Érik Lamela’s sucker punch seals win for Spurs over spirited Brighton

Nick Ames at Amex Stadium on 22 September 2018

There are times when any win will do and, for Tottenham, this was certainly one. The vultures had been circling after three defeats and the historians leafing all the way back to the spring of 2004, the last time they lost four consecutive games in a single season. Mauricio Pochettino needed his players to stand tall at what has become one of the Premier League’s more testing venues for the bigger clubs; they did that and, while this performance fell some way short of their fluent best, a few suggestions of a return to form flickered, too.

Foremost among them was their second, ultimately decisive goal, scored by Érik Lamela after the kind of rapier-like attack Tottenham have made their trademark under Pochettino. Lamela had replaced Son Heung-min eight minutes before taking possession just inside the Brighton half and, via Lucas Moura, working the ball to Danny Rose. He kept running and was rewarded with an accurate cutback that, without breaking stride, he swept beyond Mat Ryan.

“That is how we want to play, how we feel football,” Pochettino said of the goal’s construction, although Spurs showed another side that made him even happier. He had pointedly questioned their resolve after Tuesday’s late capitulation at Internazionale and here, amid filthy conditions against a team that had taken 10 points from their previous four home games against last season’s top six, they faced down the kind of challenge tailor-made for anyone curious about their response.

They were slightly lucky that Glenn Murray, needlessly handballing Kieran Trippier’s free-kick, gave Harry Kane the chance to dispel the cobwebs that had gathered during an increasingly ponderous first half. They were fortunate, too, that Anthony Knockaert shot straight at Paulo Gazzaniga in the 66th minute when he should have equalised. There was even an improbable wobble at the end after Knockaert, a mite too late in proceedings, got his bearings right with an excellent finish.

But Pochettino saw enough to feel Tottenham had recovered something that, even if only for three weeks, had been lost.

“I think the spirit we showed today is the spirit I wanted to see in all the games,” he said. “The team was fantastic in how it defended; this mentality to fight and always give your best. That’s what pleased me the most today.”

Tottenham began authoritatively and might have taken the lead when Toby Alderweireld, meeting Trippier’s corner with a thudding header that flicked off Gaëten Bong, drew a flying one-handed save from Ryan. Both players had been recalled after missing the game at San Siro for what Pochettino had termed “technical reasons”; Trippier was heavily involved early on but, after that initial encouragement, their tempo slowed and the doubts set back in.

By the half-hour they had seen 78% of the possession but there had been little to show for it; the speed of thought required to unlock opponents who were evidently happy to play out a goalless first half was, not for the first time this month, scarcely evident.

Then Murray, jumping in the wall and repelling the ball with his arm when the adjacent Davy Pröpper had been poised to take one in the face for his team, opened the door for Tottenham and Kane beat Ryan confidently from the spot. The home crowd howled with derision; in reality there was no disputing Christopher Kavanagh’s call, although Chris Hughton felt the award of the free-kick itself had been soft.

Hughton also felt Brighton should have had their own penalty in the second half when Eric Dier appeared to have grabbed Lewis Dunk’s shirt. But the bigger frustration was that, during a ferocious spell of pressure, Knockaert fired straight at Gazzaniga after doing the hard work by cutting inside Jan Vertonghen. In a frantic period of added time Knockaert scored, watched Ryan save a one-on-one from Kane, and drew another stop from the keeper with the last action of the game. A foot to his right and, suddenly, those proclamations about Spurs’ resolve would have looked far weaker.

“For me he was man of the match,” Pochettino said of Gazzaniga, a late call-up in place of the injured Michel Vorm. “He was fantastic – his personality and his character.” Those were the facets he had sought above all and, with some bumps along the way, they were exactly what he was given.

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