A shambles on and off the pitch. If a matchday experience summed up a season this was it.
Sergio Reguilon somehow contrived to slice the ball into his own net 20 minutes into Tottenham’s defeat to Aston Villa, but the Spaniard’s bizarre gaffe was not the only own goal on Wednesday night.
It had all started so well with excited fans finally back in the stadium and Steven Bergwijn’s wonderful goal after just eight minutes greeted them with aplomb.
The stage was set for a unifying experience for all involved, with an electrifying performance for the returning 10,000 supporters to guarantee European football for next season and to go a little way to justifying those £60 tickets – the highest ticket prices for any returning fans in the Premier League this week.
Unfortunately, the Dutchman’s rocket of a goal was as good as it got.
Having fans back and the noise they make seemed alien to many of the Tottenham players.
They appear to have got used to playing without urgency, without the pressing, hassling and work rate that used to get the fans pumped up and in turn them.
The Tottenham players shrank amid the noise around them and hid from the ball.
They meandered around the pitch, both in and out of possession, and the fans grew more and more frustrated with every sideways pass.
They began screaming for them to get up the pitch faster and more often and it made you wonder how many of this season’s dull performances the supporters would have tolerated if they had been here.
While Spurs had 61 per cent of the possession on the night they did very little with it, mustering just 10 shots on Villa’s goal compared to the 20 from their mid-table visitors, who had nothing to play for.
It was disappointingly fitting that both Villa goals came from individual mistakes – a common theme for Spurs this season.
First came that bizarre Reguilon own goal which resulted in the Spaniard slumping to the floor – a often seen position for the dramatic left-back this season – and he had to be hauled up and out of his self pity by the irate Eric Dier.
Dier was not blameless though, with another mixed display that did little to justify his continued selection.
While he made some important blocks and tackles as the game wore on, the 27-year-old just never looks entirely comfortable across a full 90 minutes and he helped put Reguilon in trouble for Villa’s second goal as the Spaniard kept struggled to clear the ball in a tight space.
The ball ricocheted to Ollie Watkins and the Villa striker brushed off the flailing Dier as if he was a child to fire past Hugo Lloris.
Watkins had been deemed too expensive a gamble for a Championship player by Spurs last summer with his £30m-plus price tag. He has since scored 16 goals – one of the Premier League’s top scorers this season – and has become an England international in the past 10 months.
Spurs huffed and puffed but never really looked like getting back into the match.
Too many players have lost their spark and need fresh starts in their career, whether it be under the next Spurs manager or at other clubs.
Both Harry Winks and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg looked lost at times in the centre of the pitch as they chased shadows.
Up front it was a day for Harry Kane to take the match by the scruff of the neck, especially if he truly believed it could be his last match in a Tottenham shirt in front of the home fans.
The 27-year-old has had an incredible campaign for the club and has often carried the team on his shoulders through the bread and butter matches Spurs take part in, but the suggestion that he is a real leader for the team in big matches has been hard to justify this season.
The Spurs fans poured out their love for him before and during the game, with banners and his ‘one of our own’ chant, but this was not a performance that rewarded them.
He was not throwing himself full-blooded into challenges, both on the air and the deck, the pressing wasn’t really there and he had just two shots at goal all game.
It’s an easy assumption to make but he looked like a player affected by all of the speculation surrounding him in recent days, speculation that emerged at the worst possible time for him and the club’s European hopes.
Tottenham are not expecting to sell Kane this summer and it remains to be seen whether a huge bid arrives that even slightly shakes that belief.
Chairman Daniel Levy will know that the current discontent among the fans is only a fraction of what will occur if Kane departs N17.
Kane was not alone though in underperforming, with Son Heung-min once again providing a 2021 performance that was a shadow of his stunning displays in the first half of the season.
Dele Alli worked hard but provided little quality and Bergwijn will be wondering why he had to give way on 72 minutes when he had contributed more to the game than the other three attacking players combined.
The Dutchman was replaced by Gareth Bale. The fans had called for the Welshman from not long after half-time as Ryan Mason watched and watched and watch as the game failed to go Tottenham’s way.
Bale was not starting the match because he had told the interim head coach that it was best if he didn’t.
“We spoke and he felt it was best for him and his body not to start today,” Mason said before the match.
It has been a problem for Bale all season and it’s one of the reasons why his return to Tottenham has had no rhythm to it.
Spurs fans will be watching closely to see exactly how the Welshman manages his game time for his country during the Euros as the games come thick and fast every few days.
By the final whistle on Wednesday night, even the most patient Tottenham fans had had enough.
