Kane hat-trick in 5-1 Euro thrashing of minnows gives Spurs vital morale boost
By Ben Pearce at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Tottenham 5-1 NS Mura
Matches like these are not the ones Tottenham’s players and fans dream of, against a virtually unknown team from Slovenia in the third-tier Europa Conference League. But the outing had some value nonetheless. After three straight Premier League losses, including Sunday’s dismal 3-1 defeat at Arsenal, here was a morale-boosting 5-1 victory and a hat-trick for Harry Kane, accompanied by much-needed smiles on the pitch and in the stands. The humiliation at the Emirates cannot be forgotten but it now feels a bit longer ago. It was not all plain sailing on Thursday night though and, having made nine changes to his line-up, it was notable that Nuno Espirito Santo felt the need to introduce his big guns on the hour-mark. After Spurs took a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes and threatened a rout, they lost their way and saw their lead halved after the break, prompting Nuno to bring on Kane, Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura in place of Dane Scarlett, Bryan Gil and Dele Alli. The triple substitution suggested Nuno personally feared the ramifications of an upset against the Slovenian minnows, and his lack of faith in Alli seemed particularly notable against such limited opposition. There is little doubt the Portuguese remains under pressure and that Spurs will face an infinitely tougher test when Aston Villa arrive in north London on Sunday. The big question is whether Thursday’s triumph has sufficiently improved the mood and confidence in the camp to start an upturn in Premier League form. Having found themselves 3-0 down in 35 minutes at Arsenal, Spurs were surely keen to start quickly against NS Mura, and they certainly did so, taking the lead in the fourth minute as Alli converted a penalty that he won himself. Four minutes later it was 2-0, with Harry Winks lobbing the ball forward and Giovani Lo Celso bringing it down before slipping between centre-back and right-back and finishing tidily into the top corner. With a rugby score on the cards, thoughts turned to Spurs’ history books and the 9-1 victory over Wigan Athletic in 2009. But the Lilywhites were unable to maintain their momentum and Matko Obradovic only had to make one further save before half-time. If that was disappointing for Nuno, worse was to follow after the break as Mura halved the deficit in style, Ziga Kous scoring with a superb 20-yard volley. On came Kane, Son and Lucas, and the changes had the desired effect. Lucas provided the killer pass that has been missing since the eighth minute, playing the ball from the right channel in behind the defence to Kane, who stretched to beat the goalkeeper. Spurs then scored with a move between the lines that has been sorely missing in recent weeks, with Lo Celso turning a Sergio Reguilon pass forward first-time to free Son, who crossed for Kane. Finally, Lo Celso capped a strong individual performance by dissecting Mura’s defenders to set up Kane and send the club’s star striker home with the match ball.