If Tim Sherwood's time as Tottenham Hotspur manager is to conclude this summer, he is not going to go down without a fight.
Prior to his side's 5-1 win over Sunderland—its goals coming from Emmanuel Adebayor (twice), Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson—Sky Sports reported the 45-year-old would be replaced this summer:
The report followed last week's 4-0 loss at Liverpool, the latest of several hammerings by the Premier League's top three clubs.
Champions League qualification is looking a long shot, and finishing fifth or higher for a fifth year in a row is no certainty, either. The resulting speculation could have overshadowed Monday night's fixture.
Not if Sherwood had anything to do with it.
Writing in the club's official matchday programme, he talked up his and his side's desire to put things right the best they can:
We realise we have come in for some criticism of late and rightly so. That is the nature of football and it is up to us to make sure we respond in the right manner.
We have to try to put the disappointments behind us now. We have six games left to try finish this season on a positive note, which means winning as many of these fixtures as we possibly can.
Well, he was hardly going to admit defeat and call time on Spurs' season. Nonetheless, his attacking starting line-up backed up his belief that the now-sixth-again club still has something to play for.
After operating with a lone striker for most of March, Harry Kane joined the returning Emmanuel Adebayor in forming a two-man attack. With the forward-thinking pair of Nacer Chadli and Paulinho in central midfield, the emphasis was in applying pressure rather than sitting off the opposition.
Full-backs Kyle Naughton and Danny Rose were given license to get up its flanks repeatedly. With one less man in midfield than recently, Christian Eriksen had more space to roam as he saw fit.
Against a better team than bottom of the league Sunderland, Spurs' adventurousness may have been exposed.
Lax marking allowed Wes Brown an easy header nine minutes in before Vlad Chiriches' careless cross-field pass allowed Lee Cattermole to put his team ahead.
It could have been worse as Spurs went in search of an equaliser. They had Hugo Lloris to thank after Fabio Borini was given far too much time to prep and launch a shot from long range.
As it was, Sherwood's selections and encouragement to attack were more than enough to see off the visitors. After the previous defeat, it was an ideal response which also hinted at what Spurs could be capable of with the under-fire manager at the helm.
The Lilywhites wore down the Black Cats after initially going behind. Adebayor's energy was particularly contagious here (and throughout). A particular testament to his quality was the near-impeccable work he did instigating moves and linking up with his team-mates as they searched for a way through—completing 61 of his 68 passes, as tallied by Squawka.com.
It helped Spurs quickly regain and maintain their foothold in the game. Kane was less involved than his strike partner but made his contributions count too.
He took his first Premier League goal well, placing Eriksen's cross past Vito Mannone as it came across his body. Arguably more impressive was the forward's persistent, powerful dribbling style in possession, displayed most tellingly by his work that led to Adebayor's second.
Sherwood has increasingly looked to hand Kane opportunities since taking over and was clearly delighted with how the 20-year-old repaid his faith in him, per Spurs' official website:
Tim: "I thought Harry Kane was fantastic. He ran his heart out, stretched Sunderland and created space for Aaron and Christian."— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) April 7, 2014
The performance Sherwood might be most pleased with was that of the influential Eriksen.
His use of the Dane has come under as much scrutiny as any player. Initially playing him in central midfield, he has since predominantly deployed him from the left with mixed results (highly involved in wins like those over Swansea City and Southampton, he found it tougher against Liverpool last week).
Eriksen's future will likely be as Spurs' main man in the middle pulling the strings. But here he backed up his boss' belief that he can more than impact a game from a starting position out wide.
After taking a little time to find his range, Eriksen's assists for Adebayor and Kane were beautifully weighted and placed crosses. His goal was similarly exquisite—albeit aided by limp attempts from the Sunderland defence to block it.
Last summer's recruit from Ajax would likely have continued to improve under Andre Villas-Boas too. But as it relates to the following statistic, six of the goals he has scored himself have come since the change in manager.
12 - Christian Eriksen has now been involved in as many PL goals (scored & assisted) as Mesut Ozil this season. Bargain. [via @Phil__Oliver]— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 7, 2014
The perfect end to a tough day for Tottenham and particularly Sherwood.
No matter your thoughts on his qualities as a manager, it is hard to dispute his enthusiasm for his job. He wants his team to finish the season strongly, and it began the final run of six games against teams placed 10th or lower well.
As for his own prospects, speaking to Sky Sports' Monday Night Football, Sherwood unsurprisingly strode a line between being "professional" and still reasserting his own credentials and passion for the job:
My record has been very good. In the Premier League, any manager who has been here, I think my win percentage is higher than any of them.
If it was a perfect situation, you would rather have a pre-season, bring in your own players, but that hasn't been the case for me and I've just got on with it. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me, it's been a great opportunity and I'm very proud to manage this football club.
No, Sherwood is not going down without a fight. If his team prove to be just as tough for the remainder of the season, he may well convince the Spurs hierarchy he is the man to take its club forward.