Once he had caught his breath, Mauricio Pochettino suggested the sensations that had arisen so suddenly needed to be kept and held close. Tottenham positively bounced out of the stadium here; a derby of see-sawing fortunes across 96 minutes and at times thudding levels of intensity might not ordinarily be considered the best preparation for a decisive Champions League away tie three days later, but the thrill gained from such an unlikely escape act raised their manager’s hopes that it might feed something similar in Monaco on Tuesday night.
“For the players that victory was very important, and it was emotional,” Pochettino said after a first success in seven games. “You know always the stress or adrenaline is high, and it’s a relief. This can help us believe again that we can win. To keep this feeling will be very important in preparing for the Monaco game. It is a game we must win.”
If residual exuberance is a factor in his team selection at Stade Louis II, where Tottenham do indeed require three points to hold realistic hopes of reaching the knockout stage, then perhaps Harry Winks should brace himself to break more boundaries. It was the 20-year-old academy product, starting a Premier League game for the first time, who equalised Michail Antonio’s header in the 51st minute to ignite a hitherto patchy game and if the euphoria of his celebrations are matched in Monaco then something will assuredly have gone right.
Winks, all wide eyes and whirling arms at the fulfilment of a lifelong dream, leapt into Pochettino’s embrace after his big moment. “To be honest I found him, he didn’t find me,” a beaming Pochettino explained of their coming-together. “But it’s true that I put a lot of pressure on my players in the changing room – I like my hugs.”
There were plenty more of them after Harry Kane’s two late goals and then, when things had calmed, there was a touch from Winks that suggested he has the attitude required to become a more regular presence.
“I like it a lot that he came into my office afterwards to say thank you to all of us – the coaches,” Pochettino said. “It was a fantastic show for everyone, for all the people who work in the academy. He said to us this is only the start. I said: ‘Come on now, this is a big challenge.’ He said: ‘Yes, now I need to work hard and try to show that I deserve to play.’
“That is the mentality we want. It’s true he needs to be happy now and enjoy the moment, but he needs to know the future will be difficult. To keep that level is the most difficult thing.”
Winks performed diligently alongside Mousa Dembélé in a midfield diamond and it will not have escaped Pochettino’s attention that he began the move for his goal – a simple enough finish after Vincent Janssen’s shot was saved – by dispossessing Angelo Ogbonna 40 yards up the pitch.
His selection had seemed a gamble and it was not the only one. Janssen was selected to partner Kane and for long periods Tottenham lumbered, short of the craft that Son Heung-min would eventually bring from the bench.
It seemed like a miscalculation from Pochettino and this certainly did not seem to be his day when, having delayed Dele Alli’s introduction for Janssen while a Dimitri Payet corner was defended, he saw the striker needlessly haul Winston Reid over and concede the penalty from which Manuel Lanzini put West Ham 2-1 up.
The away side were then rarely troubled until Kane sprang to life, tapping in a Son cross that Darren Randolph could only push into the forward’s path and converting a penalty 162 seconds later after Havard Nordtveit had chopped down the South Korean.
They deserved better but this has been an accursed season for Slaven Bilic and in hindsight the introduction of Nordtveit for Payet, in an attempt to shore things up with five minutes to play, looked misguided.
“We were 2-1 up and from our point of view it was a logical move to put on a fresh body,” a quietly-spoken Bilic said. “[Payet] was excellent today but we thought: ‘OK, it’s the end of the game, we are winning, let’s hold on.’ I would rather play well, the way we did tonight, than come here after the game and say: ‘No complaints, they were much better.’ When you are playing like this, it is only a matter of time before more luck or more concentration makes the difference.”
This time the fortune was with Pochettino, and a match that could have changed the complexion of West Ham’s season became one that may do the same for Tottenham. There will be hugs all round on the Côte d’Azur if that impression persists a little longer.