Crystal Palace 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Tottenham did just about enough to creep into an automatic Europa League berth for next season, with a hard-fought draw against Crystal Palace.
With Chelsea beating Wolves, all the north London side had to do was avoid defeat against the struggling Eagles. In a match that will not live long in the memory, the end justified the means, with a Harry Kane effort enough as it turned out.
Palace merited their point, perhaps mindful of unwanted records, for an 8th loss on the spin would have been a club record. Captain Scott Dann might have made things more interesting if his 90th minute header had hit the target, but had to settle for Jeffrey Schlupp’s 53rd minute equaliser.
So goal difference was the eventual undoing of Euro rivals Wolves – and Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho looked, predictably, a relived figure at the end of it all.
Quite apart from the still rather surreal scenario of a closed-doors fixture, Palace could certainly have been forgiven for wishing their campaign was already over; a vast slump in form saw seven successive defeats and a degree of criticism of manager Roy Hodgson. A hungry Tottenham side, with striker Kane in fine recent scoring form, arrived in south London with a firm Euro objective in mind. And with three successive victories, a trip to Selhurst appeared to be an ideal destination.
The hosts were, then, limping towards the end of this term with a number of absentees, a reflection of the complete dilution of fortune around Selhurst Park. Hodgson had to do without Mamadou Sakho, James Tomkins, Patrick van Aanholt, Gary Cahill and the suspended Christian Benteke.
Meanwhile, Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli was available, having returned to training this week following a four-game absence with a hamstring issue, but Mourinho chose to leave him on the bench.
That determination, with so much at stake, from Tottenham to get off to a strong start was vindicated as early as the 12th minute when Kane drilled home. The England striker fired past Palace keeper Vincente Guaita after a good run into the penalty area and pass by Giovani Lo Celso. It was Kane’s 14th goal in 19 outings under Mourinho: a clearly impressive stat for a player who has had major injury problems this season.
Palace took their time to respond. While it was important they helped contain the north Londoners for a spell after the goal, it took them 27 minutes before Hugo Lloris was tested, the visiting keeper saving well from a low Jeffery Schlupp effort. In addition, James McArthur was particularly industrious in dissipating the spark of Spurs’ creator-in-chief Son Heung-Min. Containing Son, though, is a full 90 minute task, but the South Korean was substituted in the second half in what was a rare, peripheral showing.
Palace grew in confidence without troubling Lloris too much for the reminder of the first half, an obvious factor in the frustrations of onlooking assistant manager Ray Lewington, making himself especially voluble from the touchline, alongside the ever-pensive Hodgson.
Eric Dier nearly put Tottenham two-up at the restart, but the defender’s header flashed just over the bar by a few inches from a Lo Celso corner.
Obviously informed of Wolves’ losing at Chelsea, and with European football in sight, Mourinho’s men should have upped the tempo – but they were caught out eight minutes into the second half when Palace levelled. Jordan Ayew failed to connect properly when the Spurs rearguard couldn’t deal with a corner, and an unmarked Schlupp was handily placed, eight yards out, to drive in to the roof of the net.
There’s nothing like a timely goal to lift the mood and it was clear to see Palace growing in confidence, their passing and all-round awareness improving, with Spurs stuck for answers. The Eagles’ bite had Mourinho appearing frustrated, with little sign of Kane or Tottenham adding to their early goal. Moreover, it was rather strange to see Lo Celso replaced by Steven Bergwijn on the hour.
The minutes dragged on. Palace working admirably, Tottenham trying to open up.
With chances becoming ever scarce with sweat, rather than technique the unsurprising currency of the last game of the season, Kane’s effort proved to be enough. Mourniho’s old employers a few miles west at Stamford Bridge had done their job to dislodge Wolves from the reckoning and guarantee continental action for a club who have, over the course, been disappointing too often.
Nevertheless, for Tottenham to finish sixth from 14th when Mourinho took over last November, is steady, if not always spectacular, work.
CRYSTAL PALACE: Guaita, Ward, Dann, Kouyate, McArthur (Riedewald 70), McCarthy, Mitchell, Ayew, Townsend, Zaha, Schlupp (Milnojovic 84)
TOTTENHAM: Lloris, Alderweield, Aurier, Dier, Davies, Son Heung-Min (Alli 80), Winks, Sissoko (Skipp 80), Lo Celso (Bergwijn 60), Moura (Sanchez 88), Kane