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Spurs match reports

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.

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Spurs – Man City Preview: Last-Home-Game Bingo

Not normally a betting man, but I might just stake all my worldly possessions and the lives of some of less significant relatives on Spurs winning 1-0 today. Nothing in particular to do with the opposition or circumstances, it just seems de rigeur at the Lane these days. If Spurs were a cricket team they’d push an early single, then stay on 1-0 for the remainder of their overs.Actually, on a more practical level, this might be a more open game than we’ve witnessed in recent weeks. The continued and understandable absence of Wilson Palacios might leave us a bit flakier defensively than we have been in general at the Lane. To compensate for this, last week the formation was re-jigged to 3-5-2 with wing-backs, and with Lennon also still unavailable this might be deployed again. Either way we’ll be poorer for their absences.

Last-Home-Game Bingo 

’Arry presumably will take the microphone on the final whistle and deliver a few home truths. Never shy of voicing an opinion, he may slip in some sort of reference to the perils of the bottle, in his new-found role as one of Britain’s less likely anti-drink campaigners. Far more probable, bordering on certainty, is a mention or two of T-P-E-Gs. Sigh. With Jamie Redknapp also due on the coaching staff next season, there is at least a suitably tenuous reason now to wheel out Louise, and parade her around to all four corners. Triffic.

We can expect Ledley to be on his best behaviour, but I’m rather tempted to take a thousand photos of him during the game, then sift them for one in which he is caught blinking and stumbling, and sell it to the tabloids, claiming it’s proof that he regularly takes to the field drunk.

Sayanora…?

Get your cameras out too for what might be the last chance to see a few players in lilywhite at the Lane. Chances are that David Bentley will be monopolising the mirrors in someone else’s changing rooms next season, which I personally find rather a shame. Admittedly there was little scope for him to fit in with Lennon in such form this season, but for a player of very decent quality it’s a real shame that the best we’ve seen of him has been only that volley against l’Arse and the youtube clip of him hitting the skip.

Of greater consternation around N17 will be the possible sale of the Hudd. He’s made little secret of the fact that he wants first-team football, and if we play 4-4-2 with Palacios taking one central midfield berth, it’s unlikely that he’ll be a regular starter next season. A 3-5-2 formation today could be his last chance to press that claim.

Fewer tears will be shed for the departure of Darren Bent, particularly if we replace him with a real juggernaut of a centre-forward, but the post-match lap of honour is likely to be his last Lane appearance as a Tottenham player too. Bless him, he’s worked his socks off, never sulked and scored 17 goals despite being in and out of the team, but has not been given his own song. On which topic, this might even be a final farewell for one Jermaine Jenas, if the more mischievous rumour-mongers are to be believed.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself somewhat. There is first a game to be played, and for better or worse, 7th spot to be sought after. For those who are interested, of our rivals for 7th, Fulham are away to Newcastle today, and West Ham travel to Everton.

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Spurs match reports

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.

 

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Everton – Spurs Preview: Six Things I’d Like To See From Tottenham Today

The mild apathy of last week’s game against West Brom suggested that the players are gently winding down. Fans too seem a little underwhelmed by the prospect of a fight for seventh, even though we’re only one point away with three to play. I guess fixtures away to both Liverpool and Everton are grounds for mild pessimism – but today at least we’ve a ruddy good chance. Everton will have one eye on the FA Cup Final, and are without Jagielka, who by all accounts has formed one half of a pretty solid centre-back pairing alongside the Lescott.Things I’d Like To See Happen Vs Everton1. Start With Defoe, Keane On The Bench

This is actually heart over head – tactically it might make more sense to use Keane today, given his penchant for hanging back towards midfield, as this might be the best way to counter Everton, who themselves tend to flood the midfield.

Nevertheless, Keane’s form has been sound but decidedly unspectacular, lending credence to the notion that he needs a genuine target-man alongside him in order to excel. Leaving him on the bench might serve to shove a proverbial rocket up his rear-end.

Moreover, I’m a massive fan of the directness and selfishness of Defoe. We’ve been a little shot-shy in recent weeks, which has rather detracted from some excellent approach play, and Defoe’s willingness to get his head down and shoot – on target and from just about anywhere – might address that. Mind you, that very approach-play which has been so impressive might itself disappear if Keane is removed from the team. Decisions, decisions.

2. Bale On The Left, Modders In The Centre

And Jenas nowhere to be seen. The thought of Modric having something akin to a free, central role makes me feel as giddy with excitement as a kid in a sweetshop. He’s not exactly pinned to the left touchline at the moment, but I’d still prefer to see the shackles completely removed.

