A good friend of this blog travelled many thousands of miles to be at White Hart Lane last night, his first ever visit to hallowed ground. He saw moments of dazzling skill, incompetent defending as Tottenham tried their best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, three fabulous goals and extended periods where nothing very much happened at all. In fact, what being a Spurs fan is all about squeezed into 90 minutes.
Two fine goals were bookends to a busy if average first half where Spurs had to work hard to break down a well-organised Villa side, motivated to impress new manager Remi Garde. A couple of minutes gone, Rose knocked the ball down the left. Dembele, on a mission, swatted away repeated challenges, fair and foul, by the hapless Villa centreback, before drilling the ball through the keeper’s legs. It was a confident display of strength and skill from a player realising what he’s capable of, and what a revelation it is.
The game settled into a pattern. A goal up, Tottenham were forced across and backwards before we could get forward. Patience and possession weren’t pretty but the right approach. Sometimes you have to take one step back before you can move forward. It’s tempo, or lack of it, that’s the potential problem and only when we allowed it to drop did the crowd’s frustration become justified.
Youngsters are not renowned for their patience in general but this lot are more mature. They didn’t panic and tried to keep the ball moving. Eriksen and Lamela found it hard to make an impact so once again Dembele’s ability to draw in a couple of defenders to make space elsewhere supported by Dier’s alert tackling caught the eye. Anyway, if we lost the ball all we had to do was wait until Villa gave it back to us. It never took very long.
Packing the midfield denied space but it left Villa extremely short up front. Apart from an early shot straight at Lloris, the only other wound for the best part of 80 minutes was self-inflicted. Hugo dashed out to the edge of his box for no good reason but the ball was muddled away.
Not many chances – Rose shot over from the old Sherwood/Sheringham near post corner routine, Kane and Dembele came close but we had to wait until just before half-time for the second. Rose’s good cross was headed clear to Alli at the edge of the box. One touch on the thigh then a low volley before it hit the ground into the bottom corner. Coolness personified as three defenders closed in. The mark of true class is when it looks so easy.
Second half, busy but unproductive. Spurs well on top, Villa getting nowhere. Kudos to their fans for selling out their end and filling it with gallows humour, the only response left if your side has been managed by Tim Sherwood. They wildly celebrated first hitting the post then scoring, Ayew’s shot deflecting past Lloris after Mason, on as sub, gave the ball away unnecessarily.
They could easily have had some unlikely but real success to cheer when their team nearly pinched a point in the final ten minutes. The story of the game in this morning’s papers is all about the extent of Garde’s task ahead if he wants to keep Villa in the Premier League. This is of course true – they lacked creativity and were shaky at the back. The media have missed another equally valid narrative, that Spurs while being the clearly superior side very nearly threw the whole game away.
As the second half wore on, the game appeared to be drifting to a sedate close. If Spurs were guilty of sleepwalking, they were still in no danger. But they must have dozed off totally because Villa finally attacked and found it too easy to pressure the defence. Conceding ground, for the first time in several games Spurs looked rattled. After the goal, Villa should have equalised. They finally twigged that they were supposed to cross the ball to the muscular Gestede who came on at half-time. Lloris hurtled out 15 yards, missed but the centreforward headed wide of an unguarded goal. So close to ‘Plucky Villa Begin the Fightback.’ To ‘Spurs Show Soft Centre Again.’
Defensively the right hand side remains a problem, not because of Kyle Walker, on the contrary he was strong, quick and confident throughout, but he was not protected in the final twenty minutes as Villa sensed an opening. Lamela for all his praiseworthy recent effort does not present an insurmountable barrier at the best of times and there’s no sense of partnership with his defensive partner. It was no different when Eriksen swapped over towards the end.
All’s well that ends well. In injury time Spurs created a fabulous flowing move that began with the ball in Hugo’s hands, kept going with a Davies one-two with sub Onamah and ended with Lamela setting Kane up for a first-time curling shot placed into the corner. From one end of the field to the other, unchallenged, first-time finish, this was a gem.
The back four once again looked busy and accomplished. Both full-backs did well. Rose has the ability and inclination to pick up the pace if the tempo drops. It’s as if he sees it as his responsibility to perform this role. I’m pleased to see Walker upping his game. Lloris made those two errors, misjudgements coming off his line which have been rare this season. Perhaps he as skipper wanted to influence a game that for the most part was played well away from his box.
In midfield Dier is bringing back the art of good tackling. Alli was busy, all good touches as he worked hard to find a way through before he faded later. Needs a rest before Sunday. Lamela came into his own late on, expertly holding onto the ball to allow time to drift by so we could enjoy the win.
When Kane was knocked heavily to the ground, the groan of anxiety was audible. He then became the only player I have ever seen get an ovation just for standing up. What would we do without him.
Unbeaten since the first game of the season, up to 5th and a good feeling around that comes from a team working together to better themselves, close to the supporters and reaping the rewards of their hard work. That’s a good feeling to have. Not that any were needed, but good reasons to be a Spurs fan now. Pleased and proud of how they have played this season.