After all they have lived through and brought upon themselves in recent times, from the slow death of José Mourinho’s tenure to the reckless fight to join the ultimately doomed European Super League, this was a glimmer of something more encouraging for Tottenham.
For most of the first half, it seemed to be more of the same for them and a debut to forget for Mourinho’s interim replacement, Ryan Mason, who, at 29, became the Premier League’s youngest coach. . Southampton were better in all areas and Danny Ings’ skillful header was the least they deserved.
But if Mourinho’s demise was fueled, in part, by his team’s inability to maintain the lead (they gave up 20 points from winning positions), Mason launched his tenure with a spirited comeback. It featured a beautiful draw from Gareth Bale, who was out of his Mourinho doghouse and in the Premier League starting lineup for the first time since mid-March and, in injury time, a winner from Son Heung-min. from the penalty spot.
Initially, referee David Coote had conceded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area after Southampton substitute Moussa Djenepo launched a reckless tackle on Sergio Reguilón after a half-clearance corner kick. But the VAR would show the contact was just inside the box and, in the absence of the injured Harry Kane, Son completed Mason’s dream start.
Spurs have come within two points of fourth-placed Chelsea after playing one more match, and their bravery in the second half will propel them to Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. Bale credited Mason with delivering what was needed at halftime in the form of “very good team talk,” addressing “some positional issues and the need to be more patient with the ball” and the change was spectacular.
For Southampton it was yet another occasion in which the promise of their football yielded nothing. Quick and cohesive in the first half, when their swarm press worked effectively, they were shy and reactive thereafter. Ings’ loss to injury in the 58th minute was pivotal as the team lost their hustle and in the end the stats would show that they had surpassed the Spurs by squandering 21 points in winning situations.
The pre-match scene at Tottenham High Road had featured a protest by Spurs fans against Daniel Levy’s presidency, although the crowd was no more than 100 people. Tuesday night outside Stamford Bridge did not turn out, mainly because when angry Chelsea fans gathered before the game against Brighton, their club was still part of the European Super League. The disgruntled Spurs fans chanted a bit and left. It wasn’t exactly fire and brimstone. Nor was the first half of his team shown.
Southampton paid off for their advantage at halftime. They had already turned down two clear opportunities in the first 15 minutes and, from an early juncture, it was clear that the Spurs’ defensive ease was still a problem. Serge Aurier was not close enough to Ings after a James Ward-Prowse corner kick, although the placement of the header from the far post was perfect.
The Spurs had been warned, having enjoyed a notable foul in the second minute when the unmarked Mohammed Salisu headed a Nathan Tella free kick to Hugo Lloris. Che Adams had to score on the rebound only to volley too close to the goalkeeper, which produced a good block. Southampton’s other early moment followed a Jan Bednarek pass and a Reguilón error. Lloris cleverly dropped her line to put down Kyle Walker-Peters.
The Spurs had to be more assertive in the second half and they were, setting higher and getting to control the game. It was hard to remember Southampton running away from his half.
Bale woke up. There was a beautiful movie of him hitting Son, whose blast was blocked by Bednarek, and his goal followed a quick build-up of Spurs, Tanguy Ndombele and Son combined to set up Lucas Moura, whose shot was broken in Salisu. Bale narrowed the focus, tapped twice to work on position, and chose the furthest top corner.
The Spurs thought they had the winner when Son swept home from Reguilón’s cut after a fluid move only for the VAR to rule Moura was in an offside position in Alex McCarthy’s eye line. Tech, however, became friends with the Spurs after Djenepo’s rush of blood.
Ralph Hasenhüttl declared himself “empty” and Mason was able to savor a special feeling. “It’s been a whirlwind few days,” he said. “We were outstanding in the second half. This is how we want to be ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism