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Ajax 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

Real life rather rudely interrupted the celebrations at AANP Towers last week, but since we’re all still floating around atop a cumulonimbus there seems no harm in peddling a few belated observations from our gloriest of glory glory nights…

1. The Complete Absence of Hope

Had we cantered to victory in serene and most un-Tottenham fashion it would undoubtedly have been a thrill, but presumably not one that will live in the memory quite like this magnificent absurdity.

After about 5 minutes of the first leg I was already groaning the groan of a man on death row who hears fresh coins being popped into the electricity meter; by half-time in the second leg I had already whizzed through all seven stages of grief and was starting to wonder about England’s batting line-up for the Ashes.

Even after Moura’s first two goals I simply refused to countenance the possibility of anything other than glorious failure, which in hindsight says quite a lot about how damaging the last three decades of lilywhite faith have been.

But to score the goal that sends us into the Champions League Final, just as the clock in the top left corner ticked over literally to the final second of the allocated extra 5 minutes – well it’s little wonder that we’ve all rewound and watched that moment about a hundred times each. Frankly just writing about it makes me need another lie-down, and etches that massive grin across the chops once more.

2: Llorente: Flawed But Wonderful Hero

As if to encapsulate the glorious lunacy of the night, the man who made the difference was Fernando Llorente.

With reserves so depleted that we genuinely checked beforehand whether Vincent Janssen was eligible, Our Glorious Leader made the call of a man who realises that his entire life’s possessions have gone down the drain so he might as well go all in on his last hand because to hell with it. If Janssen were eligible I suspect he might have been flung on too, but as it happened the only resource left was Llorente, the striker with a penchant for missing from 2 yards. On he duly shuffled.

And it changed the entire pattern of the game. By simply attaching himself to Daly Blind and swaying gently in the Amsterdam air every time the ball was lofted into orbit, he did more to discombobulate Ajax than any amount of fancy footwork and attempted sorcery from the more illustrious colleagues around him.

With the sort of cruel irony that just about proves that the gods like nothing more than toying with the mortals below, this Ajax team who were so masterful and fizz-popping in possession that they made one dizzy just by watching, were utterly flummoxed by the most basic tactic in football. Time and again our heroes launched the ball to the big man, time and again he angled himself in suitably ungainly fashion to ensure that the ball apologetically bounced off him and into the general vicinity of Dele, Lucas and chums.

Naturally, being Fernando Llorente, he contrived to miss from two yards when the laws of physics seemed to dictate that it was impossible to do so; and naturally, being Fernando Llorente he spurned what appeared to be our final chance of the tie by heading over from a corner when unmarked in the dying embers. But nobody cares a jot, because Llorente’s value that night was priceless.

Seemingly created as a striker in concept alone, who adds value in theory, but abandoned by nature before any of the practical specifics of being a striker could be added, Llorente swung the game back our way before Lucas had even begun adjusting his sighter. All credit to him and Poch.

3: Dele’s Touch

Amidst the general bedlam, it was pretty easy to overlook the cutting-edge, shiny, 24-carat quality of Dele Alli’s soft dab of the ball into Lucas Moura’s path for the third.

The general mood around the campfire has been that Dele has owed a decent contribution for a while now. Not his fault, of course, that his season has been staccatoed by injuries, and there have been times when an outbreak of class has threatened. By and large, however, this has been another of those seasons in which one winces, and scratches the head, and generally starts digging for suitable excuses for the chap.

Last Wednesday however, the memo finally wound its way to the Alli grey matter, and he obligingly picked one heck of an occasion to make a handful of those flicks and flourishes finally count.

Observers first stirred at the sight of him making a Platt/Scholes-esque dash to the far post, early in the second half, only for his volleyed close-range mid-air shot to be patted away by the Ajax ‘keeper. The juices were however flowing, as, funnily enough, he seemed rather to enjoy life at the top of a diamond behind the front two.

I suspect that in setting up the first goal for Lucas he was trying to do it all himself, and might have thrown something of an arm-waving tizzy at his colleague for steaming onto the ball, had it not wound up in the net.

But it was the flick that set up the third goal that really had me purring. Well, I tell a gross untruth, because “purring” is not really the adjective to describe what madness ensued as the third rolled in – but the point is that it was an absolutely exquisite touch.

Simply to have the nerve to attempt a pass like that, at a time like that, with stakes like that, borders on the unfathomable. Watch the goal back for the 101st time and treat yourself to a goggle at the fact that he plays it the wrong side of the defender, and without even looking. How the dickens he knew that Lucas was curving his run into that area is beyond me, given that he was looking in the other direction completely, but that I suppose is why he earns the hefty envelope.

4: Danny Rose Starting The Comeback

A loving pat on the head also for Danny Rose – who no doubt would enjoy that sort of thing – for getting the ball rolling, in a matter of speaking. Three down on aggregate, his nutmeg on the Ajax chap, followed by cross-field pass to Lucas, set the whole comeback in motion.

Of course if one wants to trace the origins of the thing back even further one could start heaping credit upon Sonny for feeding Rose in the preceding moments, or Paul Stalteri for haring into the West Ham penalty area, because these things are all part of the sequence of contributory events don’t you know? It was, however, a slick little piece of skill.

5: Hugo’s Saves

Since I’m here and dishing out gold stars in slightly scattergun fashion, I might as well gobble down a frog’s leg and raise une verre to Monsieur Lloris, for a couple of critical saves that kept the thing simmering along nicely.

Stick the ball at his feet and one is inclined to dive behind the nearest sofa and cover the eyes, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold.

However, tell the chap to stick to the business of leaping hither and yon with arms outstretched, and he gets the gist in double-quick time. At 2-2 on the night, and with the clock ticking down in that ominous fashion so typical of the things, Lloris was called upon to do produce the cat-like stuff, and he did not fluff his lines.

6: Everyone’s Positioning At The Final Goal

I have to admit to raising a particularly quizzical eyebrow at the manner of Christian Eriksen’s immediate post-match interview, in which he gave the impression of struggling to stay awake for sheer boredom, even as the walls of AANP Towers were resounding to the clatter of yells and leaps and a general orgy uncontainable excitement. However, if Eriksen spoke one truth it was that tactics rather packed their bags and exited the premises sharpish in that second half.

The introductions of Llorente for Wanyama, and Lamela for Trippier, gave pretty broad hints that as attempts at conventional 4-5-1s and 4-4-2s were bringing little joy, the approach would swiftly alter to more of an Everyone-Pelt-Forward-At-Every-Opportunity-And-Let’s-See-How-It-Lands.

