Roberto Soldado strike spurs Tottenham on to Everton victory
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino made some tough decisions ahead of this crunch clash with Europa League rivals Everton and, despite a shaky start, they eventually paid dividends as Spurs swept to victory.
First up was the Argentine coach’s continued perseverance with frustrating forward Roberto Soldado, who grabbed the eventual winner just before the break, making amends for his earlier missed tackle on Kevin Mirallas.
The Spaniard has not endured an easy time since his switch to White Hart Lane, and his relief was palpable after netting his first in 12 Premier League outings this term.
Soldado benefited from the support of Pochettino’s plum picks of Harry Kane and Aaron Lennon. In a bold move, Spurs took on the Toffees with two up top, but still managed to dominate the midfield battle.
Lennon made a rare and surprising start, selected for his pace and experience over the recently returning Nacer Chadli, one of Tottenham’s top scorers this season, and club record buy Erik Lamela.
Spurs’ reply to going behind to Mirallas’ exquisite early opener was the perfect tonic for Pochettino, whose selections justified themselves with a rapid response.
Crafty and quick-thinking throughout, Kane fashioned most of Tottenham’s best chances. His low shot was spilled by Tim Howard around the 20-minute mark, and the excellent Christian Eriksen was on hand to follow in, finishing with aplomb.
Impressive Kane continued to drop deep and press throughout, eventually dispossessing Gareth Barry, with the ball falling to Lennon. The rapid winger notched up an easy assist by sliding a perfectly weighted pass through to an on-rushing and eager Soldado to slot home and silence critics.
Tottenham’s workrate continuously caused Everton problems, as Eriksen’s selection in a wide role proved him to be more than capable of contributing industry as well as guile.
Spurs did not have it all their own way, however, as Roberto Martinez’s men set a frenetic and energetic tone from the off. It wasn’t until after their equaliser that Spurs began to look like the home team, with Everton still enjoying an inordinate amount of possession.
Bullish Ross Barkley was sloppy in possession as he continued to press for a late goal, often gifting the ball to Tottenham, but impressed with his power and forward thrust.
The young Everton academy graduate always appeared most likely to create an opening, with a strong run in the opening minutes, where he rode several challenges before it came to nothing, typifying both his and the visitors’ game.
For all their adventure and attacking intent, the Toffees were unable to breach Tottenham’s backline again, and saw their flaws exploited perfectly on the counter-attack.
Weak points were evident as Spurs pressed the defence, in particular Sylvain Distin, and picked Everton’s midfield pocket on numerous occasions.
The Toffees also found their threat nullified too easily with wing backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines foiled repeatedly by Pochettino’s rearguard and a bank of four expertly organised in midfield.
Romelu Lukaku toiled admirably, but was easily isolated with Barkley shunted wide, and Everton predictably fell into Tottenham’s trap on the break, with no choice but to continue pouring forward.
Credible penalty shouts were also shrugged off at either end, with Federico Fazio’s 90th minute handball missed and Muhammed Besic adjudged not to have fouled irrepressible Kane up the other end.
Everton, now 12/1 for a top four finish, will leave disappointed that they failed to capitalise on their extensive periods of dominance, revealing themselves to be too naive in possession, but their hosts were simply savvier and sharper both on and off the ball.
White Hart Lane, however, finally have something to shout about as Pochettino’s philosophy looks to be finally taking shape. The smart, swift link-up play on show, coupled with a new-found confidence and panache at bringing it out from the back could well be a turning point in Spurs’ season. Odds of 6/1 say they shall finish in the top four.