Antonio Conte sensed a lull around a stadium that, from the start of the second half, had pulsated to the rhythm of a relentless Tottenham performance. There had been scant threat of a Leeds equaliser but the volume had tailed off and, with a few minutes left, any drop in energy could prove costly. Looking up to the stands, he waved his arms furiously until the faithful had summoned a noise to his liking; it did the trick, because Spurs heaved themselves over the line and bred a sense that the handover between eras started right here.
That is what Conte brings: an intensity, drama and insistence that sweep others along with him. Natural charisma like that does not grow on trees and, whether you are a player or a fan, it comes with demands. Meeting them tends to be worth it and, if evenings like this become the norm here, Spurs may discover that soon enough. They looked like a team in their head coach’s image after the interval, undoing the harm caused during a horribly laboured first half and setting a standard Conte will demand they match.
What a turnaround this was given the fact that, at half-time, Spurs were booed off by a crowd who had witnessed a continuation of the worst traits they displayed under Nuno Espírito Santo and José Mourinho. “Our fans weren’t satisfied with the football we played and I agreed with them,” Conte said. Bad habits cannot be erased overnight and this was a reminder: Dan James’s opener for Leeds, prodded in just before the interval, was entirely deserved because the only initiative on show had come from Marcelo Bielsa’s markedly improved visitors.
Conte had 15 minutes to cajole a reaction and the ferocity of Tottenham’s response was underlined by the statistics. They ran 3.7km further than Leeds, who had been a version of their fizzing best, in the second half and it gave their extra quality a platform. Within six minutes of re-emerging they hit the woodwork twice, Harry Kane’s effort squeezing on to a post via Illan Meslier and Son Heung-min’s cross-shot pinballing off Diego Llorente on to the bar; they did not let up and their goals, while not in contention for any end-of-season awards, were well signposted.
The first was created by Lucas Moura, who teed up those earlier efforts and was unplayable once Spurs had cleared their heads. He reached a loose ball ahead of Meslier before checking back and finding Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, whose finish was ugly but did the job. Conte urged his charges back towards the halfway line; they kept coming and, soon enough, found the lead.
Ben Davies was denied by Meslier but, shortly after , Liam Cooper crudely halted Moura’s latest exhilarating burst inside the ‘D’. Eric Dier’s free-kick flicked off Pascal Struijk in the wall, wrongfooting Meslier and bouncing off his left upright. A gleeful Sergio Reguilón was first to the rebound; he raced off towards the corner flag to enjoy breaking his Spurs duck and Conte, launching into one of his full-octane celebrations, could both feed and savour the roars.
“We played two different games,” he said. “In the first half we conceded possession. In the second half we changed the plan tactically and started to put pressure in every area of the pitch. We changed totally and I’m pleased for the players. They played well, they played with personality, they ran and put pressure on.” They needed to, because Leeds had begun like a whirlwind despite adding Raphinha and Rodrigo to their list of important absentees. Kalvin Phillips tested Hugo Lloris with an early free-kick before Stuart Dallas and Adam Forshaw shot narrowly wide; Spurs had not got going by the time Jack Harrison beat Emerson Royal and crossed beautifully to let James convert his first goal since joining from Manchester United.
Tottenham offered virtually nothing in attack before Conte got his teeth into them. Japhet Tanganga and Harry Winks, recalled to the league action for the first time since horror shows at Arsenal and Crystal Palace, looked jittery and the instinct throughout was to opt for safety first. They looked truly secure only once Reguilón had pounced; for all their second-half verve, Lloris still had to make smart saves from Joe Gelhardt and the impressive James early on.
“In the second half it was difficult for us not to be dominated,” Marcelo Bielsa said. His depleted side had contributed fully but Spurs, channelling their leader’s best facets, merited the victory through the sheer force of their recovery.
“A good win, and it’s right to celebrate with passion,” said Conte, who yelled into the night sky at full-time before hurling himself into the bosoms of everyone in sight. “I have a great passion and I want to transfer my passion into all of this environment.” This arena’s regulars may be both exhausted and exhilarated come May.