Gareth Bale’s 85th minute strike handed Spurs what seemed for long periods an unlikely home win as divine intervention from the Footballer of the Year, denied Southampton a point which would have merited their efforts against the Champions League contenders.
The contest looked destined to finish up as a goalless draw, even though Saints arguably had the best of the few chances on show, with Rickie Lambert able to count himself unlucky after having his first half free-kick pushed onto the post by Hugo Lloris.
But the 100th league meeting between the two teams was settled by the man making his 200th career appearance for the hosts, as Saints Academy graduate Bale protected a run of 12 consecutive matches of keeping Spurs unbeaten when he has scored, by popping up late on to end Artur Boruc’s sequence of three away matches without conceding a goal.
Spurs: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon (Adebayor 59), Dembele (Holtby 35), Huddlestone, Dempsey (Sigurdsson 71), Bale, Defoe. Subs (not used): Friedel, Caulker, Naughton, Carroll.
Saints: Boruc, Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Shaw, S. Davis, Cork, Lallana (Puncheon 79), Guly (Mayuka 63), Rodriguez, Lambert. Subs (not used): K. Davis, Forren, Ward-Prowse, Yoshida, De Ridder.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Guly and Luke Shaw were restored to the starting line up in the absence of suspended duo Gaston Ramirez and Danny Fox.
Jose Fonte also returned to the side with Maya Yoshida dropping to the bench. Morgan Schneiderlin missed out with a dead leg.
After a half hour delay to kick-off due to traffic congestion around North London, Steven Davis and Jay Rodriguez got the match underway on a bright afternoon inside White Hart Lane.
It was a composed start from the visitors as they moved the ball around the full width of the surface to win a free-kick when Steven Davis was brought down in an attacking position.
A weak clearing header from Jose Fonte in the fifth minute, presented Jermain Defoe with an early sight of goal, but the England striker could only find the side netting from an acute angle.
Saints found an ever clearer sight of the target on 10 when Rickie Lambert’s perfectly weighted lofted pass into the area set Nathaniel Clyne up for a volley at Hugo Lloris’s net, but the strike flew half an inch or so just wide of the left post.
The open nature of the contest saw the action swing from end-to-end, though chances weren’t as frequent as the game reached the 20 minute mark. The confidence had grown in Pochettino’s men however, with Artur Boruc skilfully getting the better of Mousa Dembele inside the area to keep Spurs at bay.
At the other end, neat link up between Guly and Lambert almost led to the former picking out Rodriguez inside the area, but Michael Dawson’s interception instead gave Saints a corner which Rodriguez then headed wide from Lallana’s delivery.
Pochettino’s side continued to put the pressure on the hosts’ backline, with the front three of Lallana, Rodriguez and Lambert all linking up well again inside the final third, but not able to seriously work Lloris.
A quick break from Defoe almost caught Hooiveld out as Spurs launched a rare counter, but Fonte got across to spare his centre back partner with a well-timed sliding challenge.
On 34 Saints were awarded a free-kick in a central position after Dembele had fouled Rodriguez around 25 yards from goal. In making the tackle, the Spurs midfielder appeared to injure himself, and he was subsequently replaced by Lewis Holtby ahead of the set-piece taken by Lambert.
Lambert’s dead ball was hit low and a round the wall, with Lloris’s fingertip save pushing the ball onto the post. The rebound was rescued and crossed back to Steven Davis, whose header was unfortunately straight at the recovering Spurs keeper.
Inside the last ten minutes of the half Saints had to resist the hosts’ advances with Andre Villas-Boas’s men ending the half strongly. A couple of corners went the way of the home side to sign off the half, the latter of which was headed over by Gareth Bale, who had been kept rather quiet in the opening 45.
Half Time: Spurs 0-0 Saints
There were no further changes for either side at the interval as Spurs got the match restarted with Saints attacking the end housing the away support.
The hosts seemed fired up after their rest and within three minutes of the action resuming, Bale clattered the crossbar with a fierce rising shot, though the flag was belatedly raised against the Welshman with the frame of the goal still shaking.
On 51 Saints hit back when Lallana took Rodriguez’s path in his stride and struck a low controlled shot at Lloris.
Pochettino’s men ramped it up from there with some more emphatic attacking play, supported by Clyne, who also broke forward to good effect to cause the hosts more problems.
The endeavour from Saints livened up the contest, but it was the visitors who continued to push, winning a free-kick that Lambert struck fully 35 yards out from goal which just dropped wide.
Clyne won the latter of three corners in quick succession, which after a delay found its way to Shaw, who shot wide.
On 59 Spurs made their second substitution of the afternoon replacing the largely ineffectual Aaron Lennon with Emmanuel Adebayor as a fresh outlet for the home side.
In the 63rd minute, Guly was forced off with a knock, paving the way for Emmanuel Mayuka to be given a run at the Spurs backline for the final 25.
Some impressive defending from Saints maintained their clean sheet with Boruc remaining largely untroubled.
The visitors came forward once more on 70 winning a free-kick after Assou-Ekotto deliberately handled a pass, giving Lallana a chance to cross, but Lloris was under it.
Spurs’ final change saw Gylfi Sigurdsson replace Dempsey in the 71st minute, but Saints remained in the ascendancy with Mayuka seeing his low cross cleared from under Lambert’s nose.
Steven Davis went into the book for Pochettino’s men with no sign of a breakthrough goal imminent as the two teams continued to battle on in search of a strike in the last quarter of an hour.
The opening strike almost went the way of the hosts when Tom Huddlestone’s corner from the right was spilled by Boruc, but the close range effort from Vertonghen came back off the post.
An accidental clash of heads between Lallana and Rodriguez followed, and after coming off slightly worse, the former was replaced by Jason Puncheon for the final eleven minutes of action, though the change appeared imminent anyway, with the sub already stripped.
A spirited end to the contest loomed, but it was out of the blue when Spurs struck what would surely be the winning goal as Gareth BALE picked up the ball in midfield and unleashed a rocket of a shot from the edge of the area which arrowed into the bottom corner, giving Boruc no chance.
The strike finally woke the home crowd up, whilst the white shirts quickly dropped back in numbers to protect their narrow advantage for the last five minutes plus stoppage time.
Four additional minutes were put on by the officials, but there proved to be no way back for Saints despite a late surge, as Pochettino’s men went a third consecutive game without scoring.
Full Time: Spurs 1-0 Saints