Here at AANP Towers we love a good mantra, as many an unimpressed would-be paramour can presumably confirm. “Never turn down a free drink,” has often been trumpeted, and then slurred, and then sobbed, and then snored in a cab on the shoulder of a long-suffering and impressively loyal chum. “They mostly come out at night… mostly,” is well worth remembering, lest ye ever find yourself sans one working spaceship on a foreign planet whilst being emphatically blitzed by hordes of less benign salivating types; but back in early January the official AANP line of choice was, loosely, “Bag ourselves a top striker and the Top Four is surely ours”. The sort of line that really deserved to be appended by a scarily evil laugh, it may have been impossible to verify but it made a solid enough point. With the big lad on a different continent, the wee man nursing a sore pelvis and Dempsey and Sigurdsson being - now, how can one put this delicately - NOT ACTUAL FORWARDS, it seemed straightforward enough. All areas could in theory be strengthened, but from 1 Jan there seemed to be an element of urgency about the forward line. In case, for example, just plucking a random scenario from the air, one striker toddled off to a different continent and another had a sore pelvis.
But alas, after the last-minute attempt to lure Leandro Damaio went the way of all flesh AVB sagaciously noted that the deal would probably have been secured if only we had had more time. Would a month have sufficed, Andre?
Still, not all doom and gloom. Far from it. Jenas is no more for goodness sake - someone slaughter a fattened calf! On top of which, despite the recent stutters in Cup and League we remain handily placed, the boy Holtby showed a few touches of panache during his cameo, and up in third spot the rotters from Chelski continued their ongoing implosion. Opportunity knocks for sure. West Brom have hit some high notes this season, but Top Four qualifications were built upon wins in games such as this.
In terms of personnel, the usual card-shuffle can be expected at the back, but the more interesting conundrum is in attack, where AVB may be tempted to start with Holtby and give Dempsey a furtive elbow in the ribs as he takes his seat on the bench, for Services to Ineffective Half-Midfield-Half-Attack Meandering. Fingers crossed that Defoe is match-fit.
Hudd to StokeWEEP! Weep - and while you’re at it wail and gnash your teeth – for Hudd is a lilywhite no more! Admittedly the veracity of the above does depend on a technicality, as the blighter has departed only on loan for now, but apparently AVB deems him too slow for this post-Corluka era.
Whether or not he returns seems fairly questionable, for while the loaning of younglings is generally geared towards ripening them for First XI action, loans for more established 20-somethings are typically more akin to a commercial on the tellybox - designed in no uncertain terms to entice viewers to part with tuppence ha’penny.
So weep then, for possibly the silkiest stroker of a leather sphere witnessed on N17 turf since Hoddle has now seemingly munched on his last doughnut from the White Hart Lane canteen. Admittedly Moutinho may still be on the radar, but otherwise it seems jolly uncanny that AVB cannot find room for Hudd within a 3-man central midfield, particularly with Modric still persona non grata, Scott Parker injured and Jermaine blinking Jenas hovering in the background with evil grin on visage and custom-made sideways-and-backwards-passing boots slung over shoulder. Thus, however, does our esteemed leader roll. AVB likes his troops to scuttle around the ankles of opponents like a troupe of particularly sprightly monkeys caught up in the excitement of the mating season, and alas, such a description will never, ever befit Master Huddlestone.
To add to the pain of it all, the marriage of a technician extraordinaire such as Hudd, with an elbows and long-ball outfit like Stoke, seems the very paradigm of incongruity. Should he be travelling to the Britannia in the capacity of Champagne Football Evangelist one can only hope he fares better than our distant cousins who first attempted that preaching lark. Would be a dashed shame if he were mauled to death by lions.
Daws to QPR
Big and brave and inspiring though he regularly is, our heroes are not peddling a production of Henry V so there is a limited need for Dawson’s qualities. In particular, his penchant for roaring at the Paxton end and sticking his head where boots swing fails to mask the fact that in the act of Paxton-roaring and head-sticking he has wandered out of position, about-turned with the nimbleness of an embarrassed elephant and flicked his switch to Clumsy-Last-Ditch-Challenge mode - and at 28 the problem was hardly about to remedy itself. In Kaboul, Gallas and (admittedly the little I have seen of) Vertonghen we have three centre-backs who are better, or at least his equal, while Caulker is developing well and is young enough to improve.
A fine servant to the cause, and the goal vs Chelski circa 2006 remains one of my favourite lilywhite memories of recent years, but on this one AANP concurs with AVB, and a mooted sum of £9.5 million would be fairly health business.
