Spurs chisel out narrow win
– Richard Foster (Twitter: @rcfoster)
Despite a steadfast, well-drilled performance, Palace came up just short against a Spurs side that showed resilience, patience and a very uncharacteristic spiky aggression. Indeed that aggression teetered on the brink of getting out of hand, with Victor Wanyama, in particular, fortunate to stay on the pitch after scything down Andros Townsend, minutes after he had received a yellow card for flooring Luka Milivojevic. Referee Jon Moss handed out a stern warning, but not a red, much to the dismay of the Selhurst crowd – whose mood was not improved after he lectured Moussa Dembele over a series of misdemeanours, but again failed to produce a card.
In the first half, Palace showed tremendous energy in unsettling Tottenham’s passing game, led by the returning James McArthur and anchored by the assured Milivojevic, and succeeded in restricting the Premier League’s form team to a couple of wild pot shots. Meanwhile, Andros Townsend was making a nuisance of himself against his former side, looking dangerous on the counter, and after one run he set up Christian Benteke, but his shot lacked power and did not trouble Hugo Lloris.
Townsend’s recent improved form and confidence was best illustrated by his continuous tracking back as he helped close down the dangerous Kyle Walker whenever he ventured forward. The game plan was clear and was working well – Spurs would be allowed the ball in midfield, until they came close to the penalty area and then they would be crowded out. Parity at half time felt right, but Mauricio Pochettino, clearly appreciating that two of his players were on thin ice, withdrew both Wanyama and Dembele, and brought on Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min.
Son started to change the game, posing an increasing threat down the left. He linked well with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen – who all started to come to life after the South Korean’s introduction. Palace were under pressure but holding firm until Mahmadou Sakho suffered a nasty knee injury just before the hour. This took the wind out of the Eagles’ players, visibly shaken by the loss of the man who has been a colossus at the back since his loan signing in January. Still, Palace resisted with the ever-improving Martin Kelly showing his reliability, alongside substitute Damien Delaney.
As Spurs ramped up the pressure a couple of chances went begging, including Alli volleying wide from close range and Eric Dier heading over from a corner. But there was a sneaking suspicion that a goal was coming, and come it did when Eriksen picked the ball up some 30 yards out and afforded a bit too much time he sent his shot past Hennessey’s right. And that was pretty much that, as the Palace players were almost out on their feet after their exertions at Anfield on Sunday. Indeed Sam Allardyce bemoaned the additional day of recovery that Spurs had been afforded, this was Palace’s sixth match since 1st April. The seventh is coming up on Saturday 29th, against Burnley, and hopefully they will have had the chance to recharge the batteries for the battles ahead as they try to ensure safety.