LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur not only squandered two points against West Bromwich Albion on Monday at White Hart Lane.
They squandered their big chance to keep the heat on Leicester and now Spurs’ Premier League title hopes appear all but over.
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Leicester need just three points from their final three games to seal the title and Spurs must grab at least seven points to win the title. It’s not over, but if Leicester win at Manchester United on Sunday then the Foxes will have sealed the deal.
In the first half on Monday Tottenham dominated West Brom, twice hitting the woodwork and then again at the start of the second half as they looked to put the game to bed but couldn’t finish a stubborn Baggies side off. It’s not the first time Spurs have failed to kill teams off at home this season.
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The longer the game went on the more nervous White Hart Lane became and coupled with an unsavory incident involving Dele Alli in the first half which seems likely to get him a retrospective three-game ban and miss the remainder of the season, it was a horrendous night for the Spurs faithful.
Speaking to the media after the game, Mauricio Pochettino knew it was a huge opportunity missed.
“It was very frustrating,” Pochettino said. “It was a game we must win. First half I think we played very well. We spent a lot of energy and it was only a 1-0. In the second half we lost a little bit of control on the game and we allowed them to believe and create some chances. When you don’t kill the game you always allow them to believe and we concede the chance and they score.”
Despite the odds being stacked against Tottenham and the blue ribbons being readied for Leicester’s title procession, Pochettino and his players still believe.
“No it is not over,” Pochettino said. “The gap is seven points and we have three games to play. It is true that it is very difficult, more difficult than before the game. But we need to still believe, still fight and be ready for the next game and hope Leicester drop points and we get the three points against Chelsea.”
Harry Kane, the PL’s leading goalscorer who hit the post in the first half, echoed the views of his manager.
“It has not gone. We need to keep fighting. We felt we needed to win this game so we are disappointed,” Kane said. “We had enough chances in the first half to put it to bed. But we weren’t good enough in the second half. We felt we could easily have won the game if we played in the second half like we did the first. It is football. All we can do is keep fighting. We have Chelsea next. Hopefully Manchester United can do us a favor.”
So, it is now possible that Leicester may win the title before Tottenham get to kick another ball.
Tottenham play at Chelsea next Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and although their title hopes could be done and dusted by then, Pochettino knows this season of title contending will do his young squad (the youngest, on average, in the PL) the world of good.
“Yeah it is very difficult. Very disappointed. In football you always have to capitalize on the experience,” Pochetino said of the atmosphere in the dressing room after the draw. “We are very young and we need to use this experience for the next few seasons. I think so far this season is fantastic. We are very young but I think we need to kill the game in the moment if you want to win the title. But nothing to complain. I feel very proud of the season from the beginning, how we play and how we work. It is normal to feel disappointed.”
The most disappointing thing about this season is the points Spurs have thrown away late in games after dominating matches. For all of their flair and panache in attack, they have failed to kill teams off. Especially at home.
They led Stoke 2-0 at half time back in August. They drew 2-2. They lost 2-1 against Newcastle after leading 1-0. They battered Leicester City in January and lost 1-0. On Monday they dropped another two points. If you add those dropped points up, they should be ahead of Leicester. Of course, law of averages mean that late wins they’ve had against Watford and Manchester City would cancel them out.
Simply put, Leicester’s players have held their nerve better and ground out results when it counted most. Be it the extra experience or a little rub of the green, Ranieri’s side are two points closer to crossing the line after Spurs slipped up. This has been a learning experience for Tottenham’s players. They’ve come close but incidents such as Alli showing his immaturity, wayward finishing and a timely error from Hugo Lloris as he came for the ball and missed on West Brom’s equalizer all add up.
As Spurs’ players dragged themselves off the pitch disconsolately on Monday, one Spurs fans bellowed out praise to each of them as they entered the tunnel.
“Great season, Toby,” he said. “Well played Mousa, you’ve been sensational all year,” he added. “Keep going Harry, great season,” he said again.
It has been an excellent season for Spurs. But it looks like it hasn’t quite been good enough to seal them the title. More dropped points at home from a winning position summed up why they won’t win the PL.