Soldado keeps cool to send Swans packing
Tottenham 1 Swansea 0
White Hart Lane is, surely, about to officially enter the post-Gareth Bale era – a new period in which those old certainties can no longer be relied upon.
Bale is no longer around to score the crucial last-minute winning goals. No longer will the visiting full-backs leave the stadium quite so traumatised. Yet two games in and not a single point has been dropped by Tottenham Hotspur.
In those spurious early-season league tables, Spurs are joint-second largely thanks to two Roberto Soldado penalties, the second of which was enough to beat Swansea yesterday.
Andre Villas-Boas' team went all 38 games last season without being awarded a single penalty and they have had two already in two games as the new team that is being built here adapts to what is being asked of it.
Bale still casts a long shadow as he prepares to complete his transfer to Real Madrid.
Asked about the situation on Saturday, Villas-Boas was sticking manfully to the party line that there was "interest" from Real Madrid and that this was not a done deal, even though everybody knows that it is simply a question of when rather than if.
"It's very, very difficult to help you on this situation," Villas-Boas said. "There's interest from Real Madrid. I'm not sure if the transfer will happen or not. Hopefully I will have more answers in a couple of days."
Might he stay? "There's always the possibility," said Villas-Boas, although not even he looked convinced of that.
A naturally serious man, Villas-Boas struggles with these impossible situations that arise periodically in football when a manager feels he has no option but to dodge the question. He was similarly uptight on the subject of losing out to Chelsea on Willian.
"The answer I want to tell you is final," he said, "Willian had made a choice and joined Chelsea. The only thing I can do is wish him good luck. He is a person I have a good relationship with. He made a choice he feels is important for his career."
It was only when the questions moved on to Spurs' move for the Steaua Bucharest defender Vlad Chiriches, a Romania international, that Villas-Boas made the admirable decision to break the tension with a joke.
"There is an interest in the player," he said, "unless someone steals him too."
Bravo, Andre, let's have more of that.
Against Swansea, Villas-Boas picked a team with six players who were not at the club last season – four new signings and two recalled from loan – and of all of them it was one of the Englishmen who stood out.
Andros Townsend won the penalty that decided the game, a very soft decision from referee Neil Swarbrick. In spite of all that, the winger generally looked the liveliest, most dangerous attacker in Spurs' side.
Villas-Boas said that Townsend had "brought light and spark" to the game. The winger deserved to be awarded a penalty in the first half when he was the subject of a clumsy challenge from Jonjo Shelvey on the right side of the area. Swarbrick mistakenly thought that was outside the box.
In the 57th minute it was Townsend who, having gone past Ben Davies, ran into Shelvey and this time the referee looked kindly on him. Soldado scored from the penalty spot and gave Spurs a lead that they never surrendered.
The diplomat to the very end, Michael Laudrup, the Swansea coach, did not come into his post-match press raging against the officials.
Instead he accepted that "a free-kick was given outside that should maybe have been a penalty and then a penalty in the second half that shouldn't have been a penalty".
He added: "I don't know if it is frustrating or not. You have to accept it's like that."
The Swans had chances too, in particular a volley from Chico Flores which the excellent Hugo Lloris saved. For long periods of the game Laudrup's players kept Spurs at bay, in spite of the many attacking options the home team have. Laudrup wants to sign one more forward before the window closes.
For Spurs, there was a first start for Etienne Capoue as one of the midfielders in front of the defence and he looked perfectly capable at this level. On the left side was Nacer Chadli, a significant physical presence, if a little raw, starting his second league game.
Of all the new players at Spurs, it is Paulinho and Soldado (below), by far the most experienced of that group, who have had the biggest impact. Soldado did little more than score yesterday but his composure from the penalty spot has been crucial for Spurs so far.
As for Bale, there was no mention of him by name afterwards from Villas-Boas, nor footage on the screens.
There was, however, an appearance on the pitch at half-time by Glenn Hoddle, who recalled his last game for Spurs and the emotional farewell in 1987.
Sadly for Bale, he will never get to say goodbye. (© Independent News Service)