Tottenham Hotspur v Shamrock: Are Aaron Lennon's Days Numbered?

Tottenahm Hotspur's forever “promising” Aaron Lennon may be facing a fight to regain his first team place. Which might not be the worst thing for ‘Arry’s boys…
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The forever “promising” Aaron Lennon may be facing a fight to regain his first team place. Which might not be the worst thing for ‘Arry’s boys…

Phew. That would have made today at work a bit awkward. For ten minutes we sat there, either within the admirably packed White Hart Lane, or fidgeting in front of Channel 5, or receiving (entirely justified) “MEGALOLZ” tweets and texts from mates. Fortunately, Giovani zipped into life, providing a cross even Pav couldn’t manage to knee into the crowd, Defoe put the defacto winner through soon-to-get-a-move-to-the-Championship ‘keeper Richard Brush and Gio capped a rep-salvaging half with the third.

Not party to any of this was Aaron Lennon. Granted, he was replaced by (the far livelier) Andros Townsend at half time as a precaution. But the grander issue remains whether the perennial first choicer remains, well, first choice. Sunday’s line-up will be an acid test - though lack of full fitness will remain a useful excuse - as the 24-year-old discovers whether his prolonged period of ineffectiveness has consequences.

It probably should. Not really since his blistering run at the San Siro that set up Peter Crouch’s tie-winning tap-in has Lennon offered anything truly penetrative. And away from his own occasionally maddening form, there are personnel posers across midfield for Harry Redknapp to negotiate. ‘Arry’s spoken of his excitement in fielding steely duo Sandro and Scott Parker in tandem, a decision that makes perfect tactical sense against elite opposition and in tricky away fixtures. This, of course, means popping Luka Modric somewhere.

The options: play Modric as a loose right midfielder, where he lined up against Wigan. With slightly more sophistication and game-time, Spurs evolve into a Manchester City-style shape, with Modric and Gareth Bale higher up the field, Rafael van der Vaart afforded his free role Emmanuel Adebayor leading the line, all underwritten by the Sandro/Parker insurance policy. Width on the right comes from Kyle Walker’s Road Runner pace, and suddenly Modric can cause bother in places where he really hurts teams.

You can’t under-estimate an on-fire Lennon’s pace and ability to cause havoc.

I suspect Van der Vaart might just have a clause written into his hastily drawn-up contract that insures he starts whenever fit, which either quells Jermain Defoe’s rejuvenation or crowbars Rafa onto the right wing (thus putting Sandro out of a job, not to mention Lennon). Truth is, Rafa requires a 4-2-3-1 to really thrive, a situation that’s led 4-4-2 traditionalists to question his automatic inclusion. Not entirely unreasonably, of course: his hit ‘n’ miss fitness frustrates and when not on a scoring run, he can slip into potshot-happy luxury mode. As a hopeless Rafa apologist, I’d argue a lot of these issues recede had he been provided with any sort of in-form strike partner last season. Should Adebayor remain interested, the pressure’s off somewhat.

So, what price Aaron Lennon’s first team future? Chances are, his is an “impact sub” future, at least short term. Which suits Spurs perfectly: you can’t under-estimate an on-fire Lennon’s pace and ability to cause havoc. Tiring defenders would shudder at the number 7 being called for the last minutes, and it’s a neat change of focus in Tottenham’s armoury. From the guile and subtlety of Modric and Van der Vaart’s movement to Lennon’s hell-to-leather speed.

Of course, he’s been written off before, only to find some form or a manager willing to overlook a series of brain farts and woeful pass selections. And it’s not surprising. Only Theo Walcott possesses the raw, devastating quickness that can leave the canniest full backs hoofing at turf. They’re both game changers, genuine attacking x factors that bosses will forgive myriad tactical naiveties and poor decisions. Whether the pair’s lack of footballing IQ ultimately prevents them from fulfilling their extravagant potential remains to be seen. But know this: their window will be smaller than most. Players so reliant on speed will be susceptible to shorter periods in the sun. Michael Owen is the flagship player for an injury-hit generation initially hoisted into the big time by their speed. Lennon’s had four significant periods of absence from the Tottenham first team already - it sadly feels inevitable one high octane challenge (and advancing years) will soon make that first direct hit on his primary weapon.

In the meantime, he could have the perfect place to preserve that pace for a while. The substitute’s bench.

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