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Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

Having not strung consecutive passes together since around 2014, and suffered defeats in recent weeks to such behemoths as Swansea and Southampton, there was a fairly morbid inevitability about the fact that Liverpool would rediscover their joie de vivre against us. Of course they would.

1. Davies

Credit where due, our hosts set off like a pack of hyenas spurred into action by the dinner gong at a zoo. Every time one of our lot were in possession they were rather rudely biffed and barged by at least two or three of the blighters in red, and naturally enough the mistakes duly flowed like it was open season on the things.

Our heroes certainly did not help themselves. Au contraire, they seemed fairly intent on doing their utmost to help Liverpool out of their new year slump, going the extra mile as it were. Which was neighbourly I suppose, but, it struck me, seemed to fly in the face of the overall mission imperative. Wanyama started this rot, setting his radar to “Liverpool Shirt” and letting fly with a mind-boggling five-minute spell in which all he did was intercept the ball and ping it straight to the nearest opponent. The brow furrowed.

Or at least the AANP brow furrowed. By contrast, one could almost see the eyes of Ben Davies light up as he noted the errant Wanyama peddling this insanity. Against Middlesborough and Wycombe and the like, Davies is pretty much the man for the occasion – sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but by and large doing enough to force the deal through. However, one suspects that you or I might be the man for the occasion against that lot. Liverpool away represents a different kettle of fish, something far likelier to test the iron will and moral fibre. This was Davies’ opportunity to prove himself as one of those beasts of the jungle who growls “Jump” and has his fellow beasts hopping to it pronto.

Alas, the reality that transpired was bleak, second-rate and error-strewn. Liverpool rather cruelly opted to hone in on Davies, having identified him as the weaker of the sentry guards on duty, and by golly were they were rewarded. Davies resembled a man who did not quite know which sport he was playing. Helpfully abandoned by Son, and without the reassuring presence and pristine side-parting of Jan Vertonghen beside him, the young bean floundered out of his depth and had his head dunked beneath the surface time and again by Liverpool. One would sympathise, but there is not really much room for sentiment in this narrative.

2. Dier

In a touching show of solidarity with his Welsh chum, Eric Dier peddled a similar line in incompetence, from his vantage point at centre-back. Dwelling on the ball, and displaying a turn of pace that would give hope to passing tortoises, he represented another ill-disguised chink in the lilywhite armour, as Christmas came early for our hosts.

The alarming sentiment continues to gain momentum that Dier is a centre-back who is woefully ill-equipped to perform as one half of a centre-back pairing. Within a back-three his lack of pace matters less, and as midfield cover he is able to slot in for his full-backs and mop things up neatly enough. But plant him at the core of a back-four, with little more than a “How-To” guide and his own autonomy, and the chap flounders. And flounder he did with some majesty yesterday, being directly culpable for the second, and generally unable to cope with the red shirts buzzing all around him.

(To his credit he flew in with one glorious sliding tackle to spare various blushes as Liverpool ran rampant at two-nil, but all a bit late at that juncture, what?)

It made for fairly ghastly viewing, but stepping back from things and giving the chin a little stroke, one starts to ponder the broader, philosophical questions of life, existence and Eric Dier. Not good enough to play in a back-four, and displaced in midfield by Wanyama, where does the young fish fit in?

3. Resources

If you don’t mind me veering away from the minutiae of the match itself, and instead trotting a little further down this existential line, the nub of the thing seems to be that our squad is not quite the all-singing, all-dancing, multi-talented troupe needed for the rigours of this lark. The first-choice XI is a match for the very best in the land, make no mistake. But take out Rose and Vertonghen, and we are a dashed sight weaker. Take out Kane, and poor old Janssen lollops on to stumble over his own feet. Remove Eriksen and it’s the uncontrollable limbs of Cissoko. Young Winks has some dash about him for sure, but he’s no Dembele.

And so on. Not exactly a novel train of thought, but while we were able to gloss over things in previous weeks, the lack of squad depth was exposed in fairly pointed fashion yesterday, and it made for some pretty awkward viewing.

4. Dembele

Still, amidst this rather dank state of affairs there were nevertheless one or two moments to stir the soul, and they typically emanated from the sturdy frame of Dembele. Noting with razor-sharp judgement that he was not about to receive a jot of support from any of his chums in lilywhite, Dembele set about on three or four separate occasions trying to right all the wrongs of the day single-handedly. It was like one of those tragic war-films they show on Sunday afternoons, when our half-dozen heroes are pinned into some sort of bunker by hordes of the enemy, and one particularly selfless old bean decides that the only way in which anyone is going to make it to the end credits is if he makes a noble dash right into the heart of enemy heartland and takes down a few dozen opponents, sacrificing himself in the process.

Dembele had clearly had enough of the imbecilic frippery of Davies, Dier et al, and repeatedly tried to rescue the day be single-handedly weaving his way through massed ranks of red shirts. Alas, he generally made it past two or three before being crowded out and dragged to his doom, but it stirred the loins somewhat to see this will to win.

5. Discipline

Things improved a mite in the second half, to the extent that we were not overrun quite as much, but the game was long gone by then, and we were frankly lucky to be only two down.

There were echoes of Stamford Bridge last season as the game wore on and our lot struggled to make the slightest dent in proceedings, as they instead resorted to losing their heads and lashing out with all the subtlety of a team of raging bulls in the ceramics aisle. Led, naturally, by Dele Alli, half the team got themselves cautioned for a stream of fairly wild and unseemly hacks and stamps (although young Winks can feel hard done by on that count, poor lamb). One should probably tut and pontificate, but in truth they were only doing on the pitch what I rather felt like doing from the sidelines. The whole thing was bally frustrating, and not least because Liverpool have been so poor in recent weeks.

However, just over the mid-point of the season, and with only home games vs Arsenal and Man Utd remaining of the top six, we are fairly well set. A Top Four finish is eminently doable. Quite what fresh madness awaits when the Europa League returns is anyone’s guess, and a couple of injuries could blast our season out of the water, but as long as this defeat does not trigger a slump there should not be too much cause of concern.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 4-0 WBA: Four Lilywhite Observations

Enjoying Themselves

Have you ever seen a set of players just enjoying life as much our lot did yesterday? While the pre-match prognostications had naturally been cheery thoughts of how West Brom derailed us last year, and we rarely beat them, and wouldn’t it just be so very Tottenham to follow up a win over Chelsea with a pickle against WBA – our heroes sauntered onto the pitch as if they had been having the mother of all jollies in the changing room, and were determined that nothing as irrelevant as a referee’s whistle was going to interrupt their fun.

