There was nothing in Nuno Espirito Santo’s post-match reaction to hint at relief but it must have washed through his body as Tottenham clinched their first points since August.
Nuno turned to his left at the final whistle, offered gentle nod and a handshake to Dean Smith and strode out onto the pitch to greet his players and applaud the home crowd.
It has been a heavy month for the Spurs boss. No points from three games and a defeat in the north London derby fuelled criticism over his cautious style of play, and raised debate about his suitability to lead a club that insists upon football with flair and adventure.
Tottenham claimed their first Premier League points since August on Sunday afternoon by beating Aston Villa
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg gave the hosts the lead, collecting Son Heung-min’s pass and then curling home a delicious finish
Ollie Watkins however restored parity in the second half, given the simplest of finishes from Matt Targett’s low cross
Spurs were soon back ahead when Matt Targett put Son’s cross through his own net under pressure from Lucas Moura
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris 6; Royal 6.5, Romero 7, Dier 7, Reguilon 6; Hojbjerg 7.5, Skipp 7; Moura 6.5 (Gil 90), Ndombele 6 (Lo Celso 76, 6.5), Son 8.5; Kane 7
Subs not used: Gollini, Doherty, Sanchez, Winks, Rodon, Alli, Scarlett.
Goals: Hojbjerg 27, Targett OG 71.
Bookings: Skipp, Romero.
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo 6.5
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Martinez 6; Konsa 6.5, Hause 7 (Traore 81), Mings 6; Cash 6.5, McGinn 7, Luiz 6, Ramsey 6.5 (Buendia 69, 5), Targett 6.5; Watkins 7, Ings 6 (Archer 90).
Subs not used: Steer, Tuanzebe, Young, Nakamba, El Ghazi, Philogene-Bidace.
Goals: Watkins 67.
Manager: Dean Smith 6
Referee: Chris Kavanagh 6
In truth, they were not emphatic against Aston Villa. They had to defend and they resisted well, proving slick and dangerous on the counter-attack, registering 17 shots by the end of a game when they might easily have scored more.
And, for all the questions, they have some wonderful players. There was no joy in front of goal for Harry Kane, who is still searching for his first of the season in the Premier League, but Son Heung-min excelled, especially in the space on the counter attack in the second half.
Smith hailed the Korean as the only difference between the teams. Son linked up the passes for the opening goal converted by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and he sped clear for the winner, which was credited as an own goal by Villa defender Matt Targett.
Tottenham climbed back up to eighth place in a congested table, above their visitors and to within two points of the top four.
For Villa, it is a mark of their progress that Smith’s team, fresh from beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, were confident enough to come to White Hart Lane and take the game to Spurs.
They won here in May and they opened brightly, controlled the tempo for long spells and must have fancied their chances of winning when Ollie Watkins equalised in the 67th minute, his first goal of the season.
Spurs in contrast started poorly, apprehensive in the face of Villa’s energy, but slowly grew into the game, inspired by Son, wide on the left. One swift turn left Matty Cash in his wake, brought supporters to their feet and triggered a spell of pressure during which Kane almost found the net from 45 yards.
Tanguy Ndombele won a free-kick just inside the Villa half and Kane spotted his chance. He went for goal sending a ripple of excitement around the ground as, for a split-second, the ball seemed destined to clear Emi Martinez who was off his line.
The Argentina goalkeeper was, however, alert to the danger, scrambled back hastily to his goal, leapt and reached the ball at full stretch, somewhere near the penalty spot.
Son fired wide from distance, before his run and pass set up Hojbjerg to score with a precise finish, curled inside a post from just outside the penalty box.
It was his first in the Premier League since May, when he struck against Nuno’s Wolves. It was Tottenham’s fifth goal of this league campaign. And it was only the fourth from open play, with the previous three all scored by Son. It should have soothed the nerves but it served only to inspire a response.
The win relieved the pressure on Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo, who had seen his side lost three on the trot in the league
The South Korean delivered an inspired performance in north London, with Villa’s defence unable to cope with his runs
After a bright Villa start, it was Spurs who took the lead when Hojbjerg found space on the edge of the box to curl home
John McGinn went extremely close with a sumptuous volley as Villa looked to respond having gone a goal behind
Spurs spurned chances in the rest of the half and in the second before Watkins tapped home an equaliser at the near post
Villa went forward and Spurs were forced to defend a barrage of set-pieces, including the long-throws sent spiralling into the box from either flank by right-back Cash.
John McGinn lashed a crisp volley narrowly wide from 25 yards and Tottenham conjured a series of vital blocks and clearances to protect their lead. Oliver Skipp did superbly to track back and hook clear to deny Danny Ings, who had scored six in his previous six appearances against Tottenham.
This determined quest for an equaliser exposed Villa’s defence, producing vast swathes of space for the home team, who looked happiest when breaking out of defence on the counter-attack.
All of which made for a breathless end-to-end spectacle. Son was particularly threatening, forcing a save from Martinez and sending another effort flashing wide before Spurs conceded the equaliser.
It was a brisk sequence of midfield passing by Villa, through Jacob Ramsey and Ings to Targett, the wing-back who tore forward on the left and fizzed in a low cross.
But Tottenham would not be denied as they were ahead again after one of many brilliant runs from Son on the left-hand side, with Lucas Moura leading the celebrations after the second goal
Harry Kane also had chances to get his first league goal of the season but was denied by Emi Martinez in the Villa goal
Watkins pounced for his first of the season but the jubilant scenes in the away end were short lived. Spurs soon restored their lead. Again, it was Son causing the problems as he accelerated clear on the left.
He shimmied away from Kortney Hause with a change of pace before cutting the ball square. With Martinez marooned by the cross, Lucas Moura and Targett slid in at the back post and the ball ended up in the net.
Moura thought he had his first goal since February but it went down as an own goal by Targett.
Tottenham saw the game out well from this point and should have extended the lead. Kane went close and Tyrone Mings cleared on the line from Giovani Lo Celso.
The points were secure, the rot was stopped and Nuno was able to savour the taste of three points once again.
At the other end, Danny Ings was also denied by Hugo Lloris following a left foot effort after missing his initial attempt
But Villa were in truth second best in north London and failed to show the best of their attacking talent against Spurs
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