And so we ended up in that last minute with Sissoko starting the attack from a sweeper position (which made some sense because, as we now all recognise, the chap is actually a football genius); Eriksen and Ben Davies alongside him; Toby and Jan desperately edging into wing-back positions; Sonny as a deep-lying midfielder; and everybody else haring straight up the middle in attack. And all this about thirty seconds after Hugo had raced into the opposition penalty area.

It was glorious stuff, utterly in keeping with the all-action-no-plot madness of the game, and fully justifies the constant re-watches, because one never really tires of watching the careering reactions of absolutely everyone involved.

To say nothing of Lucas himself, who seemed only to touch the ball on the three occasions in which he planted it into the net with the dead-eyed precision of a sniper (plus, I suppose, the extraordinary dribble of an uncle toying with his nephews that set up his own second).

Quite why there is a three-week wait for the Final is anyone’s guess, but if it allows more time to revel in the absolute glory of Amsterdam, then it gets the AANP vote.

Spurs 0-1 Ajax: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Compliments to the Opposition

It feels like a crime against nature to bestow any sort of admiration upon an opponent, but I couldn’t help but goggle at some of the sleek, dreamy football Ajax produced, in the opening fifteen minutes in particular.

The build-up to their goal was jaw-dropping stuff of the highest order – and I don’t just mean the assist, or the pass before that. The little one-touch binge on halfway, facilitated by some neat flicks and backheels, left our heroes giddily spinning around and flailing at shadows. It was a demonstration of the sort of fare to which the good ship Hotspur ought to aspire.

Another move they produced shortly after drew genuine gasps of admiration, which I thought only happened in the short stories one reads in the nonsense magazines in doctor’s waiting rooms, yet as they sliced us open with what looked like well-choreographed balletic movement, there were all sorts of awestruck murmurs amongst the masses.

Difficult not to admire that sort of racket.

2. Llorente: Not At The Required Level

By contrast, we had the honest but fairly abject toil of Llorente. Not really his fault that nature has bestowed upon him a pretty limited set of tools with which to work, but even within these restrictions he had a pretty wretched time of things.

When he did manage to hold up the ball and hold off his foes, his distribution was, on the whole, just plain inaccurate. He passed straight at teammates rather than into their path, and a couple of attempts to spread the play fell short of their intended targets and instead went down the hatches of opponents. who were only too happy to gobble up the ball and turn the tables on us.

The other principal asset of the chap is supposedly his heading, and while I guess I ought to show some compassion and laud him for getting his head to the thing on a few occasions, it does feel a bit like clapping the useless lad at school for taking part.

Rather surreally, I found myself halfway through a Champions League semi-final wishing we could call upon Vincent Janssen, which just goes to show.

3. Set-Pieces

So with little potency in attack, and the Ajax lot running rings around us in midfield, they only semblance of a threat we posed in the opening 40 minutes or so was from set-pieces, which was an absolutely dire reflection of how badly we were taking to this business.

Even these set-pieces tend to be about as likely to bring about success as tossing a coin, but at least it reminded the rather eccentric Ajax ‘keeper that he would have to keep his wits about him.

Alas, not only did it fail to bring a goal, it also wiped out poor old Jan – although by an odd quirk of fate, this also stopped the rot by virtue of bringing Sissoko into the fray, and if not quite swinging the tie back in our favour it certainly evened things up a tad.

4. Poch’s Tactics

Easy to say from the sidelines, and in hindsight – two vantage points from which I don’t think I have ever made a mistake – but the fact that the enforced switch to 4-4-2 and addition of Sissoko made such a huge difference rather leads one to shoot an accusing glance or two at Our Glorious Leader for his masterplan at kick-off.

Although massively hamstrung by injuries and whatnot, and unable to call upon Sissoko from the off, the tactical choice of a back-three left us woefully undermanned in midfield, and Ajax tore us to ribbons right from kick-off. Worried murmurs abounded that something had to change before the tie was just a speck in the distance, but Poch seemed happy to watch us cling on by our fingernails, until Jan’s injury forced some action.

Wanyama could not keep a lid on the Ajax midfield, and neither Dele nor Eriksen have too many defensive bones in their bodies, so we were crying out for a change in shape to address the problems at root. The point – and I’ll get there in the end – is that Poch need not have waited so long to switch to a 4-4-2. It appeared that he was willing to wait until half-time, but we were jolly lucky not to be two or three down by that point, and out of the tie.

In the interests of fairness however, I do at least laud the blighter for replacing Jan with Sissoko, rather than for example throwing on Dier as a like-for-like replacement and sticking with the back-three. Lessons, one would hope, have been learned for the second leg.

5. Sissoko’s Star Riseth Ever Higher

Sissoko’s surge towards our Player of the Season Award continued apace on his entrance. The transformation in the chap, from the misfiring ball of limbs but a couple of years ago, to Champions League commander-in-chief, is pretty staggering stuff.

And yet there he was in glorious technicolour, rolling up his sleeves and jumping right into the midst of the fray to wrest back some semblance of control for us.

Where Wanyama made the occasional interception, and Rose’s all-action fire was limited to the left flank, Sissoko went charging straight into the centre, either to make tackles or run with the ball and attract opponents towards him. It did not win the game, but it almost single-handedly stopped us drifting irretrievably out of the tie.

Wrap the chap in cotton wool until the second leg, and with Sonny restored to the attack we might just have a chance.

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Spurs 4-0 Huddersfield: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. The Ongoing Evolution of Sissoko

Convention usually dictates in such exalted circumstances as these that the celebratory fizzy pop commemorating the Man of the Match be bestowed upon the scorer of the hat-trick. Being the anarchic type however, I am willing to question the validity of such a call, for there were a couple of other notable performances.

Moussa Sissoko has been long established as a pretty vital cog in this machine, and the improvement in his doings continues with each game. He now really is emerging as the heir to Dembele’s throne, no longer simply a barely-connected bundle of limbs, but now offering a regular injection of energy in bringing the ball forward from halfway in irresistible fashion.

Admittedly he does not possess the grace and finesse of Dembele, but he is nevertheless jolly effective in what he does. And in fact, pretty much his first touch of the ball today – a 360 degree pirouette away from trouble – displayed a hitherto unseen finesse that set the tone for his performance thereafter.

Where once we would turn to Dembele to bring the ball forward and defy all attempts to displace him, now Sissoko performs that role with some relish. In a game in which we spent much of proceedings simply keeping possession and toying with Huddersfield, Sissoko’s forward forays were a regular threat.

2. Llorente Channels His Inner Teddy

Another fellow whose afternoon was full of right and proper content was Senor Llorente. As vocal a critic as I generally am of the chap’s limited mobility, I am also a swooning admirer of his velvet touch, particularly when cushioning passes into the path of chums, and he delivered several dollops of the good stuff today.

