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Spurs 0-1 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

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1. Squad Depth

Galling stuff, with a distinct flatness about the place, particularly in the second half – but I suppose one has to take the rough with the smooth, and stiffen the upper lip accordingly.

Though easy to criticise in hindsight, the first half actually wasn’t so bad. Admittedly not of the ilk that will be seared into the consciousness for generations to come, but some of the link-up play from the front four bordered on the Pretty Darned Effective, and but for six inches here and a goalkeeper’s paw there we might have been ahead.

However, once that horrible lot had their noses in front, our attacking sorts almost visibly ran out of steam. It was like watching a child’s wind-up toy slowly grind to a halt, as there was simply no puff left in the little cheeks of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. One might have had the urge to dash out and offer a consoling pat to their shoulders, if one were not so frustrated by the dashed thing.

Disturbing times, and all the more irritating for the fact that every man, woman and child about the place has seen this coming a mile off. Failure to supplement the squad with either first-rate starters or useful reserves has come home to roost in pretty predictable fashion, and murmurs about our lack of squad depth were all the rage on the sparkling concourses yesterday.

Even ignoring the injured personnel, the lack of squad depth means that those who do play do so with diminished fizz. This actually makes perfect sense, because these good citizens are being asked to perform to the peak of their powers at a pretty relentless rate. If it’s not a Champions League tie against one of Europe’s elite it’s invariably a domestic joust with a Premier League team that thinks better of rolling over and having its tummy tickled.

The generous thing would be to invest in some personnel of vaguely comparable talent, to allow Eriksen the occasional weekend with feet up and bourbon in hand; but instead the liliywhite barrel is being scraped for whippersnappers and cast-offs, none of whom are fit for purpose, so every last drop of energy is wrung from the A-listers – and we end up losing winnable games such as this.

2. Absent Friends

On occasions such as this one’s heart rather yearns for Harry Kane. The strength to hold up the ball, the nous to drop deep, the sheer gall to look both ways, shrug his shoulders and have a biff from 25 yards – qualities which Kane possesses by the sackload, and which were conspicuously absent from the various reserves out on parade yesterday.

With the attacking sorts on show haemorrhaging both ideas and energy, one could not help but wistfully wonder what difference Kane might have made.

Similarly, the heart grows fonder for Moussa Sissoko as his absence continues. In fact, the heart grew fonder for the old bean even in his presence too. In this post-Dembele era, he and he alone is capable of picking up the ball and driving twenty or so yards with it, and it is the sort of urgency from which we would have benefited mightily yesterday.

Little that can be done about it now of course, but the whole sorry spectacle seemed to ram home in no uncertain terms the fact that these two have become pretty indispensable cogs in the machinery.

3. Juan Foyth (Or The Gradual Erasure From Existence of Kyle Walker-Peters)

Returning to more pertinent matters, yesterday marked another experimental twiddle of the Pochettino thumbs, as Juan Foyth was square-pegged in at right-back again.

The young imp had a fairly eventful time of things. In the credit column he could boast a forward foray or two, to occasionally useful effect – including the last-minute dash that almost brought Janssen a moment of glory.

At times Foyth’s little dribbles seemed to strike oil due to accident rather than design, the ball appearing to escape his whirring limbs and rather kindly pop back into his path to invite him to have another go; and at other times he simply got his sums wrong and spurned some handy opportunities.

In the debit column, more than once he was marooned miles up the pitch as West Ham broke, a white dot in the green distance, providing a sterling example of a chappie lacking the positional awareness that would come with a lifetime of right-backing, and instead looking every inch a wide-eyed youth drinking in a new experience with little grasp of what was unfolding.

But aside from the pros and cons of Foyth’s performance in the role, his selection raised a broader existential question about young Kyle Walker-Peters. From an opening day headline-making performance against Newcastle last season, via a flawed but admirable fist of things in the Nou Camp a few months back, the whippersnapper’s star has taken one heck of a tumble, as he now finds himself fourth-choice right-back, and fit for little more than a watching brief, even as colleagues drop like flies.

It has been a curious move from Our Glorious Leader to prefer Foyth – himself hardly an expert in the rigours of central defence, let alone full-back – to KWP, a full-back by trade, particularly given the faith demonstrated in the latter to date in his career. Quite what this means for KWP’s future at the club is anyone’s guess, but there is something vaguely Orwellian about the way in which Walker-Peters is being erased from existence.

4. Danny Rose, And The Implications For The Ajax Match

Another rather loaded selection was that of Danny Rose, for the second time in four days. Alas, AANP is not privy to the medical records of the great and good of N17, but I have been labouring under the impression that angry young Master Rose is not a fellow whose constitution can bear two games within a week. The sight of him taking to the starting blocks twice in four days therefore prompted a scratch of the head and stroke of the chin, as all manner of permutations raced through the bean.

