Early sparks from Crystal Palace at Tottenham’s new home but no proper ignition – as lack of changes until late in game prove a head-scratcher

TOTTENHAM 2
Son Heung-min 55 Eriksen 80
CRYSTAL PALACE 0
BY MATT WOOSNAM
AT TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR STADIUM

The inherent problem with sitting back and hoping not to concede for 90 minutes is that it only takes a solitary mistake to unravel the game plan.

So it proved at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Heung-min Son picked up the ball on the right following not one, not two but at least three errors from Crystal Palace, cut inside and with the aid of a significant deflection off Luka Milivojevic, became the first person to score at this brand new ground.

Christian Eriksen would double the lead late on and cap a positive night for the hosts.

Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp (left) and Tottenham Hotspur’s Lucas Moura battle for the ball

It was a grandiose opening ceremony, complete with fireworks shooting off the roof of the stadium. When it got loud, it was deafening, both ends behind the goal designed to maximise the atmosphere. The Palace fans played their part, but this was of course Tottenham’s night.

There were early sparks when Jeffrey Schlupp blazed over after bursting into the box, and at the other end, Patrick van Aanholt was alert to stop Eriksen but that was almost as good as it got for the first half.

It was Eriksen who almost christened the new stadium with its opening goal after 15 minutes following an excellent team move which ended in Kieran Trippier cutting the ball back to the Danish midfielder but he slightly scuffed his shot and Vicente Guaita was able to get down to prevent it from rippling the net.

Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha (left) and Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli battle for the ball

Counter-attacking has served the Eagles well this season on their travels and their away form over the previous six matches was the second best in the league, but the intent was even more defensive here.

Roy Hodgson’s side spent the majority of the opening 45 minutes inside their own half, albeit effectively frustrating Spurs, but hoofing long balls to a striker who is undeniably better with the ball at his feet, while leaving another – Christian Benteke – who would suit this tactic more on the bench.

Batshuayi did have an opportunity early in the second half when he cut back inside and curled an effort narrowly wide of Hugo Lloris’ goal.

When Benteke was finally introduced, he linked play better, as he did against Huddersfield, and with the introduction of Townsend too, they started to have a smattering of moves forward.

Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic (left) and Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min battle for the ball…

But this was a thoroughly underwhelming night in north London. Palace came here to avoid defeat, and for 55 minutes it seemed like there would be no goal to mark the occasion from either side, but Son had other ideas.

Hodgson has done well since joining Palace, and they are more or less out of the relegation battle, but his lack of alternative plan when his side concede the first goal is alarming.

The Eagles’ attacking threat is stifled with a 4-3-2-1 formation which fails to get the best out of star man Wilfried Zaha, or Batshuayi. Playing to the strengths of the personnel at your availability is surely one of the most important aspects of football.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min scores his side’s first goal of the game

Essentially, they bypass the midfield, with three combative battlers in the centre. Only James McArthur truly provided any semblance of attacking contribution.

Kouyate fails to offer anything with the ball at his feet, while Milivojevic is a defensive midfielder first and foremost. Their play is grating at times, misplaced passes equally frustrating.

Indeed, Martin Kelly epitomised this when he tried to thread a ball through on half way, only to pass straight to a white shirt. Harry Kane was in on goal almost instantly, but fluffed his lines by firing over.

Some will view things differently, pointing to the defensive strength for most of the game, the lack of clear-cut opportunities for the hosts, but this was a poor performance from Palace.

Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic gestures

Hodgson’s in-game management has been inconsistent this season, it worked perfectly against Huddersfield on Saturday, and yet with less than 20 minutes remaining he had not made a single change in tactics or personnel. It made little sense.

The away supporters were restless. Cries of “Hodgson, make a sub” were audible, and not for the first time this campaign. For every two steps forward, it’s a step back. When things seem to be changing, they revert.

In the 77th minute, still behind, Palace had a chance to counter. Except they didn’t. McArthur launched a ball forward from deep inside his own half, but the only player ahead of him was Zaha.

Zaha seldom had the chance to run at Ben Davies throughout the game, but when he did with just four minutes remaining, he worked his way past the left-back and unloaded an effort on goal only to see Lloris save well. A rare foray forward.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min celebrates scoring his side’s first goal of the game

It was yet another misplaced pass from Kelly which allowed Spurs to double their lead. Kane protruded into the area and as he was tackled the loose ball fell to Eriksen to slot home.

Spurs were professional to the last, they were patient, worked the ball well and despite wasting a handful of decent openings, were clinical enough to punish Palace, who, incidentally, registered their only shot on target very much near the end of the 90 minutes.

But, for the Eagles, this was another disappointing game.

Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1) Guaita 7, Wan-Bissaka 7, Kelly 5, Tomkins 7, Van Aanholt 5, McArthur 5, Milivojevic 5, Kouyate 4 (Townsend 79), Zaha 5, Schlupp 5, Batshuayi 5 (Benteke 81). Not used: Hennessey, Ward, Dann, Meyer, Ayew.

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