Tottenham Hotspur had been forced to wait and, as each one of their top six rivals won on Boxing Day and then Tuesday, it might have felt pretty tortuous. But, when they finally got their festive programme started under the lights at Southampton, they made their turn count. And how. Mauricio Pochettino’s team shrugged off a second-minute concession to Virgil van Dijk and a generally sloppy start to produce a show of strength, in which Dele Alli scored twice and both Mousa Dembélé and Christian Eriksen sparkled around him.
Southampton played the final 33 minutes with 1o men, after Nathan Redmond’s sending-off for a nudge on the goal-bound Alli, and they were overwhelmed. Harry Kane had put Tottenham in front and the substitute Heung-min Son and Alli, with his second, gave the scoreline an emphatic feel at the end.
Tottenham could even afford to miss a penalty in faintly comical circumstances – Kane lifting high over the bar, after Redmond’s red card foul – and they will remember that it was in this fixture last December, albeit nine days earlier, that they sparked their title charge with a convincing win.
It was an evening for reunions, with Pochettino and the Tottenham midfielder Victor Wanyama back at their former club and Claude Puel renewing acquaintances with Hugo Lloris, the goalkeeper he coached at Lyon for three years. Toby Alderweireld, however, did not make it. Tottenham’s former Southampton centre-half missed out because of a virus.
Wanyama’s touches from around the seventh minute were booed by the home support but it was his first involvement that had helped to shape the contest. Clearly pumped up at the outset, Wanyama won a muscular challenge on Sofiane Boufal before he clattered into Ryan Bertrand to concede the free-kick from which Southampton went ahead.
Wanyama’s foul was timed at 20 seconds, Van Dijk’s scoring header at 70 and it served to swell Southampton’s belief. James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick was whipped in dangerously and Van Dijk got in between Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose to guide his header into Lloris’s bottom corner. A number of leading clubs have come to covet Van Dijk but, as the home crowd pointed out, it is they who have got him.
Tottenham have got Alli, as their fans never tire of singing, and he supplied the equaliser with a towering leap in front of Van Dijk and a header that went in off the far post. It had to be quite the leap for Alli to get the better of Van Dijk. The Tottenham midfielder had started on the left, with Christian Eriksen granted the No10 role by Pochettino – a reward, perhaps, for his improved recent form.
However, Alli’s licence to roam was plain and his goal that made it 1-1 was not the only time that he tore into a central position. Dembélé initiated the move with a deft pass into the inside-left channel for Moussa Sissoko and, when his cross looped up off Nathan Redmond, Alli did the rest.
Up to that point, Southampton had been in charge and it was a sign of Tottenham’s irritation that Vertonghen left his hand in Jay Rodriguez’s face like he meant it after making a clearance. Rodriguez did not make a meal out of it. Dembélé was also booked for a foul on Redmond.
Southampton pressed hard at the outset, particularly when Tottenham tried to play out from the back, and Bertrand and Redmond menaced with their pace.
Boufal and then Jay Rodriguez saw shots blocked after a loose Sissoko pass while Redmond’s low drive was a lick of paint beyond Lloris’s far post.
Alli’s equaliser settled Tottenham and they called the tune for the remainder of the first half. Eriksen blazed high after a low cross broke for him while Wanyama almost silenced the home fans on 43 minutes after tricking inside Van Dijk. Wanyama struck for goal but José Fonte dived in to make a saving block.
Southampton’s loss of aggression after their flying start was difficult to fathom and, when they lost their defensive bearings shortly after the second-half restart, Tottenham took the lead. Kane made a darting run towards the near post to meet an Eriksen corner and it said everything that Oriol Romeu was the nearest Saint to him – and he was not close enough.
Fraser Forster got his fingertips to Kane’s firm header but he could not keep it out. The goalkeeper might have done better.
Fonte headed wide at the other end before the game took another twist with the Redmond red card. It was a slick Tottenham counter that involved Eriksen and Sissoko that got Alli away and he was nudged by the chasing Redmond as he shot. It looked as though the contact had started outside the area. Alli’s shot went wide but he was reprieved when Mike Dean pointed to the penalty spot and, after what felt like an age, dismissed Redmond.
Southampton were, in turn, reprieved when Kane skied the penalty. He looked down at the turf, where a massive divot had formed. There was shades of David Beckham’s penalty miss for England at Euro 2004 against Portugal.
When Kane planted his standing foot alongside the spot, he seemed to have created the divot.
Tottenham, though, would turn the screw. After Eriksen rattled the crossbar and the Southampton substitute, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had wasted a chance after a poor Lloris clearance, Son streaked on to Eriksen’s pass to finish. Alli’s added the gloss from Rose’s ball.TG