When Harry Kane’s penalty finally landed a third of the way up the giant home stand at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, perhaps it was part of a cunning plan. It was almost as though Tottenham are determined to keep how well they have responded to the north London derby defeat under wraps for now.
An emphatic win against Eintracht Frankfurt would somehow have given the game away. For some reason, hanging on for five minutes of injury time to a slender lead against 10 men having had the game sewn up by half-time just seems a lot more Spursy.
But you have to believe this is a very different Tottenham outfit under Antonio Conte than the trophyless near-missers that have gone before. Mainly that is down to their main stars. Everybody may be saying that no one can match Manchester City’s Erling Haaland.
But no “two” can produce anything like what Kane and Son Heung-min can when they are in this sort of mood. They’ve now directly combined for 50 goals across all competitions. Kane’s mysterious spot-kick fail aside, they would have ended with two goals apiece and were involved in several more chances that could have put the game beyond sight before the interval.
Son was also integral in getting Tuta sent off for two necessary fouls and Frankfurt should have finished the match with just nine if referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande had not bottled a clear second booking for veteran Makoto Hasebe. A woeful piece of defending by Eric Dier – a ludicrously heavy first touch in his own penalty area by an established international – had gifted the Bundesliga side an early advantage.
Then when they had an extra man, more lax defending allowed substitute Faride Alidou to score an unchallenged header from a set piece to set up those late jitters. In between, though, Kane and Son were busy demonstrating that when they click like they did tonight they are strong enough to paper over these imperfections that have dragged Spurs down in the past.
The perfect assist from the England captain which sent the South Korea international clear to score Tottenham’s equaliser was the 50th time the pair have combined directly to score. Then you have to add what the pair of them can do on their own.
Kane seemed to play a one-two between his own shoes to confuse Kristijan Jakic into bundling him over agriculturally in the penalty area. Perhaps he baffled the Spanish official too, it was only after a trip to the VAR monitor that he finally pointed to the spot. At the first time of asking, Kane scored emphatically.
Then came the moment of the match. Richarlison, not to be underestimated as a mischievous sidekick to the main pairing, created trouble on the right. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg took over and clipped a slowly-arcing cross to where Son had hung back about 12 yards from goal.
The cheer his rasping volley produced was replaced with an awestruck gasp when the replay was shown on the giant TV screens – a moment of class that underlined the gulf in class. Even if Tottenham spent those late stages trying to disguise it all again amid a flurry of unsettling substitutions.
Conte will point to the relentless fixture list for that, but in truth the games cannot come quickly enough. Penalty-miss aside, with Kane and Son playing like this for the next few weeks, who knows where Tottenham will be when the World Cup moves into view.