Under the cold, gloomy night of Manchester, Tottenham Hotspur suffered their worst fear on Sunday. Losing 7-0 to Manchester City sent shivers through the travelling squad - and the small number of fans that came to support.
In reality, no one expected it; after all, Tottenham had been flying this season. Unbeaten since a narrow opening day defeat to Chelsea, playing the best football the club have seen in years and continually showing heart and resilience away from home.
Yet failure to deal with Bunny Shaw - the club has heard that story before - resulted in the Jamaican scoring a hat-trick, whilst defensive fragilities persisted throughout the night at the Joie Stadium.
The squad even released a group statement the following morning, stating: "To the fans, last night was a tough one to take. However, it won't define our season, as a group we will learn and grow from this. Thank you for your continuous support."
Yet despite the nightmare outcome in the north, Spurs still have reason to be optimistic. They currently sit sixth in the Women's Super League, just two points behind Liverpool, whilst - under Robert Vilahamn - they have one of the most exciting projects in the country.
Signs of promise already
No one expected Tottenham to have a strong start to the season. Coming off the back of a woeful campaign last year, where they narrowly avoided relegation, and transitioning to a new style of play meant that there was little optimism in the air.
However, from the first match, that was not the case. Away to Chelsea, Spurs showcased the 'Tottenham DNA' that is so readily talked about - To Dare Is To Do. Plastered around Hotspur Way, the slogan led Spurs' search for a manager in the summer.
They wanted a manager capable of playing aggressive, high-pressing and expansive football - just like they had with the men's team and Ange Postecoglou. With Vilahamn, they found exactly that.
Tottenham went toe-to-toe with the WSL champions on the opening day, accumulating just one less shot on target and 2.03xG - 0.72 less than Emma Hayes' side. It painted the picture of a renaissance in N17, with Vilahamn's Old Norse Lilywhite ships immediately showcasing his talent.
Yet what followed Chelsea was even more impressive. Comfortable wins against Bristol City, Brighton and Aston Villa showcased Spurs had improved drastically from last season. Although the Lilywhites are now on a four-match winless run, there have still been promising signs.
During home fixtures against Everton and Liverpool, they were cruelly denied by two late goals. Whilst against Leicester, the Lilywhites somehow failed to beat the Foxes, with Janina Leitzig denying Vilahamn's side on nine separate occasions.
The club have picked up three more points than last season after eight matches - and just two points less than their impression campaign the year before. Promising signs for a team that was expected to stutter from the beginning.
|Points after eight matches
Contending with injuries
However, the idea that it has been plain sailing for Vilahamn is not true. As soon as he arrived, he was presented with Bethany England's serious injury.
The 29-year-old scored 12 goals in 12 matches last season, helping Spurs narrowly avoid relegation. In fact, if Spurs did not sign England in the January transfer window, they might have been rebuilding in the Championship instead.
England is now nearing the end of her rehabilitation, with the possibility of featuring against Manchester United - and more importantly Arsenal - bringing light to the dark, winter nights at Hotspur Way.
The former Chelsea striker's injury forced Tottenham into a deadline-day move for Manchester United forward Martha Thomas. The Scotswomen was low on confidence when arriving, scoring just six goals in her previous two seasons under Marc Skinner.
However, under Vilahamn's guidance, the striker had an electric start to the season, scoring six goals in her opening four WSL matches. The October Player of the Month winner told VAVEL after her hat-trick away to Aston Villa that Vilahamn was key to her form.
"Probably just playing under someone that I know believes in me. That’s important, that’s when I play my best football. Playing in my actual position, things like that. [I’m] just sort of on a roll - hopefully I keep it up.
"He’s allowed us to have our own personality, as long as we stick with his style. He wants to press and be on the ball, be a possession team, and he’s got the right personnel for that and I think it’s exciting for us to sort of have that culture," she said.
Injuries to Olga Ahtinen and Drew Spence in recent weeks have impacted Spurs' fluidity, whilst Eveliina Summanen's injury away to Manchester City has forced her to withdraw from Finland's international matches. It remains unclear how long she will be out for, but it - once again - shows that Vilahamn has had to contend with problems repeatedly.
Tottenham still have a long way to go before they are contending for European qualification or WSL glory, but it is the aim of the North London club.
"The main thing in the second year is to go for the Champions League spots. The first year is making sure we play a certain style and can do it in the long run," Vilahamn told VAVEL after his first win at the club.
Further signings are expected in January, with links to Vilahamn's history in Sweden increasing. However, knowing potential signings can join a dynamic and well-structured squad will be key to luring players to North London.
The current squad are enjoying training under Vilahamn - a stark comparison to last season where they lacked confidence under Rehanne Skinner and Vicky Jepson. It's part of Vilahamn's philosophy to create squads capable of playing high-pressing and enthralling football for 90 minutes. It is only early days in N17, but he has already started that journey.
Meanwhile, in pre and post-match press conferences, Vilahamn has remained open and honest about the challenge at hand. He understands it is a journey that will take time, but his commitment and determination is replicating on the squad, even if a 7-0 loss to Man City dampened spirits.