All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Liverpool – Spurs Preview Mk II: The Spurs Soap Opera Season Finale

After yesterday’s supposed Liverpool-Spurs “preview” morphed onto a completely different topic, I spent the entire night racked with guilt. (Actually, that’s a pretty blatant lie – I spent last night pickling my liver and hurling down shapes on various London dancefloors. That new Dizzee Rascal number is rather a toe-tapper).Nonetheless, I thought it best to look in a little more detail at today’s game – it is the last of the season after all. As with any soap-opera season finale, the madcap all-action-no-plot soap opera that is Tottenham Hotspur 2008-09 has its main plot, sub-plots and all manner of character developments.

Main Storyline 

Not that it will be easy. Far from it. While we’ve been stringing together one-nils, Liverpool have assumed the all-action-no-plot mantle, with four-goal salvos against Man Utd, Real, Chelski and l’Arse to name but a few. Even last week, after the title had been lost, their players gave notice of quite how psyched they were for a meaningless game vs Blackburn or someone by indulging in a spot of mid-match fisticuffs with one another. Golly.

Although a win for us is unlikely, it’s nevertheless pleasing to be going into the final day with a goal (that isn’t relegation-avoidance) for which to aim. It just about elevates us above mid-table obscurity. Just.

Sub-Plot

Then there’s Robbie Keane, a sub-plot containing levels of coincidence that could feasibly have been penned by a particularly predictable script-writer. A game which ought to have been about him making a point to his former employers now sees him rather needing to convince an increasingly cynical Spurs faithful that he does more than point and shout. The man’s stock has fallen this season, and while it would be fitting for him to grab the headlines with something spectacular, recent history suggests his contribution could again be muted. I’d suggest Jamie Carragher is more likely to score from us, at least from open play.

Another sub-plot, which is almost certain to stretch into next season, is Defoe-Keane. They get another run-out today, but it’s a riddle we’re no closer to solving.

Character Development

Some characters exit shows in pretty dramatic fashion, especially if they’re bald doctors in ER, but David Bentley’s likely exit will probably be without fanfare, perhaps just briefly alluded to in an episode next season. Departing characters are par for the course in the world of soap operas, but while some members of the supporting cast are likely to bow out (Bent, Giovani etc), the central figures ought to remain, thank goodness. None of the Berba-esque shenanigans of last time, thank you.

After respectively quiet and downright inauspicious starts, Modric and Gomes have become key members, around whom plotlines regularly centre. If an episode of the Spurs soap opera had opening credits, those two would feature, together with Palacios, Ledley, Woodgate and maybe one or two of the strikers.

(As full-backs, Corluka and Assou-Ek rarely get starring roles in any given episodes, but they’re background presence is reassuring.)

It would certainly be nice to end this season with a bang, and I’ll certainly have an eye, or ear, on the Fulham score, but realistically we’ll need as much luck as we had back at the Lane earlier in the season. Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

 

(nb AANP is now on Facebook and Twitter. Ruddy marvellous).

Liverpool – Spurs Preview: What’s So Special About Home Advantage?

Eighth is looking likeliest, which I think we’d all have accepted after Two Points Eight Games™. While AANP could not be bothered to work out exactly how well we’ve done this calendar year, I’d expect Spurs would be somewhere near the top of any table based solely on 2009 form. Home form all season has been spot-on, the record of only conceding ten goals in nineteen games mildly astonishing.Liverpool’s home record is similarly impressive – unbeaten in the league at Anfield all season – adding a few inches to our already tall order of European qualification (which requires us to win and Fulham to lose at home to Everton).

A Digression Which Rather Hijacks The Entire Article 

So does home support make all the difference? There certainly is something to be said for the full-blown, cacophonous atmosphere of White Hart Lane making the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. Never been to Anfield, but the Kop’s reputation is presumably well-earned. For sure then, the players ought really to get a kick out of that sort of atmosphere. Indeed, even at amateur level, just having a few hot lady-friends chirping in with the occasional squeal can add a little motivation. (Me, shallow? Never.)

