Son Heung-min strikes as Tottenham hold off Crystal Palace to stretch lead | Premier League
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 mantra 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.
As Tottenham supporters are becoming used to, Postecoglou appeared completely unflustered by his team’s late arrival after they got stuck in Friday night traffic jams on their trip south of the river, 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 after nine matches but the Australian was forced to hand Ben Davies a first Premier League start of the season in place of the injured Destiny Udogie in defence. The return of Yves Bissouma from suspension restored Postecoglou’s preferred axis in midfield alongside Pape Sarr, while Hodgson opted for just one change from the Palace team that were thrashed 4-0 at Newcastle last week with Jeffrey Schlupp back from injury.
The former England manager 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 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 Jordan 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.
Tottenham slowly found their feet, however, with one probing run down the left flank from James Maddison ending when his cross was cleared by Jefferson Lerma with Son Heung-min lurking. Despite one comical moment when he completely missed the ball as he attempted a cross to the delight of the home supporters, Sarr was particularly impressive in midfield as Spurs began to establish dominance. Édouard was perhaps fortunate to escape without a booking after clashing with both Spurs centre-backs Cristian Romero and Micky van de Ven in the space of a couple of minutes.
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 ended the first half strongly.
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 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 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.
The hosts almost responded to their setback straightaway, only for Marc Guéhi to badly misdirect his header from a Will Hughes corner. Hodgson turned to young winger Jesurun Rak-Sakyi and the 21-year-old’s first act was to dispossess Maddison inside his own half. But 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 injury 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. “We’re top of the league,” sang the away supporters when Tottenham’s victory was confirmed. How long they can stay there will be fascinating to watch.