They had booed at half-time and they did so again even more loudly when the full time whistle brought an end to proceedings.
“We want Levy out” had already been heard by a pocket of fans at one point in the first half but the complete and utter mess after the final whistle ensured there was more to come.
Ahead of the game it had been made clear to the fans that, like every season, the players would walk around the pitch to thank them for their support.
Normally that ‘lap of honour’ comes a little after the final whistle as the players first head inside to change before returning.
This time it all went wrong from the start. There was an awkward moment amid the final whistle boos when the players clearly weren’t sure whether then was the time to put themselves in front of the fans.
Some stood in the centre of the pitch applauding the supporters, Hugo Lloris went over to the corner of the south stand to clap some of the fans there but nobody took the lead and marshalled the team together to do anything as a group.
In the end Kane went off himself on a walk around the pitch, applauding all corners, soon followed by Bale, Son, Alli and Hojbjerg, the Dane with a child in his arms, doing the same, albeit a distance behind the England captain which made the images of his walk all the more poignant.
Kane did appear to be emotional but with the usual post-game sweat it’s difficult to tell exactly whether those eyes were moist through emotion or simply red from the game.
The quintet of players walked inside and then began the awkward wait, which ended up adding to the problems.
It did not help that the Spurs fans had been shoved up high in the middle and highest tiers around the stadium.
It could be suggested that they were kept up their due to Covid regulations to separate them from the pitch and the players, some cynics might offer up that it was a way of keeping the big banners bearing sponsors’ names stretched across the lower tiers in the television cameras’ view.
Others might see it as a security suggestion in order to stop any protesting fans getting on to the pitch as they had done at Old Trafford, albeit before a planned match.
With other clubs having fans in the lower levels, including Manchester United, what it did on the day was simply visualise the gap and the disconnect between the fans and the team and club this season.
That emotional day in May 17, 2017, when Kane & Co were surrounded like heroes on the pitch by fans as White Hart Lane’s time came to a close now seems like decades ago.
Four years and two days later, everyone was divided and it was a fitting image.
Then the tannoy announcement came, asking people to leave in an orderly fashion and to observe social distancing.
As the realisation sank in among the thousands of remaining fans that their expensive tickets and the mess of a season before it would not even earn them a proper walkaround by the players, so the disenchantment grew.
First there were more loud boos and then a chant of “£60 you’re having a laugh” began to roll around the supporters.
Many fans left disgruntled through the exits and out into the night, but more than 500, dotted around the stadium, decided they were not going anywhere and they were going to voice their feelings.
A number of them began to chant ‘We want Levy out’ for a spell, while one bellowed at the top of his voice: “We want our Tottenham back.”
Again the tannoy announcement came, asking them to depart from the stadium. It was far removed from the announcement that came four years before, asking the jubilant fans to leave the White Hart Lane pitch so the legends ceremony could begin.
The boos continued and the shouts at Levy and ENIC continued until, almost 40 minutes after the final whistle, the players belatedly and awkwardly re-emerged from the tunnel.
With those two tannoy announcement asking fans to leave, it was clear that someone had taken the decision for the players to head back out – it may have been one of them – in order to placate the disgruntled supporters.
The players were in differing stages of dress, some showered and changed into club tracksuits, some like Kane still in their kit but wearing flip flops.
The fans game them an ovation and it temporarily lifted the mood but when the players disappeared so did any cordiality.
The supporters filed out but some continued to show their disillusionment, while one fan trying to get down one set of stairs caused a commotion that led to a steward falling down a number of steps.
Another fan somehow got into the press area and began berating Mason during his television interviews on the pitch, trying to get his attention to look up while he was speaking to the BBC and Sky, shouting something incoherently about Tanguy Ndombele.
Mason had misguidedly said the previous day that he felt there was not as much discontent from the fans as was being portrayed and that those who had protested the previous weekend did not represent all fans.
He was given a stark reminder that the disconnect is wider that he thought on Wednesday night.
His interview with the official club channels was unable to start until some of the chants had died down. Having ‘Levy out’ heard in the background of content Spurs wanted to put out across their social media platforms would have been rather awkward.
football.london reminded Mason of his comments about the protests after the game and he admitted that the fans were emotional and simply showing that they care.
It was a mess of a night for Spurs and even the original announced plan to wear next season’s new Nike kit on the night was scrapped ahead of the game.
It’s unclear how long Daniel Levy remained in his seat in the directors’ box at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as the chants rang out.
Whether he sat through it all or not, he must know this is a football club that needs fixing and it can’t wait.
Source by Football London