Brennan Johnson offer Spurs the penalty-box threat Ange Postecoglou loves

Brennan Johnson is enjoying the best spell of his fledgling Tottenham Hotspur career, even though he has only started one of the last five games.

This was the third time in the last few weeks that Johnson came on in the second half and helped to turn a defeat into a thrilling late win.

First, he did it against Brentford on January 31, coming on at half-time with Spurs losing, before darting in at the far post to convert Timo Werner’s cross. That goal put Tottenham 2-1 up and they went on to win 3-2.

Then he did it against Brighton & Hove Albion on February 10, coming on after 62 minutes, with Spurs having just pulled it back to 1-1. Johnson got on the end of Son Heung-min’s cross in the 96th minute, again perfectly timing his run to the far post to score a winner that blew the roof off the stadium.

And against Crystal Palace on Saturday, he did it again. Johnson was Postecoglou’s first substitute, just after the hour mark, with Spurs having just gone 1-0 down to Eberechi Eze’s free kick. Johnson came on for Rodrigo Bentancur, just as he did against Brentford, again allowing Dejan Kulusevski to drop from the right wing into a central midfield role.

Johnson steals the ball from Anderson to set up the equaliser (Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Just when it felt as if Spurs were struggling to break through, Johnson’s tenacity from out wide was enough to win the ball back, and drive past Joachim Andersen and Jefferson Lerma, who looked tired from almost 80 minutes of dogged defending. Johnson played a low cross from the right and there was Werner, darting in at the far post to make it 1-1. Three minutes later, Cristian Romero made it 2-1 and then Son completed the job eight minutes after that.

Even though Johnson created the equaliser rather than scored it, it was precisely the type of move that he was brought on for: the low cross from one side, finished by the winger from the opposite side popping up at the far post. It was a mirror image of Spurs’ second goal against Brentford, when Werner provided the cross and Johnson the finish.

Johnson nearly scored from a similar position with one of his first touches after he came on. That time, it was Werner driving down the left and crossing, with Son getting a touch at the near post, but when the ball fell to Johnson he could not quite get into the right position, and he lifted his finish over the bar from close range.

Despite playing far fewer minutes, Johnson had as many touches in the penalty area as Kulusevski, as can be seen in the touch maps below.

brennan johnson tottenham 3

Kulusevski, on the other hand, got a bit stuck just outside the box during his stint on the right flank.

dejan kulusevski tottenham 3

When Postecoglou spoke after the game, he discussed the importance of a type of goal that is increasingly becoming Spurs’ signature move: one winger crossing low, the other winger converting at the far post. Postecoglou has been showing Johnson and all the Spurs forwards the importance of making that run, and Tottenham are feeling the benefit. As the manager put it himself, all these similar goals are not happening “by accident”.

“Brennan was good, but all of them were good tonight,” Postecoglou said. “In those moments, we work hard with our wide players to make sure they’re in the right areas, and a couple of times tonight we just weren’t when the ball was flashed across.” At the very start of the first half, for example, Werner had played in a similar cross from the left, but Kulusevski hung back rather than attacking the ball. He eventually forced a corner but you wondered whether Johnson might have done better had he been on the pitch.

Postecoglou was delighted that Johnson created the opportunity that Werner converted, transforming the momentum of the game. “Brennan did fantastically well to win back possession and when he’s played it across it’s the other winger (Werner) that’s there,” Postecoglou said. “That’s a really important part (of Spurs’ game), it’s not by accident. You’ve got to be there and I thought Timo — he missed the chance in the first half — was a constant threat to them, and was in the right area for the goal.”

The fascinating question going forward is whether Johnson moves beyond this super-sub role and returns as a regular starter. He started 13 consecutive games across November, December and January and at times, it felt as if he was playing too much, more than Spurs would have planned for when they bought him from Nottingham Forest in the summer.

Injuries to Ivan Perisic and Manor Solomon, and the necessity for Kulusevski to cover in midfield, meant Spurs had no option but to keep starting Johnson. That run of games, and his struggles in front of goal, appeared to tire Johnson physically and mentally, and he started to get on the end of some criticism from the fans.

This new role from the bench has given him a breather, the chance to assess a game from the bench and then come on and make a difference. Kulusevski is preferred as a starter on the right, and he offers more in possession and more of a link between the midfield and the attack, but as long as Johnson continues to change games, the case will grow stronger for him to be restored to the starting XI.

For so much of this season, Postecoglou’s squad was thin, with no real alternatives. Johnson has finally given him a game-changing weapon from the bench. Now he is starting to give Postecoglou another selection decision to make.

(Top photo: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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