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Premier League

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Southampton 2 match report: Christian Eriksen inspires Spurs to show the required character

Tottenham had been 2-0 down after 28 minutes at White Hart Lane

Even with Tottenham Hotspur’s season drifting towards its finish, and uncertain futures across the club, Sunday’s win brought deep satisfaction. Two weeks ago, after their collapse at Chelsea, which felt like an end to their Champions League hopes, manager Tim Sherwood challenged his players to show some character.

They have now done that twice in four days. On Thursday Spurs threatened to overturn a 4-1 aggregate deficit at Benfica, but did not quite make it. On Sunday at White Hart Lane they fought back from two down to beat Southampton in stoppage time.

The result might not be remarkable – Saints have even less to play for than Spurs – but the way it came about was certainly meaningful. Tottenham were played off the pitch for the first half an hour, going 2-0 down before they woke up. It looked like a football lesson from Mauricio Pochettino’s side and an impressive display of managerial nous at a club who might well be open to being impressed.

Spurs had looked like a hectic mess in too many of their recent fixtures and this opening was even worse. Sherwood had started the game watching from the directors’ box but he cannot have been impressed by what he saw and, with his team getting picked apart, he returned to the touchline. Correlation is not causation but, minutes later, Christian Eriksen pulled one back. He scored again at the start of the second half and set up Gylfi Sigurdsson’s added-time winner.

It felt like a personal triumph for Sherwood – he had spoken persuasively to the players at half-time, and introduced the influential Sigurdsson – but the result owed to the fortitude of his whole team in difficult circumstances. It will probably not be enough to drag Tottenham up into the top four, and it may not even be enough to keep Sherwood in his post next season, but as an afternoon of work, and a reaction to adversity, it was certainly impressive.

Although the two Saints goals were both gifted by defensive errors, there was nothing surprising about them. Just as it had been here against Arsenal last Sunday, it was immediately clear that Spurs were defending far too high up the pitch and that they were vulnerable to runners in behind.

Premier League Sunday - as it happened

With Southampton’s midfield far sharper than Spurs’, they were always quick to release their fast runners. Adam Lallana curled one shot just over the bar before Rickie Lambert played in Jay Rodriguez, whose finish was disallowed for offside. Tottenham’s high line was a high-stakes risk; they were always just one slip away from disaster.

That mistake came after 19 minutes, from Kyle Naughton. Artur Boruc hit a long, high goal-kick, Naughton got lost underneath it and it bounced behind him. Rodriguez is dead-eyed running in behind and he raced onto the ball and slotted it into the far bottom  corner.

Saints continued to justify their lead with more enterprising attacking football before Spurs had started to compete. Lallana spun on the edge of the box and forced a save from Hugo Lloris before an excellent move ended with Luke Shaw’s shot deflecting off Mousa Dembélé and spinning just wide.

Then it was Naughton, again, failing to clear on the edge of his own box, before Lambert took over and slipped the ball to Lallana, who scored the second.

In front of England manager Roy Hodgson, Lambert, Lallana and Rodriguez were all auditioning very well, while Spurs were hardly making any impression on the game at all. But football matches can turn on the slightest slip.

Soon after Sherwood came to the technical area, Nathaniel Clyne lost his footing at the far post, trying to deal with Naughton’s deep cross. Eriksen pounced, beat Boruc and, from nowhere, Spurs were back in it. Eriksen could have won a penalty just before the break, choosing to stay on his feet, but it was clear the momentum was now with Tottenham.

Wanting more energy in midfield, Sherwood introduced Sigurdsson for Dembélé, and his players started the second half as they should have begun the first, finally putting Saints’ passing under pressure.

Roberto Soldado is not known for his tenacity off the ball but he made the equaliser, harassing Dejan Lovren in the corner, winning the ball and squaring it for Eriksen to tap in his second.

Spurs were level and the crowd, silent for most of the first half, were now behind them. They had rattled Southampton, who were no longer building carefully from the back but simply hacking the ball away instead. Spurs were pressing from the front and breaking through the middle. Eriksen set up Nacer Chadli, who forced a near-post save from Boruc.

Eriksen is often accused of not seizing games as he should but he looked desperate to decide the outcome by himself. His movement was increasingly dangerous and he reached a clever Sigurdsson reverse pass and shot into the side netting. Next, Eriksen ran on to Younes Kaboul’s long free-kick, showed remarkable vision and calm to chest the ball down on the run, only for Calum Chambers to deflect his shot over the bar. When Chadli worked the ball out to Eriksen on the left, his cross just evaded Soldado, a rare moment when the pair did not seem to be working in perfect harmony.

When four minutes of added time were signalled, only one team looked like winning. Southampton had burned themselves out and long stopped creating. Spurs had been relentless for almost an hour and had enough momentum to carry them over the line.

The decisive goal, like the first, started with a goal-kick, this one from Lloris. Jose Fonte got under the ball but headed it weakly forward. Chadli flicked it to Eriksen, always dangerous but with no route to goal. So he cushioned it perfectly to Sigurdsson, the cleanest striker of a ball at the club. From 25 yards out he found the bottom corner.

Tottenham could not complete their comeback in Lisbon but, for the players and for Sherwood, this will have to do.

Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris 6; Naughton 5, Kaboul 5, Vertonghen 6, Rose 6; Dembele 5 (Sigurdsson, 45, 7), Bentaleb 6; Lennon 5 (Townsend, 72), Chadli 6, Eriksen 8; Soldado 7

Southampton (4-2-3-1): Boruc 5; Clyne 5 (Chambers, 45, 6) Fonte 5, Lovren 5, Shaw 7; Ward-Prowse 6, Cork 6; Davis 7, Lallana 7, Rodriguez 7 (Ramirez, 64, 5); Lambert 7 (Gallagher, 90)

Match rating: 8/10

Man of match: Eriksen