However, the cynic in me has been motoring away all season, and is unwilling to yield any ground now by simply accepting that “home advantage” is some sort concrete phenomenon we all accept without demur. It only seems to be a concept, existing solely in people’s minds, much like the notion that ugly people are actually beautiful inside. Home advantage seems to equate to having more bald fat shouty men than the opposition, which might add an extra dose of adrenaline, but doesn’t strike me as a good reason to drop a striker and play five in midfield.

I can appreciate that it would be rather intimidating to play at a ground of 30,000 people, all of whom are screeching abuse – but it’s not a fist-fight. The good souls in the stands don’t get to set foot on the turf, and therefore their contribution ought to be limited.

Star Trek definitely gains something from the big-screen experience, but would still be a cracking action film if watched on dvd in a mate’s living-room. One suspects that the dvd version will have the same plot. And yet, venue influences a team’s game-plan. It’s an unspoken agreement before a match that the onus will be on the home team to have first crack at wresting the initiative. The away team sets out its stall to “soak up the pressure”, “silence the crowd” and other clichés from the beaks of parrots.

It’s not a particular complaint, more an idle musing on a hungover Saturday afternoon. Still, as with suggesting to parents that new-born babies actually look shrivelled and hideous, I imagine it’s not an argument I’m going to win. Accepting that away form will typically be worse than home form is just one of those quirks of life we accept and work around.

(Nevertheless, while some people yearn for nuclear disarmament and an end to third-world poverty, I idly dream of the day when teams dismiss the concept of “home advantage” and instead do their damnedest to come out of the traps all guns blazing every game, irrespective of location.)

The Little Matter Of The Football Match 

The curious question of whether Robbie Keane would have been allowed to play against a Liverpool team for whom he stood to win a Premiership medal is now irrelevant, so we can instead watch again for clues as to what strike-force ‘Arry will adopt next season.

And a scary final note – in 24 hours or so the three-month break begins. Not sure I’m quite ready to go cold-turkey.

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.

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.

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…

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.

Spurs – Newcastle Preview: The “Second Favourite Team” Myth

Six games left, and while trips to Old Trafford, Goodison and Anfield look tricky, our home games vs West Brom, Man City and, first of all, Newcastle, are eminently winnable.If you look carefully, the words “home banker” can clearly be seen etched across this fixture. On current form Newcastle are amongst the worst in the Premiership. Two points in six games apparently, which is the sort of stat that threatens to infringe the copyright terms of ‘Arry’s own little motto. Hilariously, they seem to be the only team in history not to have enjoyed the new-manager-bounce, and are consequently making effortlessly serene progress towards the Championship.

Everyone’s Second-Favourite Team 

First of all, nobody in their right mind has a second-favourite team. Football is a monogamous sport. Anyone with a second-favourite team is either related to a player (vaguely acceptable) or a bandwagon-jumping irritant who calls the game “soccer”, whines that there are too few goals and pronounces the “ham” in “Birmingham” (unacceptable, in case you were in any doubt).

I’ll root for whomever is playing l’Arse. I sometimes keep an eye out for Bristol Rovers, as a former classmate plays for them. However, I support only one team. Generally, I either don’t care about or actively dislike the other 19 clubs in the division, and 90-odd in the country. I’m pretty sure these traits are common to most football fans in the country. Anyone who merrily chirps about having a second-favourite team has completely missed the point, and ought really to be tied to a railway track and set alight.

So the notion of a second-favourite team is farcical. The notion that Newcastle is everyone’s second favourite team is miles off-target and utterly bereft of logic. We’re perennially invited to agree that we’d all love to see Newcastle win something – their success-starved fans deserve it apparently.

This is mildly insane. Football isn’t some sort of UN aid programme whereby every starving leper by right gets a bag of grain. Fans just have to accept whatever their team does, and if that means never ever winning trophies, and then getting relegated, so be it. They’ll get no sympathy from anyone else as we’ve all got our own team to worry about.

