Some games are won on points as the losers gradually buckle under sustained pressure. Others are won in a sudden percussive explosion of blows that land a knock-out punch. Yesterday’s Spurs victory was the latter. In a seismic 6 minutes Tottenham tore United apart, scoring three times. It was brutal. Even in a season full of incident and memories, it was sensational.
It had been pretty tight for 70 minutes. Spurs had the better of it, especially in terms of chances. Lamela missed a golden opportunity in the first half, heading Eriksen’s floated chip wide from close range, while De Gea had been far more active than Lloris. Hugo stepped up to the mark however for a match-defining save after Martial waltzed through our defence, which in the end was United’s only shot on target.
Sometimes a goal sums a game up. Spurs’ first summed up the entire season. Lamela furiously battled for a ball in midfield, ending up on the floor thrashing away desperately. But Pochettino’s Spurs don’t leave their mates on their own. Kane joined in. As the ball bounced his way, Harry knocked it on to Eriksen without hesitation. He took it on and produced the most perfect ball into the box, bending it round the retreating defenders and into Dele Ali’s stride. The combination of all-out effort, physical presence and sublime skill has been a feature of this season’s success. First touch and the deadlock was broken, as were United hearts. They never recovered.
Ah Spurs, you spoil us so. Our lousy home record against United was yet another impediment to the title chase, as if Sky’s decree that Leicester can play first and set the pace wasn’t hard enough to overcome. The sense that this might be unfair in any way just isn’t a factor for the Premier League, provided they have the TV cash.
All worries gone with that goal. A couple of minutes later, Lamela’s perfect free-kick (not a phrase I’ve typed that frequently this season) was expertly headed in by Toby Alderweireld, a phrase that has been used before now. He is a top class player, unquestionably my man of the season, confirming my view first mentioned in January.
The old Lane was rocking again, not the first time this season and hopefully not the last. The atmosphere was fabulous all game, helped in the first half by United’s lusty voices. But there was more. The ball was gently rolled out of our penalty area. Walker slammed it 50 yards cross field, Eriksen’s delicate flick fell to Rose and his cross was gloriously swept in from the edge of the box by Lamela. I saw the cross, saw his body arc in the act of shooting, saw the keeper plunge to his right but never saw the ball hit the net, only the Paxton rising as a blue and white wall to acclaim it. Barely 10 seconds from nothing to everything, one end to the other.
Lamela’s goal crowned a fine performance. Full of tackles, he ran and harried United players all afternoon. He added what I have wanted all season but have seen only sporadically, that poise on the ball in key moments. Maybe he’s best when he doesn’t have time to think. Later he ran at goal with the ball at his feet only to grind to a halt near the box, as he has many times before.
Not carping, just sharing, but sitting fairly close to the pitch I can see and sometimes hear the players at close quarters. Yesterday there were two occasions when Walker and Eriksen had strong words with our Erik about his positioning when United had possession. He has that habit of drifting inside, for noble reasons as he wants to get involved in the game but he has to focus on his task. Despite this, he should be our ‘11th man’ (the other 10 pick themselves) for the run-in. That goal will do him a power of good. Have I mentioned that I thought it was rather good?
Kind of Spurs to delay the kick-off to allow a loyal fan and his granddaughter to make it on time, having been stuck in Kent after the A2 was completely closed. Or maybe it was the late arrival of the Untied team coach. Not the biggest issue right now but just how can one of the biggest teams in the world not understand that London is actually quite busy even on a Sunday.
Whatever, it was Spurs who looked unsettled to begin with. United had their best period, working hard in midfield to close us down but they were weakest in the final third. Then Spurs had a spell in the ascendancy. Dembele and Kane featured with Rose as ever supporting on the left. Martial’s deployment on United’s left tied Walker down however but he made one fine dash at full-tilt into the box only to see his cross come shot blocked.
Never quite at our best, Spurs kept working. Many moves did not come off but enough did to give us the upper hand after the break. We kept playing, another feature of our play these days. Then the final twenty minutes became a celebration of how far we have come and how well we are playing.
The key moment may well have had nothing to do with Spurs. United’s excellent young right back Fosu-Mensah went off injured. Eriksen tiptoed forward into the space. Whether he worked this out himself or Pochettino deserves the credit, United didn’t spot him, either when he made the first or set up the third. In between, Kane was fouled out there for the second by sub Darmian.
Last week I wrote about my ambitions for the rest of the season, not so much the title but more the manner in which we take on the challenge. Yesterday Tottenham achieved everything I could have wanted and more. So proud.