Cup exit no help to title push, insists Pochettino
Tottenham 0 Crystal Palace 1
Published 22/02/2016 | 02:30
Mauricio Pochettino had perhaps already anticipated the line of questioning.
In what was Tottenham Hotspur's 38th game of the season - and only their second defeat since December - was this the first definite sign that the extraordinary intensity of his team's football was taking its toll?
"No," he replied, bluntly. Pochettino then outlined how his players had run seven kilometres more than Fiorentina in Italy on Thursday night and how he was still certain that they had outworked Crystal Palace here even in exiting the FA Cup.
To the suggestion that this result will indirectly enhance Spurs' chances of winning the most open Premier League title race in recent memory, Pochettino was equally emphatic.
"No, no, no," he said. "We can blame about everything but the truth is it wasn't our day. We feel very disappointed. I think that we deserve more, we played better, we created more chances. The effort was big."
The distant chance to emulate Bill Nicholson's legendary double winning Spurs team of 1961 is now gone but, once the frustration has subsided, some comfort will surely be taken in an eased fixture schedule.
Yes, Spurs tried desperately here to salvage an equaliser with a second-half display of markedly greater energy than the first but they did look collectively jaded following their midweek trip to Florence.
And had they drawn this match, a replay would have somehow had to be sandwiched between the potential Premier League decider against Arsenal on March 5 and another Europa League fixture only five days later.
In truth, rather like Manchester City, their season had perhaps simply reached a point whereby something had to give. Great credit is also due to Palace, for whom Wilfried Zaha was excellent, in putting a nine-match winless sequence in the league behind them to move into the last eight of the FA Cup for the first time since 1995.
There were jeers every time Emmanuel Adebayor touched the ball on his return to White Hart Lane but his presence was important in helping Palace break forward even if Spurs, through Alli and Harry Kane, were initially creating the better chances.
Heung-Min Son produced a wonderful first-half run through much of the Palace defence and teed up Alli, whose shot somehow beat Wayne Hennessey before bouncing off the inside of one post and trickling back across the goal-line and onto the inside of the other post.
Palace also threatened, with Wickham then finding Adebayor, only for the former Tottenham striker to have his shot blocked by Eric Dier. The miss delighted the Spurs fans but the retort by the 5,100-strong Palace congregation was perfectly aimed. "That's why you're paying him," they sang, in reference to the weekly £30,000 bill that Spurs have accepted to finally ease the Togo forward out of the club.
Palace's momentum was growing and they made their ascendancy count on the stroke of half-time. Zaha produced a wonderful piece of skill to take three Spurs defenders out of the game. He then released Martin Kelly just as the right-back had surged into the space behind Tottenham's defence.
Kelly was one-on-one with Michel Vorm, and the angle was acute, but the sheer force of his shot beat the goalkeeper at his near-post. It was Kelly's first goal since 2011.
Spurs responded after the break. Kane quickly forced an excellent save by Hennessey before having a shot blocked.
But with Damien Delaney and Scott Dan outstanding at centre-back, Palace absorbed the remaining Tottenham attacks to spark delirious celebrations from the away fans.