Sunday 22 April 2018

Eriksen steps up to finish off Tottenham's Wembley hoodoo

Tottenham 1 Bournemouth 0

Christian Eriksen fires in the only goal of the game as Tottenham beat Bournemouth to finally end their wait for a Premier League win at Wembley. Photo: PA Wire
Christian Eriksen fires in the only goal of the game as Tottenham beat Bournemouth to finally end their wait for a Premier League win at Wembley. Photo: PA Wire

David Hytner

The Harry Kane team could be grateful to Christian Eriksen. Tottenham Hotspur ­- to give them the name that the Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, contentiously did not - were desperate for a first Premier League win at Wembley; no title challenge can withstand ropey home form. Thanks to Eriksen, one of their other stellar performers, they got it.

It was a scratchy game and Tottenham were a long way from their best. But Eriksen helped to settle their nerves with what proved to be the winning goal early in the second half and they can look forward to a big week with a measure of optimism. They visit Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday night, and host Liverpool on Sunday.

Tottenham Hotspur's English striker Harry Kane (R) controls the ball. Photo: Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur's English striker Harry Kane (R) controls the ball. Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham's focus did not waver from the task in hand. After damaging draws at this venue against Burnley and Swansea City , Mauricio Pochettino could not contemplate further dropped points against opponents that his team knew they ought to be beating. After a dismal first half, Eriksen's smart finish swung the contest. Kane had a rare off-day, but it did not matter.

Bournemouth will point to the moment on 78 minutes when substitute and former Tottenham favourite Jermain Defoe darted through and forced Hugo Lloris to save with his legs. But once Eriksen had scored, they were second best. Their travails go on.

Eddie Howe knew his team had to be harder to break down than they had been previously on their travels this season and his starting formation reflected the emphasis on stability. Dan Gosling, who played off the striker Josh King, was alert to his defensive responsibilities, while the midfield trio worked hard to close down the space. Howe, surely, had been aware of Tottenham's difficulties in breaking down deep-sitting opponents at Wembley and he made it clear to his players that they had to maintain their shape and discipline.

It was a tough watch in the first half and it said much that the closest we came to a breakthrough was the result of an inadvertent diversion. Junior Stanislas's corner on 20 minutes was whipped in and it came off Eric Dier before hurtling low towards Lloris's goal. The Tottenham captain got down to make a fine stop.

Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen (L) vies with Bournemouth's English midfielder Dan Gosling. Photo: AFP
Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen (L) vies with Bournemouth's English midfielder Dan Gosling. Photo: AFP

Moments earlier, Adam Smith had cut a cross back for Stanislas and the Bournemouth midfielder saw a rare shooting chance open up. His effort squirted off Davinson Sanchez and flew wide, with Lloris grounded.

Pochettino had lost Ben Davies to illness and, in his absence, he switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation at the outset, with Jan Vertonghen at left-back. He rotated his three attacking midfielders towards the end of the first half and the impression was of a manager rather groping for the solution.

Tottenham were sluggish in the opening 45 minutes, their movement ahead of the ball poor, the cohesion absent. The only time that the pulses of the home support were quickened was when Eriksen played a lovely pass up the inside right channel and Kane burst in between Nathan Ake and Simon Francis. He got his shot away from a tight angle, but Asmir Begovic saved. From the resulting corner, Toby Alderweireld headed high.

Dele Alli had seen an early shot blocked by Francis, while the Tottenham midfielder also flicked over from Eriksen's cross, when he might have been better leaving it for Sanchez, but Pochettino knew that he had to do something at half-time.

He changed to 3-4-2-1, with Dier making the third centre-half - but stepping up when Tottenham did not have the ball - and Eriksen moving into a central midfield role. Eriksen unlocked the stalemate almost immediately.

There was a fortuitous element to the goal. Francis jumped into a tackle on Eriksen on the edge of the penalty area, after Heung-min Son's pass, and it was one that he had to make. But the ball wriggled underneath him and ran perfectly for Eriksen. He opened up his body, wafted his left foot and guided the ball low into the far corner.

The game became better. Kane had a header ruled out for offside before he was twice denied by Begovic. It was not Kane's day and, as if to emphasis the point, he shinned a volley so far wide on 65 minutes that the ball went out for a throw-in.

Howe went for broke, introducing Defoe and switching to 4-4-2. How close Defoe would be to the equaliser. Fastening onto a pass from another substitute, Jordan Ibe, he struck low for the near post but Lloris would not be foxed.

Tottenham finished strongly, with Eriksen working Begovic, Dier seeing a shot blocked by Steve Cook, Alli heading wide and two substitutes, Moussa Sissoko and Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, failing to finish off a stoppage-time break - Begovic cleaned out Nkoudou on the edge of the area and Harry Winks lifted the follow-up high. Eriksen's goal was enough.

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