There was something of the Sheringham about him, as there often is when he is on song. He as often as not plays the way he faces, and if that means he has his back to goal and is going to dab the ball whence it came, into the gallop of an onrushing support act, then he will dashed well do so.

In hindsight I think Llorente benefited more than most from the early two-goal biff that effectively ended the competitive nature of the game. Where the elongated bean often labours, with the weight of the world on his shoulders as he feels the pressure of deputising for Kane, the fact that the game was won so early had a delightfully liberating effect upon him, and he simply pottered around enjoying himself.

As well as his link-up play with back to goal, he also sniffed around at chances like nobody’s business, with a couple of flicked headers indicating that the compass was in decent working order, and a couple of shots from his size elevens requiring the flailing of various Huddersfield limbs to deny him.

Most impressive was his gorgeous control and clipped shot off the bar, early in the second half, which demonstrated a touch that was about as silky as they came. Dashed shame that that did not go in, but by and large it was a handy old stab at things.

3. The Good and Bad of Juan Foyth

The very public education of Juan Foyth continues apace, with all the usual trademarks on show. It made perfect sense to choose an occasion such as this to continue to blood the young imp, with Huddersfield offering only minimal threat throughout. For the majority of proceedings, young Foyth crossed defensive t’s and dotted defensive i’s with that usual appearance of assurance. The meat and veg of defending, he generally got right.

The problems seem to occur more once he’s already won the ball, and the elaborate process of deciding what action to take next begins unwinding in his mind. Oh, that the little voices simply whispered to him to release the ball to the nearest lilywhite shirt and be done. Instead, Foyth will typically ignore the cause of sanity, and be seduced by delusions of grandeur that see him eagerly try to start attacks, cure cancer and solve Brexit.

The notion that opponents might try to rob him off the ball seems the last thing on his mind, and so today he was occasionally the victim of many an attempted tackle while weighing up distribution options, or attempting to shoulder-drop and Cruyff-turn his way out of slightly precarious spots.

However, his decision-making will improve with experience – games like today undoubtedly will help – and in time, his combination of defensive solidity and ability to bring the ball forward ought to make him quite the asset. A tip of the cap too, for his instigation of our second goal.

4. Delightful Finishing

The sight of four well-taken goals certainly added a dash of class to proceedings.

Moura’s first and third harked back to a glorious, simpler age, in which boots were black, games kicked off at 3pm and goals were scored by blasting the ball with every ounce of strength. They were joyous to behold, and struck with the sort of pure technique that makes you want to add an extra splash to your afternoon restorer.

Wanyama’s nifty footwork also merits praise, for as Sissoko demonstrated in gory detail at Anfield recently, these chaps who are unused to the heady heights of the opposition box can get themselves into an awful muddle when through on goal.

No such trouble for Wanyama, who danced his way in with the assuredness of a seasoned goalscorer. And all the more important for being the opening goal, struck early. Serene though the whole affair might have been, our nerves may have jangled a couple of bars had we reached, say, the half-time mark or beyond without a goal.

5. A Triumph for Squad Rotation

Easy to say in hindsight, but Our Glorious Leader certainly judged his team selection to perfection. With injuries to Messrs Kane, Alli and Winks a degree of prodding and poking was already required, and while the rotating of full-backs was standard Pochettino fare, the additional omissions of Toby and Sonny did prompt a rather nervous chew of the lower AANP lip. The thought flitted across the mind that this might be one tweak too many.

A nonsense, as it transpired. All involved performed creditably enough, the game was sewn up in double-quick time and the cherished limbs of Toby and Sonny were protected from any prospective rough and tumble.

Many a sagacious type has suggested that while our Starting XI is a match for most, our squad depth verges somewhat on the lightweight, and I suppose in comparison to some of our cash-rich rivals this has a degree of truth to it. However, conscientious types like Davies, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Foyth, Sanchez, Lucas and Llorente have comfortably have enough to best bottom-of-the-table rot, and as gambles go, this one proved one of the safest in town.

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Spurs 1-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. A Marvellous Team Effort

What splendid viewing that made. And all the better for being a couple of notches above and beyond wildest dreams.

Given recent form, the quality of the opposition and, frankly, the weathering effect upon the soul that three decades of Spurs-supporting inevitably has, the pre-match mood at AANP Towers was defeatist to the point of philosophical. “What the heck?” was the general, resigned tone, accompanied by suitably accepting shrug, “We aren’t expected or likely to win, so this amounts to something of a free hit.”

But goodness me, with the presumably strict tactical instructions of Our Glorious Leader ringing in their ears, our heroes played out scene after scene just about to perfection.

They hunted in packs as appropriate, but cunningly did so only at suitable junctures and as a team, similarly picking moments simply to sit off and let City mooch around in possession. While the sound of jangling nerves undoubtedly resounded a few times, particularly in the second half, as City buzzed around the edges of our area, they did not actually fashion a clear-cut chance, and Lloris was relatively untroubled.

Quite the triumph for teamwork then, but also as individuals just about every man in lilywhite – including subs Lucas, Wanyama and Llorente – excelled in their individual duties. Pre-match I had feared that 89 minutes of good honest graft might be undone by those increasingly typical moments of unforced madness that various individuals are liable to sprinkle around the place; but yesterday every man was near-faultless.

Sissoko was immense, carrying the ball forward like the slightly clunky ghost of Dembele and defending with non-nonsense force; Toby and Jan were watertight; young Winks repeatedly picked the sensible options, be they backwards or forwards; and Rose was a constant threat in his intriguing match-up with erstwhile chum Walker.

2. Lloris

Recent history dictates that if anyone were going to magic a calamitous error out of thin air it was our resident net-protector, but his handling was secure, and in saving the penalty he gave the entire place an almighty fillip.

This penalty-saving lark is becoming something of a habit, what? Which is all the more pleasing given that in his previous half-dozen or so years of employment I’m not sure I remember him diving into the right postcode when faced with a spot-kick, let alone saving one. Yet there he was, as clear as day, beating the thing away as if it were the most natural way in the world to right a wrong and inject a little fire into sixty thousand bellies.

Heaven knows I malign the chap like the dickens when he errs, so it is only right to salute him today.

3. Sonny Saves Augments The Day

By the time Sonny popped up with his coup de grâce I would happily have traded in my right arm for a goalless draw, so it would be a slight mangling of the Queen’s English to suggest that the cheery soul saved the day, but by golly he certainly popped a cherry on the top of it.

At that stage, deep into the second half, City had decided to go about their business with a darned sight more urgency, and while we weren’t exactly clinging on for dear life, we were backtracking into that sort of territory.

As so often happens, the absence of Kane seemed to remove a chain or two from the being of Son, and he appeared more than happy to occupy the vacated limelight.

