Wednesday 24 January 2018

Unbeaten season at historic ground ends era on a high

Tottenham 2-1 Man Utd

Tottenham's Harry Kane celebrates scoring their second goal. Photo: Reuters
Tottenham's Harry Kane celebrates scoring their second goal. Photo: Reuters

Jason Burt

The Finale, they called it, the last game to be played after 118 years at White Hart Lane, and Tottenham Hotspur went out as Spurs do.

How Spurs dare to do - a thrilling performance, a comfortable advantage over Manchester United and then a nervy ending as they allowed their opponents back into it.

'Spursy' to the end, then. Or maybe not. This is a different Spurs, a younger, harder Spurs, a Spurs still for the future as they head to Wembley - without their legs all 'trembly' - for one season before returning to their new, 61,000-seat state-of-the-art stadium whose giant footprint will dwarf this one.

They will desperately hope to do so with most of this team intact and with their superb young manager Mauricio Pochettino in place.

The final Spurs goal, the 5,272th scored in this iconic stadium by them, in the 1,472rd match, came from their most important player: Harry Kane.

It came from one of their own and how appropriate that felt; how gloriously that was celebrated by their impressive home-product of a striker.

Tottenham's Son Heung-min battles against Manchester United's Eric Bailly and Jesse Lingard. Photo: Reuters
Tottenham's Son Heung-min battles against Manchester United's Eric Bailly and Jesse Lingard. Photo: Reuters

It also proved, with United pulling one back, to be decisive.

There will be no Premier League title to go out on. Chelsea made sure of that and there will be more than a tinge of regret in that as Spurs completed a season unbeaten at the Lane, their last at the Lane, for the first time since 1964-65, they could not bring back the title they last won four years before that.

Spurs are investing off the pitch and also need to invest on it and now face that juggling act, having moved from third to second in the league in successive seasons, of the move, the build and keeping the team heading upwards.

But they are undoubtedly on the right track, finishing ahead of Arsenal also for the first time since Arsene Wenger arrived in north London.

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane scores his side's second goal of the game. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane scores his side's second goal of the game. Photo: PA

They cemented that second place here and they made sure that United could not finish in the top four and will probably only remain in sixth place - one place below where they were last season.

That is not a good look for Jose Mourinho but he has the lifeline of a Europa League final and, with it, Champions League qualification.

Anything else is unthinkable for him and for United. If United do not beat Ajax he will have failed.

Anything short of a win was unthinkable for Spurs in this fixture and for vast tracts of it United simply could not live with them until Mourinho changed the shape, and brought on his substitutes.

The tension started to improbably build when before it there had been little but a carnival atmosphere.

A farewell message is displayed as Manchester United's Jesse Lingard attempts to control the ball. Photo: Reuters
A farewell message is displayed as Manchester United's Jesse Lingard attempts to control the ball. Photo: Reuters

The game was not inconsequential. There were plenty of chances with Spurs claiming the lead inside the opening six minutes when Victor Wanyama was allowed - by Wayne Rooney, horribly guilty of failing to mark him - to reach Ben Davies's left-wing cross and thump a powerful close-range header past David de Gea.

Already it seemed only a matter of how many more goals Spurs would gather although there was a sudden reminder of the quality that United do possess, with Rooney playing a lovely ball with the outside of his right boot which allowed Anthony Martial to ease past Toby Alderweireld and send a curling shot around Hugo Lloris and only just inches past his far post.

After that it was Spurs v De Gea. Heung-Min Son ran clear after his attempted pass to Dele Alli rebounded back to him, only for De Gea to parry. Then Kane rose to meet Christian Eriksen's cross, beating De Gea to it, with his header clipping the top of the crossbar.

Kane had already sent Phil Jones tumbling to the turf, showing his strength, with Mourinho impressed as he turned and tapped his shoulder.

Soon after and De Gea had to adjust to keep out Eriksen's deflected cross which threatened to spin over him and into the net before the goalkeeper excelled as he acrobatically punched over Alli's powerful first-time shot and blocked with an outstretched leg from Kane.

De Gea was finally beaten, early in the second-half, when Kane once more showed his power to hold off Chris Smalling - although the United defender surely had to do better - to reach Eriksen's whipped-in free-kick and brilliantly flick it right-footed past the goalkeeper who had little chance.

