Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
And perhaps this was Tottenham’s story too. When Son Heung-min sneaked in at the far post to intercept Harry Kane’s cross and complete the most improbable of comebacks, the collective exhalation could be felt, not so much euphoria as relief. Perhaps, despite all outward appearances, this lawsuit is not as hopeless as it seems. Perhaps, despite everything, something remains here that is worth saving.
It was also somehow fitting that it was Son who supplied Tottenham with their life raft. More than anyone else it’s Son who has managed to encapsulate the sheer pain of being Spurs this season: their mood ring, their aching minor-key score. When Son is sad, it seems inconceivable that anyone else could be happy. And so in his erratic return to form in recent weeks – six goals in nine games for club and country – there is perhaps a harbinger of better times.
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And if all this seems a bit much to attribute to a home draw against a Manchester United side who did them the generous favor of forgetting to play for half an hour or so, then this is simply a measure of the small graces that fans of Tottenham will accept. at the moment. There were moments during a disastrous first half when a repeat capitulation against Newcastle United looked not only possible but probable. Arms folded, grimaces stared against the windy drizzle, the 60,000 masochists in the stadium seemed to collectively accept the fate that awaited them.
The mood at kick-off was neither toxic nor boisterous, but rather non-existent. There’s simply very little energy in this place at the moment, just a gnarly sort of bitterness punctuated by the occasional chants of “Levy Out.” In some ways this is a club that has been brutally reduced to a torpor, the kind of emotional vacuum that occurs when you serve relegation football by removing even the remotest possibility of relegation.
Perhaps that is why the Tottenham side started the match with all the vigor and red-blooded passion of 11 men who had been randomly selected to be on the judging panel. Seriously, it looked like they might start crying if I said something mean to them. It came as no surprise, then, as Jadon Sancho opened the scoring from 16 yards out as three Tottenham defenders scrupulously avoided any action that could be interpreted as resistance.
If Erik ten Hag’s side had any of Newcastle’s brutal efficiency, they too would have been out of sight within half an hour. As it was, they had to settle for Marcus Rashford’s ridiculously simple second goal on the stroke of half-time. The art of defending one-on-one is to show the attacker your weaker foot. Eric Dier, always keeping a healthy 10-yard buffer between himself and Rashford somehow managed to show that to both of them – a man not so much concerned with preventing a goal as with having a really, really good view.
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Has a loaded Champions League match ever been so lacking in basic intensity? Perhaps it was the strange slapstick quality of the game that lulled United into their soft second-half regression: undoubtedly sagged by their extra efforts at Wembley over the weekend, they simply retreated into a dream state, going through the motions, recycling the unimaginative and timeless ball. Ten Hag’s substitutions made sense in theory but had little effect in practice. Even Pedro Porro’s lavish strike – a reminder of what he can do when allowed to play up front rather than frantically backing towards goal – failed to wake them up.
Even so, while Son and Eric Dier missed big chances to equalise, Tottenham’s momentum appeared to be over. Yet with 11 minutes to go Kane found a pocket of space in the right channel, he found the right angle to put in a cross, he found Son’s run, he found his way out. It was a goal of real intensity: with just two home games left this season, Kane will certainly be weighing his options this summer, and so perhaps this was when these two old friends teamed up for one last job.
But the future can wait for now. The organization as a whole is still in shambles: no coaches, no sporting directors, a president hated by much of the fans, a star player who wants to leave, no clear recruiting strategy, no defined style of play, no real sense of values or priorities other than wanting to be, you know, pretty big. Yet as the full-time whistle blew, the growl of satisfaction around the Tottenham Hotspur stadium spoke of a different need – the need to simply try something new.