1. Emerson Royal, Cult Hero
Over in the West Wing of AANP Towers, I once idled away a few months writing a full-on tome about our lot. I mention this not to drum up sales (although if you will insist then step right this way) but because the title of the thing – Spurs’ Cult Heroes – hove to mind yesterday as I watched Emerson Royal complete his stunning character arc from hopeless incompetent whose every involvement brought howls of rage, to dashing conqueror, whose every touch cheer was cheered to the rafters.
The definition of a ‘Cult Hero’ is pretty loose (one man’s Tony Parks penalty save is another man’s 866 Steve Perryman appearances, if you get the gist), but most seem to agree that there is a distinct category carved out for those maverick sorts, who by virtue of, amongst other things, a) being slightly batty, and b) committing every fibre of their being to the cause, are taken to heart by the adoring masses. Throw in a villain-to-hero redemption arc and it all becomes pretty irresistible stuff. Watching in awe as Emerson went into overdrive yesterday, I was forced to admit that his had suddenly become a pretty strong nomination for Cult Hero.
Emerson did not have to spend much time dusting down his defensive frock yesterday, given that West Ham did not really take any interest in crossing the halfway line. If a winger had to be tracked and his cross stifled, Emerson tracked and stifled obediently, but this was hardly a day on which the “Back” part of the “Wing-Back” role featured too heavily. (Which is mildly ironic, as the defensive lark seems to be his forte, he being arguably more naturally sculpted to be a full-back than a wing-back.)
As with his ten chums, any letters sent to his loved ones about the first half would have made for pretty brief reading. ‘Huff’, ‘Puff’ and ‘Some laboured passing’ pretty much covered the contributions from all in lilywhite in minutes 1 to 45.
But it was in the second half that Emerson really burst into life, starting with his goal. It should come as no surprise to anyone by now that he insists on augmenting our counter-attacks by nominating himself as makeshift centre-forward. I suspect that where once Kane, Sonny and chums may have tried to talk him down, they now simply give the shoulders a shrug and let him do his thing, finding life easier that way.
And thus it happened that with Hojbjerg looking to unleash his inner Modric, and Richarlison and Kane mooching about in deeper territory, Davies and Emerson arrived at the identical conclusion of “Well, why the hell not?” and effortlessly morphed into an oddly lethal strike pairing.
Having made all that effort to get into prime goalscoring territory, Emerson was not about to let the opportunity slip, and rolled the ball home with the debonair style of a fellow who’s done such things a good 267 times previously.
I suppose conventional wisdom would have had it that at this point, with those bizarre sprints into the centre-forward spot having brought him his goal, Emerson might have considered it a fine day’s work and gently eased off into the background, feeling rather pleased with himself and content to wind down the clock. But Emerson is not conventional. These maverick cult hero sorts rarely are. He instead regarded that goal as the springboard for The Emerson Royal Show, and played the remainder of the game as if determined that his every following touch would make the highlights reel. Thus we were treated to no-look passes, thumping slide tackles and the general sense of a man having the absolute night of his life. He is – and I cannot stress this enough – a most extraordinary young bean.
2. Ben Davies, Wing-Back
Ever since young Sessegnon was bundled off to A&E I’ve given the chin a thoughtful stroke or two when puzzling over who might give Perisic a breather on the left, but for some reason the concept of Ben Davies wing-backing it never really dawned on me. No explanation for it, but my mind always veered off into Emerson Royal country. Strange the way the mind works, what?
Anyway, Ben Davies did well enough in the role yesterday to suggest that he might be a viable alternative to Perisic. (In fact, given Perisic’s rather bonkers cameo, which involved two needlessly aggressive hacks at opponents, plus a pitiful attempt to defend his own area that contained little in the way of tackling and much in the way of tumbling over his own collapsible limbs, I wonder if Davies at LWB might become a more permanent option simply by default.)
The TV bod gave Ben Davies the MOTM bauble last night, which seemed to me to stretch the concept a tad, but I followed the point – namely that he did all that might reasonably be asked of a fellow, and without too many alarms.
As with Emerson on the right, there was little in the way of defensive employment, so most of his energies were devoted to invading the opposition half and giving the arms a manic wave, so as to attract the attention of whomever happened upon possession at that point.