Non-Newcastle supporters don’t adopt Newcastle as their second team. They occasionally take time out from their own teams to laugh at Newcastle, for their insistence that they have a divine right to success, married to their consistent underachievement. This presumably is fairly similar to the opinion all non-Spurs fans about our lot too. In short, no-one truly cares about anyone other than their own team.

As it happens, we’re laughing at Newcastle for all sorts of reasons at the moment, as they provide a bit of comic relief for everyone else from the seasons’ travails. The magnificent outburst from Joe F**king Kinnear earlier this season was comic genius, and was sandwiched between the more gently amusing exit of Keegan and the slightly daft appointment of Shearer. Shearer’s arm-in-the-air thing was warmly appreciated at AANP Towers when he wore an England shirt, but did not obscure the fact that he was a dirty so-and-so. In his more recent incarnation he has been a pundit of such mind-numbing blandness that he frequently made me want to tear off my own ears and eat them. Won’t shed too many tears if his rescue mission bombs.

Palacios, Pav and Defoe 

A few changes are likely for Spurs. With Palacios back, one of Hudd and Jenas will have to make way, whilst Pav’s slick finish last week may well earn him a starting place ahead of Bent. Jermain Defoe apparently might make the bench. He’s back in full training now, which gives us a few weeks to work ourselves into frenzies over he and Keane will fit together. More immediately however, he’s unlikely to get more than a cameo at the end of the game, by which time the three points ought to be in the bag.

Spurs – West Ham Preview: Cheer Up Chaps

Well this is awkward. Somehow this week I find myself in the unusual, and to be honest, plain uncomfortable position of having to raise everyone else’s spirits. This is foreign territory. Generally more at ease as a pessimistic misanthrope.However, a curious role-reversal now sees me rather looking forward to the season finale. Meanwhile Spurs fans all around me have been sighing melancholy sighs and eyeing steep cliffs over which they might hurl themselves.

The reason seems to be one bad match – in fact, one bad ten-minute spell. Seems strange to me, but the ten-minute meltdown against Blackburn has got Spurs fans tripping over themselves to write off our season and slap the wrists of anyone who cheerfully drops the phrase “European qualification” into conversation.

Curious this, as it’s usually the reverse – i.e. it’s normally one good ten-minute spell, which has us all screeching away about Champions League qualification. For whatever reason though, it’s been sackcloth and ashes this week rather than deluded optimism. The defeat to Blackburn has deflated the masses.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Galling though it was, the Blackburn defeat did not strike me as a return to the bad old (not so old, really) days of widespread sloppiness and a marshmellow-soft spine. I honestly think that if we keep playing like we did against Blackburn we’ll do fairly well in the last few games. Beginning on Saturday at home to West Ham, who currently occupy the seventh spot we should be eyeing.

Admittedly, should we lose on Saturday  we’ll be nine points off the pace with six to play – it will be game over. Win it though, and we’ll be three points off Europe with six to play. Game on, n’est-ce pas?

The Blackburn finale aside, our recent league form has been mighty impressive – four wins, two draws and good performances. Add to that 70 or so good minutes against Blackburn, and we actually remain one of the form teams in the division.

Moreover, our competitors for seventh are hardly the giants of contemporary European football – Wigan, Fulham and Man City, as well as West Ham. Achieving seventh would not mean punching particularly high above our weight, if at all, as this motley crew are all liable to stumble a couple of times en route to the finish line. This is more of a scrap to be less bad than several other harmless mid-table drifters – seventh is a fairly realistic aim, particularly if we can win on Saturday.

So I’m therefore quite perky about the prospect of this end-of-season run-in, even if every time I say as much the music stops and tumbleweed rolls by.

Reasons To Be Depressed

Mind you, it hardly takes much effort to slip back into pessimistic mode. For a start, as well as costing us three points last weekend, that wretched second yellow card for Palacios means he’s suspended for this Saturday. Replacing him would be like trying to replace Mr T as B.A. – there just isn’t anyone else cut out for the role. With no B.A around, Face Man (Modders) will find it a lot harder to pull, if you don’t mind me wandering a little off-course with the analogy.

