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The stat that shows Spurs have always been more resilient than you think

Spurs surprisingly hold the Premier League record for a statistic that you wouldn’t normally have associated with the North London club. 

“Lads, it’s Tottenham” will forever be a part of the footballing lexicon after Roy Keane revealed in his second autobiography that those were the words uttered by manager Alex Ferguson at half-time of that famous 5-3 game between Spurs and Manchester United in 2001.

Three goals up by the interval at White Hart Lane, the Lilywhites were on their way to a famous victory over one of the most dominant teams in the history of English football at that point. It was almost too good to be true, and in fact, it was. They would go on to lose in spectacular fashion in what is considered one of the greatest Premier League comebacks ever, but one of the biggest capitulations as well.

Many have wondered what Fergie did to inspire his troops in the dressing room at the break. What tactical instructions did he give, who did he bawl out of it, what stirring words did he say before sending them back out? But as Keane revealed years later, the Scot said one line and that was all the players needed to hear.

 

It is the defining match of modern Spurs, a flair club without a backbone, missing that bite you need to be truly successful. All sizzle and no steak. Mentally frail. Put it up to them and they’ll crumble. The team that comes third in a two-horse race. ‘Spursy’.

That notion has even travelled beyond England, as evidenced by Giorgio Chiellini’s comments after Juventus beat them in the Champions League round of 16 in 2018. Spurs were in a great position to beat the Italians, up 3-2 on aggregate and playing well, but two second-half goals in quick succession downed them. The centre-back called it “the history of the Tottenham” in such a matter-of-fact manner afterwards, as if the result was never in doubt.

Fast forward a year and two months later and that same Tottenham found themselves in the Champions League final, having overcome arguably the best side in Europe in Manchester City and completing one of the all-time great comebacks against Ajax, before losing to Liverpool in the decider.

This was emblematic of the new Spurs, which has cast off the shackles of Spursiness under Mauricio Pochettino, who has turned the north London outfit into a model of consistency. They have qualified for the Champions League in four of the five seasons the Argentine has been in charge, no longer hoping their potential can eventually be turned into wins.

As it turns out, the Spursy tag might have been exaggerated a great deal over the years before Pochettino’s arrival. The club added to a statistic, for which they hold the record, over the weekend after they came from behind to beat Aston Villa 3-1 in the opening game of the season. It was the 37th time Tottenham had won a Premier League game after being behind at half-time.

Embed from Getty Images

 

Spurs are now clear leaders in this regard with 37 wins, five more than the nearest team, Man United, funnily enough. Now if you had been asked without knowing what team you would think would top that particular list, you probably wouldn’t have guessed it was them. They might not even be in your top five guesses.

That’s because the mythology of Spursiness is deeply ingrained within every follower of English football. Too many times we have all seen Tottenham crumble at the slightest hint of adversity at one point or another. Just last year Gary Neville said “for 30 years (Spurs) were spineless and soft, flaky… rubbish… pathetic.”

Okay, so maybe Gary went a bit over the top with that particular criticism, but you all get the idea. But to hold the record of most wins after being behind at half-time suggests a certain mental fortitude that their reputation contradicts. How can a ‘spineless’ team have the resilience to make so many comebacks?

And yet these two things — the perception and the reality — have existed at the same time, running parallel for the best part of 27 years. Maybe this whole time Spurs were psychologically stronger than we gave them credit for.  Still, it makes things a bit more interesting to run with the narrative, doesn’t it?

Most Premier League wins when losing at half-time:

  1. Tottenham Hotspur – 37
  2. Manchester United – 32
  3. Arsenal – 30
  4. Chelsea – 27
  5. Liverpool – 22
  6. West Ham United – 21

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