Son Heung-min’s late penalty capped a Tottenham fightback against Southampton that handed interim head coach Ryan Mason victory in his first match in charge.
Former Spurs midfielder Mason, the Premier League’s youngest head coach at the age of 29, succeeded Jose Mourinho after the Portuguese was sacked on Monday.
He made a winning start to his tenure after Gareth Bale curled in a superb equaliser and then a late VAR intervention saw Son score after a Moussa Djenepo foul on Spurs midfielder Harry Winks was shown to be just inside the Southampton penalty area.
Until Bale’s composed finish on the hour mark the hosts had been second best to a slick Southampton side, who went in front when Danny Ings glanced in James Ward-Prowse’s corner.
Spurs were flat for long periods and appeared to have been affected by their tumultuous few days, with Mourinho’s departure coming fewer than 24 hours after the club announced they were to join a new European Super League.
Chairman Daniel Levy has since expressed regret over the “anxiety and upset” caused by the proposal, which has now collapsed following widespread condemnation.
Signs of that backlash were evident prior to kick-off as groups of Spurs supporters gathered outside their club’s stadium calling for Levy and owners the ENIC group to leave the club.
Despite the unrest and an unsettling start to the week, this result moves Tottenham up to sixth – two points outside the top four – while the Saints remain 14th in the table.
Already out of the Europa League and having collected just five points from the last 15 available, Spurs came into this match in acute need of a victory to boost their hopes of finishing in the top four.
While they eventually got a result that suggested an immediate bounce from their managerial change, there was little urgency to their play in the first half and Mason will know that will be more heavily punished against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.
In fact, only the excellence of Hugo Lloris in goal prevented the hosts from falling behind inside three minutes, with the France goalkeeper repelling Mohammed Salisu’s header and reacting superbly to push Che Adams’ follow up to safety.
With Harry Kane missing, there was a distinct lack of leadership and more importantly a cutting edge despite Bale’s reintroduction to the starting XI for the first time in over a month.
That lethargy was epitomised by a wild Lucas Moura effort just before the break that flew well over the bar and ensured Spurs ended the first half without registering a shot on target in a top-flight home game for the first time this season.
They improved after the break and looked to have found a winner after 75 minutes when Son stroked home Sergio Reguilon’s cut back.
However, a VAR review concluded Moura had obscured the view of Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy from an offside position.
While Southampton appeared weary in Sunday’s defeat to Leicester City, they quickly dispelled any ideas they might be suffering from a post FA Cup semi-final hangover.
Brimming with energy and benefitting from five changes made by boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Saints took control early on.
Nathan Tella’s marauding run and cross from the left set the tone and should have been rewarded by an opening goal from either Salisu or Adams.
James Ward-Prowse, who drove his side forward at every opportunity, was the busiest player on the pitch as he covered nearly 12km, while Kyle Walker-Peters and Stuart Armstrong were also industrious.
But an evening that had started so promisingly began to go wrong after Ings appeared to tweak his hamstring attempting to curl a shot past Lloris.
The sight of Southampton’s top goalscorer limping off was an invitation for Spurs to push forward, take control of the match and ultimately take all three points.