All this was well and good, and evidently blew the minds of the Sky Sports detectives, but I was vastly more concerned about the outputs Davies conjured up, once in receipt of the ball. Now here, I fancy I do the fellow a dastardly turn, for in gauging his abilities up the left flank I cannot help but compare his crossing to that of Perisic. And for all Perisic’s flaws when it comes to aggressive hacks and collapsible limbs, it is widely acknowledged that his crosses are of a most devilish vintage.
Davies, by contrast, and in common with everything about him, delivers crosses that do everything stated in the Instruction Manual, while offering precious little to make the jaw drop and eyes bulge. Davies’ crossing was acceptable enough. His short passing was acceptable enough. His tackles were acceptable enough. All of which was comfortably good enough to sink West Ham, but none of which arrested the attention and drew me towards the fellow as the game’s outstanding performer. Still, one man’s meat and all that, what?
And moreover, at the critical juncture, Davies rattled off his lines to perfection, galloping in from the flank to take Hojbjerg’s pass in his stride, effecting a handy swerve infield to wrongfoot no fewer than three West Ham fiends and then rolling the ball into the path of Emerson, for the opener.
3. Hojbjerg’s Pass
Talking of which, amidst all the rattle and hum about Emerson’s one-eighty, and Davies’ supposed match-winning innings, I’m inclined to stamp an indignant foot and demand that all in attendance stop prattling and do a bit of homage to that pass from Hojbjerg, which set everything in motion in the first place.
Now it is true that until and beyond that point this all felt like standard Hojbjerg stuff. He pottered around and looked increasingly irate, as he usually does, but one could not really put a hand on the Bible and swear to the Almighty that one chap and one chap only was dominating this particular midfield and that chap’s name was Hojbjerg.
He did enough – so no doubt Ben Davies was goggling away at him in awe – but at nil-nil, he, like most others, was plodding along a bit.
Until he suddenly unleashed from nowhere one of the best passes of the season. I suppose one could point out that the was generously gifted all the time in the world by the West Ham mob, as well as the freedom of pretty much the centre circle – but still. At the time at which he hit ‘Send’, Ben Davies was but a twinkle in the eye, stationed on the left touchline, and literally half the West Ham team were blocking the smooth delivery from starting point to destination.
None of this mattered a jot to Hojbjerg, who directed and weighted the ball to absolute perfection, allowing Davies to seize upon it without breaking stride. It was the sort of creative brainwave for which our heroes had been absolutely howling, at least in the first half, and while things were bucking up a bit in the second, this was nevertheless game-changing stuff.
While saluting Hojbjerg for his moment of inspiration, the whole joyous episode did make me wonder – if this talent for spotting and pinging a pass from the gods is something of which is the rightful, legal proprietor, might the fine fellow not attempt one or two of these each game?
4. The Penalty Shout
It doesn’t matter now, of course, and I daresay some amongst you might give the head a sad shake and wonder where it all went wrong with AANP – but I can’t get over this gubbins about the penalty in the first half.
Or rather, the non-penalty. Of course, the AANP lineage strictly forbids that the appointed arbiter of proceedings be questioned: the ref’s word is law, and shall be respected as such, without exception.
And I suppose that should be the end of it really. Yet when I see dastardly goings-on inside the penalty area gaily waved away, when they would almost certainly attract a stern eyebrow and wagging finger anywhere else on the pitch, I do tend to dissolve into a fit of apoplexy and let a few of the fruitier elements of Anglo-Saxon fire from my mouth like shots from a gun.
The official line is, apparently, some perfect drivel along the lines that if a fellow is having trouble with gravity and taking a dive to the dirt, then he has absolute carte blanche to scoop up the ball in his hands and bestow upon it loving caresses, until such time as he has restored his balance. At which point, presumably the suspension of the game’s laws ends, and we play football once again.
Utter rot, of course. I mean, the ruling itself has an element of sense about it – if a grown man has somersaulted into the atmosphere and is about to land on his nose, one permits him to eject a paw in order to preserve his decency – but the West Ham blighter was in no such predicament, and Solomon himself could not convince me otherwise. The W.H.B. wobbled a bit, shot out an arm to give the ball a friendly pat and then restored his apparatus perfectly comfortably. As above, anywhere else on the pitch and there is not a referee alive who would have passed on the opportunity to make his whistle heard.
Still, as stated, one simply accepts these calls with good grace. Mercifully it mattered little anyway, and, as I saw it writ elsewhere last night, remarkably we are now in the Top Four despite seeming to have lost just about every game we’ve played this season. Long live that Stellini chap, what?