It was a goal to make history and to achieve the seemingly impossible – thrill across both sides of the north London divide. Harry Kane got it early on and, in doing so, he became Tottenham’s all-time record scorer, moving to 267 – one clear of the legendary Jimmy Greaves.
Spurs had been desperate for something to spark their season, a first victory against a member of the so-called big six after so many frustrations, and they got it – deservedly, against a curiously off-colour Manchester City. And how it would be celebrated down the road at Arsenal, whose lead over City at the top of the Premier League has not been damaged by their surprise defeat at Everton on Saturday.
Spurs had Cristian Romero sent off towards the end for a second bookable offence – a trip on Jack Grealish – and there were the inevitable nerves during five minutes of stoppage-time. And yet the goal that City needed to bail them out never looked on.
Pep Guardiola’s players had roared back from 2-0 down to beat Spurs 4-2 at the Etihad Stadium on 19 January – an evening when the manager called City a “happy flowers team”, questioning their hunger. He could make a more legitimate case for the description here. Something is missing in the defending champions, whose misery at this stadium goes on. It is now five matches, five defeats and no goals scored.
Kane’s goal took him to 200 in the Premier League – only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney have previously reached the mark – and it was the prompt for some high-grade Spurs content after the full-time whistle. Kane would be interviewed on the pitch, essentially asked to lay it on in front of his teammates and a group of supporters that serenaded him, which he duly did. He used the word “surreal” more than once, which probably summed it up best.
Spurs had it all pre-prepared. When the goal went in, there was a message on the big screen in gold block lettering – “Congratulations, Harry” – although it was possible to wonder whether the post-match show would have been rolled out as it was had City fought back to win.
What an achievement it is for Kane because, as anybody above a certain age will tell you, Greaves truly was the best. And if the goal was a horror show from a City point of view, nobody in Tottenham colours was complaining.
It came when Rodri – pressed by Rodrigo Bentancur – tried to flip a pass around the corner to Rico Lewis as he faced his own penalty area and it never looked on. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg read it, he intercepted and did well to make up a bit of ground under pressure from Lewis before going right to Kane, who unloaded first-time for the far corner.
Spurs glugged down the tonic, the aggression rushing into their game, even if Romero went too far with a wild, sliding lunge into Erling Haaland for which he was booked. That was in the 26th minute. He was on the edge thereafter. With Kane dropping off and Son Heung-min in the mood to lengthen his stride, Spurs were dangerous on the transitions. They eyed spaces behind the visitors’ defence throughout.
City had flickered at 0-0 but Guardiola’s agitation for much of the occasion told its own story. His team struggled to prise apart a deep-sitting Spurs defence in which there were plenty of heroes, including Eric Dier and Emerson Royal, who started ahead of the new signing, Pedro Porro.
Guardiola wanted Lewis to step up and across into midfield from left-back when his team had the ball, which allowed Bernardo Silva to push closer to Haaland and Julián Álvarez. Call it the João Cancelo role – before Guardiola cancelled him. The responsibility on Lewis, just 18, was incredible.
City created only one clear opening in the first half and it was at the very end of it, Grealish crossing from the left and Ben Davies half-clearing with his head. Riyad Mahrez controlled before whipping a shot over Hugo Lloris. He was denied by the crossbar.
There had been no Antonio Conte in the Spurs dug-out, as expected. The Spurs manager embraces suffering but it was always going to be too much for him to be here so soon after he underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder. Conte watched from back in Italy; the result would be the best medicine for his recovery.
Spurs knew what they needed to do in the second half; maintain their defensive shape and win the duels. But it quickly became clear that a second goal was a possibility because the counterattack remained on for them.
Kane had a sighting on the volley only to miscue while Davies glanced over from a corner. Then there were the moments when Spurs tore forward only to miss the last action. Højbjerg’s final pass for Emerson allowed Nathan Aké to make a saving tackle; Ivan Perisic’s cross was just too far in front of Kane after a Son burst.
By then, Guardiola had introduced Kevin De Bruyne, having surprisingly started him among the substitutes. De Bruyne teed up Álvarez, who whistled high via a deflection off Dier, and Álvarez would also be just off target on 68 minutes. But it was not a game in which City knocked too loudly on the door and it was Spurs who went closer to the next goal. Ederson blocked from Kane while he also pushed away a Son shot from distance.