West Brom trotted out with miserable countenances and a 6-3-1 formation, rather like a chap who sits next to you at a dinner party and spends the night complaining that he loathes nothing more than being at dinner parties. Mercifully, our lot could not have given two hoots, and spent the afternoon running rings around them. Such was the merriment that Wanyama was bursting through the middle to create the opening for the first goal; Danny Rose was racing around in the right wing position to set up the second; and a pre-injury Jan Vertonghen was lapping up every opportunity to bound forward in search of whatever glory was going spare. It was an absolute riot.

West Brom, with their hangdog expressions, dutifully chased shadows, but I cannot remember seeing a team dominate possession quite as much as our heroes, in that first half in particular. Seasons changed and empires rose and fell before West Brom got a foot on the ball. In years gone by our heroes have struggled against brick walls and locked doors when faced with these defensive mobs, but yesterday it seemed they could carve out chances at will.

Eriksen

‘Derided’ is a strong old term, but the chap has certainly taken the odd verbal biff from these quarters, in months gone by, for not really turning his abundant talent into the full twenty-four carat once on the pitch and in the thick of battle. But by golly there were no such concerns yesterday. If there were a whiff of magic in the air, Eriksen was more often than not in the vicinity, wand in hand.

Admittedly charging down free-kicks in his capacity as a one-man wall was not really in the remit, but in so-doing the well-mannered young bean seemed to reinforce the view that pretty much everything he touched would turn to the bright stuff. There were tricks and flicks, scything diagonals, and generally puppet-mastery of the highest order.

And it has been thus for several weeks now. The chap does occasionally seem to stumble upon these purple patches, and for a couple of months makes the game look as easy as the nabbing of candy from a minor. Which is obviously marvellous stuff, and six wins in a row smacks of us making balefuls of hay while this particular sun has shone. The nub of the thing is that Eriksen keeps up this form. The whole system is working dreamily at the moment, and there are creative options a-plenty – as West Brom will wearily testify – but an on-song Eriksen does make the various bits and pieces tick in most pleasing manner.

Cracking Goals

When up against a six-man back-line – not to mention a goalkeeper who struts around with the air of a man who knows he has in fact been sired by one of the gods – that early opening goal is pretty dashed crucial. All that dominance might have become something of a millstone if we had trundled up to half-time without a breakthrough, and as such any old opening goal would have been gratefully received.

We were rather spoiled then by a selection of goals which may not necessarily live too long in the memory, but which were classy enough to be waved into clubs with strict dress codes nonetheless. The little pinged passes and precise finish for the opener were slick enough to be presented to visiting dignitaries.

Admittedly the second had as much luck about it as guile, as the persistence of Rose and Dembele were rounded off by the umpteen deflections, but if you ping 20 shots at the opposition goal, one would expect one of them to be coated in good fortune.

As for the third, I have already sent my application for membership to its very own fan club. The accuracy of the drilled Walker pass was bona fide eye of the needle stuff; and one would have to be a particularly curmudgeonly sort – a West Brom player perhaps – not to enjoy the acrobatic scissor-kick finish.

Then there was the scooped Dele Alli pass for the fourth. Frankly, there should be a law against such stuff.

Vertonghen Injury Repurcussions

Alas, there was a blot on this particular escutcheon, in the right-angled shape of Jan Vertonghen’s ankle. The beauty of this current all-conquering vintage is that the entire XI seem to play their roles to perfection and gel with one another absolutely dreamily. Remove one part, and… well. One rather wonders.

Ben Davies performend the role commendably enough during the Euros, and the alternative would presumably be Kevin Wimmer, whose performances so far this season have not quite matched the impressive heights of last season. I rather hope that the last cab on this particular rank is reversion to a flat back four, because unless Vertonghen and Alderweireld are at its helm this is not a structure exactly oozing infallibility from its every pore. One for the Brains Trust to ponder over.

The injury to Vertonghen does also direct a little attention towards what is, if not exactly an elephant, then certainly a mammal of relatively conspicuous proportions. This starting XI has an all-singing, all-dancing and frankly all-conquering feel about it. However, once the reserves are called upon – and the Europa League soirees kick off once more – I fear that cracks might appear in this thing. Worries for another day perhaps. This was arguably our finest, and most enjoyable performance of the season.

Spurs 2-0 Man City: Four Lilywhite Musings

As I dip the nib into the ink-pot and absorb the sparrows outside gaily linking arms and tangoing the afternoon away, I can’t help thinking that the mood in these parts is just about as perky as it has ever been, for this performance was right up there.

On the attack from literally the first toot, and impeccable in defence throughout (but particularly in that nerve-riddled final 20 or so), all against an all-conquering mob who generally blitz the dickens out of opponents with four or five goals per game – when have our heroes every played quite so well?

1. Son Up-Front

Poor old Janssen has lumbered around with the weight of the world on his shoulders since biffing up at the Lane, and it was no real surprise that on the biggest stage of all he was taken to one side and politely asked to shake hands with the unemployed. He snuffled things out on the bench, young Sonny was asked to fight the good fight upfront, and within twenty seconds the decision was vindicated with a blast of trumpets, for Son had already nutmegged the nearest City stooge and slammed a shot goalwards.

It set the tone. Harry Kane Mk II he may not be, but Son came armed to the gills with a different set of bells and whistles, and buzzed around the place from first minute to last, worming his way up the noses of any City defender within a stone’s throw and generally being a complete pest.

One does not really begrudge him for shooting rather than passing whenever he had the faintest whiff of goal, given his current form, and in general it was glorious to watch. On top of which, the reverse pass for the Alli goal prompted a chorus of delighted coos from across North London too.

When it was mentioned last year that in the absence of Kane we would pootle along just fine because Lamela, Son and the like could fill his boots, I rushed for the nearest wall and banged my head against it in exasperation. Well that rather teaches me, what? Son might not be the archetypal striker, but the chap will certainly make any back-four think twice before kicking off their shoes and settling in for a snooze.

2. The Pressing Game

Son’s gung-ho charge in the opening seconds set the tone for an attacking performance that could not have been more Pochettino-esque if it had started spouting slightly broken English with a cherubic grin.

Son, Alli, Eriksen, Lamela and just about anyone else who could fob off their defensive duties tore about City defenders like a pack of over-excited puppies scenting a new tree against which to raise a leg. As game plans go it might not necessarily have been rocket science, but our heroes clearly understood the Ts and Cs, and had a whale of a time haring after any City defender in possession.

