Superly Duperly Sunday, 2: Manchester City 1-2 Spurs
The Tottenham Hotspur club motto, “Audere est facere”, translates as “to dare is to do”, and this evening Spurs supporters may just be beginning to come to terms with the fact that they may soon have to start considering their team to be contenders for this year’s Premier League title. This afternoon at The Etihad Stadium, they received a little of the rub of the green with a penalty decision that probably shouldn’t have been given, but overall were still reasonably good value for a win against a Manchester City team that wasn’t as abject as it was last weekend against Leicester City, but still continues to flatter to deceive.
After a largely event-free first half, the match finally caught alight eight minutes into the second half, when Danny Rose’s cross from the right hand side struck Raheem Sterling on the arm and referee Mark Clattenburg awarded a penalty kick. Under the current interpretations of the handball rules, it didn’t look a great deal like handball after five or six television replays, and if it didn’t look much it after five or six television replays, it’s difficult to believe that it could have indubitably looked like it to the referee at first glance, and from a distance. As we have argued on this very site before, there’s good reason for full review and rewrite of the laws of the game concerning handball at present, because it often feels as if no-one is particularly happy with them they way they are. Harry Kane shut the boos out by converting the kick.
At least Spurs’ opening goal finally seemed to shake Manchester City into some sort of life and their response was quick, with a twenty-five yard free-kick crashing back off the inside of the Spurs crossbar and away to safety. It was a taste of things to come, though. As Manchester City continued to turn up the pressure, so Spurs found themselves pegged back closer and closer to their own goal, and it was no great surprise when some tidy inter-play between Gaël Clichy and David Silva led to Clichy dragging the ball back for Kelechi Iheanacho, who’d only been on the pitch for ten minutes and is starting to build something of a reputation as Manchester City’s very own David Fairclough-esque “Supersub”, to lash the ball past Hugo Lloris and into the goal.
With the pressure on, to take a point from this match suddenly looked like not a bad return on a trip to The Etihad Stadium, for Spurs. Manchester City, emboldened by having finally breached the Spurs defence, started to push forward in search of a winning goal that would have put them right back into the heart of the title race. This, however, left gaps at the back and when, with seven minutes left to play, Yaya Touré was dispossessed in the centre of the pitch, they were missing the defensive cover to deal with a pinpoint through-ball from Erik Lamela, which allowed Christian Eriksen to sneak in and roll the ball past Joe Hart to put Spurs back in front. City continued to throw everything at them, but at the final whistle it was the Spurs players and staff celebrating in front of their travelling supporters at another unlikely result in this most unlikely of seasons.
The supporters of Tottenham Hotspur are fighting an increasingly uphill battle in trying to keep a lid on their hopes. The club has not been the champions of England since 1961, so one would have to be at pensionable age to be able to remember the club’s last league title with a great deal of lucidity. The club hasn’t come anywhere near seriously challenging for the league title since the 1986/87 season, during which there was a brief period at around the end of February when winning games in hand would have put the club within two points of the top of the table. They finished in third place, that time around.
It’s not unreasonable, therefore, to suggest that opportunities like this don’t come around too often for clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur. But balanced against this, the club has only won a couple of League Cups over the course of the last quarter of a century, and the FA Cup and Europa League are both also still very much available for Spurs this season. Does Mauricio Pochettino throw the entirety of his lot into what might well be a once in a generational opportunity for Spurs, or does he try to juggle the Premier League title race with progress in two separate cup competitions? It’s been eight years since Spurs last won a cup competition of any flavour. Most supporters are probably thinking “twist” rather than “stick” at the moment, but there remains plenty of scope for crushing disappointment, come the end of the season.
Of all the problems that of any shape or size can face, though, these are problems which one should surely wish to face. Spurs supporters have had many years of mediocrity, in the Premier League’s middle order and only seldom even threatening to break through the glass ceiling sitting above them. For most Tottenham Hotspur supporters under the age of forty, the current team is probably the best – and is playing the most attractive football – that any can remember, and all of this is happening during a season which was supposed to be one of transition, during which Pochettino was due to be putting in place the building blocks for a team that might be capable of challenging at a higher level in two or three years time. None of this was supposed to happen this season. Whether they will deliver, come the business end of the season, is still open to question, but this Spurs team is daring its supporters to believe with its form over the last few weeks and months. Very slowly, they’re starting to allow themselves to do so.
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