Sometimes the game is not fair, even when it's fair.
Sometimes, you can get off 11 shots on target and not score, as Tottenham had done heading into extra time on Sunday. Host Cardiff City might have parked the bus in front of goal, but they left the door unlocked and the keys in the ignition. At times, it looked as if Spurs, who took 29 shots in all on the day, were taking target practice. (Note to Andros Townsend: No points for shooting dead center each time.) This from a team that beat Manchester City 3-2 last month?
Despite Spurs' dominance, it looked as if the strategy would pay off for overmatched Cardiff City, who seemed destined to emerge with a valuable point from a scoreless draw. But suddenly, in the 93rd minute and against the run of frustration, Paulinho deftly directed a pass from fellow summer signee Erik Lamela and -- finally -- Tottenham had a ball past keeper David Marshall.
With that winner, the most unfair result of the day was suddenly Marshall, my pick for Man of the Match, walking off the field on the losing side despite frustrating Tottenham all day long.
By now, we can see a familiar pattern emerging for Spurs, that of the two center mids in Paulinho and Moussa Dembele and center halves Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson dominating the middle of the pitch. Ajax import Christian Eriksen in only his second game for the club looks to have established himself as its most polished player. Roberto Soldado might be frustrated to have not yet scored a league goal in open play, but his quick-strike touch was evident today and the goals will come. No Adebayor, he.
But all of this looked to be for naught, and manager Andre Villas-Boas seemed to have run out of ideas as the match went into extra time. The limitations of Townsend's game are becoming evident as he continues to play a one-note symphony on the right -- cut in, shoot from distance. But when he seemed to be the logical man to take off when Lamela was introduced, AVB chose to leave him on the field for the time being and take off Gylfi Sigurdsson, who's been looking effective on the left. Later, in desperate need of an on-pitch locksmith, AVB shockingly sent in untested 20-year-old Harry Kane after not even giving him match time against Tromsø in the Europa League last week. (Jermaine Defoe was left out of the squad altogether today with a mysterious "knock" that few people seemed to know anything about.) Lewis Holtby's introduction almost came too late -- in the 89th minute -- though he quickly made his moment by initiating the game-winning connection with a pass to Lamela, who by then had shifted over to Townsend's vacated spot on the right.
Before Paulinho's winner, the play of the day came in the 7th minute when a foolish back pass from left back Kyle Naughton caught Vertonghen flat-footed and gifted Cardiff's Fraizer Campbell a red carpet to goal. Naughton looked out of his element today, and it speaks to Danny Rose's progress on the club that he was sorely missed today after pulling up injured against Tromsø. Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris came out aggressively to thwart Campbell -- in truth, too aggressively, as he was shown to have handled the ball just outside the box, the second time in consecutive league matches that he's done so. Although referee Mark Clattenburg gave Lloris the benefit of the doubt in this instance, Lloris yielded a corner to the Welsh side just before halftime after nonchalantly playing a ball near the goal line. This also nearly led to disaster, as the ensuring corner was directed into goal by Cardiff's Ben Turner, but it was disallowed due to a foul. This was a rare day when Lloris looked a distant second among keepers between the posts.
But hey, did I mention Spurs are now tied on points atop the table with Arsenal? Tottenham have played five matches and won the four they should have won. With Chelsea and Manchesters United and City all going through growing pains under new managers, it's shaping up to be a free for all near the top. If Spurs can beat Chelsea at home on Saturday, it will go a long way toward claims of their challenging for a Champions League spot, and perhaps more.
In the meantime, two things are certain: Lamela has earned a starting nod on the right, and Rose needs to get well soon.