Wednesday 21 February 2018

Spurs show touch of England as Alli wakes up the fans

Tottenham 1-0 Barnsley

Dele Alli Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Dele Alli Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Jonathan Liew

Was this England in disguise? As Tottenham eked out a tortured victory, in front of a sparse and largely apathetic crowd that frankly looked like they could use a good glug of Carabao, it was impossible not to feel the same, tranquilising sensation you get watching England trying to finagle their way past some tiny European nation with a population of 8,000 whose main export is goat milk.

Barnsley are no minnows, of course, and they deserved more than their share of the credit for going more than hour against a strong Spurs side before finally subsiding.

Tottenham's Georges-Kevin Nkoudou in action with Barnsley's Liam Lindsay Photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs
Tottenham's Georges-Kevin Nkoudou in action with Barnsley's Liam Lindsay Photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs

Wycombe almost gave Mauricio Pochettino and Co an almighty bloody nose at White Hart Lane in the FA Cup last season, and in front of a half-empty Wembley, the Championship's 20th-placed team almost did so again here.

Did Tottenham learn anything? There was a strong debut for Juan Foyth, a teenage defender from Argentina, who looks a good fit.

Kyle Walker-Peters shuttled up and down the left flank with intent. But ultimately, it was their A-list star, Dele Alli (pictured), who was forced to bail them out. In front of a half-empty Wembley, Pochettino will have been alarmed at how many 50/50 duels Barnsley were able to win.

Actually, "half-empty Wembley" is probably stretching it a bit. A half-empty Wembley is still quite a lot of people. But apart from a small corner of the stadium filled with noisy Barnsley fans, remarkably few had taken up the generous offer of £10 tickets on a chilly Tuesday.

Barnsley's Liam Lindsay (left) acknowledges the fans after the final whistle Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Barnsley's Liam Lindsay (left) acknowledges the fans after the final whistle Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

For Tottenham's players, by contrast, the main issue was not an abundance of empty space but an absence of it. They moved, they shuffled, they exchanged, they recycled, but were still unable to get around the essential problem of being confronted with 10 defenders whenever they got the ball.

As the "home" side's frustration accumulated like stagnant water, they turned increasingly towards low-percentage options: the hopeful dink, the Ricky Villa dribble, the exasperated 30-yard blam which would invariably, several seconds later, thud against a red plastic seat.

But what could Tottenham do? Barnsley were defending well and covering for each other. Nor could you accuse them of playing for penalties: Chelsea loanee Ike Ugbo looked sharp on his own up front, Harvey Barnes squandered a one-on-one, while Liam Lindsay missed a free header from six yards.

As the half-time whistle sounded it was quite possible to argue that Barnsley had actually enjoyed the better chances.

Spurs goalkeeper Michel Vorm had to make a splendid save from Ugbo's volley seconds after the restart. But with 25 minutes left, Barnsley allowed Kieran Trippier a free run into the penalty area. The ball bobbled across; Alli was at the far post to convert.

Hands on heads in the visitors' defence. It was an avoidable goal. But it was their one real blemish on a night that will offer them only encouragement.

Telegraph.co.uk

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