Son strike seals laboured Tottenham win over Palace
Spurs’ third-choice goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga keeps his team in the game
Roy Hodgson turned on his heel and marched back towards the bench. The Crystal Palace manager’s stony-faced fury told the story. Football can be the cruellest of pursuits, and how Hodgson felt it shortly after the hour mark here at Wembley.
His Palace team had held Tottenham Hotspur at arm’s length and created a clutch of chances to have taken the lead. Paulo Gazzaniga, the third-choice Tottenham goalkeeper, had kept his team in it, while Wilfried Zaha had blown a glorious chance following a 57th minute breakaway.
But, in a heartbeat, the game had turned, and Hodgson had that sinking feeling. Son Heung-min’s winner was a beautifully executed finish – quite out of keeping with the rest of his performance and that of his team.
The South Korea forward’s body shape was perfect and he got his left-footed shot to bend back into the corner of the net from a yard or so outside of it.
Hodgson could curse how the ball had reached Son. After Danny Rose had jinked inside and seen a shot blocked, Moussa Sissoko recycled the move with a low cross from the right. Yohan Cabaye had the chance to clear but he succeeded only in playing it straight to Son. He did the rest.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team struggled to get themselves going, and but for Gazzaniga they would have dropped points. As it was, they could luxuriate in winning when they did not deserve to.
Pochettino’s inclusion of Gazzaniga for his Tottenham debut had been unexpected. With Hugo Lloris out with an adductor muscle problem, Michel Vorm had been in line for a rare Premier League opportunity but, incredibly, he would injure his knee in training on Saturday. The door opened for Gazzaniga, a summer signing from Southampton, and he would be the hero.
Pochettino was without Dele Alli, the two-goal star of the midweek Madrid tie, because of a hamstring injury, and the home team laboured. The tempo and cohesion was missing.
Rose fluffed a first-half header on the corner of the six yard box, while Son was torn between crossing and shooting when well-placed on the left of the area. In the end he did neither. The ball went out for a throw-in.
Harry Winks and Harry Kane needed treatment for knocks in the first half, and the former, who was caught on the foot by Luka Milivojevic, did not reappear for the second half.
It was all a bit stop-start from Tottenham. Kane looped a 35th minute header over the crossbar, and that was as good as it got for his team before the interval.
Palace would have led in the 36th minute following a Cabaye corner but for an excellent save by Gazzaniga.
Scott Dann rose above Eric Dier and he planted a downwards header towards the corner.
Gazzaniga showcased his reflexes and Jan Vertonghen completed the clearance.
Palace’s plan was working. They frustrated Tottenham and, by the hour mark, it was a wonder how they were not in front. It was they who created the best chances.
Gazzaniga was the reason it stayed goalless. Him, and a moment of loose finishing from the otherwise impressive Zaha.
Gazzaniga tipped Andros Townsend’s low shot around the far post after the former Tottenham forward had seized upon a poor ball from Serge Aurier to run through, while he beat out Milivojevic’s header at the far post after a corner had deflected up off Dier.
The Zaha miss was a horrible moment for him and Palace because when he took the ball around Gazzaniga on a fast break and the empty net yawned, a player of his refinement had to score.
Yet Zaha missed and was furious with himself. Moments later Son twisted the knife.
Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son scores the only goal of the game against Crystal Palace at Wembley.