Tottenham Hotspur cannot quite shake the monkey from their back. This was the most frustrating of afternoons: a fixture that had promised to bring up successive resounding Wembley wins and answer any questions about their level of comfort at the national stadium but instead developed into an exercise in exasperation.
Mauricio Pochettino may feel his team should have beaten a dogged but unambitious Swansea, particularly after a one-sided second half in which Harry Kane struck the bar, but the truth was that they took too long to get going. His opposite number, Paul Clement, had urged his team to play harder and faster than at any point in the season to date; they did so and, for that, a valuable point was deserved.
As can often be the case when rousing European exploits are followed by a more mundane assignment, the early exchanges lacked fluency and tempo. Both had been supremely evident during Spurs’ win over Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday but it was little surprise that Pochettino made three changes in an effort to keep things fresh. Dele Alli, Moussa Sissoko and Kieran Trippier all returned; it was a reshuffle that required Son Heung-min, scorer of a marvellous opener against the German side, to fill in at left wing-back.
Son, hardly shackled by the shift, had the best half-chance of the opening quarter but his angled shot was repelled by a strong right hand from Lukasz Fabianski after subtle approach work from Sissoko. The Swansea goalkeeper had already pushed a 35-yard free-kick from Harry Kane wide in the ninth minute; these were decent interventions but Spurs, although purposeful, were hardly brimming with threat.
That owed in part to the efforts of a compact Swansea side that, fielding two central banks of three, squeezed the space that Alli, in particular, had expected to inhabit. It was the system they had used in winning their previous away game at Crystal Palace, and provided a sounder proposition than the more offensive setup that Clement felt had competed inadequately during last weekend’s home defeat to Newcastle.
Their threat was rare but, with 19-year-old Tammy Abraham again proving an impressively robust leader of the line, there were flickers of interest. Jordan Ayew shanked an awkward volley wide in the fifth minute after Hugo Lloris, perhaps stumbling as he made to clear a back pass from Toby Alderweireld, miscued into his path. Abraham, full of running, embarrassed Davinson Sánchez in the 25th minute by rounding him on the right flank and pulled a cross back that, had Sissoko not intervened expertly, would have provided Tom Carroll with a clear shot at goal.
Other than that the traffic moved in one direction, albeit with none of the Champions League pizzazz. Federico Fernández’s panicked clearance from a cross by Son, now appearing on the right, thudded over the bar rather than below it; Jan Vertonghen, whose maurauding upfield occasionally threatened to break Swansea’s ranks, forced Fabianski to clutch a 25-yard sighter but the away team looked composed and content when the interval arrived.
Nonetheless a second period of similarly one-paced fare would have been a surprise and Spurs re-emerged briskly. There were half-shouts for a penalty when Alderweireld, running into Martin Olsson, buckled in the box although no Tottenham player appealed; Olsson was luckier in the 56th minute when Trippier, by now deployed on the left, swung over a cross that appeared to brush his left arm.
Mike Dean saw no offence but Kane should have opened the scoring on his own initiative moments later. Son had been moved to a central position and, scurrying down the inside-right channel, tested Fabianski again from near the byline. Sissoko retrieved the situation and cut back for Kane, eight yards out, to thrash first-time against the bar.
He will score harder chances but Spurs had cranked things up to siege levels and when Fabianski, showing superb reflexes to flick Kane’s near-post header over, saved Swansea again midway through the half it felt like a question of when the breakthrough would arrive.
Pochettino sought an answer by introducing Fernando Llorente, who made his league debut against the club that sold him 16 days ago. The script was laid out but his arrival in Son’s place was a surprise and Tottenham’s momentum stuttered. Trippier and another substitute, Serge Aurier, both shot wide towards the end but Swansea’s players, who flocked to Fabianski after the whistle, finished much the happier.