Harry Kanes first-half penalty and rik Lamelas second finished off a tough Brighton side as Spurs won 2-1 at the Amex Stadium, with Anthony Knockaert replying deep in injury time
Crisis averted. The vultures had been circling around Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham but, while this was hardly a sparkling display, they ended up short of fodder this time. Spurs came through in testing conditions thanks to Harry Kanes penalty and a fine breakaway second from rik Lamela; a fourth consecutive defeat, an ignominy that has eluded them since 2004, never looked especially likely and, as responses to adversity go, this will go down as a successful exercise.
Pochettino had pointedly questioned his players resolve after the reverse at Internazionale and this looked an apposite stage on which to offer a response. Brighton had won three of their previous four home games against last seasons top six; this fixture started under portentous skies and amid hammering rain, offering few of the ingredients sought by anyone seeking a smooth confidence-booster.
Spurs made light of that in the early exchanges and exuded the kind of authority recent performances had lacked. They hogged possession and, had it not been for the brilliance of Mat Ryan, would have been ahead inside 10 minutes. Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld had both been recalled after missing out at San Siro in what Pochettino termed a technical decision; the former swung a right-sided corner to the edge of the six-yard box and the latter, heading towards goal via a snick off Gatan Bong, drew a flying one-handed save.
Another of Tottenhams five changes had come in goal with Paulo Gazzaniga filling in for Michel Vorm, who had sustained a minor knee injury. Gazzanigas hardest work in the opening period was to watch Shane Duffy slice a wild effort out for a throw-in, a good 15 yards up from the byline. Aside from a couple of scooting runs along the right touchline from Anthony Knockaert the intent was channelled in one direction; sights of goal came and went accordingly, Son Heung-min shooting wide and then high, either side of a Danny Rose cross on which Kane could not land a clean header.
Yet for all their domination 78% of the ball by the half-hour only one move, a fluent passage that culminated in Sons shot looping up off a defender, had really offered evidence of Spurs at their high-tempo best as half-time approached. They were drifting by the time an unlikely helping hand arrived. Glenn Murray will accept presents for his 35th birthday on Tuesday but doled one out himself after Trippier lined up a free-kick from 25 yards. The shot was no concern for Ryan but Murray, jumping in the wall to block, repelled it with a raised arm. Davy Prpper would have taken the ball clean in the face had Murray not intervened; thanks were not on the agenda as Christopher Kavanagh pointed to the spot and Kane confidently beat Ryan. The home crowd made their discontent clear but there could be little argument with the call.
They would more reasonably have been frustrated by the fact that their side, although generally comfortable, had done little to tease out Spurs neuroses. Set-pieces have been the way to do that of late but, when Brighton earned their first corner in the 50th minute, Gazzaniga claimed comfortably.
Brighton had stepped five yards up the pitch and, as a result, the entire surface felt bigger. Christian Eriksen worked an angle before curling a foot over Ryans bar and Rose, who had slalomed into a good position, was punished for hesitating by Duffys challenge.
At the other end Rose was more alert to prevent Knockaert running on to Yves Bissoumas pass. Had Bissouma added a touch more weight, a clear chance to equalise would have been on. Now Brighton felt encouraged. Solly March, lively since the interval, saw a shot deflect off Son and spin over in the 63rd minute. Then Knockaert, dancing into the area and past Vertonghen, seemed to have done the hard work but, seeing the whites of Gazzanigas eyes, allowed him to smother.
At that point Brighton were knocking at the door and they paid for not capitalising. Lamela, who had recently come on, led a break that saw Rose receive possession in the left. His shot from the ensuing cutback flew crisply across Ryan and now, at last, it felt as if we were watching Tottenham again.
When Knockaert, finishing superbly straight after Ryan had saved one-on-one from Kane, offered fleeting hope at the death it simply underlined how costly his earlier miss had been.
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