Practice key to Dele Alli ending goal drought

Eric Dier has revealed how Dele Alli has been staying late at training for extra shooting practice after his team-mate scored in Tottenham’s 3-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday.

Alli’s crisp finish in the second half opened the floodgates at White Hart Lane as Spurs hit three in six minutes to stun the Red Devils and keep their Premier League title hopes alive.

It was Alli’s eighth goal of the season, nine including his debut strike for England last November, but the midfielder has been less prolific in recent weeks, having not scored since February before Sunday’s opener.

Alli, however, has been praised by Mauricio Pochettino for his dedication this season and showed maturity again on Saturday by taking extra practice in front of goal.

“It was important I put that one away today as I’ve missed a few chances in recent games and training as Eric will tell you,” Alli told Spurs TV as he was standing next to Dier.

Dier then added: “To be fair he deserves it because yesterday he was out after training practising his finishing.

“I asked him why and he said it was because he’d missed quite a few so he deserves the goal for that. He did alright.”

Surprise leaders Leicester’s seven-point cushion makes them strong favourites to win the title, but Spurs’ panache and substance has kept them in with a shout.

“Absolutely,” said Jan Vertonghen, when asked whether they had the spirit and ability to be champions.

“If you feel the spirit in this team, it is something special at the training ground, in between the players. It’s everywhere.

“I am extremely excited. It is something I have never experienced before and we have to keep this together.

“Not just the players, the squad as well, the crowd and then nice things can happen.”

There still remains a chance of silverware this term, although the bookmakers’ odds of 5/1 highlight the challenge Spurs face with five matches left.

Sunday’s win will have certainly caught United’s eye and Vertonghen believes Pochettino is key to the bright future at White Hart Lane.

“For me it is vital,” he said. “To keep this thing going, he has to stay.

“I think everyone wants him to stay and he feels that — that we want to fight for him and that this team is the best thing for him so I hope he stays.”

The former Argentina defender has almost certainly led Tottenham back into the Champions League, while they are on course to finish above Arsenal for the first time in 21 years.

But it is the title they really want and that is not something they have given up on, despite Leicester’s seven-point buffer. “We have to believe,” Vertonghen said. “I think we showed belief on the pitch and obviously Leicester, compliments to them, but we have to try and chase them.”

Defeat may have been painful but United playmaker Juan Mata is not wallowing in self pity ahead of one of the most important matches of the season.

Mata’s focus now is on United’s return to the capital tomorrow, when they face West Ham in an FA Cup quarter-final replay looking to progress to Wembley and keep their chances of silverware alive.

“Conceding three goals in just seven minutes is tough to take for everyone, especially when you feel that you were doing a few good things before that moment,” Mata said.

“However, the first goal was very painful for us and the opponent took advantage of it. I think it’s good to play the next game as soon as possible, on Wednesday, because it allows the team to move on from White Hart Lane and focus completely on the match against West Ham.

“It’s one of the most important games of the season and we can’t afford to feel sad or upset when preparing for it.”

Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney made his comeback for United’s U21s in front of the watching Louis van Gaal last night after two months out injured.

Rooney lasted 61 minutes playing alongside the likes of Phil Jones against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford in his first outing since February 13, with a knee problem having ruled him out of United’s past dozen games.

Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis: 
 
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