For 45 minutes it was brilliant.
By Lee Sobot
Leeds United were on their way to a second victory from their last three games and up to 14th place in the Premier League table.
Less than 40 minutes later, Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites were staring at defeat, a fifth loss of the season and the prospect of being fourth-bottom, just two points above the dotted line after 12 games played.
Such are the fine margins of what looks sure to be an almighty scrap in the bottom half of the division.
But the impressive nature of United’s first-half showing at Tottenham must draw plenty of encouragement given that seven players were out injured, even though there is no denying that yesterday’s 2-1 defeat at Spurs was one that got away.
For Leeds, there will surely be other days based on their first-half showing, days in which Joe Gelhardt seems increasingly likely to be playing a more prominent role having seemingly jumped up the Leeds striker’s pecking order.
United looked to be facing a very difficult task at Tottenham even without being hit by a double late fitness blow to two of their best players who joined Patrick Bamford, Luke Ayling, Robin Koch, Jamie Shackleton and also now Crysencio Summerville on the sidelines.
Rumours on Sunday morning suggested that Brazil star Raphinha and Spain international Rodrigo would be joining that list and the pair were indeed ruled out, Raphinha ill and Rodrigo absent with a minor foot injury.
It all meant a first Premier League start for 19-year-old forward Gelhardt who was selected over and above Tyler Roberts who had to make do with a place on the bench.
Jamie Carragher then took to social media to wish ‘Joffy’ well on his first Premier League start and the teen produced a fine display in the No 9 role, full of energy and twists and turns and firing in plenty of dangerous shots on goal.
His first top-flight strike looks imminent and United’s third win of the new campaign looked set to be recorded after an excellent first 45 minutes at Tottenham.
But Leeds paid the price for only netting once during a spell in which they were so dominant before failing to defend their slender lead, and there are two schools of thought and how the reverse at Spurs can be viewed.
The first is to consider both the sheer number of United’s absentees and, moreover, the quality of those that were missing.
Raphinha, Bamford, Rodrigo and Ayling are all obvious starters when fit and available whilst Shackleton, Koch and Summerville at the very least provide decent options from the bench if not lining up in the XI.
The large number of absentees meant Leeds set out with a very inexperienced bench at Spurs as the back-from-injury Junior Firpo and Roberts were joined by youngsters Charlie Cresswell, Cody Drameh, Stuart McKinstry, Sam Greenwood, Liam McCarron and Jack Jenkins in addition to 'keeper Kristoffer Klaesson.
Even exciting 15-year-old Archie Gray was considered, revealed Bielsa, Gray travelling with the squad to Tottenham but not named on the bench.
Had the likes of key attacking trio Bamford, Raphinha and Rodrigo all been about, United might well have been more than one-goal up at the break.
Yet Bielsa pointed to the fact that the first half showed that Leeds could compete at least as equals against a side like Spurs with the XI on the field which must be seen as a big positive, even if the Whites ultimately had nothing to show for their efforts.
The turnaround was staggering as Spurs went from an expected goals tally of 0.06 in the opening period to 2.027 in the second 45 minutes.
Antonio Conte’s side were going nowhere in the opening period, mainly because Leeds didn’t let them, Phillips and also Liam Cooper at centre-back particularly immense, especially in dealing with Harry Kane.
But it all changed somewhat in the second half and, while Leeds had further chances to add to their tally, it was nothing like the opening period and Spurs could and should have equalised within 50 seconds of the restart when Kane was played and saw his shot deflect off Illan Meslier on to the post.
The Spurs attacks and chances gradually began to mount and eventually Leeds cracked, despite Bielsa’s continued attempts to change the Whites midfield to deal with the increasing Spurs pressure.
Bielsa said he ultimately blamed himself for making too many changes too quickly and not allowing time for those changes to take effect.
But it’s hard to know what else Bielsa or Leeds could have done differently, other than to look at the way the two Spurs goals went in.
Keeper Illan Meslier has saved United on countless occasions but paid the price for trying to come off his line in an attempt to usher Lucas Moura away from the byline which ultimately left Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg with the opportunity to fire into a net from which Meslier was missing.
Tottenham’s second, converted by Sergio Reguilon, just looked unlucky as Eric Dier’s free kick took a huge deflection on to the post before rebounding into his path although Reguilon was ultimately rewarded for being the first player to begin his run chasing the initial free kick in case of a rebound.
He took a chance and was rewarded for his efforts by netting what proved the winning goal in a contest which Leeds looked destined to win after the opening 45 minutes.
Now it’s all ifs, buts and maybes and Leeds are far too close to the dotted line after 12 games played.
Sooner or later, United need to be getting away from there.
Yet the signs at Tottenham showed that should be more than achievable, especially when the club’s star men are back and given the continued progress of teen ace Gelhardt.