Adebayor to the Lane
Glory be. It had got to the stage where Steven Fletcher was being mentioned in dispatches, so to have dotted t’s and crossed i’s on this is a blessed relief.
For added chortle-value it appears that in order to rid themselves of him, Man City have hit upon the novel idea of paying him the sizeable lump of wage that we poor and needy White Hart Laners could not afford. While it may furrow the brow of one J. Defoe Esquire, at £5 million this is a reason to doff the cap in the general direction of Master Levy.
What ho! That all happened in rather a flash of Euro gubbins and fuzzy Olympic bonhomie, no? For those still drawing breath at the madness of it all I advise a jolly swift inhalation, for that clattering of hooves without is Season 2012/13, entering stage right at a gallop.Ave atque vale
Changes elsewhere as well, if the rumours are to be believed. A new kit has been launched, to a collective shrug across the land from those who only ever really cared about the Umbro ’91 effort. Truth be told I can barely muster the enthusiasm to comment on the switch to white shorts, for they are welcome to play in bin-liners if it helps them outscore all and sundry.
More interestingly, in a cunning bid to bring to the dressing room that sultry female physio from Chelski, Daniel Levy elbowed ‘Arry down the High Road and into the sunset, replacing him with the alarmingly young acronym AVB. Few at AANP Towers sniff at ‘Arry’s achievements at the Lane, but a suspicious eyebrow was raised at his shimmying and hip-swinging over the England job, as well as the Pontius Pilate-esque washing of hands at our tired limp along the final furlongs of last season. While there is a degree of apprehension around the appointment of the new chap it seems only right to bid him welcome and let him crack on with life, and as such he has an AANP hand placed quite firmly underneath his posterior for support.
Central midfield ought to be a forte, as between Parker, Sandro, Livermore, Hudd, Sigurdsson and VDV we seem fairly well-stocked in ball-caressing possession hogs, and the back four are sprightly enough to adapt to AVB’s high defensive line. Indeed, the prospect of a Kaboul-Vertonghen pairing, with Daws and Caulker (plus Gallas, if retained) feverishly twiddling thumbs in anticipation from the bench, helps to assuage the pain of Ledleylessness.
Erm… a centre-forward?
Out the exit door marches Master Pienaar, upon whom we have somehow made a profit. Elsewhere, Ms AANP has hurtled up the list of AANP’s Favourite Croats, by virtue of the rather rummy conduct of Modders (now edging perilously close to a stern talking-to from AANP), as well as the exits of his turbo-charged compatriots Kranjcar and Corluka. Doviđenja chaps. One suspects that fond farewells may also be sobbed by Gomes, Bentley, Gallas, Giovani and, if the footballing gods are feeling particularly benevolent, The Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards.
Further signings will presumably be signed, and mercifully the injury-list is currently limited to Parker, but nevertheless it appears that once again our heroes will trundle out for the first act a few 80s action heroes short of a Hollywood blockbuster. So be it. The time for daring and doing approacheth.
What ho, and I trust you are in as fine fettle as AANP, for today’s basic algebra lesson is that a win today will take us third, and with a game in hand no less. Crivens! Let’s ruddy well get out there, dominate, take the lead, sit back, invite pressure, concede one and hang for dear life for those three points! Our current streak of fairly relentless goodness bodes well, as does Villa’s winless away record this season, but this being THFC there will inevitably be many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip.
Scott Parker’s inexorable march towards Fans’ Player of the Season has seen him just about Man of the Match his way through all eight of his games in lilywhite to date, games that have seen us record seven wins and a draw. Just this once however, I rather hope that Parker’s contribution is minimal, and that we can cruise through to victory without recourse to his indefatigable last-gasp heroics. It would be absolutely topping if the headlines tomorrow were all about Adebayor, VDV/Defoe, Modders, Bale and Lennon, with Friedel a spectator and Parker just occasionally required to play some of his gentle one-twos on halfway, before the forward line launch their next little blitzkrieg.
Corluka is apparently restored to full health, but it is unlikely that young Master Walker will be displaced. If there is a change at all it might be in attack, where, VDV has been recuperating from his latest hamstring mischief by shopping in the supermarket aisle next to the venerable AANP Senior. Defoe no doubt strains at the leash. Meanwhile, the terms of his loan mean that The Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards will not pop up in midfield for Villa, to invite pressure upon his temporary employers, but one former lilywhite on show will be Alan Hutton, whose defensive frailties ought to be brutally exposed by Bale at full gallop. All things considered this should be three more points for the pot.
