Tottenham’s final season at White Hart Lane brought them 18 wins from 19 games, and their first time back on the same site, albeit refurbished to the tune of more than a billion euros, brought another victory, their first in six league games, and a return to third place in the Premier League.
Second-half goals from Son Heung-Min and Christian Eriksen ended Crystal Palace’s stubborn resistance, and ensured Tottenham christened their new stadium with a much-needed victory.
It was quite the opening, with a marching band and gospel choir providing a rousing rendition of ‘Glory, Glory, Tottenham Hotspur’ before kick-off, and the same song was being sung by Spurs fans on the final whistle. Tottenham have returned to London N.17 after almost two years away and they intend to make their sparkling new home as much a fortress as the old ground was.
Everywhere beforehand were signs welcoming fans home, and the punters responded with selfies, songs and celebration. It could have gone horribly wrong, of course, but Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino made sure his men lived up to the hype generated before kick-off.
Once the fanfare died down and the teams got down to business, the game started to take shape almost like a training ground exercise, defence against attack, with Roy Hodgson inviting Pochettino to find a way to break down his stubborn side.
Part of Tottenham’s problem recently is that they have struggled to score goals, averaging just one per game in the league over the past seven weeks.
There was no shortage of effort of course, and the rousing build-up ensured Spurs would go at it all-guns-blazing, with Son, Dele Alli, and Eriksen all trying to open up Palace in the early stages. Palace had a very good chance in only the third minute, but Jeffrey Schlupp blazed his shot over the bar and they went back into defensive mode.
Harry Kane tried to put Eriksen in, but the Dane had one shot blocked and another fumbled around the post by Vincente Guaita. Kane tried a difficult half-volley on the turn but it flew over the bar. Eriksen then shot over from long range and a Kane free-kick was deflected away for a corner.
It was all Spurs, but they could not find a way past Palace’s packed rearguard, with James Tomkins and Martin Kelly outstanding in the centre. The full-backs Patrick van Aanholt and especially Aaron Wan-Bissaka played their part too, frustrating Tottenham.
Alli, playing in an unfamiliar central midfield role, was booked for lunging on Luka Milivojevic, but the England star showed his more positive side with some deft forward passes and a powerful shot that was charged down before half-time. Shortly before the break, Danny Rose had Tottenham’s best chance when he found himself bearing down on goal with only Guaita to beat. Instead of shooting, the full-back tried, unsuccessfully, to pass to Kane, before Kelly intercepted to clear the danger. The half finished in typically frustrating fashion for Spurs as Kane headed Rose’s corner wide.
Pochettino’s half-time message was clearly to shoot on sight and test Guaita, who had rarely been stretched. Kieran Trippier sent a long-range shot over the bar, Son did the same minutes later, and Kane had a shot blocked.
But 10 minutes into the second half the breakthrough Tottenham’s supporters had been waiting for came. Milivojovic was at fault twice, as the Palace captain lost possession to Eriksen 30 yards from his own goal. The Dane shuttled the ball out to Son on the right, and he cut inside.
Son’s left-footed shot was not the most powerful, and may have ended up in Guaita’s arms, but Milivojovic’s sliding challenge diverted the ball into the corner of his own net. The stadium erupted in celebration, especially the huge 17,500-seater South stand, the largest of its kind in the country, in front of which the goal was scored.
They should have been celebrating a second, 10 minutes later, when Kane ran in on goal. You would not have been too reckless a gambler to put your house on the England captain scoring from that position, as he has done so many times before. But Kane was uncharacteristically off target, lifting his shot high and wide of the far post.
It mattered little, as he set up Eriksen for the second goal. Again Palace gave the ball away in their own half and Son put Kane away on the left. The striker cut inside, went past two defenders, and although he appeared to be tripped, the ball broke and Eriksen who reacted quicker than the rest to shoot home from close range.
Hodgson finally went all-out in attack, sending on Christian Benteke and Andros Townsend. Hugo Lloris made his first save of the match five minutes from the end, clawing away a hopeful chip from Van Aanholt, and then the Frenchman stuck out a leg to divert Wilfried Zaha’s shot. But it was far too little too late to spoil the homecoming party, and with six league games to go, Spurs are still in pole position to claim third place.
4-4-2 Lloris; Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies; Sissoko, Eriksen, Alli (Moura 82), Rose (Winks 69); Son (Wanyama 90), Kane
Gazzaniga, Sanchez, Walker-Peters, Foyth
Guaita; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Kelly, van Aanholt; Kouyate (Townsend 79), Milivojevic, McArthur, Schlupp; Zaha, Batshuayi (Benteke 82).
Hennessey, Ward, Dann, Meyer, Ayew