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  • Julian Taylor at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Conte Watch: Victory sparks joy for Tottenham's new capo

By Julian Taylor

Before even entering the space age arena of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the notion of landscape change and upsurge was in the crisp north London air. Fortunately the vibes were all positive as far as the Spurs’ faithful were concerned after the last few bleak months. A hard fought 2-1 win over Leeds United was, eventually, quite the release here.

Supporters heeded the siren call for Antonio Conte. The street traders were doing brisk business in scarves and other paraphernalia bearing the stern gaze of their new capo.

On first sightings, Conte briefly acclaimed the fans ahead of kick off, with ‘Come on Your Spurs’ blazing from the big screens. For a moment, it even looked like the Italian chief took a mindful moment to look upon the famous golden cockerel, carefully dislodged from White Hart Lane, now proudly adorning the top of the stadium, and can be seen the length of Tottenham High Road.

Not for Tottenham fans, Conte’s previous with Chelsea, a factor. Considering the shiftless mess their side was in under the previous incumbent Nuno Espirito Santo – who turned out to be an ill-fitting accompaniment to the traditional Tottenham ‘brand’ of stylised, pincer-like play – the arrival of Conte has been warmly embraced in these parts. Early victories help too. Conte is already living it.

Buzzing Conte

So warm, in fact, that the Italian shed his winter Tottenham coat on the touchline as the game kicked off. Despite Leeds dominating the early stages, there was little hint of Conte buzzing about, stalking the side of the pitch. Of course, that was to (and will) change as he settles into life in N17.

Meanwhile, Marcelo Bielsa, his counterpart, has seen and done it all. A veteran of countless Argentine-infused skirmishes from his homeland, the comparatively sedate Leeds’ boss was perched on his trademark bucket seat, presumably content at the aggressive approach from his men, who need to draw themselves away from danger at the wrong end of the table.

This was the 100th game between the teams – and it took the hosts at least 20 minutes to impress themselves on Leeds. The weight of expectation possibly a lot to bear for an outfit so unsure of themselves of late. Tottenham had survived a skimming shot by Stuart Dallas, Bielsa’s trusted lieutenant. The Northern Ireland international almost netting in a bright start for the Yorkshire Whites.

With Harry Kane seeking to find his mojo once again after those much-publicised flirtations with Manchester City, the Spurs fans hope the relationship between star striker and manager will prove to be a successful one. Conte, increasingly animated, leaned back in anticipation as Kane threatened to pull the trigger on a couple of occasions. But this was a Leeds side, well-drilled and alarmingly well-policed from the hosts’ perspective for large parts of the clash.

Would a quick confer with Eric Dier and Ben Davies during the acqua break, in order to tweak things, help? Leeds’ physicality was impressive; Kalvin Phillips was mopping up and nullifying Spurs’ threat at source, as Conte looked on, hoping that his work to date will take off.

Of course, the Conte quest for ‘success’ – however that is measured this season for Tottenham – will take considerable time. As frustration across the first half quietened the home crowd, you could hear the clapping from Conte himself.


Not that Spurs’ players listened, as they switched off at the most inopportune moment. Ben Davies and Sergio Reguilon caught out by Daniel James who slammed Leeds ahead a minute before the break. Conte looked forlorn, as the same old weaknesses surfaced.

Even if Tottenham fans happen to have any sense of entitlement, it still seemed surprising and out of kilter to hear the boos at half time: presumably not aimed at the new coach already. Better was to follow, though.

Spurs’ fresh hope

With Tottenham beginning the second half positively, and Heung Min-Son hitting the crossbar via the aid of a deflection, hope was threatening to emerge from the disjoint and the fog. Animated Antonio, all pointed gestures, was trying to cajole affairs as his team needed to match Leeds for effort and drive. This is a man who will seldom sit content.

Finally, a slice of fortune for Spurs. Pierre-Emile Hojberg firing home in 58 minutes with an assist from the hard working Lucas Moura. Conte turned to the stands, the picture of sheer joy on his face and the jeers turned to resounding Spurs’ call to arms. The first league goal here under the Italian was arguably rough luck on Leeds.

And when Reguilon forced home the advantage in 70 minutes, Conte became even more frenzied, as he attempts to forge an exciting inter-dependent relationship with new fans. This recovery, frankly, would not have happened under Espirito Santo, and already Tottenham’s fitness levels – a source of pride for Conte – are beginning to grow. Even the lulls in play saw the former Inter Milan boss conducting the home support, who responded eagerly to see Tottenham over the line.

Three points extracted in the end, as Leeds tired amid a late cry of 'When The Spurs Go Marching In'. And In time Tottenham will find both their tune and tail feathers – of that, under Conte, you can virtually guarantee.


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