Tottenham Hotspur’s push to lock up Champions’ League Football hit a pothole on Saturday in the West Midlands, succumbing to a late goal against relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion to lose 1-0 and keep them from gaining crucial points in the race for the top four.
The back three made it’s return as Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld found themselves on the same pitch for the first time since October. Spurs spent most of the first half doing what they do best against weaker sides: Holding possession, finding passes and ultimately trying to find that unlocking pass to find the first goal. The problem was that West Brom were so tightly packed in that Spurs’ only real attack for much of the first half hour was to pump the ball in from the wingbacks, only to watch almost every single cross get cleared out by the Baggies.
Spurs first chance came off of a set piece where Harry Kane had a yard of space about 15 yards out, but he scuffed the shot to end the threat. After that, it wouldn’t be until Victor Wanyama’s attempt at a top corner curler in the 25th minute that Spurs had a true scoring chance, which was parried away by Ben Foster. Somewhere, Tony Pulis was sitting in a chair slowly rocking back and forth with a smile on his face watching this match.
More chances came for Spurs pushing into the half hour mark. Kieran Trippier played an incisive pass into Kane, but the ensuing shot again was blocked by Foster. A second chance came right after on a header that went just wide.
West Brom picked up a couple of chances in the final five minutes of the half, the most dangerous one coming on a free kick where Spurs got caught napping a bit on the kick. Thankfully the cross was handled easily by Toby Alderweireld, who headed it over the crossbar. Hegazi also had a great chance for the Baggies on a corner kick but the header was too far wide. That would be it for chances as the teams headed into half time with the score still 0-0.
The second half started the same way the first one went: Spurs holding a bunch of possession but not much to show for it. The most entertaining thing came in the 65th minute when Danny Rose and Allan Nyom got tied up with each other and Leon decided to make a meal out of a push to try and draw a red card. It ended up as just a yellow for Rose and a lot of complaining by West Brom.
At this point in the match, West Brom started breaking up their defensive stance, knowing that they had to score in order to keep their hopes alive of avoiding relegation. Spurs opted to bring on Son Heung-Min at this point, with Dele making way for the Korean International.
Things picked up in the final twenty minutes of the match. A dangerous ball into Spurs’ penalty area forced Hugo Lloris into action with a save over the top off of a mistake by Harry Kane. The ensuing corner kick also was nervy as the second pass was played back into danger, but Spurs cleared it away to keep the score level.
Spurs were forced to change to a 4-4-2 in the late moments of the match due to an injury to Jan Vertonghen, switching to Kane and Llorente up top. It didn’t make much of a difference as Spurs still could not unlock the tight defense of West Brom. Eventually, the Baggies started pushing up, forcing a few corner kicks into stoppage time.
The breakthrough finally came in the 92nd minute, but it was not one we wanted to see. A scramble in front of the net with several flailing legs finally ended with former Tottenham midfielder Jake Livermore getting a crucial touch to put the ball over the net, giving West Bromwich Albion their lead as well as their lifeline in the Premier League. A late surge by Spurs after the goal resulted in a Llorente attempt on net but Foster was up to the task. Mike Jones blew his whistle and that ended the contest.
Thoughts on the match:
- This felt like the away match at Crystal Palace all over again. Spurs had 75% possession but only mustered five shots on target.
- I was wondering if West Brom got the memo that a draw wasn’t going to be good enough for them as they refused to break up their defensive stance. Looks like they waited until the right time.
- Here’s hoping Vertonghen’s injury isn’t serious. He’s had a hell of a season and I’d hate to see him miss the closing matches or, even worse for him, the World Cup.
- These kind of matches are really frustrating to watch. It takes a goal to break up a team that is hellbent on defending eleven behind the ball and Spurs still seem to struggle with it.
- Harry Kane’s movement today looked the best it’s been since he came back from injury, on a positive. He had a couple of chances but just couldn’t find the net.
- Lucas Moura came on and was immediately dangerous. I cannot wait to see him next season with a full Pochettino preseason under his belt.
- There’s not much else to say. The goal is one of those stupid ones that happen at the wrong time.
- Spurs remain in fourth place on 71 points, one back of Liverpool and five ahead of Chelsea. The two sides play tomorrow.
- Sometimes, football sucks.