The whole adventure was aided no end by the remarkably generous clown in the City goal, who resolutely refused simply to hack the ball to safety, but instead insisted on picking the most inappropriate moments to try out his Pele impressions. Looking every the sort of egg who gets his kicks from juggling knives, this so-called Last Line of Defence simply invited trouble at every juncture, and our lot could barely believe their luck.

And on it went, our relentless high pressing game. Indefatigable is the word, albeit with the caveat that they had all fatig-ed themselves out by about the 75th minute, and traipsed around the pitch on empty tanks thereafter, but the ploy was a cracking one and ultimately struck oil.

3. Midfield Bite

While our forwards made merry, the midfield battle was one for the grime-covered, gnarled, unshaven veterans of a muddy Wednesday night in Stoke. Wanyama in particular seemed thoroughly to enjoy the whole notion of clearing out ball, man and any women and children who happened to be in the vicinity, and frankly City’s dandy fun-makers were not allowed to settle.

Our lot wanted it more, ferreting around for loose balls as if they were nuggets of gold, and maintaining the tempo throughout. It really is one heck of a thing that Pochettino is lovingly moulding here, and one gets the impression that if he were to politely mumble “Jump”, to a man this entire squad would roar back at him, “How high, dash it?”

4. Rock-Solid Defence

Like any good action flick, having shot down the enemy and high-fived their way into the closing act, the action then switched to a good old-fashioned defence of the fortress for the finale, at which point Messrs Alderweireld and Vertonghen politely cleared their throats, polished their boots and marched into position.

Sensibly enough, everyone else in lilywhite promptly took their cue from these two, adopted their positions, and flung limbs in the way of City attacks like the things were going out of fashion. No doubt about it, City have a trick or two up their tattooed sleeves when going forward, and Aguero is an absolute force of nature, but our back-line were bound together let a particularly niftily constructed spider web, and there was no way through.

Bar the one that Lloris somehow managed to shovel onto the post, and admittedly bar the other half-dozen that the also had to save – but one gets the gist: our lot held firm, and the villagers were saved. Huzzah!

An absolute triumph then, for Spurs, Pochettino and what feels like the whole of humanity. The art of penalty-taking aside, every aspect was delivered with a whiff of a trooper at the peak of his powers, and against the finest team in the land. We probably will not win the Title, may not even finish Top Four, but performances like this dashed well make a man want to tame a lion, court a maiden and slam back a whisky.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Summer Lilywhite Musings

Here at AANP Towers we are pretty firmly of the opinion that not a dashed jot ought to be read into the great big tease that is The Pre-Season Friendly, and in that spirit I’m inclined to care not a hang about the two defeats. Of rather more interest were the shiny new personnel who gambolled around the Melbourne Cricket Ground (a turn of events that did get me thinking that the last time I tried playing football on a cricket green I was unceremoniously booted off, with the threat the local constabulary were to be involved, but such is life).

Wanyama

I probably ought to caveat at the outset that while I pride myself on my ability to procrastinate and undertake myriad pointless hobbies, researching the whys and wherefores of Europe’s – or indeed the Preimership’s – top talent does not really feature on the 500 or so on my list. So if you are looking for an infallible scout’s guide to the players we ought to be welcoming to N17, I’m afraid you’ve quite markedly stumbled upon the wrong corner of the interweb.

With that ringing endorsement in place, I may as well run the rule over the chap Wanyama.

In a nutshell – I’m jolly glad that we’ve pickled this particular egg. No doubt about it, sans Dier, Dembele or – heaven forbid – both, we are a dashed sight less rambunctious than with. Dier seemed to be wheeled out for just about every game of every competition last season, either on guard-dog patrol in front of the back-four or as cup competition centre-back. While it seems unlikely that Wanyama will dislodge Dier in a hurry, he does offer both reserve and competition, in what is possibly the most important position in our team.

From what I remember of previous seasons (although again, I can hardly profess to being a seasoned Wanyama-watcher) the chap can get stuck in and is rarely happier than when harassing an opponent to within an inch of his life. The pre-season gubbins appeared to bear out this point, as he seemed happy enough to sit deep and go snuffling for possession. On paper therefore, the chap seems a pretty sensible purchase, so a gold start to someone in the Brains Trust.

Janssen

Again on paper, the concept of a reserve for (or possibly competitor to) young Master Kane makes sense by the bucketload. Kane is blessed with a natural gait and demeanour that makes him look a tad weary at the best of times, but by the end of the season (and during those wretched, wretched Euros) he looked to have wrung every last drop of energy from his body. As with Dier then, news of another pair of legs to fill the striking berth seems as good a reason as any to strike the celebratory gong.

However, as just about every lilywhite who has roamed the earth will testify, and as the names Postiga and Soldado rather damningly evidence, there is no guarantee that any expensive foreign striker who swans into the Lane will necessarily blow up anyone’s skirts once throats are cleared and business begins. One frets.

Good luck to the chap nevertheless. He showed some nifty touches in the Atletico friendly in particular, linking up and holding up, as the jargon has it, although I’m not sure he had a sight of goal over the course of the two games so judgement on his ability to score from every angle is necessarily deferred. I suppose that in the meantime one is inclined to keep fingers firmly crossed and mutter a gentle prayer as the season draws near.

Euros Personnel

It is still difficult to hark back to the Euros without seeking out the nearest wall and banging my head against it repeatedly in a fit of something between frustration and rage, but this is the hand we are dealt.

As mentioned earlier, Harry Kane trudged around as if every lost drop had been sucked from his body, and alas the endearing memory of his participation will likely be the image of him blasting corners and free-kicks way off into the stratosphere.

Dele Alli hardly did himself justice either, although I felt jolly miffed on the chap’s account that the shoe-horning of Rooney into the team meant that young Alli was shunted around from his natural habitat… Apologies, ‘tis a rant that ought to be left to rest

Dier, Walker, Rose

On a brighter note, Messrs Dier, Walker and Rose were more impressive. Walker and Rose for the most part carried on doing what they had done with aplomb for the best part of 2015/16, hurtling up the flanks with startling indefatigability. Alas, having spent the first three games of the tournament with concentration etched across his face as he strained every sinew to avoid lobbing in a seismic defensive mistake, Walker eventually switched off and lost his man for the first Iceland goal – an unfortunate blot on an otherwise cheery showing.

Dier too appeared to be at fault for an Icelandic goal, but again this ought not to detract from some impressive nine-to-five stuff in front of the defence. Where the dickens that free-kick came from is anyone’s guess.

Davies, The Belgiums, Lloris

Elsewhere, Belgium’s decision to play Vertonghen at left-back had eyebrows arching up and down the High Road, and Toby Alderweireld was made to look rather silly by that Welsh chap who was not registered with any club, which is something of a low.

