Lads, it’s Red Star Belgrade; but it’s a start

Date published: Tuesday 22nd October 2019 9:51

Tottenham could not have better hand-picked their opposition; the visitors came without fans, without any discernible plan and without any pedigree for winning away from home in Europe. If ever there was a night made for ‘let’s regain some confidence’, it was this one.

But whatever the opposition, Tottenham still needed to press, to combine, to move and most importantly to believe all that might lead somewhere other than more distress, more disappointment and more speculation that this is the end of an almost-golden era for Spurs. They did all of the above from the opening whistle, with Erik Lamela, Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane showing an appetite for destruction that belied their status as key players for one of the Premier League’s many crisis clubs. If the challenge was to not look vulnerable or fragile then that challenge was hurdled with aplomb.

This was not a night to disprove theories that this Spurs iteration has broken, that Mauricio Pochettino’s voice has lost its power or that 2019 Tottenham are basically 2015 Borussia Dortmund, but it was a night to stall the mounting of evidence; it was a night to earn this club and this manager the tiniest amount of breathing room. The noise will not be silenced by a stroll against poor opposition, but nor will it reach a deafening pitch ahead of a potentially season-defining trip to Anfield.

What this fixture also gifted Pochettino was an almost risk-free opportunity to back Ben Davies over the recently woeful Danny Rose, Davinson Sanchez over the unfocused Toby Alderweireld and Eric Lamela over the distracted Christian Eriksen. It was an opportunity to blood those players, to give them a morale-boosting performance and victory ahead of a potentially exhausting day at the office on Merseyside. It was fascinating to see who chose to pull into the trenches on the day after he finally admitted he is facing a battle to keep his job.

Soldier Son was a class apart, apparently on a one-man mission to prove that his Ballon d’Or nomination was not an anomaly. In the opening 45 minutes, he scored twice, hit the target three times and somehow still found the energy for five tackles. If Tottenham can pull themselves out of a hole they have been digging for 18 months, then Son had better bring his crampons because he is going to have to lead the climb and then take the weight of a squad heavy with disappointment.

On Tuesday night, his combinations with Kane were once again instinctive and dynamic, while Dele Alli and Lamela were happy to swarm and switch positions like it was 2017 all over again. And most tellingly of all, there was pure joy, and that has been in seriously short supply from those in white shirts this season. Obviously this was Red Star and this was easy, but there is joyful easy and there is nervous easy, and this was the former.

It was vital that Tottenham won this game for the simple sake of this Champions League campaign and vital for Pochettino that he was able to stanch the flow of negativity, but it was equally vital for players, fans and manager to see a spark, to see a flicker of hope that this car crash of a season can still be rescued by those willing and able to stand together.

Sarah Winterburn

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