Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rampant Spurs step up pace of their Fox hunt

Stoke city 0-4 Tottenham

Dele Alli chips the ball past Shay Given for the first of his two goals. Photo: Reuters
Dele Alli chips the ball past Shay Given for the first of his two goals. Photo: Reuters
Glenn Whelan challenges Harry Kane. Photo: Reuters
Dele Alli speaks with coach Mauricio Pochettino as he is substituted. Photo: Getty
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane (L) challenges Stoke City's Philipp Wollscheid. Photo: Getty

Jason Burt

The Fox hunt is on. The Tottenham Hotspur lions – Harry Kane had taken to social media to post an image of a pride of the big cats on the prowl – are chasing their prey. They scent them and this really could be some run-in after all. This resounding, resonating Spurs victory means Leicester City are now feeling the hot breath of a challenger on their shoulders.

“Leicester City – we’re coming for you,” sang the celebrating Spurs supporters inside this stadium and anyone who witnessed this performance will know that is no idle threat. Kane scored twice, Dele Alli twice also and Spurs were awesome as they broke forward in pursuit of goals, in pursuit of Leicester. The deficit at the top is now five points with four matches to play.

Raw Meat

Spurs could have scored more and gave the impression of a team driven on; fed on raw meat, even, with an appetite for more. Full of desire and belief who did not give a poor Stoke a sniff. Not a chance.

Spurs sensed this opportunity here, the need to take advantage and duly took an early lead. It came with what is proving to be a trademark Kane goal where he gains position on the corner of the penalty area and bends a right-foot shot, whipped with power, laced with dip, that uses the defender, this time Ryan Shawcrosss, as a sighter, and that arcs around the despairing dive of the goalkeeper. That duly strikes the net, just inside the far post.

 Kane did it against Arsenal. He did it against Liverpool. And he did it here against Stoke City. On his league debut for the club – 40 tomorrow, the seventh oldest debutant in the Premier League – goalkeeper Shay Given had no chance and Kane had his 23rd league goal of this season.

It also owed much to one of those graceful, elusive runs by Mousa Dembele – the ones he should do more of – when he breezes past opponents and offloads the ball. This time it was Glenn Whelan who he left trailing.

Spurs should have already been ahead by then with the most incisive of passes by Erik Lamela to pick out Kane. The striker held his run, stayed onside, but could not hold onto the ball quickly enough to get an early shot away. Eventually he did – and his effort was blocked.

Spurs were brimming with intent. Manager Mauricio Pochettino had revealed that, yes, he had watched Leicester’s volcanic draw with West Ham United and had even done so with the Spurs chairman Daniel Levy over a glass of wine. It might well have been some sparkling stuff had Leonardo Ulloa not claimed that late equalising goal.

But still Spurs could cut that Leicester lead in what was the first of three Monday night catch-up fixtures for them as they worked hard to stay in this race. This one would be the marker; the sign to Leicester that they will not surrender meekly.

Spurs set off again. Quick passing, rapid break and suddenly they had three, four players bearing down on the Stoke area. Only a deflection prevented Kyle Walker’s pass from reaching Lamela.

There had to be a reaction, surely, and finally it came with Hugo Lloris having to beat out a powerful drive from Marko Arnautovic and, then, another cross was flicked out only to Bojan. In space he shanked his shot high over the crossbar.

Back came Spurs with the ball breaking, after another fine run by Kane, to Dembele whose fierce shot from the area’s edge curved just beyond the corner of post and bar. It highlighted a problem for Stoke. They needed to push to get back into this but Tottenham’s pace on the break, through both full-backs, through Lamela and Kane and with Dele Alli waiting to spring, represented a clear and present danger.

Spurs came again with Lamela finding Alli’s whose back-heel into the path of Christian Eriksen was quite superb. Suddenly the midfielder was clear on goal but he stumbled only then to strike the bar with his shot. Pochettino held his head in his hands. There had been something breathtakingly brilliant about Spurs’s play, at times, with the sharp intakes of breath taken by the frustrated home supporters when they had possession saying it all.

The danger for Spurs was that they were just the one goal to the good and they squandered another chance when Danny Rose was cleverly picked out by Kane. The left-back found himself bearing down on goal, running across goal, only then to slip before he could get his shot away.

Still the chances came with Walker’s cross turned into the path of Eriksen who found Alli. His shot, under pressure, cleared the bar before Spurs broke again, again through Walker, with the ball skimming across the Stoke goal. Lamela retrieved it and his angled effort was turned away by Given for a corner.

Stoke had ridden their luck but pushed it too far when neither central defender picked up Alli who latched onto Eriksen’s first-time ball forward to run through the centre. Yet again a Spurs player was clear on goal but, this time, Alli calmly dinked the ball past Given and into the net.

As the away fans chanted his name, Alli was suddenly away again. Again he was nerveless as he took his time, he rounded Given and the goal beckoned – only for his shot to strike the outside of the post.

But Spurs simply would not be denied. Their speed on the counter-attack is astonishing and they tore forward with Eriksen finding Lamela. Suddenly he was through with Kane alongside. Lamela squared for Kane to tap home.

That was not the end of it. Alli finally did claim his second as Eriksen worked his way down the left and chipped the ball back for the midfielder to steady himself and volley low into the corner. In the chase, this was chastening for Stoke.

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