Tanguy Ndombele's moment of magic caps Spurs win at Sheffield United

Nick Ames at Bramall Lane
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Back in July, Tottenham’s players turned in a no-show at Bramall Lane that came to be seen as a turning point in José Mourinho’s reign. This time they beat Sheffield United by the same scoreline that caused all that summer soul-searching and will hope it has the same transformative effect. The game will be best remembered for an exquisite piece of improvisation by Tanguy Ndombele, who nipped United’s attempt at a comeback in the bud with a 62nd-minute goal that will bear replaying over and over.

Related: Liverpool v Manchester United: Premier League – live!

It might also go down as the afternoon on which Spurs remembered how to put an away game to bed, even if the Blades are a shadow of the team that overwhelmed them last season and are doomed for a warp-speed relegation. Serge Aurier and Harry Kane gave them their first two-goal lead on the road in three and a half months, appearing to make the game safe before half-time. While David McGoldrick gave them fleeting cause for concern they were quickly settled by Ndombele’s moment of brilliance and, at least for a couple of hours, find themselves three points off the top.

It did not feel particularly tongue-in-cheek to suggest at the outset that Sheffield United’s greatest source of hope might be an early Tottenham goal. Within five minutes there came an opportunity to test that theory and the ease of Aurier’s header made one wonder whether it had gained traction in the home side’s minds.

Spurs had begun quickly and, when Aaron Ramsdale tipped over a rising 22-yard drive from Steven Bergwijn, received their first invitation to load the box. They are not without aerial threat but that does not usually include the 5ft 9in Aurier, who barely had to jump when beating Jayden Bogle to Son Heung-min’s inswinging corner and heading in from just beyond the near post. It was his first goal since the 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United, which came back in that brief autumn spell when Tottenham knew what to do with the scent of blood.

Mourinho had protested in a pre-match interview that if Spurs, who had let three first-half leads slip in their previous six Premier League games, had lost the ability to kill games off it had nothing to do with his instructions. There was certainly little he could do when Son, running onto Kane’s pass moments after the opener, clipped the ball past Ramsdale but struck the outside of an upright. Spurs were set up in a 3-4-3 that, in theory at least, did not lend itself easily to conservatism and in those early stages they looked capable of slicing their hosts apart at will.

Ndombele watches his lob drift over Aaron Ramsdale.
Ndombele watches his lob drift over Aaron Ramsdale. Photograph: Mike Egerton/AP

In the subsequent half-hour it did not quite work out that way, but then Kane struck after Tottenham had weathered United’s best spell. It was the kind of finish he executes better than anyone in the division, bustling towards the edge of the penalty area before whipping a low, precise shot low to the left of Ramsdale’s fingertips. He had Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who dispossessed Ollie Norwood in midfield before receiving the ball back from Son and locating his captain in a pocket of space, to thank for creating the chance.

United had not seriously threatened Hugo Lloris’s goal during the first half, their early concession dealing a grievous blow to any momentum they hoped to build from defeating Newcastle. Joe Rodon was back smartly to stop McGoldrick running through just before the half-hour, before the striker forced Eric Dier into a block. Ollie Burke centred across the six-yard box with no prowling accomplice in tow but none of this was much to show for their flurry of pressure.

They found significantly greater reward through McGoldrick at a time, 14 minutes after the interval, when Spurs could hardly have looked more comfortable. Kane had twice come close with left-footed efforts, an early show of intent from Chris Wilder’s side having seemingly faded, but then Tottenham were punished for dropping their guard. John Fleck was given an eternity to weigh up a left-sided cross and McGoldrick, getting a run on Ben Davies, angled his header expertly past Lloris.

Spurs’ neuroses finally looked ripe for exploiting but, instead, Ndombele settled the issue with a magical goal. It took considerable skill from Bergwijn to locate him in the box with a floated return pass but that had nothing on the technique required for the midfielder, who was running and facing away from goal, to extend his right leg and arc a delicate, perfectly angled lob over the scrambling Ramsdale. Tottenham could see out the remainder with a rare level of comfort.