The Premier League title has begun to feel like a pipe dream for Tottenham Hotspur, given the majestic form of Chelsea, but they continue to suggest that they will finish as the best of the rest. This was a 13th consecutive win at White Hart Lane in all competitions, with 10 of them having come in the league and, if it was underpinned by angst in the second half, as Southampton mounted a comeback, they got the job done.
The visitors had gone close during the first half and when James Ward-Prowse scored to cut the deficit in half on 52 minutes, they pressed on to the front foot. But for all their latent menace, Southampton did not have a moment when they threatened the equaliser. Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham substitutions were designed to see the game out, with one of them being the midfielder, Harry Winks, for the striker, Son Heung-min. His team ground their way to the points.
Tottenham missed their top scorer, Harry Kane, who has started his latest spell of rehabilitation for ankle ligament damage and, in his stead, Son did little to distinguish himself – apart from a few darting runs.
Pochettino made it clear that the result was all important and it was secured by Christian Eriksen’s drive and Dele Alli’s penalty, the award of which had felt a little soft.
Southampton were guilty of a series of scuffs and a failed attempt to clear and, when Steven Davis stamped in to take control, he did not notice Alli on his blindside. For Alli, it was all about getting to the ball first and then feeling the contact. In Kane’s absence, he stepped up to the spot and he now has 17 goals in all competitions this season.
Moments earlier Manolo Gabbiadini, Southampton’s in‑form striker, had been forced off with a groin injury, which Claude Puel hoped was not too serious, and his replacement Shane Long was unable to get on straight away – even though he was stripped.
Long was apoplectic on the touchline and Southampton conceded the penalty while they were down to 10 men, which Puel would complain about afterwards.
Southampton’s ire was stoked further in first-half stoppage time when Ben Davies swung and connected with Dusan Tadic’s shin inside the area. Before the impact, the Tottenham defender looked to have got a piece of the ball but Puel felt that if the referee, Andre Marriner, “gives the first penalty, then he needs to give the penalty for us. I cannot see the difference”.
It was pointed out to Puel that Marriner had been in charge of his team’s EFL Cup final defeat against Manchester United, when he controversially disallowed a legitimate Gabbiadini goal for offside. “The details were very important and, as against Manchester, they were not for us,” Puel said.
This was only Southampton’s third game in five weeks and they were guilty of a lapse in the early running, from which Eriksen profited. Nobody in red-and-white got close enough to him and, having moved to the edge of the box, he fizzed a shot into the bottom corner.
Southampton had their moments at 1-0 down and there were winces on 28 minutes, in particular, when Tadic blazed over from the edge of the six-yard box, after Nathan Redmond had volleyed back Cédric Soares’s deep cross. Oriol Romeu sent a pot-shot narrowly wide while Gabbiadini fired into the side-netting, after a smart one-two with Tadic.
Toby Alderweireld extended Fraser Forster with a header from Eriksen’s corner in the 23rd minute while Alli had earlier spun and shot straight at the goalkeeper. “Dele has an unbelievable personality and all is possible with him,” Pochettino said.
“In the box, he looks like a striker and outside the box, he plays like a midfielder. I watched him when he was 17 years old at Milton Keynes and he played as a holding midfielder against Manchester United. Maybe one day, he plays as a goalkeeper, full-back or centre-back.”
There were some outstanding performances in midfield, not least from Tottenham’s former Saint, Victor Wanyama, whose power in the one-on-one challenges is something to behold. On the other side, Romeu was a snapshot in tenacity and polished technique. He drove Southampton’s second-half superiority.
Puel could be proud of how his players responded to Alli’s penalty and their goal followed a botched attempt by Alderweireld to deal with Bertrand’s cross. With Jan Vertonghen wrong-footed behind him, Ward-Prowse took a touch and squeezed his shot past Hugo Lloris.
Yet the closest Southampton came to parity was when the substitute, Sofiane Boufal, blasted well wide from outside the box.
The Tottenham substitute, Vincent Janssen – who provided a focal point late on – nearly added a third for his team only for Forster to touch his fierce shot over the crossbar.