The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The road to Wembley, it seems, is littered with potholes big enough to hide Tom Huddlestone’s lunchbox in. Another round and another case of being tethered to the docks rather than plain sailing in its bountiful, calm waters.
The good news, of course, is that we’re still in it. Rather less so is that Bolton are too and we’ve got another testing rendezvous to put in our diaries before we can even think about a quarter-final at The Cottage. Or further still.
A replay it is, then.
As will probably be the resounding sound-byte for the campaign, we could’ve done much better. A wobbly cack opening forty-five spent almost exclusively in our own half was followed, to some relief, by one injected with considerably more urgency. As a result, we were treated some sporadic bouts of eye-catching ‘pingy’ football and some decent chances to turn the game on its noggin. Thankfully at least, one was taken courtesy of Jermain Defoe’s rapacious instinct for a bit of space and the quickest route to net as he thumped home a timely equaliser. I don’t know what’s come over our resident goal-smith; years of work on the training ground, refining the art of eye-of-the-needle finishing, seem to have been usurped by means of putting a good old fashioned pair of laces through it. He can generate the power of the cosmos through that right-foot and I genuinely fear for anyone who’s daft enough to get in the way.
A foot like a traction engine.
Elsewhere, there were some familiar plots unfolding. Mainly in the confines of the eighteen-yard box. Just when Gareth Bale had shirked that unwanted jinxed simian off his back, the whole team appear to be under the grips of another. Penalties. England are better than us at penalties. Keane has rolled in a couple, albeit with the conviction of an ME sufferer, but in they’ve gone. A dreadful scuff from Thudd at the weekend- preceded by a run-up reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote scuttling on thin air over a canyon- one to be added to the ever growing list of twelve-yard fumbles we’ve notched up over the course of the season. The aforementioned Bob needed several attempts against Everton in the Carling Cup, Defoe went one better (or worse) against the Toffees and twanged his effort against Howard’s legs before repeating the trick against Leeds. And now Tommy, to the surprise of few, has done likewise.
The right honourable Kaybee dug up some interesting quotes on here earlier, straight from the lips of our fleet-footed Welshman via Global News:
““We don’t practise penalties really and it’s disappointing we missed one but things like that happen.
“Tom was down to take it before the game and he was unlucky. Will we practise them more now? You never know.””
What, not ever?
Seems a trifle odd.
The long and short of it, then, is that we’ve found another means of shooting ourselves in the foot, in the form of no-one in the team being confident taking penalties. While it hasn’t cost us in any kind of terminal sense, (every occasion we’ve missed we’ve drawn rather than lost) it is becoming quite a nuisance. When I hear the ref blow up for a spot-kick I want to feel excited by the prospect, not awash with a sense of deflation that we’d have a better chance scoring direct from a corner.
Still, Spurs are on their way to Wembley…
We’re just taking the scenic route.
I blame Paul Merson.
With the Sky Sports cameras whirring last night, Paul gave his thoughts on the game ahead. They’ll rip them apart, he told us assuredly, absolutely tear them to pieces. Really? Did he know something we didn’t? Were Wolves planning to field a team of chimpanzees? It would appear not. The trap he fell into, of course- and he should know better being an ex-Gooner- is that no matter how much of a banker it looks from the outside. Never bank on Tottenham. It’s the first rule of Fight Club.
I didn’t see the game, so I can only piece together what unfolded from hearsay and online match up-dates watched through my fingers. I think I’m right in assuming it wasn’t the prettiest ninety-minutes since the inception of time. Certainly not one for the history books. Plenty of invective spewed over the returning Kaboul and ‘Arry’s team selection which looked, for anyone’s money, puzzling from the start. More of that in a minute. I did hear that Jenas had a good game, but- and I’m not being at all facetious here- I couldn’t honestly tell if it was said in sarcasm.
That alone, I guess, tells its own story.
