Sunday, September 24

Ché Adams seals it for Southampton after Tottenham twice lose their lead | premier league

Antonio Conte could hear the knock of opportunity. The Tottenham manager has been effective in beating the teams that his club would like and expect to beat, devouring the lower-hanging fruit, and Southampton had been cast as such – fairly or otherwise.

With West Ham struggling to find their groove and Manchester United in profligate mood, the path towards a Champions League finish has been lit. And yet Spurs fluffed their lines. They would get nothing, which was what they deserved, in the first serious misstep of Conte’s Premier League tenure.

There was a point when Spurs looked as though they might get away with it. With Armando Broja lying stricken, having felt Emerson Royal jump all over him, Spurs moved forward through Harry Winks and Harry Kane and, when Lucas Moura crossed low, there was Son Heung-min to put them 2-1 up.

Southampton refused to entertain the hard luck story. They had pummeled Spurs during the first-half, blowing a hatful of chances, Broja’s goal for 1-1 their only reward. Now they picked themselves up off the canvas again.

The goals were provided by James Ward-Prowse with trademark whipped crosses and, with Spurs horribly static, failing to pick the runners, Mohammed Elyounoussi headed the equalizer and, moments later, Che Adams planted home the winner.

There would almost be a late twist. Steven Bergwijn, whose stoppage-time goals had brought the outlandish comeback win at Leicester, had again entered as a substitute and again he found the net with the 90 minutes up, turning home after Cristian Romero had headed back Kane’s cross. VAR would spot that he was offside and Southampton could celebrate.

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Spurs had been frustrated in the league game at St Mary’s in late December, held to a 1-1 draw despite Southampton playing for 51 minutes with 10 men, and one of the big questions here was always going to be about their capacity to create.

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl savors victory with Kyle Walker-Peters.
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl savors victory with Kyle Walker-Peters. Photograph: Michael Zemanek/Rex/Shutterstock

Ralph Hasenhüttl had started with three central defenders on that occasion. This time he went with his more favored 4-2-2-2 system, and it was his team of him that looked the more cohesive in the first-half, finding space and time on the ball. And creating chances. Loads of them.

However, they lacked a cutting edge before half-time, the tone set in by the big early chance that went begging. Mohamed Elyounoussi cut back to cross from the left and, when Ché Adams powered past Sergio Reguilón, he surely had to score. But the shot was too close to Hugo Lloris and the goalkeeper blocked.

Spurs would blow a gilt-edged opportunity of their own before they went ahead. Conte’s idea was to finesse the offensive transitions, using the pace of Lucas Moura and Son and, after Cristian Romero had seen a header from a free-kick correctly ruled out for offside, Spurs snapped forward. They are fed Kane and nobody tracked the run of Reguilón. Kane went square and Reguilón had the freedom of the penalty area. His finish of him lacked guile, and he was swatted straight at Fraser Forster, who saved.

The opening goal was all about the speed and skill of Lucas, who accelerated before ushering Pierre-Emile Højbjerg up the inside right channel with the outside of his boot. They are darted to meet Højbjerg’s low cross but it was the outstretched leg of Jan Bednarek that diverted the ball past Forster for an own goal.

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Southampton’s response was excellent, and they deserved their equalizer through Armando Broja, who looks a rare prospect – strong and supremely assured on the ball and so dangerous with his quick feet. Yet Hasenhüttl had to be disappointed that his team were not ahead at the interval.

There were a clutch of big chances that Southampton spurned after Broja’s equaliser, with the striker wasting the clearest one. I have emerged onto a Kyle Walker-Peters pass, breaking away from the dozing Davinson Sánchez, only to drag wide of the far post. Conte kicked a bucket of water in fury. Earlier, Stuart Armstrong had sent a free header towards the bottom corner, fully extending Lloris, and there would be various scrambles from corners just before the break.

Mohammed Salisu saw a header hit Ben Davies and go just wide and, after Sanchez had cleared acrobatically from a Bednarek header, Romain Perraud sent a pile-driver from the edge of the box into the crossbar. Southampton could also point to a James Ward-Prowse shot that drew a fine save from Lloris and two efforts from Armstrong that flashed wide.

Broja’s equalizer had been sparked by an unfortunate slip inside the area by Davies and then a failure to clear by Sánchez on the second phase. Perraud was allowed to pull back a low cross from the left by Royal and Broja, loosely marked, opened up his body to sidefoot home.

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There were loud boos from the home fans on the half-time whistle, and they craved greater clarity from their players upon the restart. Southampton’s hustle had knocked them out from their stride. Kane almost provided it. When Reguilón stood up a cross to the far post, the striker ignored Emerson’s attempted volley in front of him – high boot and all – to head down and up towards goal, but the ball cleared the crossbar. Conte introduced the January signing, Rodrigo Bentancur, for his debut in central midfield and there were flashes of quality from him; the close control, the range of passing. Ever available, Bentancur brought the assurance that Spurs needed. The tide had turned.

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And Son’s goal looked to have danced out his team. Southampton would dig deeper.

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