Foremost amongst them was the question of whether this meant Rose will now be unfit for parade against Ajax on Tuesday. This, if it transpired to be the case, would be a dashed shame, for Rose is nothing if not filled with the spirit of battle, and his snarl and aggression would be of huge benefit in a Champions League Semi-Final.

The deployment of Rose, coupled with the complete absence from the squad of my best mate Jan Vertonghen, does prompt me mischievously to peddle the notion that Vertonghen might be selected as left-back vs Ajax. With Pochettino in his current, creative mood, there is no telling who might start in which positions.

5. Positive Signs From Davinson Sanchez

On a day of pretty grim tidings I did at least take some encouragement from a central defensive display from Davinson Sanchez that at times had something of the Ledley about it.

The chap is blessed with a rare but most useful combination of pace and upper-body strength, and both were on show at various junctures yesterday. There were a couple of notable sprints to un-muddle defensive lapses, on top of which he deserved some credit for keeping a beady eye on Foyth – which frequently meant haring across to the right to cover for the errant full-back.

Not a flawless showing – for if anyone were to blame for the goal we conceded (and it is debatable that anyone were) then he appears to have been the prime suspect – but as the mind flits towards the future and a potential post-Toby era this at least provided a shimmer of positivity.

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Spurs 1-1 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Observations

strong>1. These Sort of Games: A Lament

Times, as the old bird murmured, are a-changing, and he may have had a point. It would not have happened in the day of WG Grace and chums, but in the modern game it is virtually the norm for one team to help themselves to 70% plus of possession and still spend the entirety scratching their heads as to how to win the dashed thing.

As recently as ten years ago, any team dominating the game thusly would rack up a hatful of goals and have cigars out long before time was called. These days however, there are pretty much 14 teams in the Premier League who are perfectly content to set up with nine or ten at the back and high-five their way home with a point in the bag.

It’s a riddle facing each of the Top Six, and at a loose guess I would suggest that our heroes drop points once in every half dozen or so of these games. If you expect that I have the solution you can dashed well eat your hat, but sometimes these things need to be said, and AANP may have been called many things, but a man to shirk his civic duty is not one of them.

It all seems to have sprung from the sackfuls of Champions League money hoovered up by the Top Six or so, creating in effect a league within the Premier League – or indeed two leagues, if you want to be particularly clever. And the whole bally thing is ruining the spectacle, because teams rarely go toe to toe any more. Further proof, if ever it were needed, that we should bring back the ‘90s.

2. Formation: A Complaint

As for the game itself, one would have to be particularly mean-spirited to chide our heroes for failure to triumph. The Wembley turf, one imagines, is bedewed with the good honest sweat of a race run, just forty-eight hours after ploughing through the swamp at Swansea.

If I have any recrimination, it is squarely aimed at our glorious leader. Having made the fairly progressive decision to use 4-1-4-1 away to Swansea, I can grudgingly accept that the reversion to 4-2-3-1 made a degree of sense at kick-off. This, after all, was West Ham’s Cup Final, and therefore one might expect them to pack some sort of punch. A midfield screen of Sissoko and Dier was, one accepts, not entirely the sort of insane guff that would have one led to the nearest padded cell.

However, by half-time it was pretty clear that the dreadful bilge being peddled by our guests rendered fairly redundant a defensive screen of two heavyweights. Moreover, while our lot were looking feisty enough, and producing the occasional slick passing combo, an extra attacking threat would have been welcomed aboard with gusto.

In short, the game was screaming out for a switch to 4-1-something-something (either 4-1-4-1 or 4-1-3-2), but Poch, as is his wont, kept his arms folded and persisted with one too many defensive types, until we were one down.

3. Sissoko: A Rant In No Uncertain Times, I Assure You

I have tried rather valiantly, in recent weeks, to identify the silver linings around the worthless, malcoordinated cloud that is Sissoko, but yesterday’s performance was utter tripe, even by his low standards.

How he is a professional footballer at all beggars belief, let alone an ever-present in our team and a member of the French international squad. The chap lumbered around like he understands the game less and less with each passing minute, comfortably the worst lilywhite on display. There might be some value in switching him to central defence, where his principal strength – namely, well, his strength, and general speed and power – can be utilised without having to torture onlookers with his rampant inability to control the dashed thing.

Such were my levels of apoplexy last night that I had to steady the nerves with an extra splash of bourbon, and hum the lines of one or two of the less aggressive arias. This rot simply has to stop.

4. Alli Improvement

On a brighter not, young Dele seems gradually to be rediscovering what it was that had everyone running around in a flap last season.

