Tottenham’s problems remain obvious but Harry Kane maintains ominous form ahead of Arsenal showdown

Lethal: Harry Kane is in fantastic form this season  (Getty Images)
Lethal: Harry Kane is in fantastic form this season (Getty Images)

Harry Kane’s goal moved him to the brink of Tottenham history and his side into the FA Cup fourth-round following a 1-0 win over Portsmouth.

The game was not a classic but a much-changed Spurs XI deserved to win against the dogged League One side, with Emerson Royal hitting the post at 0-0 and Oliver Skipp blazing over a chance to make the game safe.

The performance of Antonio Conte’s side displayed some of the frustrating hallmarks of their season so far -- a below-par first half and difficulty in breaking down an opponent who were happy to sit back -- but more importantly, the result ensures Spurs maintain confidence and momentum ahead of next weekend’s north London derby.

There were also breakthroughs for a number of young players, with 19-year-old Pape Matar Sarr catching the eye on his full debut, another lively display from Bryan Gil and late cameos for Djed Spence and Alfine Devine, the latter making his home debut.

That also helped to improve the mood among fans and the atmosphere was noticeable more tranquil than in the tumultuous defeat to Aston Villa here in the last home game.

Kane closes in on Greaves

Clinical: Harry Kane scored with his first chance to move closer to Jimmy Greaves’ record of 266 (AFP via Getty Images)
Clinical: Harry Kane scored with his first chance to move closer to Jimmy Greaves’ record of 266 (AFP via Getty Images)

Kane moved to within two goals of surpassing Jimmy Greaves as Spurs’ all-time leading scorer by bagging his 265th for the club.

Next up, of course, are Arsenal tomorrow week and what better way for Kane to equal or break the record than by scoring against Spurs’ bitterest rivals, who currently top the Premier League?

And the way Kane is playing right now, you would not bet against him continuing his fine record in north London derbies.

Despite his World Cup heartache, the England captain has scored four times in as many matches since the restart and, just as he did at Crystal Palace on Wednesday, he broke the deadlock at the start of the second half against Pompey.

Kane played a neat one-two with Ryan Sessegnon and fired into the top corner from 18 yards, dragging his side in front after an uninspiring opening 45 minutes for the second game running.

With Hugo Lloris rested, Kane wore the armband against Pompey and this was another leader’s display, ensuring Spurs avoided a hiccup before arguably the biggest game of their season, in which they will be aiming to derail Arsenal’s title push and boost their own top-four hopes.

Spurs miss creative spark

Lacking: Antonio Conte’s team miss a creative spark (Getty Images)
Lacking: Antonio Conte’s team miss a creative spark (Getty Images)

Until Kane pounced, the match had followed a familiar script for Spurs, who struggled to break down a disciplined and organised Pompey side.

In another pedestrian first-half without a single shot on target, Spurs were reduced to moving the ball from side to side, probing for an opening through a penalty box packed with blue shirts.

In Conte’s system, there is onus on the wing-backs to provide thrust and creativity but both Sessegnon and Emerson Royal offered little.

In fairness, Sessegnon made the goal, despite being grappled as he exchanged passes with Kane, and Emerson was unlucky not to score moments earlier, when he headed Heung-min Son’s cross against the post.

But generally, they were both too safe with the ball and too static without it, running down blind alleys or playing a safe pass inside. Sessegnon, like midfielder Skipp, looked noticeable rusty on his first start for months and is suffering for his slow start to the season.

Spurs, though, also missed a player capable of unlocking Pompey with a pass from a central area, with Skipp and Sarr not cute enough to provide the killer pass.

These problems typically extend to Spurs’ first XI, too, suggesting a new right wing-back and a creative forward or midfield should be the priorities in this month’s transfer window.

It is easy to see why Spurs are so much better when they score first and the opponent has to come at them, creating space on the counter.

When they concede first, however, and teams can sit back and defend, Spurs are far more limited.

They deserve credit for a relatively comfortable second-half against Pompey but starting quicker and finding an extra spark will be key next weekend.