Tottenham did not need to win well or win beautifully. Already, with less than three months of the season gone, their task each week is simple: just win. Mission accomplished; onto the next.
In ousting Crystal Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park under the lights on this Friday night, they came through a tricky, sticky looking fixture. And Palace did make it so. But through Joel Ward’s own goal and Heung-min Son's close-range strike, and despite Jordan Ayew’s late goal they extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to five points.
Ange Postecoglou will no doubt lament much of this performance, just as Roy Hodgson will lament much of Palace’s, but Tottenham claimed the all-important points and on nights like this, that is the currency that counts.
Arsenal only won under the lights at Selhurst Park courtesy of a Martin Odegaard penalty when they came to visit back in August, and their North London rivals had similar difficulty on their own journey south of the Thames.
Throughout the first half, which ended goalless, possession favoured Tottenham but most of the clear-cut openings fell to the hosts.
Will Hughes fed Jordan Ayew, who pummelled the ball close enough to Guglielmo Vicario that the Italian was able to parry. Palace came again, Odsonne Edouard found space, and his shot on the swivel was expertly tipped to safety by Vicario, who got down instantly.
The travelling Spurs fans, in those early stages and indeed throughout the opening 45 minutes, may well have felt somewhat angsty, knowing this was their chance to go five points clear at the top for the first time in the Premier League
It illustrated perfectly Hodgson’s game plan for Palace when Marc Guehi came sprinting across to the left-back berth to slide in on Dejan Kulusevski and put the ball out for a throw in. Hodgson, on his 500th game managing an English club, and his trust assistant manager Ray Lewington applauded Guehi’s hard graft. Palace were bedding in. Spurs were begging for space.
They found it in the second half — just enough of it, at least, to muster two goals in 13 minutes which killed Palace’s hopes of rising above 11th place in the Premier League table.
Perhaps it was always going to need an element of fortune for Spurs to break the deadlock in this often difficult stadium to visit, or perhaps it told of just where they are at right now that they were blessed with such fortune. Either way, James Maddison’s wild effort lashed off Joel Ward’s leg and into the net. The Palace captain inadvertently hoofing his side behind.
Hodgson threw on 21-year-old Jesrun Rak-Sakyi. Fresh legs; a fresh angle to Palace’s attack? It mattered not. Brennan Johnson — off the bench for his return from injury — combined with Maddison and then tucked the ball for Son Heung-min to slide home. Son had been anonymous, yet now he had eight league goals for the season.
Ayew did spring a surprise when volleying a consolation goal past Vicario in stoppage time, even if he controlled the ball with his arm and VAR appeared to make the wrong call by allowing it.
If their 4-0 defeat at Newcastle last weekend was a calamity for Palace, this was not. But this result was equally useless to them.
In a similar way, Spurs fabricated nothing like the scintillating football that helped them to a 2-0 win over Fulham on Monday, but this was a victory equally precious.