Harry Kane leaves it late for Spurs in win over Crystal Palace

Harry Kane scored a late, late winner for Tottenham Hotspur as they beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park

This match ended up as a reminder that Harry Kane can never truly be contained. The England striker had endured the type of afternoon that would send most forwards apologetically back into their shells, a pair of misses from point-blank range surely playing on his mind as Tottenham ran aground on a blanket defence. Yet Roy Hodgson, frantically reorganising his back-line as the contest drifted towards its denouement, must have known how this tends to play out.

The Crystal Palace manager, when in charge of the national team, had once looked to Kane to salvage situations and here was the striker peeling away from the clutter in the six-yard box at Christian Eriksen’s late corner to eke out space at the far post.

Damien Delaney, a 36-year-old thrown into a rare appearance off the bench after the excellent James Tomkins had cramped up making a clearance, seemed to lose his bearings as he stared into the glare of the early afternoon sun. He should still have been stronger but he twisted too late in trying to stifle his opponent. Kane had squeezed out enough room in which to work.

His header was cushioned delightfully to arc back beyond Wayne Hennessey, via a touch of the goalkeeper’s glove, and over Christian Benteke and James McArthur on the line to ripple the far corner of the net.

Kane’s 11th goal in 10 games, 24th in the league this season and 150th of his club career, was ultimately a thing of delicate beauty, even if Hodgson spent what little time remained thumping his head back against his seat in the dug-out spitting livid frustration. “Harry’s character made him keep pushing to achieve what we needed,” said Mauricio Pochettino. “All talented players miss chances but what makes a top player different is that, when he makes a mistake, he forgets about it almost immediately and takes the next.”

Spurs, now on their best unbeaten run since 1999 at 15 matches, were thankful for his stubborn refusal to wilt. They had monopolised the ball in a contest that had long since degenerated into an exercise of attack versus defence but were starting to run out of ideas when their reward was plucked from the game’s last knockings. Dele Alli had been reduced to seeking out contact in the penalty area – the midfielder might have had an argument for an award but for his increasingly familiar tendency to over-elaborate the collapse to the turf, which may be dissuading officials from making decisions in his favour – with Hennessey and Palace’s rejigged rearguard was thwarting everything flung at them.

Those two Kane misses felt more significant with every block or save mustered by the hosts, Tottenham’s anxiety rather summed up by Serge Aurier further blighting an erratic display with a trio of foul throws.

Palace had handed Kane his first chance when Patrick van Aanholt sliced an attempted clearance from Alli’s diagonal to the forward’s feet, only for Hennessey to dart out and deflect the shot over the bar. Early in the second half a period of Spurs possession had culminated in Eriksen’s delivery, lofted into the six-yard box with the outside of his left boot, only for Kane, his body shape uncharacteristically awkward, to plant his volley wide. It was to his credit that he summoned the composure to score at the end and give the visitors the win they merited.

Even Hodgson would not deny Tottenham had “the best of the play and created all the chances”, though the finale still felt cruel. Palace, outside the bottom three only on goal difference with Manchester United and Chelsea to face next, had been denied 12 senior players through injury even before Tomkins hobbled away with “severe cramp”. Aaron Wan-Bissaka had been asked to quell Eriksen’s considerable threat on senior debut, the first Palace academy graduate to make a full league debut for the club in 2,148 days – a rather stark statistic – and performed capably, but all the hard work and endeavour of the collective went only so far.

They had harried and hassled admirably, threatening occasionally through Andros Townsend’s pace or Alexander Sørloth’s muscular running, but mental and physical fatigue kicked in before the end. All the chopping and changing eventually took its toll. Hodgson may have Martin Kelly back from a hamstring injury against United next Monday, when Timothy Fosu-Mensah is ineligible, and Jeffrey Schlupp is due to resume training. The manager is still none the wiser as to when Mamadou Sakho, whose wife gave birth to the couple’s third child in France last week, will feel ready to test his calf in competitive action again.

These are increasingly desperate times and, given the fixtures ahead, the situation is likely to worsen before it can improve. “After seven games we were eight points adrift and at least now we’re level,” said Hodgson. “If we get the players back who are unfit at the moment, who knows? In our best moments, with our best team, we can be quite effective.” Their run-in is going to be excruciatingly tense.


Dominic Fifield at Selhurst Park

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