It used to be, infamously, 1-0 to the Arsenal in years gone by, but north London rivals Tottenham are quickly gaining that reputation with the third winning scoreline of that kind in just five league games this season after their late show finally overcame battling Cardiff City.
Andre Villas-Boas witnessed his side produce chance after chance – in fact, it was 29 efforts on goal in all – but the Spurs manager was forced to wait until the third minute of added time before they beat the outstanding Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall. The Scotsman was at his best, denying Roberto Soldado, Gylfi Sigurdsson, who also hit the woodwork in the second half, and Christian Eriksen with fine stops.
Then, with the final whistle beckoning, new signing Erik Lamela galloped to the byline and his right-wing cross was supremely backheeled home by Paulinho, with a trademark classy finish from a Brazilian footballer.
This was rough justice for Marshall, who made 11 saves, as Tottenham did better than recent visitors to the Welsh capital Manchester City and Everton in clinching an invaluable victory.
Villas-Boas said: “I’m OK with 1-0 to the Tottenham. It’s a very satisfying win, but there could only be one winner. We created so much that it would have been extremely unfair for us to leave here with only a point.
“We created nearly 30 chances, which is not normal and it could have been one of those days. But we showed persistence, tried to win and got rewarded in the end and there is a sense of justice. If it wasn’t for Marshall, we could have played a more comfortable game.”
Following their seventh clean sheet in eight games in all competitions, Tottenham appear to have a neat combination of a solid defensive foundation and a winning mentality, despite the loss of £86m Gareth Bale to Real Madrid.
Yet the visitors could have fallen behind and lost goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to a red card early on. Fraizer Campbell pounced on Kyle Naughton’s poor back pass from the left-back position and, as the Cardiff striker attempted to round the Frenchman and tap home into an empty net, Lloris appeared to handle outside the penalty area.
Villas-Boas added: “He was right on the limit. People have said there is some controversy, but his hand is right on the line. If that’s the case then the referee has made a right decision.
“We like to press teams high and we have a decisive goalkeeper in the space behind. His interventions have been good.”
Villas-Boas’s Cardiff counterpart, Malky Mackay, admitted he was more frustrated with referee Mark Clattenburg’s decision to rule out a Ben Turner header from Peter Whittingham’s inswinging corner on the stroke of half-time for a push by Aron Gunnarsson on Lloris. The decision looked soft at best.
Mackay said: “I’m more disappointed with the disallowed goal. Hugo Lloris will see it and realise he is a very lucky man. The referee will also be disappointed with his decision. If they look at it again it is Lloris who has his hand on Gunnarsson and then completely misses the track of the ball, so for me it’s a clear goal.”
Despite the onslaught, for long periods newly promoted Cardiff enjoyed their own moments in front of goal, particularly when Peter Odemwingie emerged as a second-half substitute to set up Gunnarsson.
Sadly for Cardiff, the Icelandic midfielder shot horribly over to highlight the fine margins between life in the Championship and the top flight.
Mackay added: “We matched a very good team toe-to-toe and we had some really good chances, but it’s about being more clinical. It’s the harsh reality. They were clinical in the last minute.”
For Tottenham, there was overwhelming joy at Paulinho’s strike inside the six-yard box. The Spurs players celebrated with their own fans at the final whistle as they moved level on points with Premier League leaders Arsenal.
Yet Villas-Boas will not mind the reputation for winning or claiming silverware earned by George Graham’s old Arsenal if they continue to pick up results like this and end up in the top four or better come May.