From St Mary’s Stadium – The Antonio Conte revolution had seemed to be gathering momentum over the festive period.
First there was Tottenham’s very credible point against Premier League title contenders Liverpool, in a game that contained more excitement in 90 minutes than in the Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo eras combined.
This was followed by a Carabao Cup triumph over London rivals West Ham, a win that put Spurs just three results away from ending the club’s draining trophy drought.
Then came the best result and performance of all – a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace. Here Spurs looked coherent and ruthless, the two adjectives that immediately come to mind when remembering some of Conte’s best teams of years gone by.
However, the immense progress the north Londoners have made since Conte took over was curtailed by a seemingly unassuming roadblock on Tuesday afternoon.
Southampton have not proved to be the most mentally resilient side this season, forfeiting leads as frequently as Watford change managers.
So, when Saints were reduced to 10 men just before the break, when Mohammed Salisu was dismissed for a second bookable offence, and Harry Kane made it 1-1, convenient wisdom would have pointed to the conclusion that their visitors would go on to secure all three points.
That is not how it went, though.
Instead, Spurs’ pretty turgid first-half display seeped into the second period with Southampton repelling their efforts to break the deadlock with relative ease.
The warning signs had been there from the outset really. From the first whistle, the team who entered proceedings in lower-mid table caused Spurs all manner of problems.
Former Lilywhite Kyle Walker-Peters was afforded far too much space by Sergio Reguilon – who put in a rare poor display – and his inch-perfect cross would have been finished by a more clinical striker than Shane Long inside ten minute.
This was the first in a flurry of early chances for the hosts before they finally opened the scoring through James Ward-Prowse, who fired a terrific effort past Hugo Lloris.
Bad spells can happen, of course, but what Spurs will find so concerning about this early wobble was that a lot of it was caused by players just doing the basics wrong and lacking the intensity that Conte is famed for.
This lull was only broken when Mohammed Salisu committed a sublime act of self-sabotage, bringing down Son Heung-min in the box for what was his second bookable offence.
Spurs’ second-half display was marginally better than their first and they might consider themselves unlucky to not earn more than a point. They did have two goals (correctly) ruled out, after all.
But despite these chances it was hard to shake the feeling that this was a missed opportunity to build some real momentum heading into the New Year.
The result leaves them sixth in the Premier League table, five points adrift of Arsenal in fourth with a couple of games in hand. The Conte revolution is far from off the tracks, but the Southampton game proved that there is still a long way to go until Tottenham resemble the merciless killing machine that the Italian longs to create.
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