The dust may have settled, but it would be frightfully remiss to pootle along any further without casting a beady eye over the various to-ings and fro-ings of the transfer window. Step this way please…Welcome to the Lane…
Curiouser and curiouser, we now somehow find ourselves bottom of the table yet with both of last season’s Players of the Year in the ranks. This one get a raucous slapping of the thigh, as in the absence of Sandro, and the now dearly departed Sergeant Wilson, our central midfield personnel have barely made a tackle between them. Like a cereal gone wrong Parker is all bustle, harry and snap. Moreover, for those of us still scarred by memories of Palacios misplacing six-yard passes, or ducking for cover as Steffen Freund shaped to shoot, Parker also has enough technical ability to look at home within a typical Tottenham midfield. Just as behind every good man is a woman, behind every Hudd and Modders we need a Parker.
A bonus point too to someone or other – probably Daniel Levy – for haggling for a price as low as £5 mil for Parker, on the grounds that his aged 30 year-old limbs merited no higher fee, while simultaneously purloining £10 mil (possibly to rise to £12 mil apparently) for 30 year-old Peter Crouch, a man who didn’t win Player of the Year last season…
As previously mentioned, AANP approves of this one too. Like or loathe the man we certainly need the player. A point of concern for the future is that come next summer we will presumably find ourselves without either Adebayor or Modders (and back in possession of Jenas once again), but many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, so we’ll concern ourselves with that at a later date.
The swine. One jolly well hopes that after all the brouhaha he retains his undoubted ability to direct operations from deep, rather than transmitting his recently discovered dastardliness to on-pitch performances of apathy.
While I’m not sure I’d buy a used car from the man, I give credit again to Levy for sticking to his word on this, after being strung out by Berba in similarly unsavoury circumstances back in the days of yore. As well as raising a couple of choice fingers at players’ disregard for their contracts, £40 mil in the dying embers of the transfer window would have been of limited use, and even earlier there is only so much we could have done – our problem is wages rather than transfer fees. Rather than stock up with more Premiership standard players, we need world-class talent, and the £40 mil we would have gained would presumably have gone towards the former rather than the latter. A replacement of similar transfer fee and quality (eg Snjeider) simply would not have come. Far better that we retain Modders, at least for a year.
And Shunted Unceremoniously Toward The Exit Door…
Having resembled a cross between Rambo and Robocop when he joined, poor old Sergeant Wilson seemed completely perplexed by the physics of the football by the end of last season, with the result that of every 50 attempted passes, 49 tended to find an opponent, all of which rather negated his tackling ability. The arrival of a new, improved model (in the shape of Sandro) has brought about his ruthless but entirely sensible culling from the fold. In the context of the £5 mil arrival of Scott Parker, the £8 mil sale of Palacios represents more frightfully good business from the N17 moneymen.
Ye gods be praised. No doubt he’ll loop a header into the Tottenham net later on this season, but for a chap of that structure to be quite so poor at heading was nigh on unforgiveable. The constant concession of free-kicks tended to be more the fault of the officials than Crouch, but nevertheless, aside from a purple patch in partnership with VDV, this chap contributes precious little of value as a striker. Poor in the air, possessed of a ludicrously weak shot and prone to grinning whenever he missed, frankly he riled us here at AANP Towers, a situation exacerbated by the dismissal against Real and own-goal against City last season.
Rejoice, rejoice and thrice I invite ye – rejoice. At least until the end of the season.
Once upon a time – about three years ago, Jenas threatened to make good on all that youthful promise. Alas, the rest rather besmirches the history of Tottenham Hotspur, AANP frequently shaking its head in wonder, and concluding that the lad must be magic in training, because his performances on the pitch hardly merited a regular starting berth. That unique brand of Sideways and Backwards will take the Midlands by storm this year.
Some fine dabblings, in both directions. The grass is always greener, so we may well chunter away about the failure to nab young G. Cahill Esquire, but nevertheless, “Clear out the deadwood; bring in a midfielder with bite; and ruddy well stick a powerful striker upfront” were three fairly critical points on the summer to-do list at the Lane. AANP approves.
