Pre-match, the same question is on everyone’s lips. Can we do it? It’s uttered in credulous tones. There’s no big-club hubris or culture of expectation here, more wide-eyed wonder at how Spurs got here, dreamy bewilderment at how it’s going to turn out.
At the latter stages of any competition, the experience of dealing with the pressure in the past and building precious resilience is a distinct advantage. Been there/done that trumps all. It’s true for supporters as well as players. Truth is, Spurs fans aren’t sure how to react. Most are simply delighted with the way we have played this season, the commitment, the togetherness, the absolutely belting football that has taken us to second place.
Some are looking for problems, fearing it’s bound to all go to pot. This is a reaction we are familiar with, Spurs being spursy, and in times of trouble we all revert to behaviour we are comfortable with. Except spursy no longer exists as a concept. Tottenham are second in the league because we deserve to be, because we are playing better than anyone except Leicester. It’s tough to get to grips with, but that’s our Tottenham.
The supporters may be nervous but the team showed no signs of trepidation. The pressure brought out one of the performances of the season, a comprehensive victory in the most regal manner. The first half was simply sumptuous, a scintillating display of flowing football. Attacks came from right, left, down the middle. The midfield five changed positions as if controlled by a single mind, up front Harry Kane turned in a masterful display, the epitome of a complete modern centre forward.
And the pace of it all. It flashed by in a blur, yet you didn’t want it to end. Stop the clocks, press pause, I want to take a breath, take it all in. Many moves were flawless diamonds, twinkling, beguiling with each facet worthy of further consideration under the jeweller’s eyepiece. At half-time I couldn’t stop grinning.
Scoring after 44 seconds helps, mind. Bournemouth are no mugs with a fine recent away record but I felt beforehand that despite their undoubted work ethic, they would not be able to cut down our space and break up the flow for the whole match. From the kick-off, it was clear they had been told to press Spurs at the back to stop the attacks at source. As their front players dashed forward enthusiastically, they left a gap behind them. With a 40 yard cross-fielder, Lloris found Walker free and on the move, he rushed upfield and his laser-like near post cross was turned in by Kane. Watch a replay – in the build-up Kane refuses to allow the centre half to get ahead of him as they moved across the box together. Top class.
Whether it was pre-determined planning or off the cuff improvisation, Spurs not only kept a high tempo, they looked to pass incisively into space from deeper positions, thus avoiding getting tangled up in a series of one-twos in confined spaces around the edge of our opponent’s box, which has often been the case this season. Bournemouth’s centre halves were slow on the turn. Time and again we sought to slid the ball into the gaps around them. Crosses were earlier and, in Walker’s case, harder and directed into the area between keeper and back four.
Tottenham’s second was a case in point. Forget the 35-yard slam into the top corner, give me a through-ball and shot every time. Wimmer, Dier and Dembele were able to pass up the middle all game. This time, Wimmer’s low pass found Alli. One touch then a through-ball outside the centre-half into Kane’s stride, his first touch was to stroke it past the keeper into the far bottom corner. It was a thing of great beauty, something to cherish.
That pass. Alli was outstanding in this period, linking with Kane and a constant threat. He turned in another quick cross from the right but offside was given, perhaps because Kane was marginally off as the ball came across. Just before half-time he set Kane up but his cross eluded Eriksen on the far post. It was a match of ooohs and aahs. Gasps of frustration as the defence dug out the through balls at full stretch. Only Lamela looked forlorn. He’d taken up good positions all game without getting on the end of anything. Glumly he stared at the goal after Rose shot when he was unmarked 6 yards out. Four or five at half-time would not have been flattering.
Bournemouth made two substitutions at half-time and forced a series of corners but Spurs came closest to scoring. Eriksen led the break from deep in our half, Kane was involved, of course he was, Walker made a lung-busting 70 yards run but seared his shot just wide.
Any Bournemouth revival was snuffed out when Boric clumsily parried Kane’s shot to Eriksen who tucked it home. The players gathered to take a little moment for themselves, no madcap celebrations, just reflection on how well they were playing. The Cherries’ fans were great, their team did not manage a shot on target.
Line them up for a pat on the back. Kane outstanding, two goals, an assist, a defensive tackle when he could easily have taken a breather up field. His movement, touch and link-up play made this one of the most complete performances I have seen this season from any footballer.
Alli terrific in the first, Eriksen throughout. Alderweireld and Wimmer in a personal battle as to who could make the best 50 yard diagonal pass. Dembele strong, Dier sweeping up any danger before it reached the back four. Rose made two fine second half blocks at the far post, doing enough to prevent a bigger forward getting a clean strike on goal.
‘Leicester City, we’re coming for you.’ We’ve sorted it now. For the first home game, the fans placed our challenge in context. The chase is on, 1 down, seven opportunities left. Flat out in every game. Leave nothing in the dressing room. Ditch the prediction leagues, you can’t predict this. Our run-in is difficult, no question, but Spurs have no need to fear anyone or anything. Bring them on, bring them all on.