Tottenham 0 Crystal Palace 1: Just like that, Tottenham’s hopes of winning three trophies this season died quicker than you could say ‘treble’.
The unlikely title chasers secured an away draw at Fiorentina on Thursday, which put them in a strong position to reach the Europa League last 16, while they remain just two points behind leaders Leicester after a run of five straight Premier League victories.
So, in theory, an FA Cup victory over struggling Crystal Palace, who they have beaten home and away already this season, seemed something approaching a foregone conclusion.
However Palace’s forgotten man Martin Kelly, back in the side after over three months of inactivity, scored his first goal in 1,545 days to send Palace back to south London with something to shout about.
Tottenham, meanwhile, must regroup quickly with Fiorentina, and another potential cup exit, to come on Thursday. Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said: “We feel very disappointed but I think we are in a very tough period where every game we play is a final. I think in one month, we have 10 games. It’s very difficult for the squad.
“That’s not an excuse but we played much better today and we’re disappointed about the result because I think we deserved more.”
So does he think an exit could actually help his side’s Premier League challenge?
“It’s not fair to say now. We take all the games seriously but I think the next game is the most important now — Crystal Palace and the FA Cup are gone. Maybe we did not play fantastically but we had better chances to win. We were unlucky but we need to accept that result and get ready for Thursday.”
Pochettino had juggled his squad with the decisive games coming thick and fast, making seven changes to the side who drew in Florence. Kelly’s inclusion, meanwhile, was the only change for Alan Pardew’s side, which came as a surprise given Palace’s current predicament in the Premier League.
The south London club, still not safe from relegation, are without a league win this calendar year and may have placed the FA Cup towards the bottom of their to-do list. But Pardew clearly had no intention of resting players and the only change was enforced, with Pape Souare suspended.
Despite Tottenham’s raft of changes, there was still no rest for Dele Alli, 19, but he almost made his presence felt after just two minutes. Heung-Min Son’s corner was allowed to bounce through to the England international waiting at the back post. His close-range header, however, was blocked on the line by Yohan Cabaye, and Josh Onomah nodded the rebound harmlessly over.
At the other end, former Spurs man Adebayor looked the most likely goal threat, although the home contingent booed his every touch and howled with laughter when Kyle Walker nutmegged him on the halfway line.
Alli went even closer again in the 23rd minute when Son’s jinking run was ended by Damien Delaney. The ball fell kindly to the teenager but his low effort bounced against one post, rolled across the line, and bounced off the other. While Spurs poured forward, Palace operated largely on the counter attack and their opener, in first-half stoppage time, came as a surprise. There seemed to be little danger when Wilfried Zaha picked up the ball but, when he drew in a challenge from Danny Rose, he was able to play in Kelly, who crashed a fine strike past Michel Vorm.
Pochettino responded by introducing Christian Eriksen at half-time and Spurs got straight back on the front foot.
Wayne Hennessey tipped an angled Kane drive just wide five minutes after the break then he and Onomah somehow failed to turn Alli’s delicious low cross home.
The manager rolled the dice again by introducing his goalscorer from midweek, Nacer Chadli, but even he could not force the issue. In fact, it was Palace who came closest to scoring the game’s second goal, but Connor Wickham’s finish, three minutes from time, was ruled out for offside.
Palace’s only wins since December have come in the FA Cup and now Pardew is hoping this result can turn around their league fortunes.
“I genuinely think FA Cup wins lift us,” he said. “I’ve seen it in the players.
“We can still have the best season Palace have ever had in the Premier League and we’re in the quarter-final now. If you had offered me that at the start of the season, I would’ve taken it.”
Vorm 6; Walker 6, Wimmer 6, Dier 6, Rose 5; Bentaleb 5, Alli 7 (Mason 80); Onomah 7, Dembele 6 (Eriksen 46), Son 7 (Chadli 67); Kane 6.
Subs not used:
McGee, Alderweireld, Trippier, Winks.
Hennessey 7; Kelly 7, Dann 6, Delaney 6, Ward 6; Zaha 7, Ledley 6, Cabaye 6 (Jedinak 80), Mutch 6; Adebayor 6 (Bolasie 76), Wickham 6.
Subs not used:
McCarthy, Mariappa, Campbell, Lee, Gayle.
C Pawson 7.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved