Playing in torrential rainfall in Brighton on Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur stopped their slide into crisis, defeating Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 at the AmEx Stadium. Spurs got a first half penalty kick from Harry Kane and a sweet goal from substitute Erik Lamela in the second half, halting a three match losing skid.
Tottenham’s lineup featured one big surprise — third string goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga made his first start of the season and only his second career game in a Spurs shirt, after backup Michel Vorm injured his knee in training yesterday. Development team keeper Alfie Whiteman made the bench as GAZINGA’s backup.
Mauricio Pochettino set up his team in a back four with Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in the back line, with Kieran Trippier & Danny Rose as the fullbacks. Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Christian Eriksen, and Son Heung-Min formed the midfield diamond (though Dier frequently dropped into the back line), with Harry Kane and Lucas Moura up top.
The weather made things ugly, with the ball dying in the wet grass. Spurs spent the opening part of the match dominating possession, playing a simple, short passing game, trying to find space in Brighton’s back line.
Spurs’ first chance came in the 10th minute when Toby Alderweireld had a near post header that forced a good save from Matt Ryan, Vertonghen couldn’t corral the rebound and Brighton were able to scramble the ball away. Sonny put a shot wide of the post just a minute later.
Brighton were forced into an early change when Dale Stephens was forced off the pitch with an injury in the 22nd minute. Beram Kayal was his replacement.
It wasn’t exactly scintillating football for much of the half. Spurs spent the majority of the time with possession, but Brighton set up to defend resolutely and were able to knock away most of Spurs’ chances going forward. Spurs had very few real chances apart from in the opening minutes, and Brighton had even fewer, never really threatening Gazzaniga in goal at any point.
The breakthrough came a few minutes before halftime. Spurs earned a free kick just outside the box after Harry Kane was tripped while trying to advance the ball into the area. Trippier’s free kick was blocked away by the wall, but Spurs were awarded a penalty after Glenn Murray raised his arms while jumping and blocked the ball away with his forearm. Harry Kane stepped up and rifled a penalty past Ryan to put Spurs up 1-0.
That’s how the first half ended, with Spurs deservedly on top despite not generating too much in terms of real chances from open play.
Brighton came out (*cough*) brightly in the second half, creating a couple of half chances in the opening five minutes including a nice cross to the back post and a free kick from the edge of the box that was headed over the bar by Murray. That didn’t last long and the game fell back into the predictable pattern of midfield passing and cut-out attacks. Spurs continued to keep the ball, and Brighton continued to put men behind it and frustrate.
Brighton thought they had an equalizer off of a corner kick in the 64th minute, but although Shane Duffy headed the ball home, he was flagged for offside and the goal was called back. That corresponded with a nervy couple of minutes from the Seagulls as they had a couple of set pieces — Tottenham’s Achilles heel — but weren’t able to convert. Then a Spurs corner in the 67th minute led to a breakaway for Brighton, but Knockaert fired his shot straight at Gazzaniga, who gathered gratefully.
Sensing a need for change, Mauricio Pochettino opted to bring on Erik Lamela for Son Heung-Min in the 68th minute.
Iranian striker Ali Jahanbakhsh came on for Brighton in the 74th minute, replacing Solly March, as Brighton hoped to nab an equalizing goal.
Spurs finally got their insurance goal in the 78th minute off of a great bit of football. Erik Lamela, collecting the ball in the center of the pitch, sprung a rushing Danny Rose up the left flank, who lofted a nice ball into the box. Lamela then ran into the box and was wide open by the spot to receive the return ball, firing a low volley into the right corner to put Spurs up 2-0. It was nifty piece of teamwork, one of the better goals we’ve seen out of Spurs so far this season.
Ives Bissouma came off for Jurgen Locadia as Brighton made their final sub, while Dele Alli returned to the pitch for the first time in three games, replacing Lucas Moura.
Harry Kane had a couple of powerful shots again blocked away by Ryan, and Gazzaniga made a couple of routine stops, but it wouldn’t be a Tottenham match without a bit of late drama. Anthony Knockaert left Danny Rose for dead on a breakaway and rifled a shot past Gazzaniga to cut the lead to 2-1 in extra time, and they nearly got an equalizer, but GAZINGA was there to make a crucial save. The whistle blew and Spurs got a big three points at the AmEx. The final score was 2-1.
- That was a desperately needed win. The weather made it a slog, but for moments in both halves Spurs actually looked like, well, Spurs! Good passing, possession, and shots.
- Harry Kane did Harry Kane things, and it was great! He drew the foul that led to Spurs’ first goal, and had a few powerful shots in the second half that looked like the Kane of old. Is he finally back?
- Kane’s penalty kick looked like it was powered by all the frustration that he has been experiencing the past few months since his injury. That was a rocket.
- Erik Lamela was again a game changer off the bench. He was a force in midfield, and looked dangerous going forward. He had a goal, a key pass, and also elbowed Lewis Dunk in the mouth, drawing blood. That’s practically a hat trick.
- Danny Rose was pretty good today, but had a couple of derps defensively, including getting both beaten for pace and having his ankles broken by Anthony Knockaert before his goal. The less I say about Kieran Trippier here, the better.
- In the writer’s room we were discussing Poch’s substitutions. In both cases — Lamela for Son, Dele for Lucas — Spurs looked better and rejuvenated. So why then, with Spurs obviously tiring late, did Poch not use his third sub? Baffling.
- GAZINGA had a pretty decent match, all things considered. We might see him again on Wednesday in Milton Keynes. Still hope Hugo comes back soon, though.