Champions League-chasing Tottenham are conceding more injury-time goals than any other team in the Premier League this season. We delve into the numbers and ask, why?
We are only just past halfway in 2023-24, and Tottenham have already set an unwanted record. With eight goals conceded in second-half stoppage time, Spurs have already let in more late goals in Ange Postecoglou’s first season in charge than they ever have before in a Premier League campaign.
Jarrad Branthwaite’s last-gasp equaliser for Everton on Saturday means Tottenham have let in more goals in the 90th minute or later than any other team in the division. Three more 90th-minute concessions in their final 15 games of 2023-24 and they’ll equal the Premier League record, set by Burnley in 2018-19 (11). It’s not great for a team with genuine hopes of getting back into the Champions League.
Only 12 teams have ever conceded as many as eight goals in second-half injury time in a Premier League campaign, and a look at the previous teams to do so might not paint a picture that Spurs fans want to see.
Of the 11 teams other than Spurs in 2023-24 to concede eight or more 90th-minute goals, six were relegated, while five survived. However, not one of them finished higher than 14th. Two finished bottom, but generally, conceding late goals is the hallmark of a team that puts up a decent fight in the battle against relegation and more often than not loses that battle.
This isn’t to say Tottenham are going to start sliding down the table, but simply that teams as high up the table as they are – and have aspirations of staying up there – don’t crumble late on under opposition pressure like Spurs have since Ange Postecoglou came in. That is what relegation-battling teams do.
It’s worth noting that very few of Spurs’ late concessions have actually been costly. Branthwaite’s equaliser on Saturday and the two goals conceded late on away to Wolves are the only of those eight injury-time goals that have caused Spurs to drop points – costing them five points in total.
Meanwhile, the four goals Spurs have scored in the 90th minute or later have all earned points. The two against Sheffield United turned a loss into a win (+3 points), Joël Matip’s own goal against Liverpool turned a draw into a win (+2 points), and Dejan Kulusevski’s equaliser at Manchester City turned a defeat into a draw (+1 point). That’s six points gained from four goals scored at the death, compared to five dropped from eight goals conceded.
So, the obvious next question is: does it matter that Tottenham have conceded so many late goals?
Clearly, letting in goals in any circumstance isn’t ideal. But doing so when you’re already 4-0 up at home to Newcastle or 5-1 up at Burnley is probably the best time there is to do it. Meanwhile, letting two more in when already 2-1 down with nine men left on the pitch against Chelsea isn’t exactly going to bring back fond memories, but you can’t read too much into those two late Nicolas Jackson strikes.
There are some mitigating factors that are worth considering here. Firstly, games are lasting much longer thanks to the strict new rules on time-wasting and the extra added time we are seeing at the end of halves. So, more goals and more late goals are expected. Secondly, starting players are going to be more tired having played for longer, while clubs can also bring on more fresh players with five substitutions now allowed.
But those rule changes have affected every team this season, and it’s only Spurs who have let in eight goals in second-half injury time.
Also, we’re only in early February, and Spurs are already threatening the Premier League record for injury-time goals conceded. The increase in injury time can’t account for that alone.
Spurs have, however, been playing against teams chasing a way back into the game more than their Premier League counterparts because they have started games so well since Postecoglou came in. Tottenham have scored the first goal in 17 different games this season – the joint most in the division alongside Arsenal. Only City have led in games for more time this season than Spurs.
But Postecoglou’s side have also struggled to hold on to their leads. They have thrown away 18 points from 1-0 leads, the second-most in the top flight after Brentford’s 24. They haven’t been able to contend with the pressure that opponents put on them after going ahead. Spurs have won just 10 (59%) of the 17 games in which they have scored first; comparatively, Arsenal have won 14 (82%).
Game management is clearly an issue, but this isn’t a problem limited to injury time.
Postecoglou has been clear that he won’t compromise his tactics whatever is happening on the pitch. Spurs play a very, very high line that has lots of benefits, and they will always push forward in search of one more goal. They play such attacking football and have so much quality in attack that they often score, but they also too often leave themselves too open.
Postecoglou clearly believes that the best way to see out a win is to make sure the ball – and all of his players – are as far away from their own goal as possible. The logic makes sense: if you lose the ball high up the pitch, the opposition have a long distance to travel if they are to threaten goal.
But by chasing more goals, Spurs end up losing the ball too much. The best teams that play a possession-based game will see out significant periods of the game late on by simply keeping it. Spurs aren’t able to do that effectively enough to see out games.
An 88th-minute Nathan Aké goal knocked Spurs out of the FA Cup last month, while in three of their last four home wins, Brentford, Burnley and Everton all missed big late chances to equalise. On each occasion, Spurs came away with a one-goal win that was very nearly a draw. It hasn’t felt the most convincing, nor has it felt entirely sustainable.
Spurs are still very much a work in progress under Postecoglou, and while they are still in the hunt for Champions League football, their manager won’t be worrying too much about his side conceding late goals.
But this is an area with plenty of room for improvement if Spurs are to bridge the gap to the Premier League’s top three this season or further down the line under the Australian. Will Postecoglou have to tweak his tactics after all?