Son Heung-min’s anguish at Everton on Sunday knew no bounds and it is no exaggeration to say that on Monday, as the guilt at his role in André Gomes’s horror injury consumed him, the Tottenham forward could not even think about this Champions League test against Red Star Belgrade.
Mauricio Pochettino and the Spurs dressing room closed ranks around him. They told him that in no logical world should his trip have led to such damage to Gomes’s ankle and they believed the best medicine for Son was to get straight back into the saddle. There was no point in moping.
On a night when Spurs registered their first away win of the season, it was Son who provided the cutting edge. His sixth and seventh goals of the season in the second half allowed his team to coast to a victory that has put the last 16 of the competition within touching distance. For them, the equation is simple. If they can beat Olympiakos at home in three weeks’ time, they will reach the knock-out rounds for the third season in succession.
Spurs could temporarily forget their domestic woes as, not for the first time, the Champions League provided a tonic. Giovani Lo Celso, on his full Spurs debut, had scored the first goal, a moment that embellished a performance of no little slickness and if Red Star could rue the passing up of two excellent first-half chances, the evening would slide away from them.
Christian Eriksen, on as a substitute, added the fourth with a deflected shot after an incision from another replacement, Ryan Sessegnon. Spurs simply had too much quality.
Tottenham had travelled in the belief that Red Star on home turf would be a different proposition to the team that had slumped to a 5-0 defeat in London two weeks previously. The pre-match statistics offered the warning. In 21 European home ties, Red Star had lost only two while exactly a year ago they had beaten Liverpool 2-0.
If it was open at the start in London, it was tight here, with the first clear chance not coming until midway through the first half. What a chance it was for Red Star and Milan Pavkov, the centre-forward who scored both of the goals against Liverpool, was left to wonder how he did not finish.
Juan Foyth, who made his first start of the season, appeared to have the situation under control only to slip and, rather abruptly, there was Pavkov, running through and with only Paulo Gazzaniga to beat. His shot was weak and too close to the goalkeeper, who made a vital block.
Pochettino had shuffled his pack, starting Foyth at right-back and Eric Dier in central defence. Lo Celso was the headline item of the team news. He had previously played only 74 minutes for Spurs but he began on the right of midfield in Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 system.
From the outset, Lo Celso’s touch was true while he was always keen to move the ball with zip and purpose. He began the move which led to the breakthrough goal, pouncing on Dusan Jovancic to win possession and release Harry Kane, although a good deal would happen before he jabbed his shot past Milan Borjan.
Kane’s first touch looked heavy but he got the ball before Borjan to poke a shot against the foot of the post. When Son Heung-min saw his follow-up attempt hacked off the line it appeared that the danger had passed. Yet Tanguy Ndombele, who showed some lovely touches, recycled the move with a floated ball to the far post.
Enter Kane again. He volleyed across goal and Son looked certain to score from point-blank range only to lift against the crossbar. Then it was Lo Celso again. Following another scramble he took a touch before prodding the ball home.
Before Lo Celso’s goal, Spurs had offered little more than a low Son shot that fizzed wide and they were fortunate to enter the interval in front.
This time, it was Red Star who hit the frame of the goal twice in the same move, only there would be no finish thereafter. First Rajiv van La Parra rattled the foot of the near post and then Davinson Sánchez accidentally lifted the rebound towards his own goal. With Gazzaniga beaten, the ball came back of the crossbar.
The Red Star diehards beat their drums and sang throughout but they were frustrated at times by their team’s end product. Spurs would turn the screw after one such moment, an overhit pass from Pavkov when the visitors were stretched, and it was Ndombele who was at the heart of Son’s first goal.
There is a swashbuckling quality to Ndombele and when heNdombele drove hard into the final third, he pulled Red Star out of shape before whipping the ball across to Dele Alli, who ushered in Son. Alli’s assist was marked by composure and timing. Son bludgeoned past Borjan.
Spurs had got the job done and they added another well-worked team goal almost immediately. Kane sent Danny Rose away with a slide-rule pass and the full-back’s low cross invited Son to tap home at the far post. Eriksen added a fourth five minutes from the end from close range.
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