Ben Davies playing as one third of a back-three prompted the mother of all dull-and-inebriated discussions between AANP and a chum, and Monsieur Lloris confirmed what most of the watching world already knew about his ranking as a tip-top net guardian. The poor lamb can consider himself dashed unlucky not to have lifted the shiny vase at the end of it all.

However, the real losers of the whole tournament appeared to be our lot, with Spurs players apparently spending more minutes on the pitch than any other Premiership team. One can barely contain excitement at the prospect of a sluggish lilywhite start to season 2016/17. My medical expertise does not quite extend to knowing whether the rigours of the summer will leave them too tired or not up to match-fitness come mid-August, but the first excuse of the season is already well prepared here at AANP Towers.

New Kit

Such is the dearth of activity in these moribund summer months that it comes to this. We have a new kit, sensationally it is white and blue. As befits a curmudgeonly grump, I am not a fan (of the blue shoulder thing in particular), but no point in complaining. Young people will do these things, and somewhere a cash register is whirring. As ever though, they could play in bin-liners for all I care, as long as there is success to toast come May 2017…

Spurs 3-0 Man Utd: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Familiar Beginnings

I don’t mind admitting that when the opening toot sounded and the assembled cast got stuck in, I started to get the sense that I had seen this thing before. Déjà vu all over again, as the chap put it. The sight of our heroes being harried to within an inch of their lives every time they tried to put a foot on the ball took me right back to the sepia-tinted era that was last weekend, when our heroes were harried to within an inch of their lives every time they tried to put a foot on the ball.

Man Utd cunningly took a leaf out of Liverpool’s book from last Saturday, and as a result the first half hour was not quite the cakewalk one would have expected against such lowly cannon-fodder.

Such events rather try the soul, and although a switch was flicked somewhere around the half-hour mark, producing a mini-glut of chances for us, this whole jamboree had a decidedly iffy ring to it. In fact, sages across the land were busily proclaiming that this whole epic would be settled by not more than a single goal – when out of the blue our lot went suddenly got wind of the free drinks on offer and went absolutely beserk. And within five minutes the case was closed and jigs were being danced.

It will presumably be swallowed up within the broader narrative of Titles and seven points and all the accompanying furore, but our lot can allow themselves a cheery tipple tonight, in the first place for refusing to be shoved completely off track during that frantic opening salvo.

A bonus drop of the good stuff ought also to be put away as a reward for capitalising upon the breakthrough and really making sure the dagger went in right up to the hilt, and was then twisted for good measure. We may have battled hard for the first, but there is nothing like kicking a team when they are down, and turning one-nil into three-nil in the blink of an eye is a pointed indication of the hell-bent desire to win amongst our heroes.

And with the hard work done the party tricks could then be unfurled, and a few charming serenades sounded by the lusty-voiced choir, which is all part of the fun when you think about it.

2. Dele Alli

Dele Alli’s goal was very much a Dele Alli goal, if you get my drift. Bursting into the area, timing his run, finding a pocket of space – boxes ticked and off we tootled.

However, the chap has had a struggle of late, finding himself quite the marked man both last week and this. The little cushioned passes were not having the desired effect, every time he tried to look up and pick a pass he found himself being crunched from three different sides and his goalward gallops were generally fizzling out with barely a whiff.

Thank heavens then that his first decent touch in two games gave us the lead. A triumph for perseverance, amongst other things. There is a temptation to expect the consummate all-round performance from the chap literally every game he plays, but the thought now occurs that maybe this is a mite unreasonable.

3. Lamela

Alli applied the coup de grace to our opener, but several other young beans were involved in the creation of the thing. Kane spotted the run of Eriksen with admirable quick-thinking; and Eriksen displayed the heightened awareness of some sort of freak super-mammal in reverse-passing for Alli to finish; but the whole thing was set in motion by young Lamela scavenging around for scraps on the floor around halfway.

There then followed a slick assist and an equally nifty goal for the young blighter, and that in a microcosm neatly sums up his season – a stomach for the fight, and a decent haul of goals and assists. A grump of my ilk still has little trouble in pinging off a list of things he may improve if he were that way inclined, but no doubt about it, he has raised his game this season, and while he may still be a mere waif of a lad, he dashed well fights the good fight.

4. Dembele

While on the subject of bravura performances, I may as well focus upon one for whom my man-love can be dished out with far greater ease, for in his understated way I thought Moussa Dembele thundered about the place with absolute lashings of effortless, monstrous effectiveness.

Particularly within the confines of a game in which every touch was greeted by a swarm of opponents homing in, Dembele simply announced possession of the thing and allowed us to watch as men in red shirts bounced off him. At one point in the first half he appeared to escape from a cul-de-sac by dribbling past half the United team, in a scene reminiscent of some 80s action hero storming through a hail of enemy bullets and emerging unscathed.

When, in the second half, he and Dier got their wires crossed and both went charging for the same ball, I winced and shielded the eyes of the nearest children, fearing that cracks would appear in the sky at impact. Dembele really is the beast that behemoths look to for inspiration.

5. Other Bits and Bobs

Other points of note? Well since you ask, it was nice to see Vertonghen slip back into his overalls as if he had never been away; and in the closing stages there was a little voice in my head rather mischievously pleading for Walker to cast off his self-imposed restraints and thump the chap to kingdom come. It is probably also legitimate to note that in a tight old scrap, the scales began to come down in our favour when that United right-back chappie with the double-whatsit name limped off, but such is the rich tapestry of life I suppose.

The gist of things however is that this Tottenham lot know the game-plan, work ceaselessly for one another and by and large tend to grind other mobs into submission. The Title will sort itself out soon enough, but with the pressure on our heroes they did all that was requested, plus a fair amount in addition, and turning over United 3-0 is not to be sniffed at.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 3-0 Bournemouth: Six Lilywhite Observations

1. Fast Start

No time to bed in and have a few early sighters, not with our lot. The opening toot of the whistle was the signal for the hounds to be released, and before one even had time to pour a stiff something into a tumbler and give it a swirl, young Kane was already racing away to dish out back-slaps and “What hos”.

Many a sage has trotted out the slightly peculiar adage that the best time to score is just before half-time – I’ll be pickled if I know quite why – and there certainly can be occasions when an early goal actually has a negative effect – disrupting game-plans, spurring on the opposition etc (I’m looking at you, England-Germany in Euro ’96).

