It might not have been the day that Harry Kane scored his first Premier League goal of the Antonio Conte era, but still. A solid if unspectacular victory over bottom side Norwich, courtesy of Lucas Moura’s brilliant first-half strike and then Davinson Sánchez and Son Heung-min lifted Tottenham up to fifth spot and, perhaps more importantly, above Arsenal.
As first months in a new job go, Conte could hardly have asked for much more. Yet had Norwich taken the chances that came their way at crucial moments in the game, the Italian will know this could have been a very different story.
Kane’s solitary league goal of the season, against Newcastle in mid-October, predated the appointment of Conte but this should have been the perfect opportunity to add to that tally against opponents who had conceded an average of two goals a match so far; he was also facing the club where he spent half a season on loan back in 2012-13.
But it was to prove another frustrating afternoon for the England captain as he watched Son round off the scoring late on following a surging run from Ben Davies that had the Tottenham supporters singing their new manager’s name. “On one hand I’m really enthusiastic for this but I feel a lot of responsibility,” said Conte. “They want to trust in my work but I have only been here for a month. Maybe it’s too much, too early and I want to show in the future that I deserve this for my work at this club.”
Norwich had arrived in north London on the back of an unbeaten four-match run and having enjoyed a significant bounce since the arrival of Dean Smith. His decision to make three changes from the team that drew 1-1 at Newcastle last Tuesday was good news for Republic of Ireland striker Adam Idah, who made his first Premier League start of the season but passed up a golden opportunity to equalise in the second half with the game still very in the balance. Had Teemu Pukki also taken the chance presented to him on a plate by his strike partner in the third minute then Norwich’s chances of achieving an upset would have improved dramatically.
Sadly for Smith, however, Pukki’s weak first-time effort that went straight into the grateful hands of Hugo Lloris proved costly almost immediately.
The excellent Oliver Skipp warmed the gloves of Tim Krul with a rasping drive from the edge of the box after picking his way through the middle but the Norwich goalkeeper could do nothing about Moura’s brilliant goal soon after. The Brazilian exchanged a one-two with Son on the edge of the box, jinked his way past two defenders and let rip with a shot that flew into the top corner for his first league goal of the season.
Tottenham’s plans were somewhat interrupted when Sergio Reguilón was forced off with a suspected thigh injury and replaced by Ryan Sessegnon midway through the first half.
Also without the service of his other first-choice wing-back Emerson Royal due to illness and Japhet Tanganga standing in, Conte may have worried that his side would lack the usual width that is so vital to his gameplan.
But even if Norwich had the majority of possession in their luminous orange shirts and created very little of note, a couple of lung-busting runs from Sessegnon suggested that he can be an able replacement for the Spaniard when required.
Kane’s big moment of the first half came five minutes before the break when he was put through by Moura. The stadium held its breath waiting for the net to ripple after Kane attempted to chip the advancing Krul but there were only groans as the ball sailed way off target.
Newcastle’s win over Burnley on Saturday, which left Norwich bottom of the table again, meant the onus was on the visitors to take the initiative after the break. Had Kane made more of a header from an early corner in the second half then it might have been game over already. His time at Norwich comprised only three Premier League appearances due to a broken metatarsal early in his loan spell before eventually he made the breakthrough with his parent club at the end of the following season.
Kane’s next attempt was much better and drew a smart one-handed save from Krul, although he could do nothing about the resulting corner. Son’s ball struck the unfortunate Ben Gibson in the groin and Sánchez was there to lash home the second goal. From then on, it was all about how many Tottenham could win by.
“They were more clinical than we were,” Smith said. “At 1-0 we were always in the game but didn’t take our chances.”