A goal down with only minutes left to play, most Tottenham fans were well on their way to giving up the game on Wednesday night, awarding three much needed points to Swansea and conceding the title. Even when the equaliser came late on in slightly fortuitous circumstances, the immediate reaction was to celebrate a bullet dodged, than concentrate on delivering a killer blow of their own. Luckily for them, the Tottenham players no longer share that mindset, and Spurs find themselves in an odd situation where the players on the field are far more comfortable with their stature and ability than their fanbase might be, with fans still primed to expect the worst and keep their ambition in check.
After all, it’s an all too familiar feeling for Tottenham, having an eminently winnable fixture in the business end of the season slip away from them for no good reason, so you can’t really blame people embracing the most negative outcome. Be it a toxic lasagne, Chelsea winning the Champions League or star players being sold without being immediately replaced, Spurs have regularly matched their ascent to new heights with equally large falls - so those connected with the club have been socially conditioned to anticipate disappointment and failure, like a wild animal who has a sixth sense for when it’s being preyed upon.
The way Tottenham chased down Swansea, however, reveals far more about their own growth and self-belief as a squad than some of their more routine victories have done. Swansea weren’t bad, but they were broken down in such a manner that, when Spurs were finally able to create some quality openings, they were helpless in stopping them. Two players who’ve been criticised this year - and rightfully so, at times - combined for the winner, with Vincent Janssen’s cameo from the bench by far his most positive outing for the club, his presence helping turn the entire match in the final stages. Heueng-Min Son, a player who’s needed to make a killer play for quite some time, did just about enough from a Janssen flick around the corner first time to beat Fabianski.
While not completely reflected in those that follow them - yet - Tottenham have a single-mindedness and determination about them that’s been constantly under construction since Pochettino joined the club. While we saw this tested towards the end of last season, the average age of this Spurs side is young enough to explain away lapses in concentration, adapting to being the bigger and better side nine times out of ten and the occasional crisis of confidence in one-off scenarios. This team aren’t just playing like one of the best sides in the division, but they’re starting to behave like it, too - and there’s more weight to that there might appear to be, on the surface.
To look back at the greatest example of a side who acted like champions no matter how they were playing, the Sir Alex Ferguson vintage of Manchester United managed to create by far the largest aura, and that translated to their on-field activity in several beneficial ways. Firstly, opposition sides used to line-up against them having already lost the game in their minds and, countless times, those sides would fold on occasions where they really should've done better, all because they didn’t have the mentality to believe Manchester United were beatable. On the flip side, safe in that knowledge, that team never panicked, no matter how big of a hole they were in, who was on the field or who they were up against. None of that has anything to do with how well they could all kick a ball.
Although in no way comparable to that side quite yet - no matter how desperately some fans might want to see Pochettino in Manchester - this marks yet another significant milestone in the progression of the working mentality within the club, and yet another move away from the Tottenham of old, who were first in line to shoot themselves in the foot and were seen as an easy ride by those they had ambitions of competing against at the highest level. Although ridiculed for the way they fell in to third place last season, this is now the second straight campaign where Tottenham have been the only side to mount a legitimate challenge to the champions elect, and with their fixtures significantly more straightforward that what Chelsea have to contend with, what appeared to be a straightforward strut to the title might’ve become somewhat less causal.
That isn’t to say, of course, that Chelsea won’t win the league - but there’s merit in making them dash for the finish line, rather than allowing them to moonwalk past it, have already had a cigar on the go, already several magnum’s of champagne deep. The line from the club in terms of where it wanted to head was consistent Champions League qualifiers and, save from the darkest timeline and a complete implosion, Spurs will enter the competition in back-to-back seasons for the first time in its current format. Being able to wear the badge of top tier club - challenging for titles, playing against the best, building a new home worthy of the talent on show - rather than just speaking of aspirations for it, will help the club attract the type of talent they need to take another step up, and cement their place at the highest table, rather than just being occasional guests.
While to most this was one win away against a relegation threatened Swansea side who should’ve done better to protect their lead in the final minutes, in truth, it means far more to Tottenham in the wider context. Now is the time to replace pessimism with optimism, trust those representing the club to do what they’re capable of and - just like the clubs below them are going to have to - accept that there’s another horse in the race, rather than an occasional hurdle. Pochettino has made Tottenham a contender, capable of brushing teams aside or digging deep, becoming more than the sum of their parts and winning when they probably shouldn’t. Progress is a word thrown around with all too much regularity, but in this case, couldn’t be any more fitting.
Spurs are getting better, and they don’t look like stopping any time soon - it’s a movement not even a supermodel with a can of Pepsi could halt.