Match Report: Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
This game can be so, so cruel sometimes.
The Hornets were four minutes away from a stunning win that would have done wonders for the whole place, from the fan on the street to the tea lady, when Dele Alli scored to break Watford hearts. Plenty would have bitten your hand off had you offered them a point pre-match, but to draw having been so agonisingly close to a first win of the season was a real kick in the teeth.
In the cold light of day, when the pain of the late goal and its soft concession subsides, Quique Sánchez Flores might, just might, look back at this as a point gained, another small step towards getting out of trouble, but right now it was a bitter result to swallow. This one hurt more than the missed opportunities against Arsenal and Sheffield United, that's for sure. You just had to see the way the Head Coach booted a water bottle to see that.
A win here, their first in these parts in more than 35 years, would have done wonders for confidence and injected real belief in what the Head Coach is trying to achieve in his second spell. You could mount a fair case for the Hornets deserving all three points, too. A goal from Abdoulaye Doucouré and a defensive performance Sánchez Flores has been dreaming off since he rode back into town combined to put them within touching distance of that all-important three points. The team did so much right, playing with such structure and commitment, so it was just a shame a mix-up between Ben Foster and Kiko Femenía handed Spurs an equaliser that looked like it wasn't going to come.
Foster was inconsolable at full-time, unusually heading straight down the tunnel to the sanctuary of the changing room. He won't need anybody to tell him about the significance of the mis-communication between him and the Spanish substitute. He wanted to come and clean everything out but tangled with Femenía in the process. It was such a shame as this was comfortably the team's best performance of the season and they are now clearly playing with a distinct game plan that is repeatable and can be rolled out week after week. There is hope, real hope.
They just need a bit of a break, something to go their way and there wasn't much knocking about this afternoon. Not when it came to VAR, that's for sure. The good fortune was in short supply early on when Danny Welbeck limped off inside two minutes with what looked like a strained right hamstring.
Gerard Deulofeu was just getting used to his role in attack and deciding whether him or the magnificent Roberto Pereyra was going to be the target man when the Hornets took a shock lead. Craig Cathcart clipped one over the head of Danny Rose with a lovely nine iron from left to right. Daryl Janmaat took the ball in his stride, slide it across the face of goal for Doucouré to tuck in at the far post. The Frenchman missed a gilt-edged chance against Arsenal a few weeks back but he was not going to make the same mistake against the side from the white half of North London.
The Hornets took the lead in this same fixture last season and saw it wiped out, so everybody knew the task that lay ahead, but everybody rolled their sleeves up. Craig Dawson stuck his head in the way of a shot from Lucas Moura; Tom Cleverley made a brilliant tackle on Harry Winks; Foster saved one from Ali, headed away another and performed a turn in his own box Johan Cruyff would have been proud of. The first-half all-for-one spirit was summed up by Christian Kabasele and Doucouré applauding José Holebas for shepherding the ball out for a goal kick under pressure from Serge Aurier.
A near-perfect first 45 minutes as far as Sanchez Flores was concerned should have resulted in the chance to make it two from the penalty spot on 38 minutes. Deulofeu eventually drew a foul from one of two trailing legs from Jan Vertonghen after a corkscrewing run into the box but not only did Christopher Kavanagh wave away the zealous appeals, VAR failed to overturn it either. The team could really have done with a break right then. They had earned it.
Mauricio Pochettino sent for Heung-Min Son, the man who turned around the game at Wembley last season, at the break and he almost had an immediate impact, thrashing one against the bar via Foster's fingertips. The expected avalanche did not materialise and, in fact, it was the visitors who nearly doubled their lead. Deulofeu and Pereyra combined on the break in a fashion similar to the way they did at West Ham in December. You thought for all money that Deulofeu was going to have a crack himself but he chose instead to square it for Pereyra and Aurier got back to take the sting out of his shot.
Still the hard work continued, with Pereyra and Deulofeu both sprinting back deep into their own half to snuff out Son and then the effervescent Cleverley popping on either flank in the space of a few minutes to put out a fire.
Dawson and, in particular, Christian Kabasele were towering as the Hornets sought to hold on as Spurs sought to up the ante, throwing on Erik Lamela to add to their already potent attacking options. The two centre-halves headed and kicked away everything that moved and looked for all money to be playing a key role in a significant 1-0 win until Alli struck at the death. Kabasele felt he could have won the initial header but was impeded by Harry Kane. He had a fair case. He had stuck his head on just about everything else that came his way.
You feared Spurs might really kick the Hornets when they were down and net a winner but the team regained their composure in a fraught finale to at least leave here with a point. It might prove to be a significant point and it was certainly a further step in the right direction.
HORNETS: Foster; Janmaat (Femenía 70), Dawson, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucouré, Chalobah, Cleverley; Pereyra (Hughes 84), Welbeck (Deulofeu 2).
Subs not used: Gomes, Masina, Gray and Sarr