Ange Postecoglou had said this week that Tottenham would need to suffer on their way to joy. Turns out there was a nicer way to get there – a fixture with Manchester United.
And how they loved it, with those little passes and that freedom to attack after so long in the stylistic handcuffs of other managers.
It worked a treat and it was a treat to watch. They stayed in the game in the first half with time spent on the back foot, and they won it in the second when they tipped on to their toes and ran at a team with no ideas and more than a few problems.
The decisive contributions were made by Pape Matar Sarr and an own goal from Lisandro Martinez, for they are the details on the scoreline, but it was more complex than that, because it was about the multi-dimensional talents of Yves Bissouma, the trickery of James Maddison and the happy aura of a team with a clear purpose.
Has it really been a matter of days since they lost Harry Kane? That will continue to sting for Spurs, and certainly Richarlison does not carry the look of a natural replacement, but if his departure has given Postecoglou a free hit at this season, then he is ahead of schedule.
Tottenham Hotspur defeated Manchester United 2-0 in new boss Ange Postecoglou’s first home game in charge of the club
Senegalese midfielder Pape Matar Sarr (second left) scored his first Tottenham goal from close range to give his side the lead
Ben Davies then flicked on Ivan Perisic’s cross, forcing United defender Lisandro Martinez into an unfortunate own goal
Indeed, this was a day that started with protests in the streets about price hikes and ended with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, of all people, spinning a Cruyff turn on Jadon Sancho, shortly before this place took on the atmosphere of a rave at the final whistle.
It can change quickly, of course, but where is the fun in thinking like that? Even if it is the only reflex that might appeal to those who follow United.
This was a mess, just as the performance against Wolves was dire, but the difference was that they left with no points instead of three. They got what they deserved here.
It wasn’t a shambles – in the first half they dominated the chances to the tune of 14 to seven, and they were good openings too, with Bruno Fernandes making an almighty hash of a free header from six yards.
Other opportunities were shared by Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho, as well as the denial of a penalty by the VAR for a handball by Cristian Romero in the course of blocking a shot from the latter.
Then, in the second period, at 1-0 down, Casemiro forced a fabulous save from Guglielmo Vicario, so it wasn’t a mauling. It wasn’t a walkover.
But once more we look at this United side and wonder what Erik ten Hag is trying to achieve in terms of style, and how he hopes to make sustained progress when the quality of finishing does little justice to some decent build-up play.
From there, you can question the individual errors within the defence – Martinez was questionable on both goals – and the midfield difficulties for a second game in succession.
This time, Ten Hag had attempted to correct it with an altered brief for Mason Mount. Casemiro was repeatedly left exposed in the middle against Wolves, but with Mount taking on a deeper role here it was a sturdier unit. Sturdier but not sturdy – Bissouma had a great time in their company.
And yet it should be noted that United started the stronger, illuminated by that wasted opportunity off the head of Fernandes, brought on by a superb cross from Luke Shaw.
There was also the startling sight of Andre Onana pinging a 60-yard cross-field pass on the run to Alejandro Garnacho – the goalkeeper was signed to be a weapon with his feet and in that department alone there are few doubts.
With all that going on, United looked decent, but losing their penalty appeal against the Romero handball seemed key, because it was around the time that something stirred in Tottenham.
There were pre-match demonstrations against chairman Daniel Levy and owners ENIC which may have threatened the mood
But Spurs started brightly in North London, which helped settle the home supporters at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
United were denied a penalty after a VAR check when Alejandro Garnacho’s shot struck the arm of defender Cristian Romero
United captain Bruno Fernandes then missed a sitter when he ballooned a header high and wide from Luke Shaw’s fine cross
Unlike Fernandes, Sarr took his moment brilliantly, powering home at the back post after a cross deflected off Martinez, 25
Postecoglou, who had swapped out Emerson Royal and Oliver Skipp from the 11 that drew at Brentford and brought in Pedro Porro and Sarr, had initially looked to hit United on the counter.
As the half moved on, with fractional looks at goal for Heung-min Son and Sarr, that gradually morphed to a more aggressive approach, with particular onus on targeting the space behind Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
It worked, with the high points of successive shots against the frame in the same passage of play by Pedro Porro and Sarr, but the roots of Tottenham’s enhanced presence in the game were in the less glaring contributions of Bissouma.
He was superb – in equal measure a shield and also a rotator of quick passes, so perfect for Postecoglou’s style. With Bissouma orchestrating, Spurs were starting to set the tempo, though it wasn’t until the second half when the subtleties made way for the tangible return of a goal, scored by Sarr four minutes after the break.
It was Dejan Kulusevski who led the attack with a surge up the right, before his cut back was deflected into the path of Sarr by Martinez. There was some good fortune in the ricochet, but the back-post finish was lovely.
Vicario made a superb save to deny Casemiro at a set-piece and in turn Spurs were denied a penalty, when Martinez clattered Romero. The United defender was lucky to escape sanction.
In response, Ten Hag made a triple substitution and Postecoglou sent on two of his own, including the removal of Richarlison.
United’s changes seemed to inject a little more verve, but they were finally pressed into the dirt when Martinez deflected an Ivan Perisic cross past Onana.