Tottenham Hotspur’s season was 12 minutes from ending here at Selhurst Park when Christian Eriksen brilliantly kept it alive.
Spurs were heading for a 0-0 that would have been the only fair reflection of this drab flat match. One point would have left Spurs waking up on Thursday morning six points behind with five points left. They would have needed, at the bare minimum, for Antonio Conte’s side to lose two of those five games to have any chance of winning the title. It would have been the low-key end to their title run, far less dramatic and traumatic than last year’s blow-out at Stamford Bridge.
But that is not how it turned out, not in the end. Harry Kane, struggling for answers, passed the ball to Eriksen, in space 35 yards from goal. There was no obvious pass on so Eriksen touched the ball out in front of himself and whipped it right-footed towards the far bottom corner of the goal. Wayne Hennessey is a tall goalkeeper but he did not realise what was happening quickly enough and did not get down in time. His dive was too slow, the ball whistled past his outstretched arm and into the bottom corner of the net.
That is why Eriksen is known as ‘golazo’ at Spurs’ training ground. He is a creative genius, as he showed with his wonderful assist for Dele Alli at Wembley on Saturday, but he also has a gift for brilliant goals. It was a strike of audacity and precision, one that of all the players on the pitch, only Eriksen could have successfully scored.
Spurs comfortably saw the win out, and when the players, fans and Pochettino himself celebrated at the end it was the excitement of those who knew that their season was not over yet. They have kept the gap between them at Chelsea to four points, which puts more pressure on Chelsea’s trip to Goodison Park on Sunday. If they slip up, then the last ever north London derby at White Hart Lane gains an extra edge.
This result was even more impressive because for so much of this evening, it looked so unlikely. In the first half at least, Spurs looked tired, deflated and slow. Understandably so, perhaps. This was their 47th game of the season and it has not been an easy few days for them. Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat at Wembley was a harsh reminder of how much further they still have to go to win a major trophy.
Pochettino brought Kyle Walker and Ben Davies, both benched for Saturday, back into the team here but in the first half Spurs struggled to go anywhere. Crystal Palace successfully clogged up the midfield and it was only when Pochettino changed his 3-4-2-1 for a 4-2-3-1, Eric Dier stepping up and Mousa Dembele pushing forward, that they got anywhere at all.
Even then Palace were the better team in the first half, looking more like scoring, and so Pochettino had to take a punt at half-time. Dembele and Victor Wanyama came off for Heung Min Son and Moussa Sissoko, and he went for an unusually open 4-1-4-1, all about pace and width. Because at this stage of the season, what good would a point have been?
When Walker got free down the right, his perfect far-post cross found Alli, making that favourite run of his, but he dragged his shot wide. Alli’s next effort, on the turn from the edge of the box, was harder, but he did force Hennessey into a save.
Mamadou Sakho was stretchered off, which would have been a disaster were it not for Palace’s recent run which ensured their Premier League safety. But the game was going scrappy, with Kane booked for a late tackle on Puncheon and Joel Ward booked for pulling back Son.
Spurs continued to push, forcing Palace all the way back and while they were better than in the first half, they were not exactly cutting Palace open. Eric Dier got up at the near post to head a whipped corner over the bar. Kane jumped to meet Davies’ cross but could not get enough power on his header.
But just when it looked like Spurs were running out of energy and ideas, when Chelsea could start to count their six-point lead again, Eriksen demanded the ball a long way from goal. He does not want this season to end, not yet.
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1) Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Sakho (Delaney, 56), Schlupp; Milivojevic, Puncheon; Zaha, McArthur (Cabaye, 63), Townsend, Benteke (Campbell, 81)
Tottenham (3-4-2-1) Lloris; Alderweireld, Dier, Vertonghen; Walker, Wanyama (Son, 45), Dembele (Sissoko, 45), Davies; Eriksen, Alli; Kane