But on this occasion a goal in the opening 44 seconds was happened to be the exact scribbling on the doctor’s prescription, absolutely verbatim. This Sunday kick-off business by and large means that every time we kick off we are already a decent glug behind Leicester in the timetable, and the tension around the place was lingering in a none-too-healthy way as the clock ticked down to 4pm today – so credit in abundance to Messrs Walker and Kane for coming up with the idea of scoring in the first minute. For thereafter our lot oozed confidence, Bournemouth looked like a team who would willingly run for the hills if the laws of the game allowed such things, and the whole jamboree resembled a fairly breezy cakewalk.

2. Top-Notch First Half

The first half was very much the stuff of the new-look, consistent and effective Tottenham. A world away from the Spurs who made my childhood such dashed agony, it appeared that confidence, rather than perspiration, oozed from the pores, as our heroes kept the ball for what seemed like full ten-minute stretches at a time and ground down the opponents with relentless efficiency. The full-backs set up camp alongside the midfielders, chances were carefully created, every man in lilywhite bobbed along with a spring in their step and all was right with the world.

Understandably enough the energy and enthusiasm dials appeared to be turned down considerably in the second half, as frankly the first half contained so many spoilers that we all knew how things would turn out fairly early on. And as our heroes dozily toyed with Bournemouth in the second half, every inch as flies to wanton boys, the thought struck me – ought we to have demonstrated the more clinical edge, of say a City or Chelsea of yesteryear? In their title-winning pomp, City have not simply gone through the motions in such instances, but instead put opponents to the sword and racked up five, six, seven.

Or did it make more sense simply to do as our lot did, take no risks, avoid any over-exertion, and simply see the thing out? Given that our goal difference is already comfortably superior to the other mobs, there is a strong case to be made for suggesting that our heroes got things absolutely spot on today. Three nil with minimal effort is more than enough at this stage of the thing.

Not a criticism, you understand, more of an idle musing as things wound down in the latter stages. (Although during those latter stages, we still came dashed close to scoring one of the goals of the season – that moment with the nifty Eriksen footwork and a few one-touch passes, before Alli got himself in a muddle and shot wide.)

3. Substitutions

With the game up before the hour mark, the next point of interest was the substitutes’ bench, as seasoned people-watchers subjected Pochettino to the usual scrutiny. I must confess I found myself raising an intrigued eyebrow as his first action was to give young Lamela the hook, particularly as the game was won. With Dier having been an injury doubt beforehand, and Alli, Demebele etc fairly critical to the upcoming denouement, it surprised me a smidge that one of the supporting cast was deemed ripe for plucking.

Still, Pochettino has demonstrated many a time and oft that he knows his apples from his oranges, so I will graciously allow him the benefit of the doubt. He will, no doubt, be thrilled.

4. What Now For Full-Back Rotation?

There are few sights in nature more eye-catching than young Kyle Walker flicking the switch to Turbo and absolutely steaming forward 50 yards to join an attack, and having struck oil with his very first foray he remained in the mood throughout.

The routine of swapping him and Rose for Trippier and Davies appears to have worked well enough, ensuring that all of them have enough puff in their lungs for their weekly assignment – but with our heroes now having been unceremoniously elbowed from European competition, I am intrigued to see what the official party line will be for full-backs in the coming weeks. There is now but one game a week, yet Pochettino is a man who will swap his full-backs if his own life depended upon retaining the same ones. An interesting little sub-plot, and for what it’s worth I think he will stick with Walker-Rose as the games tick by and push meets shove.

5. Vindication for Rotation

On the subject of rotation, Pochettino is far too polite a sort to brag, but having been subjected to various snuffles of disapproval (not least from within the four walls of AANP Towers) for abruptly deciding to wave the white flag at Dortmund in the last few weeks, our glorious leader will presumably allow himself a discreet nod of satisfaction that the resting of various luminaries in midweek paid off so handsomely this afternoon.

Credit where due, and if our lot do indeed wave the shiny thing around come May, nobody will care two hoots about squad rotation in Dortmund.

6. Wimmer Tribute

The whispers from behind the bike-shed suggest that Jan Vertonghen will be ready to burst back onto the scene, singing, dancing and looking immaculately coiffured, after the international break. Should that be the case he would, naturally enough, be welcomed back with a manly handshake and possibly a rugged back-slap, but if events should indeed transpire thusly, it seems only right to pay a brief but heartfelt tribute to his young deputy, Kevin Wimmer.

Despite appearing oddly like he ought to be wearing a tux and playing the bassoon in an orchestra somewhere, the chap has managed to put barely a foot wrong in the last few months. When Vertonghen limped off against Palace there were furrowed brows across N17, as we wondered whether our Title push was limping off with him, but Wimmer has patrolled the grounds with considerable aplomb.

There are ten others who can justifiably feel a tad miffed at having not had their five minutes here at AANP Towers tonight, for this was a top-notch stuff throughout the team. Sterner tests await no doubt, but while we could not win the league today, we could well have lost it had things gone South today. A most professional performance to take us into the international break. Merry Easter one and all.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Palace 1-3 Spurs: THAT Goal & 4 Other Lilywhite Observations

1. THAT Goal

Hoddle-esque. Gazza-esque. A goal so good you would let it marry your daughter. Words cannot really do justice to the strike and technique itself, so instead I’ll waft over a couple of associated thoughts. The move in its entirety for example, had the jolly pleasing aesthetic quality lent to it by the fact that the ball did not touch the ground from the moment Kane swirled in his cross, to Eriksen’s cushioned header, to Alli’s one-two-three touch, swivel and shot.

On a separate note, young Alli must have one heck of a brand of confidence flowing through his veins, to even contemplate trying a gag like that. ‘Instinct’ seems to be the buzzword, but if he had had the general blues about his game, the way the match had treated him or life in general, he may well have looked simply to shovel the ball back whence it came and let someone else take responsibility. Mind you, he’s never exactly come across as a shrinking violet on the field.

One lilywhite chum messaged me to say that if you look at the ‘onrushing’ Palace defender tasked with blocking the shot, he decides against flinging himself body and soul into the path of the ball, and turns his back on the shot. Channelling his inner Vertonghen, if you will. Now this seems a rather joyless way to critique one of the finest ever lilywhite goals, but on watching the replay I take the point. Let’s not spoil the thing though, what?

2. Blur of Movement

Stepping out onto the balcony and taking a more panoramic view of things, this should go down as another cracking little win, one which  hammers home the point that this 2015/16 vintage are not as green as they’re cabbage-looking. For a second consecutive week, the rasping injustice of falling behind in a game we were absolutely dominating was deemed nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and they ploughed ahead with the policy line of jinking one-touch passes around the opposition area. There is nothing particularly new to our heroes about having to work right from the first toot on breaking down two defensive banks of four – our reputation evidently precedes us. What brought a rosy glow to the cheeks on observing events unfold was the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed manner in which they set about the task yesterday.

