It was a hard-fought victory for the visitors, giving Mauricio Pochettino a welcome return to St. Mary’s against an out-of-form Saints side – which was evident.
Southampton‘s winless run extended to six games in all competitions as a quick-fire double between English duo Harry Kane and Dele Alli sealed all three points for the visitors, bouncing back from a disappointing home defeat at the hands of Steve McClaren‘s Newcastle side last time out.
They could have found themselves two-nil down with less than ten minutes on the clock though, as the Saints created a few clear-cut opportunities to break the deadlock.
Mané had two clear-cut chances, no avail
First, Sadio Mané was set through on-goal in the area after a lovely chipped pass toward his path by Steven Davis. The winger shaped to shoot, but centre-back Toby Alderweireld – who spent a season on-loan at Southampton last term – was alert to the danger and got a strong interception behind the drilled effort, sending it behind for a corner-kick.
Then, two minutes later, it could have been two. Dušan Tadić drove down the flank, before unselfishly fizzing a perfectly-weighted pass into Mané’s path on the edge of the area. His well-placed effort was denied by Hugo Lloris though, making an excellent reflex save to keep the scores level.
Harry Kane had a half-chance of his own, which Paulo Gazzaniga did well to get behind, as the 22-year-old fired goalwards from a tight angle with power.
Quick, effective and seemingly comfortable
And it seemed as though it would stay goalless at the interval, but Spurs raced ahead to devastating effect. First, the north Londoners were the beneficiaries of an advantage being played by referee Kevin Friend.
He could have opted to stop play after Jose Fonté clattered into Alli in the build-up, but the visitors’ kept hold of the ball on the counter-attack and Kane’s close-range strike nestled into the far corner past a helpless Gazzaniga.
It wasn’t over yet, though. Southampton’s frustrating tendency to lose the ball in key areas of the pitch was emphasised once more, when possession was squandered in midfield. Within seconds they found themselves on the back foot and, fullback Kyle Walker was allowed space to roam forward from the right-hand side, before swinging a low ball across the face of goal.
It seemed as if the match was being played in slow motion, or something. The way the Southampton defenders collectively seemed, motionless, was as though they were naturally waiting for the linesman’s call for an offside. Alli was allowed the simple task of tucking the delivery away at the far post from close-range, with Gazzaniga not protected effectively by his backline. Marking, poor. Not tight enough, and the hosts had a two-goal deficit to overturn.
Second 45 as telling as the first
As the second-half began, Southampton knew they had a task on their hands. Attacking with both pace and purpose, similarly to the way they began in the opening exchanges, Graziano Pellé created a yard of space for himself – to test Lloris in-between the posts. His snapshot, after good initial work from Mané beforehand, was comfortably held by the French goalkeeper, at a swerving height as the home supporters showed their appreciation for his efforts with a warm round of applause.
Despite all of their shortcomings recently, the fans themselves have refused to give up hope. With the clock continuing to tick down on the affair, Ronald Koeman knew something had to change. A triple substitution – Shane Long, James Ward-Prowse and Juanmi – were all introduced to the fray, replacing Davis, Tadić and Jordy Clasie.
Substitute midfielder Tom Carroll could have wrapped up all three points for the visitors, but his effort inside the area lacked much elevation or power to fully test Gazzaniga, who was able to smother the danger. Ward-Prowse was denied the chance to halve the deficit in stoppage time after another fantastic diving stop from Lloris, stretching to his left, as he kept a well-earned clean sheet.
It just wasn’t Southampton’s day, you could virtually sense that after the first ten minutes. Mané’s two early chances, could have resulted in a two-goal cushion, but instead, they found themselves with a game to chase at the break, which just highlights one of their problems. During this winless run of six fixtures, they’ve only scored three in total – which, considering the chances they create for themselves, simply isn’t good enough. Plenty of room for improvement.