More White Hart Lane woe piles pressure on Poch: how Stats Zone saw Spurs 1-2 Stoke
Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen had claimed before kick-off that "only Chelsea are probably too strong for us" and that "anything is possible for fourth place" with few sides outside the top two able to string together victories.
However, Champions League qualification is a pipe dream for the Belgian and his comrades right now; Sunday's lunchtime loss to Stoke their fourth league defeat in five at White Hart Lane. First-half strikes from Bojan and Jonathan Walters sealed only a first win in seven league games in the capital for the Potters, who held on after Nacer Chadli pulled one back.
"I thought from start to finish we had a game plan and were committed to it, stood up to what was required and made it difficult for them to create anything of any real note," Stoke boss Mark Hughes said afterwards. "We were always a threat and looked to counter really well with the pace we have in forward areas.
"Spurs a good team individually, they've got some great talent, but if you get your shape right and your structure right and you have an understanding of what's required, you can get a positive result away from home, which we've struggled with. We've shown today we're a capable team so overall very pleased."
Spurs made three changes from the last-gasp victory at Aston Villa. Harry Kane's goals at Villa Park and Asteras Tripolis, his seventh and eighth goals in his last eight appearances, earned him his first Premier League start of the season, while there were also recalls for centre-back Federico Fazio (sent off in in Greece) and Andros Townsend. Jan Vertonghen, Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor dropped out.
Stoke's only alteration from their 2-2 home draw with West Ham - where they blew a two-goal advantage - saw right-back Phil Bardsley, back from suspension, take the place of Geoff Cameron.
"You just have to make sure you're ready for the chance when it's given to you, like I did on Sunday," Kane told FFT last week, and he almost made an immediate impact, meeting Chadli's far-post cross but directing his header straight at Asmir Begovic.
Bojan's bided his time and had the benefit of three or four months' training at the intensity that he needs
But less than six minutes had elapsed when White Hart Lane was stunned into silence; Bojan afforded the freedom of N17 to waltz through the middle and drill the visitors ahead.
"We're really pleased that he's finally coming to the fore," enthused Hughes. "He started off like a house on fire when he first joined us in pre-season and people got a little bit carried away too early because I think we all felt it was going to take him time to adjust and I played him in the first two games and he found it difficult.
"But he's bided his time and had the benefit of three or four months' training at the intensity that he needs and he looks a very accomplished player once again. So we're going to benefit from his ability and his goalscoring because he's a good talent and when he gets in good areas of the field he gets shots off early and it's difficult for keepers to react quick enough. He'll score goals for us this year."
Stoke's cause was not helped by two of their defenders being forced off through injury inside 26 minutes. Bardsley's return to the fold proved shortlived, Cameron replacing him, while Marc Muniesa was called upon after namesake Wilson pulled up lame with a hamstring injury.
But they were relatively untroubled by a Tottenham team who enjoyed the lion's share of possession in the first 45 minutes, but did most of their passing in safe areas. Kane saw a second, weaker, header comfortably fielded by Begovic - Spurs' only 2 efforts on target before the break - while Ryan Mason fired wide.
The Potters, in comparison, were far more clinical when chances came their way, and doubled their lead in simplistic style; Mame Biram Diouf driving down the right flank and crossing for Jonathan Walters to convert.
"Our plan was to use the counter-attack," said Hughes. "There were certain areas of the pitch we felt we could exploit. Spurs like to involve their full-backs and get them forward so we thought we could get in behind and express ourselves in those areas. I just thought we needed to be positive. Maybe there's a little bit of pressure on the players and we sensed that if we started quickly we could use that to our own ends.
Our plan was to use the counter-attack. There were certain areas of the pitch we felt we could exploit
"We had to deal with two forced changes, but that was one of the more pleasing aspects of the performance because the guys came in and fitted in seamlessly and that's a credit to them because they are part of a squad and I emphasise the point that we're going to need everybody this year and that proved the case today."
Both of Stoke's first half shots on target found the net, as Mauricio Pochettino's men were booed off having had more of the ball but done little with it. Groans of desperation rang around White Hart Lane as Younes Kaboul and Fazio - the top two passers of the half - often gave the ball to each other.
One of Stoke's centre-back's was being hailed, on the other hand. "Shawcross for England" cried the away fans, and by the end the 27-year-old had made a game-leading 11 clearances and won 7/11 aerial duels.
Half-time saw Townsend and Christian Eriksen hauled off in favour of Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele, but few inroads had been made by the time Adebayor was summoned with 25 minutes remaining.
With a quarter of an hour to play, the home side were handed a lifeline. Lamela's free-kick forced a fine one-handed save from Begovic, but he couldn't keep his clean sheet in tact much longer.
Danny Rose swung a high, hanging cross towards the back stick where Chadli was waiting unmarked to smash the ball home for his sixth goal in 10 Premier League appearances.
A hitherto disheartened home support sensed an unlikely comeback, but the life was sapped out of the lungs again as Kyle Naughton saw red for the second time this season; illegially halting Victor Moses as he sped away on the counter. Naughton would still end the game as its top tackler, while Moses was a constant threat down the left, setting up 3 chances, succeeding with 6 of his 11 dribbles and making 8 ball recoveries.
Kane and Adebayor could have wrestled two points away from Hughes' men with the last action of the afternoon but the former's low free-kick hit the wall before the latter headed wide.
Just 4 of Spurs' 14 attempts tested Begovic, and Pochettino knows he has plenty to work on over the international break to turn things around quickly.
"We started the game great, with a big chance for Harry Kane, but after we conceded the first goal we started to play uncomfortably in possession, make rushed decisions, and it's not possible in the Premier League.
When you're a manager and you've had success in a certain way then you've got to back your principles and stick with it
"When you lose, you are always unhappy and put the pressure on yourself. We need to find a solution, this is my job. My challenge in the next few weeks is to change our mentality because its not possible after five or six minutes to concede a goal. Maybe it is true that when we concede the first goal we feel the pressure, and when you play in the way that we play you need to feel confident on the pitch because it is important to create the space and be patient."
While the Argentine may have good reason to look ominously over his shoulder at chairman Daniel Levy, counterpart Hughes led the calls for the former Southampton gaffer to be given time.
"Every manager has their own philosophy and wants their team to play in a certain manner," he said. "When you've had success in a certain way then you've got to back your principles and stick with it. You don't change and go back, I'm sure he won't do that because he's a good manager and he'll get things right."
- Tottenham have conceded 5 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches this season, the joint-most with Hull.
- Spurs have conceded 2 or more goals in consecutive home games for the first time since December 2013, after which AVB was sacked.
- Spurs have lost 4 Premier League home matches in 5 for the first time since May–October 2008 (Juande Ramos’ last 5 home PL games as manager).
- Chadli has scored 6 Premier League goals in 10 appearances this season – he found the net once in 24 appearances last term.
- Naughton became the first player to be sent off twice in the Premier League this season.
- Tottenham players have received 6 red cards in the Premier League in 2014, more than any other team.
- 6 of the 13 Premier League games between these teams have ended in a 2-1 scoreline (3 wins apiece).
- Walters scored his first Premier League goal against Spurs, in his eighth appearance against them.