Harry Kane scores but Spurs, Southampton settle for draw
SOUTHAMPTON, England -- Three thoughts on Sunday's 1-1 draw between Southampton and Tottenham on the south coast.
1. Frustrating draw for Spurs and Kane
Tottenham Hotspur dropped two points and Harry Kane will have to wait for his 100th Premier League goal. Those were the main talking points from a 1-1 draw that may well lose them ground in their race for the top four, although Mauricio Pochettino may think it could have been worse. His team were largely off-colour, seeing a spritely Southampton go ahead via a Davinson Sanchez own goal before Kane swiftly levelled the score.
Southampton were the brighter side at the beginning. After just 14 seconds Manolo Gabbiadini forced Michel Vorm into a low save from the edge of the area, and only four minutes had passed when the striker narrowly failed to connect with a Dusan Tadic centre. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg then came similarly close to converting another drilled Tadic delivery and an early sting in the tail looked eminently possible. It duly arrived, to little surprise. The goal was unfortunate for Sanchez, who stretched to cut out a flashing Ryan Bertrand cross and could only deflect it inside Vorm's near post.
How frustrating for the home side, then, that their good work was undone within 197 seconds. Tottenham woke up as Eric Dier rattled an upright from 12 yards, but the reprieve was brief. Moments later, Kane rose to score number 99, glancing home a right-sided corner to level the score.
A fast-paced game continued to flow and on the half-hour, Moussa Sissoko prodded Ben Davies' ball wide when unmarked at the far post. Jack Stephens then missed a free header for the Saints, nodding over the bar from close in and by half-time, parity seemed fair.
It did not look like being broken in the second half's early stages, either. James Ward-Prowse shot at Vorm and then, in the 63rd minute, Kane had the "100 club" in his sights but missed his kick when presented with an awkwardly dropping ball. Dele Alli then drilled a low effort wide and Kane saw an effort deflected over.
As the match entered its last 20 minutes, Tottenham began to crank up the pressure. Sub Erik Lamela jabbed an effort off-target from close range with seven minutes to play after decent work from Sissoko (although a corner should have been given) but then Southampton created the best opening of all. Making his league debut, substitute Michael Obafemi (17 years and 199 days old) found in front of goal by Tadic, miscued when the headlines were there to be made. Kane then dragged a chance of his own wide as the clock stuck 90 and it ended all square.
2. Eriksen's absence hurts Spurs
Tottenham were disjointed on Sunday and it was not hard to diagnose why. They'd clicked back into gear in recent weeks so the absence of two key players due to illness was unwelcome. Christian Eriksen, so imperious in last weekend's 4-0 win over Everton, was laid low with a virus that had also spread to Hugo Lloris. It meant appearances for Moussa Sissoko and Michel Vorm; it also made for an uncertain start from Mauricio Pochettino's men.
An early, rushed clearance out of play from Sanchez suggested the defence required time to settle; further forwards Sissoko, for all his strength and pace, looked little substitute for the craft and guile of his absent team-mate. It was a pattern that continued throughout the first half as Tottenham saw plenty of the ball but lacked that extra deftness while sometimes flailing at the back.
Eriksen's influence was also missed off the ball, and there was a telling moment early in the second half when Tadic, dribbling far too easily past Sanchez and the sub-par Serge Aurier, broke into the Tottenham box. Sissoko simply had not tracked back to help Aurier, whose side was targeted by Southampton all afternoon; for all Eriksen's stardust in the final third, he's also a player who sets the tone by performing his defensive work to the letter.
And so the visitors' usual fluency eluded them, too many players taking extra touches or dwelling on the ball. On one such occasion, Mousa Dembele drove into open space in the Southampton half with options to his left and right but hesitated and lost possession.
Lamela's introduction with 20 minutes left was welcome, although it caused some surprise in the away end that he replaced Son Heung-Min rather than Sissoko. The Argentina international had Spurs' best chance of a winner but could not convert Sissoko's cut-back at the near post; they had to settle for a draw and, in truth, they had not done enough for anything more.
3. Saints improve but now need wins
Southampton turned in a much-improved performance on Sunday but the fear is that it still might not be enough. They finish the weekend in the relegation zone and, now without a win in their last 10 Premier League games, the chances are that at some stage they will need to claim a big victory or two. On another day they would have taken all three points here; the victories certainly need to start mounting up soon.
At their best the Saints are still an enterprising, energetic side that can trouble the division's leading teams, something they showed when coming within moments of beating Arsenal here in December. They were bright and breezy from the start here with Gabbiadini, starting a top-flight game for the first time since Dec. 16, pressing actively from the front. With Tadic and Ward-Prowse fizzing balls in from either flank and their midfield three staying compact, they looked the antithesis of a struggling outfit. Had they held onto their lead longer, the game could have taken on a very different hue.
In any event they merited their point, rarely finding themselves cut open while retaining a threat even as Tottenham took control in the second half. Obafemi may struggle to sleep tonight after skewing that glorious late opportunity across goal, while fellow substitute Sofiane Boufal also saw a chance snuffed out by Sanchez in the dying moments.
More performances like this would ease the pressure on Mauricio Pellegrino, who has struggled to build a coherent side this term and has been the subject of fan discontent. Their next two league opponents are Brighton and West Brom; it is an opportunity to pull clear of trouble, but only if they build on such an encouraging display here.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.