- Son Heung-min hit a first-half brace to put Tottenham on the way to a deserved victory at Middlesbrough
- The South Korean striker continued his fine recent form to give Mauricio Pochettino’s side the win
- Tottenham were 2-0 up at the break, a lead which was a reward for the impressive way they had played
- Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson pulled one back in the second half but it was not enough to seal a point
No Harry Kane, no problem for Tottenham, who moved up to second in the Premier League courtesy of Son Heung-min’s double at the Riverside.
In the indefinite absence of Kane, whose ankle-ligament damage will be scanned in a week his team-mates travel to Moscow to face CSKA in the Champions League, it took the quality finishing of the previously unsettled South Korean forward to extend the north London club’s enterprising start to the season.
Son made it four goals in three Premier League matches, twice popping up to provide a dividend on Spurs’ slick passing, and is beginning to justify the £22million price tag that came with his move from Bayer Leverkusen 13 months ago. He has now matched his tally for 2015-16, and despite murmurings that his heart was set on a return to Germany, now appears to have adjusted to life in England.
Although Middlesbrough upped the ante after the break, netting a consolation through Ben Gibson’s towering header, the result was never really in question despite the absence of England striker Kane.
‘For us Harry Kane is a very important player but we are a team, we have a strong squad, and throughout the season we will need all 25 of them to compete,’ said Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.
‘Football is about team work. Son has worked very hard on his game. I’m really pleased for him because he’s a really nice person to work with. It can take time to settle in a new country, a new league, especially the Premier League, it’s tougher than anywhere else.
‘After one year he is a different person. When you are an offensive player scoring goals it gives you confidence.’
Defensive solidity was a key component in Middlesbrough’s promotion last season — they conceded only eight goals at the Riverside.
However, they have struggled to replicate that in higher company and Tottenham savaged a back line including Arsenal loanee Calum Chambers with their silky incisions.
Son started on the left but it was his movement across the front line that created havoc in the penalty area.
For the seventh-minute opener, Christian Eriksen fed Vincent Janssen, who held it up long enough to synchronise with Son’s angled run from the right. Unchallenged, he skipped inside and then walked around a static Chambers before toe-poking in — with Victor Valdes’s palm unable to keep the ball out.
Then, given the freedom of Teesside once more, he retrieved the ball from the byline, evaded the attention of Antonio Barragan and set off on a curved dribble back towards his own goal. With Cristhian Stuani also declining to make a challenge, Son took full advantage by curling a shot on the turn from 18 yards that left Valdes helpless.
With Spurs dominant, frustration boiled over in the Boro ranks, Valdes and Adam Clayton’s foreheads coming into contact in one flashpoint.
Boro remained in the contest, however, courtesy of Spurs’ profligacy in front of goal thereafter. Eriksen and Dele Alli both shot off target on more than one occasion and Victor Wanyama was foiled by Valdes. The hosts were also fortunate that Stuani’s push in the area on Alli was not deemed worthy of a penalty.
Aitor Karanka roused the Riverside with his double substitution just shy of the hour, the fit-again Jordan Rhodes replacing Alvaro Negredo — isolated throughout — and former Barcelona winger Adama Traore coming on for Gaston Ramirez.
Within five minutes, Gibson, nephew of Boro chairman Steve Gibson, soared above Wanyama and powered his header beyond Hugo Lloris’s grasp.
But Boro paid for their slow start.
‘It’s frustrating for me to work for seven days to try and show them how Tottenham play and how good they are, then we are losing after seven minutes,’ bemoaned Karanka.
‘The worst thing for me was the attitude in the first half. It was awful, but the second half was completely different. We have a week now to decide what sort of team we want to be. If it’s the first-half team, we have problems, but if it’s the team that played in the second half, we will win a few games.’
Tottenham will check on Moussa Sissoko before they travel to Moscow — their latest signing went off with a suspected concussion.