And perhaps this, too, was the history of Tottenham. As Son Heung-min stole in at the far post to tap in Harry Kane’s cross and complete the unlikeliest of comebacks, it was possible to sense the collective exhalation, not so much a euphoria as a relief. Perhaps, despite all outward appearances, this cause is not quite as unsalvageable as it seems. Perhaps, despite everything, there remains something here worth saving.
It was somehow fitting, too, that it should be Son to provide Tottenham with their life raft. More than anyone it is Son who has managed to encapsulate the sheer dolour of being Spurs this season: their mood ring, their doleful minor-key soundtrack. When Son is sad, it feels inconceivable that anybody else could possibly be happy. And so in his fitful return to form in recent weeks – six goals in nine games for club and country – there is perhaps an augury of better times ahead.
And if all this seems a bit much to be pinning on a home draw against a Manchester United side that did them the lavish favour of forgetting to play for about half an hour, then this is simply a measure of the small mercies Tottenham fans will accept for the time being. There were moments during a calamitous first half when a repeat of the capitulation against Newcastle United seemed not just possible but likely. Arms crossed, grimaces fixed against the windy drizzle, the 60,000 masochists in the stadium seemed collectively to accept the fate that was coming to them.
The mood at kick-off was neither toxic nor boisterous, but rather nonexistent. There is simply very little energy to this place at the moment, just a kind of gnarled bitterness punctuated with occasional half-hearted “Levy Out” chants. In a way this is a club that has been brutalised into numbness, the sort of emotional vacuum that occurs when you serve up relegation football while removing even the remotest possibility of relegation.
Perhaps this was why Tottenham’s team began the game with all the vigour and red-blooded passion of 11 men who had been randomly selected for jury duty. Seriously, they looked as though they might start crying if you said something mean to them. It was little surprise, then, when Jadon Sancho opened the scoring from 16 yards out while three Tottenham defenders scrupulously avoided any action that might be construed as resistance.
Had Erik ten Hag’s side even a little of Newcastle’s brutal efficiency, they too might have been out of sight within half an hour. As it was, they had to content themselves with Marcus Rashford’s ridiculously simple second goal on the stroke of half-time. The art of defending one-on-one is to show the striker on to his weaker foot. Eric Dier, in maintaining a healthy 10-yard buffer between himself and Rashford at all times, somehow managed to show him on to both: a man not so much concerned with preventing a goal as getting a really, really good view of it.
Has a Champions League-freighted fixture ever been this lacking in basic intensity? Perhaps it was the weird slapstick quality of the game that lulled United into their soft second-half regression: undoubtedly sapped by their extra-time efforts at Wembley at the weekend, they simply retreated into a dream state, going through the motions, recycling the ball unimaginatively and without tempo. Ten Hag’s substitutions made sense in theory but had little effect in practice. Even Pedro Porro’s sumptuous strike – a reminder of what he can do when he is allowed to play on the front foot rather than frantically backpedalling towards goal – failed to wake them.
Even so, as Son and Eric Dier missed big chances to equalise Tottenham’s moment appeared to have run out of puff. And yet with 11 minutes to go Kane found a pocket of space in the right channel, found the right angle to squeeze in a cross, found the run of Son, found the escape route again. It was a goal of genuine poignancy: just two home games remain this season, Kane will surely be considering his options this summer, and so perhaps this was the moment when these two old buddies teamed up for one last job.
But the future can wait for now. The organisation as a whole is still a shambles: no coach, no sporting director, a chairman loathed by large parts of the fanbase, a star striker who wants to leave, no clear recruitment strategy, no defined style of play, no real sense of values or priorities beyond wanting to be, you know, pretty big. And yet as the whistle blew for full-time the growl of satisfaction around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium spoke of a different urge: the urge simply to feel something again.