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Published: 12:00 | 12/4/16

OPINION: Time is Tottenham's greatest opponent now

Football columnist Wayne Barton on Spurs' title hopes

There was that sense of occasion at White Hart Lane on Sunday, though quite what that occasion would be, nobody was sure.

There was that sense of occasion at White Hart Lane on Sunday, though quite what that occasion would be, nobody was sure - until Spurs’ late show seemed to indicate a watershed moment for a club so often on the periphery of major success. Did it come just too late for Mauricio Pochettino in terms of this season’s Premier League?

If this were any other season then Tottenham supporters would be delighted about their progress (and, when the dust is settled, the achievement may well be appreciated for what it is), but it has been a strange year, and the identity of the league leaders places the achievements of the other clubs into a peculiar perspective. And so, Spurs fans are caught between that difficult place of not knowing whether to be excited that their side are in a deserved second place, or if they should lament the fact that despite their thrilling victory over Manchester United, they remain seven points behind Leicester City.

First things first; their victory yesterday was every bit as emphatic as the 3-0 scoreline suggests it was. That is not to say that the difference between the sides on the day was reflected fairly by the margin of the score (though there is the logical argument which exists to say how could it not be?) but, returning to that sense of occasion, it absolutely felt for maybe the first time, that Spurs were the real deal.

There have been wobbles. The 2-2 home draw with Arsenal, when they had taken a 2-1 lead, will undoubtedly feel like two points dropped, while the 1-1 draw at Anfield was one of those results which only tend to reveal themselves as a good or negative one after season’s end.

And so yesterday - particularly after Leicester’s result - all eyes were on the reaction of Kane, Alli et al. Would they be disheartened by the now 10 point lead? How would they cope against Manchester United, a side that despite its problems have generally done well in big games this season, and appeared to have resolved their defensive fragility and restored it to its soundness of earlier in the season? United, for their part, came into the game with the implicit knowledge that those recent victories over Manchester City and Everton had thrown them back into contention for a Champions League spot.

It promised all of the ingredients for a fantastic football match and it didn’t disappoint; that is not to say the quality of the football was stellar, but in that sense it was fairly reflective of the Premier League as a whole this season. The tension was as palpable as the pace was frenetic - Spurs, loitering on that vulnerable cusp where the fragilities of self confidence can undermine genuine ability, may well have found sympathisers had they failed to get the right result on the day.

Before the goal, United, after all, had probably fashioned the game’s true quality moment through Anthony Martial - even if Louis van Gaal believed (not for the first time) that his side’s performance was better than it was.

Up stepped Christian Eriksen, with a pass of the highest quality - the kind of pass which separates the good and the very good - to decide this game. His assist was put on a plate for Dele Alli, and the goal opened the floodgates for United who found themselves caught in an irresistible release of buoyant energy. The kind of 1-2-3 that the visitors themselves enjoyed almost exactly twenty three years ago, at Carrow Road, in a performance many observers identify as finally shedding that tag of also-rans. For the travelling support, memories of a far more recent day were evoked - the hopelessness of the 2-0 defeat at Everton in 2014 which rendered Champions League football an impossibility, and signalled the end of David Moyes’ reign.

This was much more than Spurs’ first home win over United in fifteen years, it was a statement of intent which said that Pochettino’s men belong as serious contenders. Leicester’s status as league leaders will inevitably be disputed as a fluke, even if they win the title, but Spurs’ capability as a team here to stay shouldn’t be discounted or questioned in the same manner.

And yet, despite the thrilling nature of the victory and the message it sent, there is a sobering reflection for the club and its fans this morning. They remain seven points behind Leicester, with just five games left. Time is running out, and it may be crucial that the Foxes play their next few games before Spurs. Claudio Ranieri’s men have shown no signs of succumbing to the pressure of a title race, presumably because the feeling is so alien to them that it’s an energy they can fully embrace.

Tottenham, for their part, have been here many times in recent years - on the edge of achievement, put under pressure for their result. The intensity of that first hour yesterday was almost unbearable, but they will have to go through exactly the same for the next few weeks. Too many times their fans have seen the team just come short, but the reality is they could win all of those Monday night games and it still may not be enough. It is a surreal season in many ways; as we come into the final throes, it still feels as if there is six months to go - Leicester’s form feels as if it is one of those anomalies that is normally spread over the back end of one season and the start of another (you know the type - those ‘calendar year’ type statistics which suggest one team would have enjoyed unlikely status as a table topper), only for lightning to have struck and it be condensed into one.

The relative status of Leicester City in British football means that even if they fall apart now, it will be seen as par, rather than a Jordan Spieth-esque collapse.

And if par for Leicester City is last season (even accounting for their late flourish), then based on the respective results from that 2014/5 campaign - 2-1 at home to West Ham, 2-0 at home to Swansea (both games coming at the start of that purple patch almost exactly a year ago), a 3-1 reverse at Old Trafford, a 2-2 home draw to Everton and a 0-2 defeat at Chelsea - they will achieve seven points. That total of 79 points means that Spurs will have to win each of their final five games and achieve their maximum of 80 in order to win the league.

Time, simply, is running out for the challengers, who are now relying on Leicester to demonstrate relegation form, and on themselves to replicate that six-match winning streak of January and February which propelled them into this position in the first place. It is unlikely, but then again, so is this entire scenario - that’s why all are captivated by the title race in this most thrilling of seasons.

Follow Wayne Barton on Twitter @Yolkie_

Wayne Barton has been the football columnist for international broadcaster Setanta Sports since 2011 and has been described by the Independent as ‘the leading writer on Manchester United on the period between Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson’ after numerous books on the club and autobiographies. The most recent are ‘74/75’ with Tommy Docherty and ‘Rise Of The Underdog’, the autobiography of Danny Higginbotham.

Wayne has also worked in Hollywood and across the USA with Gold and Platinum selling musicians and actors from the monster hit TV show ‘Breaking Bad’.

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