For the first time since the 1960/61 season, Tottenham Hotspur can boast a lead at the summit of the top-flight table as wide as five points after a 2-1 victory away to Crystal Palace on Friday night.
Palace’s stubborn resolve was ironically undone by their own captain, with Joel Ward forced into bundling the ball beyond his own goalkeeper by James Maddison. Son Heung-min doubled Tottenham’s advantage within ten minutes as the Eagles wobbled under the Friday night lights.
Just as the contest threatened to meander to a conclusion, Jordan Ayew pegged Spurs back with a stoppage-time strike swatted into the top corner. It proved to be no more than a consolation but offered more doubt in a win which was far from straightforward for the league leaders.
How the game unfolded
After last weekend’s 4-0 thrashing dished out by Newcastle United, Roy Hodgson admitted that there had been plenty of “soul-searching” in south London. Based on Palace‘s obdurate block, there had also been plenty of drills on defensive shape.
Up against Tottenham’s rotating carousel of white shirts, Palace huddled in a compact 4-4-2 off the ball, trying to force the visitors out wide.
As so often is the case, Palace ceded possession but packed a punch, peppering Guglielmo Vicario’s goal with a flurry of early efforts. Micky van de Ven’s searing pace – no longer surprising but startling nonetheless – snuffed out any ball over the top, though the Eagles threatened from set pieces and in transition.
Spurs, by comparison, endured a first half without a single shot on target for the first time under Ange Postecoglou. Tottenham went 1-0 up against the run of play and were still waiting for an accurate effort.
Taking advantage of the space that Palace afforded Spurs on the wings, Pedro Porro – naturally inclined to drift centrally under Postecoglou – combined with Pape Matar Sarr down the right flank. Maddison latched on to Sarr’s cutback, fizzing a wayward shot across the box and into the net via the shins of a luckless Ward.
Entrenched in a reactive rearguard, Palace were visibly unnerved by the shift in impetus prompted by Tottenham’s opener – an indecision not helped by the howls of disapproval that rained down from an impatient crowd.
Son deepened the discontent in Selhurst Park by converting Tottenham’s first shot on target in the 66th minute. Barely two minutes after his introduction, Brennan Johnson dovetailed with Maddison down the left wing before sliding the ball back for Son to gleefully tap Tottenham into a 2-0 lead.
Ayew sparked a nervy finish with a thumping volley in the fourth minute of stoppage time – although, plenty of momentum was removed by a lengthy VAR review scrutinising whether the ball brushed Ayew’s fingertips. Porro, who had been outjumped by Ayew, redeemed himself at the death with a lunge in front of Matheus Franca that preserved all three points for Spurs.
GK: Sam Johnstone – 5/10 – Helpless when beaten by his own player from point-blank range.
RB: Joel Ward – 4/10 – Couldn’t untangle his long limbs quickly enough to avoid an own goal.
CB: Joachim Andersen – 6/10 – Booming the ball all over Selhurst Park with his characteristic cannon of a right boot.
CB: Marc Guehi – 4/10 – Routinely dropped much deeper than the rest of his backline, regularly playing Tottenham’s forwards onside bizarrely.
LB: Tyrick Mitchell – 6/10 – Shackled Dejan Kulusevski for much of the contest before injury forced him off.
CM: Cheick Doucoure – 5/10 – Failed to exert a significant influence over proceedings.
CM: Jefferson Lerma – 6/10 – When Spurs managed to bypass the first line of the press, Lerma was often lurking, desperate to stick a boot in.
AM: Will Hughes – 6/10 – Shadowed Yves Bissouma out of possession, desperately trying to prevent Spurs from playing through the middle.
RW: Jordan Ayew – 7/10 – Physically dominated both full-backs, on the ground and in the air.
ST: Odsonne Edouard – 5/10 – Snatched at the chances that fell his way.
LW: Jeffrey Schlupp – 6/10 – Battled doggedly up and down the left flank.
SUB: Jesurun Rak-Sakyi (60′ for Schlupp) – 5/10
SUB: Nathaniel Clyne (70′ for Mitchell) – 5/10
SUB: Naouirou Ahamada (70′ for Hughes) – 5/10
SUB: Matheus Franca (79′ for Lerma) – N/A
SUB: Jean-Philippe Mateta (79′ for Edouard) – N/A
Subs not used: Remi Matthews (GK), Rob Holding, Chris Richards, Jairo Riedewald
Roy Hodgson – 5/10 – Didn’t cause any surprises with his setup which worked for 45 minutes but failed to react to Tottenham’s opener.
GK: Guglielmo Vicario – 6/10 – Alert when forced into action, crucially parrying the ball away from danger.
RB: Pedro Porro – 6/10 – The most likely member of Tottenham’s back four to pierce Palace’s shape with a penetrative pass.
CB: Cristian Romero – 5/10 – Took a few whacks when getting touch-tight to Edouard.
CB: Micky van de Ven – 8/10 – The boos that greeted his early touches were worth all the praise in the world, singling Van de Ven out as a player so successful at stopping the hosts that Palace fans took an instant disliking to the Dutchman.
LB: Ben Davies – 4/10 – Filling the big boots left by Destiny Udogie, Davies embraced the same unorthodox positional responsibilities going forward but struggled with the defensive workload required of a true two-way role. Damningly hooked at half-time.
CM: Pape Matar Sarr – 7/10 – An ever-willing runner, darting off Schlupp’s shoulder to tee up Maddison’s goal-forcing effort.
CM: Yves Bissouma – 6/10 – Scuttling and shuttling all over the defensive third, Bissouma’s impact in possession was limited by Hughes.
AM: James Maddison – 7/10 – Lacked his usual sharpness for large swathes but rediscovered his swagger in the final half-hour.
RW: Dejan Kulusevski – 5/10 – Every time Kulusevski got the ball, Palace assistant coach Ray Lewington bellowed: “Left foot!” The Swede eventually figured out that he ought to occasionally chop onto his right side but didn’t have his best night.
ST: Son Heung-min – 7/10 – Dormant until lighting up when the first chance fell his way.
LW: Richarlison – 5/10 – Could not be accused of hanging on to the ball but his insistence on playing with one touch was hurried at times.
SUB: Emerson Royal (46′ for Davies) – 6/10 – Lining up on his unnatural flank, Emerson fared better than Davies but didn’t fill the void left by Udogie.
SUB: Brennan Johnson (64′ for Richarlison) – 7/10 – Rapidly caught up to the speed of the contest to set up Son with practically his first touch.
SUB: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (64′ for Bissouma) – 5/10
SUB: Bryan Gil (89′ for Maddison) – N/A
SUB: Rodrigo Bentancur (90′ for Kulusevski) – N/A
Subs not used: Fraser Forster (GK), Eric Dier, Oliver Skipp, Giovani Lo Celso
Ange Postecoglou – 6/10 – Recognised the frailty of Davies and acted swiftly but remained patient with Tottenham’s overall approach which came good once again.