Tottenham hadn’t been especially convincing. They hadn’t exorcised all the ghosts of those three successive defeats to Watford, Liverpool and Internazionale. They certainly weren’t back to their best. But they had won.
Sometimes that is all it needs: three points. A mini slump is averted; grumbling ceases; muscles are rejuvenated. It’s extraordinary what a dose of positivity does for the soul. We shall see for sure in forthcoming fixtures in the League Cup against Watford and then next weekend at Huddersfield.
But Tottenham have looked lost in recent weeks. Without clear direction in their journey to a new home, they seemed to have suffered an identity crisis on the pitch. The crispness and slickness of their passing and pressing has been replaced by a laboured team, beset by errors.
Erik Lamela doubled Tottenham’s lead when he latched on to a cross from left-back Danny Rose with just over 10 minutes left
Lamela fires the ball beyond Matt Ryan as Tottenham capitalises on Brighton missing opportunities to draw the game level
Lamela (left) celebrates his vital goal with Rose (second left), Kane (second right) and Lucas Moura (right)
Harry Kane gives Tottenham the lead late on in the first-half as he converts from the penalty spot following a handball
Saturday was better. Not hugely, but a step in the right direction. ‘The players were suffering a lot,’ said Pochettino. ‘The pressure was high and they wanted to deliver a very good result. The spirit that we showed today is what I wanted to see in all the games. I’m so happy with the attitude and the spirit the most. Obviously it was massive after the Inter Milan defeat.’
Of course, there were enough negatives for the doubts to remain a little longer. There was a touch of the San Siro collapse at the end. Kane should have extended Tottenham’s lead on 92 minutes but Maty Ryan saved, Shane Duffy immediately played a long ball for Anthony Knockaert, who landed Danny Rose on his backside and struck the ball into far corner of the net.
When, a minute later, with seconds remaining, Knockaert found himself in a shooting position again it seemed Spurs were about to implode and that the psychological scar would cut deep. Yet on this occasion No.3 goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, in for injured Michel Vorm and man of the match for Pochettino, saved well.
Only at that point could Tottenham finally find some calm amidst their chaotic few weeks. ‘We’re very, very disappointed with the end of the game and the last two minutes.’ said Pochettino. ‘It’s impossible that happens again. To concede a goal the way we concede, that’s a very bad feeling.’
PLAYER RATINGS, PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
Brighton (4-1-4-1): Ryan 8, Montoya 6, Dunk 6.5 Duffy 7, Bong 6, Stephens 6 (Kayal 22 6.5), Knockaert 6.5, Bissouma 6 (Locadia 79 6), Propper 6, March 7 (Jahanbakhsh 6.5 73), Murray 6
Subs not used: Button, Andone, Balogun, Bernardo
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga 7.5, Trippier 6.5, Alderweireld 7, Vertonghen 6.5, Rose 7, Dembele 6, Dier 6, Moura 7.5 (Dele 77 6.5), Eriksen 6.5, Son 7 (Lamela 68 7), Kane 6
Subs not used: Whiteman, Sanchez, Winks, Wanyama, Aurier
Season at a glance
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
Kane rifled the ball into the corner of the net as Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan (left) dives in the opposite direction
Kane (left) celebrates with team-mates Danny Rose (centre) and Son Heung-min (right) after handing Spurs the lead
Tottenham were awarded a penalty after Glenn Murray raised his arm to the ball from a Kieran Trippier free-kick
Referee Chris Kavanagh explains to Brighton players that he has awarded a penalty due to a raised arm
And you could pick further holes in the performance. So the manner in which Beram Kayal muscled Trippier off the ball on the hour to set up Anthony Knockareat was uncharacteristically weak.
Knockaert turned Toby Alderweireld but then shot weakly into Gazzaniga, when he should have scored. The score stood at 1-0 at the time and, as Chris Hughtom pointed out, that should have turned the momentum of the game.
You could also point to the first half, when Tottenham were pretty yet purposeless, all possession and no penetration, other than with Toby Alderweireld’s deflected header from a corner which promoted a fine save from Ryan on nine minutes.
Brighton were coping fine and all the usual tropes of Tottenham’s slump applied. But then Kane found a yard on 39 minutes, raced past Gaetan Bong who seemed to clip him. Hughton thought it soft but a free kick was awarded on the edge of the box. Trippier lined up a strike. The position was similar to that glorious World Cup semi-final goal against Croatia; the delivery wasn’t. It crashed directly into the defensive wall.
Anthony Knockaert (centre) scores a late goal for Brighton in stoppage time but it was too little too late as they lost
Shane Duffy finds the back of the net in the 64th minute but the assistant flags for offisde and the goal is ruled out
Brighton fans react after thinking they have drawn level only for the referee to rule the goal offside
But referee Chris Kavanagh had spotted an infringement. Inexplicably, as he jumped Glen Murray had lifted his arm to block the ball. There was no need; the wall would have done its job. Yet the ball had been handled and a penalty had to be awarded.
Kane stepped up. He might not be at his sharpest but this is safe territory for him. He drilled the penalty into the bottom left hand corner, beating Ryan comfortably. A cluster of Spurs players gathered around him to celebrate. There must have been a degree of relief. They hadn’t yet impressed
You might argue that had Brighton hounded Tottenham earlier, as they did in the second half, they might have spooked them more. That was when Spurs looked vulnerable again, surviving a disallowed goal from Shane Duffy for offside, a penalty appeal for Eric Dier wrestling with Lewis Dunk and a Solly March striker touched over by Gazzaniga.
Indeed, the goalkeeper stood strong in that second half as Brighton attempted to exploit Tottenham’s recent weakness at corners. He looked more assertive than Vorm.
Anthony Knockaert (left) gets through on goal after a great counter-attack but is unable to score to make it 1-1
There was a start for Paulo Gazzaniga after Michel Vorm was ruled out with injury in addition to the missing Hugo Lloris
Kane battles for the ball with Yves Bissouma (second right) and other Brighton players during the first-half
Kane gives a hand gesture following Tottenham’s slow start to the match as neither side created many chances
Yet for all the worries, it was the slickness and speed of the goal on 77 minutes that perhaps signalled Spurs are finding their range again. Tottenham had weathered the metaphorical storm of Brighton attacks and a more literal one of relentless rain blowing in off the English Channel and into the Sussex Downs.
And in that moment they looked like the team that enraptured Europe at times last season. Trippier started the move, playing in Toby Alderweireld, whose fine ball bisected Brighton’s midfield and found Erik Lamela.
The Argentine strode purposefully through midfield, stretching the opposition. He fed Luacs Moura and crucially he moved the ball instantly to Danny Rose on the left. Racing down the left, Rose crossed, likewise first time. At no point could Brighton react and regroup.
The move was simply too smooth and too quick. For Rose’s cross had found Lamela who had continued his run into the box. And he would finish well, placing the ball in the far corner beyond Ryan. ‘That is how we want to play, how we feel football,’ said Pochettino. Last night they were finally feeling good again.
Toby Alderweireld (left) heads the ball into Brighton’s Gaetan Bong (centre) as Tottenham look to break the deadlock
Glenn Murray (right) stretches his leg as he tries to block a cross from Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen (left)
Kieran Trippier goes to cross a ball into the Brighton penalty area early on in the first-half at the Amex Stadium