Aston Villa’s new manager Remi Garde discovered just how hard it will be to save his club from relegation as the Premier League strugglers slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Tottenham on Monday.
Garde was confirmed as Villa boss on a three-and-a-half-year contract earlier in the day, but Kevin MacDonald, in charge on a caretaker basis since Tim Sherwood’s sacking nine days ago, selected the team before the official start of the Frenchman’s reign.
While Garde wasn’t involved, the former Lyon coach was watching from the White Hart Lane stands and it must have made for uncomfortable viewing as his side paid the price for a lacklustre start.
Villa, whose only league win this season came on the opening weekend, fell behind after less than three minutes when sloppy defending was punished by Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli doubled Tottenham’s advantage before half-time.
Jordan Ayew got one back for Villa late on, but Harry Kane netted in the final seconds and when Garde arrives at the club’s Bodymoor Heath training ground on Tuesday, he will be in charge of a team rooted to the bottom of the table after a seventh successive league defeat condemned them to the worst start in their history.
“The players need to keep the ball better and I’m sure Remi will be reiterating that to them with his Arsenal background,” MacDonald said.
“We came with a game plan but that went out of the window after three minutes.
“The desire is there and the shift the players put in shows there’s something for the manager to work with.”
Tottenham are up to fifth place on the back of an impressive 10-match unbeaten run in the league, while Garde’s forgettable first day suggests he is in for a bumpy ride.
Villa misspelled Garde’s first name in their announcement of his appointment on Twitter, then the 49-year-old’s flight from France was delayed by fog.
When Garde arrived in north London, there was more bad news as Villa defender Micah Richards was suspended just before kick-off after a tunnel altercation in a recent match.
Garde took his seat in the directors’ box with a pensive expression and if he was in any doubt about the size of the task facing him, the former Arsenal midfielder was given a glaring example of Villa’s numerous flaws in the third minute.
Villa defender Ciaran Clark allowed himself to be pushed aside by Dembele, who continued to show greater desire than his marker as he surged down the left flank into the penalty area, where he fired under goalkeeper Brad Guzan from close-range.
It was the third fastest goal in the Premier League this season and Garde, trying his best to look impassive, must have feared the worst as Tottenham pushed hard for a second goal.
Kane cut inside Clark to force Guzan into a fingertip save with a rising drive and, from the resulting corner, Danny Rose smashed just over.
There was no improvement in Villa’s fortunes as midfielder Ashley Westwood was forced to come off after being caught by Dembele’s flailing arm.
And adding insult to injury, Tottenham increased their lead in first half stoppage-time.
Rose’s cross was headed weakly away by Joleon Lescott and young England midfielder Alli controlled adroitly on his thigh before firing past Guzan into the far corner.
Villa had been lacking confidence and quality in all departments and, high in the stands, Garde shook his head in disgust.
But MacDonald sent on Rudy Gestede and Carles Gil in the second half and the pair gave Villa a more dynamic look.
Leandro Bacuna’s curling effort hit a post and, with Tottenham sitting too deep, Villa were able to reduce the deficit in the 79th minute.
Ayew tried his luck with a drive from 25 yards out and the ball hit Jan Vertonghen, deflecting past wrong-footed goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Garde could at least take heart from Villa’s late flourish.
They almost snatched an unlikely point as Gestede headed wide and Ayew lashed just over before Tottenham striker Kane was left unmarked to fire into the top corner in stoppage-time.