This was not a vintage Spurs display but it was nonetheless their best in the Premier League under Nuno – certainly from an attacking point of view – and lifted the mood following three straight defeats to London rivals.
Nuno’s switch to 4-2-3-1 improved the team as a whole and key individuals, particularly Heung-min Son, who was comfortably the game’s standout player. The South Korean passed to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for Spurs first-half opener and forced Matt Targett into an own goal for the winner 20 minutes from time.
After his dismal set-ups at Crystal Palace and Arsenal, it was essential for Nuno to show some more tactical acumen against Dean Smith’s in-form side, while he also needed a response from his players after they seemed to lack belief in his approach during the 3-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
So the head coach will have been pleased with the application of his side, who grew in conviction, confidence and fluency as the match progressed.
Nuno will have been particularly encouraged by the response to Villa’s 67th-minute equaliser through Ollie Watkins, which felt like a grim sucker-punch following a spell of Spurs pressure.
Given their run of damaging derby defeats, it would have been easy for Spurs heads to drop after Watkins snuck behind Eric Dier to tap in Targett’s cross at the near post but, instead, they responded superbly, Son bursting into the box, beating Kortney House and putting the ball on a plate for Lucas Moura at the back post. Targett turned into his own net under pressure from the Brazilian.
The goal was an impressive display of mental strength and hardly suggested these Spurs players are no longer playing for their manager. Villa were surprisingly poor but for Nuno and Spurs this might have been a turning point after their wretched September.
Emerson Royal and Cristian Romero impress
Defenders Cristian Romero and Emerson Royal returned to the side after being benched against Arsenal and both summer signings caught the eye.
Romero was partly to blame for Villa’s goal, overcommitting by rushing out of defence but failing to win the ball before Targett crossed for Watkins.
The moment was further evidence that Romero is still adjusting to the speed of English football but summed up his ultra-aggressive approach.
He was otherwise impressive with and without possession, snapping quickly into challenges and using the ball well after a slightly wobbly start. He made a crucial block to deny Targett at the near post.
Another international break is frustratingly timed and could further disrupt the Argentine’s bedding in, but he looks a fine defender who will keep getting better.
Royal, meanwhile, also impressed after a difficult start to life at Spurs. The Brazilian defended robustly and got forward well, at one point creating a great chance for Son with a deep cross.
Both South Americans are still learning English and getting up to speed with the Premier League, but this was an encouraging outing for both.
If Giovani Lo Celso had shown more conviction from 10 yards, Harry Kane would have finished the game with a sublime assist after picking out the Argentine with a cute back heel.
It was Kane’s best moment in another frustrating appearance for the England captain, who has now gone six games without scoring in the League – his longest goalless streak in the competition since failing to net in his first six games of the 2015-16 campaign.
There were green shoots for Kane, who had a one-on-one saved by Emiliano Martinez fired just past the near post with the goalkeeper flatfooted.
But clearly Nuno is still to find a way to get the best from his talisman and if Spurs are to remain on a positive trajectory, getting Kane firing should be the top priority.