From St Mary’s Stadium – The Antonio Conte Revolution had seemed to take off during the holiday season.
First, it was Tottenham’s very credible score against Premier League title challengers Liverpool, in a match that featured more excitement in 90 minutes than during the Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo era combined.
This was followed by a Carabao Cup triumph over London rival West Ham, a win that left Spurs just three results away from ending the club’s draining trophy drought.
Then came the best result and achievement of all – a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace. Here, Spurs looked cohesive and ruthless, the two adjectives that will immediately come to mind when you remember some of Conte’s best teams in previous years.
But the huge progress that North Londoners have made since Conte took over was limited by a seemingly unassuming roadblock on Tuesday afternoon.
Southampton have not proven to be the most mentally resilient team this season, losing leads as often as Watford change coaches.
So when the Saints were reduced to 10 men just before the break, when Mohammed Salisu was sent off for a second accounting offense, and Harry Kane made it 1-1, practical wisdom would have pointed to the conclusion that their guests would continue to secure all three points.
However, that was not the case.
Kane scored but got another conceded in the second half / Michael Steele / GettyImages
Instead, Spurs’ rather powerful first half seeped into the second period with Southampton rejecting their efforts to break the deadlock relatively easily.
The warning signs had really been there from the beginning. From the first outing, the team that went into the lower midfield Spurs caused all sorts of problems.
Former Lilywhite Kyle Walker-Peters was given far too much space by Sergio Reguilon – who made a rare poor display – and his thumb-perfect cross would have been completed by a more clinical striker than Shane Long within ten minutes.
This was the first in a series of early chances for the hosts before they finally opened the scoring through James Ward-Prowse, who shot a fantastic effort past Hugo Lloris.
Bad spells can happen, of course, but what the Spurs will think is so troubling about this early wobbling was that much of it was caused by players just doing the basics wrong and lacking the intensity that Conte is known for.
This calm was first broken when Mohammed Salisu committed a sublime act of self-sabotage and dropped Son Heung-min in the box for his second bookable offense.
Spurs’ performance in the second half was marginally better than their first and they may consider themselves unlucky not to earn more than one point. After all, they had two goals (correctly) excluded.
But despite these chances, it was difficult to shake the feeling that this was a missed opportunity to build a real momentum for the new year.
The result leaves them in sixth place in the Premier League table, five points behind Arsenal in fourth place with a couple of games left. The Conte revolution is far from over, but the Southampton game showed that there is still a long way to go until Tottenham resembles the ruthless killer machine that the Italian longs to create.
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