Let there be no mistake, his penchant for dwelling on the ball every time he touches it continues to try the soul, but he bobs about the centre with a bit more purpose than in previous months, and is beginning to make those marvellous Platt/Scholes-esque dashes into the penalty area that have the pulse quickening and one shouting an excited “Hoi!”

I admit I groan rather when one of our much-vaunted counter-attacks lands at his feet, for he will as sure as dash it suck all the speed out of the process. Broadly speaking, however, his dial is pointing back in the right direction, and this bodes well.

5. Eriksen Replacement

Difficult not to open one’s heart and reel off sweet nothings at the chap, no? His technique, his wicked dead-ball delivery, his sheer vim and eagerness to pick a match-winning pass – most of what is good at some point or other will pass through his bloodstream.

It makes the inner pessimist rather fret of what might happen should some malady befall him. With the Transfer Window now once again open I would like to see a creative type leap aboard the good ship Hotspur (and no, I don’t mean the chap Barkley).

Even in rude health it is probably unreasonable to expect Eriksen to mastermind all things creative, week in and week out. The return of Lamela is certainly welcome, but there is definitely scope for another blighter capable of dipping his shoulder and producing a spot of ooftah from nowhere. Particularly in games such as these, when our lot have to sit around the camp fire and work out how the devil to unpick a ten-man defence.

Three wins and a draw is not the worst festive return. We sit on the shoulder, as, famously, did Dame Kelly in 2004, and things worked out fairly sparko for her.

Spurs 2-3 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Lethargy, Via His Master’s Voice

A tad difficult to burn with passion either way about this one. Our heroes sleep-walked into a lead, snoozed through to half-time and then sleep-walked into defeat. At no point before, during or after did anyone appear to care a hang for the thing, which had all the intensity and passion of a toddler’s morning lie-down.

While it would be easy to jab a digit of blame towards the players for their complacency and resolute determination to avoid moving into anything higher than third gear, I do wonder if at least a smidgeon of responsibility ought to lie with a higher power. Take, as a starting point, Exhibit A. Out glorious leader, waxing lyrical a prior to yesterday’s game. “Our objective is to try to win the Premier League and the Champions League. For me, two real trophies. That can really change your life.” So far, so reasonable. “And then the FA Cup, of course, I would like to win.” A little off-piste, but still making sense I suppose. “I would like to win the Carabao Cup. But I think it will not change the life of Tottenham.”

Notice anything? Do you get the sense that, for a man whose veins course with steely determination, there was something of a laissez-faire attitude about this competition? Well whether or not you or I picked up on any hint of ambivalence, the players dashed well tuned into his master’s voice and nailed their colours to the mast of not giving a jot either way.

One does not need a degree in rocket science to snaffle the gist of the thing, straight off the bat. Real and Liverpool last week, Man Utd and Real again next week, with Arsenal and Dortmund to come – these are sizeable fish that need frying, in competitions that it makes perfect sense to prioritise.

Nevertheless, some sort of nagging voice seems to carper away, in much the same way one’s conscience might if you turn a deaf ear to the homeless chappie asking for spare change. Was this really the right way to go about our business?

2. Llorente and His Silky Caress

Clear – or, indeed, cunningly subliminal – though the orders may have been to lay down arms, wave a white flag and read a good book while letting nature take its course, for the first hour or so at least, we were treated to a glimpse of what happens on the training ground, as some of the lesser lights took the opportunity to peddle their wares.

With Harry Kane being delicately covered from head to toe in cotton wool, Senor Llorente was amongst those given the opportunity to perform for the baying public. And perform he did, with all manner of light touches and silky caresses.

The chap might not be able to break into a sprint if the future of mankind depended upon it, but shunt the ball towards him in ungainly fashion while he has his back to goal, and he will perform some glorious footballing alchemy, turning the thing into an opportunity to progress with an array of exquisite flicks, straight into the path of an onrushing chum, and with impeccable weight on the pass too.

As if to emphasise the balletic nature of the man, the gods saw fit to place the indelicate lump that is Andy Carroll on the same pitch, for everyone to indulge in a game of Compare-and-Contrast.

3. Danny Rose Back in the Fold

On which note, one of the highlights that briefly me started me from all that dozing me was the sight of Danny Rose sending Andy Carroll flying, without breaking sweat.

The notion of resting the first-choice mob in preparation for scaling the heights vs Man Utd and Real rather sailed out of the window when it came to left-backs, with both Rose and Davies employed for the best part of 90 minutes. Still, it was the perfect opportunity for Rose to rev up the motor once again, and the young bounder seemed to enjoy himself, taking fairly literally the licence to roam forward and consequently finding himself as central midfield playmaker and auxiliary centre-forward at various points.

