ottenham blew a 3-1 lead with 15 minutes to play to draw 3-3 with rock-bottom Southampton, denting their top four hopes and raising fresh questions about the viability of Antonio Conte‘s expiring tenure.
James Ward-Prowse converted a stoppage-time penalty to rescue a potentially-crucial point for Saints after substitute Pape Matar Sarr was judged to have fouled Ainsley Maitland-Miles.
Conte was furious with referee Simon Hooper after the final whistle, but Spurs should never have allowed Saints back into the game after Pedro Porro and Ivan Perisic opened their accounts for the club with brilliant finishes either side of Harry Kane’s header to leave the visitors in a position of strength.
Hooper’s decision, which was approved by the VAR, did look harsh but Spurs were guilty of switching off at the start of the second half, when Che Adams cancelled out Porro’s opener within seconds of the restart, and for Theo Walcott’s goal to make it 3-2 just three minutes after Perisic’s had given them a two-goal cushion.
A match against the League’s bottom club, with the worst home record in the division, should have been an opportunity for Spurs to put in a commanding performance in the race for fourth place, not least because they had a full week to prepare for the game, while Saints lost to Brentford on Wednesday night.
Even the loss of Richarlison to injury inside five minutes and Ben Davies before half-time were not excuses, particularly as Saints lost their two starting centre-halves in the first half, leaving Maitland-Niles filling in at the heart of defence where he was beaten by Kane in the air for his goal.
But rather than make a statement or respond to fifth-place Newcastle’s win over Nottingham Forest on Friday night, Spurs looked every inch like a team muddling through under a manager without a long-term future, in another performance which relied on individual moments of quality, rather than an obvious and well-drilled plan.
Their soft centre was again apparent here and, though they have been solid at home of late, they have now failed to win in five away games, including visits to relegation-threatened Leicester, Wolves and now Southampton.
The manner of the late collapse puts more heat on Conte, who had eased the pressure on his job in the aftermath of Spurs’ FA Cup and Champions League eliminations by leading the side to a 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest last weekend.
The Italian is supposed to be one of the game’s foremost training ground coaches, who excels when given time to prepare his side for matches, but Saints had more of the ball and more of the good chances at St. Mary’s, and deserved at least a point in the end.
The result means Spurs missed the chance to move third and could drop to sixth if Newcastle and Brighton win their games in hand.
If Spurs no longer look in a strong position for the top four, it will ramp up the pressure on Conte even further, so this draw could yet be significant in determining his immediate future.