A first half goal by Roberto Soldado gave Tottenham a hard-earned three points against a determined Cardiff City team who gave everything in their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Cardiff City 0
Once @SpursOfficial had got themselves sorted out, having announced that the Townsend ‘twins’ were in the starting line-up, it transpired that the Tottenham team showed two changes from the one which defeated Dnipro on Thursday evening – Aaron Lennon returned in place of Christian Eriksen who is reported to have a back injury while Paulinho came in for Sandro.
Tottenham had a lively start with Lennon delivering a cross into the area but Roberto Soldado directed it wide. Immediately after a Zeki Fryers cross went over Emmanuel Adebayor but was collected by Lennon who delivered another cross onto the head of Soldado who tried to nod it down for Adebayor but it was cleared.
A free-kick for Cardiff was hit over the bar by Craig Bellamy in the 6th minute and then a misunderstanding between Fryers and Andros Townsend allowed Cardiff to break quickly but Dawson blocked Fabio’s shot after Bellamy had broken at pace on the right.
A minute later it was Tottenham’s turn to break through Soldado but their passing was over-elaborate and was cleared. Townsend was now causing problems on the left and was brought down by Fabio. Adebayor hit the free-kick on the edge of the area into the wall.
Cardiff looked dangerous when breaking with quick passing and movement but their final pass was letting them down. A Townsend shot was blocked by the goalkeeper and cleared on 13 minutes and two minutes later from a free-kick by Kyle Naughton, Dawson’s header was straight at the goalkeeper, but he had been given off-side.
From another corner, Dawson won the ball and headed it for Soldado who returned it to the central defender who shot wide.
In the opening 20 minutes, Spurs dominated possession with 71% but Cardiff were threatening on the counter-attack. From a corner by Naughton, Dawson flicked it on at the near post but the ball drifted past the back post.
On 27 minutes following a Cardiff corner, Spurs counter-attacked through Townsend. He gave the ball to Adebayor who played it into the centre of the area where Soldado took one touch and then put it beyond Marshall in the Cardiff goal – his first league goal from open play at White Hart Lane and only his second of the season.
Cardiff responded quickly and from a corner, Steven Caulker, put the ball against the bar with Lloris beaten having been blocked on his line. The visitors threatened to make a telling break but Spurs always managed to have a man in place to put in a telling clearance or tackle with both Dawson and Vertonghen coming to the rescue.
Spurs looked most threatening on the break when Cardiff had players forward for corners and set-pieces but they failed to make the most of limited opportunities. With five minutes to half-time, John broke from half-way and tested Lloris at his near post but Bellamy and Campbell were in the Spurs area waiting for a pass.
After the interval Spurs continued to dominate possession in a match that went from end to end. Cardiff had the greater urgency in their play needing a goal to get back into the game while Spurs with the goal advantage were content to slow the game down, keep possession and dictate the match.
Dawson and Vertonghen continued to make vital interceptions and clearances. Lennon made a break from midfield on 49 minutes but was stopped on the edge of the area. A few minutes later as he broke towards the area he was brought down on the corner of the box but Townsend sent the free-kick into the hands of the goalkeeper. On the hour he shot over following a run from midfield. Naughton played the ball forward for Soldado who was fouled on the edge of the area but the free-kick was wasted.
Cardiff looked dangerous and there was growing anxiety inside White Hart Lane as Spurs failed to add to their goal. Spurs had a period of controlled passing, denying Cardiff the ball but without causing any problems for the visiting defenders.
With twenty minutes to play Sandro and Nacer Chadi replaced Paulinho and Townsend with Spurs looking tho hold what they had. It was a tense finale as worries grew that a late goal would deny Spurs the three points. Cardiff worked hard with more play around the Spurs box but again they failed to make a telling pass. Harry Kane who replaced Soldado had the opportunity to secure Tottenham’s win in the 88th minute. Spurs broke through Chadli who found Kane free on the left of the area with only Marshal to beat. The goalkeeper came out quickly to block Kane’s shot with his legs.
Spurs could have rued that miss as in added time Cardiff had two corners in quick succession but Spurs held on for another vital win which keeps them in 5th place, 4 points behind Manchester City and 6 behind Arsenal and Liverpool. They maintained the 5 point gap over Everton and 8 ahead of Manchester United.
Tottenham did what was required of them – they defeated Cardiff, it wasn’t pretty to watch but in the challenge for a top-4 finish, Spurs have to win to keep in touch with the top clubs who have been incredibly consistent this season.
In the words of Tim Sherwood in his post-match interview with BBC Sport, “Spurs won ugly!”