Tottenham 1 - Crystal Palace 0: If the measure of a team that is going places is the ability to win ‘ugly’ when necessary, Tottenham passed their latest test with a functional win over lowly Crystal Palace that was in stark contrast to their thrilling victory over Real Madrid in midweek.
Inflicting more pain on the Premier League’s whipping boys should be straightforward when you have just given the European Champions a sound beating, but too often in the past Tottenham have failed to show the ruthlessness to follow up one fine result with another.
And while a 1-0 win over the league’s bottom club was nothing like the high octane affair against Zinedine Zidane’s men on Wednesday, Spurs showed their credentials as title challengers by digging out another three points to keep them ahead of Chelsea and in touch with the Manchester clubs above them.
“Sometimes you’ve just to grind it out. Three points is all that matters,” said Harry Kane.
Heung Min Son’s goal in the 64th minute was enough to see off a stubborn Palace side, who spent most of the game entrenched in their own half.
It was a fine goal, too, a measured strike from the edge of the penalty area that curled past the outstretched hand of Julian Speroni and inside the post after Palace failed to clear their lines for once.
Up to that point, and even afterwards, Mamadou Sakho was magnificent in fending off the threat of Kane and Co, and one could not help but wonder again why Liverpool let the big defender leave.
Sakho’s signing on loan last season helped keep the Eagles in the Premier League, and if they are to climb up the table this time, they will need him at his best. But keeping a tight defence is little use if you don’t score goals, and Palace’s return of four from 11 games is woefully inadequate.
With injuries to his main strikers, Roy Hodgson sent out a side without a recognised frontman, relying on the speed of wingers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend to threaten Spurs on the break.
“We don’t have a classic centre-forward — all we have is Bacary Sako who is a left winger trying to play as a centre-forward,” said Hodgson, after he sent on Sako as substitute in a late bid to salvage a point.
Palace did their best, but Mauricio Pochettino has built one of the best defences in the country and even with Toby Alderweireld missing, Spurs gave Palace few chances to really test Paulo Gazzaniga, their third choice goalkeeper making his debut because Hugo Lloris was injured against Madrid and Michel Vorm twisted a knee in training on Saturday.
Although he showed his nerves by flapping at a cross in the first minute, striking Sakho in the head, Gazzaniga went on to make a string of good saves from Zaha, Scott Dann, and Luka Milivojevic, earning the praise of his manager.
“I am very happy for Paulo,” said Pochettino. “It is not easy to make your debut for your new club at Wembley, but he was fantastic. I think he deserves a lot of praise.”
Lloris was not the only absentee. Dele Alli was missing with a hamstring injury sustained in last week’s defeat at Manchester United, and despite his two-goal display against Madrid, the young England star will probably be withdrawn from the England squad to face Germany and Brazil in friendlies next week.
Another who may miss out for England is Harry Winks, who turned in another fine performance in midfield before turning an ankle leading to his replacement at half-time by Mousa Dembele. The switch gave Spurs more urgency after a frustrating first half, with Sakho and Dann holding firm in the centre of Palace’s defence.
For all Tottenham’s possession, Speroni was not really stretched until Son scored, and thereafter the game opened up. Both sides had chances to score on the break, but no more goals were forthcoming.
Gazzaniga 8; Sanchez 7, Dier 7, Vertonghen 7: Aurier 6, Winks 7 (Dembele 46), Eriksen 8, Sissoko 7, Rose 6 (Davies 89); Son 7, Kane 6 (Kane 76).
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2):
Speroni 6; Fosu-Mensah 6, Dann 7, Sakho 8, Ward 6 (Sako 76); Loftus-Cheek 6, Cabaye 7, Milivojevic 7, Schlupp 6; Townsend 6, Zaha 8
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