Tuesday 20 August 2019

Dogged Baggies make Spurs pay for post-European lethargy

Spurs 1 WBA 1

Spur's Harry Kane celebrates scoring his side's equaliser at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Yui Mok/PA
Spur's Harry Kane celebrates scoring his side's equaliser at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Yui Mok/PA

Nick Ames

Almost exactly 15 years ago, Gary Megson was appointed Lord of the Manor of West Bromwich. Had his team held on to Salomon Rondon's early goal in what looks likely to be his only match in temporary charge, there might have been the temptation to bestow an even higher honour.

West Brom are a far different club now to the one that Megson twice took out of the Championship in the mid-2000s; three points would have lessened the chances of a return in that direction but this was a sparkier performance than any they produced in the latter days of Tony Pulis and, as far as holding the fort goes, a draw at Tottenham counts as a job excellently done.

There is no such satisfaction for Spurs, who laboured throughout and barely deserved Harry Kane's close-range equaliser. A run of one win in four league games is a concern and any title bid surely now takes secondary billing to maintaining a place in the top four.

Megson had preached the need for "bouncy, enthusiastic people" in effecting an upturn during his temporary stewardship, even carrying out a mini-reshuffle of the backroom staff by dispensing with assistant head coach Ben Garner.

West Bromwich Albion's Salomon Rondon (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Eric Dier battle for the ball in the air. Photo: Yui Mok/PA
West Bromwich Albion's Salomon Rondon (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Eric Dier battle for the ball in the air. Photo: Yui Mok/PA

The Baggies tore out of the blocks and caught Tottenham napping on four minutes. Dele Alli was the first home player to be exposed, failing to spot Jake Livermore behind him and allowing his pocket to be picked. The resulting slide-rule pass through to Rondon, while well weighted, appeared to have been dealt with by Davinson Sanchez but the centre-back paid the price for easing up. He seemed unduly perturbed by the physical presence of Rondon, who set him off balance with a perfectly fair nudge and, as if in slow motion, slid the ball past Hugo Lloris.

It was reward for the kind of assertive start Megson's predecessor had too often failed to inspire. Tottenham had thrashed Liverpool and disposed of Crystal Palace here in their last two post-Champions League outings, but their first-half offering was as flat as anything they have produced under Mauricio Pochettino. Nearly half an hour passed before their first attempt of note, Kane dragging not far wide from 20 yards, and although Son Heung-min warmed Ben Foster's palms shortly afterwards, they only showed any real cohesion in the dying moments of the half. Son's fizzed cross, a whisker beyond Kane, was quickly followed by a shot that the Korean looped onto the roof of the net; these were reasonably close shaves but could hardly thicken the gruel for an increasingly agitated Pochettino.

West Brom had, until those last exchanges, denied Tottenham any real semblance of space but Megson could hardly have been accused of parking the bus.

They had looked to break in numbers given the chance and appeared the quicker, more athletic side. That did not change after the interval despite a shift in gear from Spurs, which almost brought an equaliser when Jonny Evans superbly nicked Kieran Trippier's cross away from Kane. Had Matt Phillips drilled into the far corner, and not a fraction off target, after receiving a delectable pass from Gareth Barry, it would have been hard to argue that Megson's approach did not merit a two-goal margin.

For Tottenham this developed into the kind of lock-picking exercise against massed ranks that too often poses them problems. Pochettino had seen enough half-witted thinking by the hour to introduce Mousa Dembélé and Fernando Llorente, the surprise perhaps being that Harry Winks was one of those to make way. Winks had, at least, sought to use the ball boldly and certainly looked sharper than Alli, although the latter almost slid onto a miscued Trippier shot as Spurs' desperation grew.

The equaliser was a surprise in that, by the 74th minute, Spurs were offering nothing beyond huff and puff. It was well fashioned by Alli, who owed his team a positive contribution; his right-sided delivery flicked off Kieran Gibbs and fell perfectly for Kane, who arrived at the near post and did the rest.

West Bromwich Albion's Salomon Rondon celebrates scoring his side's goal with Matt Phillips. Photo: Yui Mok/PA
West Bromwich Albion's Salomon Rondon celebrates scoring his side's goal with Matt Phillips. Photo: Yui Mok/PA

Now the tenor had changed; Jan Vertonghen had been the other Tottenham player substituted and they had the strength in attacking numbers to force a winner. One could have arrived when Kane, jumping between two defenders, nudged over the bar with his midriff. Gibbs then blocked from Alli, but it was West Brom who fashioned the best late openings. Rondon squandered one counter-attacking chance and then guided another just wide at the death, but no matter: Megson's title remains well-earned.

(Observer)

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