Drab draw with Everton shows task ahead for Conte

LIVERPOOL: Tottenham Hotspur’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte reacts during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park in Liverpool, north west England yesterday. – AFP

LIVERPOOL: Antonio Conte was given an early indication of the huge challenge that lies ahead if he is to take Tottenham back to the Champions League as Spurs labored to a 0-0 draw at Everton yesterday. A game short on clear-cut chances could easily have ended in Tottenham’s sixth defeat in eight league games but for a controversial intervention from VAR to overturn the decision to award Everton a second-half penalty.

Giovani lo Celso nearly snatched all three points for Spurs when his shot hit the post late on before Everton had to see out stoppage time a man down following Mason Holgate’s straight red card. Conte can point to a first clean sheet in the league since August as the first sign of progress since replacing Nuno Espirito Santo earlier this week. However, their struggle to score goals goes on as Harry Kane has still netted just once in the Premier League this season. Tottenham climb to ninth, four points adrift of the top four, while Everton are a point worse off in 11th. The sackings of Norwich boss Daniel Farke and Aston Villa manager Dean Smith over the weekend took the total in the English top-flight to five already this season.

Rafael Benitez is another manager under pressure as a bright start has given way to two points from the last 15 on offer in the league. Benitez’s appointment was not warmly welcomed by a large proportion of the Everton support due to his Champions League-winning past at rivals Liverpool. But the Spaniard has been hamstrung by injuries to key players and the presence of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin was badly missed by the home side.

Tottenham had the better of a poor first 45 minutes from both sides. Sergio Reguilon blazed over the best chance from Kane’s pinpoint cross. The game suddenly sparked into life on the hour mark when Everton thought they had a penalty after Hugo Lloris dived at the feet of Richarlison and clipped the Brazilian. However, after a VAR review, referee Chris Kavanagh overturned his original decision on the basis Lloris got enough of a touch on the ball. A replay of the incident shown inside Goodison Park sparked outrage among the Everton fans and they used the sense of injustice to fuel their best spell of the game.

Demarai Gray had the best chance to win the game for the Toffees, but he steered Lucas Digne’s cross just wide of the far post. Tottenham still retained a threat on the counter-attack despite an off day for Kane and Son Heung-min. Substitute Lo Celso produced a rare moment of quality when his curling effort from 25 yards beat Jordan Pickord and came back off the post. Holgate was then rightly shown red after another VAR review for a wild lunge on Pierre Emile Hojbjerg. – AFP

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