Tottenham missed the chance to move level on points with fourth-placed Liverpool in the Premier League as they were frustrated by struggling Southampton at St Mary’s.
The hosts took a deserved early lead as Spurs central defender Davinson Sanchez diverted Ryan Bertrand’s low cross into his own net.
The advantage lasted less than four minutes, though, with Harry Kane – the division’s top scorer – nodding home a straightforward header as the Saints defence failed to compete for Ben Davies’ corner.
Jack Stephens missed a glorious opportunity to restore Southampton’s lead before the break, but neither side could carve out the same quality of chance before a frantic finale.
As Tottenham rallied late on, Stephens made amends for his earlier error by blocking Erik Lamela’s goalbound shot with six minutes to go.
At the other end, 17-year-old debutant Michael Obafemi could not direct Dusan Tadic’s shot on goal with one of his first touches off the bench, before Sofiane Boufal and Kane wasted openings for their respective sides.
While the result extends Southampton’s run without a league win to 11 games, it may ease some of the pressure on manager Mauricio Pellegrino. His team are a point off 17th-placed Stoke in the table.
Tottenham, however, will be cut five points adrift of the top four if Liverpool beat Swansea on Monday.
Saints’ lapse holds them back
Southampton’s performance showed both the reasons behind their rotten form and why their general play has merited more.
Even before Sanchez poked the ball into the back of his own net, Manolo Gabbiadini had tested Michel Vorm from distance and come close to getting a telling touch to Tadic’s cross.
Tottenham’s equaliser did nothing to sap their attacking energy and enthusiasm either, with Stephens heading past the angle of post and bar from James Ward-Prowse’s vicious delivery.
Intelligent in possession and organised without the ball, it was the sort of display that had secured a point at Manchester United and come within a few minutes of beating Arsenal during their winless run.
But it had been undermined by a horrendous lapse in concentration.
Just 197 seconds after Saints took the lead, Kane eased aside Stephens, rose above Gabbiadini and planted a header past a rooted Alex McCarthy from five yards.
Reports before the match claimed Monaco striker Guido Carrillo and Spartak Moscow winger Quincy Promes are in Pellegrino’s sights as he seeks to reinvest the windfall from Virgil van Dijk’s £75m move to Liverpool.
To invest in more firepower, rather than a commanding defensive figure similar to their departed Dutchman, might be the gamble that decides the Argentine’s future.
Alli still searching for his groove
With Tottenham short of the scintillating form that had sliced apart Everton last weekend, manager Mauricio Pochettino brought Son Heung-Min into the centre of his attack, just behind Kane, from the left wing at half-time.
When the South Korean’s guile could not unpick the lock, he was replaced by Erik Lamela with 20 minutes remaining.
The problem may have been the man left on the pitch, however.
Dele Alli has scored two goals in his past 16 matches and, without the ill Christian Eriksen alongside him, was again ineffectual in the playmaking role.
The 21-year-old admitted in December that he was struggling to recreate the stellar form of his previous two campaigns.
As the run-in gathers pace and the World Cup looms, both Pochettino and England counterpart Gareth Southgate will hope he rediscovers it soon.
Man of the match – Ryan Bertrand (Southampton)
Worst dry run since 1998 – the stats
- Southampton are winless in their past 11 Premier League games, their longest such run without a victory since October 1998, also 11 games, and their longest across a single season since March 1995.
- Since losing five consecutive top-flight trips to Southampton between 2000 and 2005, without scoring, Spurs are unbeaten in their past six league visits to St Mary’s.
- The Saints have lost nine points from leading positions at St Mary’s this season; more than any other Premier League side on home soil.
- Kane has netted 11 goals in his past six starts in all competitions for Tottenham.
- Kane has scored six goals in his past five Premier League games against Southampton, including three in his past three at St Mary’s.
- Aged 17 years and 199 days, Obafemi became the second youngest player to make a Premier League appearance for Southampton after Luke Shaw, who was 17 years and 116 days old.
‘It is not easy to stay in the seat’ – what they said
Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino: “We have to continue in this way, the spirit and the commitment on the pitch was very good. Against these types of team you can lose in a minute, everything can change but we were there until the end.
“We are in trouble in the table but in three or four weeks it can change. Between 10 or 11 teams there are just a few points and that will stay the same.
“In Argentina we say that the job is the electric chair, it is not easy to stay in the seat. I don’t worry about my job because I am happy doing the job. It is part of our life.”
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino: “The game was even, we had more possession but we needed to be more aggressive and create more chances, The performance wasn’t great but the pitch didn’t help.
“You must give credit to the opponent, but I am not happy with our performance. We needed to move the ball quicker and create more, we made a lot of mistakes. The result is the result because football punishes us for not using the ball.
“It is temporary that Southampton are in the relegation zone, for sure they will push up the table. It is two points we are going to miss at the end of the season because it is so tough between six or seven teams.
On possible transfer-window business: “It is not easy to add a player who can help for three months. It is very difficult. For some clubs it is easier but it is not easy for us.”
Southampton meet Watford in the FA Cup on Saturday before returning to league action with a home match against Brighton on Wednesday, 31 January.
Tottenham are away to Newport in the FA Cup on Saturday, before playing Manchester United at home on Wednesday, 31 January.