His hair might have undergone a rather discombobulating change, but he remains barrelsome of chest and appears still to have fire in his belly, so Rose-tinted spectacles make this a successful comeback.

4. Sissoko Turns A Corner. Maybe.

Seasoned visitors to these parts will now that Moussa Sissoko has never exactly been the plat du jour at AANP Towers, and even this supposed renaissance season has appeared to me be something of a sham, with onlookers tripping over themselves (much like the man himself) to laud him when no laud is deserved. Ungainly is fine if married to effectiveness – see Kane. H, Esq. Sissoko this season has continued to churn out barrel-loads of ungainliness, but his outputs have barely improved from last season.

Until yesterday. It may only have been West Ham reserves, who in the first half at least truly looked the worst team we have ever faced, but Sissoko at least had managed to untangle his feet, and started to look quite the attacking force. His powerful running has long been his saving grace, but yesterday it appeared that he had finally got his head round the most basic elements of physics, and started to understand the basic mechanics of a ball.

He was at the heart of much that was good, and, crucially, did not trip over his feet or collide with a lamp post or overrun the ball once (that honour went to poor old GKN, in his over-enthusiasm to impress).

5. Son, Dele And The Number Ten Role

Word reached me during the game yesterday, via the medium of a chum on whatsapp, that somewhere in the world Stuart Pearce had apparently been pontificating that Son was a better Number 10 than Alli.

It struck me that the broken clock was doing its thing, because to date this season I would say that that is more or less correct. Dele has pottered around hither and thither when employed behind the front man, but to little meaningful effect. A lot of attempted dribbles and nutmegs, and too many dives and exaggerations for my liking, but not as much impact as ought to be the case when collecting the weekly envelope.

Yesterday he was again shifted southwards into central midfield, and Son took the more advanced scoop. And, yet again, he did a decent job – particularly in the first half (for some reason his radar went awry in the second half, and he struggled to strike oil with even the most basic six-yard pass).

Son buzzed around, beat his man and played intelligent passes (until he was rendered incapable of passing accurately), generally doing all that one would hope Dele would do when similarly requested.

It seems sacrilegious to suggest that England’s Next-But-One Great Thing be dropped, but with big games on the horizon, I wonder if our grand fromage is considering starting with the more reliable man on current form. Something for the great and good to ponder, perhaps.

Spurs 4-1 West Ham: 4 Lilywhite Observations

1. Man-Love For Dembele

As is the vogue these days, all manner of stats have been trotted out to do homage to the performance of Dembele. Tackles, touches, passes, interceptions – the man apparently won the numbers game hands down, which is excellent news for those who like their pivot tables on a Monday morning. In more practical terms it was, as ever, a joy to observe the chap in such fine fettle. Blessed with his curious combo of barrel-chested Samsonesque strength and footwork smoother than a particularly debonair silkworm, Dembele has the capacity to float like a butterfly while stinging like an angry minotaur, and games are being duly dictated from his lair in the centre.

2. The Best And Worst of Walker

It feels like ever since AANP was but a twinkle in the eye, the life and works of K. Walker Esquire have divided opinions amongst the lilywhite hordes. Bang on cue, both the prosecution and the defence made fairly compelling cases, and one suspects that nobody who previously held an opinion will have seen a reason to change course.

For the best part of proceedings Walker spent the day tearing up the wing to offer cheery companionship to whomever had the ball infield, acting for all the world like a de facto winger. On top of which he appeared for much of the thing to have his defensive duties down to a t, producing on a couple of occasions that signature upper-body move of his – the one that shields the thing as it trickles out of play, while an opponent tries in vain to budge him and simply bounces off. Even when he picked up a rather daft booking for handbags in the latter stages I was happy enough to shrug it off, for the chap was simply showing some fire in his belly, and over the years that has been a rare commodity. Then came his goal, a sumptuous finish to a cracking little move – and all seemed right with the world.

Alas (and inevitably, his detractors would say), there then followed not so much a mental aberration as a decision en masse by every one of his brain cells to vacate the premises, and Walker delivered his token Walker moment. Two or three minutes that summed up the blighter in a microcosm (well, two microcosms I suppose). A favourite he remains in this corner of the interweb – but detractors gonna detract.

3. Alli And Dier Pick Up Where They Left Off

Much has been made of the elevations of Alli and Dier to the national stage, and on their returns to the Lane they duly did the sensible thing by picking up where previously they had left off. Alli remains a little rough around the edges, understandably enough, but even when he makes the odd wrong decision or his touch lets him down, the nature of his play – by which I mean that willingness to breeze into the penalty area and sniff around for scraps – gives all sorts of benefits to the team as a whole. One does not have to squint too hard to recall the days when poor old Kane (or whomever) would be checking his armpits and breath for explanations as to why nobody would go anywhere near him. With Alli in the team (and nods of acknowledgement are also due to young Sonny Jimbo) there is at least always a second body in attack to keep the opposition defence honest.

