As Tottenham, pushed, and probed – looking for any way through Aston Villa – a lonely figure stood at the opposite end of their vast new home.
Christian Erisken had been jogging, stretching, and watching on for a while when eventually, with half an hour to play, Mauricio Pochettino had seen enough. The midfielder could still leave this summer but his arrival was greeted with huge cheers from the Tottenham faithful.
If the first hour on Saturday was a sign of how life without him would look, it wasn’t a pretty sight. But then, with the clock ticking, Tanguy Ndombele found the perfect time to remind his manager why the club valued him at £65million.
Harry Kane scored two late goals to complete a comeback victory for Tottenham against Aston Villa
Kane smashed the ball into the back of the net from close to put Tottenham in front late on in the match
John McGinn had given Aston Villa a shock lead just six minutes into the first half at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
McGinn latched on to a long ball and kept his cool to step inside Danny Rose and fire the ball into the corner of the net
Tanguy Ndombele scored on his Tottenham debut by superbly curling in from the edge of the box to level the scores
MATCH FACTS AND LIVE PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE
TOTTENHAM (4-3-3): Lloris, Walker-Peters, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Rose, Winks (Eriksen 64), Sissoko, Ndombele (Skipp 90), Lamela (Nkoudou 88), Lucas, Kane;
SUBS NOT USED: Wanyama, Dier, Gazzaniga, Aurier
SCORERS: Ndombele (72), Kane (86, 90)
MANAGER: Maurico Pochettino
ASTON VILLA (4-2-3-1): Heaton, Elmohamady, Engels, Mings, Taylor, Hourihane (Luiz 82), McGinn, Grealish, Trezeguet (Jota 59), El Ghazi, Wesley (Kodija 74);
SUBS NOT USED: Lansbury, Steer, Konsa, Targett
SCORERS: McGinnn (9)
MANAGER: Dean Smith
REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
The Frenchman’s Premier League debut had been a frustrating one until the ball dropped to him on the edge of the box with 17 minutes remaining. In an instant, all was forgotten. Ndombele curled a shot towards the far corner and, with the help of a deflection off Tyrone Mings, beyond the despairing Tom Heaton.
If their most expensive player had wrestled Spurs back into the game, it was their most clinical striker who did the rest. Harry Kane, too, had been quiet until Jack Grealish, the captain who had led Villa back to the top flight, was unforgivably robbed of the ball by Erik Lamela just outside his own box.
The Argentine’s shot was blocked and fell to Kane eight yards out. You know the rest. By full time it was three, Kane adding his second with a fine finish from the edge of the area. In the closing stages Villa had been caught in a whirlwind with no way out.
For 60 minutes they looked at home at this level but Saturday’s climax was a brutal reminder of the realities of life in the top flight. Dean Smith’s side had battled hard and were good value for their first-half lead, which came courtesy of John McGinn’s early strike.
Lucas Moura had an early sighter of goal but was off balance and couldn’t trouble the Villa goalkeeper with his header
Kane shows his frustration by holding his hands on his head after missing a chance to equalise for Tottenham
Aston Villa debutant Tom Heaton gets a strong hand to the ball to deny Tottenham striker Kane from close range
But by the final whistle they were empty handed and Spurs were breathing a huge sigh of relief. This was not a performance to inject fear into their rivals. But it’s a win, and how crucial those three points could prove.
Pochettino had laid down the marker to his side when he admitted before the game that he had to win a trophy to make this season a success. In their first full year at their new home, the excuse of Wembley was gone and, with it, the goalposts had moved. But on Saturday Spurs were largely the same outfit that had come up just short last season.
There was a start in midfield for record signing Tanguy Ndombele, but no place for either deadline-day captures Ryan Sessegnon or Giovani Lo Celso. Both were given a rousing welcome by the home crowd ahead of kick off but Pochettino’s side was instead full of players scarred by last season’s near miss. And they began like a team hell-bent on righting those wrongs.
Within 20 seconds, Lucas Moura unleashed the game’s first shot and less than five minutes later the Brazilian was afforded another sniff at goal. But his free header from inside the box failed to trouble Heaton and for much of the first period Spurs dominated the ball, but looked rather short of ideas. Instead it was Villa, having fed off scraps early on, who drew first blood.
McGinn goes down in the area after a tussle with Davinson Sanchez but referee waves away Villa’s penalty appeals
Moussa Sissoko wastes a golden opportunity to score by dragging his effort well wide of the Aston Villa goal
After Tyrone Mings launched a hopeful ball long forward, Wesley tied up Davinson Sanchez and Danny Rose couldn’t decide whether to come or go. On to the bouncing ball ran McGinn, who showed great composure to drive into the box, wait for Rose to commit himself, and fire the ball across Hugo Lloris and into the net.
The goal gave the travelling contingent even more reason to sing. Not that they had needed much invitation. ‘We’re going to win the league,’ they roared. Ambitious, perhaps, but the goal certainly gave Villa the belief that they belonged at this level. Midway through the first half, Trezeguet – one of four debutants in the starting XI – found space in the box, cut inside Sanchez, only to be denied by a last-ditch block by Toby Alderweireld.
Shortly after the forward wasted another chance after a surging run from Jack Grealish. The Villa captain has long been linked with a move to north London and in the first half it was he, rather than Ndombele, who drove his team on. That was until the final minute of the half, when the Frenchman found Kane with a lovely dinked cross.
But the England captain headed just over and a smattering of boos met the half-time whistle. The break gave Spurs a chance to regroup and Villa manager Dean Smith an opportunity to catch his breath. In the dugout he was living every kick, and every tackle. And why not?
Mauricio Pochettino dishes out some last-minute instructions to Christian Eriksen as he prepares to introduce him
A downbeat Villa team show their appreciation for the travelling supporters by applauding them at the end of the game
This club has waited three long years for another taste at the big time. Their last season in the Premier League began with a huge spending spree and ended with them bottom of the table with only 17 points.
As in the first, Spurs began the second half on the front foot and wasted a good chance to open their account. Moussa Sissoko found himself unmarked at the back post but when a ball into the box fell his way, the Frenchman skewed his shot wide.
And as in the first period, McGinn soon found himself with a golden opportunity to score. The midfielder won the ball deep in Spurs territory and drove into the box, where he collided with Sanchez. It was a clumsy challenge but neither the referee nor VAR were convinced. Back came Spurs.
Kane was denied by a brilliant diving block from Mings shortly before Eriksen joined the party. Lamela saw a long-range effort cleared with Heaton in no man’s land, before Eriksen’s free kick was brilliantly saved. But none of that mattered once Spurs’ old and new guard had had their say.