Optimism to follow, but it would be remiss to begin proceedings with anything other than the nasty business of a post-mortem…The Arnie Approach
In the absence of our recognised midfield enforcers, our glorious leader adopted the cunning tactical ploy of leaving the back-four without any protection to handle a City front-line so shiny and expensive they had Tevez on the bench, while the rest of our team was crammed with attacking types . While it is easy to denigrate in hindsight, I must admit that ‘Arry’s decision to go for a tackle-lite but flair-heavy central midfield combo of Kranjcar and Modders earned him a whole-hearted and meaty up-raised thumb from the denizens of AANP Towers pre kick-off, on account of its stirring levels of equally measured gung and ho. In an excited flurry of mixed metaphors we settled down to watch our heroes either live by the sword or go down in a blaze of glory, unable to criticise the manager for weighing up the likes of Jake Livermore or Kaboul for defensive midfielder vs the Nasri-Silva-Dzeko-Aguero combo, and instead deciding it would be a dashed sight more fun to watch our own Lennon-Kranjcar-Modders-Bale-VDV-Crouch combo try to out-attack City instead, while poor old Friedel et al simply sighed wearily, closed their eyes and prayed for mercy.
Alas, simply outshooting the other lot, re-loading and doing it again, until they all drop down dead and you rescue Chenny is a ploy that may have worked in wholesome Arnold Schwarzenegger action films of the ‘80’s, but in the nascent days of the 2011/12 football season such a ploy does not cut it, particularly against a City team whose gazillion pound summer outlay enables them to produce vastly superior triangles to ours. The slick little diagonal passes around our area, positional interchanging and off-the-ball movement of their front four sliced our slightly ponderous defence to ribbons. By contrast, our front-line did not have quite the same ingenuity, or speed of thought or foot, to cause similar damage. Put bluntly, our triangles just were not as good.
Poor Form, All Round
Who knows how the game might have panned out had Bale not aimed for the moon in the first half when it seemed easier to score? Crouch too might have changed the game had his flying header pinged the right side of the post, about 30 seconds before Dzeko scored his second. (The elongated one is excused criticism for that miss, for it was a jolly difficult one to have directed better – but if I see him one more time react to a miss by grinning, my lip will positively quiver with rage I tell ye).
However, the performance, as much as the result, was rather soul-destroying. Substitutes Livermore and Defoe at least showed some passion when they arrived, but of the rest possibly only Friedel emerges with any credit (although the goalkeeping pedants in this corner of the interweb think he might have done a mite better with Aguero’s goal). Worryingly, Daws produced a rather convincing Corluka impression, all lumber and awkwardness; while Kranjcar seemed to model his central midfield performance on Jermaine Jenas, with plenty of backwards passing and scant defensive cover; and the sooner Modders is given a slap around the face with a wet fish and told to jolly well buck up his ideas, the better.
Onwards. With Optimism
And in this area I still fancy us to fare relatively well. The arrival of Adebayor will offer us a darned sight more in attack, while either or both of Parker/Diarra will add some of the bite so desperately lacking in the absence of Sandro (Parker in and Palacios out is a fine trade). Royally thrashed we may have been, but in both games so far we have shown glimpses of attacking ability that suggest we will still outscore the majority in this division, and therefore challenge for the top four again.
An early preview, as I’m off gallivanting for the weekend, and for the second time in a week this all looks rather ominous. City’s charming social experiment into whether money can indeed buy you everything has turned them into something approaching the equal of the United side that so emphatically dismantled us last week.The visit of City presents us with two potential strategies: close our eyes, curl up into a small ball and panic; or get Messrs Hudd and/or Modric on the pitch pronto. Kranjcar and Livermore offer technique and enthusiasm respectively, but looked every inch our sixth- and seventh-choice central midfielders against United, and a step up in quality is desperately needed this week. It is possible that Jenas might also compete for a starting berth on Sunday, and while this chap did once play in central midfield against Brazil, his presence would not inspire confidence in anyone other than our visitors.
At the time of writing I’m a little unsure, but presume that Adebayor will be ineligible against his parent club, which would be rather exasperating after an 18-month wait for a decent striker. Given the relative toothlessness of the Defoe-VDV combo last week it will be interesting to see whether ‘Arry gives them another whirl on Sunday, but Pav’s performance on Thursday night hardly made an irresistible case for inclusion.
Elsewhere On The Pitch
While central midfield will be a critical area, Lennon and Bale could also be key, their match-ups against Clichy and Richards respectively making for a jolly lip-smacking prospect. Elsewhere, ‘Arry will have to choose between Corluka and Walker, while Friedel will presumably retain his spot.
‘Tis a measure of the deflating effects of last week, in terms of performance as much as result, that my capacity for optimism in even the bleakest situations as a Spurs fan has been all but extinguished. Pessimism abounds at AANP Towers. Even as the home side I fear we will struggle. Fingers crossed and prayers offered that our heroes prove me wrong.
