Right back Callum Chambers was constantly under attack as it finished Spurs 1-0 Middlesbrough in our Premier League clash.
Spurs found a definitive route to goal in a tight match, but spurned the chances created. It wasn’t until Harry Kane converted from the spot that we found some breathing space. However, until the final whistle, the match hung in the balance at Spurs 1-0 Middlesbrough at White Hart Lane.
Middlesbrough’s weak defensive structure
Did Middlesbrough take some tips from our midweek match with Sunderland? It appeared so during the first half. Aitor Karanka played one less central defender than David Moyes, but still clogged central midfield with three narrow destroyers.
The back four tried to stay in close to each other, but the fault in their defensive structure was out wide. On one side they had Stuart Downing tucking in to defend and help his full back, Fabio. On the other side, Adama Traore wasn’t giving Callum Chambers the same kind of support. Traore was very keen to get out on the counter attack, but not so much to help out his full back.
Spurs attack the right back
We’d looked at Karanka’s team conceding chances through their right back zone in the Spurs vs Middlesbrough match preview.
Middlesbrough’s defensive shape saw them clog up the centre, but leave a whole load of space down their right. Callum Chambers just simply couldn’t handle the overload of players coming his way. Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min switched and dovetailed positions nicely to cause enough confusion as to whom Chambers should track. This then let Mousa Dembele instigate the passing moves and Ben Davies get up in support on the overlap.
What made it even nicer to watch was our movement of the ball. Slow and sluggish at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday, here there was a real tempo to our play. Passes were crisper and the ball was being switched in one or two passes as Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier demonstrated their great distribution.
It saw a number of good chances created throughout the first half. Son Heung-Min was the first to burst through on just four minutes. Great pressing by Dele Alli in midfield recovered the ball. He spotted the South Korean’s run beyond Chambers early and fed him in. Son could only sting goalkeeper Victor Valdes’ palms.
One minute later and we were in again. This time Alli and Son had switched, giving Chambers a decision of who to track as Traore once more offered no help. Ben Davies glided forward to race through the vacant right back zone. He fired a tantalising cross that fizzed through the penalty area.
Then came the big chance of the half. Dele Ali drifting out to the left had sucked Chambers in with Adama Traore once more trailing. This left Son free to skate down the line and whip in a perfect cross. Harry Kane arrived on cue, but couldn’t keep his header down.
Seven minutes later and Kane would have the ball in the net. Stuart Downing was doing his job supporting the full back on the left. However, out on the right, Traore was caught looking in, leaving Son 1v1 against Chambers.
Son skipped past the right back and crossed low for Kane to prod the ball home, only to be flagged offside.
Spurs win a penalty
Reaching halftime somehow still at Spurs 0-0 Middlesbrough, it really seemed to be a case of attacking this side of the pitch, knowing that a goal would come.
Interestingly, after the interval Mauricio Pochettino switched the sides of Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min. Presumably this was to get a better creative player in to this space, but it didn’t really work. The experiment lasted a mere eight minutes and Son was restored to his favourite flank. Two minutes later and the South Korean would be chopped down in the box.
The pattern of play was mighty similar to what we’d seen in the first half. Callum Chambers getting swamped due to Adama Traore’s lack of help. Traore had half an eye on Dele Alli, leaving Chambers with both Son and Kane. As Dembele gained the ball, Son signalled for it, seeing Chambers tracking Kane.
Son received the ball, drawing centre back Bernardo Espinosa over and in to a clumsy challenge. Harry Kane calmly slotted the resulting spot kick in the corner to make it Spurs 1-0 Middlesbrough. As the ball nestled in the net, a collective cheer of relief went up around White Hart Lane. The deadlock had finally been broken.
Spurs counter chances
The goal brought Middlesbrough out of their defensive shell. However, they suddenly left themselves open to the counter attack. These came from us either transitioning the ball forward quickly while they had numbers stuck upfield or rapidly breaking from turnovers in midfield.
Turnovers and quick counters brought about good shooting opportunities for Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min. However, both players’ shots lacked the accuracy to find the corners and instead gave Victor Valdes easy saves.
Eriksen also saw a shot blocked by Fabio covering the centre of the goal, when anything in the corners would’ve made the game safe. Instead, it remained Spurs 1-0 Middlesbrough leaving us open to a sucker punch.
Middlesbrough work off Negredo
Middlesbrough came more in to the game from an attacking standpoint after the penalty. They started to work the ball in to and off Alvaro Negredo much more. It brought others in to play from Negredo’s neat touches, creating some good half chances and then a major chance at the death.
Seeing the ball won by and sticking with Negredo up top, Aitor Karanka brought on Patrick Bamford to add more leverage to this attacking ploy.
Bamford won a long ball forward and Negredo flicked the knock down towards Marten de Roon. Suddenly in space with a dropping ball, de Roon too eagerly snatched at the chance and scuffed his shot past the post. A fortunate escape that kept the score at Spurs 1-0 Middlesbrough with no time left on the clock.
Spurs 1-0 Middlesbrough overall
There were plenty of plus points for us after the midweek draw with Sunderland. The tempo and ball movement was much better, as was our ability to switch the play. Our team movement was also much better, especially down the Middlesbrough right where we picked Callum Chambers apart.
Creating chances was not the problem, but our finishing continues to lack the precision that we have seen in recent weeks. It’s not a crisis like at the start of the season, where our chance conversion was really down. However, we are returning to old habits by not finding the corners of the net. Too often our shots are either down the middle or too close to the goalkeeper.
Its one thing to work the keeper and maybe create a loose ball or a rebound. It’s something else to beat him to the corners of the goal. At the minute we are looking to strike the shot well to get a good connection and get it on target. This is at the expense of really going for the corners of the goal to find the back of the net more often. Accuracy to get shots on target will cause problems, but shot precision is needed to score goals.
Final score: Spurs 1-0 Middlesbrough.
MOTM: Son Heung-Min.