This was a derby with the surface tension of lukewarm custard tart, but there were still glimpses of a brighter future for Spurs
Still humble, five days in. At the end of this strangely brittle Tottenham victory, a sustained thrashing of an invertebrate West Ham that somehow ended up a chancy 3-2 win, Jos Mourinho appeared on the London Stadium turf wearing his most convincing relievedyetrespectful face.
Behold: for I am the humblest. The humblissimus, a superstar of humility. Frowning deeply, face contorted into a rictus of dignified integrity, Mourinho pointedly shook the hands of the West Ham players, who looked a little surprised. There was a tentative round of applause towards the Tottenham fans, but from a distance, like a tremulous arm around the back of the cinema seat on a broadly successful second date.
Im not worried about my Tottenham career. Im worried about Tottenham, Mourinho would announce an hour later in the media room, apparently without irony. And outside he kept on lingering and pressing the flesh, was in fact the final person to leave the pitch, all the better to offer a very public hug to Dele Alli and Son Heung-min.
With good reason too. What to take from a victory like this? A first away win since January is clearly a note of progress. On the other hand, this was a derby-day occasion with all the powerful surface tension of lukewarm custard tart. There may be easier opening engagements out there than a lunchtime trip to a West Ham team with five defeats and two draws in their last seven games, at a ground where the heat of the home fans is still strangled by the huge empty spaces of this awkward Olympo-drome. But none that spring to mind right now.
How shit must you be, were winning away? the Tottenham fans sang midway through the second half. The answer to which would seem to be: very shit. The Spurs attack will surely not find a more accommodating central defender than Issa Diop, who displayed right up to his mercy-substitution on 64 minutes all the robust defensive resilience of a bead curtain.
A little later still the hapless Roberto made a straightforward save from a free-kick that drew a huge sarcastic cheer from his own fans. Its not that Roberto doesnt try: rarely can any footballer have made such an energetic show of himself while having so little physical effect on whether the ball actually goes in his net.
West Ham did come on strong, and scored twice toward the end as the Spurs defence suddenly fell apart, a timely reminder of what Mourinho is actually doing here in the first place. Still though, for Tottenhams supporters there were signs here of something a little different, of a slight change of tone and texture from the slow death of the Poch endgame.
Not much of it was new. It turns out Son has the speed of thought and movement to frazzle an unguarded defensive flank. Who knew? Harry Kane can finish. Lucas Moura adds spark and speed to this team(too seldom in the last few months).
But there were glimpses. There was even a moment at the start of the second half when Tottenham produced a fragile little blueprint of how Mourinho might want them to play, with Son, Moura and Alli springing forward together in a white-shirted storm, throttle cranked, from a deep defensive block. High-speed counterattack, Moura and Son in the same team: this is in itself a statement, a suggestion that Mourinho will start by injecting a tired-looking team with all the speed at its disposal.
Kane was hugely involved, scoring a goal and being fouled quite a lot. The West Ham defence is there to be bullied. But Kane wrote his name all over this game, which hasnt always been the case recently.
There were other clues. Christian Eriksen didnt make the XI. Less in the way of subtlety: more in the way of revs. Eric Dier started in midfield, the first time the Kane-Alli-Dier triumvirate has been in place at the start of a league game since last December; and another sign that Mourinho is aware the game here is to wring as much as possible from what he has, to spark up the old fires.
Alli, in particular, was a feature of this game, and has been throughout the first week of Mourinho at the Lane. Finding Dele: it is an obvious point of uplift, an obvious low-hanging fruit, a stellar re-signing just waiting to be made. That hug at the end was pointed, and indeed deserved as Alli did produce a fine performance, playing to the left of a forward three in a classic Jos 4-2-3-1.
There was one outstanding moment in the buildup to Tottenhams second goal, Alli spinning around on the grass, keeping the ball in with his toenail, then breakdancing it back into the path of Son with a kind of windmillflick.
Otherwise Alli, Son and Moura were a high-speed menace, their best moments when they could press and break as a trio, revolving around the adhesive presence of Kane in the centre.
If this is to be Mourinhos blueprint it looked here to have a spark of life about it, just as those hugs at the end were heartfelt. Still humble, still just so happy to be here, Mourinho knows of course that he has a huge opportunity to burnish his reputation by setting this faltering machine back on the rails. The hope, visible here in glimpses, is that the ingredients are already there.