When Manchester City made it 4-2, the Tottenham Hotspur fans in the away end might have been forgiven for thinking it was all over.
Their side had led 2-1 after just ten minutes at the Etihad in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final, Son Heung-min scoring twice in a frantic, illogical opening spell.
Soon, though, City had made it 3-2.
The momentum was with the home side, whose attacking firepower kept Spurs pinned back throughout the second half. When Sergio Agüero got City’s fourth, Tottenham looked a side devoid of energy; mentally and physically jaded.
And they were. This was not Tottenham at their fluid, devastating best – aside from the opening period of the first half. Instead, it was Spurs at their most resilient and most dogged. When Fernando Llorente bundled in to make it 4-3 with 17 minutes remaining, the focus was simply on keeping City at bay.
That is what they did, though in stoppage time there was a moment of devastation. Sterling converted what appeared to be the winner, but VAR intervened. At the final whistle, Mauricio Pochettino, the architect of this astonishing result, could not contain his delight.
If there are any remaining doubters of Pochettino, any who still insist he must win a trophy to be considered one of the game’s great coaches, they will have been silenced by Wednesday night’s historic achievement.
Tottenham are in their first Champions League semi-final, and they did it in the most dramatic way imaginable. They did it by beating the competition favourites, a team who have appeared, for the last two years, an unstoppable force in the Premier League.
“I am more than happy, I am more than proud,” Pochettino said after the game. “To be in the semis was a dream. Now we are there. My players are heroes.
“Sport always gives you the possibility to beat teams that no-one believes or thinks we are capable of. Football is not only about talent but belief and to have the right mentality. This team has the personality, character and mentality to believe all is possible. With the quality, we can have this type of performance and achieve these big things. If not, it's impossible."
Tottenham did not get lucky in victory over City. There were elements of good fortune, yes, and the home side certainly had the better of the game after the break. But Tottenham, over the two legs, played with impressive discipline and composure.
It is a testament to the tactical intelligence of Pochettino, a coach who repeatedly defies the odds and who consistently overachieves. This is, without a doubt, his finest hour at Spurs, but it is the culmination of years of work. And there might yet be more to come: a semi-final against Ajax gives Tottenham every chance of reaching the final.
The circumstances in which Spurs have achieved this should be acknowledged, too. Pochettino, to the frustration of many, did not spend a penny on new players in the last two transfer windows. And on Wednesday night he was missing a number of key players through injury. Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Harry Winks were all out.
It meant Victor Wanyama, who has been out of favour for most of the season, started in midfield. Things were made even more difficult when Moussa Sissoko was forced off injured. He was replaced by Llorente, a change which might have derailed Spurs’ game plan. Instead, the Spaniard scored the winner.
Tottenham were not overawed, not blown away by the might of City’s attack. This is a team that has matured under the guidance of Pochettino.
Spurs, of course, progressed on the night by the finest of margins. An offside that might not have been spotted without VAR turned demoralisation to elation. The fact they are competing at this stage, though, that they are capable of getting the better of this City team, is some achievement in itself. The significance of what Pochettino has done should not be understated.
“In a moment many things happened in your head and the disappointment was massive, but they changed the decision,” Pochettino said. “That is why we love football. Today we showed great character and great personality. It was an unbelievable game."
For the Spurs fans in the away end at the Etihad, it was an unforgettable game.