Harry Kane’s 20-minute hat-trick sinks Mura and drags Spurs from their rut
It was essential that Spurs completed this job properly and they managed to, scoring five times and offering enough of a diversion that those scarred by their no-show in the north London derby could crack a smile. But victory over Mura, however it came, was always going to be a minimum requirement and anyone seeking answers to their current predicament had no business here. An evening that began as a procession had become a slog as the hour mark approached and Tottenham only pulled clear after Nuno Espírito Santo turned to his cavalry.
Harry Kane’s 59th-minute introduction as part of a triple change alongside Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura had not been part of any pre-match plan, but Nuno needed a sure thing after Ziga Kous had halved his side’s lead with a blistering first-time volley. Perhaps they had been coasting. Either way, their performance had drifted into tedium but within half an hour they had run through the gears and ensured their totem would take the headlines.
Almost exactly a year had passed since Kane last scored a hat-trick, filling his boots in a 7-2 Europa League win over Maccabi Haifa. This one was on an even less exalted stage, in front of a sparse crowd against Slovenian opponents of scant European pedigree, but it averted further scrutiny of their progress under Nuno for now. His goals came in a 20-minute spell and were a direct result of the marked uptick in speed and urgency that Spurs’s A-listers brought.
“We made it harder than we needed to,” Kane said, before confirming his hastened deployment had been born of circumstance. “We hadn’t spoken about it. It was all depending on how the game was going. The momentum shifted in their favour; it was about coming on and doing a job for the team. I probably wasn’t expecting to come on today but it’s nice to get the minutes.”
After the game’s first two meaningful attacks, Kane could have been forgiven for swapping his boots for slippers. Spurs were two up within eight minutes and a strong enough starting selection looked capable of racking up a cricket score. Dele Alli, named as captain in what might have been a touch of carrot and stick after his half-time withdrawal at the Emirates, was only joined by Sergio Reguilón among those who began the derby. He was quickly felled by the Mura keeper, Matko Obradovic, after a deflection had sent him through and converted confidently from the spot.
Alli, who played as a No 10, was industrious before being swapped for Son although it would be a stretch to draw conclusions from that. The second goal arrived through a sharply arrowed finish by Giovani Lo Celso, who received a Harry Winks pass in the inside-left channel and fended off cursory attention from Matic Marusko. At that point, anyone who thought Spurs would wait another 80 minutes to convert their fifth would have seemed unduly negative.
“It’s always important to start the way we did: to score, score again and dominate,” Nuno said. But Tottenham took their foot off the accelerator after that, being fortunate not to concede when Nardin Mulahusejnovic missed a free header and struggling to sustain any intense pressure. Dane Scarlett, the only callow head on show, found life tough in his second start of the season; Alli tested Obradovic but they had played their way into territory that always contains the risk of a sting.
It came after the interval when Kous smacked a half-cleared corner past a static Pierluigi Gollini and Mura, who have only existed in their current form since 2013 and were playing in their country’s third tier five years ago, began to look bright-eyed. That was the cue for Kane and he quickly set about this work, first sweeping past Obradovic after a smartly curved through ball from Moura. Kane then sidefooted in from close range after Son had skipped away down the left; the match ball was his when, after Lo Celso played him through, he finished confidently again.
“All the players have my total support,” said Nuno, who desperately needs Kane to break his Premier League duck for the season in a decidedly more loaded encounter with Aston Villa on Sunday. “We have to support them and help them find the level I believe they have, which is talent [and] quality.”
Onlookers hoping to discern exactly where Spurs’s level sits will still be scratching around, even if their star turns proved their worth again here.