Games such as this give context to progress. Tottenham battled through a tight opening quarter then turned on the style to dominate as Stoke were routed. Spurs’ stuttering start becomes a gradual progression through the gears. Unbeaten after four games, chances now being made and taken, players easing their way into the groove. Kane breaks his duck, Alli on song, Sissoko almost scores with his first touch as a Tottenham man, Eriksen’s serious loss of form consigned to the past. Now for Janssen to score his first and we’re well and truly away. Plus, I’m really not the sort of fan who studies these things but I read that Spurs are the only side in the league not to have conceded from open play.
The manager is back on song too. Against Liverpool, Pochettino’s re-organisation after Walker went off crucially weakened our midfield in a hitherto tight game. Yesterday, Kane was restored up front but Mauricio’s masterstroke was as unexpected as it proved to be effective. I can’t imagine that Son was in anybody’s predicted team line-up, least of all that of the player himself, but he took full advantage, breaking the deadlock with a precise finish before half time then slamming home an outstanding second to set Spurs on course for a rampant victory.
The appeal of blogging for reader and author is that it’s a fan’s perspective, a different viewpoint with the personal touch. So it was that sadly I can’t give you a detailed dissection of the opening quarter of an hour because our puppy was in the living room repeatedly being sick then eating it. What can I say? Priorities. You won’t get this in the Observer.
I saw enough to see that this was the toughest period of the game for Spurs with Stoke pressing early on and causing problems in our box for the only time in the match. There followed a tight, untidy midfield battle with Spurs struggling to hold on to the ball for any length of time. Stoke deserve credit here for stifling space and time.
Gradually, Spurs broke out of this stranglehold and never looked back. Son showed both why he was picked, with willing movement into space on our left and a couple of purposeful 40 yard runs with the ball at his feet, and why he can be frustrating, because each time he feebly turned into a defender and lost the ball.
Then the chances started to appear. Alli, left unchallenged outside the box, casually chipped it in for Given to save, then he dragged our best chance wide, having been put completely clear in by a ricochet off a Stoke player. Eriksen then cleaned up the attack, placing the ball to Son who had come across from the left. Unencumbered by any challenge, he sidefooted a volley into the net. Spurs never looked back.
Eriksen, ball at his feet and head up is a fine sight, brimming with anticipation and expectation. In a flash, he takes in the moment and, above all, what could be in a few seconds’ time. In the corresponding fixture last season he was at the heart of one of the finest Tottenham performances of recent times. This time round, there’s been no hint of a repeat in his frankly poor outings so far. He signed a new contract this week – maybe he feels that has sorted a few things and his mind is settled. A bit of paper shouldn’t make any difference, it’s pulling on the shirt that matters, but fact is, it does.
Perhaps this game was his celebration. After half time he took the ball on in midfield and under pressure chipped the ball over an opponent – to himself. He laid it off to Son on the left. We waited for a touch and a turn, perhaps into a defender. Son was having none of that. First time, early, right foot, top of the net. Thrilling. I commented last season on how stiff Son becomes when faced with too many choices in the final third, that he’s trying too hard to make a telling impact every time. Maybe there’s a message here for him, just relax and let it flow.
Straight away, Stoke attacked. How many times over the years have we seen Tottenham waste hard-earned goals by conceding quickly but this Tottenham do things differently. Alderweireld came across to decisively intercept a cross bound for Bony, reacting quicker than the centre forward as he did all afternoon.
Then the third and best, a fabulous flowing move started by Wanyama from the edge of our box and finished by Alli via Lamela, Eriksen and Walker. It was a breakaway but rather than lung-busting improvisation, this was an effortlessly constructed gem of attacking football. In a few seconds, Spurs had five players forward, each in space, each in the right place to offer options to the man on the ball. It was a measured, unhurried move, born of confidence as team-mates.
Kane took the fourth, his first of the season, with exaggerated care, controlling a far post cross and tucking it in, suppressing his glee and not taking it first time. You could hear him thinking, ‘I am going to make sure, I am going to make sure.’ It’s a much-needed boost.
Stoke gave him the time to think it over. In truth Spurs will have tougher challenges ahead. Bony’s arrival did not give them any focus up front and once the game settled down, they gave us far too much room all over the field. Toby and Jan dealt impeccably with everything that came their way. Most of it was played in front of them – Stoke seldom got behind the back four – meat and drink. In my cameo on BBC Radio Stoke this week – don’t worry, it’s not changed my life – I confidently predicted a close match with Stoke more dangerous up front and certainly no repeat of last season. What do I know?
Stoke may point to the dismissal of their manager halfway through the first half for abusing the fourth official. As a player Hughes was fierce and competitive, as a manager this comes over as angry for angry’s sake, a mess of seething injustice on the bench. Players have been told not to abuse officials and managers are responsible. His actions harmed his side’s chances and his reaction to the crowd as he left, geeing them up to complain and protest, merits further punishment. The only saving grace was the comedy value of Hughes’ inability to use first a radio then a phone to communicate with the bench. At one point it looked as if he was texting his assistant. Wouldn’t work at Spurs, never a bloody signal. Imagine his reaction to that.