The American's last gasp equaliser had been coming during the second half and it's all down to the mental aspect that Andre Villas-Boas has adopted and instilled throughout the squad.
I found myself humming the USA national anthem at around 5.45 on Sunday evening. After huffing and buffing, the big bad American wolf finally blew down David De Gea’s front door. Yes, in the fabled Fergie time, Clint Dempsey smashed home a last gasp equaliser as Tottenham Hotspur secured a 1-1 draw with Manchester United.
It was nothing less than the hosts deserved, having mustered an astonishing 25 shots on goal compared to United’s measly five. While that says a lot about Spurs’ inefficiency in and around the 18-yard box, Andre Villas-Boas’ side wholeheartedly earned that point at White Hart Lane.
It’s a stark comparison from the Tottenham teams of old, who ultimately would’ve buckled following Robin van Persie’s opener midway through the first half. Instead, the hosts were patient, and despite looking desperate as the clock ticked towards the 90 minute mark, held their nerve when push came to shove.
The new mentality that’s been drilled into the players is becoming more and more evident as the weeks draw on. A never say die attitude, if you will, and one Spurs have lacked in previous seasons. It’s absolutely vital that the players continue to draw on this if they are to secure a top four finish.
When you look at the teams around Spurs currently in the hunt for a Champions League place, many of them have developed this ability to see out games or come from a goal down to pick up maximum points, regardless of the opposition.
Sunday’s opponents United, for example, have a ‘winning mentality’ all but scorned into the catacombs of their brain. Even if they are playing badly, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side know how to score goals, as witnessed during the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane and the 3-1 win over Spurs last season in north London.
Possession may’ve been level – 51% to 49% – upon the full-time whistle, but the sheer gulf between shots, both on and off target, not to mention the improved pass completion stats, showcases that it was the hosts that were the dominant of the two sides.
It goes to show that, regardless of the blow of going 1-0 down heading into half-time, the mental strength has significantly improved since Villas-Boas has taken over. It’s a trait of the 35-year-old that he has developed over his time in management, both with FC Porto and, despite his torrid time at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea.
It’s a factor that is beginning to transpire into the players, with the younger stars all looking to him for inspiration and tactical awareness. The way he has now endeared himself to the media, who were borderline attempting to hound him out following Harry Redknapp’s sacking, has all but epitomised Spurs’ new found approach this season.
However, as good as this mental aspect is, the draw was still evident that Spurs need strengthening during the transfer window. When you compare the two benches of the teams, United were significantly stronger in the reserves they could call upon.
Ferguson had the likes of Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valencia to send into the fold in the second half, not to mention Javier Hernandez and Anderson being unused substitutes. In comparison to Spurs’, Tom Huddlestone, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Gylfi Sigurdsson pale in terms of ability and impact.
Granted, Villas-Boas’ side don’t have the same pulling power and allure as United, but the contrast in quality from the bench was painstakingly evident, even if the hosts were the stronger of the two sides. However, it is one aspect that Spurs are aiming to improve through a number of off-field movements.
The new stadium may be in the initial stages of development, but a 60,000 seater will only add to the appeal for new players, not to mention the state of the art training ground which has been lauded as one of the finest in the world.
Not to mention Lewis Holtby, who recently signed a pre-contract to arrive in the summer, and his words of praise for Villas-Boas, dubbing him an “insanely good manager” and it’s an improvement on the initial reactions that the 35-year-old received when he succeeded Redknapp.
Either way, the Dempsey goal late on has again epitomised the mental toughness that has begun to be instilled throughout the squad. A few tweaks in the squad both in January and over the summer and there is no reason why Spurs can’t begin to push on and aim higher than a top four finish each and every season.