Spurs’ rise to second in the table has been astounding. We have become resilient and relentless, the best defence in the league and always taking the game to our opponents. Now Tottenham face the biggest challenge, maintaining that momentum under intense pressure. Against Swansea they passed the first test.
Nacer Chadli has become an unlikely star. He’s barely been noticeable during a couple of games as makeshift centreforward but since Christmas he’s come up with a steady flow of goals. Sunday’s equaliser could turn out to be the most valuable goal of the season. Just as levels of frustration ratcheted up a few notches as our pressure failed to produce a goal, Walker’s low shot flashed across the box and Chadli expertly turned it in.
At the time I thought it just hit him, or from my vantage point that it might even have been an own goal. Both do him a disservice. He had found space, not easy with Swansea packing the box, and swivelled swiftly and precisely to twist into the perfect body shape to angle the ball home.
In the past I have been critical of his lack of effort or thought. Either way, too often for someone with his talent he does not take up the best positions with or without the ball and waits for things to happen rather than making them happen himself. Pochettino has turned this into a positive. Against Colchester he had more space than he would in the PL and scored twice, while coming on as we chase a goal, we’re not after his defensive qualities. He has more freedom, his team-mates are creating chances and they need him to be on the end of them.
Waves of relief rolled around the ground. It feels like a highly significant moment even now. Spurs’ domination was turning to desperation. Swansea went a goal up then played for an hour with the whole team behind the ball. On several occasions in the second half everyone on the pitch bar Hugo were within 40 yards of their goal.
We had tried everything – the full-backs cutting the ball back from the byline, Fabianski cut out the cross. Shots from close range, Fabianski saved them. Shots from range, Fabianski held on to them so no rebounds or in the case of a Rose shot powered by his anger as he recovered from being fouled yet again, tipped over. Free-kicks, those too, his best save high to his right as Eriksen was on target once again.
An opportunist deflection assumes huge significance, breaking the Swans’ resistance. More than that, it confirmed that our resilience and patience paid off. Those qualities have been crucial to our success this season. We have the mental strength to keep playing if we go a goal down. Spurs have pulled back 17 points this season having been behind. My mind drifted back to the days of AVB. In those situations we looked the same – lots of possession and territory, moving the ball back and forth across the opposition box – but appearances are deceptive. The end result was usually very different with nothing to show for our effort. That’s about belief but also about in-game intelligence. Now we have greater variation rather than bludgeoning ourselves senseless against packed defences. Times have truly changed for the better.
On Sunday, no one epitomised this change more than Christian Eriksen. His prompting and probing were ceaseless in the second half, popping up all over the place including one 60 yard covering run deep into defence when others had been caught upfield. Not everything came off – a couple first half crosses thumped into the crowd behind the goal, miles away from Kane’s head – but the point is, he was always available for his team-mates, always trying to make something happen.
Walker and Rose have both had better games, both were invaluable. Rose was cleaned out every time he made a run in the second half but his persistence paid off. A loose ball after a corner and the shot bounced into the far corner for a precious winner. Walker of course teed up the first. Full-back is a key position for Poch, they repaid his faith in them.
Swansea were ultra-defensive once they scored. Word is getting around the PL – last week Palace broke up the play at every opportunity and disrupted our flow. The Swans did the same, with the keeper time-wasting from about 20 minutes in and conceding a series of free-kicks.
Kane in his mask looked out of sorts, unusually quiet, Lamela quiet too and Son contributed little. Toby was once more outstanding at the back, Hugo kept us in the match with an early save from Siggy. If I have a quibble, that move took the defence apart too easily and for their goal two players had too much room. Versus City and Palace we conceded after not tracking the runner.
I can’t recall a season I have enjoyed more. I’ve seen better players, thrilling matches, I’ve been overwhelmed by the elation of winning a trophy, but for sheer enjoyment this is hard to beat. It’s the perfect storm of emotions. Attacking football the Spurs Way, fearsome motivation from players who are as committed to the cause as the fans, a clever, inspiring manager who has instilled a rare determination and resilience in his squad. Players and fans have never been closer in recent times. And then there’s the extra ingredient – surprise. We didn’t really think it would turn out like this so we’ve watched them grow in wide-eyed wonder.
Now it’s getting serious. I doubt that I will use the word ‘enjoy’ again until the season is over, not if the gut-wrenching, bile-inducing, intestine-unravelling second half if anything to go by. No fun at the top of the table. On the train home my body was ready to shut down and collapse, my brain was whirring so fast that if you had hooked it up to the national grid, you could have cancelled the orders for those Chinese nuclear reactors right then.
At times like this, Tottenham On My Mind and its loyal readership becomes less of a blog and more of a mutual support group. I keep waiting for something to go wrong. Then I look at the league table. It really is possible. There, I’ve said it. We are playing as well as anyone right now and, vitally, these players are not afraid of anyone. Whatever happens, we will not crumble.
Tomorrow against West Ham will be tough – they are as self-confident as we are, in contrast to their dismal showing in the home game. Rest assured Spurs will take the game to our opponents, just as we have all season.