Spurs 1-0 Southampton - report from White Hart Lane...
Man of the moment Gareth Bale smashed home an 86th-minute winner as we battled to a hard-fought but much-needed victory against a determined Southampton side at the Lane today.
It was a goal that didn’t seem as if it was going to come on a difficult afternoon, but if there was going to be a matchwinner in this contest, it was always likely to be Bale.
Making his 200th appearance in our colours against his former side and having just scooped all three of the player of the year awards in the last week, it was almost written in the stars that our Welsh magician would again provide the glory moment.
Not only was it a goal of huge significance in the race for Champions League football next season – moving us up to fourth above Arsenal and level on points with Chelsea in third – it was Bale’s 20th Premier League goal of the campaign, the first time a Spur has reached that figure since Jurgen Klinsmann in 1994-95.
The starting XI saw just two changes to the team which drew 2-2 at Wigan last weekend, with Aaron Lennon making his return from injury and Benoit Assou-Ekotto selected at left-back, with Scott Parker and Kyle Naughton dropping out.
Kick-off was delayed by half an hour due to traffic problems on the M25 and the surrounding area and when the game did eventually get underway, it proved to be a bit of a slow burner.
Our first sniff of a chance came after just six minutes, when Jose Fonte’s clearing header fell straight to Jermain Defoe, who burst into the left-hand side of the area. His cross-shot was cleared and from the rebound, he fired into the side-netting.
Five minutes later and the visitors created a golden opportunity to take the lead. A fantastic ball over the top from Rickie Lambert found Nathaniel Clyne beating the offside trap and clean through on goal, he raced into the area, let the ball drop and fired a half-volley which just whistled past Hugo Lloris’ far post.
We struggled to get our passing game going and in truth, the Saints settled better into the contest than we did. Jan Vertonghen had to be alert to cut out a dangerous cross from Guly Do Prado after a neat one-two with Adam Lallana and nine minutes before the break, they came so close to going ahead.
A free-kick was awarded 25 yards out, the taking of which had to be delayed as the injured Mousa Dembele made way for Lewis Holtby. When play resumed, Lambert cracked a low free-kick which beat the wall but not the fingertips of Lloris, who got the faintest of touches to tip it onto the post. Do Prado then collected the rebound and sent the ball back into the danger zone, Lallana headed goalwards but straight into the arms of our French goalkeeper.
The half ended with us on the front foot and from a Tom Huddlestone corner, Gareth Bale climbed highest to meet the set-piece but his header drifted wide of the upright.
The pattern of the game didn’t really change in the early stages of the second half. We were having possession of the ball but not in the right areas and the visitors were working hard to close down the space to ensure we couldn’t crank up the pressure.
And while we couldn’t carve out opportunities, the Saints had a couple in the opening 15 minutes, Lallana flicking the ball over Michael Dawson before firing in a shot which was comfortable for Lloris. And the same player had another effort on 58 minutes, following Kyle Walker’s headed clearance from a corner, but Huddlestone’s outstretched boot flicked it wide for another corner, which came to nothing.
We made a change on the hour mark as Emmanuel Adebayor entered the fray in place of Aaron Lennon, joining Defoe up front with Bale moving out to the left of midfield and Dempsey on the opposite flank. And that pressure did start to build as we came into the game more.
Dempsey had a good chance on 68 minutes when Adebayor’s superb flick from Huddlestone’s lofted pass fell nicely into his path on the edge of the box, but he could only fire over.
The game started to heat up and we certainly began to enjoy good possession if not any clear cut chances, with the Southampton defence standing firm as we searched for the all-important goal.
And with four minutes remaining, it finally came. Walker picked up possession and fed it down the line to Bale, now operating down the right flank. There was only one thing on his mind when he collected the ball and as he cut inside onto his favoured left foot, the only question was whether he could hit the target. The answer was an emphatic yes as it flew into the bottom corner past the diving Artur Boruc to the sheer delight of players, coaches, and fans alike!
It wasn’t a great performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s three vital points and we move on to the next one – Chelsea away on Wednesday!
Spurs (4-4-2): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Adebayor 60), Dembele (Holtby 36), Huddlestone, Dempsey (Sigurdsson 72); Bale, Defoe. Substitutes (not used): Friedel, Naughton, Caulker, Carroll.
Saints (4-5-1): Boruc; Clyne, Hooiveld, Fonte, Shaw; Lallana (Puncheon 80), Cork, Do Prado (Mayuka 64), Davis, Rodriguez; Lambert. Substitutes (not used): Davis, Yoshida, Forren, Ward-Prowse, De Ridder.
Goals: Spurs - Bale 86.
Yellows: Spurs – Assou-Ekotto; Saints - Davis
Referee: Mark Clattenburg