TOTTENHAM stalwart Jan Vertonghen appeared on the verge of tears after being substituted early on in the second half of his side's 3-2 FA Cup win over Southampton.
The 32-year-old has been a rock at the back for Spurs over a number of years, but wore the look of a man that fears the end of his top-level career being just around the corner.
The Belgian was withdrawn for Gedson Fernandes in the 54th minute and was visibly distraught as he left the field on the far side of the pitch before trudging slowly round to the dugout.
After accepting a handshake from manager Jose Mourinho, Vertonghen sat with his head rested on his knuckles, seemingly upset and deep in thought.
The score was 1-1 at the time although the Saints were the better side for the vast majority of the contest in North London.
Spurs were deliberately ceding territory and possession to their superior opponents on the night, with their defence facing a lot of pressure while the attack looked lost and bereft of ideas.
Vertonghen himself gave what has sadly become a typical performance this season - looking slower than he used to and struggling to deal with balls down the channels at times.
Having begun in a 3-5-2 formation, Mourinho opted to sacrifice Vertonghen when switching to a back four - deciding to keep the more mobile Japhet Tanganga alongside Toby Alderweireld at centre-half.
After the match, Mourinho said of the substitution: "No injury, it was my decision. It's normal that he's sad. No player likes to come out.
"I did that with [Eric] Dier against Olympiacos. Even worse because it was in the first half. In the second half I had a feeling in the first half that I needed to change to a back four.
"It was just a question of waiting for the right moment to bring on Dele, because Dele was a big question mark.
"Like a chess game with no bishops or kings, no queens. Missing so many pieces, it was very, very hard with so many injuries and problems. No [Steven] Bergwijn.
"I had to change and I decided to leave [Japhet] Tanganga and Toby [Alderweireld], a bit faster and better to cope with space.
"I sacrificed Jan. So sad yes, and with a reason to be sad, but happy now because we won."
Danny Ings deservedly put Southampton ahead later in the second half, before a late Spurs rally saw them steal the tie late on through a Son Heung-min penalty after Lucas Moura's equaliser.
After the match, Spurs fans took to Twitter in their droves to offer their support to the popular defender.
One wrote: "Spurs fans will always have a lot of time for you, @JanVertonghen. You’re loved & respected throughout the entire fanbase. Head up."
While another added: "Keep your head up @JanVertonghen. No matter what mate, us fans will always consider you an absolute icon of a defender for Spurs. 100% fan favourite!"
Vertonghen's future is unclear, with his Spurs contract due to expire at the end of the season.
While he has seen his importance to the team begin to wane, he has still appeared 22 times for the Lilywhites this season.
And his status as a Tottenham icon appears secure, having been a rock at the back over his 307 outings for the club since signing from Ajax back in July 2012.