It is an odd quirk, that the sight of Kane limping off down the multi-million pound tunnel did not sear my very core as once it might have done. Make no mistake, yesterday was a fine advert for the honest fellow’s general hold-up play, and until Llorente came on we had no similar apparatus in operation. However, this lot are now pretty well-versed in the art of Kanelessness, and actually I was more alarmed by the sight of Sonny going down with a wince a few minutes later.

Sonny will presumably be the focal point in future weeks, and much therefore depends on the supporting roles of Lucas, Llorente and Dele (plus Lamela, if he returns to fitness). All told, the absence of Kane is not the terminal blow it might seem.

4. Eriksen

While most in lilywhite peddled their wares with intense concentration and sterling effectiveness, for much of the game, and in keeping with recent weeks, I paced the corridors with concern at the outputs of Master Eriksen.

His workrate remains as good as ever, but for an hour or so his distribution was decidedly careless. For a man of such ability to misplace ten-yard passes, or suck the momentum out of attacks by passing south, struck me as a real waste, and a poorly-timed one at that. It seems no coincidence to me that our flatness during February and March has coincided with his swerve into off-boil territory.

Mercifully, he righted numerous recent wrongs with that delightful chip into the path of Sonny for the goal, and in general in the final twenty or so minutes of proceedings he danced around the expensive place with some of the old menace.

5. VAR

In truth I prefer not to wade into any topic that doesn’t have Tottenham at its front and centre, and frankly if the rules state that Rose’s was a handball then I’m willing to accept that and toddle along because such is life.

However, the lack of consistency irked me, I don’t mind admitting. The fact that the penalty was awarded despite literally no appeals for a handball does not irk me (it merely suggests that none of them were particularly familiar with the current rules); the lack of consistency does.

I happened to catch snippets of the Liverpool game being played concurrently, during which a pretty similar accidental handball occurred, and VAR decided against a penalty award. All of which gives the impression that rather than mete these things out consistently, they might as well be adjudged by the toss of a coin. If they want a ridiculous rule then so be it; but dash it, apply that rule consistently.

On top of which, it appears that elbows to the head are now also above board, in the all-seeing eyes of video refs. Which is fine by me, if that approach will now be universally applied; one rather suspects it won’t.

A tad harsh on Rose to be yellow-carded too, but such are the mind-boggling days in which we live. Ultimately the whole curious affair simply provided our heroes with a greater sense of injustice with which to fire them along.

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Spurs 0-1 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Heartening Performance

Curses are naturally flowing pretty liberally around the white half of north London, but here at AANP Towers we’re actually sipping the early-evening double whisky with a generous dollop of equanimity.

The wound of defeat obviously cuts deep, and so on and so forth – but after the laboured 90 minutes against Chelsea, and a first half here in which there was a collective air of legs ploughing through quicksand, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the rip-roaring stab of things made by our heroes in the second half.

No doubt about it, every lilywhite out there this afternoon looked utterly drained – and have done for a few weeks now – and I’m pretty sure I saw several of them being scooped up off the turf and carried off at the denouement.
Yet despite that, we kept beavering, making enough presentable chances to win a couple of games and frankly appeared to have a few bursts more energy than our opponents who were supposedly freshly sunned and rested.

Moreover, I was secretly rather chuffed that we kept our heads and continued to probe in those closing stages, rather than blindly whacking the thing north and offering up prayers. Up against a deep United defence-and-midfield I had wondered in the first half how the devil we were supposed to break them down at all. As it happened we did so on around a dozen occasions in the second half alone.

2. Our Finishing. Too Close To The Keeper, Don’t You Think?

Bunting is being decked and champagne sprayed around the United keeper, and one understands the sentiment, for the chap wasn’t allowed to catch his breath before sticking out another limb and keeping the good ship Hotspur at bay.

And far be it for me to deny the fellow his fifteen minutes, but I can’t help thinking we made his job a heck of a lot easier by firing most of those shots within his wingspan.

I trust my public will forgive me if I don’t list and analyse each individual chance separately, as I’m not sure the abacus has been invented that can track that sort of thing, but certainly both Kane and Dele shot at him rather than the corners when clean through, and one or two of the other less straightforward opportunities might also have been more emphatically tucked away.

Just one of those things I suppose. On another day – and there have been several of them in the past month alone – we might have hit the corners and been four or five up. Such is the rummy nature of life.

3. Poch’s Tactical Switch

And while immersing ourselves in rather pointless crumbs of comfort, a begrudging nod in the vague direction of Our Glorious Leader. One of the few sticks with which the sunny chap is ever beaten is his perceived inability to roll up his sleeves midway through a game and do some first-rate tinkering.

Come half-time today however, and with the likeliest form of attack having thus far been The Hopeful Alderweireld Punt, Poch duly tinkered away like the best of them, and produced more of a 4-2-3-1, of sorts.

Now the prosecution might well make the point that his hand was rather forced by the injury to Sissoko pretty much bang on half-time, and a jolly compelling point it would be too. I’m nevertheless inclined to give Poch the benefit of the doubt however, for he might have stuck with the midfield diamond and watched on gloomily.

Instead, Sonny went left, Davies was kept firmly under lock and key within the back-four – where many a cynic might observe he is far better placed – Eriksen sat deeper, and the outlook pretty instantly became a heck of a lot sunnier.

4. Squad Depth (Lack Thereof)

As alluded to above, one can only really applaud the efforts of the chaps out on the pitch, who appeared pretty much to use up their final bubbles of oxygen and every last ounce of energy in hammering away at the United door.

The unhappy fact remains, however, that the slew of crunch fixtures shows neither sign of abating nor adopting any less crunch. On top of which, the cast members themselves are now, rather inevitably, beginning to drop like flies.

The hooking of Sonny for yet another international tournament seems rather heartless, as he’s only just got over the jet-lag from the previous one, but into every life some rain must fall I suppose.

The injuries are just a plain nuisance, and no less annoying for being so utterly predictable. Winks and Sissoko seem to have partnered each other for around a dozen games in a row, so the sight of muscles twanging away mid-game was greeted with as many philosophical shrugs as gloomy grimaces.

Kane also seemed to exit the stage in far worse health than he entered, having taken a royal clattering in the dying embers of the game, and with Dier still not fit, Wanyama now just a picture on a Missing Person’s poster, Moura apparently injured and Dembele eyeing up the exit door, the whole carefully constructed and delicately held-together structure does look set to come tumbling down at any point.

Oh that we were minded to shell out a few quid in the transfer market, what? The party line remains that no signings will be made if they cannot improve the starting eleven, which sounds suitably bland and professional; but the argument grows stronger by the day that simply recruiting a few extra bodies of precisely the same quality would be no bad thing, if it allows for one or two of our mob to catch their breath between games.

