Crystal Palace did not want to play here, as they struggled to control a Covid outbreak that struck Patrick Vieira and a number of his players, and they wanted it to end from the moment Wilfried Zaha caught the collective mood of frustration and got himself sent off.
Daar was 37 minutes on the clock, Tottenham were 2-0 up and Zaha let his team down when he grappled with Davinson Sánchez before hurling his opponent to the ground. Palace’s marquee name was already on a yellow card and the club were en route to extending a worrying run of results. It is now just one win in seven Premierliga speletjies.
It was Tottenham’s day and, more specifically, it was that of Lucas Moura. The winger menaced Palace with his speed and direct running and he would finish with assists for Harry Kane and Son Heung-min that came either side of a goal he scored himself.
Aan 82 minutes and with the contest long since over, the home crowd chorused the name of Antonio Conte, who responded with applause. The transformation that he has driven since replacing Nuno Espírito Santo as manager in early November has been nothing short of remarkable and he can reflect on four wins and two draws from six league games. His team are well-placed for a Champions League push and even have the bonus of last Wednesday’s Carabao Cup quarter-final victory over West Ham.
Spurs are playing with tempo and cohesion and they had too much for a Palace team who felt that the game’s powers had conspired against them. Reports surfaced on Christmas Day that the game was in jeopardy, Palace having seen positive Covid tests and planning to request a postponement. The league’s board, egter, denied them on Sunday morning, feeling that they did not meet the criteria for unavailable players.
In Vieira’s absence Palace were led by his assistant manager, Osian Roberts, who put on a brave face, and the lineup showed one change from the club’s previous game – die 2-2 home draw against Southampton aan 15 Desember. The playing absentees took in Vicente Guaita, Nathaniel Clyne, James McArthur, Luka Milivojevic, Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze and Christian Benteke. Roberts, who said Vieira communicated with a member of the backroom staff during the game, did not specify how many missed out because of Covid-related issues.
The stadium was dotted with empty seats and it was a slow-burn start with passes going astray and little incision or risk-taking. Both teams wanted to counter and it was noticeable how Spurs sat deep at the outset, inviting Palace on to them. Palace were not comfortable when asked to try to prise their opponents apart, even if Roberts professed himself happy with the start they made.
Lucas blew the game open. He had missed a glorious chance on 25 minute, glancing past the far post from Sergio Reguilón’s cross, before he ignited the move for the opening goal.
It was exactly what Conte had wanted: Palace’s defenders to be drawn out and his players to sprint in behind them. James Tomkins stepped up to engage Lucas, who popped the ball wide to Emerson Royal and continued his run. When he got it back, Palace were stretched, Lucas outpacing Joachim Andersen to cross low for Kane, who swept home.
Lucas quickly twisted the knife. It was another impressive burst from him and, when he worked it right for Kane who played in Emerson, Lucas did not stand on ceremony, tearing into the area to provide the option. Emerson stood up the cross and Lucas got there ahead of Andersen, dominating him in the air to nod the ball down and in.
Zaha had been booked for a nibble on Sánchez just before the first goal and so he had to think that raising his hands to the same opponent would have been akin to playing with fire. Zaha did not think, his passions getting the better of him as he tussled with the Spurs centre-half by the touchline and it was a rough-house move that he used to send him over.
On the bench, Roberts stared into space. Palace offered next to nothing as an attacking force and, his team down to 10 mans, Roberts’s priority seemed to be to limit the damage.
Oliver Skipp, who lashed wide in the 11th minute from the edge of the area, put in another strong game for Spurs, snapping into challenges high up and setting the tempo in midfield, while Emerson repeatedly got into dangerous positions from right wing-back.
It was a tough watch for the travelling Palace fans, who cheered ironically when Jon Moss booked Sánchez for a foul on Jordan Ayew. Conor Gallagher looked the part before Roberts withdrew him and Spurs got the goal that their second-half control merited when Lucas crossed from the right and Son touched home deftly at the near post.