Steven Bergwijn’s Lucas Moura ‘Ajax moment’ could be a springboard for the Antonio Conte era at Tottenham

·4 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Deep into stoppage time at the King Power, Tottenham were on course for another one of those nights, the kind that has come to typify their season.

They had struck the woodwork, had two efforts heroically cleared off the line, missed several more clear-cut chances, yet at the end of it all, were on course to be undone by two Leicester goals that owed much to defensive passivity and misfortune.

Sergio Reguilon’s tackle had fallen kindly for Patson Daka to open the scoring, then Japhet Tanganga’s attempted block took James Maddison’s effort past Hugo Lloris after Harry Kane had equalised.

An unbeaten start to life under Antonio Conte in the Premier League - the saving grace and great cause for optimism amid a meagre Carabao Cup semi-final defeat and a controversial European exit - was about to go up in smoke.

And then came Steven Bergwijn, with a late cameo that evoked memories of Lucas Moura against Ajax, scoring goals in the 95th and 97th minutes to give Spurs a victory that will be celebrated perhaps as much as any in the turbulent years since.

The Dutchman, on as a substitute after Maddison’s strike had put the Foxes back ahead, smashed home from close range after Matt Doherty’s effort was blocked, then paid homage to Lucas in the Johan Cruyff Arena with a reverse-finish that slid agonisingly past a stranded keeper so unfathomably late in the day you feared the referee’s whistle might blow before it had time to cross the line.

The famous 3-2 in Amsterdam provided the greatest night of Mauricio Pochettino’s era and, at last, Antonio Conte will feel that, in a victory on the road by the same scoreline, his own has its springboard.

For were it not for the late drama, this would have been a defeat difficult for the Italian to take not because of his team’s inadequacies, but because of how much they had impressed.

Despite starting with a midfield trio that, on paper, possessed about as much flair as a box of Bran Flakes, Spurs produced their most incisive attacking display for some time and could conceivably have scored five by half-time.

Much of that owed to an improved performance from Kane and the return of Sergio Reguilon.

Having Reguilon back from injury mercifully allowed Conte to call time on his experiment with Doherty as a left-wing-back and his presence made all the difference to Spurs as an attacking force.

The Spaniard linked nicely with Kane and Lucas and brought a directness in the final-third that has been lacking during Doherty’s brief stint as deputy, the Irishman forever slowing attacks out of the necessity of checking back onto his right-foot.

Earmarked as one of the players who could most benefit from Conte’s arrival, Reguilon’s stock has risen further as understudies have faltered during his absence and if Spurs can bring similar thrust to the opposite flank it will ease the burden on a midfield not blessed with creativity.

To his credit, Doherty was much-improved returning to his preferred position on the right as a half-time replacement for the ineffectual Emerson Royal, but a good 45 minutes will have done little convince Conte he is the solution, against a hefty backcatalogue of work that suggests he is not.

As for Kane, the Carabao Cup matches against Chelsea had represented a backwards step, after he had looked close to rediscovering his best form when scoring in three successive Premier League games in December.

The England captain was a lumbering, peripheral figure stranded on halfway for much of that two-legged tie as Thomas Tuchel’s side held Spurs at arm’s length for the best part of 180 minutes.

Given his goalscoring record against Arsenal, he must have been as frustrated as anyone to see Sunday’s derby fall by the wayside, but Leicester have proved even more fruitful opposition over the years and the 28-year-old put those Chelsea regressions behind him with a threatening, domineering display, the spearhead of a Spurs attack that looked as potent as it has all season, particularly before the break.

His composed equaliser on 39 minutes came after he had already headed against the bar and been denied by Luke Thomas on the line, and took his tally against the Foxes to 18 in 17 career league appearances.

As the clock ticked beyond 90 minutes, though, it still looked like it would be his failure to make it 19 when slid clean-through by Lucas at 1-1 that would prove decisive.

That was until deep into stoppage time, when he in turn sent Bergwijn clear to ensure it, in fact, did not matter one jot.

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