Asked about his favourite Harry Kane goal last September, Mauricio Pochettino first pondered the question. He eventually settled on the striker’s fourth Premier League goal, scored against Aston Villa in November 2014.
“Maybe I can find many other goals that were fantastic, but for me the goals are related to emotion, in the period you are living. For me that goal was an amazing goal because it meant for us, for everyone, the possibility to stay here today.”
It feels like a lifetime ago that Kane possibly rescued Pochettino’s job at Tottenham. Six months and ten Premier League games into his tenure in north London, the Argentinean was under immense pressure. Spurs were 14th, one point above Villa, and heading for a 1-1 draw with Paul Lambert’s side, who had been reduced to ten men. Then up stepped Kane in injury time, the striker netting his first goal of the season with a deflected free-kick.
It is a goal Pochettino credits for Tottenham’s transformation over the subsequent three years and three months, but some things never truly change. Spurs once again required a Kane goal to rescue them from an embarrassing result on Sunday, yet not even he could salvage more than a 1-1 draw against Southampton.
But that Kane strike against Villa in November 2014 remains relevant. It is a goal Pochettino considers one of the most important in the club’s modern history, yet it is also a goal that signposts of the manager’s most frustrating recent traits. Kane was a second-half substitute on that day, and seldom few times since has Pochettino found inspiration from his bench.
With Christian Eriksen absent at St Mary’s, it could not even be said that this was the same old story for Tottenham. There was no sustained pressure, no dominance in terms of possession. There was no real difficulty in breaking down a staunch defence, because there seemed to be precious few attempts to do so. The visitors had their chances, but so too did the misfiring hosts. Southampton had twice as many shots on target, and 17-year-old Michael Obafemi missed a gilt-edged opportunity to mark his debut with a goal.
It was a familiar tune from Pochettino himself, however. He delayed his first substitution, waiting, hoping that one of his eleven starters would suddenly conjure something from thin air. That Dele Alli would find a teammate instead of an opponent with a needless flick, or that Mousa Dembele would temporarily stop committing fouls and instead find an opening. There was no such luck.
Then came the change, one made with all the airs and graces of a teenager on Football Manager trying to ensure the fitness of his players stays above 85%. The clock edged over 70 minutes, and Pochettino called for the introduction of Erik Lamela.
That it was Heung-min Son and not Moussa Sissoko who made way was cause for further Tottenham fan frustration. Sissoko offered little in the centre in the absence of Eriksen, while Son has been their best performer in recent weeks.
Lamela was given 20 minutes to rescue three crucial points in the race for Champions League qualification; Kieran Trippier was handed 18 and Victor Wanyama six. At 1-1, Pochettino sent on a winger, a full-back and a defensive midfielder in search of a goal, as striker Fernando Llorente looked on.
The trio had little impact, yet that is only to be expected. In 33 games in all competitions this season, Tottenham have made 99 substitutions. That they have garnered just one goal and one assist between them suggests that this is quite the problem.