At least Tottenham can always count on Harry Kane. Two goals from the England captain – including his first penalty since missing from the spot in the World Cup quarter-final against France – and another from Son Heung-min ended a dismal week for Antonio Conte with a comprehensive victory over Nottingham Forest, despite a late consolation from Joe Worrall.
The Spurs manager had made his thoughts clear after the abject performance in the Champions League against Milan that ended any hopes of silverware for a 15th successive season, accusing supporters of lacking patience. But while questions remain over the future of Conte and Kane beyond the end of this season, the Tottenham captain and an inspired performance from the £50m record signing Richarlison after his own midweek tantrum, ensured that they went home with smiles on their faces this time, having substantially strengthened his side’s grip on fourth place.
Kane admitted in January that he will always be haunted by his miss against France in Qatar yet the result was never in doubt from the moment he fired past Keylor Navas in the 35th minute. He had already opened the scoring with a deft header by then and the successful penalty means Kane has now surpassed 20 Premier League goals in a single campaign for the sixth time. Not bad for a one-season wonder.
“I have seen the fire in my players’ eyes today,” said Conte, who added that Kane would have scored his penalty “with a blindfold”. “We needed to bounce back today to show that we are strong mentally. In this situation the morale can be really down but instead I saw the right desire and spirit to fight.”
Forest have now shipped nine goals in their last three visits to the capital but showed real determination even after going three goals down early in the second half. Despite pulling one back through Worrall and having a penalty from substitute Andre Ayew saved by Fraser Forster in stoppage time, they now find themselves looking nervously over their shoulders again with only a three-point cushion between them and the bottom three.
“We lost the game in the first half because we didn’t compete,” admitted a disappointed Steve Cooper, who revealed that Brennan Johnson is facing a scan in the week after limping off injured.
Conte’s angry outburst in the buildup to this game made it intriguing to see how players and supporters would react as Tottenham attempted to avoid not scoring for a fourth successive game for the first time since 2011. That unwanted statistic was almost banished within four minutes of the start when Richarlison – back in the team despite questioning his absence from the starting lineup against Milan in midweek – fired home from Oliver Skipp’s long pass. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, who had also offered an extremely honest appraisal of his “shit season” since his record transfer from Everton in the summer, his belated first Premier League goal was denied by a very marginal offside spotted by VAR.
While that decision was greeted with groans after a long delay, it wasn’t long before Tottenham went ahead. Richarlison was again involved as Pedro Porro picked out Kane who cushioned his header beyond the reach of Navas.
Cooper recalled Jesse Lingard to his starting lineup but he and the in-form Johnson struggled to make any impact against a determined home side that had been given extra incentive by Liverpool’s defeat against Bournemouth in the early kick-off. In only his eighth league start of the season, Richarlison in particular seemed intent on making his point and it was his skill that invited Forest captain Worrall to concede a clumsy penalty after Kane’s through ball nutmegged his defensive partner Felipe. For a split second, it seemed that the Tottenham captain may have directed his spot kick over the crossbar once again but, to his undoubted relief, it found the net.
Cooper withdrew Lingard at the break and Forest almost found a way back into it when Morgan Gibbs-White found space down the right flank, only for Forster to pull off a solid save at his near post. That proved to be a crucial moment as another lightning break from Richarlison led to Worrall volleying away his first cross but the Brazilian was able to find Son at the second attempt and the South Korean scored only his sixth league goal of the season.
To their credit, Forest never gave up and Forster denied Serge Aurier a goal against his former club before making another excellent save to stop Emmanuel Dennis. He could do nothing about Worrall’s goal eight minutes from time after Felipe had won the initial header from a corner before Forster was called into action again to save Ayew’s late penalty after substitute Dejan Kulusevski handled inside the area.