Presumably do-do-do Dider will take the place of Palacios, but although they start the game on roughly the same patch of turf, Zokora and Palacios are vastly different beasts. We should therefore not expect too much midfield enforcing from the Ivorian, who rather prefers a long meandering gallop to a raw-leg dinner in the centre . I guess it will be a useful exercise, as Palacios’ penchant for a tasty challenge is likely to bring him his fair share of cautions, and therefore suspensions, in the future. There will be more days like this. Gives some food for thought as the summer transfer window creeps up.

Not quite sure how West Ham have found themselves in seventh. Last time I bothered to check they were in a bit of a mess down the rear-end of the division, with Zola’s beaming pearly whites firmly locked behind a worried frown. Now they’re in pole position for the last European spot. Madness, I tell you.

As mentioned, win this one and we’ll be right back in the hunt for Europe. Plenty to play for.

Spurs – Chelsea Preview: A Dirty Secret

As the visit of Chelski approacheth the time is probably right for me to confess my sordid little secret – I don’t actually hate Ashley Cole.Controversial Indifference About Ashley Cole 

The reason for this is probably his level of performance in an England shirt. Generally, he keeps his head down and gets on with things when he’s wearing the three lions. Few histrionics or whinges, unlike some of his international (and club) colleagues. He’s a very solid left-back, pops up with his fair share of last-ditch tackles and goal-line clearances and, as befits the 21st century full-back, he also provides an extra attacking outlet by bombing up the wing.

I feel like I’m dodging rotten tomatoes as I write this, but tomorrow I’ll probably direct my abuse elsewhere. The allegations of greed and infidelity don’t particularly bother or concern me, as they merely suggest that he’s a member of the species homo footballens, completely oblivious to the true nature of life on earth. These players are signed as young teenagers, have the annual GDPs of small African countries waved at them before they’re 21, have hot ladies tripping over themselves to snare them, and have never touched a 9-to-5 job with a bargepole.

Little wonder then, that they grow up with pound signs in their eyes, and a penchant for a bit of skirt, within wedlock or otherwise. Even Saint Gary of Lineker was at it, back in the day. I’m not condoning it – Cole’s a rotter for messing around that minx of a wife – but he’s not alone in living on a completely different planet from the rest of us. 

Bile Towards The Rest of Them 

Drogba for example – built like a boxer, yet cries like a girl who’s been called nasty names. For goodness’ sake, take it like a man. And by “it” I mean everything that comes your way. I’ll never forget the sight of him tumbling like he’d been shot under a tap from Zokora at Wembley last year, picking himself up to score the free-kick, and then comfortably supporting two or three team-mates who jumped on top of him.

Terry seems to think that being an England player cloaks him in immunity from punishment. Quite why he is England captain is bewildering. A role model he most certainly ain’t – unless the asbo generation are seeking inspiration – and neither is he the best player in the team, or even the best player in the pair of centre-backs. That business of him giving a rousing speech before the Croatia game a couple of years ago, also had me spitting feathers. If the team wanted verbal inspiration then the poet laureate ought to have been hauled before them; but the entire business of pre-match speeches by the captain struck me as ludicrous, and entirely worthless once the whistle blew for kick-off. Honestly, if the players weren’t sufficiently psyched for a crunch game like that I hardly think some pearls of wisdom from John “Byron” Terry would have done the trick. And after all that fuss we were rubbish anyway.

I’ll resist the urge to go through the entire Chelski team firing off bile-soaked rants. You get the point. Unlike Peter Kenyon. Not so long ago Kenyon fastened blinkers to his head and quite earnestly banged on about turning them into the biggest club in the world by 2014. Without either an illustrious history or a massive long-term fan-base they will never be categorised as a true great of the English game. I can imagine Kenyon staring blankly at me as I try to explain this, then picking up a bag full of coins and shaking it at me, by way of counter-argument.

