Better late than never as Eriksen finds a way to end Burnley boredom
Tottenham 1 Burnley 0
Last Tuesday, Tottenham played Barcelona in the Camp Nou for a place in the Champions League knockout stages. On Wednesday, they face Arsenal in the League Cup semi-finals. A game against Burnley in front of a half-full Wembley, rain sheeting down and adding an extra chill to an already freezing Saturday, was always going to be what advertising types call "a tough sell".
Thank the lord, then, for Christian Eriksen. For 90 minutes it was the sort of grim afternoon that might lead everyone present to question their life choices, the 0-0 scoreline to that point even less interesting than it might sound.
Partly that was down to tactics from the visitors you might call pragmatic, Sean Dyche rightly showing scant regard to the spectacle by packing his defence. This is exactly the sort of game where it is smart to park the bus, against a tired team with bigger things on their mind and a crowd already frustrated at having to show up at their rented home again, months after they thought they would be shot of the place.
But there, at the last, was Eriksen, brought on as a substitute to conjure something, which he did at the start of second-half injury-time, sweeping home a late winner and causing several Burnley players to sink to the turf. Cruel old game, football.
Mauricio Pochettino sprung something of a surprise, the 18-year-old Oliver Skipp making his first league start in midfield, while Ben Davies filled in at centre-back for Jan Vertonghen, laid low by a groin tweak. Burnley's line-up whiffed strongly of a super-cautious 5-4-1, and the relatively spartan crowd might have feared they were in for a long afternoon.
At the moment Tottenham feel like one of those couples on Grand Designs who have to live in a caravan while their ambitious, self-sufficient eco-home with a £10,000 bath is dogged by delays. Admittedly, Wembley is an expensive and very well-appointed caravan, but the point is nobody wants to be here, the novelty wore off some time ago and everyone is grumpy.
They were very nearly roused from the banquette after 17 minutes, Lucas Moura toe-ending a volley inches wide from a precision long pass by Erik Lamela. Burnley hunkered down and kept Spurs reasonably quiet: Harry Kane claimed a penalty after vaguely bumping into James Tarkowski, and the centre-forward spread a superb pass to Moussa Sissoko who in turn fed Lamela, only for his heavy touch to scupper what would have been a superb counter-attacking goal.
In general, though, Spurs did not attack with any particular intensity, looking like a team who just wanted to get this game out of the way; understandable, perhaps, given the fixtures it came between, a little like (with apologies to Burnley) asking someone to get excited about the tap water that arrives after the lobster and before the steak.
Bluntness at that end of the pitch always opens up the possibility for problems at the other: Hugo Lloris played an inexplicable pass straight to Phil Bardsley, Ashley Barnes found some space in the middle and his header went just over. Barnes had another chance just after the break, a volley from an Aaron Lennon knock-back, and as the half progressed, irritation grew.
Not least with Burnley's subtlety-free time-wasting tactics: at one point Tarkowski hoofed the ball over his own bar and into the stands after the whistle had gone, got away with a brief talking to but when Robbie Brady dallied over a free-kick shortly afterwards, he went into the book.
Still, that was the least of Tottenham's problems. Eriksen was summoned from the bench to try . . . something. Lamela jabbed a shot from close range that an alarmingly underemployed Joe Hart pushed away, and that was one of his last duties as Pochettino's "break glass in case of emergency" option of Fernando Llorente was thrown on for the last ten minutes.
With five minutes left Son Heung-min crossed for Dele Alli who put it into the side-netting but then Eriksen arrived, digging his side out of trouble from a Kane pass. Those sighs of relief came, better late than never for Spurs.
Sunday Indo Sport