Wednesday 21 March 2018

Battling Spurs throw hat in ring of title contenders as classy Paulinho pounces at death

Cardiff City 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1

Graham Clutton

Paulinho's stoppage-time winner not only proved that justice prevails in the end but provided further confirmation that Tottenham might just be realistic contenders for the title – even without their talisman Gareth Bale.

Of course, there will be far tougher footballing examinations of Andre Villas-Boas' side than this over the course of the season. There will also be times when firing a volley of blanks for the best part of 93 minutes, as they did in this one-sided contest, will cost them dearly.

Still, the patience and quality they displayed, up until that last hurrah when Paulinho audaciously back-heeled substitute Erik Lamela's 92nd-minute cross past the desperate lunge of Kevin Theophile-Catherine, will surely have the other top end protagonists watching closely at Tottenham's post-Bale class of 2013.

"We created so much that it would have been unfair had we not have got the points," Villas-Boas said.

"However, we got our reward in the end and if it had not have been for (David) Marshall it would have been more comfortable."

Cardiff's Scottish keeper returned from injury to pull off half a dozen world-class stops in the first half and repeated the dose after the interval to deny Roberto Soldado, twice, Andros Townsend and Gylfi Sigurdsson.

"He was outstanding," Villas-Boas said. "And yes, there was a moment when we thought it might be one of those days. But we played so open and tried so hard, that I think justice was done in the end."

For Cardiff, it was a bitter pill to swallow in so much that Marshall's heroics deserved a point at least. For manager Malky Mackay, Ben Turner's disallowed header on the cusp of half-time aggrieved him most.

"I am disappointed with the disallowed goal," Mackay said. "If you look at it again it was Lloris who had his hand on Gunnarsson.

"We were playing against a terrific team but we went at them toe to toe and I am disappointed but very, very proud of them. Had we have been a little more clinical, we would have got something from the game."

Mackay's focus was on two opportunities, one at either end of the game. Fraizer Campbell intercepted a careless backpass from Kyle Naughton in the third minute before losing his nerve when closed down by Hugo Lloris and Aron Gunnarsson scooped his shot over the bar nine minutes from the end.

Neither Mackay or his players could have any real gripe about the end result. Spurs had 29 shots at goal, of which 12 were on target. Not one of Cardiff's half dozen was on the money.

But for lengthy periods it looked as though Marshall would be the toast of south Wales. The save to deny Eriksen in the first half was perhaps the pick although his agility in the second half, to kick away Soldado's clean strike from a dozen yards was only marginally less impressive.

Thereafter, Cardiff fashioned one or two opportunities, most notably Gunnarsson's effort in the 81st minute. But Spurs, who brought on Lamela to add a fresh pair of legs out wide, were certainly not in the mood to give up the chance of joining rivals Arsenal on top of the pile.

Moussa Dembele, whose performance was polished and precise from start to finish kept the ball moving in midfield as the clock ticked towards the fourth minute of added time and when Lamela found himself in an acre of space inside the Cardiff penalty area, his pullback was converted with aplomb by Paulinho.

Marshall held his head in despair as nearly 3,000 visiting fans kicked off the party.

Spurs might be missing the exquisite quality of Bale after his world record move to Real Madrid, but only a brave man would bet against an even better season this time around, than last. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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