I devoted much of yesterday’s post bemoaning Mick McCarthy and his questionable approach to team selection; something which now does little else but ping egg into my face and drip down between the keys. As far as I can work out, our next League game is ten days away. So why, pray tell, did Modric and Palacios find themselves benched? Particularly Wilson, whose combative talents would’ve gone down a storm against such thrifty opposition. I find it baffling that he didn’t start. Correct me if I’ve missed something.
Anyway, more later if I get a chance to see the highlights and, importantly, I can bring myself to watch them. I expect if I do it’ll be in the style of Alex in A Clockwork Orange; eyes clamped open, bound to a chair, fighting the urge not to vomit every time Crouch spoons one wide.
Keep the faith.
Someone’s got to.
Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold.
With this in mind, tonight we should be offering the stuff on a plate taken from a blast-chiller and garnished with liquid nitrogen. Wolves, ladies and gentlemen, need shoeing back to the Ice Age. Nothing less than a win will do.
Mick McCarthy’s a loose cannon- you can tell that just by looking at him- and as such, he’s formed a team with a similar penchant for the unpredictable. Any number of sides could turn up this evening, literally. We could see certified relegation fodder or we could come up against the same hardy bunch of opportunists who spannered our plans last time and who’ve taken points from both sides of the Mersey as well as beating Fulham. Alternatively, we might just have the pleasure of entertaining a rabble of juveniles and second-stringers, there only as understudies and life-preservers of the main cast- depends, entirely, who they’ve got at the weekend.* Who knows? Who knows what crack-pot scheme Mick’s got boiling up? All I can say for sure is- I want them seen to.
No fannying about in front of goal. Not even a hint of it.
At the risk of sounding like a damaged vinyl; Lennon’s still out. The general consensus seems to agree this to be a rather more long-term situation than first thought. If you trust your sources, we wont be seeing him again until Wigan o’clock on the 21st of February. That clunking sound you just heard was Erik Edman dropping his guts like a dolphin slipping onto the deck of a Japanese trawler. Yikes. Bentley is our man tonight, then. A real chance for him to bring all those encouraging performances together and make it sing. I’m really confident he can do the business. Gawd, listen to me; encouraging, confident, the business. Whatever next.
In the interest of flooding the midfield and saturating the Midlanders, I would suggest popping Bentley and Krank on each flank; let Huddlestone and Wilson take care of all things central; while Modders ghosts behind a lone striker in the shape of Jermain Defoe. Unlikely to be the way of it, as HR is much more in favour of the petit et grande combo, but an attractive proposition nevertheless. I trust ‘Arry will get the fax.
Right, a win please. Not too much to ask for, I don’t think.
3-1. Defoe with a couple and Jenas with a last minute nerve settler.
It should be water off a shmuck’s back.
It’s okay, everyone can relax now. Natural order has been restored. After a few months of panic, the top four has a reassuringly familiar look about it. Spurs, Villa, City, and any other uncouth band of gatecrashers with the nerve to sneak in the back door while no-one’s looking have been well and truly rumbled. The game’s up. Now all we can hope for is the dignity of being allowed to wait outside in the rain; occasionally pressing our noses against the window, gazing at the all the beautiful people on the inside.
*long drawn out sigh*
You’d be forgiven for buying into this rather gloomy outlook. Seemingly, now, a point advantage in this business is tantamount to an unbridgeable gap. It’s the small margin that Liverpool find themselves ahead by, yet there’re some quarters who’d have you believe it was twenty, such is their state of deflation. The media are having fun with it, too. Sky Sports went with the rather dramatic ‘Spurs and Villa Suffer Self-Harm’ in their reaction to the weekend’s frenetic stalemate. Sure, I was disappointed, but self-mutilation? That’s a little too far, wouldn’t you say? Blimey.
Call me old fashioned, but with thirty-nine points still up for grabs, I’d suggest there was still plenty left yet to play for. Thirty-nine points. That’s enough to save a club from relegation. Imagine if Hull fans resigned themselves so quickly- Phil Brown would have more luck turning the Humber Bridge into white gold if that was the extent of their patience. It’s no different at the other end. S’Ralex doesn’t slide a gun in his mouth and concede the title in February when things start to wobble. He battens down the hatches and drives forward like some unstoppable Scottish bastard, hoovering up points as he goes. Shouldn’t we be trying something similar?
