Gareth Bale marked his return to Southampton with a goal to help Tottenham claim a nervy 2-1 win at St Mary’s on Sunday.
The Welshman, who left Southampton in 2007, powered home a 15th-minute header to open the scoring, before Clint Dempsey added a second before half-time, with Spurs dominant in all areas against a lacklustre Southampton.
And although the Saints were much better in the second half, with Jay Rodriguez setting up an enthralling final 20 minutes by smashing home from a tight angle, Andre Villas-Boas’ side closed out the win to take them back into the top four.
Spurs started in a sprightly manner, fashioning the game’s first clear opening after only 13 minutes.
Having started to exert their authority in midfield, a lovely interchange of passes sent Kyle Walker free down the right flank but his pull-back was slammed wide by Jermain Defoe from six yards.
And Southampton failed to heed the early warning signs.
Failure to pressure the ball proved their undoing when Tom Huddlestone was afforded the space to pick out Bale with a sumptuous delivery, and the Welshman powered a downward header past Artur Boruc and into the far corner of the net.
Defoe has been in sparkling form this season, but his radar seemed to be out of range on the south coast after he collected another Walker cut back on the edge of the area, before smashing an uncontrolled effort well over.
But the England striker was involved when Tottenham deservedly doubled their lead, six minutes before the break.
Aaron Lennon slipped Defoe in behind a static Saints defence and although his shot was valiantly cleared off the line by Jose Fonte, Dempsey was on hand to smash in the rebound from three yards.
The second half started in a similar vein, with Defoe managing to sky a first-time shot so high it hit the St Mary’s scoreboard after more incisive build-up play from Spurs.
Despite further Spurs dominance, Southampton started to edge their way back into the game and Maye Yoshida should have done better than to head wide after Brad Friedel had missed a cross.
From the resulting corner though, Rodriguez slammed the ball home to halve the deficit and set up a pulsating final 20 minutes.
The former Burnley striker would have been disappointed not to have grabbed an equaliser moments later, driving a left-footed effort wide after the ball had fallen to him following more hesitancy in the Spurs defence.
Southampton’s onslaught continued as Rickie Lambert’s close-range effort was well blocked by William Gallas, with the St Mary’s crowd becoming more vocal by the minute.
But despite a further late surge, Spurs rode out the storm to propel themselves back into fourth, while Southampton will be left to rue missed opportunities as they continue to languish in the bottom three.