Conte witnesses task at hand after another sterile Tottenham display in draw at Everton

Italian manager back in a Premier League dugout for the first time since leaving Chelsea in 2018

Now Antonio Conte has first-hand evidence of the task in hand. Tottenham have a superstar manager and a sterile side. They have gone 226 minutes without a shot on target in the Premier League and Jordan Pickford was as untroubled in Conte’s first game in the division as David de Gea was in Nuno Espirito Santo’s last.

For the first time since such data was first recorded 18 years ago, Spurs have failed to record an effort on target in two consecutive Premier League matches. This was an inauspicious return to the division for the 2017 Premier League champion.

A stalemate leaves Spurs as the second lowest scorers. Conte may well rejuvenate Harry Kane but an afternoon where he had no shot of any description offered few clues. Not that others showed too much more potency. There were only two efforts on target, from the Everton duo of Ben Godfrey and Tom Davies, and each was tame.

“We have a lot of space for improvement,” the Italian said. He branded it a “good point” but partly due to the effort his new charges demonstrated. “Today I have seen the heart of my players, the passion, the will to fight, to sacrifice,” he outlined.

But if Conte was the defining figure off the pitch, on it that mantle fell to Christopher Kavanagh. The referee twice overturned his initial errors, perhaps denying Everton victory and definitely reducing them to 10 men.

First came a reprieve for Conte and Spurs. Kavanagh had pointed to the penalty spot when Hugo Lloris clawed the ball away from, but brought down, Richarlison. Invited to view the incident again by the VAR, he concluded the goalkeeper got the ball and reversed his initial decision.

“If he gives the penalty, no one would be complaining,” said Rafa Benitez. “In the middle of the pitch it is a foul and in the box it has to be a foul.” Conte did not concur. “Lloris touched the ball,” he said. “If you go to VAR, it is impossible to make a mistake.”

Then, in the 90th minute, the substitute Mason Holgate poleaxed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, planting his studs in the Dane’s leg with his follow through, Kavanagh’s initial decision was to give a yellow card; after reviewing the incident, he upgraded the card to red and the substitute departed. “I cannot complain about that,” Benitez added.

In between, the Tottenham replacement Giovani Lo Celso struck the post with a lovely strike. Had it gone a few inches to the right, it might have been evidence of Conte’s alchemy. Instead, it was a reminder that Tottenham possess talent in reserve but are struggling to score.

Conte retained the 3-4-3 formation he perfected for Chelsea and introduced against Vitesse Arnhem. It brought three goals in half an hour then, but rather less against an Everton team who ended their run of three successive defeats with a display of great effort.

“From the first minute to the last every player gave everything,” said Benitez. They emerged with more credit and they applied more pressure in a second half when Demarai Gray, shooting wide from Lucas Digne’s low cross, spurned their best chance.

Benitez showed a little creativity in reacting to the injuries, losses and historic blunders in the transfer market that have left him with a mismatched squad, crowbarring Andros Townsend into a central-midfield role, giving the influential Fabian Delph a first league start of 2021 as a quarterback of a holding player and injecting some solidity into a side breached seven times by Watford and Wolves in their previous two games.

Cone was pleased with his own side’s clean sheet. “You must have a stable team, not ups and downs,” he argued.

On this occasion, they lacked the ups. Tottenham’s attacking wing-backs each had openings, Emerson Royal heading over and a stretching Sergio Reguilon shooting into the stands. Son Heung-min escaped behind the Everton defence but shot wide. Spurs’ wait for an effort on target continues.

Updated: November 7th 2021, 5:20 PM
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