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Wednesday 28 June 2017

Spotlight is on Conte as Tottenham get revenge

Antonio Conte. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Antonio Conte. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Well thank the stars for Spurs. It's not often football fans of all shapes and sizes feel inclined to raise a glass to the North London's perennial bottlers.

They waited nine months to face a team which downed tools for Jose Mourinho for a good chunk of last season, but lifted themselves to a different level when Spurs were within touching distance of the title.

So it will be sweet indeed for their fans to wake up in the warm afterglow of a very significant victory over Chelsea.

It gave them vengeance and it cracked the bubble Antonio Conte and has team have been living in for a long time.

The first chip in Chelsea's ring of confidence came with the minute hand well into the red zone at the end of the first half at White Hart Lane.

Furrowed

Christian Eriksen wafted a cross on to Dele Alli's head, the Chelsea net rattled and suddenly Conte's brow was furrowed.

It's a frown we've waited months to see. Chelsea have been so much more consistent than everyone else and for the sake of entertainment alone, someone needed to slow them down.

It was a first half which reduced watchers to daydreams about strikers and the shrinking pool of talent available to even the biggest clubs. Play was light on goal chances but heavy on tension.

Harry Kane lumbered around and could do nothing right while Diego Costa snapped and snarled and if you had to make a choice, South America would win over the West of Ireland, via London, every time.

Thoughts of goal-scorers and the lack of them cropped up because of the increasingly interesting auction building up around Scott Hogan, who we're told is mulling over his nationality as well as his choice of Premier League club at the moment.

It can only be a good thing if he declares for Ireland but a half a season in the Premier League banging in goals might be enough to attract the eye of Gareth Southgate and if he has inclinations in that direction, we can expect another long, drawn-out saga before O'Neill gets an answer.

Goalscorers have never been more valuable at international and club level and Mauricio Pochettino is blessed with one who is filling in the gap while Kane fights for consistency and form.

Dele Alli is, according to Pochettino, the most important young English player of his generation.

That may prove to be correct, but in a more immediate sense, he was the most important on the pitch last night.

Priceless

With the two meanest defences in this title race on show, that opening goal was priceless and set Chelsea their biggest test after an incredible 13-game winning run.

Costa, a ball of bristling aggression and intent throughout the match, led the charge for an equaliser and came close enough but when Alli rose at the back post to another fabulous cross from Eriksen and banged in a second header, Chelsea slumped.

It had to happen eventually and lasted longer than most people believed possible, but Conte's first defeat in 14 should provide Pep Guardiola with some respite from the harsh spotlight he's been labouring in.

This being the Premier League, a cone of pressure now descends on Conte's head and all the questions raised about his thin range of options regain validity.

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