After an encouraging performance at home to Chelsea, we made the trip to White Hart Lane. The feeling of injustice after the last minute offside winner at Vicarage Road still rankled, but I really wasn’t expecting anything from this game.
Team news was that Flores had made five changes which included a full debut for Suárez and resting Deeney, a player that I can never imagine needing a rest, although it was reported that he had failed a fitness test before the game. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Capoue, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado and Ighalo. It looked like a fairly defensive line-up and there were questions about how Ighalo would fare without his pal.
Prior to the match, we’d been warned to get there by 2pm because of the “enhanced security”. As it was, the searching process was no worse than at Swansea, although I do object to being treated like a criminal when going to a place of entertainment, and we were soon in our seats.
As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I struggled to spot the Watford players as we were wearing our black away kit, while the Spurs team came out in black track suit tops, so the teams appeared to merge into one. Prior to kick off there was a minute’s applause for Peter Baker who was part of the double winning side in 60/61. It was beautifully observed by both sets of fans.
The first attack of the match came from Harry Kane, who broke into the box with Aké in attendance who couldn’t stop the shot, but helped to ensure that it was weak and easy for Gomes to gather. A Britos miskick put the Hornets in danger, but Gomes came charging out of the area to clear. Then Chadli met a Trippier cross with a header that bounced off Nyom’s head and out for a corner. Spurs continued to dominate as a corner was met with a defensive header that dropped to Dembélé who shot wide of the near post. On the half hour, Davies hit a dangerous shot that took a deflection off Nyom which, thankfully, took it into the side netting. Davies played a lovely one-two with Chadli before unleashing a shot that Gomes got a hand to before it was eventually cleared after a scramble. A free kick from Lamela was met by a header from Chadli that was terribly weak and flew wide of the target. Watford’s first chance came in the 35th minute as Lloris came out for a clearance prompting Abdi to try to chip him, but the shot ended up on the roof of the net. The Spurs onslaught continued as a Nyom tackle broke to Davies who advanced and shot, but Gomes saved. The resulting corner reached Lamela but, again, Gomes was equal to the shot. Harry Kane was the next to threaten the Watford goal but, with Britos challenging, he shot over the bar. Towards the end of the half, there was a glimmer of hope for Watford fans with a lovely period of passing but, sadly, it finished with a through ball from Jurado to Ighalo being intercepted by the defence.
The first half had been very disappointing. Playing Ighalo alone upfront had left him isolated and ineffectual. But he wasn’t the only one struggling as, every time Watford tried to break, there seemed to be a Spurs player available to intercept the pass. Spurs were playing very well, not giving us any time on the ball and forcing misplaced passes. The much anticipated debut from Suárez had been very disappointing, he has a great touch but made no impact on the game. After the break he made way for Behrami and Deeney replaced Abdi.
Early in the second half, there was a penalty appeal for the home side as Kane went down after a challenge with Gomes. Thankfully the referee waved the appeals away. There followed another worrying period for the Hornets as every attempted clearance came back, so it was a relief finally to see the ball in the arms of Gomes. There was another chance for Spurs as Lamela played the ball out to Kane whose shot was parried by Gomes. Less than 10 minutes into the half Britos, who had earlier had treatment for an injury, could no longer continue and was replaced by Prödl. Soon after, there was a rare attack from the Hornets as Capoue battled past a couple of challenges before releasing Ighalo who, sadly, was flagged offside. At the other end Cathcart did very well to turn a Trippier cross out for a corner. The first booking of the game came as Capoue lost the ball to Trippier and then fouled him trying to win it back.
Spurs made their first substitution on the hour replacing Chadli with Alli. The youngster’s first act was to pass to Lamela who was falling as he attempted his shot which was easy for Gomes to gather. Spurs took the lead on 64 minutes as Trippier converted a cross from Alli. It appeared to be a poor goal to give away but it felt like a miracle that we had held out that long. Watford tried to strike back immediately as a ball over the top into the box was met with a defensive header that dropped to Deeney who shot over the bar. At the other end, Lamela latched on to a through ball but shot past the near post. Almost immediately he was replaced by Son. Spurs had a good chance to increase the lead as a cross from Erikson reached Wimmer who played the ball back across the box instead of towards the goal and Nyom was able to clear. A ball over the top to Deeney was cleared before it reached him, then Jurado played in Ighalo whose shot was blocked. At the other end Son tried his luck but his shot was saved by Gomes. Then a ball into the Spurs box was headed clear by Wimmer before Deeney could convert. Gomes was in action again soon after saving a shot from Erikson. Then Capoue played a ball over the top to Deeney, but there were two defenders on him before he could shoot so he passed to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner. The set piece from Watson was too deep and came to nothing. Watford threatened again as Capoue found Ighalo who tried an overhead kick that flew well wide. On 90 minutes, Jurado tried a shot but Lloris was equal to it. Then a cross from Nyom was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo whose shot was saved but the flag was up anyway. The final action of the game was a throw from Aké which was headed on by Deeney, but Lloris gathered.
It was a relief when the final whistle went. Watford had put in a better performance in the second half and could have nicked an equalizer, but we had been battered by Spurs over the 90 minutes. It was testament to the defence and, particularly, Gomes, that we had only conceded the one goal. Flores had set us up to contain Spurs in the first half and, while I didn’t enjoy that any more than I enjoyed the game at Man City when he employed the same tactics, the result was as expected and our goal difference didn’t suffer which is a positive that I took from the result.
Being second best to this Spurs team is no disgrace and, now that the dust has settled, I reflect that 25 games into the season we are still in 10th place, 10 points clear of the relegation zone and with a better goal difference than anyone below us (and Liverpool). We have some very winnable games coming up and probably only need two more wins to guarantee survival. If you’d told me at the start of the season that that would be the case at this point in the season, I would have bitten your hand off.