Jose Mourinho's increasingly agitated presence on the sideline served to illustrate just how far the momentum had shifted in the Seagulls favour.
Substitute Gareth Bale’s 72nd-minute header secured a 2-1 victory for Spurs over Brighton. The Welshman’s first goal in Tottenham colours for seven years handed the North Londoners their first home league win of the season. It also propelled them to second place in the table.
Following a dismal mid-week Europa League outing in Antwerp, Spurs started this match brightly. First Erik Lamela flashed a wicked ball across the six-yard box which Harry Kane – attended by three Brighton defenders – just failed to meet with a decisive contact. Moments later Sergio Reguilon drew a save from Robert Sanchez, making his debut in the Brighton goal, with a swerving shot.
The home side’s fast start was rewarded on 13 minutes when referee Graham Scott awarded a penalty for a foul on Harry Kane. The striker manoeuvred his body to get underneath a looping clearance as it dropped to the edge of the Brighton box. Adam Lallana couldn’t resist giving Tottenham’s number 10 a nudge. There was some doubt as to whether the contact had been made fractionally beyond the 18-yard line. A VAR check confirmed it was a penalty leaving Kane to emphatically stroke home from the spot.
Brighton responded well to falling behind. Graham Potter’s side are not easily ruffled. They immediately set about establishing good possession and forced Spurs on to the back foot for long periods of what remained of the half. Spurs, with lead in their legs following gruelling trips to Burnley and Belgium in the week, were fortunate that Brighton do not possess a bonafide goalscorer in their ranks. Instead, the outstanding creative work of Lallana and Lamptey went unrewarded.
The nearest Brighton came to an equaliser was when Leandro Trossard tumbled in the box. Matt Doherty certainly took a risk by putting hands on the Belgian as a ball was whipped across Tottenham’s goal. Doherty wore the look of a man expecting to be convicted of a crime he couldn’t categorically deny committing. Thankfully for him, and Spurs, the evening’s second VAR check produced a not-guilty verdict.
Jose Mourinho’s increasingly agitated presence on the sideline served to illustrate just how far the momentum had shifted in the Seagulls favour. He was relieved to get his side in at the interval with their lead intact.
At the start of the second half, both Son and Kane tried to tempt fouls in the Brighton box during the same passage of play. Son’s collapse to his haunches drew an angry response from the Brighton defenders, Kane’s unaided tumble moments later probably merited a yellow card for simulation. When you’re England captain, however, you tend to get the rub from referees on these matters. Kane escaped without so much as a telling off.
The next incident that referee Scott failed to punish far more significant. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg toed the ball past Solly March deep in Spurs territory before being wiped out by the Brighton midfielder’s late lunge. As Tottenham’s players screamed for a foul, Pascal Gross angled a pass through to the onrushing Lamptey.
The youngster’s precision finish across Lloris into the far corner was the least he and Brighton deserved. It was not going to count though, surely? Scott received word in his ear that he probably should take a look at the very ‘clear and obvious’ foul on Hojbjerg in the build-up. Incredibly, having watched multiple replays of the incident, the referee decided to double down on his decision and award the goal.
The Spurs players could have been forgiven for feeling sorry themselves having been denied a home win against Newcastle earlier in the season due to some equally baffling officiating. But hard luck stories are no use to Jose Mourinho. He has been backed by Daniel Levy in the transfer market like no Tottenham manager before, and the Portuguese must now deliver something tangible. Lo Celso immediately replaced NDombele, and Bale was dispatched to warm up with increased intensity.
Just as the winger was getting stripped on the sidelines, Erik Lamela drove a low twenty-yarder against the post. Only a smart reflex save from Sanchez prevented the rebound – which struck his own defender Veltman – nestling in the net.
With Bale now on for Lamela Spurs again hit the woodwork. Bale flicked on a corner to the far post for Kane, who couldn’t quite adjust his feet in time to manufacture the angle needed to find the goal rather than the upright.
Tottenham were not to be denied, however, and their winner came with the game’s very next attack. A glorious switch of play from Alderweireld found Reguilon’s burst down the left-wing. The former Real Madrid man checked back on to his right foot, steadied himself and delivered a curling cross into the heart of the Brighton penalty area. There, eight yards from goal and completely unattended was Bale.
The ball to him was so good, and Brighton’s marking so lax, he wasn’t even required to jump. Bale’s powerful header into the near post gave every Spurs fan the moment they’ve been waiting for, ever since the fantasy of him returning to the club became a reality. The joy on the 31-tear-olds face after his winning goal suggests it meant just as much to him.
The real fairytale ending will be for Bale to lift a trophy with Tottenham. If Mourinho can find a way to combine him with Kane and Son in the Tottenham attack, there must be every chance he will.