Southampton kicked things off at a sunny White Hart Lane in what was a crucial game in Spurs’ hunt for Champions League football, as a 1-0 victory put them above Arsenal – albeit potentially temporarily – who kicked off later.
A tentative start from both teams saw a series of long balls being played back and forth to no immediate avail, culminating in Adam Lallana sending an early free kick floating disappointingly over Hugo Lloris’ bar in the third minute.
On the five minute mark, a good run in to the box from Jermain Defoe ended with the England man shooting viciously in to Artur Boruc’s side netting from eight yards.
For the next few minutes, Spurs really dominated possession – particularly in the midfield area – without really threatening, but it was Southampton who almost took the lead in the eleventh minute. Rickie Lambert took advantage of Tottenham’s high defensive line, playing in Nathaniel Clyne, who was through on goal, but the defender shot high and wide from ten yards.
Clyne again threatened down the right just a minute later, but his cross was dealt with by Benoit Assou-Ekotto, as Southampton started to come to life.
Spurs started to press more and more and in the 20th minute Tom Huddlestone played a lovely through-ball to Kyle Walker whose low cross was comfortably cleared, but Spurs were showing signs of breaking the Saints down.
Two minutes later, a long ball to the left wing from Huddlestone found Assou-Ekotto free on the left. He crossed similarly to Walker on the opposite flank two minutes prior and his cross was also dealt with easily.
A strong counter-attack on the 24 minute mark saw Clyne cross from the right looking for Jay Rodriguez. An excellent but very desperate sliding interception by Michael Dawson saved Spurs from surely going a goal down. The captain was furious with his team mates for allowing Clyne so much space.
A spell of relative inactivity ensued, with neither team producing any football of note, until Walker was set free down the right in the 32nd minute. The young England right back found Jermain Defoe, who should have squared left to Clint Dempsey early, but his procrastination cost him as Southampton cleared.
Spurs made an enforced substitution on 35 minutes, with Moussa Dembele picking up a knock – a recurrence of his recent injury, seemingly – and being replaced by Lewis Holtby, as Southampton lined up a free kick from 25 yards. Lambert struck it beautifully, but Lloris got a strong left hand to it to tip it on to the post. The attack following the rebound saw Guly Do Prado cross to Jos Hooiveld, who headed straight at Lloris from six yards.
Spurs needed to stem the pressure from this resurgent Southampton and they did so, but without really threatening themselves, until Bale found himself free twice in quick succession on the stroke of half time. On both occasions, his crosses didn’t find Spurs men and Southampton cleared appreciatively.
Two minutes of first half stoppage time were indicated, during which Tom Huddlestone whipped in a threatening free kick that was headed over Boruc’s goal and out for a corner when it looked to be looping in. A corner followed, which was soon followed by another as Spurs pressured at the end of the first half, which came to a close as Bale headed wide from the second corner kick.
Spurs got the second half underway with neither team having made any additional changes during the interval – though Spurs seemed to switch to 4-4-2 from 4-2-3-1, with Dempsey apparently joining Defoe up front and Bale heading out to the left wing.
Spurs started with a bit more eagerness without any immediate luck, as Emmanuel Adebayor and Gylfi Sigurdsson started to warm up around the 50 minute mark.
Lallana had the first real chance of the second half in the 51st minute, lofting the ball over Dawson with great skill to set himself free, but his shot was soft and straight in to the grateful arms of Hugo Lloris.
Huddlestone had his arms all over Lallana in the 55th minute and the subsequent free kick on the left, 40 yards out, was whipped in by Lambert. It bypassed everyone and flew just past Lloris’ left hand post.
Lallana again threatened just over a minute later as Southampton piled on the pressure. He cut inside on the left and drilled a fierce strike towards goal which had to be blocked by the outstretched leg of Assou-Ekotto.
In the 60th minute, Adebayor was brought on to replace the ineffective Aaron Lennon as Spurs changed their system again to try to push for a decisive goal.
Tottenham started to press at that point and Bale came to life in the 63rd minute, crossing towards Adebayor, but the end product was poor and headed away by Jose Fonte, which allowed Southampton to counter – albeit ineffectively.
Emmanuel Mayuka replaced the impressive Do Prado in the 65th minute, in Southampton’s first change of the afternoon.
Assou-Ekotto got another cross in in the 66th minute, which Southampton again had to clear. Spurs’ intent became all to clear – they desperately needed that goal.
A nicely worked Tottenham move in the 68th minute saw Huddlestone loft the ball forward to Adebayor, whose deft back heel found Dempsey 12 yards out – but the American’s shot was poor and floated harmlessly over Boruc’s goal.
Assou-Ekotto was booked for a foolish handball – the first yellow card of the afternoon – before Sigurdsson replaced Dempsey in the 72nd minute in Spurs’ final change of the match.
Another yellow card followed a minute later, when Steven Davis brought down Defoe as the little striker charged forward on the right wing.
Hugo Lloris got away with murder in the 78th minute, when he mis-controlled a backpass and almost lost possession to Southampton. Fortunately for Tottenham, his poor touched worked in his favour and he managed to hoof the ball clear when he could have caused a disaster.
Jason Puncheon replaced the impressive Lallana on 80 minutes for Southampton.
Spurs called for a penalty in the 81st minute when Bale went down in the box, but Mark Clattenburg took a long look before waving the claims away as Spurs began to bombard Southampton desperately – Bale striking from 35 yards and having it deflected safely to Boruc.
The newly introduced Puncheon headed out for a corner in the 83rd minute and Sigurdsson swung it in. Jan Vertonghen got his head to it – as he has so many times this season – but Southampton managed to scramble it clear yet again. This was soon followed by brilliant feet from Huddlestone and a fantastic through-ball to Defoe, which was again cut out by a resolute Saints defence.
But it was that man again, Gareth Bale, in the 86th minute, who came to Spurs’ rescue. The Welshman cut inside Luke Shaw on the right hand side, opened up his body and drilled in a great finish from 20 yards out to net his 25th goal of the season. 1-0 Tottenham.
From that point onwards, it was all about hoofing the ball forward for Spurs, as they desperately strived to hold on to their all-important lead.
Four minutes of stoppage time was announced as Spurs continued to hold out, keeping possession however they could and trying to keep the ball out of their own half.
Sure enough, Spurs held on for what may be the most important win of Tottenham’s season, to keep them firmly in the hunt for Champions League football.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Dembele (Holtby, 35), Huddlestone; Lennon (Adebayor, 60), Dempsey (Sigurdsson, 72), Bale; Defoe.
Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Shaw; Cork, Do Prado (Mayuka, 65); Lallana (Puncheon, 80), Davis, Rodriguez; Lambert.
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This article was first posted on May 4, 2013