Watford vs Tottenham match report: Son Heung-min scores late winner after goals from Erik Lamela and Odion Ighalo

Watford 1 Tottenham 2: Nathan Ake was sent off for the home team

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Monday 28 December 2015 18:08
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Son Heung-min and Harry Kane celebrate
Son Heung-min and Harry Kane celebrate

In the final minute here, Tottenham Hotspur fans and players must have wondered if this season was going to be any different after all. Pegged back by Watford, unable to break down 10 men, they were confronting what would have been their 12th and 13th points dropped from winning positions in the league this year. That is not how a top-four team operates.

Then Son Heung-min flicked Kieran Trippier’s cross into the net and the away end erupted. It felt immediately like one of the most important moments in Spurs’ season. Those two extra points moved them up to third, level with Manchester City, who play this evening. They are closer to first place than to fifth and, when Mauricio Pochettino admitted “the numbers reflect that it is possible”, it was the closest he has come yet to saying Tottenham are in the title race.

The season is only halfway through and this late winner might point to something that will be even more important over its second phase. That is because on Monday afternoon, against competitive opponents, on an inhibiting pitch, they managed to rescue a game they looked to have squandered. For all the talk about a new, winning mentality, here was some physical proof.

“It was a fantastic victory,” Pochettino said. “Liverpool had a lot of problems here and lost 3-0, but we managed the game well, and on a very difficult pitch. It wasn’t easy, but the maturity we showed and the way we fought was fantastic.”

Erik Lamela is congratulated on his goal

Had Spurs drawn this game, it would have been one of their most infuriating results of the season. Not only had they led for most of the first half, before conceding to Odion Ighalo, but had also failed to exploit a numerical advantage for most of the second half. With almost 30 minutes left, Nathan Ake went in on Erik Lamela recklessly and at thigh height, and referee Anthony Taylor sent him off.

It was Watford, though, who reacted more strongly, the work of their 10 men outstripping what Spurs’ 11 could do and when Ben Watson’s inswinging corner surprised everyone near the end, goal-line technology showed it was only millimetres away from putting Watford 2-1 up.

Spurs looked to be digging in for a point, which is what made it so surprising that they were the side who won it, thanks to Trippier’s run down the right and Son’s clever finish.

Watford were crestfallen, having given so much but come away with nothing. “I am proud of the players because they fight a lot, had a very big soul, amazing spirit and amazing desire,” said their manager, Quique Sanchez Flores. “But the first feeling is sadness because we were really close to winning.”

It was a feisty, scrappy second half, a very different place from the tactical battle before half-time. In Pochettino’s 83rd game as Spurs head coach, he went to a back three for the first time, dropping Eric Dier in between Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld in the hope of shackling Watford’s strike pair. Pochettino had seen what Troy Deeney and Ighalo had done to Liverpool on the break and wanted to avoid the same problems.

Odion Ighalo

Tottenham took the lead with a goal of incisive quality. Craig Cathcart spent too much time on the ball and gifted it to Dele Alli. Lamela seized control and drove forward as Miguel Britos backed away. When Lamela reached the edge of the box, the Argentine used Britos as a shield, stroking the ball through the defender’s legs and into Heurelho Gomes’ far bottom corner.

Nathan Ake is sent off

Spurs missed chances to go 2-0 up and might have regretted it when Watford equalised just before the break. Ighalo had his back to Dier, on the edge of the box, when he controlled a header from Troy Deeney. Dier tried to head the ball away but Ighalo twisted and put the ball through his legs, finishing past Hugo Lloris. Too many times moments like that have cost Spurs. On Monday, they made sure it did not.

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