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Alli salvages point for struggling Spurs

Tottenham boss Pochettino admits his side are 'lacking in confidence' following 1-1 draw against Watford

20 October, 2019 — By Dan Carrier at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Premier League

TOTTENHAM 1 (Alli 86)
WATFORD 1 (Cleverley 5)

THERE were less than five minutes left and the stadium had a nervous energy. This incoming defeat against bottom of the table Watford, who had yet to win a league game, looked as dark a cloud as there could be over Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure.

Pochettino has credit, of course – this is a tough patch and the club are being loyal – but lesser Spurs managers have been sacked on such poor form.

Looking across the Spurs team who trailed Watford for 80 minutes of the 90 today are players who Pochettino has been loyal to, players that define his era.

Players like Harry Kane, Erik Lamela, Dele Alli, Heung Min Son – and one of them was going to need to find something individual, something special, to save their mentor.

The team had been so disjointed in their attempts to get through Watford’s compact defence, it became increasingly obvious to salvage something barely deserved would need a little bit of luck or a little piece of magic.

Son had been quiet – his biggest contribution being a shot against the cross bar. Kane was too easily dispossessed when forward, or only allowed to see the ball where there was no danger of him turning. Lamela was aiming to play the provider, but not getting into the positions required to offer the final product.

Instead, it was Alli who stood up when his boss needed him.

The midfielder, whose loss of match-winning form has mirrored the doldrums of Pochettino’s team in general, suddenly took the game by the scruff of the neck. As the last 10 minutes began, he looked for give and goes and ran with the ball.

Then, on 86 minutes, a cross from deep was poorly dealt with. Alli’s determination saw him capitalise. Ben Foster flapped, the ball struck Alli’s upper chest, and he connected with the loose ball to strike a vital equaliser.

How Pochettino needed this. The onus will increasingly fall on Dele’s shoulders to step up and be a main playmaker. Christian Eriksen is out of the picture and a dead leg on international duty took the difficult decision as to whether to start the out of form Dane or drop him out of Pochettino’s hands.

Speaking after the game, Pochettino said: “The performance was not great. It was a difficult situation. Our lack of confidence meant we needed to be solid and be calm to play, but we stated making rash decisions.”

Pochettino added the last gasp equaliser could be the catalyst the players need to get back their mojo.

He said: “It was so important how we achieved the point in the end. The team was fighting and showed character – and what is important is the character you need to show. Talent comes after – we need to fight, run and be strong in our minds. It is a first step to rebuild our confidence.”

And how his side need to find that mental toughness – something not helped by this match starting in the worst possible way.

Tom Cleverley opened the scoring on five minutes when Danny Rose failed to deal with a speculative crossfield pass. It was sent across the face of the goal by Daryl Janmaat and the on rushing Cleverley beat Toby Alderweireld to it. He slid the ball home comfortably enough to be able to peel away in celebration before it had hit the net.

Could Spurs reply? They had plenty of the ball in the first half, but looked flat and devoid of ideas to unpick their visitors. What Pochettino’s long-term regulars once made simple and precise now seems creaking and ungraceful. The teams engine is misfiring, its acceleration gone, its brakes spongy.

If there had been any doubt that there is an end of days feel about the place, that doubt was dispelled in what was one of the most dispiriting first halves of Pochettinos six year reign.

Pochettino had to be brave to get his side back in it. He made a half time switch, going to a back four by removing the unfortunate Davinson Sanchez for Son.

But Watford defended their goal, denying Spurs a clear sight. Then came Alli, pulling out one for the boss.

He found the energy to time a run into the box and as the ball was shifted forward and not properly cleared, he chased it down, got a fortunate rebound and, despite being off balance, showed the acrobatics needed to level things.

The relief was immense and could well go down as the strike that saved Pochettino’s job.

TOTTENHAM: Gazzaniga, Rose, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Sanchez (Son, 45) Winks (Ndombele, 70), Kane, Sissoko, Dele, Aurier, Moura (Lamela, 62).

Substitutes not used: Austin, Dier, Foyth, Davies.

WATFORD: Foster, Janmaat (Femenia, 70) Dawson, Cleverley, Welbeck (Deulofeu, 2) Chalobah, Cathcart, Doucoure, Holebas, Kabasele, Pereyra (Hughes, 82).

Substitutes not used: Gomes, Masina, Gray, Femenia, Sarr.

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