When Harry Kane picked up the ball 30 yards out from goal at White Hart Lane and unleashed a shot that whistled past Joel Robles, Mauricio Pochettino’s reaction was unremarkable. He twisted on his shiny, leather shoes and nodded to Jesus Perez, his trusty lieutenant. They have become used to such greatness from the Tottenham striker; it is expected of him.
In north London on Sunday, Kane was once again the star of the show, scoring twice in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Everton to cut Chelsea’s lead to seven points at the top of the Premier League. This had been billed as the battle of the league’s two in-form forwards in Kane and Romelu Lukaku.
Before kick-off, there was little to separate the two. Both are 23 years old, heading toward the prime of their career; both led the Premier League top scorers chart, alongside Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez; and both had provided four assists for their team this season. But, in the end, Lukaku would have to settle for understudy.
In fairness, Kane enjoyed the better service at White Hart Lane, with Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Moussa Dembele frequently feeding the England striker in behind the Everton back-four, while Kyle Walker and Ben Davies zipped up and down the wings. Lukaku, meanwhile, struggled all afternoon against the might of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, his fellow Belgians who have played a large part in making Spurs the best defence in the league this season.
Lukaku did manage to add to his record, taking his tally to nine goals in nine games and his 61st for the club, but it came from a rare Vertonghen error, slipping on the greasy turf with nine minutes to go. It sparked a late resurgence from Everton, but Alli’s injury time goal confirmed the points would remain in north London.
As Everton expected Harry Winks, on as a late substitute, to play a free-kick short, the young forward caught the away side unaware. His whipped pass flew in front of Alli, whose deft touch was enough to beat Robles. Pochettino leapt into the air and punched the sky as his team kept league leader Chelsea in sight. The title chase is still on.
After the game, Pochettino said his team believed it was still in the fight for the championship. “I think we showed that today,” he said. “It is up to us to be there if [Chelsea] fail, and it was very important for us to achieve the three points and keep our second place in the table.”
Spurs, as Pochettino said, dominated the first half. The game had gurgled on for 20 minutes, as a congested Everton midfield made it difficult for the hosts to carve out any meaningful chances. But when Kane’s long-distance strike flew in, the heavens threatened to open. The north London sky grew dark and the rain began to pour almost as fast as the Spurs players flooded forward, and the chances came. First, Kane came close to adding a second but was denied by Robles. Next, Eriksen dragged his shot wide, and then Victor Wanyama’s deflected shot struck the post. The pathetic fallacy was painful.
Everton managed to remain in the game but was then the creator of its own downfall. While Kane’s first was a treat for the eyes, his second was simply a gift. Just short of the hour mark, Robles rolled the ball out to Morgan Schneiderlin, but the January signing was caught by Alli, and the ball fell to Kane. He raced into the penalty area and slipped the ball calmly under Robles for his eighth goal in four games.
The hat-trick was on. And with eight minutes remaining, Kane’s chance came. He was one-on-one with Robles but saw his attempt at a chip fail to reach the necessary height and rebound back off the Spanish goalkeeper. Later, Kane would say how disappointed he was not to have completed the treble. “It is a good mentality [to have],” Pochettino said. “He has the possibility [to score], it is a big chance and he was a little upset. When you have the possibility to kill the opponent, you need to score always.”
In the away dugout, Ronald Koeman watched his side’s nine-game unbeaten run come to a finish in the English capital, but he was pleased with what he saw. “At least we showed great character until the end of the game, and tried to get it back at 2-1,” the Dutchman said. “ We were hoping for a point but their third killed the final result.” Substitute Enner Valencia added the second for Everton, and Koeman believed the comeback would have been possible had there been more time.
But it is time that is not on Spurs’ side. Just 11 games remain in the Premier League this season and Chelsea can regain its 10-point lead at the top of the table with a victory over West Ham on Monday night. Pochettino will be watching, waiting. His team, he says, will be ready for any slip.
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