The intense frustration for Tottenham is that, however anybody dresses it up, this was such a step backwards.
Their disposal of Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, effected so clinically, was supposed to have shaken off all that talk of a Wembley jinx; it certainly looked the perfect platform for a routine evening against Swansea City, but once again they laboured at their temporary home and the familiar doubts returned as quickly as they had evaporated.
A dogged Swansea were worthy of their point despite failing, for the third time this season, to have a shot on target. They were rarely pulled apart, only wobbling to any considerable extent during a period midway through the second half in which Harry Kane struck the crossbar. By then Tottenham’s pressure had reached siege levels; the goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski played his part in keeping them out but the zest and clarity that marked Spurs’ form at White Hart Lane last season simply have yet to appear here in the Premier League.
Mauricio Pochettino has long since tired of questions about Spurs’ domestic setup but had to go through it all again and could not dispel the suspicion that all the talk risks becoming self-fulfilling. “I think it’s a good talking point [for you], but Dortmund was at Wembley too,” he said. “What can we do? We need to play here and we need to make Wembley home. We need to move on, it’s so important, because if not then we are in the past.”
It hardly helped that a largely subdued atmosphere bore little relation to their previous abode at its throbbing best, although Pochettino’s team offered little excitement during the opening period. He had freshened up his starting lineup with Kieran Trippier, Moussa Sissoko and Dele Alli, moving Son Heung-min to left wing-back for the first half, but the effect had that wearyingly disjointed post-Champions League feel.
Alli, in particular, found it difficult to find space between Swansea’s two compact banks of three and struggled to move the ball quickly enough when gaps did appear; Son and Kane drew smart saves from Fabianski but Spurs’ approach play was ponderous and telegraphed.
They emerged for the second half with brisker pace and a more cogent shape. Kane should have scored midway through when Sissoko, retrieving possession after another sharp Fabianski save from Son, teed him up eight yards out but his first-time effort shuddered the frame. Fabianski made his best stop shortly afterwards, flipping Kane’s near-post header over the bar, but what looked likely to be a wild last 20 minutes for the away side turned into mere speculation on Tottenham’s part. The introduction of Fernando Llorente, making his league debut against the club that sold him, promised a storyline but served only to detract almost instantly from their cohesion.
“I’m disappointed with the result because I think we deserved more,” Pochettino said. “We created a lot of chances, didn’t concede a shot on target and the performance was good. I’m not worried; playing that way we’ll win a lot of games.”
Pochettino was irked by what he saw as overcompensation from the referee, Mike Dean, in his efforts to explain the non-awarding of two penalties to Tottenham, notably when Martin Olsson appeared to handle a Trippier cross shortly before Kane’s chance. They seemed to have a case with that one; it was hard, though, to begrudge Swansea a stroke of fortune.
Swansea’s point pleased Paul Clement, who had been concerned by what he called a “complacent” performance in last Sunday’s defeat by Newcastle. They offered next to nothing going forwards bar a first-half glimmer when Tammy Abraham, leading the line with maturity, created an opening for Tom Carroll that Sissoko quickly snuffed out. Three away games have brought three clean sheets; it is the kind of foundation on which successful battles against the drop are built.
“Good defending should be applauded,” Clement said. “Clearly we want to attack better and have a little bit more control but we also have to be realistic.” His tough, well-drilled team had achieved an outcome in line with their ambitions; Tottenham’s struggle to do the same in these opulent, slightly jarring surroundings will drag on to Bournemouth’s visit a month from now.
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