Saints went down 3-2 to Tottenham in a disastrous display at St Marys. The score-line and the stats suggest it was close, but in reality Spurs dominated the majority of the contest. Saints were as poor as they have been all-season. The strength of the two squads well and truly told. Saints' fringe players stepped up against Manchester City, and to a lesser extent at Newcastle, but they weren't up to it on this occasion.
Interim Spurs boss Tim Sherwood named an ambitious line-up, with a four-man midfield and two strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado. They closed out the space in the centre of the pitch, making it difficult for Saints to play their way through. Neither Calum Chambers or Danny Fox offered the same width that Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw usually do, although Fox found some joy with a decent range of passing. Saints had their best spell of the game early on, with Spurs struggling to get any fluency going. Pochettino's men looked to play out from the back, but also created chances by going a bit more direct.
The first goal arrived for Saints on 13 minutes. Danny Fox drove forward into space before playing in Adam Lallana in the centre of the pitch about 30 yards out. Lallana twisted and turned on the ball, making room for himself before firing in off the post. It was a fine finish from the skipper. Saints looked comfortable for a brief period after that strike, and could have given themselves a greater cushion when Rickie Lambert stole the ball from Danny Rose on the right. He combined well with Lallana, before Jay Rodriguez was played in with a clear sight at goal. Unfortunately the striker was utterly wasteful, firing wide from inside the area.
That was a massive turning point in the contest. As bad as Saints were later, the complexion of the game would have been completely altered at 2-0. The home side were made to pay for that miss almost instantly. A swift counter attack resulted in Adebayor converting from Soldado's cross. The Togolese striker was a handful all afternoon. Saints just couldn't deal with him. Neither side looked completely convincing approaching half-time, but Spurs definitely had the edge, and were beginning to control the tempo. The movement from Saints was unimaginative and predictable.
Spurs stepped it up after the interval and were deservedly ahead on 55. Soldado and Adebayor combined again, before Rose crossed low towards the six-yard box. Paulo Gazzaniga was unable to get a touch on it before Hooiveld put through his own net. Saints continued to look rather flat, but still somehow managed to pinch an equaliser on 59 minutes. A pin-point ball from Jack Cork played in Lallana just outside the area. He drew the keeper away from his goal, before squaring it to Lambert, who had a simple tap-in.
Saints failed to build on that leveller, with Spurs reasserting control in pretty much every area of the pitch. The visitors were ahead again on 64. Adebayor got beyond his man before testing Gazzaniga with a low strike. Things really opened up when Jack Cork was replaced by James Ward-Prowse. An already shaky back-four was exposed even further, with Spurs exploiting space time and time again. The third Tottenham goal was another mess. Saints had enough bodies in the box to see the danger out, but it somehow fell to Adebayor, who curled past Gazzaniga from close range.
Tottenham really should have stretched their lead, with a number of glorious chances falling the way of Soldado. Those misses gave Saints hope. As disjointed as the home side were for much of the second half, there was a little bit more urgency towards the end. Lallana and substitute Sam Gallagher had half-chances, while Gaston Ramirez and Dejan Lovren had wayward efforts fly over the bar. The best opportunity arrived in stoppage time. Lambert fired into the ground and over the bar following a goal-mouth scramble. In the end however, the best team won.
A disappointing afternoon for Saints. There were far too many individual mistakes, but the team never really clicked as a unit either. It's imperative that our injured players return as soon as possible. Once they do we'll be fine. The fixture list looks a lot kinder from January anyway. A top 10 finish is still very much on, but a European place may be slipping away now. I thought the reaction from the crowd was very disappointing today. Not every player was given the support they deserve. Given everything the team has achieved in recent times I feel they deserve to be cut a little slack when things don't go quite so well. Ironic cheering and chants for unfit substitutes are hardly likely to inspire confidence. Supporters should get behind all the players, not just the ones they perceive as better.
Gazzaniga: 4. To say he doesn't inspire confidence would be a massive understatement. Definitely at fault for one of the goals, and probably could have done better for at least one of the others
Chambers: 5. Poor at both ends of the pitch. Struggled to contain Spurs' attacking players and rarely beat his man going forward. One neat piece of skill in the corner towards the end of the game the only highlight
Hooiveld: 4. Difficult not to feel sorry for him at the end of this game. A performance reminiscent of his early displays last season. Head dropped after the own-goal - looked all over the place in the second half
Lovren: 6. Made a couple of big sliding tackles in the first-half, but dipped after half-time. Not quite as bad as Hooiveld was, but certainly not blameless.
Fox: 6. Some are desperate to find any fault they can with the left-back, but he was far from the worst player on the pitch. Contributed going forward, with an assist and generally kept the ball moving well. Made some decent clearances at the back, but was lagging just prior to being substituted
Cork: 6. Had a role in the second Saints goal and did a reasonable job of protecting the back-four. Saints certainly looked a lot more exposed after he was substituted. Inadvertently played Spurs in for their second in a cruel piece of bad luck
Schneiderlin: 6. Made some decent interceptions, and looked tidy on the ball, but not quite as dominant as you would have hoped
Davis: 5. Tried to keep things moving quickly, but didn't offer much in the way of creativity
Rodriguez: 5. Looked sharp early on, but struggled to assert himself on proceedings as the contest wore on. If he had scored when he was presented with a great chance in the first half the result may have turned out differently
Lallana: 7. Did his best to drive the team on, but his goal and assist wasn't enough
Lambert: 5. Nice to see him get on the score-sheet. Involved in a few good bits of link-up play, but overall fairly disappointing
Ward-Prowse: 5. Didn't really offer a great deal
Ramirez: 6. Did briefly add a bit more guile to Saints' attack. Fine defence splitting pass for Lallana gave us a glimpse of what he is capable of
Gallagher: A solid home debut for the most improved player at the club. Tested Lloris with a half-chance