When the board went up to signal nine minutes of added time, the thought was of what Manchester United could do in that period. Lads, it’s Tottenham, a team who in living memory threw away a 3-0 half-time lead against United to lose 5-3. After which, nothing. No surge, no siege, no sense of jeopardy. The game had been done even before Lisandro Martínez’s 83rd-minute own goal; for the final half-hour they offered nothing.

That, inevitably, shapes the perception. For the first hour, the game had ebbed and flowed. Chances here, mistakes there. In total there were 39 shots in the game – and yet by the final quarter, Spurs seemed comfortable. United probably had the better of the first half-hour, although all they had to show for it was a series of headers over the bar from players who may or may not have been offside. In the minutes after going behind, Antony hit a post and Casemiro had a header athletically tipped over by Guglielmo Vicario. The game could have taken a different path.

But it did not, and so the focus will be on United’s lack of coherence, on the weird lack of urgency from Raphaël Varane and Christian Eriksen in the buildup to Tottenham’s second, the lack of direction or drive in the final third of the game. And on the other side of the equation, Tottenham’s late swagger, the uncharacteristic ease with which they saw the game out, will dominate the thinking.

It might not have been, but ultimately this was a glorious start for Angeball. It probably needed to be. There was an odd mood around Tottenham Hotspur Stadium before kick-off: the excitement and expectation of early season tempered by understandable frustration about the club’s owners, in particular the decision to recategorise a number of games so that, although the prices of season tickets have been frozen, the average cost of a ticket has risen. “To Dare Is Too Dear. ENIC out,” read one flag, adapting the club motto, while a Harry Kane chant was repurposed to “Exploiting your own.”

Kane’s absence, of course, lurked unavoidably just below the surface. It probably wouldn’t have taken much for the mood to have turned. As it was, the noise as a trumpeter led a pre-kick off rendition of When the Spurs Go Marching In was undeniably rousing. There was also a baffling tifo in the South Stand as, in what Ange Postencoglou will hope is a metaphor, a series of disparate pieces slowly coalesced into a coherent whole, the message “Welcome to N17”. Which is surely not a phrase even the Haringey Tourist Board, if such a thing exists, has ever contemplated broadcasting before. Perhaps it was meant as a threat.

Manchester United’s Lisandro Martínez watches as his deflection takes the ball past André Onana and into his own net.

A helpless Lisandro Martínez can only watch as his deflection helps the ball trundle past André Onana in the Manchester United goal. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

United had been fortunate to beat Wolves on Monday, repeatedly being cut apart by Matheus Cunha’s drives through the centre. Erik ten Hag started with the same XI and they were far less open, probably largely because they were far less attacking. But once James Maddison, who ended up running the midfield, had sliced through a similar channel on the half-hour, United seemed to freeze and the United woodwork was struck twice before half-time, once by Pedro Porro and then in the follow-up as a Pape Sarr cutback cannoned off Luke Shaw. It was Sarr who put Spurs ahead four minutes into the second half, nobody picking up his 40-yard surge to get on the end of Dejan Kulusevki’s cross which, as with most consequential interventions in the game, deflected off Martínez.

The expected United rally failed to materialise. Postecoglou must take credit for the way he closed down the left side, bringing on Ivan Perisic and Ben Davies, who eventually combined to provoke Martínez’s own goal. But this was also about United’s failings. Marcus Rashford never looks as convincing through the centre as he does on the left and Alejandro Garnacho never looks as convincing starting the game as he does as a substitute. The need for a centre-forward is obvious and, while Rasmus Højlund may be that figure, he is only 21. Anthony Martial did eventually come off the bench to little effect but, yet again, it’s hard not to wonder at what a weirdly lopsided squad United have.

There are problems too in midfield. Mason Mount is a very fine player and ought to offer balance as the link between Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes but that combination is not working yet. Yves Bissouma, Sarr and Maddison ended up almost entirely dominant. Two games into the season and United’s only goal has been a header from a centre-back, while they have been carved open repeatedly.

But what must be most concerning is the way United seemed to lose their zip and their belief. Ten Hag was keen to insist they had not collapsed and, while that might be true, neither were they especially resilient. To focus on that, though, is perhaps a little unfair on Tottenham and Postecoglou. Particularly after the grim football of the past couple of seasons, this was thrilling stuff and it brought an impressive win. The post-Kane era might not be so bad after all.