The voice of doom, then, is somewhat of an overreaction. More like the voice of could do better. Specifically, must do better in front of goal. An amazing thought for a club with five-ish international strikers on their books and a plus-twenty GD. But it’s a problem nonetheless. One that needs resolving. It’s the reason why Villa have joined Stoke, Hull and Wolves in clubs who’ve left The Lane, having rode their luck, completely untarnished. And it’s only Saturday’s opponents on that list which one could go someway to forgive. It’s forgivable in context, anyway. Unlike our other slip-ups, Villa have been pulling this trick all season long. They’re defensive behemoths. They don’t just park the bus, they erect a twenty-foot wall made of buses. Ten buses wide and three thick. It’s like a First National scrap yard. Not something easily breached, as United and many others have found out to their cost.
For all Tottenham’s dominance and genuinely marvellous build-up work, we came up short in the whites of Brad Friedel’s eyes and the reinvigorated frame of Richard Dunne. Watch a highlights reel of our chances and you’d be hard pushed to imagine how Villa could’ve escaped with a draw. But they did and Crouch, Defoe, King et al should’ve done much more with what they were given. Crouch misses far too much for my liking. We have an unnerving capacity to generate lots and lots of chances throughout the course of an afternoon- against most teams. Sadly, however, it’s becoming fairly customary that 3MP becomes the misfiring punch-line to all the good work. But then his link-up play is the cat’s pyjamas. He’s becoming a bit of an enigma, really, and I can’t make up my mind whether it’s one I like.
Anyway, if there’s a conclusion to be drawn from any of these witterings, then I guess it’s this.
5th in the League, still in the F.A Cup: it could be worse, couldn’t it?
And we’re certainly not finished, despite what you might read.
Wolves tomorrow. The season starts here.
In the kaleidoscope of the season’s finale- when all the talk subsides and the bedlam of eight months of football is shaken into some kind of natural order- this game could well go down as one that helped define it. Some part of it, at any rate. The bit which has, perhaps, been the most intriguing story of the whole damn affair.
The race for fourth place.
With all the false starts and mishaps from those in contention, it’s often difficult to know exactly who’s after it. Or, indeed, who is, but wont know what to do once they’ve got there. Liverpool probably started as favourites. Even without Alonso, it’s safe to say the Anfield lot know their way around the upper regions of the Premier League- they’re old hats. To the befuddlement of Papa Benitez and many others, however, they started with a whimper. It turned out- to the dismay of last season’s runners up- that not only was the Spaniard an important egg in the crate, he was keeping the entire factory in business. Without him they appeared rudderless and distinctly ordinary. But they’ve negotiated a corner it would seem; the plug on the life-support machine has been shoed back into the socket and there’s the definite look of a pulse flashing across the monitor. They even look to be up for a fight. Which is a nuisance.
Man City. Possibly the opponents of which to be most wary. Sitting dormant in sixth but with a two game advantage to make up a single point. You do the math, as our American cousins might suggest. Well I did, and the outlook is worrying. Turns out money can buy you happiness after all; or a Carling Cup semi-final, at the very least.
And then there’s Villa- our adversaries on Saturday afternoon. Since making the wise decision to remove themselves from the Europa League in September- thus preserving vital energy- Martin O’Neil’s flock have been churning out a consistent season. Garry Barry may have departed sometime ago now, but unlike Liverpool, they’ve had a replacement in-waiting all along. James Milner. FHM conducted an experiment in this month’s issue, asking the question ‘How Accurate Are Footballers?’ Using young James as the guinea pig, they tested his precision from five to thirty-five yards; the target being a victim gaffer-taped to a goal post. How accurate are footballers? It turns out, very. Out of the twenty efforts, Milner missed just twice. I can see why Keegan wanted shot of him. Elsewhere, the dangers are bred from the usual pool of suspects; Abonglohor is finding something resembling form again- not that you’d realise it with the look of bemusement permanently carved on his mug. Not one of nature’s most charming of vistas, that.
