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THOUGH a hard-won point and bizarre VAR incidents will distract from Tottenham’s woe on Saturday and beyond, a 1-1 home draw against Watford seems unlikely to provide the watershed moment Mauricio Pochettino hopes it will for his beleaguered club.
Watford dug in to defend a fragile 1-0 lead for all of 80 minutes before Dele Alli’s late equaliser saved the hosts from defeat against the winless Hornets.
That salvation was marred by a bewildering technical error, as screens in the stadium showed that VAR — checking for handball — had ruled out the goal, even while the referee signalled the opposite.
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores described the incident, which came after Gerard Deulofeu’s obvious penalty shout was denied by VAR, as “very weird,” while Pochettino said of the goal: “I think it was legal … But I can understand Watford and for Quique, that moment feels so, so bad.”
Admitting that his side’s confidence was “on the floor” after high-profile drubbings by Bayern Munich and Brighton, the Spurs manager tried to spin Saturday’s draw as a crucial moment for his team.
“I think it was so important in the way that we achieved the point in the end because the team was fighting, we started to show character,” he said.
“Of course we have quality, but in these type of situations the most important [thing] is the character that you need to show. Talent is after. You need to fight, you need to run and you need to be strong in your mind.”
But while the sun shone on north London, dark clouds over Spurs were hardly dispelled by a performance that was so often characterless, though Watford deserve credit for a concerted defensive performance.
Lining up at home with five defensive players in Serge Aurier, Toby Alderweireld, Davinson Sanchez, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose seemed misjudged against the low-scoring Hornets — even before Daryl Janmaat bypassed that hefty back line with a laser from the right wing to play in Abdoulaye Doucoure for a sixth-minute sitter.
Spurs failed to take their chances early — Moussa Sissoko blasting over the bar and Alli rolling an early shot to Ben Foster for Spurs’ only first-half shot on target.
Meanwhile, Watford were happy to sit deep and absorb sustained pressure before hitting out on the counter — and were unlucky not to receive a penalty as Deulofeu surged into the right of the box, wiped out from behind by Vertonghen who caught little or none of the ball.
Spurs’ football was complemented by a slightly sour atmosphere — Foster frustrated home fans with premature time-wasting, while some of those jeered former Arsenal forward Danny Welbeck as he limped off with an ankle injury in the first minute of the game.
The hosts’ wide attack, with support by Rose and Aurier failed to produce results, poor crossing from the out-of-form wing-backs rendering the likes of Harry Kane anonymous and likely contributed to the decision to bring on Son Heung Min for Sanchez after the half, announcing himself by getting stuck into Craig Cathcart and blasting a shot off the bar.
Erik Lamela later came off the bench for Lucas Moura — serving the forwards well despite faltering at the set-piece — while a bright spot in hard-working Harry Winks was replaced for another in Tanguy Ndombele, likely leaving Spurs fans wondering why the day’s best players all came off the bench.
While Watford had their chances, Doucoure snatching a woeful Vertonghen pass before shooting wide and later Deulofeu missing his own free-kick as Spurs scrambled to mop up Paulo Gazzaniga’s dangerous giveaway, the hosts settled into a steady attacking rhythm in the last 20 minutes which lifted frustrated Spurs fans.
Pressure built until Alli scrambled in his controversial equaliser — Lamela’s cross into the centre of the box eluding Kane and the obstructed Foster before the midfielder cushioned the ball onto his chest and hit home at the back post.
The ensuing confusion led passions to overflow — a scrap breaking out after Alli twisted his way towards goal and was taken down by Jose Holebas — but the visitors were able to fend off late pressure to come away with a point, even if they might have deserved all three.
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