This being Spurs, and old habits die rather hard, so naturally the air in AANP Towers pre kick-off was rich with the smell of pessimism. Where Heskey, Martins, Benteke and others had gone before, yours truly was envisaging Andy Carroll going today – namely the little road named Bundle The Soft-Centred Lilywhite Defenders Out Of The Way And Bludgeon In A Goal Avenue. The probability was amplified by our bizarre brittleness in the face of the aerial challenge from that ‘orrible lot up the road a couple of weeks back.

Credit therefore to the back-four and, in particular, Young Master Dier, for standing up to Carroll, shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow. Ironically enough, where this gloomy doom-monger had prophesied all manner of woe from set-pieces, it was glorious to observe a cracking set-piece goal from our lot instead. Both delivery and movement were worthy of a tip of the hat.

4. A Goal In Poch’s Image

When Senor Pocehttino downed tools and hits the sack for his eight hours of tired nature’s sweet restorer, I would hazard a bet that the goal that afforded him the most pleasure was the third. A goal cast in the manager’s very own chubby little features, it was born of energetic, high pressing by the younglings, swarming all over the opposition defence. The gist of the thing is typically to make the opposition punt the ball aimlessly towards us in our own half, so to bypass all that and pilfer a goal was quite the well-earned bonus.

So in the final analysis it was nutritious and delicious goodness all round. It ended up with near total dominance – four goals, the woodwork a couple of times, a dozen shots on target and plenty of showboating – but the game had begun evenly and feistily, and our lot ground down the visitors and forced their way ahead. Being young and sprightly they will presumably stumble here and there, but this was an absolute triumph for the Pochettino way, and they duly deserve a day or two of basking.

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

West Ham 0-1 Spurs: The Draconian World of Chris Foy

Regular frequenters of this corner of the interweb will be well aware that here dwells no particular fan of Kyle Naughton, primarily for the crime of simply not being Top Four/Five/Six standard (although in addition to this he also spent most of last season convincing me that he was still a whippersnapper with plenty of time to improve, rather than being 25 years of age – 25! – the swine).

However, even at my biased and most wildly unfair it is nigh impossible to attach blame to the blighter for yesterday’s sending off. A handball no doubt (it was hardly filled with cynicism and malice, but his hands were well away from his body), but the mind has been boggling for a good 24 hours now in an attempt to make that a red card offence. Yank back a man as he hares down on goal, or swing wildly at his kneecaps and one can expect to be sent on one’s way, but Naughton’s handball seemed a couple of yards – plus one top-notch goalkeeper – away from being prevention of a certain goal. If resident arbiter Chris Foy dishes out reds for that sort of thing one dreads to imagine the mirthless existence of the children at Foy Towers, who presumably are tossed into a cellar whenever they fail to clear their plates, and are dealt half a dozen lashings for every misspelt word in their homework.

However, once Foy had meted out his own unique brand of justice, to their credit our heroes clung to parity for a good half hour. All the more impressive  when once considers that in similar circumstances in the corresponding fixture last season, when we went down to ten men at a similar point in the game (Kaboul doing the honours) the whole bally lot of them collectively wilted like a particularly world-weary sunflower.

Pochettino

A cheeky nod of approval too in the direction of our latest glorious leader, for the post-red card tinkering he effected. Where convention dictates that in such circumstances the nearest meandering forward should be hooked off and Dawson, or the nearest approximation, duly plonked at the back, Pochettino intriguingly left the entire front four in situ, giving nary a glance at his subs, and instead shunted the resident prodigal Capoue from the defensive shield in midfield into central defence. 4-2-3-1 neatly became 4-1-3-1, and although we pootled along fairly gently thereafter it warmed the heart to see that the sending off was not automatically the prompt for a downing of all attacking tools and reversion to safety-first defence.

Elsewhere on the Pitch

Goodness knows what they feed defenders out in Portugal, but young Master Dier certainly drifted forward for his goal without batting an eyelid or breaking a sweat, and a doff of the cap is duly directed towards him. Elsewhere ye olde problems that were ever present at left-back reappeared with a sunny wave, as Danny blasted Rose allowed himself to be turned inside out by Steward Downing of all people.

Further up the pitch the famed Pochettino alchemy cannot yet be said to have truly been effected across the green and pleasant land, as Lamela missed as often as he hit, but frankly it was just nice to see him lolloping out the place from the off, as if the whole sorry mess of his debut season had never happened.

