or Nuno Espirito Santo, the most encouraging aspect of a vital, morale-boosting 2-1 win over Aston Villa was Tottenham’s reaction to conceding a second-half equaliser.
Nuno has been particularly concerned with his side’s inability to respond to setbacks this season after they collapsed in the defeats by Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Arsenal during a wretched September.
So when Ollie Watkins ghosted behind Eric Dier to tap in at the near post on Sunday, cancelling out Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s first-half strike, it was natural to wonder if Spurs would crumble again.
Instead, within four minutes they were back in front through a Matt Targett own goal after superb work by Heung-min Son, the game’s standout player.
The response validated much of Nuno’s work on the training ground in the past fortnight and suggested this is a Spurs squad still very much listening to and fighting for their under-pressure head coach.
“The way we reacted to the 1-1 was really important,” Dier told Standard Sport. “We maybe could have started the second half better, it is something we still need to improve on but the reaction to the 1-1 was fantastic and we really put our foot on the gas and created a lot of chances and got the goal.
“100 per cent we believe [in the manager’s plan]. We have to keep calm. We had a tough couple of weeks under difficult circumstances. We were missing a lot of players, we went to Crystal Palace – injuries, sending offs, we really lost our balance there – and then we had two disappointing results.
“The Chelsea result did not reflect the game at all, we performed really well, especially in the first half and then the Arsenal game we were very disappointing. It’s early days, I think the performance yesterday was the best of the season and that shows a real reaction from the players. The players needed to show that reaction.
“For me it doesn’t really matter [about the circumstances], as players we have to perform and there are some levels you can’t drop below and we definitely did last weekend and that has noting to do with the manager.”
Nuno needed a result and an improved game-plan yesterday to prove he has the tactical acumen for the job, having got his system so badly wrong against Palace and Arsenal.
He got both, as his switch to a 4-2-3-1 system improved the team and key individuals, notably Son, and Spurs enjoyed by far their best performance of the season.
They had 17 shots, growing in conviction and fluency in the second half, and might have won by a more comfortable margin had they been more clinical.
There are still pressing issues to resolve, including Harry Kane’s form after the England captain went a sixth League game without scoring. Kane was, though, more involved, testing Emiliano Martinez and firing just wide of the near post with the goalkeeper flatfooted.
“Results are always going to be the most important thing for anyone,” said Dier. “Whatever style you play results are the most important thing and that won’t change. Obviously we want to be winning football matches and playing good football like we did yesterday.
“That takes time, we are just at the beginning of a new phase, under a new manager, it is still early and those things take time to implement. We are definitely working towards that, yesterday we showed that against a very good Aston Villa side.”
The last international break derailed Spurs’ promising start to the season, so Nuno will hope for a more tranquil fortnight ahead. But after Sunday’s win, he can look forward to the visit to Newcastle in the belief that his side have turned a corner.
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