Tottenham Hotspur’s Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane in London, on March 19, 2017. Justin TALLIS / AFP
Tottenham overcame the absence of leading scorer Harry Kane to beat Southampton 2-1 and close the gap on Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday.
First half goals from Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli at White Hart Lane gave Mauricio Pochettino’s side the cushion they needed to hold onto victory after James Ward-Prowse halved the deficit early in the second half.
With 10 games remaining, the chances of overhauling Chelsea’s 10-point lead are slim, but victory strengthened Spurs’ position in the race to guarantee a top four finish by extending the gap to fifth place to seven points.
Southampton are well clear of the relegation places and their remaining aim this season is to maintain their top 10 standing.
Pochettino had insisted before the game his squad had the resources to cope with the loss of Kane, who was ruled out for up to six weeks after picking up an ankle injury in the FA cup quarter-final victory over Millwall seven days previously.
The manager’s confidence was not necessarily supported by the evidence from the opening months of the season when his team struggled in the absence of the England striker.
Then, Kane was sidelined for 12 games and in the nine games Spurs faced Premier League opposition during that spell, they won just three, scoring eight games.
Pochettino, though, believes his squad has grown in strength as the season has progressed and placed his faith in Son Heung-Min to fill the gap left by Kane and provide the focal point to Tottenham’s attack.
The early signs were certainly promising, with the South Korea forward quickly finding space behind the Southampton defence as he ran on to collect Alli’s well weighted through-ball, only to be denied by keeper Fraser Forster who moved quickly off his line to narrow the angle.
The breakthrough, however, came from Christian Eriksen who put Tottenham ahead after just 13 minutes with a superbly struck shot from outside the area.
The Dane collected a pass from the excellent Mousa Dembele, turned onto his left foot, and placed his finish beyond Forster and inside the keeper’s right hand post.
– Comfort –
Tottenham were in the ascendancy but Southampton demonstrated enough of a threat to ensure Pochettino’s side could not afford to be complacent and would have levelled had Manolo Gabbiadini shown more composure in front of goal.
The Italian striker quickly settled in England since his January move from Napoli and was bidding to become only the third player to score in his first four Premier League appearances.
Gabbiadini should have reached that landmark when he fired into the side-netting in the 28th minute after being set up by Dusan Tadic.
Then 60 seconds later, he was guilty of an even more glaring miss when he skied over from just six yards.
Unfortunately for the visitors, the striker picked up an injury while attempting to convert the first of those chances, forcing him out of the game, moments before Alli gave the home side the comfort of a two-goal cushion.
The midfielder was sent to ground after tangling with Southampton’s Steven Davis, prompting referee Andre Marriner to award the penalty that was converted with ease by Alli.
Southampton felt aggrieved not have been awarded a penalty of their own shortly before the break when Ben Davies brought Tadic down.
But the visitors’ frustration eased when they found a route back into the game just seven minutes after the interval.
Ryan Bertrand’s left wing cross should have been cleared by Spurs centre-back Toby Alderweireld, but the ball found its way to Ward-Prowse who finished well at the far post after taking a touch.
Southampton pressed hard for an equaliser, but Pochettino’s men held on to extend their impressive home record.