Harry Kanes it
It's amazing how you can be mentally prepared for the aftermath of a football game and then witness the projected result get turned on its head in the final few minutes and end up with something far more pleasing to revel in. Make no mistake about it, Tottenham were distinctively average at Villa Park on Sunday. In the end, I couldn't care less for what played out before we equalised and snatched the winner. In fact, everything that came before our goals made the scenes in the away end worth enduring the previous drab 84 minutes of one-paced football.
Although we bossed the possession stats the hosts always looked more likely to score when they pushed forward. The story of our season continued with the usual lack of harmonic composed football in the final third. Our defending was also questionable as we lacked several required traits to aid comfort, like solid positioning and tracking back. This was a Villa side that hadn't scored for an absolute age. If you're a Spurs fan you pretty much know when previewing the game that this is a nailed on guarantee for them to break their duck against us. Which they did, naturally. The Tottenham Hotspur charity foundation has an eternally giving nature, home or away.
So what of our accidental heroes?
We lined up with Soldado playing just behind Adebayor with a three man midfield trio of Chadli, Eriksen and Mason ahead of Capoue. Harry Kane and Erik Lamela both looked on from the bench and made positive impacts when subbed on. I've seen the game twice and on first (live) viewing I thought it was a pretty awful performance that lacked sustained urgency. Second viewing wasn't too bad but perhaps that's because I knew how the game would pan out and watched it in a far more relaxed mood. A lot of what we do is decent. What isn't too hot is the end product to a move and the ability to dictate. It's a combination of powderpuff and occasional cameos rather than dominant, all conquering confidence.
When Villa took the lead I thought back to Soldado's weak header where he failed to position himself in time to really put some weight behind the effort. We could have scored, we didn't. Benteke was positive in attack for them, a nuisance, striking the woodwork with a fiery effort. I had this ominous feeling that for all our limp endeavour, Villa wouldn't really need that many opportunities to break through us. And so they did. Weimann slotting the ball past Lloris whilst our defenders forgot how to pick up players running into the box. True to form and expectancy, 1-0 down and pessimism took over.
The second half saw the introduction of Lamela (replacing Eriksen) and later Kane swapped for Adebayor. Two incidents followed that gave the game some much needed fire for its hungry belly.
Vertonghen's tackle that resulted in a yellow card. Always questionable when you lead with two feet but he won the ball which might have influenced the colour of the punishment. Then soon after this it all kicked off proper. Benteke went in hard on Lamela, barging him. Erik reacted to it by giving a little back with his own barge (that had him bounce off Benteke's monster frame and onto the floor, then back up again) with Benteke hacking away at Lamela.
This inspired Mason to also barge into the Villa forward, following it up with an additional incitement by pushing his face towards the players face which instigated a reaction; Benteke placed his hands on Mason. Then everyone else got involved. Lamela waving an imaginary card, ignoring Kane's suggestion to stop doing so and countless running and shoving from the rest of the players. Mason also chasing the ref calling for a red. It was all very untidy, unnecessary - yet welcomed. Very welcomed.
Soldado looked like he wanted to fight. I guess you can't condone some of the reactions but when Villa players were equally as determined to get what they wanted from the ref (chasing him around, pleading for a red when Jan delivered his dubious challenge), I almost don't care that our players lowered their standards. At the very least they proved a collective unity to fight it out. A sign of life. We've lacked that b*stard quality from our team for too long. It's hardly classy but these are times where we need to dig deep. It's practically excusable, such is the desperation.
The assistant official had already told the ref it was a red card. A case of following the law to the letter and not really taking the entire episode in context. Benteke was hardly using brutality or violent aggression. His mistake was to simply caress the face of Mason - enough for the robotic men in black to dish out the red.
This pretty much changed the game even though we hardly took advantage with an immediate upturn of fortune. The tempo remained the same, low-key with none of the bullish instinct we thirst for. But the players kept on plugging away till the end.
1-1 Nacer Chadli stealing in around the back of the Villa defenders in the box to connect with Lamela's corner. Finally a breakthrough, finally some clinical finishing.
Then came the moment that made the weekend a perfect one. Spurs won a free-kick (thanks to Andros Townsend) just outside the box. You know, you've seen it. I've watched this now about 20 times. I can't stop watching Harry 'eye of the tiger' Kane nodding a persistent 'no' to an incessant Lamela, begging for the ball to take the free-kick. Kane was having none of it. Yes, Nathan Baker re-directed the set-piece, leaving the keeper stranded - but do we actually care for this minor detail? Of course not.
All I care for is the delirium that followed. Scenes as the away support exploded knowing how we've managed to mug the home side of all the points. I loved the reaction of our players. All of them getting involved in the corner of the ground as stewards forced back fans. Vertonghen, Naughton, Soldado...all giving it the fist-punching, Kane buried beneath his team-mates. Lloris also giving it some alone in the pen box watching on. Jan then holding up a lost Reebok classic that a supporter lost in the lovefest.
It was glorious. Yes, it was only Villa, but this is also only Spurs. If they've been awful this season, we've been just about good enough to remain just about as average as we can be. We're devoid of genuine all encompassing confidence so I'll happily accept this finale and enjoy it for what it was. A connection between players and supporters that is hardly evident at home games or in the depths of social media.
I'm trying to work out if this particular turn around warrants to be the defining moment where Spurs player awaken from their slumber. I'm not sure it's strong enough because we should not have spent the majority of the game a goal down. We left it late, we got lucky. Not sure we'd have won had Benteke remained on the pitch. Still, nice to see pockets of fighting spirit. The players still have to realise that overall, this wasn't good enough. We need more guile and passion and Pochettino has to get his players moving with more pace and that aforementioned urgency we desperately lacked.
Some of our big money signings should also take a look at the tenacity of Ryan Mason. Got to say I love the fact we've got him and Kane in the team. You might find it dizzying considering the money spent on imported players, but this serves a purpose proving that you can cost X amount of money but you won't be worth a penny until you play for the shirt. Both these kids are up for it. The rest have to show us they are too. They at the very least showed they cared with the way they responded to Kane's winner. Care enough next time to have the game wrapped up at half-time.
Poch is still struggling to instil his philosophy, his style. We've got a group of players that looked to be stretched between the past, the present and the future. No cohesive rhythm no truly individualistic groove. What type of football do Spurs play? I couldn't really tell you. Not sure the players know either.
In the end, Monday is so much more bearable when Spurs win. For now, that's all I care about.