From our point of view, nothing short of a maximum haul will suffice tomorrow. Villa got off lightly at their end last time around, with us indulging in the typical routine of keeping possession but allowing ourselves to be careless in front of goal. Crouch chuckled as the ball bounced in every direction but goalward. We failed to see the funny side. Tottenham dominated the second half- on their own back yard, no less- but left the Midlands clutching just a single point while rueing the loss of two more. At home, close to full strength, there’s no reason why we can’t perform that elusive miracle of turning a watery one point into a wine-soaked three. Sainthood beckons for whoever can mange it.
2-1 for me.
St. Peter to grab a divine double.
Welcome to the jungle, folks. Apparently they’ve got fun and games.
I suppose the fun stops when you get the Ebola virus. Not much joy to be had when spraying your pulped innards on the side of a lemon tree; keeling over in shock, using your grubby trousers as a pillow, waiting for the wolves to find you. Nope. No fun at all.
With that enchanting image firmly lodged in your brain tanks, we move forward. It’s F.A Cup night. The punishment for too much fannying about in the front of goal last time around- the not altogether enviable task of going to Elland Road and trying to vanquish Leeds on their own back patio. We haven’t been here for a while, January 2004 in fact (Keane scored the winner for us), but rest assured it’s still a place with a formidable look about it. For all their dithering in the lower leagues, Leeds, when called for, can park forty-thousand-plus buttocks in their stands. More than most top flight grounds. They may have lost their Premiership way some years ago now, but their homestead would have you believe anything but. If this was the property market, they’d be MTV Cribs in a League of full of How Clean is Your House?
As ever, my requests are fairly modest. Advancement. Sure, an enthralling game with some classic Cup atmosphere would be a bonus, but in truth, I’d settle for complete silence, a dull-to-the-point-of-ridiculous ninety-minutes, just as long as we’re in the hat come the end of the evening.
Oh why not. 4-4. Tottenham win 13-12 on penalties.
So, as the 1989 Epson fax machine in ‘Arry’s office is unplugged and dumped back under the desk for another year- a gnarled mess of ink and paper, pissing black smoke from age and overuse- we reflect on a month which has seen us be among the busiest of Premiership tradesmen. Granted, not quite the exhilarating transfer bonanza of twelve months ago- times aren’t quite so anxious- but an intriguing saga nonetheless.
Alas, between all the mêlée of players wandering in and out- Kaboul and Gudjohnsen being part of the former- we appear to have lost our erstwhile team-captain somewhere along the way. Captain being a loose term, of course. It’s considered fairly difficult to exercise any kid of authority if your role is limited mainly to gesticulating and frowning from the bench. Nevertheless, Robbie Keane has gone to Celtic until the season’s end. As we’ve been informed, it’s been a long time ambition of Robbie’s to don the hoops of green and white; presumably it’s right up there with playing for Liverpool and swimming with bottle-nose dolphins. Gauging the general mood towards Keane this season, some quarters even might suggest an alternative sea dweller for the Irishman to cuddle up to.
A shark, for example.
In all seriousness, I think it’s the right move for him. From the onset of his return- ignoring all counts of treachery and betrayal- I was keen to see Robbie pick up where he left off. Call me an old romantic, but I assumed it would be like the good old days; getting up defenders’ noses, thumping goals from all angles, cartwheeling his way along the touchline in the manner of someone just happy to be there. Perhaps a few mimed pistol whips in there for good measure. What a hoot he was having. But, lately, instead of getting up the nasal cavities of the opposition, he’s been generally getting on the collective tits of the Spurs faithful while doing whatever the opposite of thumping in goals is. Even the cartwheels have stopped- on the odd occasions they are called for.