The rather unique circumstances of this one make it a touch difficult to draw too many conclusions, but bragging rights over that ‘orrible lot are always welcome, a last-minute winner allows for particularly unbearable smugness in the office on the Monday morning and three points away from home is most satisfactory way to get proceedings underway.

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

West Ham – Spurs Preview: Perspective & Moderation, Of All Things

The whiff of misplaced optimism fairly pointedly indicates that a new season is lumbering into view, but things are unmistakeably different this time round. For a start, perspective and moderation, of all things, are dangerously close to breaking out amongst the lilywhite fraternity, in a scenario not too dissimilar to the English attitude at this summer’s World Cup. In common with quite a few Spurs-supporting chums, I cannot help but think that we are careering towards a respectable if unremarkable 6th place finish. Wage bills certainly suggest as much, and while those around us have been parading shiny new players at mind-boggling cost, following last season’s transfer glut the rationale at N17 this time round has veered to the other extreme. Big name signings have been conspicuous by their absence, and expectations have been tempered accordingly.

The drill for the new man at the helm seems to be to make the most of what he inherited, with not a peep of dissent, and not a hint of a big money uber-signing. Handily enough, the job description in its entirety seems to be neatly summarised by The Lamela Situation. Contained within one unsymmetrically-coiffeured and over-expensive Argentine winger lies the conundrum facing our man Pochettino – to extricate good value from someone else’s expensive toys. If anyone can perform such alchemy it ought to be the chap who turned Lallana, Shaw et al into £20m+ players.

Just as well, because in addition to Lamela there are a raft of others who need a switch flicked somewhere – while Soldado poached one rather neatly in last week’s friendly against Schalke, there was also the inevitable wild slap into the North Stand from close range, suggesting that certain bad habits linger. Then there is Chadli, Townsend, Lennon, Dembele, Capoue, Chiriches… the whole dashed lot of them in fact, bar Lloris and Vertonghen.

Such ambitions are for the future. Saturday brings the dreary prospect of a trip to West Ham, and a distinct lack of optimism at AANP Towers. I don’t doubt that we will finish ten or so places above them come next May, but this is their Cup Final, and the painful memory of the corresponding fixture at the tail-end of last season lingers heavily in the memory. On that occasion, the performance of Adebayor and Paulinho within our defensive wall set the tone for a defeat so spineless that passing amoeba congregated pitchside to take notes.  Talent they may lack, but one can certainly see West Ham out-fighting us, and should they get their noses in front I fear we will be in trouble. (That pre-season optimism did not last too long then.)

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

West Ham 2-0 Spurs: Two More Entries for the Comedy Catalogue

Credit to our heroes for their ingenuity. In a season in which sacrificial slaughters seem to have taken place on a monthly basis, as well as half a dozen transfer failures and an off-the-pitch approach to running a club that would leave a team of monkeys red-faced, it did not seem possible to reach a new low in a game against a West Ham team hated by their own and at a point in the season in which there was next to nothing at stake. This season however, our lot have exercised every ounce of creative licence to come up with new and fantastical means of generating car crashes from thin air. Admittedly it might have been a tad more productive for them to expend their energy on something a little more conducive to success, but baby steps, what?

Kaboul

It seemed a tad indulgent of Monsieur Kaboul to finish up his work for the season after half an hour of the penultimate game, the cheeky rascal, but his was a worthy entry nevertheless into the pantheon of Astonishingly Bad Ideas From Our Lot, 2013/14. Here at AANP Towers our hearts have burned with good honest man-love for Monsier Kaboul ever since he puffed out his chest and went bulldozing up the right flank vs Man City a few years back, to create the goal for Crouch that secured our CL status. Thus have excuses been made for him ever since, when he returned to action this season as part of the back-four that was torn to ribbons back at Man City, and apologetic shrugs were offered on his behalf when both feet became completely disengaged from reality and he resorted to a first minute back-heeled o.g. at Anfield.

Alas, the chap’s mishaps have drifted from occasional aberrations to his own unique brand of farce. Presumably these days when he moves from one room to another at Chateau Kaboul he trips over the carpet, careers into the dining table and sends crockery crashing everywhere. With his pace going, and well-timed interventions playing second fiddle to ill-timed lunges, he now seems to offer us precious little beyond a couple of startling eyebrows. ‘Tis with heavy heart that these sentiments are voiced, but his contract is up this summer in any case. Be gone, Kaboul, and take thine eyebrows with thee. In fact, take the entire defence with thee, apart from angry young Kyle Walker. Let’s just start from scratch at the back, because at the moment the whole dashed thing is making my eyes bleed.