Would also be nice to see our simian friend get a run out on the left. It seems a lifetime ago now, but when he first joined us, under Martin Jol (blessed be his name), young Bale was possibly our best player, in the opening few months of last season. He contributed pace, goals and a natural left foot (although, alas, never a win) until getting injured and going to pieces.

3. Spurs Scoring First – Then Daring To Score Again!!! 

4. BAE Matching Fellaini’s ‘Fro

Those braids are all well and good, but everyone loves a good afro. Fellaini’s mop is a thing of awesome wonder, and for one last time this season it would be good comedy value to see Assou-Ekotto ditching the braids and going with the ‘fro, in some sort of mental ‘70s throwback. What japes could be had if the pair of them jumped together for a header. Oh, the hilarity.

5. BAE Changing His Expression

Crack open a smile, fella. Or give us anything, other than that unnerving stare of the undead. It scares the bejesus out of me.

6. ‘Arry Making A Substitution

Alright, admittedly I’m now stepping into a whole new realm of absurdity. It’s a thought though. We do have seven of the blighters on the bench, most of whom are pretty capable in their own way. Mind you, someone might first have to explain to ‘Arry that such tactical machinations are indeed within the laws of the game.

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Spurs match reports

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.

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Spurs – West Brom Preview: Hoping For A Reaction

It’s been said that the measure of greatness is not how you react to victory, but how you react to defeat. I could not, even in my most wildly partisan moments, straight-facedly describe Spurs as “great”, but I ruddy well expect some sort of reaction to last week’s twenty-minute debacle at Old Trafford.No excuses – we ought to give West Brom a damn good thrashing today. We fans are owed an all-guns-blazing performance, to exorcise the humiliation of last week, and in terms of bouncing back and unleashing a bit of fury, we could not have asked for anything more suitable than a home fixture against the division’s bottom team.

Aside from the Man Utd mess last week, and the pretty unlucky defeat at Blackburn, we’ve been in decent form. There has been some zippy attacking, and generally pretty solid defensive performances. Play like we have been playing over the last couple of months, and we will win comfortably. A one-nil win and three points would be fine of course, but, perhaps because there’s still some pent up rage from last week, I desperately hope we dish out a real old-fashioned thrashing today. We’ve been making a habit of scoring first in recent weeks, so this week let’s score first but then kick West Brom while they’re down, and turn it into a rout.

Dad’s Birthday Treat 

“Who’s that chap?”
“That’s Fraizer Campell, Dad.”
Crazy Campbell?”
“FRAIZER Campbell.”
“Oh. Never heard of him. Who’s that chap?”

– and then listening to the frequent complaint that all our players are too small. Dad uses that line like ‘Arry uses Two-Points-Eight-Games.

”I like Keane. He works hard…”
“But he’s too small, right Dad?”
“…but he’s just too small. Ah Defoe. I like Defoe. He’s got an eye for goal, like Greaves…”
“But he’s too small, right Dad?”
“…bit small though. They need someone big in there, like Bobby Smith. [Pause] Who’s that chap?”

I therefore particularly look forward to the verdict on Wilson Palacios. ‘Arry has a big decision in choosing Wilson’s midfield partner, with Jenas his seeming preference, but Hudd making noises about pastures new. In attack, Bent’s out injured, poor blighter, and could well have played his last game for us. Not entirely sure what Pav’s status is these days, so we might get an early glimpse of next season’s big problem, with a Keane-Defoe partnership. Well if they can’t work together at home to West Brom…

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Spurs rants

Jenas Rant Shows He Cares

Rather gloriously, Jermaine Jenas has got his knickers in a twist regarding referee Howard Webb’s moment of glory on Saturday, and has now been asked to explain himself by the FA. (nb that’s Jenas who has been asked to explain himself, rather than Webb…)Anyway, back to the barely controllable fury of our sideways-passing warrior.

 

“One thing which struck me about it was that he [Webb] didn’t even think. It was like he’d already made his mind up when he came out for the second half that he was going to give something,” quivered our intrepid hero.”I think it was a case of a referee crumbling under the pressure at Old Trafford really. The atmosphere, the occasion, the importance of the match, a lot of factors take their toll when making decisions.”

Well huzzah for JJ, the most unlikely of heroes. Unfortunately, the powers that be have taken a rather dim view of these comments, asking Jenas for “an explanation”, but I’m proud of the guy. It reminds me of the nerdy, goody-goody kid at school suddenly snapping and going beserk at his headmistress while awestruck classmates watch on, brimming with a new-found admiration for the blighter.

