Sunday 19 November 2017

Gently does it for Tottenham as hard-hat football sickens Big Sam

Tottenham 4 Sunderland 1

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane celebrates scoring their fourth goal. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane celebrates scoring their fourth goal. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane celebrates scoring their fourth goal of the game with team-mate Josh Onomah. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela and Sunderland's Yann M'Vila battle for the ball. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Michael Calvin

Not so much Glory, Glory but Gently, Gently. Tottenham kept the faith, retained their patience, and received their due reward. This was not the stuff of fantasy, a bold statement of intent, but a quiet reminder they are content to do the dirty work, and play hard-hat football when required.

Sunderland kept their lead for only 90 seconds, a failure which prompted Sam Allardyce to spit out his chewing gum with revealing venom. Spurs, the team he traduced as callow and timid, were commendably ruthless in asserting their authority during a one-sided second half.

Victory offered little clarity about their credentials as credible title challengers, but set them up perfectly for a sequence of eminently winnable matches against Crystal Palace, Norwich and Watford. Christian Eriksen scored twice, Harry Kane contributed his seemingly-obligatory penalty and Mousa Dembele embroidered a dominant performance with another long-range strike.

No team has conceded fewer Premier League goals than Spurs, testament to consistency of selection and the wisdom of recruiting Toby Alderweireld to partner Jan Vertongen in the centre of defence. Complementary advances made by Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane lend weight to a collective ability to respond to such setbacks as the midweek defeat by Leicester.

Maurico Pochettino unsurprisingly applied a cold compress of commonsense on proceedings, striking the balance between praising the potential of his young squad and limiting its horizons. It was "too soon" to speak of Tottenham as putative champions; he insisted he would not be held to significant judgement until they have played 30 league games.

The scoreline, comfortingly emphatic, was marginally more eloquent. The whirr of a giant yellow digger operating in the adjoining building site, where Tottenham's future is taking shape in the form of a new 60,000-seater stadium, was another harbinger of progress. The fans who filed past, on a long overdue cold, clear winter's day, were more concerned with the past. Spurs have a history of flattering to deceive. Any echoes of traditional susceptibility to pressure, when opportunity beckons, are amplified uncomfortably.

This quickly developed into a test of their subtlety, as well as their intensity. Sunderland defended deeply, and operated with the pragmatism embodied by their manager. The traps were unconcealed, and relatively easy to avoid, but still needed to be negotiated.

There were few surprises: the visitors funnelled men behind the ball whenever possible. Jermain Defoe's isolation was a familiar imposition, but his threat was fitful. Sunderland's only compensation was an impressive Premier League debut by England Under 21 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. His distribution was impeccable, his handling measured and the elasticity of a series of saves augured well. Regrettably, he can expect scant protection from a defence that has conceded more goals, 45 in 22 games, than any of their rivals. Sunderland, who have failed to win any of their last 12 games against Tottenham, have not managed a clean sheet since November.

"He didn't deserve to be on the end of that result," acknowledged assistant manager Paul Bracewell, who assumed media chores because Allardyce was "not feeling so well." In the circumstances, his apparent queasiness was understandable.

Any side with Sunderland's record is obliged to man the barricades effectively, once they have something to protect. They took the lead five minutes from half time, when Patrick Van Aanholt, found by a clever pass inside full-back Kieran Trippier by Adam Johnson, beat Hugo Lloris at his near post.

All too quickly, a Kane shot, blocked expertly by Pickford, fell to Eriksen. His shot was not cleanly struck and should have been dealt with on the line by Lee Cattermole, who allowed it to deflect into roof of net.

At least Pickford had a more fulfilling experience than the day's other debutant, former Bayern Munich defender Jan Kirchoff, whose introduction as a 58th-minute substitute sparked Tottenham's three-goal surge.

He had been on the pitch a matter of seconds when Pickford was beaten by a low shot by Dembele. Kirchoff deflected Eriksen's subsequent shot over the young goalkeeper before conceding the penalty, with a foul on Danny Rose, that enabled Kane to milk the crowd's eager applause.

"He's found out how difficult it is" Allardyce told a TV interviewer, before he succumbed to an apparent ailment. "We had to get him on at some stage. He knows what the pace is like now. He's contributed to the loss with the penalty. But we opened up too much - that was the problem."

The home supporters did their best to contribute to his malaise. "4-1 and a long way home" they sang. The journey may well be concluded in the cul-de-sac they call the Championship.

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