Hot Son shines to ease tension at Spurs
Tottenham 5 Red Star 0
Their Champions League journey defined last season for Tottenham and it could yet provide salvation for the present one.
On a night when they simply had to win to keep their European campaign alive, the returning Son Heung-min inspired a convincing win over Red Star.
Suddenly, out of the malaise of the last few weeks, here was the Spurs of old, with Son providing a creative and clinical edge.
For Dele Alli in midfield, it was a throwback to seasons past. Erik Lamela was also influential with two assists, and deserved his goal. Harry Kane looked sharp, scoring twice.
This was so much more than a victory for Mauricio Pochettino, whose expression at the final whistle suggested relief as much as celebration.
Anything less than three points here would have surely ended Spurs' Champions League ambitions, just 143 days since they contested last season's final.
After their sluggish start to the league campaign, it is hardly an exaggeration to say their entire season was on the line last night.
In the end, though, it was more simple than Pochettino could have dared imagine, with early goals from Kane and Son settling the nerves.
Some of Spurs' play across the 90 minutes was really stylish, punishing the mistakes in the Red Star defence.
Tottenham still have to navigate what is likely to be an intimidating return in Belgrade, which will be a very different test, as Liverpool found out a year ago, and the away tie at Bayern.
But after the despair of losing 7-2 to the Germans in their last Champions League match, followed by poor results against Brighton and Watford, Spurs fans will hope this can turn their season around.
There was little hint of turmoil last night as Tottenham made a flying start, taking charge with those two early goals, the first after nine minutes from Kane.
It followed a corner won by Serge Aurier and taken by Lamela, with Kane finding the net with a glancing header.
Lamela was also the creator of the second after 16 minutes. He received a ball down the right from Aurier and, despite slipping as he worked space for the cross, still picked out the run of Son, who arrived at the back post to guide in a left-foot effort.
His goal aside, there was much to admire about Son's play - drifting in from the left, linking with Kane, always so aware of the options around him. It was his pass that almost led to a goal for Kane after 130 seconds, but the striker lost his footing.
In the 24th minute, Son again shaped to cut inside but, spotting the overlapping run of Ben Davies to his left, squared to the full-back. Davies crossed to Lamela, whose rising shot was pushed over by Milan Borjan.
The Red Star goalkeeper also beat away a stinging drive from Tanguy Ndombele.
Red Star remain the only Serbian and Yugoslav club to have won the European Cup, but the current side are a long way from the 1991 champions.
They had a brief spell around the half hour, with Paulo Gazzaniga touching over a cross from Marko Marin, once of Chelsea. Then Marko Gobeljic found Tomane, who stabbed just wide.
Yet a third goal a minute before the break settled any nerves.
It followed another powerful run from Ndombele, who picked up possession so easily from the careless Marin. With options right and left, he passed to Son, who allowed the ball to run on to his left foot and finished well.
The game won, Tottenham sought to ram home their superiority in the second half.
An example came in the 55th minute as Kane headed down a kick from Gazzaniga, with the Red Sea-like parting of the Red Star defence. Kane was alone, waiting for the return pass from Son. Instead, Son switched it right to Lamela, who shot wide.
Lamela deserved a goal and got it two minutes later.
Again there was so much space for Aurier to charge into, and he cut inside and crossed to Lamela, who turned and finished smartly. It said much that the nearest defender was a Tottenham one, with Jan Vertonghen getting out of the way.
Borjan denied Lamela a second soon afterwards.
Son had the chance of a hat-trick after more intricate approach play but shot just wide, and was withdrawn to acclaim in the 67th minute.
Kane rounded off a five-star, five-goal Spurs performance in the 72nd minute. He timed his run perfectly to stay onside and collect Ndombele's pass before shooting into the far corner.
TOTTENHAM: Gazzaniga, Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen (Foyth 73), Davies, Sissoko, Ndombele, Lamela, Alli (Lo Celso 79), Son (Dier 68), Kane. Subs not used: Winks, Eriksen, Moura, Austin.
RED STAR: Borjan, Gobeljic, Milunovic, Degenek, Rodic, Canas (Petrovic 62), Vulic, Garcia, Marin, Van La Parra (Vukanovic 82), Mendes (Pavkov 62).
Subs not used: Popovic, Ivanic, Babic, Santana.
Man of the match: Son
Match rating: 8/10
Referee: Marco Guida (Italy)