Heung-min Son delivers for Tottenham to ease Harry Kane burden as Spurs hope for major turning point
Two brilliant Heung-min Son goals booked Tottenham's place in the FA Cup fifth round via a 3-0 win over Preston and will raise hopes the South Korean has finally turned a corner in his difficult season.
With Harry Kane rested at Deepdale for the first time this term, Son stepped up for Antonio Conte's stuttering side, who made it consecutive victories and clean sheets since the thrashing at Manchester City - their next opponents in a rematch next Sunday.
Perhaps Son felt extra responsibility in Kane's absence or else he has been galvanised by the loan signing of Arnaut Danjuma, who marked his debut from the bench with Spurs' third goal, a well-taken finish to cap a positive night for the visitors.
Most promisingly, Son looked back to his former self in a decisive display and Spurs' prospects for the second half of the campaign will quickly feel very different if the game really does prove a turning point for the 30-year-old.
Coming into the meeting with the mid-table Championship side, Son's increasingly desperate campaign had yielded just six goals, spread across three matches, and even a hat-trick from the bench against Leicester and brace in the Champions League win over Eintracht Frankfurt had failed to rouse him from his slumber.
Conte had also hoped Son's deflected goal at Crystal Palace on January 4 would spark a turnaround but, while that finish felt lucky, both his efforts at Deepdale were clinical and in keeping with a far brighter all-round display.
Twice in the first half, last season's Golden Boot winner tested Freddie Woodman with sighters, the second of which was well turned over the bar by the Preston goalkeeper.
True to form, Spurs picked up after the interval and Son's opening goal was a stunner - a trademark left-foot strike from 30 yards which flew into the bottom corner and left Woodman with no chance.
Son's second was also eye-catching, a cool finish inside the box following a smart turn, suggesting his confidence had been restored.
Before the game, Spurs had won three of seven matches since the World Cup, with Kane scoring brilliant winners against Portsmouth and Fulham, and their first two goals in the 4-0 win at Palace.
With Kane rested for the first time in 36 straight matches for club and country this season after missing the majority of training this week through illness, Spurs desperately needed someone else to step up, and Son delivered.
Danjuma's bright, goal-scoring cameo was also encouraging and his versatility should be useful, particularly with Richarlison missing again in Lancashire after suffering another injury.
The Dutchman, who has joined on loan from Villarreal, went up front for the final 20 minutes, with auxiliary centre-forward Ivan Perisic returning to wing-back, ensuring Kane was allowed the entire night off.
If there was a lingering concern for Spurs, however, it comes in their continued reliance on world-class individuals to provide moments of brilliance to win tight matches.
Conte made seven changes from the win over Fulham on Monday, changing his entire back six, but his side's struggles were all too familiar before Son struck.
Until the goal, which naturally forced Preston to push forward and open up, Spurs simply looked ill-equipped to break down a stubborn opponent.
When was the last time they scored a great team goal or a stereotypical Conte goal? It feels like too long, and they will need to be more coherent against City next weekend.
The good news is that Kane will be back and Son and Danjuma should be full of confidence, suggesting Spurs are capable of troubling the champions again.