What a strange game from what is quickly becoming a strange team.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas had his team ready to go right out of the tunnel before Sunday's away match against Southampton, and Spurs nearly opened the scoring in the first few minutes of play. As we have seen time and time again from Tottenham during the first couple of months of the Villas-Boas era, though, Spurs were outplayed for nearly one entire half by an inferior opponent. You of course always happily take the positive result and three points, but the trend of AVB's squads routinely failing to play an entire 90 minutes has got to end sooner than later.
Southampton 1-2 Tottenham: The first half
One could argue that the first 45 minutes of Sunday's contest was the best half of football Tottenham have played all season long. Tottenham attackers abused the hosts down both wings, and the only reason Spurs weren't up 5-0 39 minutes into play was because of two stunning miss-hits from Jermain Defoe and two surprisingly poor crosses delivered into the box by Gareth Bale.
Bale reminded all that you really can go home again when he opened the scoring 15 minutes into the match. Defoe completed a run down the right wing before connecting with Tom Huddlestone. Huddlestone created some space for himself in the center of the field, and he then crossed a perfect ball into the left portion of the penalty area for Bale. The former Southampton player headed home a far post attempt that goalkeeper Artur Boruc couldn't reach before quietly signaling his love for the away visitors while at the same time showing respect for the home supporters.
It looked as if the rout may be on six minutes before the break. This time it was Aaron Lennon who completed a journey down the right wing before playing Defoe into the box. Defoe sent the softest of touches past the 'keeper and toward goal, but Jose Fonte did well to race back and clear the ball off the line. Unfortunately for Fonte, his clearance fell right to the oncoming Clint Dempsey, and the American made no mistake in doubling Tottenham's advantage.
Southampton 1-2 Tottenham: The second half
I could describe Tottenham's second half of play with one word: Yuck. Either Villas-Boas made the decision to put the car in neutral following halftime, or the guys just decided that two goals were plenty, because the electric Spurs attack that dominated the first 45 minutes of play pulled a complete disappearing act. Bale went from being a nearly unplayable winger to an absolute non-factor, and Tottenham seemed more than happy to relinquish possession in the midfield.
Spurs were again bitten by a set piece midway through the second half. Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel did well to stop the first shot on goal that followed a sent-in corner, but he could do nothing about the far post rebound shot that was buried by Jay Rodriguez. Rodriguez deserves high praise for his goal, as the ball was not completely settled and he had no time to tee himself up or really think about the type of finish he was going to attempt in that situation.
The final ten minutes of the game were all about survival for Tottenham. Fortunately for Spurs, Southampton really didn't produce any real quality in the final third. Their best chance of finding an equalizer came at the start of stoppage time, but Sandro got his head in the way and sent the ball out of the box. The final whistle came seconds after the advertised four minutes of additional time, and Villas-Boas let out a sigh of relief before pumping his fist in celebration.
Southampton 1-2 Tottenham: Conclusion
This was just your standard "tale of two halves" performance from 2012-13 Spurs. While it's hard to be overly critical of Villas-Boas considering his team very easily could have found the back of the net on six occasions (no exaggeration there) before halftime, it's the job of the manager to ensure that his players keep their eyes on the prize and close out the over-matched opposition. More than one Tottenham fan joked with me immediately after the game that it wouldn't be "same old Spurs" if it was easy.
When will that no longer be the case for this team?
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