Reguilón Gives Antonio Conte First League Win As Spurs Manager Against Leeds

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This turned from a case study in Tottenham’s weaknesses to a vision of what, if Antonio Conte can work half the magic he has cast elsewhere, could be a thrilling future. Their first-half performance was as strained as anything they produced under Nuno Espírito Santo and an improved Leeds side looked good for the lead provided by Dan James. But Spurs were a team transformed after the interval, ripping into their opponents and playing with the flair and thrust Conte will demand.

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Sergio Reguilón, breaking his duck for the club, were unlikely match winners but the home support will thirst for a repeat of excitement like this.

Before kick-off Conte took in the applause of a full Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the first time, having made his bow in a half-empty bowl for the Conference League tie against Vitesse. He has had scant time to work with his squad since but, given Leeds’ early-season pallor, this seemed an occasion cut out for Spurs to set a standard in front of their new head coach.

The visitors were already troubled by injuries before Rodrigo and the ill Raphinha were ruled out of the trip south; the latest upheaval meant Joe Gelhardt started up front for the first time, while Kalvin Phillips dropped back to anchor their defence.

If that sounded advantageous in theory, the reality quickly proved starkly different. Spurs were booed off at half-time and Leeds, far superior at that point, thoroughly deserved their lead. They had barely given Tottenham a kick in the opening 15 minutes before weathering what passed for home pressure and coming on strong again.

This was a convincing version of their best work under Marcelo Bielsa, full of positional rotation, quick thought and sharp running; a lack of clear chances bred a nagging sense they would lack cutting edge but, just before the interval, James disabused anyone of those concerns.

The goal stemmed from a feat of persistence and quality from Jack Harrison, who received possession on the left flank before showing too much pace and strength for Emerson Royal. Having created the chance to cross, precision was now required: Harrison provided it with with a pinpoint low delivery and James, hurtling into the six-yard box, converted for the first time since his summer move from Manchester United.

Tottenham had been sluggish, tentative and unambitious in their execution. Although they improved slightly after Leeds’s early whirlwind, in which Phillips saw a free-kick saved by Hugo Lloris and Stuart Dallas drilled just wide, their bearings were awry at both ends. Japhet Tanganga, last seen in the league when he was hauled off at half-time in the north London derby but required here due to Cristian Romero’s injury, conceded a sloppy corner with a wayward pass; Harry Winks deployed on account of Oliver Skipp’s suspension, sought the safe option too often and was hardly alone in that.

Two sumptuous passes from deep from Harry Kane towards Reguilón and Emerson suggested Spurs were finding their range but, when the striker found positions of greater menace, he was dispossessed by Phillips and then saw Liam Cooper take Reguilón’s cross off his head. None of that gave too much cause for excitement and, moments before James struck, Adam Forshaw offered a reminder of Leeds’ ambition by blasting fractionally off target from distance.

Conte had his work cut out at the break: such laboured, uninspiring fare is hardly in his image. Spurs immediately proved they had heeded whatever rollicking they were dealt. They hit the woodwork twice within six minutes of the restart, Kane seeing Illan Meslier squeeze his effort on to the near post before Son Heung-min’s cross-shot smacked off Diego Llorente and struck the bar.

Both efforts were set up by Lucas Moura – the first ended a run of 272 minutes without a shot on target. Either side of the second, James and Gelhardt forced Lloris into awkward saves. The tone had shifted, though, because Spurs had finally matched Leeds’s breakneck tempo.

Højbjerg’s equaliser had been signposted and owed to more composed work from Moura, who reached a loose ball ahead of Meslier and laid it back. There was little to commend the midfielder’s scuffed finish except the fact it found the net, but the hosts had their equaliser and Conte waved them back to the centre circle.

Leeds retained a threat in James but now found themselves constantly defending on the stretch. Soon after Meslier had saved from Ben Davies one such act of desperation saw Cooper fell Moura, almost unplayable since half-time, inside the D. Eric Dier’s free-kick flicked off Pascal Struijk in the middle of the wall, wrong-footing Meslier and bouncing off his left upright. A gleeful Reguilón was first to the rebound and Spurs had full reward for re-emerging in such scintillating style.

Reguilón sprinted off towards the corner flag and Conte launched into one of his full-octane touchline celebrations. Tottenham were not troubled again and, at the end, he could absorb the acclaim once more.

GUARDIAN UK

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