Mauricio Pochettino maintains Tottenham’s priorities lie elsewhere but after suffering a second cup exit in four days, and weighed down by injuries to key players, the manager must confront mounting concerns the north London club’s season is in danger of unravelling.
Pochettino maintained Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final defeat on penalties to Chelsea should be viewed as a hard-luck tale but it was a very different story at Selhurst Park.
Having been presented with the opportunity to make amends by progressing in the FA Cup, Spurs wastefully allowed Crystal Palace to establish a two-goal lead through Connor Wickham’s first goal in 799 days and an Andros Townsend penalty, awarded for a clear handball by Kyle Walker-Peters.
Pochettino’s side had the chance to recover before the break only for Kieran Tripper to send a penalty wide moments after Georges-Kevin N’Koudou had spurned a glorious opportunity to score.
With Heung-min Son only just returned from international duty — the South Korean will be involved against Watford on Wednesday — Harry Kane and Dele Alli heading up the injury list, and Christian Eriksen one of seven players rested following Thursday’s loss, Tottenham lacked the creative spark to get back into the game.
The Spurs manager admitted his side could have no complaints but insisted the target for the club remains to finish in the Premier League top four and to attempt to beat Borussia Dortmund and advance in the last 16 of the Champions League.
“It was a fair result,” Pochettino said, insisting he had no regrets about making so many changes.
“It’s true, this season has been tough. Of course we are disappointed because, after Thursday and today, we are out of two competitions. You feel disappointed. But now we have to be positive. We are still in two competitions, in a good position in the Premier League and the Champions League is a massive motivation for the whole club. We have to be strong.”
He added: “We are going to create a debate that to win a trophy is going to help the club. I don’t agree with that. That only builds your ego. In reality, the most important thing is being consistently in the top four and playing Champions League. That is going to help the club to achieve the last step.”
The first sign that this would be Palace’s day came in the eighth minute when Wickham, making his first start since November 2016 after a long and painful battle against knee injuries, turned home from just three yards from Jeff Schlupp’s low cross. Then in the 33rd minute, Walker-Peters inexplicably raised his arm as he challenged Wickham for a high ball and Townsend converted the resulting penalty confidently.
Tottenham began to take control but N’Koudou twice failed to find a way past Julian Speroni after a well worked free-kick routine before Trippier placed his 43rd minute penalty wide after Juan Foyth was upended by Patrick van Aanholt.
Palace then defended resolutely throughout the second half to claim a deserved win. “The good news stories for Palace today were Connor and Julian Speroni’s club record clean sheets, No. 112 I believe,” said Roy Hodgson, the Crystal Palace manager. “It’s been a good day for us.”
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-3-3): Speroni 9; Ward 7, Kelly 6, Dann 7, van Aanholt 6; Meyer 6 (Milivojevic 80), Kouyate 7, Schlupp 6; Townsed 8 (Ayew 87), Wickham 7 (Benteke 70), Zaha 6.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (3-4-3): Gazzaniga 6; Foyth 8, Sanchez 6, Vertonghen 5 (Lamela 46, 6); Trippier 5, Dier 5 (Wanyama 63,6), Skipp 6, Walker-Peters 6; Moura 7 (Sterling 81), Llorente 6, Nkoudou 5.
Referee: Kevin Friend 7.