There have been times in weeks gone by (at least one of the Leicester games, maybe Newcastle at home) when our attempts to penetrate the impenetrable have essentially been, when broken down into raw constituent parts, a series of sideways passes. Earnest and willing, but a little lacking in creativity – more akin to repeatedly shoving a blunt knife at a lock and hoping something will give. Yesterday however there was all manner of off-ball movement, right from the moment the curtain went up. This lent itself fairly naturally to the full range of slick, short, first-time passes; and the gist of the thing was that we buzzed around with intent throughout, and particularly in the first half. Worth lobbing an honourable mention for this week’s chosen full-backs too, who set up camp firmly in the final third of the field, meaning that we also had a cracking spread of busy options spanning the width of the field from right to left. And by extension, the weekly tip of the hat to Dier, whose immaculate positioning enables the attacking juices of the aforementioned full-backs to flow so liberally.

3. The Latest Team Tinkerings

While one broadly understands the gist of things when it comes to Pochettino scribbling down the names of the chosen ones, there are an increasing number of spicy little sub-plots bubbing away under the surface. The full-back hokey-cokey for one thing, and in recent weeks, the choice of Dembele or Carroll (which is hardly a contest at all, but became a matter of concern when the Belgian was returning to fitness). The latest tete-a-tete has been between young Sonny jimbo and Eric Lamela. Son’s bravura midweek performance earned him the nod, and I was jolly glad to see it , for te much-vaunted Lamela Resurgence of 2015-16 has yet to utterly convince in these four walls of the interweb. Yes he certainly beavers away with the right attitude, chasing back and scrapping for things like anyway Pochettino minion should, but the chap’s principal role is as one of our resident Magicians-in-Chief, and in this respect he always seems to underwhelm a tad. Son, however, seemed to work things out pretty quickly, and set out taking on his man and thumping in his shots tout de suite. Given the strength of Chadli’s late cameo as well, I wonder if Lamela has suddenly been bumped down the list of cabs on the rank.

4. Substitutions

Generally out glorious leader seems to enjoy a degree of structure to his life. Who knows, maybe he is the sort to neatly fold his clothes on a chair the night before, and opt for a couple of Weetabix every morning with a banana for elevenses. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, he tends to avoid tearing up the teamsheet and trying all manner of new and exciting permutations if a like-for-like substitution is available. A polite ripple of applause then, for his decidedly more proactive move yesterday when we were one down, in hooking the ever-dependable Eric Dier, instructing Dembele to operate ten yards further back, and introducing Chadli into the attacking maelstrom. Most obviously, Chadli duly created one, scored a beauty (and delivered an absolute peach of a crossfield ball in the dying moments); and more broadly, it left us with eight outfield players blessed with a natural urge to burst forward and create (plus two ball-playing centre backs).

On top of which, the Pocehttino applecart was duly upset further by the hobble sustained by Vertonghen, which meant that for the first time this season our sacrosanct centre-back duopoly was separated, and young Master Wimmer was introduced. He did well enough, in increasingly frantic circumstances, but certainly had a solid game vs Leicester in midweek.

5. Lady Luck

One to remember next time we don the sackcloth and ashes, and bemoan the way of the world – at one apiece Palace managed to slap the crossbar twice in around five seconds. Crumbs. Mind you, Alli gave the crossbar a hefty thwack himself, so for those who keep track of these things I suppose there is much to ponder.

In the final analysis however, this was a victory well earned, built on superiority rather than good fortune. The first half in particular was absolutely one-way traffic, punctuated only by that blasted own-goal; whilst our three goals were all, in their own ways, absolute snorters – and a five-point gap is now in evidence, between us and the fifth-placed mob.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 4-1 Sunderland: 4 Lilywhite Points of Note

The Return of Dembele

Coincidence? Around these parts we certainly think not. For the last couple of weeks young Master Carroll has been hopscotching around the place, with pretty passes a-plenty and a very serious expression, which does not make him look any less like a 10 year-old but is noble enough. However, if a Dembele performance were to comprise pretty passes and hopscotch I think we could all legitimately worry that some deviant had stolen his very soul. The difference between a Spurs midfield powered (and I use the term in the loosest possible sense) by Carroll and one built on Dembele is pretty noticeable, and with the former traded for the latter we were back to winning ways. Yes he gave away free-kicks, and at times possession, but Dembele also shoved opponents aside and drove things forward. There will potentially be a time and a place for Carroll, and we all ought to get used to his waif-like frame as he is evidently one of the little brood of younglings that Pochettino is – creditably – trying to integrate into the big wide world. And N17 is after all the spiritual home of the pretty passer with lovely technique. However, the relief at seeing Dembele’s name back in the starting line-up was justified by his general air of belligerence throughout. Between him and Alli that notoriously soft and squishy Spurs underbelly is being given a few layers of reinforcement.

Eriksen-sen-sen

As the first half wore on, and Sunderland’s dogged 10-0-Defoe formation proved quite the immovable object, the AANP cogs started to whir out a point about Eriksen’s effectiveness – or lack thereof. Then he went and scored, and scored again, which rather showed me, but I will conveniently ignore the small matter of those two fairly critical goals, and hammer home the point anyway. The chap seems to have lost that alchemist’s touch in recent weeks, what? In games like this particularly, and in the opening exchanges vs Leicester (Cup) last week, when a sprinkle of subtlety was needed about the place as a matter of urgency, to thread a pass through the eye of a needle or some such jiggery-pokery, the chap’s creative juices seemed to run a little dry. In fact, he went down a notch further in the first half hour today, and started misplacing straightforward six-yard passes.

The goals, naturally were welcomed, and it would probably be the decent thing of me to let bygones be bygones and simply slap the chap’s back and ask about the health of his family, but where’s the fun in that? He does seem to have gone off the boil a tad in recent weeks. I don’t mind lobbing into the air the theory that this might be at least partially due to being nudged out of his spiritual home, slap bang in the centre. Dele Alli appears to have dibs on the Number 10 role, while Dembele, as mentioned, does a fine job prowling up and down either side of the centre circle. All of which seems to leave Eriksen forced to set up camp in an inside right or left position. It ought not to make a difference to the price of eggs for a player with his natural ability, but somehow things just aren’t quite right with his size nines. None of which would be too concerning, but there appears to be a sort of pattern to things at the moment, whereby we start a game like a team of wild horses unleashed, fail to get an early goal against a massed rank of defenders, and gradually allow the opposition more and more oxygen, damn their eyes. Someone somewhere needs to find a way to unlock a packed defence, lickety-split.

