When the final extraordinary goal of this pulsating contest went in, Antonio Conte spun 180 degrees, his face a contorted mess of pleasure and victorious aggression, and he ran towards his staff. Still got a turn of pace, Antonio, though it’s doubtful he ever moved that fast when imperiously running midfields in the 1990s.
When he reached the assortment of standard issue Spurs puffa blue jackets, he flung himself into the mass of colleagues like a teenager stage diving at his first concert. And they jumped up and down like a group of kids at a toddlers’ party.
Tottenham had twice threatened to upset the odds here at Manchester City. Twice they had been dragged back, the second time in the 89th minute when a VAR review presented Riyad Mahrez with a penalty to equalise.
They had already had a potential third goal ruled out belatedly by VAR and their luck seemed to have run their course. A point, hard earned and well received, was all they would get here, it seemed.
Antonio Conte’s face was mess of pleasure and aggression in Tottenham’s win at Man City
And then came that run from the excellent Dejan Kulusevski. And the cross, which somehow fell in front of Harry Kane. Then there was the muscular shove of Kyle Walker with his body, to ensure he got in front of his England team-mate. And Kane’s header, Kane’s goal and a degree of pandemonium.
In the corner, where the players celebrated with Kane and the Spurs fans, Eric Dier broke free to clench his fists and exhort the supporters to fresh celebrations. Back on the bench, Conte was still cavorting.
It was a splendid denouement of a wonderful game. The roars will have been equally vociferous in Liverpool, as a potential title race opened up. For this was somewhat unexpected. Spurs, woeful against Southampton and Wolves, have spent the week trying to restrain their manager from telling Italian TV how badly he thinks the club is run.
Harry Kane netted a last-gasp winner for Spurs on a pulsating trip to the Etihad
Kane showed exactly why Pep Guardiola wanted to bring him to City back in the summer
City meanwhile are simply clocking up wins. Bizarrely and counter intuitively they did lose to Spurs on the opening day of the season, a result that proved to be the zenith of the short-lived Nuno Espirito Santo era. And they lost, just before the clocks went back, in October to Crystal Palace here. And then they just won and won again.
Apart from a draw at Southampton and a dead rubber Champions League tie against RB Leipzig, City have simply won like a metronome since then. Their march towards the title seemed inexorable.
What more could Pep Guardiola want? His team is exquisite, their passing an aesthetic delight, the amount of lovely technical players at his disposal myriad.
What he might want is Kane.
As he celebrated his first goal with the Tottenham fans, Kane clenched his fist, while his team-mate Heung Son Min, who provided him with his goal, spun him round to show the name of the back of his shirt and pointed to it.
The England captain was back to his brilliant best in Manchester amid a difficult season
Conte has reanimated Kane and his Spurs side are reaping the rewards now for him doing so
Guardiola knows Kane remains the only missing piece in his otherwise-perfect jigsaw
Kane isn’t sufficiently showy to do that kind of celebration, the type advised by the advisor running the offshore image rights company, where you point to your name. But Son, if anything more self-effacing, wasn’t going to let the moment go. Kane was the man and he wanted the world to know.
And as Spurs fans embraced their striker and serenaded him with their chant celebrating him as one of their own, it felt like the world was back in kilter for a second. Or at least, the world of Tottenham Hotspur.
Kane was booed last September, after his late return to training after his £100m move to Manchester City fell through. His performances early season looked as though he was a man grieving lost time in his career, tied to a Tottenham team without a coherent plan or ambition.
Time has healed some of those wounds. Kane’s performances have improved. The arrival of Conte as coach has reanimated him. Tottenham suddenly looked like a serious club again.
Spurs suddenly looked like a serious team again in their dramatic victory on Saturday night
And here was a Spurs side looking a little like the Mauricio Pochettino vintage. They play a little deeper of course, they were happy to sit deep and break quickly and they aren’t quite so cavalier as those heady Pochettino days. But they were a serious proposition for the Premier League champions and possibly the best team in Europe.
The good news for Spurs is that they have Conte and Kane. The bad news is they could still be gone by the summer and what are Spurs then? Son Heung-min and ten others in search of a coach willing to work without a significant transfer budget.
The Spurs fans serenaded their coach throughout with chants of ‘Antonio.’ A popularity bout between chairman and manager is always a non-contest but when it’s the free-talking, big-spending (in his dreams) Conte against Daniel Levy, with a beautiful stadium and one League Cup to show for 21 years of ownership.
Kane was in a minimalist phase here. He didn’t do much, but what he did was supremely effective. It’s not as though he needs to interview for jobs or audition but Guardiola could not but be purring at Kane’s elegance.
He drifted deep to hold up the ball, he repeatedly released Son and Dejan Kulisevski with exquisite passes in behind City’s defence. The ball he played for Son’s opening goal was a particular delight. With minimal touches, he kept Laporte and Ruben Dias busy just with his movement.
Not so busy though that they bothered to track his run from deep on 59 minutes. He truly is in a more mature stage if his career, no longer the goal hanging No.9.
You never quite know where he’s coming from these days and on this occasion it was a perfectly timed-run from deep which no-one tracked. On this occasion it had Kulusevski who provided the ball over the top for Ryan Sessgenon, who cut back to Son.
He in turn waited for his moment, saw his team-mate make the dart and then lifted the ball into his path. Kane finished. Of course he did. It’s what he does.