The young striker drops deep as Spurs break, pulling the centre back out of position. He plays a beautiful, defence splitting through ball to an onrushing teammate, who is making a clever overlapping run. The teammate, another youth prospect, showing admirable composure, rounds the keeper and scores.
This is what we were sold – football the Pochettino way. Unfortunately for 93 minutes the football was anything but.
As usual Spurs fans started the first game of the season full of optimism and hope. This time that hope was fuelled, not by expensively bought players, but by our new manager.
It took approximately 29 minutes for the bubble to burst, as Kyle Naughton was harshly sent off for a hand ball in the area. A penalty? Yes – you can’t throw your arms up in front of an opponent shaping to shoot and claim that there was no intent – but a red card? Maybe by a strict interpretation of the law, but nine times out of ten the referee would have settled for a yellow.
To be fair to West Ham, they were already outplaying Pochettino’s men. The excellent Mark Noble was instrumental as his team overloaded the centre of the pitch, winning the midfield battle. From there the plan was simple, get the ball into the box, with Downing the star. The erstwhile England winger sent in dangerous cross, after dangerous cross, causing the Spurs defence no end of problems.
Tottenham were lucky that the host’s shooting was off, as West Ham contrived to waste 11 shots to Spurs 2, in the first half. Chief among the culprits was Noble, normally so reliable from 12 yards – the last time he missed a penalty was in 2009.
Naughton’s red card bizarrely gave the defence a more solid look. With Capoue moving to centre back and Dier at right back, Spurs had three tall, strong defenders to counteract West Ham’s aerial dominance. Dier was having an impressive game, as accomplished at fullback as in the centre.
The same could not be said of Youness Kaboul who never looked comfortable, exemplified by an occasion in the second half where he was caught on the ball, leading to another chance for Noble. Rose was equally unimpressive, allowing Downing the space to cross at will. I have come round to Pochettino’s idea of him as an attacking wing back, in the Luke Shaw mould but surely Davies’ defensive abilities would have been more suited to stifling West Ham’s wide threat?
Going forward Spurs were clearly trying to employ the quick transitions and fast passing that made Pochettino’s Southampton so effective. It wasn’t quite coming off, as Lamela and Eriksen kept misplacing passes and losing possession. Hopefully, given time, this will come.
The point at which the game turned in Spurs favour was not so much the sending off of James Collins, as the substitutions that Pochettino made two minutes before that. The Tottenham manager had boldly left his attack in place despite going down to 10 men – choosing to move Etienne Capoue back into central defence, rather than sacrificing an offensive player.
At first this further unbalanced the midfield contest. However, things changed when on 61 minutes, Pochettino made two positive substitutions, bringing on Townsend and Holtby, for Lamela and the ineffectual Lennon. Holtby’s enthusiasm and Townsend’s directness immediately gave Spurs a lift, even if the England winger continued his habit of doing well, then taking the wrong option. At least he was getting into positions where he had options to take.
The extra dynamism and positivity this gave Tottenham ultimately led to Collins sending off, the defender seeing yellow a second time after a body-check on Adebayor. It was pretty much the only thing the centre forward did all afternoon, in a display that did not reward Pochettino’s decision to pick him over Soldado. Maybe he isn’t match fit, after missing much of pre-season with malaria.
When the Togo player eventually was substituted on 83 minutes, it wasn’t the Spaniard who replaced him. Pochettino chose to bring on Harry Kane instead. It was a great call, as Kane ended up setting up the winning goal, when late into injury time, Eric Dier ran on to a fantastic pass from the young striker.
Dier, who had begun the game at centre back, then moved to right back, finally found himself temporarily at centre forward. Most defenders would have blasted the chance at the goalie. Dier, showing all the skills of a graduate of Sporting Lisbon’s esteemed academy, took it round the keeper and passed it into the net.
So a mediocre performance but some good signs. We all knew Pochettino was going to need time. It would be churlish to dwell on the negatives. Spurs came back to win the game after going a man down, with a last minute goal. After three defeats and all the stick we took last year, it was a great way to finally beat West Ham.
What did you think of Pochettino’s first game in charge? Please let us know your opinion in the comments section below.
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