Tottenham Hotspur 2 (Hojbjerg 58, Reguilon 69)
Leeds United 1 (James, 44)
Sometimes you just have to shrug and accept the hand that fate has dealt you and Leeds know all about that from numerous previous trips to the Capital. This was no different, Leeds played well and dominated the first half despite an understrength team and yet, ultimately, the football gods decreed that this was not to be our day.
Drinking in the Hamilton Bar ahead of the game there was an audible sigh when the team news came through on a zillion mobile phones; the rumours were correct, neither Rodrigo nor Raphinha were in the squad. An apparently minor foot injury had kept Rodrigo out and illness prevented Raphinha travelling to the game. The mood went from quietly optimistic to distinctly pessimistic within the time it takes to swallow a swig of beer.
The first thing to say about this trip, my first to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, is that the ground is a magnificent arena! From the outside maybe not so appropriate for football – the building looks like any number of glass and steel monoliths that pepper the Capital and could just as easily be a hotel or an office block or even some great silver space ship – but inside it is immense! We were situated in the North East corner opposite the amazing South Stand wall of Spurs supporters and of course we were every bit as loud as the home support, particularly as the first half went pretty much all in our favour. You would have expected more from the home support in this, Antonio Conte’s first home Premier League game.
You would never have guessed we were missing so many first team regulars as we dominated that first period with a typical Bielsaball performance of intensity, pressing and pace all over the pitch. Spurs are undoubtedly a decent side with many quality players and yet they managed not a single shot of any description throughout that first 45 minutes. At the other end though we saw rasping shots from Adam Forshaw and Stuart Dallas go inches wide. For Leeds, the icing on the cake came a minute before the break as we finally got a glimpse of what Jack Harrison is capable of at his best as he drove into the area from the left having given Emerson Royal a right royal roasting and then zipped the ball across the face of goal. Dan James’ touch was as sharp as a tack as he guided the ball into the net. No one could deny Leeds fully deserved that one-goal half-time lead.
There was no initial sign in the second half that Conte’s half-time talk had made any difference either. Leeds were straight onto the front foot and won corner after corner and another rasping shot, this time from the left boot of young Joe Gelhardt, forced a good save from Lloris. The Leeds fans ratcheted the noise up even further, sensing that we were indeed on the threshold of a big win that would justify our optimism following that majestic performance against Leicester City the other week, and all this remember without Rodrigo, Raphinha, Bamford and Luke Ayling; the future looked bright as we contemplated their return and with the rest of the team having finally found their mojo this season. And then those pesky football gods intervened.
It was a poor goal to give away; a simple near post cross drew Meslier towards the ball but Lucas Moura got there first and then he quickly shifted the ball to the edge of the area where Hojbjerg was able to scuff a shot through a myriad of Leeds legs and into the unguarded net. We ought to have defended it better than we did and perhaps too many Leeds defenders were too slow to react to the danger.
If the equaliser was down to poor defensive work by Leeds there was no doubt that the Spurs winner was solely down to our luck being well and truly out of town for the day, as it so often seems to be in London. An Eric Dier free kick struck the Leeds defensive wall, the ball was wildly deflected from left to right, wrong footing Meslier and it struck the right hand post with a thud. It could have gone anywhere but those football gods decreed it was going straight to the boot of Reguilon who knocked it into another unguarded net. You might argue that the Leeds defence was a bit flat footed again and we ought to have been at least as sharp as Reguilon, but the deflection had everyone on their wrong foot really.
Leeds never gave up on this one but the two rapid-fire goals had finally got the home crowd on their feet and, whipped up by the antics of Conte on the touchline, they found their voices too.
At the final whistle I could only shrug and contemplate what might have been and hope that this defeat and the nature of it doesn’t detract from the vast improvement we have seen from Leeds in the last few games. On balance, I still think that had Raphinha been on the pitch today we’d probably have been out of sight by half-time and we must hope he’s back for the trip to Brighton next week and we can push on once again.
There is of course worry amongst the Leeds faithful and with the teams at the bottom of the table now starting to win points more regularly we cannot afford not to at least match them and we know we are coming into a tough run of fixtures that will see us face Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool one after the other before the turn of the year. Although we did well enough in a similar run at the back end of last season I think it’s probably far more important that we get points from the likes of Brighton, Palace and Brentford in our next three games – games that, at our best and with a full team, we look well-placed to win. Fingers crossed we don’t mess those up before that ominous-looking trip to Stamford Bridge.
Tottenham H Leeds United
Possession 43% 57%
Shots 13 18
On Target 4 7
Corners 4 8
Fouls Committed 11 12