Attacking approach pays rich dividends for Spurs

Tim Sherwood has side playing with verve after recent slump

Southampton 2 Tottenham 3 : Tottenham Hotspur will never stand accused of stifling the life from contests under the interim stewardship of Tim Sherwood. Where others may have reverted to basics upon taking up the reins of a side torn to shreds just a week ago, with achieving solidity the principal aim, this caretaker favours a more bold approach. Spurs, brimming with attacking intent once they had eased into the contest, have rediscovered their rhythm.

Victory at St Mary's, albeit against a depleted Southampton, has restored a sense of equilibrium to a team that had imploded too often over the latter weeks of Andre Villas-Boas's tenure. Sherwood is seeking to make this job his own – his opposite number here, Mauricio Pochettino, has his own admirers in the Spurs boardroom – and football this attractive will help his cause.

Certainly, the reintegration of Emmanuel Adeyabor already feels like a masterstroke, both in terms of team structure and internal politics at White Hart Lane. The striker's brace here more than justified his inclusion, but everything about this felt like a statement.

After all, with Etienne Capoue on the bench, Sandro injured and Paulinho suspended, the visitors had gone all-out attack with Mousa Dembélé the closest thing to a midfielder with one eye on defence. Even he would retire early in the second half, nursing his ankle, with the under-21s' captain, the excellent Nabil Bentaleb, debuting in his place.


The hierarchy will have appreciated the youngster’s involvement, the philosophy behind the line-up having been revealed pre-match. “If they do not give the ball away, they do not have to get it back,” came the caretaker’s reasoning even if, as he watched the opening exchanges from the directors’ box, such simplicity had initially seemed naive.

Southampton had already threatened twice, their delivery from wide unsettling Spurs, when Adebayor surrendered possession to Dejan Lovren too easily and the home side broke at pace downfield. Danny Fox, selected ahead of a rested Luke Shaw, sprinted unchecked down the left and fed Adam Lallana inside, the midfielder allowing the ball to run across him to flummox Vlad Chiriches in the process. His finish scuttled beyond Hugo Lloris and into the far corner from distance, the fact Lallana had been revelling in space that might normally have been snuffed out by a defensive midfielder lost on no one.

They might have shipped another when Danny Rose was pick-pocketed by Ricky Lambert on the touchline with Lallana, watched by the England assistant Ray Lewington, swiftly shifting the ball on to the unmarked Jay Rodriguez, only for the England forward to lift his shot over the bar. Lallana intends to postpone his wedding, scheduled for June 14th when England play Italy in Manaus, if selected for the World Cup squad and, given his clever movement, touch and industry here, that seems likely.

The midfielder’s tireless running would provide Ricky Lambert with a second goal, briefly levelling the scores, after the break but the home side’s real frustration had been born of an inability to make their initial dominance pay.

Southampton at their best, as they had been only six weeks ago, would have squeezed the life from such open opponents once their advantage was established. Instead they wilted, a reflection that this team has won only once in the league since October. Perhaps Sherwood had sensed they were there for the taking.

Spurs' equaliser was pilfered on the break, Adebayor sending Roberto Soldado scurrying down the left where he collected and conjured a glorious centre which arced into the six-yard box, Paulo Gazzaniga reacting too slowly, for the Togoese to exploit space between Jos Hooiveld and Fox to volley home from inside the six-yard box.

It was the first goal scored by a Spurs striker in the Premier League since October 27th and a fine way for Adebayor, a scorer in the Capital One Cup in midweek, to celebrate a first start in the competition this term.

The reward pepped the visitors who were more threatening in the time that remained before the interval, and slicker even without Dembele upon the resumption. Indeed, Bentaleb – a 19-year-old France junior international of huge promise – was heavily involved in the goal which thrust his team ahead, their patient build-up down the left eventually seeing Rose dart to the by-line. His low cross was fizzed at the near-post where Hooiveld inadvertently converted a fourth own goal in his last 25 games past Gazzaniga.

Lambert’s stroll on to Lallana’s pass, and conversion into an empty net with Lloris and Michael Dawson horribly out of position, offered Southampton brief respite but Tottenham sensed vulnerability. Within minutes the substitute Nacer Chadli had unsettled the home side’s rearguard at a throw-in, with Adebayor ignored by Fox and allowed to turn and convert as Lovren granted the forward too much space.

Thereafter, the visitors should have won at a canter with Soldado, a player devoid of fortune in front of goal, missing three opportunities from close-range. The first, a shot dragged wide, rather summer up the Spaniard's form though it was fitting that Jermain Defoe replaced him for the final five minutes. Even then, with the lead still slender, Spurs turned their nose up at caution.

(Guardian Service)