really have nothing more subtle and aesthetically-pleasing up his sleeve? Teeth are still gritted, but as a nation let’s all at least exhale collectively in relief that he failed to land the England job.

Onwards 

So that’s another lost three points we can wistfully add to our end-season tally, and think of what might have been. Generally a good performance though. Maybe just a bit “profligate”, or whatever the appropriate word is.

Spurs 1-0 Chelsea: Getting Far Too Carried Away

As the final whistle sounded all restraint and reason duly gave up trying to make themselves heard and discreetly slunk out of the stadium. It was neither the time nor the place for that sort of behaviour.  Instead it is the time for giddy over-excitement, the time to kill the fattened calf and start making our outlandish predictions about next season.The business of getting far too carried away comes as naturally to Spurs fans as that whole inhale-exhale routine. Typically it occurs in the idle pre-season months, to the merriment of rival fans the length of the country, but this sequence of – let’s face it – title-winning form, has us all dispensing with moderation and stampeding towards unrealistic dreams of glory.

Over the last few weeks we’ve all desperately tried to restrain ourselves. The win at Hull? Limited opposition. The thrashing of Boro? Far from flawless performance.

Then things started to get out of hand, with the win against Villa. That was hugely impressive, and left us all scrabbling a little desperately for reasons not to get carried away. Deep inside we became convinced that we were showing form worthy of the top six and better, but such talk remained strictly taboo. Company policy had us all under strict orders that the only topic to be broached was that of avoiding relegation.

Ledley was the first to snap, spouting off this week about how we ought to push for the top four next season. We tutted and clucked, even though in our heart of hearts it’s what we all wanted to say.

However, now that we’ve beaten Chelski – and deservedly so – the shackles have been removed. Let’s not beat about the bush here – we’re fricking awesome!  ‘Arry made a few apologetic post-match noises about not being out of the danger-zone, but no-one believed him, and I don’t think he even believed himself. Chelski are one of the teams that the big Italians and Spaniards are trying to emulate. By the old playground-conker rules, that means that we’re now the envy of Barcelona and Milan. Nine games to go, all eyes on seventh spot. The international break will now rather irritatingly disrupt our momentum, and possibly bring injuries, but we can worry about that later. There’s a warm glow at the Lane, and nothing should prevent us from basking in it.

(Reason and restraint have reappeared at AANP Towers, urgently trying to point out the folly of such excitement at one good month of results, but they have duly been gagged, and banned from the premises for trying to spoil the party).

Gold Stars All Round 

My cap is also doffed in the general direction of Gomes. “Much-maligned” is a prefix now gathering dust, for the big man’s save from Terry was worth a goal yesterday. Back in the glorious 2005-06 season under Martin Jol (blessed be his name) I considered that, between them, Ledley and Paul Robinson did the equivalent of scoring one goal per game, through some unlikely last-ditch tackle or point-blank save. Gomes has now started doing the same. He may still grimace and wince and cry like a baby every time a flea sneezes on him, but I’ll accept that he’s a bit of a fairy if he can continue in this vein.

Oh what the hell, why not? So drunk with pleasure am I that I’ll even lavish praise upon Darren Bent. He will never look like a £16 million striker, but he worked tirelessly yesterday, in the “unsung hero” role, allowing more illustrious and talented peers to hog the headlines. It feels a bit like praising the rubbish fat kid in the school team for showing “good effort”, but Bent should just graciously accept the compliment and go back to Spurs Lodge to work on his finishing.

The bubble will burst, we’ll all be whingeing again soon enough, but for now let’s just enjoy the good times. Keep it going after the international break, and we’ll all be going on a European tour.

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