Frankly there seems to be more chance of the sun exploding, which means we can potentially look forward to Skipp and Winks behind a front two of Lamela and Llorente in weeks to come.

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Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Foyth

When Juan Foyth’s name and number was fanfared pre-kickoff, we lilywhite hordes did the civil thing and wished the young bean well, with images of his rather painful flurry of mishaps from last week’s debut trot still pretty fresh in the memory.

The early signs in this week’s concerto, it seems fair to say, were not the rosiest. A clumsy foul here, a strong contender for the 2018 instalment of Most Idiotic Concession of a Corner there, and within fifteen minutes one was already casting anxious glances in the direction of Our Glorious Leader as to whether the decent thing might simply be to hook the young fish and let him pass out the rest of his lilywhite days in the U23s.

Such a rush to judgement proved wildly misguided. Thereafter, young Foyth handled himself with several hefty slabs of aplomb.

Now one might argue that the Palace attack, baring as it did all the threat of a kitten entangled in a ball of wool, did not pose the fiercest threat, particularly when shorn of young Master Zaha.

However, spirited defenders of the boy Foyth might very reasonably counter by pointing to the weather, the nerves, the rollicking home crowd and the fact that everyone in Palace colours had read the memo recommending that whenever young Foyth went within sniffing distance of the ball he was to be homed in upon by anyone in the vicinity not otherwise engaged. The nub of the thing is that this was no cakewalk for the chap.

To his credit as a ball-playing footballer, and as a man of mental fortitude and fire-filled belly, he metamorphosed during the following hour or so into one heck of a dependable egg. His composure in possession did give the occasional palpitation but was broadly laudable, while his actual day-job of defending became increasingly impressive, in a right-place-right-time sort of way.

With Messrs Sanchez, Vertonghen and Dier at differing stages of fitness, Foyth’s performance does makes the world seem a cheerier place.

On top of which, his goal was poached with impressive swiftness of thought and movement, and was greeted with pretty unrestrained joy by his colleagues, which suggests that he’s a popular chap amongst the gang.

2. Sissoko

It speaks volumes about the instantly forgettable first half that its highlight was a marauding stroll past four opponents, finishing with a blocked shot, by one Moussa Sissoko, but that was where we found ourselves.

Let not that detract however, from the latest oddly impressive showing from our limited but effective cult hero.

Seemingly now fully aware that his role in proceedings is simply to follow two or three basic instructions, Sissoko patiently fed early balls to Trippier/Aurier in no-frills fashion; obediently tracked back to assist the aforementioned in defence as required; and occasionally trotted out his mesmerising dispossess-and-gallop routine.

Simple it might have been, but it also became pretty dashed effective, and as all around him laboured to unpick the Palace defence Sissoko suddenly started to emerge as a star shining particularly brightly amongst the lilywhite ranks.

By the time the second half was in full swing, the honest fellow was beginning to display hitherto unknown flashes of quality. A delightful first-time cushioned lay-off, some wrong-footing of oncoming foes whilst on the charge – it was bewildering, but mightily impressive stuff.

I still wouldn’t trust the blighter to knock a square pass five yards to a team-mate unchallenged if I were told to pick any professional footballer ever and have my life depend on it, for he retains within his genetic constitution something of the clumsy and calamitous; but in recent weeks the applause for Sissoko at AANP Towers has segued from ironic to sincere.

3. Lloris

The occasional panicked flap there may have been, but this will go down as one of Monsieur Lloris’ performances from the column marked “Game-Saving Stuff”.

Some saves were relatively routine, and some were of the faster-than-the-naked-eye-can-clearly-detect ilk, but after an unflustered opening hour or so our resident gate-keeper was called upon on several occasions, and can reflect with some serenity today as he collects the weekly envelope that this was a salary well-earned.

Doubts still nibble away, around his catching, kicking and sprinting hopelessly from his line, but the case for his abilities as a shot-stopper is pretty cut and dry.

4. Lack of Forward Thinking in Midfield

If sitting through the opening hour made your heart swell and pulse race then you’re made of sturdier stuff than I.
Palace, as noted above, might as well not have bothered crossing halfway for all the threat they offered until around the 70-minute mark; but our heroes, for all their possession, seemed to consider actually exploring the route to the opposition goal to be way down the list of priorities.

It was pretty infuriating stuff to behold, particularly in central midfield. Perhaps the weekly diet of Eriksen, with his keen eye and delicate thread of pass, has spoiled me, but none of those employed for the task seemed to cotton on the fact that taking their own sweet time about things, and looking sideways and backwards as a first instinct, served only to swell the massed ranks of Palace defenders.

Where Dembele or Winks will receive possession and immediately explore the options that lay in a northerly direction, yesterday Wanyama, Sissoko and Dele seemed to treat forward distribution as the absolute last resort.

A win is a win, as sure as eggs is eggs, and a goal from a set-piece has value in its own special way, but good grief – until we nabbed them on the counter late on there was precious little about which to beat the drum and yell a rousing chorus.

5. Hanging On. Again.

So after a turgid opening hour in which we hogged possession and did nothing with it; and a ten-minute spell after our goal in which we hogged possession and smoked cigars a little more nonchalantly than a one-goal cushion really merited; the game culminated in the inevitable nail-biting final twenty minutes in which we desperately clung on to the lead with the sort knuckle-whitening tension of which Hitchcock would have been proud.

On paper this string of victories, and the cosy position snugly ensconced within the Top Four, might give the uninitiated the impression that all is bright and breezy at Casa Tottenham. Oh that this were so.

The truth is that given the choice between an eternity spent in the fires of hell or the opportunity to escape and instead watch Spurs trying to close out a win, the souls of the damned would as likely as not opt for the never-ending flames, for there really is no strain upon the nerves comparable to seeing our lot doing the last-ditch routine for the final ten-to-fifteen, particularly given that they will have spent the previous half hour casually missing chance after chance.

Somehow, incredibly, we pull it off every time, in the sort of fashion that would have Houdini stroking his chin suspiciously. But this skin-of-the-teeth stuff seems utterly unsustainable; and if it is indeed sustainable it should frankly be banned on the grounds of being damaging to public health, because viewing it is enough to prompt any man of even the most regular constitution yelp in anguish and start birthing kittens.

Can someone please instruct our heroes to do the honourable thing and start wrapping up these matches by three or four goals so that we can all let the final ten minutes drift by with the serenity of an ocean cruise?

That aside, this was most satisfactory.

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Huddersfield 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1: Exhausted Harry Kane

Until only a few days ago the red-hot topic of conversation in all the nattier establishments of London seemed to have revolved around Harry Kane and his energy levels – or lack thereof, to be precise. Indeed, AANP, never having been one to miss a passing bandwagon, was peddling this very line with gusto.

