Thursday 14 December 2017

Spurs' title challenge gains impetus as Trippier breaks his duck

Tottenham 1-0 Watford

Tottenham Hotspur's Kieran Trippier celebrates scoring his side's winning goal. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Kieran Trippier celebrates scoring his side's winning goal. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Toby Alderweireld attempts a overhead kick. Photo: Reuters
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane misses a opportunity to score. Photo: Reuters

Paul Doyle

If Leicester City are the sensation of the season so far, Spurs are emerging as surprise No 2. This win - far more emphatic than the scoreline suggests - added to the quietly spoken suspicion that the team that now stands second in the table could yet finish on top. There is still a long way to go, and Spurs have a couple of cup competitions to navigate as well as the Premier League, but teams will have to excel to amass more points in the campaign than Mauricio Pochettino's men. Watford never looked like beating them here. Kieran Trippier scored the winning goal on an afternoon when the hosts could have hit a hatful.

Spurs have now won six on the trot in all competitions. That run has fanned belief in a title bid around White Hart Lane, but the Tottenham manager remains militant in his devotion to the one-game-at-a-time dogma. But his Watford counterpart, Quique Sánchez Flores, paid tribute to Spurs' new status by making an unprecedented alteration to his line-up here, breaking up the strike partnership of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney by leaving the latter on the bench. That was the first time this season that the pair have not started together when fit.

The home team virtually monopolised possession from kick-off and forged several chances, mainly from out wide, but also thanks to astute passes from deep by Eric Dier. He made the first opening in the eighth minute with a delightful long pass to Harry Kane, who took one touch before trying to lob the advancing Heurelho Gomes, who saved comfortably.

The shot count read 12-1 to Spurs at half-time but no one needed telling that the blank scoresheet meant Watford's hopes of sneaking a win on the counterattack remained intact, especially as their lone effort in the first half had almost gone in, Almen Abdi looping a shot from 25 yards out on to the roof of the net after Hugo Lloris had been caught in no man's land.

Abdi was replaced by Deeney for the second period. Most of the play continued in the direction of the Watford goal, however, and Miguel Britos had to make a courageous block to deny Nacer Chadli in the 47th minute. Three minutes later, Watford were grateful to referee Roger East for waving away frenzied appeals for a penalty after Gomes appeared to send Kane tumbling.

Just before the hour, Trippier swung in a cross from the right that Chadli could not turn into the net. It was impossible to dodge the thought that Dele Alli - left on the bench after illness - would have converted one of the chances spurned by the Belgian. Pochettino made the obvious substitution on the hour. It only took three minutes for it to pay off. In a sweeping move, Moussa Dembélé played a reverse pass to Alli and he swished the ball across the face of goal. Trippier raced in at the back post to turn it into the net. It was his first goal since his £3.5m summer transfer and the celebrations were laced with relief all around the ground.

Spurs, aware of the number of draws they have endured this season, were hell-bent on ensuring Watford did not recover. They continued attacking and must have been frustrated not to increase their goal haul. That was the only negative aspect to another heartening performance.

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