In fact it made things a whole lot worse, with Spurs beaten on penalties and dumped out of the Carabao Cup after finding it impossible to break down stubborn Colchester in 90 minutes. Christian Eriksen was denied by Dean Gerken with the first spot-kick of the shoot-out and Lucas Moura hit the bar, leaving Tom Lapslie to step forward to clinch a famous victory it for the League Two side.
Here, they were unable to find any fluency or creative spark against a team set up to defend in numbers and frustrate. With no extra-time and penalties after 90 minutes this season the minnows have been given an incentive to play defensively in this competition.
Pochettino took the risk of giving Harry Kane a night off – he was not even among the substitutes – but the Spurs manager did throw on Son Heung-min, Eriksen and Erik Lamela in desperate search of a winner before the shootout. With Dele Alli and Moura also on the pitch there ought to have been enough attacking power to find a way through without Kane.
But they were beaten on penalties as they were in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup at Chelsea last season. Pochettino had made 10 changes to the team which started in the defeat at Leicester on Saturday. Only goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga survived the squad rotation and Dele Alli and Eric Dier were back in the starting line.
Two young players were handed debuts, teenage striker Troy Parrott who led the line and 20-year-old Japhet Tanganga who started as one of three centre-backs.
With Kyle Walker-Peters at wing-back and Oliver Skipp in midfield it was a reminder of Pochettino’s faith in his academy graduates at a time when Frank Lampard has been earning plaudits for trusting young players at Chelsea. Colchester, 10th in League Two, came in with confidence having knocked out Crystal Palace in the previous round.
They frustrated Palace, holding them to a goalless draw at Selhurst Park and went on to win the tie on penalties, and they came into this game with a similar game plan, determined not to make it easy for Spurs.
John McGreal’s side dropped deep immediately, perfectly happy for Tottenham’s second string to dominate possession but with so many players lacking the sharpness of regular competitive football they did not zip the ball about quite as crisply as Pochettino might have liked.
The Spurs boss fidgeted on the touchline as his players found it impossible to break the deadlock in the first half and passes went astray. Colchester were well-organised and physical with five crowding the midfield and former Brentford trainee Courtney Senior catching the eye in the first-half with neat touches and a turn of pace, looking to break forward out of midfield. Frank Nouble toiled away up front for the home team but saw very little of the ball.