Sport

Son Heung-min downs Watford and maintains Tottenham’s perfect start

Nine points; three clean sheets; Harry Kane staying put; top of the table. Had that been offered a fortnight ago to the 60,000 supporters streaming through the turnstiles yesterday, the extended hand would have been snapped off.

The day was supposed to be about their talismanic centre-forward. Instead it was his sidekick, Son Heung-min, on the day he became the first Asian player to reach 200 Premier League appearances, who secured the points with a free-kick shortly before the break. He is so much more than an understudy.

Much that has been good about Spurs in the past half-decade has come from the Kane, Son and Dele Alli — who has eased into his new role box-to-box midfielder — triptych. Omens are good for Nuno Espírito Santo. “What pleased me is when we could not kill the game – we had chances to do so – we didn’t lose our minds,” he said. “We stuck together and were compact.”

Watford can, despite the result, look back on a decent outing. After an inconsistent start to the season they acquitted themselves well. But these are, realistically, days where anything gained would be a bonus. Xisco Muñoz was pleased: “I can only say congrats to our guys because they played very well. We lost but we know you have to be perfect if you want a result here. We worked very, very hard to get the points but for one little chance.”

Any first-time visitors still marvelling at the sorcery of bottom-upwards filling pints missed a high-octane opening minute. Within 14 seconds Andre Marriner was waving away vociferous penalty appeals when Peter Etebo dispossessed Kane. Watford broke quickly, with Juraj Kucka’s shot eventually blocked.

It set the tempo. Nuno was bidding to be the first Tottenham manager to win their opening three league fixtures since Arthur Rowe in 1949, and in some ways the match was a throwback to football of the past. Both teams attacked the flanks with pace; full-backs – Spurs’ at least – overlapped merrily.

And unlike in their opening two fixtures Nuno’s side had the lion’s share of possession. Japhet Tanganga – afforded more opportunity to maraud than in his man-of-the-match display against Manchester City – saw a strike blocked by Daniel Bachmann. Steven Bergwijn was similarly denied by a Watford body after Tanganga did well to keep it in.

Bergwijn had a hand in the goal, too, his clever feet drawing a foul from Craig Cathcart. From near the left touchline, Son curled the ball into the goalkeeping equivalent of cricket’s corridor of uncertainty. Bachmann was flat-footed; the Spurs faithful roared. Not one the Austrian will want to re-watch, although redemption came later when he tipped a wickedly-deflected Hojbjerg free-kick wide.

“Nice one Sonny” got an airing. Inevitably, though, it was not the day’s biggest cheer. No prizes for guessing that.

Alli nearly added a second after combining with Son and Kane, while the Tottenham No 9 almost grabbed the goal he wanted twice in 30 seconds towards the end. William Troost-Ekong’s superb sliding challenge prevented a far-post tap-in, before Bachmann saved a snap shot from the resulting corner.

Muñoz’s side, to their credit, showed little fear. Emmanuel Dennis’s pace ensured Tanganga could not neglect his defensive duties, while Ismaïla Sarr — who already looks at home in the top-tier – was a constant threat on the opposite flank. His early drive warmed Hugo Lloris’s hands, while Dennis fired a free-kick well over from a promising position.

Having drawn a foul that saw Kane booked shortly before half-time, Sarr started the second period turning Sergio Reguilón on the inside. Kucka blazed over. Later Sarr himself was denied from close range by Davinson Sánchez. There was little else of alarm for Lloris.

There was a strange sensation shortly before the hour when both sets of fans serenaded Moussa Sissoko. The Frenchman no longer has that extra yard that, at times, made him unstoppable but he should prove shrewd business by Watford. Striking from distance though is not his ‘thing’.

Having made the switch only late on Friday it was a surprise he started; there might be an internal inquiry at Tottenham HQ come Tuesday, although Nuno – who expects both Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso to report for Argentina duty – said otherwise: “There is no issue at all. The moment he joined Watford he became a Watford player.”

There is just the transfer window to navigate now. Daniel Levy’s phone will remain on. It is likely to be outgoing calls only; the Greater Manchester area code was blocked a while back.