Winless in their first four pretty much seemed like a bad omen for Tottenham, who entered the Stadium of Light to face off against Sunderland. As history has it, we would likely help Sunderland find their first win of this season today. However, a penalty shout by Walker and a nutmeg by Dele 'Iniesta' Alli within the first minute made it seem like maybe this would be a much different match. The first Starting XI I have actually agreed with this season placed Kane Chadli Alli and Son up top, which in theory would give us that attacking edge we have lacked all season. With the news that Adebayor had finally departed the club this morning, things seemed to be looking up for us Spurs fans. However, a complete lack of cohesion or urgency saw Sunderland making their way up the pitch with ease, and allotting them the better chances.
Debutant Son Hueung-Min’s passing and ball placement seemed a bright spot with the first half, creating several chances from dead balls. Our best chance of the half was a horrible chance, in which Harry Kane cut inside in typical Harry Kane fashion and then unleashed a shot well over the crossbar in typical Sergio Ramos fashion. An efficient counter-attack and a literal pitch-length sprint from Walker saw Son with an opportunity to open the scoring but it was just nicked out by the Sunderland defender. Probably our only positive from the first half is that Mason and Dier created an efficient partnership in midfield, with Dier’s positioning as a CDM continuing its impressive form as of late and Mason’s crisp passing allowing us to break forward quickly. Unfortunately, nothing came of these breaks as we pushed ourselves wide and looked unable to string together a series of possession or break into the Sunderland box.
This game was screaming out for Christian Eriksen’s presence, as we continually hurled poor balls in to empty areas of Sunderland’s defensive zone. Sunderland, however, actually looked quite good, maintaining the bulk of the chances. Younes Kaboul strode down the wing like Ryan Giggs incarnate earning the Black Cats a chance and our rushed clearances afforded us no favors. Our first half defensive performance was marred by shakiness culminating in a yellow card tackle from Jan Vertonghen and a nightmarish backpass from Toby Alderweireld to Hugo Lloris. Jermain Defoe, in a seemingly prophetic manner played off our Center Backs’ shoulders and found himself clear in on goal versus Hugo, hitting the post and proving that he is and always will be a Yiddo. Our team was seemingly haunted by the presence of this abomination:
And simply could not muster up any actual football. Had it not been for two last-ditch tackles a piece by Walker and Dier, we would have surely been down. We narrowly escaped in to the half at 0 -0, with Sunderland besting us eight shots to five and 0 shots on goal from us. Sunderland were clearly the better team having had actual chances, however we had two uncalled penalty opportunities so I’ll call that half a wash.
Coming out for the second half, both sides were unchanged, and I mean that both in the sense of their personnel and how they would be playing this game. Sunderland instantly came out of the gates, and we instantly did nothing to try and score. Borini and Lens – who just seems like not a good guy, honestly – swapped wings, which actually worked out better, for us. Thanks, Dick Advocaat! Boring football abound until about the fiftieth minute mark when Chadli worked another pass in to Son who failed to get it out of his feet, and played a meager pass to Kane, dissolving the attack. A great ball by Mason saw Dele Alli just miss out to Pantillimon, who looks like he literally just had his growth spurt that morning, and got knocked in the head by Alli’s boot. Sixty minutes in Dele Alli, the English Iniesta, plays a perfect ball through the middle of the box but once again no one is there to tap it in. This lack of communication was at the forefront of our issues during the match, with pass after pass going awry, no movement, and no cohesion. Moments later Andros Townsend came on for Son Hueung-Min ending the new boy’s debut, and ultimately changing the match. Townsend’s wide and direct approach to the game was seemingly exactly what we needed, as his appearance saw us get our groove finally going. This tactical substitution by Pochettino proved to be correct as Townsend continually blew by Van Aanholt creating chance after chance. On the opposing end more Sunderland pressure saw several chances for the Black Cats with Lloris, Vertonghen, and Dier all coming up big at times. Kane gets a ball in over the top and whiffs it completely, summarizing his performance on the day in a really sad manner. Lamela came on for Alli, moving Chadli in centrally, which also proved to be a great change by Pochettino, as we continued to pressure Sunderland create chances. Chadli hit a few over, Townsend plays some balls in, and it looks like we have some offensive spark happening. Fabio Borini, who probably has the thinnest forearms in the league, goes down injured leading to double substitution: Borini and Gomez off for Cattermole and Watmore. This proved to be near disastrous for Sunderland, as the young winger Watmore was forced to play Left Back, which allotted us space on the ball to press their defense even further. Jack Rodwell came on for Ola Toivonen, which I am only mentioning because I forgot Rodwell existed -and within moments a sublime series of passes sees a wonderful ball in for Mason who slots past the pubescent Pantillimon for a goal! An actual series of passes and forward runs actuals sees a chance created and a goal! Who would have thought?! Unfortunately, Pantillimon’s teenage angst got the better of him and he clattered in to my Man of the Match, Ryan Mason, sending him off injured for Tom Carroll, the English Xavi. Sunderland applied some pressure, but ultimately our counter attack created more chances than they did and the match ended in a massively relieving one-nil win.
While our team was rather toothless in possession for much of the first half, Maruicio Pochettino’s substitutions proved to be the deciding factor in front of a very raucous Sunderland crowd. The decision to bring on Townsend and Lamela, while shifting Chadli centrally, gave our attack a more direct and fluid approach to the game. During the first half our front four all stayed central, and we relied on our fullbacks for width. With Townsend coming on and pulling Sunderland wide, we were able to stretch their defense and create more chances through the middle. Hopefully, this first-half issue is down to a lack of familiarity among our personnel, and we will be able to gain more unity and coherence going forward. We certainly missed Christian Eriksen and the Harry Kane of last year, but our back four seems to be solidifying more, while Eric Dier has come more in to the role of CDM with each match. Ryan Mason’s performance will make it a hard decision for Pochettino going forward about whether or not to play Bentaleb in his place when everyone is healthy again. We look toward Qarabag Thursday for our Europa League opener, where hopefully we will have more bite to our offense from the get go.