If a football manager learns more about his players in times of adversity, Roy Hodgson will shortly be publishing a textbook. Crystal Palace were without 12 first-team players for the visit of Tottenham. They are a club swaying and wobbling after being hit several times in the face by Lady Luck. She packs a mean punch.
Yohan Cabaye, Scott Dann, Martin Kelly, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jason Puncheon, Mamadou Sakho, Bakary Sako, Jeffrey Schlupp, Julian Speroni, Joel Ward, Connor Wickham, Wilfried Zaha; it is an astonishing list. When James Tomkins went off with a late injury, Hodgson would have been forgiven for holding out his arms and looking towards the heavens, demanding redemption. This period of misfortune could still be more defining to Palace’s season than the improvement under their new manager.
Palace battled and bustled, this selection of misfits and make-dos determined to do Hodgson proud. They replicated Chelsea’s strategy against Barcelona in midweek, crowding the centre of the pitch to disrupt Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli’s rhythm and forcing Tottenham out wide. From there, Palace relied upon both their ability to repel crosses and Serge Aurier’s unreliability when delivering. Aurier’s three foul throws in the match was a genuine ‘I was there’ moment.
Unfortunately for Hodgson, and again like Chelsea, Palace eventually ran out of fortune. When Eriksen finally played a corner to the far post rather than short or looking for a near-post flick on, Harry Kane scored the 150th goal of his club career. Hodgson looked like a man who had eaten a wasp for his Sunday lunch.
This was not a satisfactory Tottenham display. Eriksen was surprisingly inconsistent when playing his passes in the final third. Erik Lamela, selected over Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura, was rusty and almost entirely ineffective and Alli again gained more notoriety for his theatrics than his creative influence. We’ve now reached the stage where Alli will struggle to get the benefit of the doubt on any tight penalty call. It’s a problem of his own making.
Worst of all was Kane, who produced his worst Tottenham performance in recent memory. Kane’s strength has always lied in the sheer number of shots he manages to take rather than the efficiency of his chance conversion, but he was guilty of missing four presentable chances – and two glaring ones – before the late header. Aurier at least made Kane feel better by managing to get the ball trapped under his feet when virtually standing on the line. He is a 25-year-old full-back wrapped in the body of an inconsistent, raw 18-year-old winger.
Yet if Tottenham are going to gatecrash the top four party for the third successive season, resilience is a trait that they must develop and cherish. No team plays well in every match, but plenty do not require good performance to achieve good result.
In 2018 alone, Tottenham have earned a point in the last five minutes against West Ham, saved their FA Cup tie against Newport in the last ten minutes, twice comeback against Liverpool to gain a point at Anfield, come from two goals down against Juventus and persevered against Crystal Palace until the goal finally came. This is a team that believes in itself; why the hell wouldn’t it?
Kane is emblematic of this Tottenham team in so many ways. He is young, homegrown and has enjoyed a startling recent rise, but also doesn’t let setback get him down.
Kane may have a lower chance conversion than Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud, Romelu Lukaku, Danny Welbeck, Alvaro Morata and many, many others season, but he has also had 48 more shots than any other individual. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again; that is the motto of player and club.