Southampton 2 Tottenham 3 match report: Emmanuel Adebayor recall pays off for Tim Sherwood's bold Spurs

Interim boss Sherwood wins in his first Premier League match as manager

As job applications go, this was much better than Tim Sherwood’s first attempt. Tottenham’s defending was as porous on Sunday as it had been in his debut as caretaker manager, the 2-1 home defeat by West Ham in the Capital One Cup last Wednesday, but Sherwood’s team showed spirit and attacking intent to a degree that has often been absent this season.

Most significantly, the interim head coach was richly rewarded for restoring Emmanuel Adebayor to the team. The Togo striker, who had been out of favour with Sherwood’s predecessor Andre Villas-Boas, scored twice, adding to his strike in midweek, as Tottenham came back from an early Southampton goal and the blow of  conceding an equaliser soon after taking a 2-1 lead early in the second half.

Amid all the anguish of the departure of Villas-Boas a week ago in the wake of the 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool, it was almost possible to lose sight of the fact that supposed crisis club Tottenham actually started yesterday’s match three points above newly-sexy, high-pressing Southampton. That gap is now six points and Spurs also own  the Premier League’s best away record – a statistic that, perhaps, only underlines the level of their under-achievement so far.

It was certainly not all good news yesterday. Roberto Soldado was unconvincing as ever, missing two good chances. And Tottenham only managed three shots on target, although two went in. But with West Bromwich Albion, also under temporary management, their visitors on Boxing Day and a new emphasis on attack, the White Hart Lane faithful may be able to look forward to more than post-Christmas indigestion. “It’s the only way I know how to play,” Sherwood said.

Southampton, in contrast, who briefly stood second in the table when they led 1-0 at Chelsea on 1 December, are now without a victory in six games, equalling their longest winless sequence under Mauricio Pochettino. That run has included tricky games against Arsenal and Man City but also a home defeat by Aston Villa, and yesterday’s match would not have looked much of an obstacle a few weeks ago.

However, the relative lack of depth in their squad has been cruelly exposed in recent weeks, and yesterday injuries and illness forced Pochettino to field arguably his weakest team of the season. A throat infection that sidelined England Under-21 left back Luke Shaw meant that no more than five of the Southampton starting XI could be considered first choices, with Croatia central defender Dejan Lovren the only member of the back five who would make the strongest team.

So it was hard to escape the feeling early on that Spurs would have no excuse for failing to win in the circumstances, although of course we should have known better. Even with Michael Dawson back after suspension, they allowed Southampton far too much space, and the centre of midfield, where Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembélé were outnumbered, was overrun.

Southampton were ahead after only 13 minutes when Lovren almost arrogantly dispossessed Adebayor and spread the ball wide to Danny Fox, standing in for Shaw. He made ground down the left and passed inside to Adam Lallana, who was not put under even the most rudimentary pressure as he turned past Vlad Chiriches and shot low past Hugo Lloris’s right hand from 20 yards.

Sherwood moved from his seat in the stand to the technical area to instil a greater sense of urgency and although it was to pay off, Spurs could have been two down after 23 minutes. Rickie Lambert robbed Danny Rose and slid the ball square to Lallana. His England team-mate scuffed his pass but the ball still reached Jay Rodriguez, only for the third of Saints’  England trio to shoot high.

It was an expensive miss. Almost immediately Adebayor swept a long forward pass down the left, to the jeers of home fans who thought it overhit. However, Soldado reached the ball and crossed to the far post, where  Adebayor got between Jos Hooiveld and Fox to volley home – a carbon copy of his finish against West Ham on Wednesday.

But the youthful Saints continued their pressing game, harrying Tottenham into errors all over the field. “That first half was horrible, wasn’t it?” Sherwood said. “It wasn’t to do with formations, it was mis-control and passing it to the wrong team. But after getting to the bell level pegging, we took it on. In the second half we were very good.”

Even though Dembélé was forced off by injury to be replaced by untried French 19-year-old Nabil Bentaleb, Tottenham took the lead. Rose exchanged passes with Eriksen on the left and hared towards the byline, crossing low to the near post where Hooiveld stuck out a foot and diverted the ball under Paulo Gazzaniga and into his own net – his fourth own goal in two seasons.

But Saints would not fold. On the hour Jack Cork played a clever pass down the right for Lallana, and as Lloris rushed from his line, the best chance for a goal looked to be a chip, even though the angle was difficult. Instead, with admirable awareness, Lallana squared the ball, somehow spotting that Lambert was up in support and able to roll the ball into the empty net.

Tottenham, though, were far from finished, and on 64 minutes, Southampton failed to clear a throw and the ball broke to Adebayor, who turned inside and swept the ball past Gazzaniga as Lovren tried in vain to plug another of the gaping holes appearing around him.

Soldado then squandered two chances to put the game beyond the home side. First he got away from his marker but pulled his shot wide. Then he missed even more culpably, scooping the ball over the bar from two yards out after meeting Nacer Chadli’s low cross from the right.

“Very frustrating,” was Pochettino’s verdict. “I’m very angry about the result today. We dressed up as Santa Claus and gifted them so many goals and chances.” At least he can recover over Christmas with a nice quiet, relaxing trip to play Cardiff City. Or maybe not.

Southampton (4-3-3): Gazzaniga 6; Chambers 6, Hooiveld 4, Lovren 7, Fox 6; S Davis 6, Cork 7, Schneiderlin 6; Lallana 8, Lambert 6, Rodriguez 5.

Subs: Ward-Prowse 5 (Cork 62), Ramirez 6 (Davis 70), Gallagher (Fox 78).

Booked: Ward-Prowse.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Lloris 5; Walker 6, Dawson 6, Chiriches 5, Rose 6; Lamela 4, Dembele 5, Eriksen 6, Sigurdsson 6; Soldado 5, Adebayor 8.

Subs: Bentaleb 7 (Dembele 51), Chadli 7 (Lamela 60), Defoe (Soldado 85)

Booked: Sigurdsson

Referee: C Foy.

Man of the match: Adebayor.