Dubai: Having conceded the first goal in six consecutive games but going on to win three of them Tottenham had been showing plenty of character in the Premier League.
So when the comeback kings fell behind in the second half against Aston Villa, most expected Antonio Conte’s team to play themselves back into the game.
After all, Villa had won just two of their previous 21 league games against the North London giants. Surely they were destined for another defeat? Not so.
Conte had made four changes to the side which came from two goals down to draw at Brentford on Boxing Day. Two of those were in defence with Eric Dier and Japhet Tanganga benched and Ben Davies and Cristian Romero coming in. Romero, a World Cup winner with Argentina, was playing for the first time since that extraordinary final in Qatar and the centre back looked a little rusty. Conte also gave Bryan Gil a start for Dejan Kulusevski who reportedly had a hamstring injury and the fourth change was in goal with Hugo Lloris returning in place of Fraser Forster.
The team looked a bit experimental and as a result they played without any rhythm as Villa came flying out of the traps, pinning the home side down for long spells.
Conte was hoping Spurs would be a bit more solid at the back having conceded too many early goals this season and they made it to half time with a clean sheet but worryingly they produced hardly anything in attack.
Back of the net
Boos echoed around the Tottenham Stadium when Douglas Luiz’s shot was spilled by Lloris and Ollie Watkins nicked it away from the France keeper to pick out Emiliano Buendia who hammered his shot into the back of the net.
The home fans expected their side to rally, after all Tottenham had won seven of their past eight Premier League games on New Year’s Day, and the expectant crowd did see another goal - but it was in the wrong net. Watkins won the ball high up the pitch to feed John McGinn whose cross was inch perfect for Luiz to finish. It was a brilliant goal and it killed off any hopes of a Spurs comeback.
It was a good win for Villa to start the New Year but Spurs will need to pull their socks up if they are to get back into the Champions League places.
Meanwhile, in their first meeting since 1999, Nottingham Forest held Chelsea to a 1-1 draw at the City Ground.
The Blues had won each of their last seven games against Forest in all competitions but found the home side hard to break down as the points were shared.
Chelsea, who had not been in great form at the end of the year having lost three matches in a row before beating Bournemouth on Tuesday, took the lead through Raheem Sterling and had chances to extend their lead.
But they paid the penalty as Serge Aurier grabbed a deserved equalizer for the hosts in the second period. A corner was headed back across the six-yard area by Willy Boly and it came to Aurier who chested it down and thumped it past a wall of bodies and into the net.
Chelsea coach Graham Potter will be concerned after this result as his side looked predictable and struggled for invention. They lacked drive from midfield and the likes of Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz were anonymous for large periods of the game.
The result keeps Forest in the bottom three while Chelsea remain in eighth.