Spurs started quickly out the blocks and were denied a clear penalty, courtesy of ‘the five minute rule’, the rule whereby to earn a penalty in the first 5 minutes of a match you probably need to have been shot by a centre half. Kyle walker was only fouled, and this was less than a minute in.
Spurs’ new look front 3 settled in quite well, full debutants Dele Alli and Son were seeing lots of ball early on but still no penetration of the opposition defence. Sunderland came into the game midway through the first half and Jermain Defoe clearly must have been busy deciding whether he was going to celebrate against his old club or not, when scuffing his finish on to the post. Lloris and the Spurs defence were beaten.
The through ball to Defoe from Lens was outstanding and might have served a stark reminder to the Spurs’ bench of what they have been missing in recent games, he was lively most of the match and Yann M’Vila also impressed me breaking up the play in midfield and keeping Sunderland moving. These two will have given Sunderland some optimism for what will no doubt be another tough season.
If fouls in the box are still penalties then Sunderland should have had one also, when Alderweireld tugged his arm in the box just before halftime. When players are not rewarded for trying to stay on their feet it’s easy to see why the diving problem in the league is getting worse before it gets better. Anyone who’s seen Callum McManamans attempt to win a pen for West Brom on Saturday will appreciate the scale of the problem.
From a Spurs perspective it’s becoming a big concern how much more threatening any opposition we face look when they have the ball compared to Tottenham’s languid, slow and inpenetrative approach. This has been a recurring feature of post-Bale tottenham.
The second half which was even albeit a bit dull was probably the first time this season I started to really worry about the season. The style of play didn’t really improve and nor did the urgency, and when you’re winless after 4 games I’d expect a bit more. Pochettino has been at Spurs long enough now to have the benefit of the doubt of ‘transition’, he needs to start picking the players up for these games. Son went completely of the boil, poor touches and unable to adapt to the pace, and was replaced by Townsend. Dele Alli who was Tottenham’s most impressive player was hooked for Lamela. This was a good display by Alli who at just 19 looks ready now to be a regular starter in the Premiership. His skillful run before flashing the ball across the face of goal shortly before he was subbed was Tottenham’s best play of the match so far. Harry Kane last year might have gambled at the far post, Harry Kane last year would certainly have connected with the cross minutes later that found him free 8 years out. This year, it’s still not quite happening for him, this was his least effective display of the season and he was far less influential linking the play up as previous matches.
In fairness to Pochettino the subs swang the game in Tottenham’s favour, Townsend hasn’t been great in a Spurs shirt over the last 18 months but he showed directness and pace and in constantly trying to get past the full back put Spurs on the front foot. It had taken 75 minutes to register the first shot on target and from then onwards the pressing paid off and Lamela was a key part of the only goal of the game with just 8 minutes left. It was a brilliant goal, a superb passing move including Lamela Mason and Kane before the Argentinian played a perfectly weighted pass beyond the defence for Mason to delicately chip over the advancing keeper. He was clattered for his troubles and substituted.
In typical Tottenham fashion the next 120 seconds was a struggle, Rodwell rattling the crossbar as Spurs tried to settle after taking the lead. Some other hairy moments were to follow but Spurs created further good chances of their own. Kane smashed straight at the keeper opting for power, Lamela missed the target with a header that should have been testing the keeper from close range. An ugly 1-0 win was just what the doctor ordered maybe, and Pochettino who prides himself on his teams’ fitness might have felt vindicated that Spurs started to dominate the final 20 minutes as Sunderland tired, but Tottenham are going to need more than that against tougher opponents. This squad is really light. No striker on the bench this week and with Mason potentially injured and Bentaleb out for a month it could be just Dier available for the 2 central midfield holding roles on Sunday. Dier is a centre half. Another summer has passed without any progress made in the transfer window.
Dier was given the MOTM award, Vertonghen played well at the back and Lamela was good after his introduction back in a central role, by far his best position, creating more chances in his 20 minutes that any player from either side, and Townsend was direct and effective, and Dele Alli really impressed me with the way he confidently tried to lead the attack. It’ll be interesting to see the starting XI next week and who doesn’t start Thursday’s Europa League game in preparation for Sunday’s game against Palace.
With this, and then City at home soon after, hopefully this win will provide confidence and kickstart the season. Spurs are certainly going to need to play better than this to add another win though.
DAN DE LUCA – SPURS FAN