The old days were not always better. For much of the time, the Premier League provides far better matches than in days of yore, when the pitches were mud, the ball was leathered from end to end, and creative players were kicked into submission. But there are afternoons when one wishes the modern footballer was not so supremely fit and efficiently coached.
This was one of them. Two teams without an ounce of fat on them worked prodigiously hard and competed ferociously, but both struggled to create chances. The match cried out for a Glenn Hoddle or Matt Le Tissier, who used to grace these teams’ midfields, but for all the billions the Premier League generates, such gems remain as rare as ever.
It was, at least, the player most of that ilk, Spurs’ Christian Eriksen, who settled the match. The Dane found a yard of precious space to sweetly finish one of the game’s few flowing moves, six minutes before the break. Southampton, who went into the match on the back of their best top-flight start in 31 years, ought to have taken a point but Saido Mane somehow missed the target from eight yards with six minutes left.
Thus reprieved there was relief, rather than joy, on the Tottenham bench when Mike Jones blew for time. After four Premier League matches without a win, and two successive home defeats, Mauricio Pochettino needed a win against the club he managed last season, regardless of how it came about. “We are still improving, but I am happy with the three points and the performance,” he said. “We are starting to look like a team, which is fantastic.”
Pochettino was warmly received by the Saints staff, but not their fans. They did, though, leaven their abuse with a humorous chant of ‘where’s your translator gone?’ in reference to the fact the Argentine always spoke to the media through an interpreter at Southampton, but now does so in English.
Ronald Koeman, his successor, suggested Pochettino should have been given more respect but the man himself said, “It does not change my opinion of my time there, I will always be grateful. It was an emotional game for me.”
Both teams were unchanged from last weekend’s Premier League fixtures when Saints beat Queen’s Park Rangers and Spurs held Arsenal. In the interim, however, Spurs have played in the Europa League. Their two previous European ties have been followed by defeats, something Pochettino insisted, pre-match, was just “a coincidence”. Nevertheless, such coincidences have a habit of playing on players’ minds, so victory had added value.
The match began brightly enough with a Jan Vertonghen header cleared off the line by Ryan Bertrand, and Kyle Naughton blocking Mane’s close-range shot. Fraser Forster then turned an Erik Lamela 20-yarder around the post but did less well when Eriksen shot from similar range, the ball slipping from his grasp and trickling just past the post. That set the tone for a nervy afternoon from the England goalkeeper.
It was his defence, though, who were at fault for the goal.Emmanuel Adebayor was allowed time on the wing to square to Nacer Chadli, whose neat lay-off was drilled home by Eriksen.
Minutes later Adebayor released Chadli behind the back four, he beat Forster, but hit the far post. Having survived, Saints were nearly given a way back into the game after 52 minutes when Jones pulled up Younes Kaboul after a shoulder charge on Mane as the Senegalese went clear. It did not look a foul, but if it was a foul it was surely a red card too as no one was going to catch Mane. Instead Jones gave the Spurs skipper a yellow card (which Koeman was content with, though he also noted the inconsistency).
Jones did not have a good game, in particular failing even to book Bertrand for a nasty foul on Naughton which forced the full-back off. He will have a scan on Monday.
Bertrand sent in a low cross for the summer signing, who somehow failed to make the right contact with the ball from six yards and directed wide.
Kaboul escaped twice more. Shortly after the hour he sliced a clearance to Victor Wanyama, who shot too close to Lloris. Then he inexplicably allowed Bertrand’s cross to run across the box and Mane, perhaps surprised, shot wide.
“It was not easy to create possibilities,” said Koeman. “Saido got the best chance, but missing chances is part of football. It was difficult for the strikers – both defences were very strong.” More’s the pity.Reuse content