Admittedly it’s hardly on a par with Lee Bowyer starting a fight in an empty room, or Roy Keane yelling “Take that, yer c*nt” before snapping the legs of a toddler who’d sneezed in his direction. Nevertheless I warmly applaud Jenas and give him my full support on this one, as he queues up for a detention slip alongside Bowyer, Keane, Bellamy and the rest of the school trouble-makers. Not that I condone criticism of the ref – no matter how ignorant, biased, blind, dim-witted, retarded and inbred a ref has to be to drop a clanger like Saturday’s penalty award, I refuse to criticise him. However, just the fact that Jenas was sufficiently flustered by the affair to talk his way into trouble really warms my heart. It shows he cares.

My schoolboy gullibility long ago faded away, and has now been replaced by the overly bitter and twisted cynicism of a bile-filled old man. As a result I know longer believe in the existence of Father Christmas, the A-Team or footballer loyalty. No matter how many times they kiss the badge, and no matter how long their contract, it just seems beyond the boundaries of credulity to expect footballers genuinely to care about their team. They’re on a limited career-span, so they’ll make their money with whomever coughs up. It’s a different world from fans. Rather than bemoan lack of player loyalty I just accept it, even when they stick two fingers up at the club then come crawling back six months later.

Hence, I’d figured that after the final whistle on Saturday they all just trotted off to the players’ lounge to fight over Danielle Lloyd and sort out the Faces guest list. The notion that the penalty decision still rankled with one of them is a flabbergasting but enormously welcome development.

More so as we’re such a soft-touch team anyway. I’ve been brought up on a diet of pretty passes and fancy flicks from Hoddle, Redknapp (Jamie) and Modders. I still eye Palacios with confused fascination, as if he’s a creature from another world, so unaccustomed am I to a player in lilywhite putting himself about. All the more reason then, to pinch myself as I read and re-read Jenas’ tirade. Well, it’s more of an apologetic clearing of the throat than a full-blown tirade, but the point is that he cares. Like we do. Winning means something to him, and losing hurts. His talent may be questionable, he has me tearing my hair out every week, but by golly he’s committed to the cause. Good on you, fella.

 

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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.

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Man Utd – Spurs Preview: How Far Have We Come?

Manchester United away will be a good test of how fair we’ve come this season. Actually, the very fact that I can type that and not immediately be carted off to the nearest nuthouse is itself a measure of how far we’ve come, irrespective of how the game pans out.The fact that we had only two points from eight games a few months back has had all meaning sucked out of it by ‘Arry’s narcissism, so it’s easy to forget that once upon a time this wasn’t just a relentless soundbite, but actually a damning indictment of what a wretched team we were.

How things have progressed, particularly since Palacios arrived. The gauge of our ability went from how we’d fare against Hull away, to Villa away, to Chelski at home – and suddenly I’m genuinely curious to see whether we can compete with the European and Premiership champions on their own patch. Blimey.

Top Four Next Season? Then Let’s Compete With Man Utd Today 

It could be a particularly important game for the Hudd. I would actually expect Jenas to replace him if fit, but if Hudd gets the nod this would be a massive test of how good he really is. Opinion is split. The Hoddlers and the Haters have regularly made their respective cases. We’ve seen that he can pull strings at home to West Ham and a relegation-threatened Newcastle, but if he really is to push on and cement his place in the team, and indeed the England squad, he’ll soon have to start walking the walk against the best teams in the country. An anonymous 90 minutes today would do little to advance his cause.

Anonymity against Man Utd would be no disgrace – but the “no-disgrace-in-defeat” mentality is something I’d be glad to see the back of. Let’s see who can cut it against the best, and have a think about who to jettison in the summer.

Occasional Wobbles From Man Utd 

Their fallibility has, for me, been epitomised by their goalkeepers. We’ve been rather shot-shy in recent weeks, and it would be a shame if this trend continued today, as Van der Saar has looked ropey every time I’ve seen him in recent months (cue a blinder from Van der Saar this afternoon). Thanks to the rock-solid Ferdinand-Vidic combo in front of him he kept around thirty thousand consecutive clean sheets and made the PFA shortlist, but he seems increasingly prone to spill, or flap, or get beaten at his near post. Foster’s most recent outings have also been notable for a couple of David James-esque calamities.

I don’t expect us to win, and I’m not holding out for that. But on the back of recent results, I’d love to see that our improvement extends to giving the best team around a real run for their money. Just some indication that we really have slightly closed the gap. The win against Chelski has already hinted at that. The consensus seems to be that we don’t need much tweaking in order to push for Europe or even the top four next season (although there’s still some debate as to precisely where such tweaking is needed). A good performance, if not necessarily a good result, would be further evidence that we’re inching closer, and that we’re well set for 09/10.

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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.