Relief? Joy? Ultimately a decent dollop of both. Season-defining is perhaps a stretch but this victory, or at least the manner of it, could certainly shape Tottenham’s immediate future.
Two in the red approaching the hour mark, a third consecutive league defeat – and with it a miserable end to a chastening 10 days – beckoned.
Then came the spirit, the fight, that Antonio Conte has long been calling for. First Ryan Sessegnon, then Ben Davies and finally, the substitute Rodrigo Bentancur, intervened. In time added on the latter calmly steered home from their 19th corner.
Conte, still reeling from Wednesday’s injury-time disappointment against Sporting Lisbon, disappeared briefly down the tunnel. “I thought I could have a heart attack with two disallowed goals in a few days,” he said. “So I stayed calm and awaited the decision of the referee.”
All was well. And what might have been a sheepish post-match wave of apology towards visiting fans became a united celebration.
Tottenham must address their concerning trend of starting tardily and the performance of a heavily rotated side did little to ease concerns about squad depth. With an eye on midweek in Marseille, half-a-dozen changes included Eric Dier’s absence from the starting lineup for the first time this season, Bentancur initially getting a watching brief and Cristian Romero dropping out altogether.
Conte gambled and it almost back-fired. Those are the margins that mean the questions can wait for another day. Tottenham’s ninth and final fixture of a manic October sees them retain third spot.
“I don’t want to think about my mood had we lost this game,” Conte said. “It was a vital win for us, especially after two losses. I said to the players after the first half that they had to take responsibility. We then started to play with nastiness, with the desire to hurt the opponent. I saw in the eyes of my players that they decided to win this game.”
Bournemouth’s disappointment at a third consecutive league defeat was palpable. “I’m really disappointed that the boys put so much in but got nothing out of it,” Gary O’Neil said.
Kieffer Moore’s two goals had Bournemouth buoyant. Wales’ No 9 shone when England’s equivalent might have expected to be more effective than a frustrated booking.
In the opening minutes an unmarked Moore guided Lewis Cook’s corner on to the roof’s net. A warning sign? Most definitely. Tottenham were sluggish. Bournemouth were sharp and snappy. Low on possession, yes. But they had a sense of purpose to them and shape, too.
Moore’s inclusion allowed Dominic Solanke to drop deeper. Off the back of a 30-goal promotion campaign Solanke has filled the supporting role with success at times this season.
While he did not get an assist, Moore’s opener was of his making. On the halfway line Solanke’s first touch turned Davies on the inside, before his second sent Marcus Tavernier racing down the outside. Tavernier’s first-time centre was swept into the corner.
It took 36 minutes for Oliver Skipp to register Tottenham’s first effort on target. Moments later Son Heung-min’s dangerous cross was headed on to his own bar by Marcos Senesi. It was a vital intervention with attackers queuing.
Soon after the break, the skies and Conte’s mood darkened further. Moore was again the source of misery, stooping his 6ft 5in frame and bravely met Adam Smith’s sublime whipped cross.
But with Conte’s cavalry stripped and ready, Sessegnon halved the deficit. Tavernier was blindsided; Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s pass was pinpoint; and a nick off Chris Mepham beat Mark Travers.
On came Dier and Bentancur. Then came Ivan Perisic, whose inswinging corner was met by Davies. Travers, starting for the first time since shipping nine at Anfield, was guilty of flapping. “There were some errors in there that were avoidable,” said O’Neil, without pointing fingers. All square and 17 minutes remained.
Conte urged white bodies forward; Højbjerg curled narrowly over; Bournemouth thought they had held on. Bentancur determined otherwise.
For Spurs attention turns quickly from next season’s Champions League race to the current one. And they are likely to be boosted in southern France by Dejan Kulusevski’s return. He was sighted running pre-match shuttles.
Conte soon celebrates a year at the Tottenham helm. He craves just one present. “This ‘winner’ has to give us enthusiasm, the passion, to go to Marseille to play in what will be a final for us.”