Juan Foyth shrugged off his nightmare Premier League debut to score his first goal in professional football as Tottenham won 1-0 at Crystal Palace.
In last week’s fixture at Wolves Foyth conceded two penalties to put Spurs’ eventual 3-2 victory and his reputation at risk.
But, with his team struggling to convince at Selhurst Park, the 20-year-old Argentinian demonstrated an unrivalled hunger and desire to seize on the loose ball and head home the goal that secured all three points.
Anything less and a victory for Arsenal on Sunday, also against Wolves, would have meant Spurs dropping out of the top four and being replaced by their rivals.
They instead secured their third win in eight days, and worsened Palace’s misery on an evening when they had again struggled in the absence of the injured Wilfried Zaha.
A minor hamstring injury had meant the hosts, who last won in the league without their influential forward at Sunderland in September 2016 and have struggled for goals all season, starting Andros Townsend and Jordan Ayew in an unfamiliar front two.
In recalling Foyth, Kieran Trippier, Victor Wanyama, Moussa Sissoko and Erik Lamela, Spurs similarly lacked the intensity that is so often such a strength.
Any attempts at consistency were further undermined when Trippier was lost to injury and replaced by Serge Aurier midway through the half, during which a 25-yard strike from Harry Kane, routinely saved by Wayne Hennessey, represented the greatest threat on goal from either team.
While Palace had again struggled in the final third, they defended soundly and played with greater belief than they last did when Zaha also missed out in September’s 2-0 defeat at home to Southampton.
It perhaps even took an injury to James Tomkins, replaced by Martin Kelly after an hour, to take a point beyond their reach.
The central defender had headed narrowly over from Luka Milivojevic’s right-wing corner shortly before he had to be taken off, and in his absence Palace lost the partnership with Mamadou Sakho that is such a strength.
Pressure had subtly been building when, in the 66th minute and with Palace struggling to clear Spurs’ corner, Ayew was guilty of watching the loose ball as Foyth took advantage to nip in and head over Patrick van Aanholt, standing on the goal-line.
Palace manager Roy Hodgson reacted by introducing Jeffrey Schlupp for Max Meyer in the pursuit of greater width, and the winger nearly rewarded him when crossing to Ayew on the counter before watching goalkeeper Hugo Lloris collect.
Palace’s finest chance fell kindly to fellow substitute Alexander Sorloth in front of goal in the 90th minute, but while he struck well with his weaker left foot, Lloris produced a fine reaction save to secure a clean sheet, all three points, and to keep the hosts 16th.
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