The Premier League is not a welcoming institution for new boys. Reading, promoted to the top flight after mastering the Championship, were educated on their own ground by Tottenham Hotspur yesterday. Football at this level is a technical and tactical examination which, for all their unity and spirit, Brian McDermott's side could not meet.
What can the Reading manager have made of claims that Tottenham were struggling, undermanned and unbalanced, that they lacked fluency in midfield, that they could not control games or see out results? How envious he must be about choices between Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor, or Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey, or even Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris.
Spurs were superior at every discipline. This was the first real show of what Andre Villa-Boas's Tottenham are meant to look like. With new signings Mousa Dembélé, Jan Vertonghen and Sigurdsson all excellent, they spent the first-half playing around Reading and the second beating them on the break. Defoe scored twice but could have had five, and Gareth Bale added the other.
Villas-Boas wore the relief and delight of a man who had finally seen a plan come together. "I am extremely happy," he said, "because the players put tremendous commitment into the game, responsibility and concentration. They performed so well that they kicked out the anxiety and played in such a confident and concentrated way that they were able to express their talents and have fun in the game, which is the most important thing."
Reading did not look like they were enjoying themselves. After 25 days without a Premier League game they were short on the basics of the game: fitness, passing and touch. In the first five minutes they left Sigurdsson and Bale between defenders, and never got close in midfield.
"I didn't recognise us in the first half," said McDermott afterwards. "I felt we were too submissive. We did not get on the ball enough and we did not get in their faces."
This Spurs midfield was far better than that which failed to impose itself on first West Bromwich Albion and then Norwich at home. Dembélé was brought in for Jake Livermore while there was as much of an improvement in Sandro himself, now fully fit and in assertive mood. In front of them was Sigurdsson, once of Reading, both the plotter and executor of his former club's defeat.
Playing with purpose and energy, Tottenham started to cut through the home side. Sigurdsson passed to Bale who passed to Kyle Naughton whose cross was over Aaron Lennon's head. The next time Sigurdsson had the ball he made a goal, rolling a pass beyond Ian Harte to Lennon, who cut the ball back for Defoe to finish.
If this ought to have spurred Reading into defending properly it had the opposite effect. Naughton, playing at left-back in place of Benoit Assou-Ekotto who has a knee injury and is likely to be out for a month, found Defoe with a clearance. The striker skipped past Harte and Alex Pearce but stabbed his shot wide. More errors let Defoe in twice more: first he squared to Sigurdsson, whose shot was blocked on the line, and then he rolled it to Lennon. Had Defoe shown the selfishness he is often accused of, he could have had a first-half hat-trick.
At half-time McDermott changed to 4-4-2, improving the tempo, but never really summoning anything serious. With Reading gambling to chase the game, there was always going to be space for Tottenham to exploit with their pack of counter-attackers.
Dembélé played in an overlapping Bale, who crossed just too hard for Defoe to divert into the goal. Bale then shot wide from 20 yards before Defoe found Lennon, whose cut-back was put out for a corner.
That much quality, in that much space, will tell eventually and Spurs scored their second with 19 minutes left. It was Kyle Walker who broke down the right, pulling the ball back for Bale, whose right-footed swipe was deflected in by his own left boot.
If that goal owed something to luck the third did not. Defoe robbed Kaspars Gorkss on the halfway line, charged 50 yards and punished the ball into the corner. He could have had the hat-trick he deserved in the last minute, volleying over Andros Townsend's cross, but he will be satisfied with two good goals and three good points, even after Hal Robson-Kanu's far-post consolation.
"We were the better team, we created a lot of chances and could have scored more," said Defoe. "Our season starts now."
Booked: Tottenham Defoe.
Man of match Defoe.
Referee H Webb (South Yorks).