For 80 minutes, it was what we have come to expect from Tottenham Hotspur. A strong first-half capped off by a Harry Kane goal in conjunction with Son Heung-min, followed by a second period of resolute professionalism to close it out.
But Jeffrey Schlupp’s equaliser and the heroics of goalkeeper Vincent Guaita – at fault for the opener – allowed Crystal Palace to claw back a deserved point. Not only was this a first goal conceded in five matches, but it also represents an opportunity for Liverpool to knock Spurs off top spot for the first time since 21 November, ahead of next week when these two will trade blows on Wednesday night. No great tragedy with 26 matches to go, but a setback nonetheless.
Kane’s presence on the scoresheet felt all the more to type given it was his fifth goal away at Palace. Son’s input – a three-yard pass to Kane 30 yards out – was about as loose an “assist” as you can get. But nevertheless, their bond goes on (12 involvements this season) as does the sense that holding the fort, no matter how firm, brings no promise of a result. Spurs had opportunities to kill this off but were, ultimately, undone by their opponents’ willing right to the end. There was a notable appearance of Dele Alli as a late winner was pursued, the midfielder making just his third appearance of the season.
Unchanged yet fresh from the 5-1 win over, Palace’s forward threat of Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke (both with a couple at the Hawthorns), Eberechi Eze and Schlupp were of slightly less importance than the seven others whose primary duty was to cover any Kane-Son breaks while keeping tabs on threats from out wide and over the top.
A warning as early as the ninth minute came when Son drifted beyond Cheikhou Kouyate to collect a deep pass from Toby Alderweireld and clip the outside of the post. But it was the visitors who were threatened with tastes of their own medicine, as two Palace counter-attacks drew a sharp save from Lloris low to his right, and another more ambitious shot over the bar, both from Zaha.
Moments later came the first of many fine saves from Guaita, as Serge Aurier’s cross was met by Tanguy Ndombele, who looked certain to have found the far corner. The Spaniard was again on the spot to keep out a Kane header from a corner.
All this, by the way, came in the first 20 minutes, and one could not help be drawn in by the idea that the opening goal, no matter who was to get it, would open the proverbial floodgates. That did not quite come to pass, but the willingness from both sides to come good on it was evident in the 31 shots shared.
The surprise when the first goal came on 23 minutes was Guaita’s part in it. A series of quick interchanges, from Reguilon to Ndombele to Son and onto Kane, saw the Spurs captain look up from all of 30 yards out. Deciding against continuing the chain, he struck a shot that swerved but only had eyes for the centre of the goal. Guaita over-committed to his right meaning the desperate sprawl to his left could not make amends for the misjudgement. He did well to stand firm to Bergwijn and Ndombele once more when Spurs threatened to double their lead 10 minutes later.
So came a step-up in urgency and energy from Roy Hodgson’s side, which was reflected by the noise from the stands for the first time since 7 March. Of the grounds most empty without fans, Selhurst Park lays claim to being the emptiest given the noise that usually scores their home matches. But the 2,000 fortunate enough to return, most of them spread out in the Holmesdale Road Stand that was decidedly less rocking, were notable in imploring red-and-blue shirts to show push on. That almost translated to an equaliser two minutes before half-time as Eze’s standing side-foot beat Lloris but clipped the wrong side of the far post.
This carried through into the second-half: Palace enjoying more of the ball, penning Spurs back into their own half. While that’s no great tax on any side with Jose Mourinho doing the steering, the defending had shades of fortune attached, even though there were no clear cut chances to speak of.
These flashes, particularly from set-pieces – Schlupp firing a volley high and wide, Benteke headers onto the roof of the net and later into the arms of Lloris – were enough to keep Palace believing. And, with nine minutes to go of regulation time, they drew level when Eze’s free-kick out on the left fizzed through a crowd to bounce off Lloris and into the path of Schlupp who finally brought Palace level.
That the referee’s whistle brought the game to an end at 1-1 was solely on Guaita, who could comfortably emerge from this match with the feeling that he did not just atone for an error, but won the point for Palace which takes them to 11th. A fine reaction stop from Kane and then an Eric Dier free-kick flicked out from the top corner prevented any last-minute disappointment that would have felt wholly unjust.
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