Tottenham finally got their season going in earnest on Saturday, edging Crystal Palace 1-0 at White Hart Lane to earn their first victory of the 2016/17 season. A tight, even contest between the two sides looked like ending scoreless until home debutant Victor Wanyama’s headed goal in the 83rd minute snatched all 3 points for the hosts. The win improved Spurs’ league position to 7th place, while Palace remain rooted to the relegation zone in 19th.
Palace manager Alan Pardew came into the game with a big task in front of him, having lost two of his key players to transfers in midweek. While some good news came in the hours leading up to kickoff via the signing of Liverpool’s Christian Benteke, the Belgian would play no part in proceedings at the Lane, leaving his manager to rely on Connor Wickham to spearhead his attack. Former Spurs man Andros Townsend and former United winger Wilfried Zaha provided the width, while stalwarts Damien Delaney and Scott Dann anchored the defense.
Spurs’ Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, made two changes to the side that drew at Everton last week. One was forced on him, with Michel Vorm deputizing for the injured Hugo Lloris in goal. The second was by choice, with Dele Alli dropped to the bench in favor of Vincent Janssen, who partnered Harry Kane in attack.
As expected at home, Tottenham started well, creating a few chances in the early going. Defender Toby Alderweireld should’ve scored with a point-blank header off a Lamela corner in the 11th minute, but his effort found the grateful hands of Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey instead of the back of the net.
Palace were made to sweat again on 27 minutes, and would certainly have conceded if not for Hennessey’s heroics. The Welsh keeper did well to parry a Harry Kane effort from outside the box, only to have the ball spill to Janssen. Hennessey recovered quickly though, denying the first follow-up from the Dutch striker and then another immediately after. The final chance of the half came to Kane, who flashed a strike from dead-center on the edge of the penalty area wide of Hennessey’s right post.
Pochettino would have been the happier of the two managers at the break, having seen his side create plenty of good chances in the opening half. Pardew’s men were holding on though, with a ginormous amount of the credit belonging to the alert Hennessey in goal.
At the start of the second half, Pardew subbed on Frenchman Yohan Cabaye for Joe Ledley in the Palace midfield. Cabaye’s impact was immediate, and gave Palace’s passing game a bit of life. Some neat passing in the 54th minute gave the midfield maestro a sight at goal, but he flashed his shot wide from well outside the area.
Cabaye soon got another bite at the cherry, though, and it’s a chance most in the stadium would have expected him to take. Townsend drove down the Spurs’ left flank before picking Cabaye out near the penalty mark with an accurate low cross. The Frenchman’s effort was sadly disappointing, and he slumped to the ground as soon as it left his boot and sailed into the stands.
Pochettino brought on Dele Alli for Eriksen in the 68th minute, and the Englishman created a gilt-edged chance for Janssen within minutes. His through ball put the striker clean in on Hennessey, but Janssen’s effort sailed wide of the post. It was an unfortunate missed chance for the Dutchman, who worked hard all game in search of his first goal for the club.
Janssen’s missed opportunity didn’t haunt Spurs for long, though, as they made Palace pay from inside the penalty area in the 83rd minute. A Lamela corner found the head of Kane, who flicked it toward goal where Wanyama was lurking. The Kenyan international managed to get to it ahead of Hennessey, deftly guiding it beyond the goalkeeper behind him to claim his first goal in Spurs’ colors.
White Hart Lane was buzzing after the goal, and Spurs seemed buoyed by the fans’ response. Palace did their best to rally, but the host’s defense held strong for the last 10 minutes to earn them their first victory of the season. The result clearly delighted Pochettino, who praised his side’s industry and attacking play after the match.
Pardew was left frustrated once again, as his side had not played badly, but lacked the cutting edge up front to make their chances count. The good news for Palace is that Benteke will bring that quality they need in the attacking third, so long as the rest of the team can provide him with suitable service.
Up next for Palace is a League Cup tie against lower-tier Blackpool on August 23rd. Spurs’ next match is of a considerably higher profile, as they entertain Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Saturday, August 27th. The Merseyside outfit suffered a shock defeat to newly promoted Burnley at the weekend, and Pochettino will feel their defense in particular can be exploited.