Paulinho and Adebayor

However, the bar for scarcely believable lilywhite buffoonery was undoubtedly raised by the intrepid heroes Paulinho and Adebayor, in facing up to a single size 5 football as if it were a vigilante mob armed with numchucks, machetes and those awesome massive gun things that Vasquez wielded in Aliens. With that sort of commitment to the cause one would not fancy their chances in wrestling a ball of string from a heavily sedated kitten, let alone hauling us into the Top Four against the Premiership’s finest. Still, there is some comfort in the thought of the spittle-flecked apoplexy that presumably greeted them when Tim Sherwood sauntered by for the post-mortem.

Almost everywhere one looked on Saturday there was an excruciating limpness about all things lilywhite. Lennon, another whom AANP has resolutely defended year after year, seems to have become a parody of himself, trotting out those jazz-hands and that predictable shoulder-feint-and-dash-out-right routine in an entirely perfunctory manner. Kyle Naughton’s blandness has reached such levels that he is now entirely incapable of stirring any emotion in me whatsoever. Chiriches I imagine is a lad who understands not one word of the instructions he is fed, but nods blankly and then decides to play as the voices in his head dictate.

Excused from the debacle, as ever, were Eriksen and Lloris, but there is no getting away from the fact that this was yet another calamitous chapter in the tome of our 2013/14 season – a tome that will, rather incongruously, nevertheless be titled, “Heavens Above – Look How Many Points We Garnered! Huzzah!”

Spurs 1-2 West Ham: One of History’s More Subdued Revolutions

As revolutions go this was one of the more muted ilk, defeat at home to West Ham being unlikely to go down in history as the moment that inspired the worldwide lilywhite renaissance.

The Encouraging Start

Things actually started brightly enough, with a swash here and a buckle there. The starting line-up drew a few nods of approval, with the selection of two strikers for a home game against weak opponents representing the sort of tactical masterstroke that seemed to elude the previous incumbent. Defoe might not be everyone’s brand of cognac but he buzzes around in lively manner, and will create shooting opportunities for himself from range if they are not being fed to him on a plate. In general they all seemed to bustle around with intent, and with Dembele nominally occupying the ‘holding’ role it was unsurprisingly an attack-minded troupe that took the game to West Ham for the first twenty minutes or so.

The two wingers seemed happy enough on their natural flanks, and while Sigurdsson probably needed to boss things a little more bossily, the general gist of things was acceptable enough. One-touch football was still conspicuously absent, but these things do not unmuddle themselves overnight, so it appeared that things were rolling satisfactorily enough towards their conclusion when Adebayor did his thing. (A rip-roaring finish it was too, and good to see the goal come about as the product of having two up-front – one peeling wide and the other haring down the centre).

The Decidedly Less Encouraging Finish

That however, will probably be spoken of fondly in the Sherwood household for generations hence as the zenith of his managerial career at the Lane – mercifully –because our heroes failed rather spectacularly to read West Ham a story and tuck them in thereafter. Sam Allardyce deployed all the tactical subtlety and nous for which he has become so fabled by repeatedly launching the ball skywards, for his strikers to win headers and runners to pop shots, a tactic which led to the thoroughly unpleasant sensation at AANP Towers of wishing Dawson were around, to deal with aerial barrage. Instead, we had perfunctory Capoue, and Chiriches, who looks suspiciously like a man who has been taking his lessons in no-nonsense defensive solidity from Benny Assou-Ekotto.

Had our heroes had enough verve and creativity to pen West Ham deep within their own half and batter away at them, the whole issue of dealing with knock-downs from long-balls would not have been pertinent, as they would all have been sixty yards away, but it is a fairly moot point now.

I had rather expected that our heroes would fairly naturally bounce back fromt he weekend various crises and tear West Ham apart, as had threatened to happen in that opening spell. Instead, there is an ominous sense that we might tumble into a festive freefall. Quite the revolution.

Spurs 0-3 West Ham: Dawson’s Final Destination Routine

That whole farce was so preposterous that for nigh on 20 hours since its conclusion I have been gently reclining in a darkened room with nothing but the dulcet tones of Julie London to nurse my hurting brain. If the sign of greatness is how one copes with adversity then our much-vaunted back-four ought to be wheeled out onto the High Road and pelted with rotten fruit and a selection of heavy, blunt metal objects, for their collective display of incompetence that ushered in the second and third goals. (Not that anyone should be particularly exonerated for the first goal either – a naughty push in Vertonghen’s back there may have been, but that West Ham were effectively able to play a one-two on our goal line smacks of somebody somewhere tripping over their own shoelaces.)

The Second Goal

Kyle Walker’s occasional moments of cerebral evacuation were never that entertaining in the first place, but now they are becoming a dashed nuisance make no mistake. I am generally loath to criticise the chap as he typically displays more fight than the rest of them combined, but on this occasion his pace was not enough to right the wrong of being caught near the halfway line when West Ham were bearing down on goal.

