Boro 1 <Undisclosed> 2
The best Tottenham start to a season for 51 years. Unbeaten. Only three goals conceded in the league. Arguably playing at around 60% proficiency. No Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Harry Kane or Erik Lamela in the staring ling-up. The reward? Sixth place slot on Saturday night's Match of the Day.
Kept you waiting?
Stealth mode has been activated.
Shock and awe engaged.
Take no hostages.
Under the radar go Mauricio Pochettino's multi-layered team and I'm fine with that.
Faux bitterness aside, what a brilliant first half of football at the Riverside. What a blistering start. 2-0 and it should have been four or five. Son Heung-min absolutely sensational with the skills and silks, proving the beauty of squad depth surprise. You never quite know if a player will lose form or regain it or simply produce something completely unexpected. With Son we understood how good he could be but he's has struggled to showcase it before this season. Yet in recent games and against 'Boro, he's been pure fire. He scored two wonderful goals, proper shout out loud finishes. His drive into the final third, his quick feet and eagerness for directness - the perfect antidote to our potential chin scratching regarding forward progression.
There was very little wrong with the opening forty-five minutes. Spurs swarmed the hosts with tidy passing and playfully exquisite touches in and around the box. Confident in possession and strong when claiming the ball back. We looked sharp, incisive - and pressed high. In fact, so did Boro but they had no answer in containing our push and especially Son. The difference in quality was more than evident and had me puffing an imaginary Cuban cigar, arrogantly pointing at the players in yellow and remarking, "...that's my team. Deal with it".
His first goal was just sublime, the touch and shift inside the box to score after intelligent hold-up play and a simple lay-off from Vincent Janssen. His second screamed its way in after he buzzed in then back out again to curl it home and past a stationary Victor Valdes.
If there was any criticism to be had (by half-time) it was the two goals. Spurs with plenty of chances for more including the referee Graham Scott (only his 6th Prem appearance) failing to point to the spot when Dele Alli was blatantly fouled. Dele himself missed a golden opportunity to make it 3-0 after Eriksen mugged Calum Chambers. He needs to rediscover his scoring mojo. There's nothing wrong with his positioning and penalty box entrance. He's just been too wild with execution when presented with the goal gaping. Son now has four goals. Not too shabby for someone that looked on the fringe of it all.
Victor Wanyama once more proved how essential a signing he is, upgrading our ability to compete and combat (especially away from home) when other options are unavailable. Christian Eriksen dropped deep and covered ground in the final third, always looking to be involved. Moussa Sissoko was fluid with ball at feet but clunky with his passing. Untidy with distribution has been the main complaint of his appearances. His dribbling is on point, it's like he has glue on his boots but sometimes appears to suffer from glue in the brain. It's nothing to worry about (no matter what Newcastle supporters tell you).
He was right-sided in structure and I'm hoping he's used more centrally in future games. A locomotive goes straight in one direction, building up speed. The tracks to either side are for off-road adventuring. He's a physical player, powerful and pacey - so the damage he can do is more fitted for him through the middle rather out 'wide' (be it right sided midfield rather than the wing).
Then cue the second forty-five which might re-write some of the individual critiques of some of the players. It wasn't quite as comfortable as the first.
Eriksen was at times lost. Sissoko's fluidity decayed. Son not able to inflict the same tempo of damage. The teams shape wasn't as refined and it was perhaps down to the fact no killer third goal was delivered, given Boro a glimmer of hope. That their inspired substitutions; Adama Traore and Jordan Rhodes, caused us problems. Adama especially thanks to his ridiculous pace (and thankfully slightly slack control).
Their goal arrived thanks to a randomly given free-kick that was headed in by Ben Gibson. Still not sure why it was given. Spurs don't concede many from open play, set-pieces always the likely way to hurt us. It also felt cheap considering the home side should have been smashed to pieces by the 65th minute.
It was like getting into a fight in a mortuary with a dead person and by the time you've finished pummelling him, he's alive and breathing. It made utterly no sense.
Or maybe it did.
Regardless of the officiating, you can't rely on them to lend a helping hand. The usual criticism was easy to see; we don't take the chances we create, the really good chances. Spurs still seeking that ruthless bastardism that will crown us contenders (again). Too much gun waving, not enough pulling the trigger. So Boro punished us. You could only shrug.
