It was difficult to shake the feeling that Saturday’s game at the site of his greatest triumph was anything other than one to get out of the way for David Wagner ahead of back to back home games which are likely to determine Town’s fate in the top division.
With his counterpart picking a full strength and rather frightening team despite the small matter of Juventus on the horizon, Town’s pre match chances, already paper thin, took a nosedive and, realistically, leaving Wembley without injury or suspension complications and their new found confidence intact seemed worthy objectives.
Spurs are a fabulous football team. Of course, assembling such a team requires astonishing amounts of cash but Pochettino is far more than a cheque book manager – his team plays with unity, understanding bordering on telepathy and style. Like everyone else, they are behind Manchester City but their football can be just as thrilling to watch even when coasting.
Ever the pragmatist, Wagner knew that for Town to gain anything from the game, a hell of a lot would have to go right for his team and Spurs would have to be below par. As it transpired, a largely indifferent first half performance – occasionally illuminated by Spurs’ alumni Pritchard until he was forced off with a dead leg – allowed the hosts a single goal lead which should have been more.
The first quarter of the game, other than an initial Town flourish, saw Son shining. Combining energy and silky skills, the South Korean tormented Hadergjonaj and forced Wagner in to a humiliating substitution of Collin Quaner – who wasn’t at all happy – after half an hour, presumably for his lack of or ineffective support of the struggling Swiss.
Fortunately, and for all their possession and easy control of the game, Spurs’ radar was a little off in the final third. Their often devastating balls between the lines, finding colleagues in dangerous spaces, were imperfect and allowed Town off the hook on two occasions, Lössl made a decent, if routine, save from Kane and an Eriksen free kick ricocheted off Quaner’s head on to the outside of the post. The visitors, pulled and stretched all over the pitch, looked increasingly vulnerable and the breakthrough was inevitable.
Town lost possession in Tottenham’s half, the ball was played up to Kane who expertly chested it down to Deli Alli. With Son already bursting through the middle unchallenged, all it needed was a decent pass and Alli delivered. Taking the inch perfect supply in his stride, Town’s chief tormentor took the ball past Lössl with some ease before steering the ball home past Schindler’s despairing effort to block.
It was no less than Spurs deserved and by half time – despite Ince providing more stability down the right – the Terriers could cling on to the consolation that they had been let off the hook.
They weren’t particularly helped by the performance of substitute referee Kevin Friend. His eagerness to punish the visitors in favour of the home team was a constant annoyance, particularly when coupled with his leniency in reverse. Establishing any sort of rhythm against a team of such high quality is difficult enough without the assistance of an apparently star struck man in black. He was to deny Spurs a pretty obvious penalty in the second half to even things up a little, but that decision alone is testament to his incompetence.
A better second half followed, however. More organised, sharper in the tackle and the press, the visitors even looked occasionally threatening particularly after surviving several scares in the opening exchanges, including an excellent Schindler block at the near post from Kane and a bizarre attempt by Kongolo – who was less composed than normal in the face of the opponents’ quality – to impede Son from a prone position which should have resulted in a penalty.
Clinging to these lifelines, Town briefly sensed an unlikely opportunity to capitalise on their own good fortune and Spurs’ profligacy. Striding out of defence, Zanka lofted a great ball behind the home defence for Ince who tried his luck from distance. The shot was decent but the under employed Lloris – up to this point he had kept out a weak Van La Parra effort – was equal to it. The spectacular nature of his dive and save was a little over the top but, nevertheless, the visitors had, at least, given Tottenham something to think about.
A surging Danny Williams run created more excitement for the underdogs but as the subsequent attack broke down and the ball floated out to Van La Parra, the Dutchman failed to get it under control, was forced towards the touchline on halfway and his attempt to lay the ball back to a colleague only found Kane.
There looked to be little danger as the England striker collected the ball, but with outstanding vision, he curled a perfect, 50 yard ball directly in to the path of the onrushing Son, who diverted the bouncing ball past Lössl with aplomb.
It was a moment of sheer quality, emphasising the difference in class between Town’s spirited scrappers and an excellent Spurs side developed by Pochettino over the past few years, but hardly the source of any shame.
The goal pretty much ended the contest, and was particularly demoralising for the visitors coming as it did just as they were enjoying their best spell of the game. If Spurs weren’t relaxed enough before the second goal, they were able to slow the pace after it and ease their way to a comfortable victory.
Town had their moments as an attacking force without unduly troubling the home defence, particularly down the right where Hadergjonaj (who had a pretty horrible day defensively) linked neatly with Ince on occasion. Sadly, balls in to the box invariably hit the first defender and too much of the Terriers’ play going forward was rushed and forced, in stark contrast to Spurs effortless movement and passing.
From a corner, Kane uncharacteristically swept a good chance created by his own movement wide. The useless git. (Hopefully, he will have his shooting boots on in midweek).
While The Old Lady awaits for Spurs, Town can now focus on the next 5, crucial games which have probably weighed heavier in Wagner’s mind than the unlikely event of a Wembley upset, and despite being a long way away from their opponents in this game, he will be encouraged by a second half where Hogg and Williams pressed their more illustrious opponents pretty well, Schindler and Zanka impressed and Ince’s performance showed greater promise than of late.
Despite playing within themselves in the latter stages of this game, it has been a pleasure to watch Spurs in the two encounters. Their ease of movement, rarity of error and occasionally devastating, serpentine transitions make them quite a bit more likeable than the other big guns.
On to survival.