The tale of two strikers lived up to its billing. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku sat level at the summit of the Premier League’s goal-scoring charts prior to kick-off and a brace, including a brilliant opener, put the latter out in front at the final whistle. Yet he and his Tottenham Hotspur team-mates were given the jitters by his Everton counterpart, who scored late to give this otherwise unremarkable game a frantic finish.
Mauricio Pochettino made no changes to the starting line-up which blew Stoke City away on this ground a week ago, while Ronald Koeman opted for a protective screen of three defensively-minded midfielders, no doubt aware of Tottenham’s formidable home form. While the hosts were searching for a ninth consecutive win in the own backyard for the first time since the 1986/87 campaign, their guests wanted to stretch their unbeaten run to 10 games.
Such records are why both these coaches are in the contest to become Lionel Messi’s next manager, yet you would not have known it from the way their teams started. The only early moment of note came when Kyle Walker got the beating of Leighton Baines, knocking the ball past his fellow full-back and into the box. Baines recovered to get a clumsy foot on the ball, but the crowd cried ‘penalty’. Referee Michael Oliver correctly awarded a corner.
The two teams proceeded to cancel each other out for further 15 minutes, and such an enticing fixture threatened to descend into an irreversible deadlock, but out of nothing, something special broke us out of it. Kane collected the ball with his back to goal midway through Everton’s half and from the way he turned, you could tell what would come next. Even from 30 yards out, he looked confident. Pochettino simply turned and nodded to the bench when the rasping shot put Tottenham ahead. He too had seen it coming.
Now the Premier League’s leading scorer, Kane went back on the hunt. In the very next passage of play, he cut past Baines into the box off the right then looked up, played a smart one-two with Christian Eriksen and left a sliding Ashley Williams having to pay to get back in. All that was needed was a simple finish, but Robles parried the effort and an awaiting Eriksen blazed the rebound over. Tottenham finally had the bit between their teeth.
A spell of exerted pressure followed. After the careless Ramiro Funes Mori was cautioned for a kick on Kane’s shins, the goalscorer almost found his second, coming close to making a connection on the subsequent free-kick. A minute later, Victor Wanyama crashed a long-range effort against the upright and Kane, in an offside position, spooned the follow-up. Everton were on the ropes, and now was the time for Tottenham to put the contest to bed. Yet like one Evertonian at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday night, they took their time to find a telling blow.
It came, eventually, 10 minutes after the interval, courtesy of a defensive mix-up. While in the process receiving a simple pass from his goalkeeper, Morgan Schneiderlin failed to spot Dele Alli lurking over his right shoulder. The youngster knocked the ball into the path of Kane, who was suddenly bearing down on Robles with time and space to pick his spot. He slipped it past the onrushing Spaniard with ease.
There now seemed to be no chance of the Premier League’s only remaining unbeaten home record being blemished and Tottenham, safe in that knowledge, bedded in. Only the unlikely figure of Jan Vertonghen was willing to take risk to increase the lead. The centre-back had embarked on a brilliant if risky run and stung Robles’ palms shortly before Kane’s second. He did so once again during one of the second half’s many lulls. This time, his shot was blocked.
Perhaps he should have played a bit safer. Eight minutes from time, with Everton still waiting to register a shot on target, the Belgian slipped, allowing his compatriot Lukaku to pick up on Kevin Mirallas’ pass and run through on goal. Having struggled for a kick all afternoon, a simple finish past Hugo Lloris cut Tottenham’s lead down to one, and Kane’s with it.
The away end was buoyant and could sense a collapse from their hosts, but Everton’s first real opening had come by way of an opponent’s error, and their team was still struggling to make inroads of their own. Tottenham held them at bay and at the start of stoppage time, restored their two-goal advantage. Alli took a touch on Harry Winks’ free-kick while running in front of Robles, deflecting the ball past the goalkeeper and into the corner of the net.
There was just enough time for Everton to hit back, with Enner Valencia glancing home Ross Barkley’s free-kick for a consolation, but with only seconds remaining, it was too little too late.
Tottenham Hotspur (3-4-2-1): Lloris, Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Dier, Wanyama, Dembele (Winks 78), Eriksen (Sissoko 87), Alli, Kane (Janssen 90).
Everton (4-2-3-1): Robles, Coleman, Funes Mori, Williams, Baines, Gueye (Valencia 81), Barry (McCarthy 64), Davies (Mirallas 64), Schneiderlin, Barkley, Lukaku.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)
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