Thursday 22 August 2019

Son rises to occasion on new dawn for Tottenham

Tottenham 2-0 Crystal Palace

Tottenham Hotspur striker Son Heung-Min celebrates after scoring the opening goal. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur striker Son Heung-Min celebrates after scoring the opening goal. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Miguel Delaney

A wait has ended, and a weight has gone with it. Tottenham Hotspur found their way home and thereby got up and running again.

This first match at the stunning new stadium also brought a first win in six matches and almost two months, even if this win over Crystal Palace was a lot less than stunning. It was instead rather attritional, and never the kind of carnival the joyous opening ceremony suggesting it was might be.

That was somewhat inevitable because of both the opposition and the very nature of the occasion, but won't matter in the long run, nor in the records.

What really matters is that they opened the ground with a win, and also went one step closer to ensuring it stays a Champions League stadium for next season by staying in the top four. What matters even more was that they fought their way through a defiant Palace, and out of this recent bad run.

Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates victory with Lucas Moura. Photo: Getty
Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates victory with Lucas Moura. Photo: Getty

Through that, the scorer of the first goal could not have been much more fitting. It is the relentlessness of Son Heung-Min that has characterised much of their season so far, and it was that which characterised the famous first goal at this stadium, before Christian Eriksen made the win secure.

A beaming-again Mauricio Pochettino will know not to take it for granted. One of the under-appreciated challenges with nights like this for the team involved is if they don't get that early goal. Then, all of that energy tends to go nowhere, and an occasion can develop into a proper struggle.

That is what happened, with all of it exacerbated by Spurs' recent form and Palace's recent away record. Roy Hodgson's side had claimed 13 points from the last 18 on the road, with the only defeat a narrow 4-3 loss to Liverpool.

Doubtless

Spurs' midfielder Christian Eriksen (R), Lucas Moura (C) and Toby Alderweireld (L) celebrate on the pitch. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Spurs' midfielder Christian Eriksen (R), Lucas Moura (C) and Toby Alderweireld (L) celebrate on the pitch. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

In that, they were probably the worst possible opposition for such an occasion, at the worst possible time, and against the worst possible manager. Hodgson would doubtless have taken some joy in, well, taking the joy out of Spurs' big night.

His tactics were just never going to let this become "the party" that Pochettino had promised beforehand. It was going to be a battle.

That was signalled when Dele Alli went in fairly abrasively on Luka Milivojevic in the first half. He was booked for that and somewhat lucky not to become the player to receive the first red card at this stadium, with that the feeling when he went down rather easily in the box moments later. Andre Marriner, however, waved play on.

That was something Palace were making it difficult to do, and it was hard not to think some of Alli's actions stemmed from frustration. You could feel it in the crowd. There were periods before the opening goal when the otherwise boisterous support went quiet as they waited for the moment, only to get mocked by the away fans chanting "is this the Emirates?"

Spurs had so much of the ball and so much of the play, but not much to show for it. They best they could offer were long shots and set-pieces.

Hodgson's narrow formation was naturally squeezing the space. That is an approach that has brought a lot of success against the top six this season, but has always carried a certain risk.

It can be susceptible to surging wide players, if you just get the right break. That was precisely what happened.

The problem, however, stemmed from the centre. After his side had been so tough to break down, Milivojevic too easily lost the ball to Eriksen, who found Son in space outside. The Korean cut inside and, with Palace players trying to get across to block the shot, his effort cannoned off Milivojevic and went in.

That it happened right in front of the spectacular South Stand, already renamed the White Wall, made it all the more special. It was the release they'd been waiting for. And not just for the team. Also for Eriksen.

On 80 minutes, he got his first goal since February 10, which also happened to be the date of their last win in the Premier League.

That bad run has finally been ended. That wait has finally been ended. The Spurs have come marching home, and started marching up the league again.

Independent News Service

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