London (AFP) – Tottenham eased the pressure on Nuno Espirito Santo as Matt Targett’s decisive own goal capped an improved display in their 2-1 home win against Aston Villa on Sunday.
Nuno’s side had lost their last three Premier League games and were wobbling again when Ollie Watkins cancelled out Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s opener.
Another frustrating result would have piled extra scrutiny on Nuno heading into the international break, but Targett’s own goal lifted the tension at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Painfully tame defeats against bitter London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea in their previous two league matches had raised questions about Nuno just a few months into his reign.
The former Wolves boss was far from first choice to replace Jose Mourinho in the close-season and there have already been reports that Tottenham’s players are bored of his rigid training methods.
Against that troubled backdrop, a first win in four league games, secured with a slightly more enterprising performance, should buy Nuno a little breathing space to prove himself.
In a bid to spark Tottenham into life, Nuno made three changes and switched formation, dropping Dele Alli, Japhet Tanganga and Davinson Sanchez for Oliver Skipp, Emerson Royal and Cristian Romero.
Initially, apprehension at Tottenham’s predicament was palpable among the 53,000 crowd and groans echoed around the stands when Tanguy Ndombele slowed down a potential counter with a cautious back pass.
Heading into this weekend, Tottenham’s 56 shots were the fewest of any Premier League team this season, a statistic that underlined the conservative tactics used by Nuno which have frustrated Spurs’ supporters.
Still waiting for his first top-flight goal this season, Harry Kane tried to improve those numbers with an audacious 40-yard free-kick that almost caught out Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez.
– Fist-pumping Nuno –
With Villa lacking the cutting edge required to take advantage of Tottenham’s nerves, Nuno’s men finally emerged from their shell to take the lead in the 27th minute.
Hojbjerg started and finished the move as he won a tackle in midfield and picked out Son Heung-min.
Son dragged several Villa players towards him before teeing up the unmarked Hojbjerg on the edge of the area.
The Denmark midfielder applied the finishing touch which has eluded Tottenham so often this term, guiding a precise low finish past Martinez.
Nuno’s response, a spinning, fist-pumping celebration underlined how much the goal meant to the Portuguese coach.
He could not relax, though, and John McGinn almost equalised when the midfielder flashed a dipping half-volley just wide from 25 yards.
Targett went even closer for Villa soon after half-time as the defender pounced on Emerson’s poor clearance with a goalbound strike that was blocked by Cristian Romero.
Son’s pace and movement were proving unplayable for the Villa defence, but he could not deliver the knockout blow.
The South Korean volleyed just over after his initial effort was saved, then charged clear on goal moments later, only to shoot straight at Martinez.
Those misses could have proved costly for Tottenham as Watkins bagged his first goal of the season in the 67th minute.
Danny Ings worked the ball wide to Targett and his low cross was measured perfectly for Watkins to get ahead of Eric Dier and fire home from close-range.
For once, Tottenham’s response to adversity was encouraging for Nuno as they regained the lead four minutes later.
Son was the catalyst with a forceful run that left Kortney Hause trailing in his wake.
His low cross was certain to be converted by Lucas, but Targett got there first, deflecting it into his own net to Nuno’s immense relief.
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