A parting of the ways, then, can hardly come as a shock, despite the eleventh hour frenzied look about it. It’s become quite clear that we’ve moved on without him. And, while I wouldn’t suggest our striking options are now perfect- gawd knows Crouch isn’t exactly setting the world ablaze- at least now we’ve got the chance to progress unhindered while ridding ourselves of the spectre of a damaged goods which has been threatening to do naff all for some time now.
Or did he deserve one last hurrah in a Lilywhite shirt?
What say y’all?
If you were wondering what that damp squelching noise was as ‘Arry and his troops clambered aboard the team bus at five o’ clock on Saturday afternoon, it probably wont surprise you to learn that is was the sound of grown men hobbling in shoes filled with blood from repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. Any more episodes like that and there wont be much foot left to shoot. Two points lost and the jets of Champions League aspirations- for now- cooled slightly.
A bizarre game in many respects. Not one that’ll be remembered for its abundance of quality but rather for its moments of absurdity. From both ends there were episodes which puzzled rather than infuriated; prompting bewildered silence rather than apoplectic raving. Until the ninety-first minute, that is. Even the stuff that went to plan- Crouch’s assist, for example- looked for all the world like it was bred from remarkable good fortune. Bar one or two stand-out performances and some neat exchanges in the final third, we were treated to ninety minutes of comedy finishing and wild speculative long balls- nothing you’d wish to submit to a scrap book. But, for all its ugliness, it looked like it might just be enough. Birmingham certainly didn’t look as if they were willing to punish our lackadaisical methods.
The double substitution- I think wrongly- has been ear marked as a turning point. It takes a brave man to introduce two players whose collective boo-brigade could invade Tibet. But while their contributions were flimsy- as is customary right now- it would be an oversight to suggest they single-handedly lost us the game. Form-wise, neither deserves a place in the team at present; simply there’re players who can offer more. That’s been established. Their numbers are all but up. What they should be able to bring to the table, however, is exactly what ‘Arry had in mind for their cameos on Saturday- a dose of much needed liveliness. A shot of energy for the remaining minutes; nothing to too strenuous, just run around a bit, look busy and make life difficult for the tired opposition. Maybe ‘Arry hoped for too much, but in my mind the substitution didn’t smack of tactical insanity. In fact it sort of made sense. Until Ridgewell bundled in an equaliser.
The point is, if we get to the stage where ‘Arry can’t even trust them with a bit part role, then the situation is well beyond recovery. Maybe it already is.
The real villain here was the nanosecond brain spasm from Vedran Corluka. The habitually assured performer was, on this occasion, caught out of position and out of sorts. King didn’t look too clever in the build up to the goal, either; losing his man easier than I lose my house keys. But that’s all we’re talking about here; microscopic blunders. Vapour thin margins of error which separates us from ugly win and infuriating draw. Eradicate these from our make-up and we’ll be in business. Thankfully, while we remain in the shake-up, it’s not too late to dispose of this bloody annoying habit.
On a positive note, we seem to be coaxing some half-decent form from the rogues gallery. Namely, two of its more long-standing members, messrs Bale and Bentley. Say what you want about DB, but the man has some character. If you were asked to do your day job to some degree of competency while someone was hurling faeces at you from every conceivable angle, I’d wager you’d find it pretty difficult, too. Yet he just about manages it. Alright, it’s nothing which you could garnish too much with unending superlatives, but he appears to be improving at least. And growing in confidence. Which is good news.
Bale, again, looks a genuine threat going forward- as highlighted in the build up to the goal. I just hope he isn’t flung back to the doldrums of obscurity once BAE graces us with his presence. At the very least Bale’s efforts should revitalize competition at left-back. At most, with the improvement demonstrated, he could make the position his own. Watch this space, I guess.
So, little time to dwell on Saturday’s result- the points are gone but can certainly be made up elsewhere, and, perhaps, in unlikelier places. By my calculations we host Villa at the weekend. Further estimates reveal that this is a big one. Possibly the biggest yet. What’s to say we can’t invite them in and bludgeon ourselves three handy points?