’Arry’s CV, Lennon’s Contract 

Lennon against Cole is likely to be critical to the outcome of tomorrow’s game, on which topic, three cheers for young Lennon for putting pen to paper. Wise move, son. It would be convenient at this juncture to forget quite how worthless footballer’s contracts are, and instead breeze into the Lane tomorrow on a wave of goodwill and optimism.

Villa – Spurs Preview: A Thoroughly Unreasonable Hatred

Been looking forward to this one for ages. Perhaps a bit of an odd choice for a grudge match, but I have been developing, over the last year or two, an intense hatred of Villa. It has gone almost unnoticed for months, but after a recent glance at the fixture list it all suddenly burst out in a torrent of completely unreasonable incandescence.Admittedly they’re not l’Arse – ironically actually, a win for us tomorrow would do a favour for that ‘orrible lot – or Chelski or West Ham. Can’t even point to narcissistic, persecution-complexed fans, as with Newcastle or Liverpool.

However, once the idea popped into my head it gained momentum, sped out of control and now has a life of its own. I hate Villa. I absolutely loathe them.

The reason? They’ve stolen our thunder. They’ve usurped us. Challenging the top four? Pushing for a Champions League spot? Spine of young English players? Those are our trademarks. We did all the groundwork for this. Just a couple of years ago, pushing the top-four was our exclusive territory.

Yet now, no-one remembers us – they just bleat on about how good it is for the Premiership that Villa are muscling in on the top four. It’s like inventing the paper clip and then seeing someone else patent it and run off with the money. That’s exactly what it’s like. So you can easily imagine the level of ire I now feel.

I guess a modern-day Freud would diagnose this, as with most of my gripes about Spurs, as a failure to step out of the glorious bygone era of Martin Jol (blessed be his name). The all-action-no-plot goal-fests, the scintillating one-touch counter-attacks, the English-speaking changing-rooms – and the fact that it actually brought us results. It was a perfect platform for us, to expand the elite into a top five. It was supposed to be the end of our perennial underachievement. I still haven’t quite accepted that we failed to push on, that the whole empire crumbled in a blitz of inflated transfer fees and bumbling Darren Bents.

So now we find ourselves back where we’ve been most of my life – mid-table mediocrity, with the occasional Cup run and very firmly rooted within this sceptr’d isle, with no need for a passport to mainland Europe.

Instead, it’s Villa who’ve run off and sold our paper-clips. Villa, with their ridiculous colours and odious, smug little manager. Worse, since I’m in a minority of one on this point, I’ve just had to stew in a corner silently, for months on end, muttering sotto voce curses and glaring at the league table.

As we clearly aren’t going to overtake them this season, the only solution is to vent some rage and deal them a bloody nose this afternoon. It will carry the same satisfaction as beating up the lad who stole your girlfriend. Not big, not clever, won’t win back the girl – but nevertheless, in a pathetic way it will make me feel a little better about life.

On a more reasonable level, this game will also provide a pretty good gauge of where we are, given the current confusion of whether we’re still in a relegation scrap or actually pushing for seventh.

Friedel is one of the finest ‘keepers in the land, while in the last couple of years I’ve undergone a Pauline-like conversion to Heskeyism. He may not be able to score if he visited a brothel, kicked out every other punter and then signed the deeds for the place, but he has a majestic ability to treasure the ball, occupy defenders and involve his chums. In the various areas of grass between these two players I have to admit, between gritted teeth, that that darned English spine has a combo of guile in Barry, and oodles of pace in Young and Agbonlahor.

A good test for us without a doubt, and a pointer for next season (sigh – how depressing to waive this campaign, in mid-March, and already peer towards next season). We’ve honed the baffling skill of matching the top-four, yet we are frequently out-scrapped by the rubbish thud-and-blunder bunch around the drop-zone. The only true gauge of our standard therefore seems to be Villa and Everton.

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