Harry Kane and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg lead Spurs fightback at Brentford

Vitaly Janelt and Ivan Toney gave Brentford a two-goal lead but Harry Kane and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg scored to earn Tottenham a battling 2-2 draw

Tottenham’s Boxing Day draw with Brentford was not the most dramatic of the games in which they have claimed 21 points from behind this season across Europe and domestically, but it further reinforced the notion that, however down they seem, there is always a way back. That is character.

Take Harry Kane who, on his first appearance since skying that penalty in Qatar, scored a superb headed second-half goal to begin a rescue operation finished minutes later by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. That is character.

Take Ivan Toney, whose inspired performance having missed out on the World Cup completely, and then been charged with what is now 262 alleged breaches of Football Association gambling rules, looked for more than an hour to have secured a home victory. That is character.

Kane and Toney, the clubs’ respective poster-boys, were the pre-game focus. Thankfully – with the notable exception of various online cesspits – football has largely moved on from the vitriolic, personal abuse endured previously by those who have erred on England duty. But there were still some insults aimed Kane’s way, among them an early cry of “Ivan Toney, he would have scored that” from home fans. It was equal parts Kane critique and Toney support.

Whether or not you believe the breadth of the FA’s Rule E8 is draconian, Toney faces a potentially lengthy absence if the charges are upheld. Such is his importance to Brentford that it could derail their steady-as-she-goes second season in the top flight. Typically, though, Toney did not give off the air of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders; more a man inspired.

“I wish I knew, because I’d bottle it up and sell it for a lot of money,” Thomas Frank said when asked how Toney was able to put aside the outside noise. “I would be very, very rich. In that way he is very, very special. Character and mentality is the ability to focus in the moment. To stay focused on the task. His performance today … wow.”

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Toney bullied Tottenham, with a particular focus on Japhet Tanganga, whose rare start was mercifully cut short by Antonio Conte. Cristian Romero, absent basking in World Cup glory, will not be concerned for his place.

Fifteen minutes in, Toney rose above Tanganga to flick on for Bryan Mbeumo. His cross was met by Mathias Jensen’s volley, which would not have troubled Fraser Forster but for a deflection off Clément Lenglet. Forster, handed his league debut for Spurs with Hugo Lloris on the bench, could only palm the ball straight to Vitaly Janelt, who scored.

Vitaly Janelt is congratulated by his teammates after giving Brentford the lead
Vitaly Janelt (right) is congratulated by his teammates after giving Brentford the lead. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Shortly before the break Toney coolly rounded Forster and finished, but the flag was raised. He did not have to wait long for the goal he craved, though. Ten minutes after the break, Mbeumo’s inswinging corner was flicked on by Christian Nørgaard at the near post, and Toney stabbed in.

Conte’s irritation was obvious, but his side’s lackadaisical showing until that point did not merit anything better. Kane was virtually anonymous until he more or less begged David Coote for a penalty early in the second half. He had grappled with Ben Mee at the far post but VAR did not ask Coote to reconsider. Almost immediately, Eric Dier made a hash of a clearance, conceding the corner from which Brentford scored their second, and Conte sat down.

But Kane would soon bring the Italian back to his feet, rising to head Lenglet’s whipped centre beyond David Raya. “Momentum swung their way when Kane scored that,” admitted Frank. “It was a situation where I would have said to our players: ‘Happy days, let them cross from there.’ What an unbelievable cross from Lenglet, and a great header from Harry.”

With it Kane passed Robbie Fowler’s tally of nine Boxing Day goals in the Premier League and completed a full house of scoring against all 32 sides he has faced in the division.

Bournemouth, Marseille, Leeds: surely Spurs could not do it again? Well, not quite, but almost. They levelled when Dejan Kulusevski was fleet of foot in the penalty area, played a one-two with Matt Doherty and pulled back for Højbjerg, who finished calmly.

A relatively serene Boxing Day lunchtime had suddenly turned chaotic. In a two-minute spell Doherty escaped a booking for tumbling easily in the penalty area, Mbeumo was booked for an obvious attempt at deception, and Ethan Pinnock appeared to block Kane’s close-range shot with his hand, only to be saved by the offside flag.

Kane almost claimed victory when beating Raya to a cross only to see his header hit the bar. It would have been unjust.

“By the way, what a game to reopen the Premier League with. What an advert for the league,” Frank added before departing. And he was right.


Sam Dalling at the Gtech Community Stadium

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