The Third Goal

Marvellous to see our brave young captain celebrate a new three-year contract with a typical moment of lumbering clumsiness, dangling a leg as the West Ham blighter skipped past him in a flash. He may exude lashings of gung and ho when winning headers, and think himself Hoddle incarnate as he pings those diagonal 70-yard passes, but Dawson’s bread and butter is to defend, and the chap has the turning speed of a dozy elephant and sprinting technique of one of the slower members of the Corluka clan. I am becoming rather fed up of seeing him discombobulated to within an inch of his life by a straightforward shoulder-dip and sprint routine. Watching a fleet-footed opponent dash towards him is akin to those prescient moments in the Final Destination films when some suspiciously good-looking young American lass envisages a cyclist crashing into a petrol tanker, being flattened by a falling piano and then having their head bitten off by a passing dinosaur. A useful squad member Dawson surely is, but the sooner Kaboul is fit and raring to go the better.

Not that young Vertonghen escapes blame either. To fail to catch a man running half the length of the pitch with the ball at his feet is unforgivable. Someone ought to tousle that immaculately-combed hair of his by way of punishment. That ought to elicit a few howls of anguish.

The First Hour

For all the idiocy that spread like a rash across the back-four in the latter stages it was still a rummy old thing to watch our lot dominate things for the first hour and then waddle off home three down to a team without a striker. In a sense it was fairly typical White Hart Lane fare, for many a time and oft have we hammered away at a defensive opponent and then been caught out at a set-piece. It seems a dashed shame though, because it felt like a goal was coming. Paulinho’s tendency to shoot from everywhere and aim at anything may incorporate as much wild missing as hitting, but his propensity to surge into the area to support the front man is a welcome one, and he seemed to push even further up the pitch after half-time, encapsulating a greater urgency amongst our troops.

Alas, Eriksen was denied much space, Lamela was fairly impotent when eventually introduced, and that whole left-flank business seemed to be quietly erased from our game plan. No particular need to panic, for I can hardly see Liverpool and Southampton challenging come May, but it is about bally time we put these meddling bottom half teams to the sword and tonked them with three or four early goals, rather than beavering away at nil-nil into the final half hour.

West Ham 2-3 Spurs: To Unsung Heroes (And One Of More Heralded Ilk)

Stirring stuff. Not quite a game of two halves, but most certainly a game of a slightly moribund lilywhite first hour followed by an unashamedly spiffing comeback in the last half hour or so.

No doubt it was yet again wrapped up by the young maestro doing that thing he does, but I implore ye, stun your loved ones by donning headwear even though sitting indoors, just so that you can doff it in the direction of the various unsung – or at least sung in a more piano style – lilywhite supporting cast members. (A troupe that most pointedly does not include Master Adebayor – for him I recommend you reserve your coldest, most contemptible stare.)

Gold Stars

Monsieur Lloris is unlikely ever to garner the headlines of Bale, poor lamb, but the save he made at 2-1 down was worth a goal – and the speed at which he zipped from between the sticks to the feet of the onrushing attacker was indicative of a man who obediently ate his greens as a child.

Mind-bogglingly enough, Scott Parker rolled back the years to transform himself into some sort of all-action, galloping, swashbuckler of a midfielder. Well not quite, but I do rather fancy that the Brains Trust may have finally had a word in his ear these past few days, about taking half a dozen touches before popping the ball 10 yards backwards, for when the chips were down at 2-1 he seemed the first to grab the initiative and trundle forward 40 yards with it. Admittedly there was not necessarily always a useful end-product, this intriguing Dembele impression did shift our heroes from back- to front-foot, and once they hit their stride the chances came whizzing in from all angles.

A couple of useful contributions too from Sigurdsson, both in terms of whipping in crosses and generally offering sufficient assistance to Bale to distract the West Ham ruffians, while young Lennon looked threatening, once his team-mates remembered that he was on the pitch.

The Goldest Star of All

But by golly, bravo Bale. The line of frightened rabbits in the West Ham defence did not know whether to sit back and let him belt one in from range, or charge at him and watch him skip merrily away. Is there anything the young blighter cannot do? Tap-ins, I suppose. These are privileged times.

Momentous Stuff, What?

Hindsight will confirm I suppose, but this did rather strike me as a potentially momentous notch on the lilywhite bedpost. Another last-minute winner, away from home, coming from behind and against a team whose physical approach made us feel jolly uncomfortable throughout – ‘twas not the sort of thing we used to do. The celebrations suggested that our heroes, both on the pitch and on the coaching staff knew it.

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