Like the Queen visiting the troops in Helmand in a symbolic gesture to bolster morale, we lilywhites need something to raise spirits, for few amongst us found anything comforting in Monday night’s debacle and gloomy faces abound. Timely then that that Hearts are pootling along the High Road to be given the run around tonight, for another gentle, if pointless, five-nil win would be timely.Alas, the chances of another drubbing are fairly remote. With the tie already settled our heroes are hardly likely to go charging out of the blocks tonight, and our starting line-up will presumably comprise a sleepy combo of those who will be rather embarrassed to be picked for such a non-event (Bassong, Pav, Bentley etc), and kids we are unlikely to see much more of before they disappear on loan (Harry Kane, Tom Carroll).
While the odds are against the likes of Kane, Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas cracking it at the top level, this is at least a chance for them to demonstrate that they can handle first team football. Controversially, ‘Arry has hinted that Luka Modric may even be asked to do that for which he is paid handsomely, and play for us. Any excitement tonight will presumably be generated by such sub-plots, but levity aside we at AANP Towers hope at least to see some encouraging signs for the morrow from our children of the night, as well as maintenance of a proud European record of White Hart Lane and, of course, no more blasted injuries.
Five goals away from home, five different scorers, clean sheet, no injuries (I think) and run-outs for squad members and kids alike – long may this continue. It could be that Hearts are actually awesome, and we are in fact better than Brazil 1970, but a win that comfortable inevitably points to abysmal opposition. Still, our heroes could do no more than take their opponents to the cleaners, and ‘twas duly done.Life Without Modric?
Hearts’ players looked like their brains might explode as they tried to comprehend how VDV could amble with such ease from attack to midfield and just about anywhere else he pleased. Kranjcar was afforded similar time and space, and purred away accordingly. He is a particular favourite at AANP Towers, but Hearts gave him so much space and time they managed to make him look like Maradona. Those two pulled the strings, and when Hearts rallied early in the second half, VDV was withdrawn and Hudd took over to similarly rampant effect.
A glorified training game it may have been, but it was still heart-warming to see the ball pinged first-time hither and thither by every man in lilywhite. Life won’t always be this easy - other teams migh try tackling our lot - but for 90 minutes at least it looked like our midfield had the technique and craft to cope without Modric.
Kids These Days
That young Walker at right-back has pace in abundance was already well-known, but it was good to see him looking switched on for his defensive duties as well as haring to the opposite goal-line as fast as his legs could carry him. I also particularly enjoyed seeing Andros Townsend take time out from his uncanny Lewis Hamilton impressions to provide an absolutely sumptuous pass in the build-up to our fifth, weighted to perfection, and delivered inside the run of the full-back.
Elsewhere On The Pitch
A tad irrelevant in the grand scheme of things perhaps, but most satisfactory nonetheless. More of the same on Monday night and life will be just tickety-boo.
And so, finally, off we go, in the rather unorthodox settings of ITV4 and Edinburgh. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any Scottish team whose name does not rhyme with either “Beltic” or “Changers” is there for the taking, so first game of the season or not, this lot must be destroyed. ‘Arry has understandably enough made noises about fielding kids and reserves in the Europa League, but while none of us want injuries ahead of the United trip on Mon, it would nevertheless make sense to field a full-strength side tonight. The players will hardly need a rest, a competitive game will probably do them good ahead of our Premiership bow and it would be nice to put this tie to bed tonight, and rest personnel for the second leg at the Lane.My spies inform me that Modders is amongst the absentees tonight. Whisper it, but this might be the last time the name of our tiny genius crops up amongst excited pre-match natterings, for alas ‘Arry’s latest musings suggest that he is willing to cash in if he can bring in various others (although our beady-eyed chairman is displaying admirable intransigency on the matter).
Not quite as devastating is the absence of Jenas, but the Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards is joined on the list of absentees by the Hudd, Sergeant Wilson and Pienaar, while the official prognosis for Sandro reads “out for blinking ages”. Not quite sure who that leaves in central midfield - necessity being the mother of invention, we may even be treated to VDV within a 4-4-2, which would be greeted heartily at AANP Towers and, one suspects, Crouch Mansions and Chateau Defoe. Gallas, Hutton and, inevitably, Ledley, are also crocked, but I expect we’ll muddle through.
Ave Atque Vale
But still. Let that not detract from some fine and noble contributions previously, notably in the 5-1 and Carling Cup wins, and the laudable feat of 100 goals for the club. Quite thrilled to see the back of him in truth, but good luck sir in the fulfilment of your latest boyhood dream.