Full-Back Mix-and-Match

It would appear that the Brains Trust have not tired of their Christmas toy, a shiny new full-back mix-and-match kit. An interesting one this, as quite a few debates have been thrashed out amongst my chums this season weighing up the relative merits and concerns around our various right- and left-backs. It is not entirely clear to me whether Pochettino is selecting them on a suitability basis – horses-for-courses, if you will – or simply deciding that one-game-on, one-game-off is the decorous manner in which such things should be done, but  either way the four in question are being kept on their toes. And then elbowed back to the bench.

So was Walker’s omission today his purgatory for the sins of just about every game in which he has ever played, when he has had that brain fade and gifted an opportunity to an opponent? Is Rose seen as the better option against weaker opposition because of his willingness to hare forward? But isn’t Davies just about doing exactly that anyway? Does it count for anything that young Trippier looks ever so slightly like a young, squashed up Wayne Rooney? Whatever the deep-lying narrative, all four of them seem to be pretty happy to have been given licence to slap the words “Gung-Ho” on their family crest and go flying up the flanks to provide 90 minutes of width to proceedings. Frankly it is dashed difficult to call a winner on either flank at the moment, and maybe that’s exactly the point. As sub-plots go, it is perhaps not quite on a par with Karl looking to avenge the death of his brother in Nakatomi Plaza, but nevertheless a useful conundrum has been added to the lilywhite mix.

Squad Tiredness?

Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but at some point before man colonises Mars will we need to rotate some of these chaps? Vertonghen, Alderweireld in particular (apparently the only game he’s missed all season was Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, which feels I’m pretty sure was played in black and white, it was so long ago), Dier and Kane seem to be reeled out come hell or high water.

There are no doubt associated risks with rotating, not least the likely drop in quality that they entail, what with every point being so vital. It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that we simply do not have an adequate substitute for Kane; and the fleeting glimpses of Wimmer have not exactly screamed that he is such a watertight deputy for Alderweireld or Vertonghen that the casual viewer would fail to notice the difference. Moreover, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that there is only one of him, so half of the centre-back combo will always be required (in common with the club management, I am assuming that Fazio is absolutely the last option conceivable).

Dier, one would have thought, could be allowed an afternoon off at some point with Bentaleb wrapped up on the bench each week, but this does not seem to be the way that Pochettino butters his bread. I would guess that one of the centre-backs plus Dier will start again against Leicester in midweek, which is all well and good, but we still have half a season to play, and sooner or later these chaps’ limbs are going to start dropping off.

There is, I suppose, a counter-argument that these chaps ought to be perfectly capable of playing twice a week. It is, after all, what a Champions League season would require. I nevertheless would like to see the aforementioned quartet occasionally yanked out of the spotlight every now and then, because if a tendon snaps or some similar fate befalls then we won’t look half as clever. And even if all tendons maintain fine working order, mistakes will presumably creep in (Alderweireld, for example, looked a little more fallible than usual last week in the Cup against Leicester, and while Kane has been blessed with a natural expression of exhaustion, his recent performances have not been quite polished).

In closing however, and dealing again with the present moment, it was another good day at the office. The response to defeat last week and to falling behind today was as positive as we could have hoped. 4-1 was a fair reflection of the way the cutlery was laid out, and the goal difference continues to prompt rubbed eyes and double-takes from seasoned Lane-goers across the land. The Top Four remains realistic.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Everton 1-1 Spurs: 5 Lilywhite Observations

1. Casting A Dubious Eye Over Tom Carroll

Carroll does have a dreamy touch, and if Premiership football were all about popping four-yard passes sideways, and backwards, and actually dispensing with boots and ball and just drawing pretty pictures of trees, then one suspects he would be revered far and wide as some sort of deity. But occasionally, the central midfield waltz seems to require hefty dollops of blood and thunder. Not to mention winning tackles, effecting clearances, tracking opponents and other fittings of similar ilk. And in these respects it seemed from my distant perch that Carroll was wafting his bat but missing the ball by a good foot or two, if you get my drift.

Now it may be that I have pre-judged the chap. You know how it is, you mark a blighter down as ‘nay’ rather than ‘yay’, and thereafter, even if he covers every blade of grass, and rescues a yelping maiden from a burning cottage for good measure, you still dock him points for messy handwriting. So maybe having knocked Carroll as a lightweight, waif-like, toothless, shadow of a lad by about the halfway stage, I may have been far too blinkered in my judgements thereafter. The TV folk certainly sung his praises, which rather goes to show.

But the moments that struck me were when he let Barkley wander past him and then wrapped his arms around him to give him a hug – rather than tackling him – to earn a booking; and when we broke on the left, he received the ball twenty yards from goal and produced from nowhere his best Jermaine Jenas impression by swivelling towards his own net and knocking it backwards fifteen yards to groans from across North London; and the astonishingly inept attempt at a clearing header late on, which bounced off the top of his head in a manner completely bereft of any control, to an Everton chappie who lashed a volley goalwards to draw an outstanding palm from Lloris. Rather a mouthful, but gist of the thing is that Carroll gives the impression of a boy who is only loitering there because his parents have forgotten to collect him.

2. Vertonghen

A big day this, for those charged with keeping things under lock and key. Belgium are apparently the best national team in the world at the moment, which ought to have made today’s game about the standard of a World Cup final if you think about it, but irrespective of that curiosity Messrs Vertonghen and Alderweireld had a challenge and a half in front of them, in the shape of the considerable frame of Lukaku. Being the sort of chap who always struck me as likely to be completely at home diving head-first through a brick wall, our two centre-backs needed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and by and large they made a solid fist of things. Not all their own way, and the nerves rather frayed a bit towards the end when everything stretched and the pressure ratcheted up several notches, but he was shackled as well as such behemoths can be.

However, if there were one moment that had me uttering a few choice curses it was the goal we conceded. Well, naturally enough I suppose, but particularly Vertonghen’s role in it. I’m not sure he can be faulted for losing the initial header to Lukaku – let us not forget the capacity to headbutt brick walls and suchlike – but why the dickens did Vertonghen turn his back on Lennon as the latter took his shot? This man’s very bread and butter lies in the act of preventing exactly that by any legal means necessary, and he gets paid sackloads for the privilege. Fling every limb at him, dash it. Take one full in the face if you have to.

