September is too early for crises, but no-one can doubt the importance of Andre Villas-Boas’ rescuing act yesterday.
Tottenham were jeered off at half-time, desperately inferior to Queens Park Rangers and fortunate to be losing only 1-0. But they turned it around, thanks to an own-goal and a Jermain Defoe finish within two second-half minutes.
“Sometimes on a game like this emotion is decisive,” said Villas-Boas afterwards. “We really wanted to get this home win for quite some time. We want to repay the fans with trust, they have to trust us with the work we are doing. Everyone felt emotional at the end.”
During the interval, though, it felt as if the bond between supporters and manager might be fraying already. At White Hart Lane Spurs had drawn with West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City and Lazio, scoring just twice. Expectations might not have been too high. But no-one would have anticipated this, the worst half of football Tottenham should play this season, and in one of their apparently easier fixtures.
“You almost could find the anxiety a little bit in the first half when we went 0-1 down, mainly from the stadium’s emotions,” a relieved Villas-Boas admitted. “But in the second half as soon as the team responded, the stadium responded and gave a boost to the team.”
The first half was a midfield education. Faurlin and Esteban Granero were masterful. This was only their third game together but some relationships are formed at first sight and this is one of them. Blessed with similar awareness, touch and style they clearly trust each other with the ball. Spurs’ midfield, containing Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele for the first time, looked like a set of strangers.
For all the players Tony Fernandes has bought, Faurlin remains QPR’s most accomplished. He directed the first half, playing deft through balls to Zamora and Junior Hoillet up front. The first of these forced Brad Friedel to save brilliantly from Hoilett’s volley.
“In the first half we dominated proceedings,” said Hughes. “Granero and Faurlin completely dominated the Spurs midfield. The manner of their interplay, not only with their team-mates but with themselves, keeping the ball, understanding of what was required in that midfield area, was excellent.”
All the chances were at the same end, and it was no surprise when the goal followed. Faurlin, on the edge of the box, shuffled past Dembele with his right foot and slid a perfect pass to Zamora with his left. The former Tottenham striker stabbed it over Friedel for a deserved lead.
The Spurs fans made their opinions clear. The onus was on Villas-Boas to make a change, and he did. Sigurdsson came off for Steven Caulker, with Jan Vertonghen moving to left-back and Gareth Bale to the left wing – the combination they had been looking for.
Villas-Boas is often accused of textbook management but he said simple assertion was the key. “We felt that we need to be a little bit more aggressive, show more desire and the players really understood it and became very very strong in the second half,” he said. “The desire and aggression made the difference. All credit to them for having that strength of character and showing resilience to come from negative result and turning it to a win.”
Tottenham started to pin Rangers back. Aaron Lennon ran the length of the pitch to force a corner. Bale swung it in, Caulker headed it on and Faurlin, after 59 brilliant minutes, turned his back on the ball which deflected off him and in. Momentum is a powerful force. The Spurs fans woke up from their misery and 73 seconds later they were ahead. Vertonghen, liberated to attack down the flank, bounded forward and passed to Bale, whose shot was saved onto the bar. Defoe followed it up and put it in.
Suddenly Spurs found themselves ahead and playing the football they were meant to do from the start. Dempsey had one shot go wide and another saved, while Clint Hill stopped Defoe from tapping in. Rangers left space at the back as they chased the game. Bale was put through by Lennon, and Defoe by Townsend, but neither could beat Cesar. The surprise, given the first half, was that it could have been more.