Others suggested he was injured, one or two went down the Lacking Confidence route and a foolish, misguided few even insisted that the chap was actually fine, and if we just left him well alone to earn his weekly packet he’d bang them in from all angles soon enough.

Fast forward to the present day, and one cannot cross a road for the U-turns being effected en masse across the land, as we Kane-Watchers adjust our narratives to match current events. For, beginning with a few hints during the second half against Brighton last week, and continuing in no uncertain terms yesterday, young Master Kane was barrelling his chest, shrugging off all-comers and racing towards goal like a stallion in the prime of its life.

The despatched header and penalty certainly lent a pleasing gloss to the argument – which is a little odd, given that they are two finishes that depend precious little on one’s state of health and fitness. However, the proof of the pudding was the manner in which he repeatedly latched onto the ball from pretty much anywhere north of the halfway line, nipping there in front of the nearest defender before charging towards goal like a bull with one heck of a score to settle. It was the Kane of old, and had our polished arguments about his fatigue and need for a rest rather dying on our lips.

Mind you, this nevertheless remains the same chap who wandered around during the latter stages of the World Cup, and then again during the earlier stages of the season, looking a little bereft, seemingly overwhelmed with the effort of it all.

1.5: A Suggested Explanation for The Kane Renaisance

The AANP theory? That when the chap is asked to hang back around the halfway line, with his back to goal, shielding the ball and winning more free-kicks than you can shake a stick at, while some speedy young menace is employed to do all the running some ten yards ahead of him, one rather limits his capabilities.

So as Sterling was employed to go scampering further upfield during the World Cup, and Lucas similarly during the first few thrusts of the season, Kane was decidedly muted. Yesterday, by contrast, with Son and Lucas deployed as support acts, Kane positively revelled in the starring role, through the middle, atop the formation and with every opportunity to beeline his way goalwards.

2: Central Midfield Watch Part One: Eric Dier

The counter-attacking nature of proceedings certainly played into Kane’s hands as if the whole thing had been carefully scripted by some evil genius weeks earlier. The fact that Huddersfield were blessed with precious few attacking ideas of their own beyond the Long Throw Gambit rendered the game pretty prosaic stuff from the moment our second goal went in.

AANP therefore, being an eagle-eyed and proactive sort, took the opportunity to conduct a forensic analysis of Eric Dier’s performance. The reason being that for nigh on a year now, the blighter’s performances have had me harrumphing away like nobody’s business.

With magnifying glass in hand and notebook at the ready I therefore studied Dier like a particularly devilish eagle giving some would-be prey the once-over. I can report that the chap seems to thrive on holding a slightly non-threatening position at all times, around 10 yards away from the ball. He rarely seems to anticipate danger, but instead watches on from his sentry post, and scowls.

At times this can prove a suitable deterrent. I, for one, would think twice about getting up to too much mischief if I glanced up and spotted Master Dier giving me the stern eye. On the other hand, the Dier 10-Yard Stand-Off does not actually offer much practical value to the rest of Team Hotspur, primarily because it contains the glaring flaw that the hard-boiled egg is always 10 dashed yards from the action.

When the ball enters his sphere of influence Dier does, as has been well-advertised over the years, enjoy crashing in to take ball, man, passing strangers and any other object within the vicinity. This may win possession; it may earn a yellow card; it almost always disrupts nature’s gentle flow.

And frustratingly, Dier’s passing can veer from pretty darned effective forward passes that bisect several opponents, to egregiously bad sideways fare that gifts the thing straight to the enemy.

All told, yesterday’s offering from the lad was not the most efficient defensive screen ever beheld; until the second half, when he was moved to the left-hand side of the back three and actually did a highly effective job, albeit against limited opposition.

3: Central Midfield Watch Part Two: Winks and Wanyama

The half-time shimmy involving Vertonghen and Dembele sloping off, and Dier shuffling into defence, meant rare outings for Messrs Winks and Wanyama. It seemed rude not to study their performances similarly.

Wanyama did at least have the decency to abandon the idea of a 10-yard no-go zone, and proactively go out to meet danger nose-tip to nose-tip, as it were. This did occasionally mean that he drifted out wide and left a gap in the centre, but by and large it made sense and worked well enough.

Young Winks remains an AANP favourite, so if it’s an entirely objective summary you’re after you might want to look elsewhere. That said, the young fish is not quite fully up to speed, and some doubts linger as to whether he will recapture the top-notch form of which he showed glimpses last season pre-injury.

There were a couple of moments yesterday in which he wriggled away from danger in that Modric-esque way; but equally on occasion he wriggled less delightfully slap-bang into trouble.

Presumably all of the aforementioned need game time, not to mention defined roles within an often-changing system, but we all have our crosses to bear. For what it’s worth, the AANP central midfield pairing of preference at the moment would be Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Gazzaniga

A polite mention to Master Gazzaniga, who did the necessaries in fairly fashion. This might not normally merit too many column inches, but given the yowls of despair that tend to greet Vorm’s every soft-handed error, one might as well laud – or at least greet with an exhalation of relief – the serene manner in which our number three Number One kept the back-gate locked.

Saves were saved, and punches punched, although his short-pass goal-kicks are occasionally a tad wobbly in nature, as seems to be the vogue amongst our goalkeepers. Some nifty saves in last week’s shoot-out too. Not sure I would want him rebuffing Messi and chums this Wednesday, but to date he has done all asked of him.

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Brighton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

Hmm, difficult to know what to make of that one, what? A bit of a struggle to find the delicate phrase that sums it all up. Not that my old man, AANP Senior, had much trouble, mind. “Rubbish,” was his pithy assessment as the bell sounded, and I suppose it’s hard to disagree.

1. The Central Midfield

Being an enlightened sort, who is all for a new wheeze once in a while, I have no problem with the modern concept of ‘change’. A spot of invention is as likely to do good as harm, so if some old bean wants to wheel out a new idea every once in a while it’s fine by me.

However, there is a limit to these things, so when Our Glorious Leader instructed Dembele to put his feet up, and unveiled Messrs Sissoko and Wanyama as his midfield axis of choice, the AANP blood did freeze over a mite.

No doubt both are good, honest chaps, and when it comes to destruction, Victor Wanyama struts around like a bloke who has a diploma in the field. Present him with a slick-passing outfit like Real Madrid, and the chap will likely prowl around like a bulldog scenting blood.

As for Sissoko – well, two years on it is still a little difficult to ascertain quite what benefit he brings to any situation conceivable, but the hound does have an engine on him, even if the connection between feet and brain has something of the Russian Roulette about it.

