In the space of four days, four became two for Tottenham Hotspur. Eliminated from the League Cup on Thursday, ejected from the FA Cup on Sunday, they are reduced to fighting on two fronts. In all probability, Mauricio Pochettino’s wait for a maiden trophy with Spurs will extend for another year. Perhaps, considering how coveted the Argentine is, Crystal Palace’s victory ensures he will leave without silverware.
Tottenham endured one of those days when everything that could have gone wrong did. They conceded a penalty in needless fashion and squandered another, missing a third spot kick in 91 hours. Pochettino made seven changes and the faultlines in a squad that he has been unable to strengthen were exposed. Tottenham were profligate at one end and faulty at the other. It summed up their afternoon that one of their nemeses was Andros Townsend, a player Pochettino exiled from White Hart Lane.
Yet it amounted to a joyous occasion for Palace and, in particular, two fringe figures. Connor Wickham made his first start since 2016 and delivered his first goal for 799 days. Julian Speroni, the third-choice goalkeeper who was culpable for defeat at Anfield last week, produced a redemptive display of reliability. The 39-year-old Argentine made two fine stops from Fernando Llorente and a terrific stop from Georges-Kevin Nkoudou while Scott Dann produced a goal-line clearance to deny the Tottenham winger, who had not begun a game since 2017 but was pressed into service for a depleted Spurs side.
Palace beat Tottenham on their route to the 2016 FA Cup final and with Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool already out, a repeat feels possible. Roy Hodgson admitted the competition was “nothing like the glittering prize it was in my youth,” but his side displayed a winning blend of commitment and pace on the break.
Hodgson made six changes, one fewer than Pochettino, and two of those he introduced combined to put his side ahead. Jeff Schlupp made the initial incision and, when Paulo Gazzaniga parried his shot, Wickham bundled in the rebound with his knee.
His celebrations were understandable, Townsend’s muted when he emphatically dispatched a penalty against his former club. Kyle Walker-Peters had gifted it, panicking about Wickham’s presence behind him and handling rashly.
Yet two could concede avoidable penalties. Patrick van Aanholt clipped Juan Foyth’s heels. Eric Dier and Lucas Moura had missed in Thursday’s Stamford Bridge shoot-out. Both were on the pitch to see Kieran Tripper blaze wide.
It was another moment to consider the cast list of the missing. The absences of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min were compounded when Christian Eriksen was omitted, Pochettino reasoning a man who had played 16 games in two months needed a rest. The overworked Toby Alderweireld was also given a day off and Jan Vertonghen removed at half time as Pochettino brought on Erik Lamela, changed shape and drew a response from his side. Like a second-half fightback against Chelsea, it was a reminder of Pochettino’s capacity to change games, even without his premier players.
Apart from one shot from Moura, Spurs had barely threatened in the first 40 minutes. In the final 50, Palace had to withstand an onslaught. There were times when it felt the pressure was bound to tell but Palace’s much-changed defence made a series of blocks. Dann was especially defiant to stop Tottenham turning possession into goals. It was a show of spirit but, while Victor Wanyama came on for his first appearance since November, it nevertheless amounted to another demoralising day for Tottenham.