Conte must find a way to break down stubborn defences as Tottenham labour to draw at ten-man Southampton

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 (PA)
(PA)

A 1-1 draw with ten-man Southampton was a reminder that Antonio Conte’s Tottenham remain a work in progress, even as the Italian became the first Spurs manager to go his first seven league games without defeat.

Harry Kane’s penalty cancelled out James Ward-Prowse’s superb strike and Spurs were left aggrieved at the officials after having two second-half goals disallowed.

Kane’s fine strike was chalked off by the VAR for a fractional offside, while a Fraser Forster own goal was also ruled out for a Matt Doherty foul on the goalkeeper.

Both decisions were generous for Saints, but there was no doubt about Mohammed Salisu’s sending off for two bookings, the second a reckless foul on Heung-min Son for the penalty, which turned the game on its head in the 40th minute.

Nonetheless, a leggy Spurs did not do enough against a makeshift Saints side, who were much the better team before Salisu’s dismissal and defended doggedly when a man down.

As Spurs laboured to find a breakthrough, it was clear that Conte’s team still have progress to make at breaking down and killing off opponents who are happy to sit deep and defend. They struggled when not allowed space, and were often too slow to move the ball and make their extra man count.

Outside of Kane, who showed flashes of his menacing best, there simply wasn’t enough threat from the visitors in the final third, and when they did get in good positions, their finishing was poor.

Forster made a number of relatively comfortable saves, although he was lucky not to score an own goal after dropping a routine cross under pressure from Doherty.

Both sides understandably looked exhausted in their second match in 48 hours but you wondered if Conte could have done things differently in the second-half, including by replacing the tired and ineffective Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who never looked likely to help Spurs find the breakthrough.

Perhaps Tanguy Ndombele or a change of system may have made a difference, although Spurs suffered again for having an imbalanced squad and no second striker, while quibbling about Conte’s work feels unfair given his rapid transformation of the club’s prospects.

Ultimately, though, Conte has raised expectations and Spurs will consider the result two points dropped given they played more than a half against ten-men for the second game running following the 3-0 Boxing Day win against Crystal Palace.

Contrasting performances from Dele and Winks

The final game before the January transfer window was another chance to assess two of Spurs’ fallen stars, with Dele Alli and Harry Winks starting again.

The pair impressed in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool and the question was whether that was a one-off or the start of a sustained return to form under Conte.

For Dele, the visit to St Mary's proved another frustrating afternoon and he was replaced after an hour without a contribution of note in the final third.

After the success of his display as a midfield runner against Liverpool, he was, however, played in an unfamiliar right-wing role – a position in which he has never previously impressed.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Granted, there were a few too many flicks and loose passes but, still, it was easy to sympathise with him for being played out of position on a rare chance to impress.

Winks, by contrast, really caught the eye and, along with Kane, looked the likeliest player to unlock Saints in the second-half.

After a slow start, the midfielder helped change the course of the game with a superb pass behind the Saints’ back line for Son and he would have finished with a super assist for Kane, had his goal stood.

While for Dele, the performance could be another step to a January loan departure, Winks demonstrated his worth again and increasingly feels like a very useful member of Conte’s squad with a long-term Spurs future.

Kane catches the eye as form continues to return

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

The second of Tottenham’s three disallowed goals was classic Kane, the striker taking Winks’ pass out of his feet with his first touch and blasting the ball into the corner with his second.

The goal was ruled out – harshly – by the VAR for a fractional offside but it was another moment to suggest Kane’s sharpness is gradually returning under Conte.

As Spurs struggled to get going from the off, the England captain looked by far the most likely to make something happen for the visitors and made no mistake from the penalty spot with a blasted finish into the top corner.

Kane has now scored in three consecutive league games and he is gradually building momentum going into the New Year, when Spurs’ fixtures get considerably more difficult.

If Spurs want to progress to a second consecutive Carabao Cup final and continue their top-four push, they need a firing Kane, so this felt like another step in the right direction.

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