Tottenham have tightened their grip on fourth spot in the Premier League with a 4-0 win against Aston Villa, giving them a three-point cushion over Arsenal in fifth.
With their north London rivals losing 2-1 to Brighton earlier in the afternoon, Spurs came into this game knowing that they could gain a potentially decisive edge in the race for top four. They made the perfect start to the match, scoring the opener after only three minutes.
Eric Dier lofted a long ball up from the back which Ezri Konsa could only clear as far as Harry Kane, who tried to hit one on the volley. It looked to be bouncing harmlessly wide but took a ricochet off Matty Cash and fell for Son Heung-min, who smashed a shot in off the inside of the post.
Spurs were lucky to hold the lead at half-time, however, with Villa outplaying them for much of the first half. Jacob Ramsey set the tone when he ghosted past Emerson Royal and Cristian Romero inside the box, unleashing a shot from close range which Hugo Lloris somehow managed to shovel over the crossbar.
Spectacular saves from Lloris became a recurring theme, with the veteran goalkeeper averting a long-range screamer from John McGinn soon afterwards. Come half-time he had also denied Cash, Danny Ings, Ollie Watkins and Philippe Coutinho, with Ings also spurning an excellent opportunity when he turned wide after Watkins had found him with a flick-on to the back post.
Villa had tallied 14 shots at the break, with seven on target, which spoke to their first-half dominance. Nonetheless the second half began in near-identical fashion to the first and, five minutes in, the hosts found themselves 2-0 down.
This time it was Lloris with the long ball upfield, with Kane nodding it down for Dejan Kulusevski. He went round Cash and Tyrone Mings and, from a narrowing angle, rifled a shot past Emi Martinez and into the far corner.
Raking balls from the back proved to be Spurs’ most effective weapon, with Son scoring his second from a similar situation. Romero lofted a pass to Kane, whose flicked header sent the South Korean forward one-on-one before he beat Martinez once again.
Son completed his hat-trick with just under 20 minutes to play. A lovely passing move ended with Kulusevski teeing him up on the edge of the area and, from there, he scored with another shot which kissed the goal frame.
Having seen their first-half promise vanish into thin air, Villa meandered, dazed, to the final whistle. They have now lost four in a row in the Premier League and, while Spurs can congratulate themselves on a job well done, Steven Gerrard has much work to do before the end of the season.
Advantage Tottenham. While Arsenal’s loss to Brighton will give Spurs fans a special sense of schadenfreude, fellow top-four rivals Manchester United also slipped up with a 1-0 defeat to Everton. They remain seventh but are now six points behind Spurs and look highly unlikely to overturn that deficit.
Arsenal still have a game in hand on Spurs and, as such, it’s a little early to write off their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time under Mikel Arteta. Nonetheless, when it comes to the final composition of the European spots, this weekend could prove to be pivotal.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham). While Son’s finishing was superb and his goals ultimately won Spurs the game, they would have faced an uphill struggle were it not for Lloris.
His save to keep out Ramsey was one of the standout moments of the match, but he was on top form throughout the first half as Villa threatened to equalise. He made an error in possession late on which almost allowed Leon Bailey to score but, given that he was otherwise outstanding, it can be forgiven.
Aston Villa: Martinez 5, Cash 5, Konsa 4, Mings 4, Digne 5, McGinn 6, Douglas Luiz 5, Ramsey 6, Coutinho 6, Ings 4, Watkins 5
Subs: Bailey 5, Buendia 5, Young 3
Tottenham: Lloris 9, Emerson 7, Romero 8, Dier 8, Davies 7, Doherty 5, Bentancur 5, Hojbjerg 6, Kulusevski 8, Kane 8, Son 9
Subs: Reguilon 6, Moura 5, Bergwijn N/A
3’ GOAL! What a start for Spurs. Dier launches a long ball up from the back and Konsa can only head it to the feet of Kane, who lashes a shot towards goal. It’s blocked by Cash but the ricochet falls nicely for Son, who has a go himself. His effort pings off the inside of the post and nestles into the back of the net.
16’ BRILLIANT SAVE! Ramsey slaloms past Emerson and Romero inside the area and thunders a shot on target which, somehow, Lloris pushes over the crossbar.
50’ GOAL! For all Villa’s dominance in the first half, they are two goals down. Lloris thumps the ball upfield and Kane nods it down to Kulusevski, who evades Cash and Mings before rifling home.
66’ GOAL! It’s all over at Villa Park. Romero pings a long ball to Kane, who heads on to Son. He runs in behind and, with only Martinez to beat, finds the back of the net in style.
71’ GOAL! Son has his hat-trick. A flowing move ends with Kulusevski teeing up the South Korean, who again scores with a shot which brushes the inside of the post.