Tottenham 1 Southampton 0
Mauricio Pochettino still loves the Southampton fans — despite breaking their hearts twice in four months and getting harangued by the Saints followers who once idolised him.
The Argentinian took the helm at Spurs on May 27 after earning plaudits and friends on the South Coast. They turned against him yesterday, for abandoning them first, and then beating them.
Before and after Christian Eriksen scored the only goal of the game, the travelling fans taunted him — asking him where the translator he used during his time at the Saints was.
There were plenty of unprintable songs and chants aimed at their former hero too, during the frustrating 90 minutes the visitors endured, but Pochettino is adamant it will never wreck the feelings he has for his former club.
“I love Southampton,” he said. “I love the club. It was a fantastic period for me. For me and my family, Southampton will always be special.
“They have left a big mark on my career and for me and my family. I understand but I still love Southampton. There was no extra pressure. It was an emotional game for me. I love Southampton and I love the people in Southampton.”
Tottenham started brightly, looking more assured, with Jan Vertonghen restored to starting centre-back and their tricky triumvirate of attacking midfielders linking up well. Nacer Chadli, Eriksen and Erik Lamela ooze skill but unless Emmanuel Adebayor is an effective fulcrum for the trio to work off, Spurs are achingly short of penetration in the final third.
And for the opening 24 minutes, it looked like Adebayor was going to repeat his anonymous performance from the woeful defeat against West Brom two weeks previously. With the home side dominating possession but lacking cutting edge, the former Arsenal man looked at his malingering worst before he showed off his wealth of natural, if occasionally well hidden, talent.
On 25 minutes the Togo international took control of the ball and the situation from a quick throw. His cute play down the left flank tugged at the Saints defence before his link up play with Chadli carved them wide open. Eriksen gratefully received the ball from Chadli after a sweeping move and guided the ball home.
The travelling fans had little to cheer about as their side soaked up the majority of the pressure.
Adebayor starred again in his surprise role as selfless provider for the afternoon.
On 43 minutes he slipped a cunning ball to Chadli, who had beaten Southampton’s high defensive line. The Belgian bore down on goal but his left-foot shot across goal was over-angled and smacked the post, rebounding back into play and Southampton’s possession.
After the break Southampton battled to get back into the game. Seven minutes after the restart, Sadio Mane raced through the midfield, Younes Kaboul got across and barged the forward off the ball. There was no covering defender between the centre-back and the goal but referee Mike Jones only gave a yellow card to the Spurs captain.
Kaboul was almost punished just after the hour mark for sloppy play instead of cynical tackling. The Frenchman’s weak clearance bobbled out to the onrushing Victor Wanyama who struck a rasping drive towards Tottenham’s goal, only for French international goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to dive into action for his most significant contribution of the match.
Ronald Koeman’s side should have equalised with seven minutes remaining with a great move created down the left but ruined in the six-yard box.
Substitute Shane Long held the ball up splendidly before laying it out wide to Bertrand, who whipped an inviting delivery across the Spurs goal. Sadio Mane only had to tap it home but he lost concentration at the most crucial millisecond and miscued the ball, embarrassingly, for a goal kick, leaving Southampton deflated.
Ronald Koeman, magnanimous in defeat, came to the defence of his rival manager, insisting he should have been shown more respect by the Southampton supporters.
“Yes they could have been more respectful, but that is the reaction of the fans,” he said, “I don’t agree with it but I think everybody needs respect and normally the respect is high in the Premier League. I respect Mauricio very much, he did a very good job at Southampton.”
Koeman rued Mane’s spurned late chance. “I am disappointed about the result, not disappointed about our performance,” the Dutchman said. “We got maybe the best chance in the game with Mane. Okay, it was unlucky but that is football.”
TOTTENHAM: Lloris 8; Naughton 4 (Dier 32, 6), Kaboul 7, Vertonghen 8, Rose 7; Capoue 6, Mason 7; Eriksen 8 (Dembele 80, 5), Chadli 8, Lamela 7 (Kane 90, 3); Adebayor 8.
SOUTHAMPTON: Forster 6, Clyne 7, Fonte 6, Alderweireld 6, Bertrand 5, Wanyama 6 (Long, 75, 6) Schneiderlin 6, S. Davis 6, Tadic 7, Mane 7, Pelle 6.
Referee: Mike Jones.
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