However, whatever argument one pitches in favour of these two young fish, one cannot look one’s neighbour in the eye and honestly opine that between them they are possessed of the guile and finesse required to unpick a well-organised couple of banks of four. Last night required our central midfield to spot a cute pass and deliver it in nary the blink of any eye. Alas, Wanyama and Sissoko spend that much time bringing the dashed thing under control and carefully laying out all their optins that dew began to settle on the turf around them.

To his credit, Wanyama at least used his destructive capabilities for good, in harassing the Brighton chappie into conceding possession to Son, who created our opener. But by and large, the deep-lying well of creativity was dry as a bone until Dembele lumbered on and began effortlessly rolling past approaching bodies.

2. Full-Backs And The Class Of ‘16/17

Cast your minds back twelve months or so, and you may recall that the Premier League was not quite the one-horse procession of 2018, and the good ship Hotspur was in fact making a dashed good fist of things. All-singing, all-dancing, golden boot-wearing and whatnot. But perhaps key to all this was the quality of our full-backs. Perhaps not, as the counter-argument might go, but still – perhaps.

Danny Rose on one side and Kyle Walker on the left were at the peak of their powers, combining the pace and attacking width of wingers with the pace and defensive upper-body strength of full-backs. Acting as all-rounders in the team, this indefatigable pair sneakily gave us the advantage of effectively having two extra sets of legs on the pitch.

In a team riddled with key personnel, a pretty convincing case could be made for those two being the most important of the lot. Fast forward to the present day and it’s fair to say our tails are not waggling with quite so much aplomb.

Each member of the current gaggle does brim with energy, and they are generally decent wide outlets, ever willing to go flying up the flank in search of glory. But this does not count for much if they consistently peddle utter rot once they get there, no?

To his credit, Trippier does a fairly nifty line in cushion-volleyed-first-time passes (the specimen that set up Dele Alli vs Real makes for a decent Exhibit A), but in general this lot seem to be of the ‘Close Your Eyes And Swing Your Boot’ School of Crossing, with the ball as likely to fly into orbit as it is to bend into a usefully chaotic area.

On top of which, the inclusion of Serge Aurier on matchday is essentially equivalent to conceding a goal start to the opposition, the chap delivering calamitous interventions like a seasoned pro. Yesterday, naturally was an opportunity for him to showcase his imbecilic rot, and he didn’t disappoint, while on t’other side Ben Davies delivered his usual slew of utterly average crosses. It makes the soul droop, it really does.

3. Toby Alderweireld

Might this prove the last appearance in lilywhite of Toby Alderweireld? Quite possibly.

One ought not to quibble with Daniel Levy and his careful management of every last penny, but it does seem a dashed shame that when we hit upon a world class egg like Alderweireld, a reason is promptly dug up to kick the chap off the premises and make clear to him that he is no longer welcome to break bread with us.

Davinson Sanchez is a hearty young buck, and in time might well become one of the best of the lot, but at present he still gets his head in an occasional tizz and blurts out the wrong lines. Toby, by contrast, is near faultless, and together with Vertonghen they form quite the bedrock. But what is one to do?

4. Harry Kane’s Fitness

I asked after Saturday’s defeat, and in that keen analytical way of mine, I’ll ask again now – is the blighter fully fit? There seems to be a slightl sluggishness about the fellow ever since his return, as if he is approaching the latter stages of a particularly gruelling cross-country trek and, all things being equal, would not say no to a cup of tea and a roaring fire.

Not a bad call from Senor Poch mind, to pull him back into the Number 10 role in the second half, as it at least meant that the young bean got to see a little of the ball. It still came to naught, but at least reacquainted him with his erstwhile spherical chum.

I do rather hope that the spring returns to his step fairly sharp-ish. We may well have fourth spot just about in the bag, but to put it bluntly an FA Cup win would be a darned sight easier if Harry Kane were donning a cape and leading opposing defenders a merry dance.

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Spurs 2-0 Newport: Four THFC Observations

1. Squad Depth Like A Military Parade

Pre kick-off, our glorious leader made every change conceivable to the starting eleven, which, he’ll be delighted to know, was fine by me. Bigger fish await, and all that. Amongst other things this gave the opportunity to parade to the watching world the full extent of our squad depth, as one understands some of our foreign cousins are rather fond of doing, as if to say to neighbours, “Don’t you get any ideas, you bounders.”

While hardly comparable to the bankrolled elite who trouser several hundred thousand big ones per week, when fully restored to health our list of first reserves is nevertheless of respectable ilk. Hardly world class, granted, but enough there to suggest if some players exit stage left while others enter stage right, there will not be any discernible dips in quality in the majority of positions.

Accordingly, when the curtain went up we were able to showcase one of the best centre-backs in the country, a central midfield pairing potentially capable of going toe-to-toe with most in the Champions League, and a couple of inside forwards of nimble mind and fleet foot. Useful tins of muck to have knocking around in storage, as the pointy end of the season beckons.

2. Lackadaisical Start

Having suffered the indignity of having to appear at a lower-division pitch a couple of weeks ago, and almost paid the price for such thinly-veiled snobbery, the replay appeared a more straightforward proposition, given the size and quality of the pitch if nothing else. It did, however, require our chosen few to fasten the bayonets and get into the spirit of the thing, for at least long enough to put the whole ruse to beyond doubt.

In truth, things did not initially unfurl in as hot a manner as was hoped. In the opening five minutes or so, the curiously chosen buzzword was “lackadaisical”. A funny old term, given that it looks like a flower and is routinely mispronounced despite being about as phonetically straightforward as they come; but it pretty much summed up the way of things in our back-line straight from kick-off.

The much-peddled system of playing from the back was rolled out once more, but cast members in defence insisted on taking every chance available, as if convinced that they were impervious to harm. Passes were despatched in errant manner on the edge of our own area of all places, and an ominous sense arose that we were approaching the whole affair in far too slapdash a manner. Newport, in those opening breaths, hared about with decent gusto – and amongst our lot, “lackadaisical” just about summed it up. “A better team,” a voice in my ear seemed to whisper, “might have made hay, don’t you know, and then where would we be?”

Mercifully, however, that was about as hairy as things got. Newport ran out of steam, and thereafter our heroes remembered what the whole wheeze was about, and light-heartedly went about sealing the deal.

3. Returnees Picking Up Where They Left Off

No alarms and no surprises, as the chap warbled, just the reinforcing of various stereotypes.

Son and Lamela darted around in good spirits, and were generally at the heart of all moments of inspiration. Lamela certainly seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, looking sharp and mischievous, and ended up strolling around the place with rather a swagger, as if this were his game and he would dashed well do as he pleased. It was good to see, and the young buck provides a useful option should any part of the Alli-Eriksen-Son axis fail to motor as advertised. (As, one hopes, will Lucas Moura).