Bring the noise, I say.
It’s all go round here.
More gossip than a hairdresser’s waiting room.
Gossip might even be an understatement as the lad from Monaco looks to have scrawled his John Hancock in all the right places; much, it has to be said, to the annoyance of Spammers supremo, David Sullivan. ‘We saw him first,’ he cried while grasping a contract written on the back of a cereal box. ‘I don’t care,’ was Harry’s polite reply. After that substantial war of words, the dust has settled and Eidur Gudjohnsen is an honorary Yid until the season’s end. Good bit of a business, I reckon. Providing nothing shady emerges in the wake of Redknapp’s eleventh hour plunder.
‘I mean, it is legal isn’t it, boss?’
‘Sure, sure. Now start the van.’
Elsewhere in the twilight zone, one Younes Kaboul is being touted as a possible returnee. Another erstwhile Spurs man wishing to crawl back into the warm part of the bed after realising he can’t live without us. I know what you’re thinking- have Portsmouth fixed him, then? Well, I’m not entirely sure. The evidence would suggest so, but then, in a side who once considered David James their most valued asset, you’ve got to wonder who wouldn’t be a hit down on the south coast.
Kaboul back to Spurs?
The world’s gone bonkers.
And we avoided it in record time. Forty points and beyond.
It must be the years of watching a team with hazardous levels of inconsistency, but in the face of knocking up the required tally to keep us in the division for another year, I find myself being quietly grateful. Humble ambitions, indeed, particularly in a season which offers so much. It’s the same damaged part of me that isn’t entirely convinced of a win at two-nil with three long minutes on the clock. The 2008 League Cup semi, at 4-1, those in the vicinity were baffled that I could possibly see any way back for Arsenal. ‘This is Tottenham,’ I suggested. ‘I wouldn’t bet against it.’ At 5-1, I felt we were just about home and dry. Just about.
What has this club done to me?
Safe or not, Spurs were excellent last night. Not excellent in a way which makes one coo in wonder, but in the sense that we got the job done with minimal fuss. ‘Workmanlike’ it was described as on here yesterday, a word which nicely encapsulates the evening. It was a hard hat, tape-measure, builder’s tea kind of affair. Get in early, stick up a dry wall, take the money and vamoose with some half-inched cutlery stuffed in your overalls. As we ought to- but often haven’t on occasion- we took advantage of a team rife with injuries, at the wrong end of the form guide and took the points with no apologies. It’s the kind of ruthlessness we failed to offer against both halves of Merseyside.
Honorary mentions. Gareth Bale. Halleluiah. Fetch a dusty bottle from the cellar, our man has broken his longstanding duck. Finally, the young Welshman started a League game for us and finished on the winning side. The monkey, whose balls I can only assume have swollen to the size of grapefruits, has limped off his back. Not only that, he played well. Really well. Tearing forward with purpose and intelligence; when required, defending soundly. One would hope, with this ridiculous hoodoo broken, we’ll see plenty more of Gareth. Psychologically, the only way is up.
David Bentley. Looking remarkably like that twot from Basshunter, David generally put in a decent shift. A cagey opening half- littered with many backward passes and scrawny first time crosses- was followed by one of industry, enterprise and a criminally fortuitous goal. He looked at ease alongside Corluka; certainly not giving the impression of a man in footballing dire straights. Rumour that he’s off to West Ham would, however, suggest otherwise.
Dawson. Awesome. I’d like to consult the chaps down at Opta Index and find out how many headers Michael’s won over the course of this season. My count would be thirty-eight thousand. The man wins everything in the air. If he doesn’t it’s because someone slipped lead into his socks. Deserving of a new contract? So it shall be done.
That’s me then. Plenty of other talking points which I shall leave to the words of better men (and women, of course). Three more well-earned points which will see us in this little old League for another season. And who knows, with Liverpool’s comparative raspberry last night, we might even do a little bit better than that.
Some Gudjohnsen news to follow.