Late swoop by Seagulls stuns disjointed Tottenham
Tottenham Hotspur 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 1
Julian Taylor at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Nerves and frustration got the better of out-of-sorts Tottenham on an afternoon where they were stunned by a late Brighton incision.
In the last minute of normal time, Leandro Trossard, in the exception to the afternoon’s dull efforts in front of goal by both teams, drilled home, to ask lengthy questions of the laboured hosts. Spurs remain fourth, but their two point advantage over Arsenal is offset by the Gunners having a game in hand.
The Graham Potter organisational masterclass came to London for the second game in a row – and with the Seagulls sweeping up three points at Arsenal last week, they did so once again in N17.
Antonio Conte has been so effusive of his Spurs side, across a fine run of goals and victories as they chase a Champions League spot, but this was to prove inconclusive. Misplaced passes, insufficient drive and poor composure can be viewed as either a one-off in the closing stages of the campaign, or a note of possible alarm.
Conte surely knows by now that when the pressure is on this Tottenham team, a ‘Spurs-y’ performance is still never too far away. The Seagulls exposed the soft centre and arguably merited all three points as they consolidate their mid-table status. Little wonder, then, their fans chanted ‘North London is ours’ in the exacting finale.
For the Tottenham faithful, their gleaming £1bn new stadium on a sun-kissed north London Easter Saturday was the place to be, even if they didn’t exactly get what they wanted. This was all the more mystifying in view of Spurs’ superb form of late, charging into the upper echelons of the Premier League.
Brighton, meanwhile, who arrived in the capital in 11rh place, were making a quick fire return to the capital, and in good spirits, following their stunning victory at Arsenal.
The Seagulls made a bright start, playing with a high line in Tottenham’s half, in an attempt to restrict the pacey, build-up play between Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son which has proved so devastating over the last few weeks. Yves Bissouma, Brighton’s enforcer, was rigorously monitoring Son as Tottenham attempted to both establish patterns and create chances.
Far from making a fast start, it took around 15 minutes for the hosts to properly impose themselves in terms of possession. Yet still, Brighton keeper Robert Sanchez was scarcely troubled. Neither, for that matter, was counterpart Hugo Lloris, who saw an Enock Mwepu drive deflect wide in the best goal attempt of a niggly opening quarter. The Seagulls were, if not particularly easy on the eye, organised and on a mission.
Given the nature of the clash at this point, Dejan Kulusevski could consider himself very lucky he didn’t see red. The Swede appeared to elbow Marc Cucurella on Brighton’s left hand side, but for whatever reason, referee Craig Pawson opted tor a yellow, declining to consult VAR. There was little indication of similar, incisive commitment from Tottenham in terms of the clinical, attacking prowess they have displayed lately. Slovenly distribution from midfield to front and no answers to the high press approach of Graham Potter’s men characterised so much of their overall performance; urgent fine-tuning from Conte clearly required.
Albion opted to freshen things up by sending on former Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck for Mwepu at the start of the second half. The flighty ex-Gunner, unsurprisingly, received a less than cordial welcome from the Spurs fans, in addition to jeers when he could only sclaff a half chance well wide with a first hint of threat.
A high press is difficult to sustain – and Brighton, although irascible, could not preserve their athletic levels of the opening half. However, both sides were guilty of a lack of width, speed of thought and cutting edge; incredibly neither goalkeeper had a genuine save to make, with almost an hour of the action gone.
Son was inching his way into proceedings though, and the visitors were forced to propel bodies at him just when the South Korea star was about to pull the trigger. But such moments were a rarity rather for the disjoined north Londoners.
With Brighton still biting away, Conte sent on Lucas Moura for Kulusevski in 63 minutes in a game that desperately needed an insert of drama, in fact, of anything, really. Harry Winks was the next to appear, for the anonymous Rodrigo Bentancur.
The visitors kept going, although they were restricted to the odd, speculative effort. And Tottenham appeared too ponderous, their passing invariably a yard or two astray, much to the frustration of Conte. Brighton, too, hinted at danger on the counter-attack, and perhaps in the closing moments their inspirational skipper, Lewis Dunk, could have netted with a header which was saved by Lloris.
Certainly, one of the aspects Conte needs to work on is on his players’ ability to conjure up some ingenuity against stubborn opponents. And when both Kane and Son find it impossible to do so, as the encounter filtered away, then you know that, sometimes, punishment isn’t far away.
So it transpired when, picking up possession inside the Tottenham penalty area, Trossard nudged past Eric Dier and with a precise flick, the ball nestled into the far corner of the net.
And there we had it. A classic Potter-style, pincer-movement has halted Spurs’ momentum, for the time being at least.
Spurs: Lloris, Reguilon, Romero, Hojberg, Son (Bergwijn 87), Kane, Royal, Dier, Kulusevski Moura 63), Bentancur (Winks 71), Davies