Spurs pay for their inexperience, says Neil Humphreys
Pochettino's exciting kids pay for their inexperience
(Craig Dawson 33-og)
WEST BROM 1
(Craig Dawson 73)
In recent weeks, a subtle shift in thinking has occurred.
Leicester City were expected to fall at the final few hurdles, despite the lack of evidence to support such a claim.
And Tottenham Hotspur were going to sail to the English Premier League title, picking up four straight victories and gliding past opponents as if they were bouncing buoys in the ocean.
But there was little evidence to support this theory, either.
Those expressing shock at the draw against West Brom yesterday morning (Singapore time) perhaps spent too much time looking forward rather than back.
History was not quite on Spurs' side.
Key results hinted at a minor weakness, the folly of youth perhaps, where Tottenham's child-like eagerness to shock and awe, to unleash their weapons of mass destruction and blitz the penalty box left gaps at the back.
A month ago, Mauricio Pochettino's kids were so determined to not only beat 10-man Arsenal but to also humiliate their despised neighbours, that they lost focus.
Instead of pulling back to clear dizzy heads, as West Brom did so effectively yesterday, Tottenham poured forward and the Gunners pinched a point.
Spurs were similarly sucker-punched by Leicester. Newcastle United also opened up Tottenham in mid-December, at a time when the Magpies couldn't open a Christmas cracker.
Newcastle, Leicester, Arsenal and now West Brom; all at White Hart Lane, all winnable fixtures, all wasted opportunities. Should Spurs miss out on the title, they'll be forced to look closer to home.
White Hart Lane wasn't quite the fortress it needed to be in the closest contests.
In stark contrast, the King Power Stadium was a cauldron of screaming expectation on Sunday. The 12th man went forth and multiplied, thousands of times over. He was young and old, male and female, all united by a shared understanding.
Spurs didn't. Not really. The jittery atmosphere in the second half against West Brom filtered its way down from the stands to the pitch and back up again.
In a way, the Tottenham crowd ruefully acknowledged a reality that seemed to escape those still championing their cause.
Spurs are set up to win, and often win comfortably, as witnessed in their stunning 4-0 victory at Stoke.
But they're not set up to hang on, to fall back and play safe. It's a noble philosophy, but not a title-winning one, not this season at least.
Leicester churned out four 1-0 wins in a row. Tottenham can't do that, not yet.
Their counter-pressing approach, surging into the opponents' half, via Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, to feed the 22-year-old Harry Kane has contributed to the most entertaining attacking performances of the season.
But a combination of both Pochettino's invigorating strategy and Tottenham's youthful line-up can present stubborn opponents with a slim opportunity.
If they are not overrun in the first half and their goalkeeper enjoys an eye-catching day at the office, as Boaz Myhill did yesterday, then there's always a chance of picking Hugo Lloris' pocket.
The task becomes easier of course when Lloris flaps at set-pieces like a turkey trying to escape a farmer's blade on Christmas Eve.
Such deficiencies, and they are very slight, have rarely found their way into Leicester's line-up.
In those 1-0 wins, along with easier victories against Sunderland and Swansea, Leicester rarely looked like scoring as many goals as Tottenham.
But they seldom looked like losing those games, either.
If anything, defenders Robert Huth and Wes Morgan have come to define the Foxes' laboured run towards the title; obdurate, physical, tenacious, not always impressing the purists, but winning nonetheless.
Alli, on the other hand, neatly encapsulates Tottenham.
The natural No. 10 plays football that defies his nationality.
The Englishman both energises and mesmerises, skipping away from markers like a Duracell Bunny with better footwork.
His speed of thought and deed evokes memories of a young Paul Gascoigne and an even younger Wayne Rooney.
But he's still only 20 years old. So there's the risk of emulating the thoughtlessness of a young Rooney and Gascoigne, too.
And West Brom knew it.
Claudio Yacob's goading voice rang in his ear like a bad case of tinnitus. Alli's inexperience betrayed him and he punched the midfielder in the stomach.
Yacob got what he wanted. Alli will get what he deserves from the English Football Association.
Brilliant, but occasionally brittle; terrific but sometimes tense; both a fearless youngster and an impetuous kid, Alli is Pochettino's Tottenham and Pochettino's Tottenham are built in the image of Alli.
Quite rightly, their stylish, swashbuckling adventure has won them many admirers this season. Unfortunately, it won't win them the title.
We have three games to play. But we need to believe.
— Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino
BY THE NUMBERS
West Brom defender Craig Dawson is the fourth player this season to score a goal and an own-goal in the same Premiership game, after Watford's Troy Deeney, Chelsea's John Terry and Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud.
Spurs face Alli KO
Star midfielder Dele Alli could miss the rest of Tottenham's season after being charged with violent conduct by the Football Association yesterday, reported BBC Sport.com.
Television footage appeared to show Alli punching Claudio Yacob during the 1-1 draw with West Brom yesterday (Singapore time).
The incident was not in the referee's report on the match.
Violent conduct usually incurs a three-game ban, so a guilty verdict would mean the England player, 20, misses all of Spurs' remaining fixtures.
Alli, named as the Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year on Sunday, has to respond by 1am tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Alli has been a hugely influential figure in his debut season for Tottenham. He has scored 10 goals and has formed an impressive partnership with striker Harry Kane.
- Wire Services.