Mourinho brought on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ander Herrera and United claimed a goal back, with Martial - who impressed - dribbling his way deep into the area from the left and crossing the ball low for Rooney to steal in front of Jan Vertonghen and poke the ball home from inside the six-yard area.

It may have come off the Spurs defender but, either way, United had a goal, their first goal away from home against another top-six side, which is as unacceptable a statistic as there can be, under Mourinho, and it took eight games to score it.

Would they spoil Spurs' party? Alli almost made sure that could not happen with an angled shot but Jones ran back to head it off the goal-line.

Then, incredibly, another United substitute, Marcus Rashford, who also made a difference, ran onto Michael Carrick's long ball forward in injury-time.

His pace took him away and suddenly he was through on goal. It felt like the stadium went silent, fearful, anticipatory, but he lifted the ball over the bar.

That would have been a 'Spursy' moment to go out on. Instead, this is the new Spurs and they said farewell to their old stadium, to previous glories and hopes of glories to come, with a victory.

The flags were waved, the pitch invaded and then the closing ceremony began.

Pochettino said: "It was a very good performance at White Hart Lane, the last one. And now we focus on the last two games.

"It's fantastic that we have achieved second position. We're disappointed but at the same time it is fantastic for us and to be unbeaten at White Hart Lane in the last season here is something to be happy with.

"We're very, very proud (of the season). Yes (we will miss White Hart Lane) but we have to move on."

Mourinho, meanwhile, was in defiant mood, insisting: "I don't know the way the other clubs think - I don't know what is important for them.

"At Manchester United, for us it's more important to win titles than to finish in the top four. So if we can win a third title, or as you like to say, a second title, if we can do that it would be magnificent for us."

Mourinho suggested that his position, stuck in sixth, but competing in finals, was more enviable than it looked. "We know it's a big objective, we know that if we lose the final we don't play Champions League, we know that," he said. "But we fight for titles and probably other clubs finishing in the top four, probably they would like to be in our position, to try to fight for a title."

Spurs go marching on

What happens next?

Spurs staff worked through the night to strip the ground of "essential memorabilia" before the stadium is formally handed over to contractors Mace and DSM for the next stage of the project - the dismantling of the stadium and club megastore. This will start from the inside of the ground and work outwards and is expected to last until early September.

How is the new stadium progressing?

Every trip to White Hart Lane this season gave perspective on the building work that is going on right next to the current ground, although the best views - down into the bowl - come from high up. The main bowl of the new ground is well established and, according to Mace, work on the concrete and steel structure will continue until December 2017. Then they will start working on the inside of the ground in preparation for opening in August 2018.

How much will Spurs miss White Hart Lane?

Tottenham's home form this season has been brilliant - yesterday's victory was their 18th win there in all competitions, dating all the way back to a 3-2 win over West Ham on November 19 last year. They have the best home record in the league, with 53 points from a possible 57. Their last defeat at White Hart Lane came more than a year ago - against Southampton on May 8, 2016.

How many people will Spurs play in front of in Wembley?

Tottenham successfully lobbied Brent Council to make sure that they can play almost all of their home games for next season in front of Wembley's full capacity of 90,000. Wembley did have restrictions on the number of 'full capacity events' that can be staged there, which would have forced Spurs to play most of their games in front of a reduced 51,000 capacity.

This means Spurs can play 27 full-capacity home games next season.

What is the new ground like?

Spurs' new ground will be the largest club stadium in London, holding 61,000 people. The plans have prioritised proximity to the pitch, so the front row of seats will always be between five and eight metres away from the action - as is the case at White Hart Lane, but not always at new grounds. The three tiers of the new stadium will be steeply packed on to each other, with the highlight being the 17,000 seater single-tier kop-style south stand. There will also be the world's first stadium micro-brewery, producing one million pints of craft beer each year.

How much will it cost and who is paying for it?

The cost of building the new stadium is expected to rise up to £800m. Spurs are hoping to cover close to half of that in a funding package of roughly £350m from banks HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, which is expected to be confirmed soon. The other half of the cost, roughly, will come from a naming rights deal that Tottenham are currently negotiating. America's National Football League have also contributed £10m towards the cost of the new stadium, in recognition of the fact that it will host NFL games.

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