(While on the topic, it also struck me as a bit odd that Lloris grasped at the thing with his wrong hand (his left), but it seemed a fairly futile cause by that point in any case.)

3. Rip-Snorting First Half

Truth be told, these are relatively minor gripes, and ought not to form chorus and the first couple of verses when the whole thing is eventually committed to song. Our first half was akin to one of those runaway trains that one sees in action films of a certain era, but which never actually happen in real life. Hurtling along at a rate of knots, sparks flying and all sorts. That poor old Kane and Davies failed to strike oil with their respective long-range efforts is to be solemnly lamented, as Kane’s could not have been closer and Davies’ almost ripped the net from its frame. (Although as my old man, AANP Senior is never slow to point out, they only deserve credit if they were aiming for the woodwork.)

Even aside from the close shaves however, our heroes looked at the peak of their powers in the first half. It was as well as they had played all season. The goal conceded was a rotten injustice, but such is life I suppose, and to their credit they kept beavering away until the break. When they play thusly one really does think that they are capable of staying in the Top Four.

4. The Ongoing Ode to Dembele

Not to harp on again about the personnel who were picked in central midfield, but in a quiet moment tonight, as we swirl away our Sunday night bourbons and reflect on life, I suspect many a Spurs fan will wistfully think of what might have been had Dembele been growling around in the centre. Barkley had his moments, and the substitute they brought on had a bit of bite to him, but Dembele when in the mood can snaffle up such opponents like a bulldog chewing at a sausage roll. As the game wore on and Everton exerted more pressure, the heart yearned for yet another Belgian to enter the fray and start barging folk around.

5. Weary Limbs

Pochettino is evidently a man who knows his apples from his oranges, so I would not dare presume the right to criticise – but if I were to be so impertinent I would respectfully clear the throat in the direction of a little squad rotation. Preferably the sort that does not involve young Master Carroll. Our heroes looked a little jaded as events progressed and Act Three hurtled towards its denouement, and Everton almost profited. Something similar occurred a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle, when again the players looked bang out of gas. The brow furrow, what?

Chadli and Son were dutifully thrown on, but might a fresh pair of legs be in order in the engine room? Amidst the evening gloom one could pick out the frame of Bentaleb on the bench, and there might be worse ideas than introducing him for the closing stages, to ensure that angry flecks of spittle continue to fly until the end. Moreover, Harry Kane will sooner or later splutter to a halt and require roadside assistance, although one suspects that the Brains Trust are fully aware of the need to scratch this particular itch.

A closing sentiment? Wonderful, wonderful goal from Dele Alli – the pass, particularly the control, and the very smart execution. Ten festive points is a strong haul. Bonne année.

WBA 1-1 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. Lloris Worth A Goal A Game

Once upon a time, in the big, cuddly teddy bear days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name), there ran a theory in AANP Towers that between them, Paul Robinson and Ledley King (even blesseder be his good name) were worth a goal to us every game, by virtue of their last-ditch heroics. Not a particularly watertight theory, you understand, no randomized control trial or pivot tables or anything like that, but certainly one spouted with the greatest seriousness in the watering-holes of North London by yours truly.

Fast forward a decade or so, and a similarly evidence-lite theory is beginning to surface around Monsieur Lloris. We come to take these things for granted now, in this halcyon era of unbeaten runs and all-action pressing and whatnot, but last week against Chelski and yesterday, quite remarkably, against West Brom, he pulled off saves of the absolute highest order. Both of which seem to have drifted a little past the public consciousness, ensconced as they were in the midst of a couple of draws that ranked slightly higher on the huff-and-puff scale than on the corresponding blow-your-skirt-up-with-non-stop-pulsating-action axis. But the point remains – Lloris has done the preventative equivalent of scoring a sensational goal, in both of the last couple of games.

2. Absence Makes The Heart Grow A Mite Fonder

Those of you cursed to have been within muttering distance of yours truly last weekend would have had to put up with assorted grumbles along the general line of young Mason’s energy and enthusiasm are all well and good for general Premiership fare, but the blighter has always seemed to lack that dose of je ne sais quoi that elevates a man to the higher echelons of these things in the crunch fixtures. He certainly puts in a shift – last week being a case in point – but in the biggest games of the season simply tearing around the place is not sufficient. As a replacement for Dele Alli, in a game against the champions, the decisive spark he failed to provide. Hardly a damning criticism, more just the genera way of things.

Yesterday however, with Mason trussed up in swathes of bandages somewhere off-stage, it dawned on me as the second half wore on that by golly we could use some of that energy, bite and young incandescence with life, with which he typically bounds in either headless or head-bearing fashion.  West Brom were beginning to win every loose ball, and when even Eric Dier’s trademark trundle was failing to win us the 50-50s, the thought occurred that maybe we might have benefited from removing one of the front four, who deal more in sparkle and fancy trickery, and bringing on a man like Mason, who has somewhat more about him of the canine straining at the leash. Just to wrest back control of the thing.

All academic of course, but funny how absence makes the heart grow stronger in these situations.

3. The Centre-Backs – Only Human

In a train of thought that veered rather dramatically off the rails, I ended up last night wondering what the opposite of ‘invincible’ might be. Just plain ‘vincible’ seemed to tick the boxes, except that it’s not really a word, which seemed a fairly critical stumbling block. All of which came about as I observed Messrs Vertonghen and Toby going about their gainful employment yesterday.

No doubt about it, this pair are as solid and reliable a centre-back combo as we have trotted out in many a long year, but this is not to suggest that they are entirely without flaws. Witness the moment when Vertonghen was outpaced and then rather easily barged aside by a thundering opponent in the first half yesterday, after the pair of them failed to deal with a fairly unceremonious punt down the middle. Exhibit B was Toby’s decision to leave to the gods of the six-yard box a ball he could easily have cleared in the closing stages, presenting a chance for a West Brom winner that had Kyle Walker scrambling to hack the thing clear.

‘Only human’, as the chap said to Keanu Reeves towards the end of The Matrix, when holding a gun to his head, and it captures the gist of the thing about Vertonghen and Aldeweireld. A fine pair they are, but such has been our solidity at the back this season that it has been easy to forget that their little Flemish axis will occasionally be breached.

And maybe that’s the nub of the thing – few sides are pootling along in quite such fine fettle as our lot this season, but they are only human, and jolly young humans at that, so mistakes will be made. Back in August few of us dared to hope for much more than a top-five finish, so it would be remiss to chide them for failing to meet heightened expectations. They’re getting there. It remains ill-defined precisely where ‘there’ is, but they most certainly are getting there.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

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