Phew. Relief was the overriding emotion at the end of a difficult 90 minutes at White Hart Lane, in which we dominated, but almost failed to unpick the lock due to a lack of width and an over-reliance on trying to find a way through the middle. In the end, the scoreline should have been 3-1, but Chris Foy continued his approach of doing all he could to help Sunderland by incorrectly ruling Jan’s second goal out for offside.
This had first surfaced when Kane was sent flying by a shove in the back from ex-Gooner Larsson. Moments later, the official’s eyes were fully-functioning again as he penalised star man Vertonghen for halting Defoe. Larsson is a dead-ball expert and made no mistake from the free-kick. Foy was full of mistakes and none greater than ruling out for offside a goal scored by a player who received the ball in his own half. Let’s hope goal difference isn’t important at the end of the season.
The stats will show that we dominated possession and had numerous shots on target, but while we were a little unlucky not to score when we hit the post in the first half, if truth be told, we were mostly restricted to tame shots from distance. With Jermain Defoe having scored on every debut until today, his presence in the Sunderland team kept us on edge until his departure. Hugo was imperious as ever and the captain was on hand to do what he’s paid to do in a way that Soldado has never quite managed in a Spurs shirt.
Poor old Bobby. He played well again, but the more I see him, the more he reminds me of my hapless friend Dave, who was always the only one not to get lucky in the indie discos of my youth. Time and again, we’d see Dave dancing with a girl, laughing, joking, and we all hoped against hope that tonight would be the night, but it never came. That said, it was a strong decision from Pochettino to start him, and I applaud the thinking behind it. However, Kane was less effective from his deeper position than earlier in the season, and the lack of natural width meant we were crying out for Townsend to come on far earlier than he did. It was the wide-man who provided the assist for Eriksen’s goal and he will push hard to start against West Brom when the league programme recommences.
It was pleasing to leapfrog Arsenal with today’s win, and I’m hopeful City will consign them to a couple of weeks in our shadow on Sunday. I’ve had a look at the fixture lists for Spurs, Arsenal, United, Liverpool and Southampton in March and April. United have a terrible run of matches, with 5 out of 6 against Champions League contenders. We play just one contender during that time, while Arsenal, Liverpool and Southampton all play 3, so if we’re still in touching distance at that time, the scene could be set for us to steal up the table.
Before that, though, attention turns to the cups. Wednesday’s tie against Sheffield United is a great opportunity to get one foot in the final against either Liverpool or Chelsea. I hope Pochettino starts a strong side including the likes of Eriksen and Kane. Let’s get a good home win and then rest players for the away game. Leicester will be buoyed by the signing of a new striker, so we will have to be on form to deal with them.
It’s been pleasing to see Pochettino make good use of the full squad this week, with surprising comebacks for Kaboul, Capoue and Adebayor. Ade ran about a lot today and looked keen to impress, and if we can’t find a mutually agreeable buyer for him, then if his poisonous side can be tempered, he’s certainly a good man to have on the bench. He’s made his bed and is third choice striker until he proves indispensable. All five centre backs were used this week as illness hit.
I personally would have started Capoue over Stambouli today, but Benji had his best game so far for the club. Admittedly, he was under practically zero pressure for long periods, so had time on the ball which he will not be afforded against teams with more ambition than Sunderland. I’ll be glad when the first choice pairing of Bentaleb and Mason are back in the first team. It’s such a pity the Algerian had to shoot off to the African Cup of Nations after bullying Fabregas for 90 minutes on New Year’s Day.
One things for sure- both players and fans are learning to be resilient under Pochettino’s tenure. We have the fitness to find the extra yard to score those late goals. It’s not good for the nerves, but when I heard Jan using the Head Coach’s buzzword “philosophy” in his post-match interview today, it cemented the belief we are moving in the right direction.
Lloris: 8 Improved distribution. His fantastic save enabled us to win.
Walker: 5 Has gone beyond the grace period given players returning from injury. Makes bewilderingly bad decisions.
Dier: 5 Generally sound but his lack of savvy was exposed when Sunderland burst through towards the end.
Vertonghen: 7 Excellent. Scored two good goals. Pushed forward well.
Rose: 7 A good performance, poor crossing notwithstanding.
Dembele: 6 Solid. Has lost weight, but goes sideways more than Vinny Samways. Do we need two defensive midfielders at home against Sunderland?
Stambouli: 7 His best game for the club.
Eriksen: 7 Constantly pushing and probing. Must do more to track back when wide.
Kane: 6 Quiet by his ridiculously high standards. Could have scored.
Chadli: 5 Anonymous. Another who needs to do more when we lose the ball.
Soldado: 6 Lovely build up play, but still all mouth and no trousers. Love him, though.
Adebayor: 6 Ran about a lot.
Townsend: 7 Width, Mauricio. It is our friend at home against the unambitious.
Paulinho: 6 Why not play a box-to-box midfielder against teams who sit back?