LONDON — This season the terms “96th minute winner” and “Tottenham” go together like peanut butter and jelly and they did it again against Brighton on Saturday.
How far can these late wins take them? With a winnable run of games coming up, Spurs have a great opportunity to put themselves in a very unlikely position.
No Premier League team has won more games than Spurs after the 90th minute this season and Ange Postecoglou’s side struck at the death to beat Brighton and make it three wins from their last five and they’re unbeaten in that stretch as their season is back on track.
With Heung-min Son, Pape Matar Sarr and Yves Bissouma now back from international competitions, plus James Maddison and Micky van de Ven getting up to full speed after their injuries, this Spurs squad are almost at full strength and they have just 14 Premier League games left in their season.
Are Tottenham talking about a title push?
Pro Soccer Talk asked Son, Tottenham’s inspirational captain who returned from South Korea’s Asian Cup semifinal disappointment on Thursday and jumped off the bench to set up the winner, if Spurs are in the title race. Are they talking about that internally?
“Not at all. We are doing our best from our position and [what is] expected,” Son said. “There are so many contenders. There are so many favourites. Man City, even Liverpool is flying now. From our position we want to give our best and at the end of the season we are where we are and we take it.”
That question came after Manchester City magician Kevin de Bruyne name-checked Spurs as one of the five teams in the title race.
A top four spot is most likely but Tottenham have a favorable run of games coming up until late-April when a brutal stretch of Manchester City at home, Arsenal at home and Liverpool away arrives. Perhaps by the time they face the current top three they’ll be in the title conversation?
Momentum is building as key players return
Even if talk of a Tottenham title push is fanciful the magnitude of this win against Brighton ahead of home games against Wolves and Crystal Palace and a trip to Aston Villa was not lost on match-winner Brennan Johnson.
“It was a really big one,” Johnson said. “Coming into the game, we knew the quality of Brighton. I think it even stunned us a little bit in the first half, they played some really good football and we weren’t at the level that we should have been. To get the three points against a good team and going into the next run of games, it’s a really good one.”
With players back fit and available, Postecoglou has so many attacking options to choose from. That’s something Spurs haven’t really had since the start of the season and after their home defeat to Chelsea in early November they’ve been consistently ravaged by injuries to key players.
Being part of an attacking unit full of different options is something everyone is relishing.
“It’s a really good feeling to be a part of that,” Johnson said. “Having such good quality is what everyone wants. There have been times when we’ve had a really injured squad and have felt the pressure of it, especially when there are not many players who can come on because of the circumstances we’re in. So now to have everyone back and everyone firing, it’s a really good place to be in right now.”
“We have good players but the most important thing is that you take the responsibility like Richy [Richarlison] did and Brennan does and Kulu [Dejan Kulusevski] does,” Son explained. “I think everyone was doing a good job and especially Richy was doing a fantastic job when I was away. That is the sign that we have quality players but we still have to work on it to make it easier to win the game and to make more impacts.”
Spurs’ win against Brighton moved them back into the top four. What does that mean for this group of players?
“Psychologically, it’s good for us. It’s where we want to be. We want to keep pushing,” Johnson said. “We knew we’ve missed a few opportunities recently, especially last week against Everton. I think we could have seen that game out better. To get the three points here, back in the top four and just looking forward now.”
The Welsh forward was asked if everything is coming together at the perfect time of the season.
“I hope so. Hopefully we’ve seen the back of the injuries and now it’s about everyone staying fit, working hard on the training pitch and just competing for places,” Johnson said. “It’s such a positive sign when everyone is kicking on and trying to get in the team. Obviously people are going to be disappointed (when not starting) but if we can come on and make impacts and make a full game of 100 minutes really good quality, I think it just shows where we want to be.”
Son remains the glue that holds everything together
Johnson admitted that Tottenham fans have yet to see the best of him and pointed to the influence Son, as captain, is having on his game.
“He’s been unbelievable with me,” Johnson said. “Playing in a similar position, he understands the pressures that come with it. When I’ve had some tough times, he always speaks to me, he always puts an arm round me and keeps me going. Here he was no different. He just wants the best for me and when I scored the goal I was so happy.”
He also hailed Son’s quality to set up the winner as Spurs go marching on.
“He’s a world-class player. I don’t think he needs me to tell anyone how good he is, he’s been showing it for the last ten years at Tottenham. Everyone knows how good a player he is playing off both feet. I don’t think there’s many players in the world who can hit a left-foot pass onto my foot and gives me a free goal. That speaks for itself... I think it just shows the quality he has. He wasn’t on the pitch for too long today and he didn’t have too many opportunities to play that ball. It was the first one he had and laid it on a plate for me.”
Son said the last-minute winners this season sum up Tottenham’s current belief that they’ll always find a way to grab a goal.
“We never give up. We want to believe until the referees whistle,” Son said. “Obviously you don’t want to finish in that way, it is not the best way to win games but we will take it. You have to believe still until the end of the game. It is a good win but we want to do better because we don’t want the fans panicking until the last second!”
Tottenham’s fans had to wait until the last second for yet another winner but they won’t care. The main thing is their team are entertaining to watch and have a clear identity. And it’s still early days under Ange.
Spurs are unlikely to mount a title charge but scoring late winners like they did on Saturday will only help belief grow that they can drag themselves back into the title conversation before that pivotal stretch of games against the big boys in late April. Then we will find out just how good this swashbuckling side are.