HOME is not so sweet at the moment for Mauricio Pochettino. Tottenhamâ€™s troublesome sequence in Premier League matches at White Hart Lane was extended as Stoke City inflicted a fourth defeat out of five.
The concern for Tottenham is that an attempt to detect a style, a direction, a way of playing leads nowhere. The extent to which this Spurs team bears no resemblance to the style of football Pochettino encouraged at Southampton is striking. From high-intensity pressing on the south coast to a kind of anti-pressing in north London. (Or perhaps from a Spurs perspective, just plain depressing).
Mark Hughesâ€™s team were able to withstand two changes to their backline but remain largely comfortable and they eased into a two-goal lead they did not relinquish. Opportunism, organisation and a firm dose of Premier League knowhow was enough to squash the shoots of optimism that Tottenham developed with a little run that included two cup wins.
Pochettino underlined how much work is needed to establish more positive form. â€œWe are very disappointed and frustrated for the result and performance. We need to improve a lot,â€ he said. â€œWe need to improve quickly. You never have a lot of time in football. We need to find a solution and change mentality in the next few weeks. That is my challenge.â€
The long-awaited Premier League start for Harry Kane, and the sprinkling of stardust with one of his heroes, JÃ¼rgen Klinsmann, in attendance, created a wave of excitement that quickly crashed. Three minutes in, the 21-year-old was in the clear in front of goal but could not quite find the angle with his header, and moments later Stoke were ahead.
Spurs conceded possession carelessly. Stoke worked the ball neatly to Bojan Krkic, who found little in the way of resistance as he cantered goalwards. There were plenty of white shirts around him but most took the form of bystanders as Krkic advanced, and the former Barcelona forward tried his luck. His shot ricocheted past Hugo Lloris.
Spiking what they perceived to be a vulnerable atmosphere was all part of the plan for the visitors. â€œMaybe there is a bit of pressure on their players and we thought if we started positively we could use that to our own ends,â€ Hughes said.
Pochettino was dismayed by the consequences of losing such an early goal. â€œWe started to be uncomfortable when in possession of the ball, make rash decisions. Itâ€™s not possible to make these mistakes in the Premier League,â€ he lamented.
The atmosphere began to get very tetchy, with the home support irritated at Asmir Begovicâ€™s attempts to slow down the game â€“ the keeper was booked midway through the first half. Of more serious concern was the overall disconnect inherent in the Tottenham performance. They struggled to show cohesion or personality.
Stoke did not really need to run down the clock when there were goals to be had. Having had the share of early chances, they gleefully took up another invitation offered by the chaotic Tottenham defence. Mame Diouf scampered up the right flank and the home backline tore itself apart to give Jonathan Walters the freedom of the box. He steered in Dioufâ€™s cross under all the pressure of a park kickabout.
Stoke merited their advantage. The way Krkic drifted deep to cause damage and worked so hard while he was at it was impressive. Walters and Victor Moses timed their runs from wide positions with thoughtful discipline. Behind them Steven Nzonzi dominated midfield.
Hughes was delighted with the contribution of his counterattacking players, but equally pleased with the way his team reorganised defensively considering they lost half their backline in the first half to injury. Phil Bardsley pulled his groin and then Marc Wilson pulled a hamstring with over an hour to go. Stoke remained strong. â€œFrom start to finish we had a gameplan and understood what was required,â€ Hughes said.
Pochettino made a double substitution at half-time to try to shake up things. On came Ã‰rik Lamela and Mousa DembÃ©lÃ©. With a quarter of an hour to go, Tottenham crafted their first genuine threat of the second half. Lamelaâ€™s free-kick was sweetly struck but Begovic responded to palm away superbly. With so much pent-up frustration, the White Hart Lane crowd erupted when Nacer Chadli rifled in a volley from an improbable near-post angle.
Attempts at a full recovery were hindered when Kyle Naughton clipped Moses as he burst clear on the break and was sent off. Steven Ireland was denied the chance to rebuild a two-goal margin when Lloris tipped away.
Emmanuel Adebayor glanced a stoppage-time header wide and that was that. The music blasted at a staggering volume come the final whistle to drown out any audible home disappointment. Still, Stokeâ€™s celebrations for a first away win since August could be heard over the din.
Man of the match Bojan Krkic (Stoke) – The Guardian