With Harry Kane hurt, Son Heung-Min becoming more vital for Spurs
BOURNEMOUTH, England -- You would bet the house on some forwards scoring a one-on-one with the goalkeeper but until recently, Son Heung-Min was not among them.
Son has an impressive armoury -- pace, a strong shot, ability to play with both feet -- but time has too often been his enemy. He has scored the half-chances, those instinctive snapshots when considering your options is not an option, but crumbled when he has thinking space. His early miss in last season's defeat to Monaco, which set the tone for Tottenham's failed Champions League campaign, is one example.
Banishing that kind of reputation can take years but Son might have managed it in a fortnight. He has scored seven goals in four matches and in each of Spurs' last two Premier League games, against Huddersfield and Bournemouth respectively, he's calmly rounded the goalkeeper to finish the kind of chance he might previously have missed.
In Sunday's 4-1 win at Dean Court, he had plenty of time to either square the ball for Erik Lamela or continue alone and he picked correctly, skipping around Asmir Begovic for Spurs' crucial third goal. "At first I wanted to pass to Coco [Lamela] but I wasn't sure because the defender was close to him," said Son after the match. "If I pass badly, it looks bad. I wasn't sure but I'm confident to score goals."
Son's improvement in these situations is no accident. He's aware that his finishing has previously been erratic and has worked on it relentlessly in training, staying behind for extra shooting sessions with the obsessive Harry Kane, one of those players for whom one-on-ones never seem in doubt.
"He's rewarded for all the work he's done since he joined Tottenham," said Spurs captain Hugo Lloris of Son. "Now, in one-on-one [situations], he can make the difference at any moment. It's important to have that type of player in the team. He's got a lot of ability in front of the goal."
With Kane is facing a spell on the sidelines -- over the next few days, Tottenham's talisman will discover the extent of an ankle injury suffered at Bournemouth -- Son's finishing will be even more important to Spurs' ambitions in the FA Cup and Premier League.
The South Korea international has previously deputised for Kane as a central striker, scoring five goals in the four games Kane missed with an ankle problem sustained almost exactly a year ago, and he is happy to play up-front when required. Fernando Llorente is out-of-favour after one league goal all season and Son is expected fill Kane's boots in Saturday's FA Cup quarterfinal at Swansea, a game that has taken on more importance since their Champions League elimination.
"I'll play striker or winger," he said. "The manager has the choice to pick me at striker, left wing or right wing."
Son's form over the past two weeks comes after he was surprisingly benched for the Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Juventus. In the past, the 25-year-old has been upset when left out of the biggest games, and he considered leaving Spurs for that reason after his first season at the club in 2015-16. He cannot have been impressed to be named among the substitutes in Turin and then again for the league game at Crystal Palace, when Mauricio Pochettino turned to January signing Lucas Moura before him as Spurs pushed for a goal.
Son's form in the four matches since that 1-0 win at Selhurst Park has made him undroppable again and although the response has been down to him, Pochettino deserves credit for resting him at the right moment.
"I'm enjoying it but last season I enjoyed a lot. First season I had a bit of a tough time but I enjoyed. Premier League is not an easy league, it's one of the best. I need to just enjoy every day, every week. That's what I say. It's always the same answer," said Son.
If Son cannot yet claim to be a Pochettino favourite, he has gradually endeared himself to the Spurs fans and on Sunday, the travelling support adapted Cockerel Chorus' 1973 hit "Nice one Cyril" -- an ode to Spurs left-back Cyril Knowles ahead of that year's League Cup final -- to "Nice one Sonny."
"I like it, honestly, and I'm really thankful they made the song for me," said Son. "I felt goosebumps. I'm really, really thankful for it. I feel at home, you know. Everyone supports me, even when I play bad. I'm a really luck guy to play in the Premier League and have so many fans, so many supporters. This is a really lucky guy."
Watching at Bournemouth, it felt like the chant is here to stay and, on current form, Son is too.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.