A minute left and the ball drops from the sky. My eye has been drawn left following the ball as Middlesbrough mount a late, final attack. So it turns out has the Spurs back four. It falls to 14, unmarked, who appears suddenly it seems, but he’s been waiting there a for a moment or two, just as Boro had been waiting for a decent opportunity all game. In a flash it’s there, then gone. He slides it wide and remains full-length on the turf, prostrate in indignity. Walker and Dier trot upfield, trying to make out they had in all under control.
That it should come to this. We should have been celebrating another glorious victory for the twenty minutes just gone, three or four up, coasting, Hugo’s kit as neat and clean as when the kitman laid it out for him, no mud, no sweat, no shots on target. Instead it was eyes to the heavens and relieved grins. Why do we make it so hard? There are some bits of the old Tottenham I’m happy to leave behind.
You can’t escape the conclusion that with the old Tottenham, that volley would have been top corner, a MOTD goal of the month contender but even Pochettino is unable to alter the space time continuum. The plain fact is, Boro aren’t very good and that was the outcome. Spurs however were good, very very good for much of the first half and made bucketloads of chances in both halves, with only a Kane penalty to show for it. Boro brought everybody back but it made little difference. Time and again Spurs passed their way through the cover, all angles and movement rooted in the understanding that has grown up between these players over the past 18 months. It was lovely to watch. If they had scored, it would have been easier on the nerves.
The pressure’s on at the top of the table, or least for places two to six with Chelsea halfway home if not out of sight quite yet. Get used to it – it won’t change until the season ends and Spurs will be in the mix as the denouement unfolds. At Sunderland in midweek we quickly ran out of ideas, a missed opportunity to ram home our superiority, although given the other results a point was satisfactory. On Saturday evening we showed we had learned from that. Instead of pushing players up and leaving them there, the midfield rocked back and forth, sometimes right up to assist Kane while others dropped deeper. Alli roamed wild and free in front of the back four. They had no idea where he was at any given time. Around him someone was moving past if he dropped, Eriksen, Walker, Davies sometimes and Son, running from deep and hard to pick up.
Wide left, Son had a fine game and a frustrating game all at the same time. Hugging the touchline, he decisively won his battle with right back Chambers, providing a stream of crosses. This was old style wingplay, winger versus full-back, one on one. A duel rarely seen since the days of Jones, Robertson and Neighbour, flying down the touchline, pace and dexterity to tempt the defender into an error. Boro seemed content to let them get on with it because nobody moved over to cover. They have more faith in Chambers than I have, or perhaps they just enjoyed the contest. Chambers didn’t. If Rose had been playing too, he’d have spent this week in a darkened room, softly weeping.
If only Son and his team-mates knew where the final ball was going to end up. One first time move swept the ball 60 yards in three passes and Kane should have put away Son’s inch-perfect first time cross. Another from a similar spot nearly broke the sound barrier as it hurtled into the clouds. This is the way he was, is and always will be, so get used to it. Here he brought far more to the game than he wasted, above all winning a penalty when he cut inside and was taken down, a clear foul although he made sure to press every possible square centimetre if flesh against the leg of the defender.
This would have been another great performance but for overplaying in and around their box, especially on the break in the second half where Spurs contrived to miss three straightforward opportunities. The final ball was lacking, including from Kane a couple of times. However, keep playing like this and they will overcome the packed defences that even now are being drilled to ruthlessness in our opponents’ training pitches.
The run-in starts here. We have to go a long way from home because the leading pack are all around us. It will be nightmarishly tense so prepare yourself. Tense because we deserve to be up there, tense because we know we can beat anyone in this league, fraught because the margins will be slight come May. I gave Wycombe a miss. Unusual for me and I’ve had a lot on my mind hence the irregular blogs, but I needed a break. Stupid? Oh yes. Making too much of it? No sir. This is what this bloody, glorious, infuriating, joybringer of a club does to me, so roll with it and I’m back for the ride.
Keep this up and we will have the stamina to make a fight of it, and that’s all I ask. Our first eleven can take on anyone. It is therefore a crying shame that the outstanding Vertonghen and Rose are injured. For the latter, it was inevitable, such is the power that he puts into each and every step. What a player Rose has become.
Pochettino has assembled cover in every position. It is therefore a worry to see him apparently lose confidence in at least three of those men, Davies, Wimmer and Sissoko. Davies had a decent match on Saturday, released from defensive duties. He loses the ball through uncertainty though, but then again comparisons with Rose are unfair in the snese that Danny is the best in the league. Wimmer can’t repeat his form of last season, while Sissoke appears indifferent to the chance of playing in a top four side, preferring to wait until all the other players slow down to play at his pace. You can’t even say he keeps the bench warm these days, what with heated seats. He has real talent with pace and weight of pass if he chooses to show it. Take your chance mon ami.
To sustain us we have the midfield might of Dembele and Wanyama. From my seat in the Shelf you can feel the power they exude as they rule the centre of the field. I used to envy our opponents who had this aura. Keane, Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard, not so much playing as owning their territory. Now we have these two and its supporters of rival clubs who are envious.