Even though the game was far more open and the equaliser gave them some momentum, we were never out of it. We lost our foothold on the game. Sissoko went off injured (he would probably have been subbed regardless), Erik Lamela his replacement. The midfield continued to surrender too much time and space for Boro to run through. It showed, the lack of authority. We clearly missed the presence of Dier and Dembele, for that extra assurance. The new(ish) players, the ones that have impressed and the ones aiming to - they'll take time to truly settle. The learning curve is steep and so much more is at stake these-days, but it's good to be tested. Spurs persist with the resilience. We could do without it but it's good to know that if we drop our performance, we can still fight on. Just maybe not against better opposition.
Harry Winks came on for Vinny late on and then Georges-Kévin NKoudou replaced Eriksen. It all got a little chaotic towards the end but GKN provided fresh legs and speed. Winks, the comfort of a little composed culture to recycle the ball without the indignity of losing it to a dangerous counter attack.
Pochettino took a risk with his selection. Maybe the Two D's are being rested for the Champions League journey and next weekend. Maybe they have something more than cramp. Maybe Poch is rotating and protecting just because he can now with more belief than last season. We'll know more in the next seven days.
We 'held on' (LOL) for all three points and second spot. This team and their mentality, it's positively heart-warming.
Yes, we missed key players that might have helped to avoid the second half concerns. Yet if you look back at the penalty shout and one or two other goal mouth moments, once more I can't help but flirt with a scoreline that would do our potential end product justice. If we click during our high tempo patches, we'll bury a lot of teams in the Premier League. Shallow graves all over England.
Did we miss Kane?
Probably not so much the recent pre-injury version. The hulk Harry, of course. He leads, he forces mistakes in defenders and he can create something out of nothing. Janssen is currently selfless in that he's there to support the system and how the midfield seek to attack. He grafts, he drops deep and he holds up the ball - but he's yet to spearhead and demand the type of service a striker should desire. He's definitely a very complete forward, not too dissimilar to Kane in terms of team-work. A perfect foil for the England man but for the moment, he's going to have to fit in without him. I already have nothing but love for him.
Ruud Gullit on Match of the Day feigning criticism, suggesting strikers have to play like a fox in the box - always opening up to receive the ball so they can have a crack at goal. Well hello captain obvious. It's just a little out of context there by Gullit, when you consider what Vinny actually offered the team in this particular game. Supporting midfielders isn't the priority for someone paid to grab the goals but synergy and all that - Janssen provided for the team. This is hardly the desperation we pretended didn't exist when Roberto Soldado did 'good build up play'. VJ looks battle ready and is quite obviously not a one trick goal snatcher pony.
Let's not forget Son (how could you?) and what he's currently offering. Centre stage once more for the wonderful unpredictability in terms of his end product. This is a player that's publicly admitted he wanted to leave in the summer. You can't tie football down like an instruction manual. It never follows the steps you think it needs to when you're building something.
After our trip to Russia, we've got Manchester City at the Lane. Undefeated v Undefeated. I can already taste the epic thunder of what will be a storming encounter. Hoping those key players are back for selection. Danny Rose especially, to match the relentlessness of Kyle Walker on the opposite flank. I might even want to nudge Poch to start Lamela for that extra pressing power. It's a massive week ahead. There's air miles and possible hangovers to navigate. It's meant to mix your emotions up with nerves and excitement the main two ingredients. Basically, it's football at the top.
Spurs are *still* slow brooding. We're still trying to figure out our best eleven and still waiting for certain players to ignite. That main criticism, the one about not being clinical and not taking our chances. If we took them all we'd never lose. It sounds like I'm dropping daft punditry but the reality is, we still have imperfections. Lucky for us that those imperfections are a delight to watch.
I'll leave you with some stats shared by @Nikhil_Saglani on Twitter.
44 Premier League games played since the start of the 2015/16 season. We've only lost 6 of them. Only conceded 38 goals. Of the losses, 5 of the 6 were by a scoreline of 1-0 or 2-1. In the 44 games we've only conceded more than twice in 1 game (the anomaly). In addition we've beaten teams by more than 3 goals ten times.
COYS all over your face.