Tottenham, who travel to Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday, began the job of saving their season with an encouraging 5-0 Champions League victory over Red Star Belgrade that answered Mauricio Pochettino’s prayers and provided genuine hope of a revival.
The Spurs manager has been under increasing pressure recently, even facing rumours that his job is not secure, following a string of poor results that bred rumours of unrest in the squad and stories that his players were lacking energy after being over-trained.
Memories of a 7-2 home defeat by Bayern Munich were still in the air at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as Red Star arrived for the crucial Group B fixture, not to mention painful recollections of a 3-0 Premier League defeat at Brighton.
But Pochettino insisted last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Watford, when Spurs needed a late Dele Alli goal to save their blushes, had started a revival he expected to continue here — and he was proved right as Tottenham fans ended the match by singing his name.
Heung-min Son and Harry Kane both scored twice in a convincing display in which Erik Lamela was also on target. It’s a result that keeps Tottenham’s qualification hopes alive, having moved up to second place in the table.
Whether Spurs can now take that form to Anfield remains to be seen; Jurgen Klopp’s side will provide an entirely different challenge to Red Star, who were cut open at will by Lamela, who claimed two assists, and rampaging midfielder Tanguy Ndombele, who matched that feat.
Pochettino, however, believes this victory will be enough to help Spurs regain confidence heading to Merseyside, and he certainly knows results must continue to improve if critics are to row back from recent suggestions that, despite his popularity and his undoubted impact in north London, the club may need to make a change at the top to end their recent malaise.
In fairness to the Argentine, who continues to have the full support of the Spurs faithful, those comments are quite ludicrous, given this is the manager who took Tottenham to the Champions League final last season and who has transformed both ambition and expectation at a club that once lacked both.
The talent in Tottenham’s squad was more than evident here as they swept Red Star aside, inspired by one of the club’s more unsung heroes, Lamela, whose left foot dominated proceedings.
His perfect corner set up Kane to head home the opener after only nine minutes, and it was also the Argentine who crossed for Son to drive home a second, seven minutes later.
Ndombele broke up the play to tee up Son for a third just before the break, but perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Lamela deservedly got on the scoresheet himself, sweeping home Kane’s cross to comfortably beat goalkeeper Milan Borjan.
The midfielder came close to scoring a second soon after, this time denied by the visiting keeper, but by then his impact on the result — and perhaps on Tottenham’s season — was complete. Kane soon cleverly added a fifth to seal a morale-boosting victory.
Spurs, remember, had gone into this fixture having won only once in all competitions since beating Crystal Palace on September 14 and with three defeats in their last six — hardly the form of a side which were Champions League runners-up last season and were expected to challenge Liverpool and Man City in the Premier League this time.
They still go to Anfield sitting seventh in the table, 13 points adrift of the leaders, but at least this result can be seen to draw a line under a long list of poor performances and disperse the clouds of doom that were building over north London.
The good news is that Pochettino’s side also have players coming back from injury, including Christian Eriksen who was on the bench here after recovering from a dead leg, and Argentina midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, who made a late appearance, much to the delight of the home crowd.
They also have Kane back to his very best despite the difficulties that have continued to swirl around him. The England striker has now scored in all of Tottenham’s Champions League group stage games this campaign and has 15 goals in 16 games for club and country this season, a remarkable total given what has been a tough start to the campaign.
After this result, Liverpool won’t be taking him, Tottenham, or Mauricio Pochettino lightly.
TOTTENHAM: Gazzaniga 6; Aurier 6 Sanchez 7, Vertonghen 7 (Foyth 73; 6), Davies 7; Ndombele 8, Sissoko 7; Lamela 9, Alli 6 (Lo Celso 79; 6), Son 8 (Dier 68; 6); Kane 8.
RED STAR BELGRADE: Borjan 7; Gobeljic 6, Degenek 6, Milunovic 6, Rodic 5; Canas 5 (Petrovic 62; 5), Vullic 6; Garcia 6, Marin 7, Van la Parra 6 (Vukanovic 82; 5); Tomane 6 (Pavkov 62; 6).
Referee: Marco Guida (Italy).