Only Tottenham Hotspur could drop two points to a team that only had one shot on target in a 2-2 score-line. Thanks to Harry Kane and his own goal we left the Stadium of Light with a draw rather than a deserved victory. Christian Eriksen's scrappy tap-in practically forgotten thanks to a cheap foul, floated free-kick and apologetic non-clearance.
Spurs bossed it from start to finish, aside from a couple of momentary lapses in concentration. The first after we took an early lead through Nacer Chadli that saw Sunderland equalise almost immediately in one of those trademark moments. The good old score one, concede one jig. The second lapse was towards the end with Biggy Daddy Kane coming on to rap things up, only to nudge the ball into the wrong goal net. A case of dropping the mic on his foot.
It's disappointing for obvious reasons but hardly warranting some of the miserable reactions post-match. Maybe if this game was played in 15/20 games time we'd have won thanks to instinctive creative guile in the final third as a consequence of more playing time as a team under Mauricio Pochettino's development. Players grow in confidence and understanding whilst others connect with team mates as the football style blossoms. It's all still work in progress.
Of course, we can only progress with the players we have and the capacity that they can offer at their very best. The biggest potential challenges concern injuries to key players and how we compensate. Injuries will stop the re-birthed football style from claiming momentum. Lose Emmanuel Adebayor and we have youngster and anti-goal poacher Harry Kane or the yet to impress Roberto Soldado as our only options.
Spurs have been here before, so many times in so many guises. Good footwork and pressure but no cutting edge in front of goal. Against Sunderland there was decent movement and touch from the likes of Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela but the slight disconnect with the attacking midfield and the penalty box remains. It's easy to compare to our previous discrepancies and with no Gareth to bail us out this time you might worry about how we plan to fix this up. It's not broken, it's just box fresh and needs to dirty up some more.
In fact ignore the past, this is a new start. Literally brand new. Four games into the league campaign. It will take a while before we know our best starting eleven. Players like Mousa Dembele still with plenty to prove whilst Lamela continues to find his way. The former impressing with defensive duties if still not quite decisive further forward.
Defensively we need some cohesiveness. Jan Vertonghen missing through injury. Vlad Chiriches like a mad maverick monk preaching with reckless abandonment, lacking discipline but heart in the right place. Eric Dier is a kid playing out of position. Younes Kaboul still looks shaky. As for Danny Rose, he's keeping out Ben Davies, the player signed to replace him. Both full-backs struggling to get forward with intent and not always the most measured with defending. Our back four has a disjointed personality. There's also Fazio to throw into the mix. Still, Sunderland had the single effort on goal. So there was organisation against them, punctured by those lapses of concentration. Both costly, on another day, both might have been shut out.
The midfield and attack is better balanced than the defence but still finding its way, that disconnect evident as there isn't fluidity with our passing and no penetrative killer final ball. Actually, that's unfair. There's a bit of both (more so with the passing) but it's not relentless and it's not ruthless. But then if it possessed both qualities we'd be rampant. Steady on with the expectancy.
The pressing is important and Pochettino's influence is clearly visible. We looked good, we worked hard and there is effort in getting the ball forward. It's just not all slick and silk.
The centre needs to be defined. From Capoue and Bentaleb to the returning Dembele and the newly arrived Stambouli, we don't quite now what combo will be the best fit.
The attack looks bright if you're looking for signs of ye old attractive football. It's that footballers playing football lark again. None of the deliberate reattainment of the ball in the slow and sideways manner in which we all sat desperately praying it would come to sparky fruition. We have expression ladies and gentlemen. There is no denying the talents of Eriksen, Lamela, Chadli and Adebayor. They are combining with easy on the eye flows and flavours but we're going to need to be more decisive when seeking that final thread of the ball.
I'm repeating myself. It's because I see more positives than negatives.
If Adebayor drops less into deep positions and goal hangs a bit he might be close enough to the six yard box to knock one in. Okay so I'm being facetious here but you can see that we need to pivot the most forward player. We need a centre point. Unless of course this is leading to all-star dynamism where the inter-changing sees Lamela, Chadli and Eriksen attack the penalty area with aplomb much like Eriksen did for our second goal (although with the less scrappy finish next time).
One step at a time, right?
We're playing the right way but we're going to need to bolster up mentality, focus and not default to mistakes so easily. These are the types of games we need to be winning to allow us the platform to believe that little bit more when facing the teams that most will expect to see brush us aside with comparative ease. What happened against Liverpool was a fledgling system being slapped by one in full motion. What happened at Sunderland was a fledgling side with superior quality battering an average team and letting them back in twice with clumsy errors.
The substitutions from Poch could be criticised, but then it's easy to do so only because of Kane's error. Perhaps, as a football manager in computer game only, I'd have attempted to stretch Sunderland with a wide player but that's basic fan-base analysis. We wouldn't be questioning this had Capoue not given away the free kick or defended the set-piece.
We should have beaten them. We made two mistakes and didn't stick away the chances we had at the other end. Lady luck preferred to look away when we struck the woodwork twice. Once when Mousa fired in a belting shot and the other when Lamela superbly controlled an over hit pass, held off a player to then place his shot towards goal.
When you dominate pretty much every statistic only to see your sub score a OG within three minutes of coming on you just have to shrug it off.
Give it time. It'll come together and 5th spot will be ours. Or 6th. Probably 7th.