Late strikes from Heung Min Son and Dele Alli finished off Tottenham’s seemingly convincing 4-1 away victory as they kept pace with the Premier League Top 4. The win sees Spurs remain in 5th place, just a point behind rivals Arsenal. Yet it was far from one way traffic as a Virgil Van Dijk header put Southampton a goal up just 69 seconds after kick off.
Saints appeared to come out of the blocks looking to make a real statement, and a sloppy foul from Victor Wanyama on his first return to St Mary’s since a Summer departure gifted James Ward-Prowse a free kick. The young Englishman presented a beautiful floating pass onto the head of Van Dijk, who powered past Hugo Lloris to put the home team in front. By this stage Spurs had barely if at all touched the football, and certainly were yet to complete a pass.
The next 15 minutes saw the home side dominant, harrying and pressing Spurs as the likes of Jan Vertonghen and Wanyama were forced deep while attempting to play themselves out of trouble. Yet Sainsts were unable to make the most of this initial period of domination. And when Spurs had their first real chance, a deflected floating cross into the box from Moussa Sissoko, Dele Alli reacted first to rise up and head home, levelling the score on twenty minutes.
Spurs found their footing on the game after the equaliser, returning to their recent style of dictating both the play and tempo. While neither side threatened the goal in the latter part of the half, it was Spurs who would go into the break the happier having weathered the early storm and begun to take control and dominating possession.
Where the energy and excitement of Southampton’s first half had been knocked on the head by Dele’s equaliser, they were unable to replicate the same enthusiasm at the beginning of the second term. This seemed their best shout; to again catch Spurs on the back foot and score early to regain their lead. But this time it was Tottenham who looked the more dangerous and assured the longer as the half and match progressed, and a third headed goal for the match was soon to follow. Harry Kane this time received delivery from a smart outswinging Christian Eriksen corner and, seemingly unmarked with the ball placed almost precisely to him, knocked past Fraser Forster to give Spurs the lead.
Saints looked to respond quickly and pushed further forward to little effect, only managing to expose themselves in their own half. A quick break by Spurs, with Sissoko this time cleverly passing through to Dele, gifted the latter a gilt edged chance through on goal with only the keeper to beat. But, with Nathan Redmond hanging and clawing to get a footing on the edge of the penalty area, Dele’s shot was forced wide. Redmond appeared to maintain contact with the Spurs man as both then went down in the area, referee Mike Dean then pointing to the spot.
It seemed a harsh call on Redmond, for it was arguable to have only been an initial free kick outside the box. Not only that, but when Dean took an eternity to decide upon sending Redmond off, the St Mary’s crowd and the contest both turned a little sour. Perhaps justifying the home crowd’s displeasure, Kane completely scuffed the resulting penalty kick, his left foot appearing to lift the ground and ball up as he blasted over the bar.
With Southampton down to ten man, Spurs’ dominance stepped up another gear as they looked to add to their lead. Eriksen had the best chance, striking the cross bar hard from the centre of the box. Yet somehow the margin remained at one goal, and Saints still looked some chance of knicking a point. With Hugo Lloris willing to come out of his area in a sweeping role, a pair of wayward passes offered the home side a way back, but they were unable to make the most of these two 50-50 balls.
The threat was always greater at the other end though, and eventually the substitute Son found himself in acres of space. Composed, he travelled solo to the left edge of the box before a smart finish into the bottom right corner that gave his side a two goal buffer and finally a stranglehold on the three points. Only moments later Dele completed a brace and the appearance of a comprehensive win as he, similarly to Son, finished to the bottom right and around the outstretched Forster for 4-1.
It was a crucial win for Tottenham, and a result that Southampton will rue given their bright start. Yet in a sign of growing maturity, Spurs were able to hold the locals at bay whilst not at their best early. That Saints were unable to maintain their early intensity, and that Spurs gradually wore them down and ran over them was the story of the match. Whilst the home side was perhaps unfortunate to go a man down, but that stage Tottenham already had the lead and had looked in control. A valiant attempt by Southampton, yet Tottenham’s greater goal threat and dominance through midfield won out.