Friday 14 December 2018

Pochettino bemoans Spurs' lack of 'winning mentality' at Newport

Newport County's Padraig Amond. Photo: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters
Newport County's Padraig Amond. Photo: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Spot the odd one out: Manchester United, Liverpool, Newport County, Arsenal, Juventus.

That is Tottenham Hotspur's fixture list over the next two-and-a-half weeks, between now and what will be their FA Cup fifth round tie, should they beat the League Two team at Wembley.

And that Newport game stands out. Not just because they exist in a different football universe from the other sides; but because it is a game Tottenham never wanted to play.

That week after Spurs' trip to Anfield should have been empty, giving them time to rest and prepare for the north London derby at Wembley on the Saturday lunchtime.

But now they will have to play a ferociously motivated Newport team, playing one of the biggest matches of their recent history.

And Mauricio Pochettino will have serious decisions to make about key players - Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen - with half an eye on Arsenal and Juventus ahead.

It might sound over-anxious to worry about how Tottenham will do at home against a League Two side but the fact is that on Saturday evening they were eight minutes away from going out.

Pochettino was furious with his players for failing to match the "motivation, desire and fight" of Newport, which was what he had demanded beforehand.

"We can talk at the end about tactical, positional games or shape," Pochettino said afterwards.

"The most important, from the beginning of the game, was to try to show more desire, or the same desire as them, the same motivation. To challenge, to have a winning mentality. It's not an easy game."

It was an atmosphere and a pitch that would have been unfamiliar to many Spurs players but Pochettino, who grew up playing in the Argentinean league, said it reminded of him of how the game is meant to be.

"I enjoyed it a lot," he said. "For me, sometimes I miss this kind of atmosphere and football. Because that is the reality of football and is how I feel. That is pure passion."

Spurs will not play in a situation like this again any time soon - there will not be many League Two teams left in the fifth round, if they get there - but Pochettino still wants his players to learn.

"We all need to learn, to take the responsibility," he said. "We need to take the individual responsibility and understand that, in football, we need to show more. If we are clever, we are going to learn. If not, we are going to miss the opportunity to learn."

Clearly Pochettino expected more from his players at Rodney Parade and he pointed out that he "showed ambition" by choosing "our best players" for this game - he started with Kane, Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama. "We need to be motivated more," he said. "And realise that, if we want to do something special, we cannot miss the opportunity like today."

Joss Labadie, a 27-year-old who has never played above League One, had the game of his life in midfield for Newport.

One of the last men in professional football to tuck his shirt into his shorts, his energy was crucial to Newport's effort.

Even before their goal with seven minutes of the first half remaining, they had plenty of chances.

They finally took one on 38 minutes when winger Robbie Willmott, a former Tesco shelf-stacker, crossed the ball to the back post and the striker Pádraig Amond (left) headed it past Michel Vorm.

Spurs' equaliser came from a corner. Son Heung-min flicked the ball on at the near post and there at the back, unmarked, was Kane to score his 30th goal in his 30th game of the season, leaving him still on course to break Clive Allen's club one-season record of 49 from more than 30 years ago.

There was enough about Michael Flynn's side to hang on at the end and, given that they stayed in the Football League last season from being 11 adrift with 12 games to play this was a remarkable achievement from his team.

The final whistle was greeted with a roar, and songs of Wembley and yet they might even have done so much more. (© Independent News Service)

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