Winks was neat and tidy, if a little reluctant to play some of the more incisive passes of which he is capable, and complemented well the blood and thunder of Wanyama, whose shooting has returned to a more familiar a style.

Of the other key returnees, Rose played with decent energy, and it was nice to see him resuming that habit of yore, whereby he cannot simply stumble to the floor, but has to fly horizontally around three feet off the ground before hitting the deck.

And possibly the most pleasing sight of all, Toby Alderweireld rolled up, not a hair out of place, to amble through proceedings unbothered and unscathed.

4. The Lost Causes

Naturally, some of the less vaunted members of the troupe were also let loose, and, in a manner of speaking, they did not disappoint either.

Sissoko was as clumsy as ever. I had rather laughably harboured hopes beforehand that a lower quality of opposition might make the cove appear more sophisticated – by comparison, don’t you know – but evidently there is just no refining a certified buffoon. He simply did what he usually does, forcing his way through any crowded alley, misplacing as many passes as he nailed, and generally making life seem pretty dashed complicated.

There was a perverse symmetry to the fact that he created a goal by firing the ball straight at an opponent and seeing it ping off him in a different direction.

And Llorente did everything we have come to expect of the chap. Further evidence was offered that in a previous life he may have been an enormous cushion, as he spent the first hour or so gently laying the ball off to nearby chums with warmth and love.

Running, as ever, was rather a tall order for the chap, and made for pretty painful viewing, as his limbs moved one at a time, as if controlled from on high by a particularly nervous puppeteer. Alas, his two golden opportunities flashed inches wide, as if to convince anyone stopping by that he could play football all night without ever scoring.

The suspicion remains that should any ill fate befall Kane, then Son will be pressed into service atop the tree before the siren ever sounds for Llorente.

So no reason to slaughter the fattened calf, but as these things go it was a jolly enough little bash, and the 90 or so minutes achieved by Toby, Rose, Winks, Wanyama and Lamela feel like they could prove useful as sub-plots in the coming weeks.

Newport 1-1 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

I suppose the non-Spurs-supporting mob who traverse this Fair Isle allowed themselves a chuckle or two at our expense yesterday. In fact, I can do more than suppose, I can report the point as one of fact. And the reason I can do the aforementioned is that just about every blasted one of them spent the game helpfully reminding me, via the medium of the humble telephone-based messaging system, of such critical points as the scoreline, the time elapsed, the league placement of our opposition and other such salient information.

One cannot really blame them. Society’s greatest spin doctors would struggle to paint yesterday’s debacle in a salutary light. No doubt about it, the brow was doused with a pretty liberal sprinkling of perspiration as the game entered its final breaths, and it seems a suitable penance to have to start up the engine again in a week or two, when all concerned in lilywhite would much rather put their feet up with a box set and a bourbon.

1. No Stomach For The Fight

Anyone sniffing around pre kick-off for some indication of what was to come would have perused the teamsheet and promptly mooched off elsewhere to continue sniffing. A couple of subtle swaps at the back, but at least three quarters of them would still have lined up in a Premiership game without even quivering an eyelid, let alone batting one.

However, Messrs Dier and Vertonghen in particular appeared to have breezed up in body only, their spirit having been left back in North London. Our hosts set about the binge with gusto, as would be expected, but instead of going toe-to-toe and slugging it out, Dier and Vertonghen looked utterly affronted that anyone should be brazen enough to try tackling them in a football match of all things.

It was a cycle that repeated throughout the first half. Newport tore away at the contest like a team of rabid dogs; Vertonghen and Dier looked aghast every time their pristine white shirts were sullied. If they had wanted to satirise the societal gap between the haves and have-nots they could not have done a better job of it if they had been practising for months.

2. The Midfield

Similarly, the teamsheet gave few causes for concern when the eye dribbled down to the midfield. In fact, the teamsheet made one pause, gasp and murmur a wide-eyed “What ho!” when they eye dribbled down to the midfield, for a combo of Sissoko, Dembele and Wanyama hinted that we were in the business of removing the neighbourhood’s rowdier elements from the local dancehall, with meaty force strongly encouraged.

What transpired was underwhelming. Those three pounded around like a trio of automatons, all legs and no brain. It was as if none of them were particularly aware of the purpose of the mission, beyond perhaps meeting a certain number of footsteps by the time the curtain came down.

Oddly enough, Sissoko was the most proactive of them, but in general it was not immediately obvious which goal our midfield were charged with attacking, which ought to have the warning bells clanging away like the dickens.

3. Llorente, Where Is Thy Sting?

The memory is a little hazy in my advanced years, but I fancy that when news broke of the last-minute snaffling of Llorente last summer – from under the noses of Chelsea, no less – I might have grabbed a passing stranger an performed a neat pirouette, such was my satisfaction. On this very corner of the internet I sang the chap’s praises, and breathed a couple of hearty sighs of relief that we now had an experienced and capable striker available to deputise for Kane on such occasions as Cup ties against fourth-tier opposition.

And to give Llorente his due, the lumbering giant has a touch that could bring an end to world wars and send hollering toddlers gently to their slumbers. One imagines that a ball could be fired at him from a cannon and he would deftly cushion it, and, if feeling particularly rosy, maybe even weight a glorious five-yarder slap-bang into the path of some onrushing chum.

That sort of stuff cannot necessarily be taught, and as such one would think that Llorente has a pretty critical talent when it comes to being one of the most talented chappies going.

Alas, the very act of tying his shoelaces seems to expel every last ounce of oxygen from the old bean’s lungs. He gives the impression that he would rather be tied to a chair and have some nefarious scoundrel in a mask bludgeon his fingers with a hammer – as happened in a moving picture flick I stumbled upon recently – than work his way up to a sprint. The act of running is simply more than Llorente’s body can handle.

A team featuring Sissoko might already reasonably be considered to be one man light. Having Llorente wandering around, looking longingly at the blurry leg movements of those around him doesn’t half exacerbate things.

4. Kane, And A Modicum of Dignity

While all around him looked either disgusted at having to be involved in matters so beneath them, completely uninterested in the game, or one of the various points in between, Harry Kane at least had the dignity to become increasingly frustrated with how the tale was panning out.

The young fish appeared to care, and while his involvement tended to be of the peripheral variety in the first half – picking up the ball with back to goal on halfway and being promptly swarmed upon – he looked just about ready to swing a right hook at anyone who taunted him.

He was also responsible for our one moment of note in the first half, hitting the post as a pointed reminder that he is pretty much the hottest thing in Europe at the moment.

Mercifully, the whole bunch of them as a collective upped their game in the second half, Son and Dele arrived to raise the standard notch or two and, so on so forth. Precious little positivity to be gleaned from that mess, but hopefully we can all move on and never speak of it again. It remains our likeliest trophy this season.

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