The sequence of events that led to the Ireland striker finding himself unmarked and able to place the ball beyond Hugo Lloris in the 33rd minute summed the problems confronting Pochettino less than six months after he took charge at White Hart Lane. A poor clearance by Danny Rose was returned with interest and the full-back was unable to recover to prevent Mame Biram Diouf finding Walters unmarked.
What made it worse for Pochettino was that his side had been similarly spineless in allowing Bojan Krkic to advance unchallenged before firing Stoke ahead in the fifth minute. Nacer Chadli’s 76th minute reply did nothing to disguise the shambles that was brought into focus by Kyle Naughton’s 85th minute dismissal for a trip on Victor Moses. Brought in as the latest man charged with translating Tottenham’s potential into success, Pochettino is in danger of adding his name to the lengthy list of managers who have seen their reputations damaged by a spell at White Hart Lane.
Already the statistics make for uncomfortable reading. After 11 games last season, Andre Villas-Boas’s side had accumulated 20 points and were positioned in seventh. Twelve months on, Pochettino’s side find themselves five places and six points worse off.
Pochettino has already criticised his team’s mentality this season and this performance offered little to suggest the message has sunk in. I’m unhappy, disappointed with the performance and the result but I have the balance with my emotions because I understand this job,” said the manager.
“It’s clear we need to improve a lot. We need to improve and this is clear to analyse. Always in football you need time, different methods and philosophy but we need to improve quickly.
“In football you never have time, a long time – you need to take a result. We need to find a solution very quick and in the next few weeks, we change our mentality and find a solution, this is my challenge in the next few weeks.”
Pochettino had expressed his growing impatience by naming a bench that cost around £100 million in transfer fees while he opted to start with youngsters Harry Kane and Ryan Mason.
Had Kane made more of a good headed opportunity in the third minute, the outcome may have been different. As it was, Stoke responded immediately with Krkic collecting a pass on the half way line and advancing 40 yards before placing his shot beyond Hugo Lloris.
Suddenly Spurs looked ragged and, after conceding the second, they looked unlikely to conjure a response. “I just thought we needed to be positive and maybe there is a bit of pressure on the players at the moment and we thought if we started positively we could use that to our own ends,” said Stoke manager Mark Hughes. A double substitution at half time – Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele replaced the ineffective Christian Eriksen and Andros Townsend – gave Tottenham a more positive outlook after the break but Stoke’s lead was rarely threatened until Chadli volleyed from a tight angle from Rose’s left-wing cross.
“The players know my feelings like I know their feelings,” said Pochettino. “We are here for four months, we know the players and the players know me. We feel the same, very disappointed and frustrated and not happy because our performance was not good enough.”
TOTTENHAM:: (4-2-3-1) Lloris 7; Naughton 3, Fazio 3, Kaboul 4, Rose 4; Capoue 6 (Adebayor 65, 6), Mason 5; Chadli 6, Eriksen 4 (Lamela 46,7), Townsend 3 (Dembele 46, 6); Kane 6.
Subs not used: Vorm, Vertonghen, Soldado, Dier.
STOKE: (4-2-3-1): Begovic 7, Bardsley 6 (Cameron 9, 6), Shawcross 8, Wilson 6 (Muniesa 25, 6), Pieters 7; Sidwell 7, Nzonzi 8; Walters 9, Krkic 8 (Ireland 84, 6), Moses 7; Diouf 7.
Subs not used: Sorensen, Arnautovic, Adam, Crouch.
Referee: Mike Jones 6.