Monday 21 January 2019

Dier gets job done but Spurs forced to labour for victory

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Cardiff City 0

Cardiff City’s Josh Murphy is tackled by Danny Rose during yesterday’s Premier League clash at Wembley. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty
Cardiff City’s Josh Murphy is tackled by Danny Rose during yesterday’s Premier League clash at Wembley. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty

Sachin Nakrani

For Tottenham, this was meant to be the calm after the storm. Having been tormented and taken apart by Barcelona here on Wednesday, Mauricio Pochettino's men expected to enjoy a far less stressful occasion at their temporary home, yet while they won for a third successive time in the Premier League it was by no means as comfortable as it should have been.

Cardiff City arrived here winless and without a player who is in the same galaxy, let alone planet, as Lionel Messi, but they proved more than tricky opponents for Spurs on a dank day in north London, refusing to wilt having conceded early and then again after being reduced to 10 men early in the second half.

Joe Ralls of Cardiff City receives a red card. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Joe Ralls of Cardiff City receives a red card. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Neil Warnock's side may find themselves stuck on two points, as well as rooted to bottom place, but there were signs here that better times do indeed lie ahead for them.

For Tottenham, this a third successive league victory, and one that moves them to third, but life continues to be something of a struggle for the Londoners as they head into an increasingly busy run of fixtures.

Pochettino made three changes to the Tottenham side that lost to Barcelona, with Moussa Sissoko's selection over Érik Lamela, who scored against the Catalans, the most eye-catching. Rest and recuperation are clearly at the forefront of the Argentinian's mind in light of a mounting injury list that now includes Jan Vertonghen, who could be out for up to six weeks with a hamstring strain.

Sissoko lined up on the right wing in a 4-2-3-1 formation that was most notable for Harry Kane's deployment in a withdrawn role behind Lucas Moura. The obvious explanation for the tactical curiosity was that Pochettino wanted Lucas to stretch as well as force back Cardiff's defence, leaving space for Kane to exploit.

Eric Dier of Tottenham Hotspur scores the winning goal. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Eric Dier of Tottenham Hotspur scores the winning goal. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

It was an interesting move yet when the hosts did strike after eight minutes it came about via conventional means. Kieran Trippier sent a cross into the area following a left-sided short corner and after Davinson Sánchez's subsequent header had ricocheted off Joe Bennett, Eric Dier found himself in the perfect spot to lash the ball into the net.

Warnock shook his head, clearly annoyed his side had conceded from a set-piece. However, the Cardiff manager would have been far more pleased with his side's reaction to going behind, and indeed they were unlucky not to equalise on 23 minutes after Josh Murphy reacted quicker than Danny Rose to Callum Paterson's flick-on. Having found himself one-on-one with Hugo Lloris, he lifted the ball over the Belgian and towards the back post where Toby Alderweireld was able to hook the ball away under pressure from Junior Hoilett.

The rest of the first half was a somewhat scrappy affair as Tottenham moved the ball quickly and sharply but struggled to crank up the pressure against dogged opponents. Saying that, they should have doubled their lead before the interval, with Lucas guilty of failing to convert two relatively easy chances.

The Brazilian again went close to scoring less than a minute after the restart but could only look on as his shot, following Neil Etheridge's save from a Kane header, was cleared off the goalline by Sean Morrison.

It was a positive opening to the second half by the hosts as they looked to extend their lead as quickly as possible. Harry Winks was becoming an increasingly influential figure while Kane, free of a Cardiff marker, was finding pockets of space to cause panic within their ranks.

A minute later he also found himself in a rage. The forward reacted furiously to Joe Ralls' cynical, knee-high challenge on Moura as the forward looked to sprint past him, charging towards the midfielder before barging him in the chest. He was booked by Mike Dean but only after the referee had also shown a straight red card to Ralls.

Cardiff's players and manager protested the decision but it was undeniably the right one and suddenly the visitors' hopes of getting back into this contest had taken a severe hit. Cue surprise, then, when Cardiff almost scored on 64 minutes.

Victor Camarasa drifted a free-kick deep into Spurs' area which Morrison reacted to first with a diving header. The ball looked to be sneaking into the net only for Lloris to push it on to the post and for Alderweireld to yet again clear the danger.

Tottenham continued to dominate possession and territory but a second goal was eluding them, leading to Pochettino bringing on Lamela for Son Heung-min. The Argentinian was an immediately lively presence and would have scored with a low shot from near the penalty area had it not been for Morrison's block. Ultimately, it did not matter.

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