Tottenham vs Watford result: Fernando Llorente makes up for abject performance with late winning goal

Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Watford: In an instant, humiliation turned to validation for Llorente, the hero of Wembley. After scoring the winning goal, he ran all the way to the technical area to celebrate with his manager

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Wembley Stadium
Wednesday 30 January 2019 22:57
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There were times this evening, just as there have been in the last few days, when it was impossible not to wonder what exactly Fernando Llorente is doing in this Tottenham team. Like when he tried to volley in from four yards out but kneed the ball over the bar. Or any of the times the ball bounced off him, he slowed down Spurs’ attacks, and some of the home crowd groaned when he came into possession.

And then, three minutes from the end, with Spurs desperately seeking a winner their play had barely deserved, it all made sense. Harry Winks found Danny Rose on the left. He clipped over a first-time cross. And there was Llorente, towering at the far post as he has done his whole career, getting up above Jose Holebas to nod the ball into the net.

In an instant, humiliation turned to validation. All night Llorente had been earning unflattering comparisons with Vincent Janssen, Roberto Soldado and Grzegorz Rasiak. But now he was the hero of Wembley, the man who had saved Spurs’ season, and he ran all the way to the technical area to celebrate with Pochettino. When the game ended soon after, Llorente was one of the last Spurs players off the pitch, applauding the fans, waving his clenched fists, thanking them for keeping their faith in him.

This was Llorente’s 11th goal for Spurs and by a distance his most important. He has two low-pressure hat-tricks against Rochdale and Tranmere but nothing as sweet as this, a late winner in the league in a game Spurs had to win but had not led all night. And it might well turn out that this is the goal that sparks Tottenham’s season. Because as the second half ticked away here, it felt as if Spurs might be finished, consumed in a spiral of negativity.

Because the challenge for Tottenham tonight, which they eventually passed, was to end the negative energy after those cup exits to Chelsea and Crystal Palace. To regain their footing and clamber out of the quicksand. To make sure that this did not become their equivalent of Arsenal’s February 2011, when they went out of three competitions in two weeks and saw a promising season crumble into dust.

The whole Spurs team knew this beforehand. That if they dropped points here and against Newcastle on Saturday, two gently winnable home games, then they would go into the Borussia Dortmund tie trapped in their own negative momentum. And yet Spurs went 1-0 down in the first half and looked for much of the second as if they would not be able to escape.

Spurs needed a lift and they were unlikely to get it from the crowd, on a night Wembley was only one-third full. The most important man, before Llorente’s intervention, was Heung Min Son. He only returned from the Asian Cup on Saturday but here he played the full 90 minutes, impressing with his running before eventually smacking in the equalising goal.

While Son and Llorente eventually delivered a goal each, for most of the evening they gave contrasting performances, with contrasting reactions from the crowd when each man got the ball. With Llorente there was frustration and pre-emptive disappointment. With Son, expectation and optimism as he runs at defenders. Spurs’ best first-half moments - and there were not many - came when Son was on the ball, racing to find space. Even though none of his shots ever came to anything.

Watford did not have much of the ball but they did not need it to take the lead. All it took was one Jose Holebas corner to cause panic in Spurs’ defence. Craig Cathcart got the run on Davinson Sanchez, his header bounced off the big Colombian, and Hugo Lloris looked lost in no man’s land as the ball flew past him.

Spurs needed far more in the second half, they brought on Lucas Moura but still struggled to find their best football within themselves. They tried crossing to Llorente - what else are you going to do when he is on the pitch - but at first it did not work. Sissoko found him from close range but at his second bite of the cherry, attempting a volley, he kneed the ball high over the bar.

It did not feel as if an equaliser was coming, but when it came, with 10 minutes left, it was no surprise that it was Son who scored it. Spurs went direct to Llorente, who could not hold the ball up, but when Holebas tried to clear it cannoned off Llorente and fell to Son. He took a touch, set himself, and thumped te ball past Foster. It was a finish that of all the Spurs players on the pitch, only he could have made.

Fernando Llorente runs to celebrate with his manager

Was Son scoring the equaliser a repudiation of Llorente? No. In fact it just set the stage for him. There are plenty of things Llorente cannot do now at 33 years old, coming to the end of his career. He can never provide the power of Harry Kane or the incision of Dele Alli, and certainly not the speed of Son. But he can still win headers at the far post, and that is what he did tonight right at the very end, just when Tottenham needed him most.

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