Monday 27 February 2017

All eyes on Levy as Tottenham dare to dream

Watford 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2

Matt Law

Son Heung Min celebrates scoring the second goal for Tottenham. Photo: Eddie Keogh / Reuters
Son Heung Min celebrates scoring the second goal for Tottenham. Photo: Eddie Keogh / Reuters
Son Heung Min celebrates scoring the second goal for Tottenham with Kieran Trippier. Photo: Eddie Keogh / Reuters.
Watford's Jose Jurado (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Dele Alli battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Vicarage Road. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

This was billed as an unlikely Champions League six-pointer, but Tottenham Hotspur and their chairman, Daniel Levy, should have even bigger ambitions in a season of shocks.

Nobody really believes Spurs will maintain a Premier League title challenge for an entire season, but that does not mean they cannot and that Levy should not learn from past lessons and go for it.

A narrow win against 10-man Watford may not be the kind of statement of intent that will send shivers down the spines of Arsenal and Manchester City, but substitute Son Hueng-min's late winner means Tottenham will start 2016 as title contenders.

Whether they stay in the mix or simply satisfy themselves with trying to remain in the top four may owe as much to Levy as it will to head coach Mauricio Pochettino and his players.

The last time Spurs were in a position as good as this was in 2012, when former manager Harry Redknapp went into the January transfer window with lofty hopes of bidding for Carlos Tevez and Gary Cahill, but ended it with Louis Saha and Ryan Nelsen. Unsurprisingly, any talk of the title evaporated.

With champions Chelsea long out of the title race, Manchester United struggling and City and Arsenal failing to run away from the pack, Spurs can dare to dream again.

Pochettino is far too canny to publicly declare his team in a title race and instead chose to warn his young players not to get carried away with three successive victories heading into the New Year and a trip to Everton.

"It's very important to keep our feet on the ground," Pochettino said. "This is the key in football. Keep working hard. Behave in the same way that we started in the league six months ago.

"I think that the numbers reflect that it [the title] is possible, but the only important thing for us is to try to win every game and keep working hard. We are very young and you need to show your strengths in the whole season. But to speak about the title, it's more important to keep working hard and showing our maturity."

Pochettino is certainly showing his credentials as a coach capable of keeping his side in the title hunt. He made two brave switches here and was rewarded with Son's 89th-minute winner.

Having started with a back three to try to deal with the dual threat of Odio Ighalo, who took his tally for 2015 to 30 goals, and Troy Deeney, Pochettino altered his plan as soon as Watford were reduced to 10 men after Nathan Ake's red card.

Eric Dier was pushed back up into midfield, with Son sent on to replace Tom Carroll, and Spurs snatched all three points just moments after goal-line technology had denied Watford what would have surely been a winner.

Most of Vicarage Road crowd thought that Ben Watson's corner had gone straight in, but replays showed that goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had just about stopped the whole of the ball crossing the line.

Tottenham went straight up the other end and delivered the sucker punch as Son produced a brilliant piece of improvisation to beat former Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.

Gomes punched away Kieran Trippier's centre, but the wing-back crossed the ball again and Son managed to flick it through the legs of the Brazilian and into the net.

"It was a fantastic victory," Pochettino said. "A few weeks ago Liverpool had a lot of problems here and lost 3-0, but now we managed the game on a very difficult pitch. Watford play in a different way and it wasn't easy, but the maturity we showed and the way that we fight was fantastic.

Robbed

Spurs had gone ahead through Erik Lamela in the 16th minute after Dele Alli had robbed Craig Cathcart and played in the Argentinian, who finished coolly past Gomes.

Watford were back on level terms four minutes before half-time when Ighalo managed to muscle free of Dier to score his 14th Premier League goal of the season.

No striker, not even Tottenham's Harry Kane, in England's top four tiers has scored more goals than Ighalo in this calendar year and it is easy to see why the Vicarage Road faithful love him so much.

The match turned back in Spurs' favour in the 63rd minute when the on-loan Ake lost his head and went in high and hard on Lamela to leave referee Anthony Taylor with little choice but to produce the red card. A combination of Pochettino, goal-line technology and Son (below) did the rest.

Asked about the late drama, the Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores said: "The line that separates winners and losers is very thin. In one minute we can win the match, one minute later, we lose it.

"The most important is to be realistic with the performance of the team. In every single match we play against big teams, we are more and more competitive, more close to winning these kinds of games."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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