Son Heung-min scored a late penalty to ensure Ryan Mason’s first match as Tottenham caretaker manager ended in a 2-1 win over Southampton, boosting their top-four hopes in the absence of Harry Kane.
Spurs’ build-up to Wednesday’s game was hardly ideal given the loss of Kane to injury before Mourinho was sacked amid the backdrop of the European Super League controversy, but Mason – who became the Premier League’s youngest-ever manager (29 years, 312 days) – saw his team recover following a rocky start.
Seemingly a result of Kane’s absence, Spurs failed to get a single shot on target in the first half for the first time this season, with Southampton – who went ahead through Danny Ings – good value for their lead.
Gareth Bale’s equaliser sparked Spurs into life and, despite the disappointment of having a Son strike disallowed, the South Korean subsequently converted an 88th-minute spot-kick to give Mason’s men a boost ahead of Sunday’s EFL Cup final with Manchester City.
29 – Tonight Ryan Mason (29y 312d) will become the youngest manager in Premier League history, while he will also become the youngest to manage an English top-flight game since Frank Sibley (29y 308d) for QPR vs Everton in October 1977. Opportunity. pic.twitter.com/oXaF4d2VDo
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 21, 2021
Any suggestions of Spurs’ issues instantly vanishing with Mourinho’s exit were comprehensively disproven in the first half, with Southampton making their intentions known in just the third minute as Hugo Lloris was forced into a double save to deny Mohammed Salisu and then Che Adams.
Giovani Lo Celso shot wide soon after in what was one of few highlights for Spurs, who found themselves behind at the half-hour mark when Ings met James Ward-Prowse’s corner with a well-placed glancing header.
Lucas Moura then blasted over from 12 yards while unbalanced just before the break as Saints took a deserved lead into half-time.
Spurs repaired the first-half damage with an hour on the clock, Bale picking out the top-left corner from a tight angle after Salisu had blocked Lucas’ initial effort.
The hosts then thought they had taken the lead 15 minutes from time as Son turned in Sergio Reguilon’s cutback, but a VAR check confirmed Lucas was interfering with play in an offside position.
But another review near the end went Spurs’ way, as Moussa Djenepo caught Reguilon on the edge of the box and the initial free-kick decision was upgraded to a penalty, which Son coolly buried in the absence of Kane.
What does it mean? Spurs up the ante in top-four tussle
It is getting more tense by the day in the battle for the top four in the Premier League, with Son’s late winner essentially worth an extra two points. As such, Tottenham are now just two points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea.
Granted, the Blues and West Ham in fifth have a game in hand, but they face each other on Saturday. A draw there would be ideal for Spurs.
It remains to be seen what Mason can really change at Spurs in such a short period of time, but this certainly was not a bad start.
Bale shows his class
In and out of the team under Mourinho, it perhaps was not a surprise to see him come straight into the starting XI for Mason’s bow. The Wales winger looked bright right from the start and ended up with the joint-most shots (three) among his team-mates, including the gorgeous equaliser, while his three key passes was not matched by anyone else on the pitch.
A few more performances like that in the final weeks of the season and Spurs’ top-four hopes will look even more encouraging.
Lucas busy but wasteful
Maybe it is harsh to single Lucas out given he was not exactly anonymous, but he wasted a couple of decent opportunities, got in Son’s way twice in the latter stages (including for the disallowed goal) and was largely frustrating.
Key Opta facts
– After losing each of the previous six Premier League games in which they found themselves behind at half-time this season, Spurs have won a top-flight match from such a position for the first time since December 2019 (2-1 vs Brighton).
– Southampton have now dropped more points from winning positions than any other Premier League team this season (21).
– Bale has had a direct hand in 11 goals in his last 11 starts across all competitions for Tottenham (nine goals, two assists), while he has scored in each of his three Premier League games against former club Southampton.
– Son has scored 15 Premier League goals in 2020-21, his best ever goalscoring season in the competition. Indeed, his five goals against Southampton this season is the most by a player against a single side since Mohamed Salah v Watford in 2017-18 (also five).
– Mason named four players in his side’s starting XI that he played alongside during his own Premier League career: Hugo Lloris (49 matches), Eric Dier (44), Toby Alderweireld (22) and Son Heung-Min (14).
Tottenham now turn their attention to the EFL Cup final on Sunday against Manchester City, while Saints have a little break before facing Leicester City on April 30.
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