Things are falling into place perfectly for Ange Postecoglou. A second routine victory over London rivals in the space of five days courtesy of Joel Ward’s own goal and Son Heung-min’s eighth league goal of the season took Tottenham five points clear at the top of the table and wondering just how far they can go this season.
It wasn’t exactly the free-flowing football that this Spurs side has made its trademark under their exciting new manager but having been frustrated by a dogged Palace defence in the first half, a moment of inspiration from James Maddison finally found the breakthrough they were looking for. A visit to this ground is never an easy proposition for any title challengers yet even with Roy Hodgson celebrating his 500th game in charge of English clubs in all competitions, Tottenham passed their latest test with flying colours even after Jordan Ayew’s late consolation strike had threatened a comeback from Palace.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Tottenham: Premier League – live reactionRead more
Judging by the celebrations in the away end at the final whistle, the magnitude of this result was not lost on those who made the trip south of the river. As Tottenham supporters are becoming used to, Postecoglou had appeared completely unflustered by his team’s late arrival after they got stuck in Friday night traffic jams, acknowledging that “these things happen in life” in his pre-match interview. Only Bill Nicholson’s 1961 double-winners have made a better start to a top-flight campaign and the Australian did nothing to discourage hopes that this Tottenham side can sustain their flying momentum after beating Fulham 2-0 on Monday night.
“Let them dream – that’s what being a football supporter is all about,” he said. “It’s fair to say this lot have suffered a fair bit so I’m certainly not going to dampen that. For me what is important is that we are giving our supporters some joy and some hope. That’s what football clubs are there for.”
Hodgson admitted that his opposite number’s successful start to life at Spurs had come as no surprise to him having previously locked horns when Postecoglou was in charge of Australia back in 2016. But despite still lacking the creativity of Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise, Hodgson had promised a response from his players after their 4-0 thrashing at Newcastle last week against the league leaders.
Palace certainly appeared up for the challenge under the lights and could have taken the lead twice inside the opening 10 minutes. Will Hughes looked like he was through on goal but still managed to play in Ayew after struggling to outpace the Tottenham defence, only for Guglielmo Vicario to deny the Ghana forward. It took a better save from the Italian to deny Odsonne Édouard’s effort 90 seconds later as the hosts stepped up the pressure.
Tottenham slowly found their feet, however, with one probing run down the left flank from Maddison ending when his cross was cleared by Jefferson Lerma with Son lurking. It took a timely interception from Lerma to sweep the ball away from Maddison just as he was shaping to shoot from the edge of the box before Édouard’s touch let him down inside the area. A series of corners ended with Joachim Andersen heading well over as Palace finished the first half strongly.
Joel Ward deflects the ball into the net to give Spurs the lead. Photograph: Kieran McManus/Tottenham Hotspur FC/Shutterstock
Tottenham failed to muster a single shot on target in the first 45 minutes and Postecoglou responded to his side’s lacklustre performance by withdrawing Ben Davies for Emerson Royal at the break. Hodgson had only tasted victory against Spurs once before in 20 previous Premier League meetings but must have sensed a real opportunity when Jeffrey Schlupp’s cross almost deflected into the path of Édouard. But those hopes were immediately dashed when Maddison found space inside the Palace area and his cross was inadvertently turned into his own net by Ward despite a lack of pressure around him. “It was a big moment in the game,” admitted Hodgson.
skip past newsletter promotion
Sign up to Football Daily
Free daily newsletter
Kick off your evenings with the Guardian’s take on the world of football
after newsletter promotion
The hosts almost responded to their setback straightaway, only for Marc Guéhi to badly misdirect his header from a Hughes corner. Having laboured to 0-0 draws in successive matches here against Fulham and Nottingham Forest, Palace’s prospects of finding a way back into the game appeared bleak. That was underlined when Son doubled Tottenham’s lead when he rounded off a flowing move down the left involving Maddison and a deft touch from substitute Brennan Johnson to set up the South Korean for a tap-in.
Palace continued to press forward in the hope of setting up a grand finale and were given hope in stoppage time when Ayew volleyed home spectacularly from the edge of the penalty area, with VAR taking several minutes to confirm he had not used his hand to control the ball. Had Brazilian Matheus Franca managed to direct his effort on target with the last kick of the match then Palace would have completed the most unlikely of comebacks.
“We’re top of the league,” sang the away supporters when Tottenham’s victory was finally confirmed. How long they can stay there will be fascinating to watch.