Son signs off in style as Tottenham sink Bournemouth to close gap on top four | Premier League

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The more Tottenham change, the more they stay the same. They tried to make life easy for themselves here, they really did. They scored early and scored late, weathering the long periods of Bournemouth pressure, as well as a very Tottenham kind of rain, one that came in furious, intense squalls before disappearing entirely for around 20 minutes at a time.

But texturally this was basically the same substance Tottenham have been serving up all season: a spirited but uneven performance in which the fun is basically indistinguishable from the suffering. Pape Matar Sarr scored a fine goal before going off injured; Bournemouth were the better side for much of the first half; Spurs improved markedly in the second, making the game safe through Son Heung-Min and Richarlison, and yet still ended the game on the scramble after Alex Scott’s two late goals, one legal and one ruled out for offside.

Perhaps this is the logical upshot of a team who play at all times like they’re 1-0 down, who have traded in a sense of balance for a sense of purpose. Spurs are not yet good enough to dominate for 90 minutes, not yet deep enough to rotate with comfort, not yet controlled enough to see games out. And so you get these vivid hot streaks of scintillating attacking football, and then these long periods when they are essentially surviving on wishes and crossed fingers.

Still, a year that began with an insipid 2-0 defeat by Aston Villa and the death rattle of Conte-ball ends with Tottenham three points off the top of the league and a very good shout for Champions League qualification. That they have achieved all this while decimated by injuries and suspensions is more impressive still. Ange Postecoglou shuffled his pack, was rewarded with a fine display in midfield by Giovani Lo Celso, and then punished by injuries to Sarr and Alejo Véliz. Oh, and Son now goes to the Asian Cup for a month. It never rains, and all that.

For Bournemouth, this was perhaps a mission too far at the end of a sparkling but exhausting month. The fluency and the cohesion were there, but perhaps they lacked a little sharpness in both boxes and struggled to carve out clear chances. Even so they generated 18 shots, had long periods of the ball, hit the bar through Dominic Solanke and rallied strongly at the end. The three-week break before their next league fixture has probably come at a good time for them.

Pape Matar Sarr gives Tottenham the lead.
Pape Matar Sarr gives Tottenham the lead. Photograph: Dalton Bowden/REX/Shutterstock

Meanwhile, they will wonder how differently this game might have gone had they not gift-wrapped an early goal. Neto’s pass into Ryan Christie was read by Lo Celso and the returning Rodrigo Bentancur; Sarr advanced on goal and finished calmly into the bottom corner. And Spurs were characteristically zesty in those opening minutes, before again going limp as the first half wore on. Sarr limped off in tears after half an hour, his African Cup of Nations participation with Senegal now in serious doubt.

And in his absence Bournemouth began to get a grip on midfield, the game opening out just slightly. The next goal felt pivotal, and it went to Son with 20 minutes left: finishing a counter-attack he himself had started, after a sumptuous through ball from Lo Celso. Nine minutes later Richarlison settled matters after an early cross from Brennan Johnson, and Tottenham saw out the final period of the game without any fuss or undue alarms.

Did you like the joke? What actually happened was this: in the chaotic aftermath of a triple Tottenham substitution Scott claimed a deserved Bournemouth goal by turning in Marcus Tavernier’s cross. Bryan Gil hit the bar from three yards; Postecoglou lost his rag on the touchline trying to get Véliz some treatment; Véliz went off injured; Scott’s glancing header in the 100th minute to make it 3-2 was eventually ruled out for offside.

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And if Tottenham really are to achieve their goals in the second half of the season, they will need to find a way of taming the chaos as well as harnessing it, managing situations, putting together consistent 90-minute performances rather than intermittent blitzes. There will probably be some new arrivals in January and some old faces returning from injury, and if so the ceiling for this team is high. If 2023 was the year Tottenham rediscovered their pleasure, then 2024 needs to be all business.

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