Soldado settles Tottenham’s nerves from the spot
Record signing scores winning penalty on debut at Selhurst Park
Tottenham Hotspur’s Roberto Soldado (second from left) celebrates with team-mates after scoring a penalty against Crystal Palace during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park in London. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Crystal Palace 0 Tottenham 1: André Villas-Boas had been worried. For the second successive summer, Tottenham have sought to overhaul their starting XI and the transition has been unsettling. There were four debutants on show here and the manager had grumbled about the lack of bedding-in time. As an aside, there promises to be a few more fireworks before the closure of the transfer window.
Tottenham, though, still had too much for a Crystal Palace team fuelled by spirit and adrenaline, and which enjoyed a first Premier League appearance since 2005. They contributed wholeheartedly to a game that spluttered to its late finale but there was an inevitability about the result.
Tottenham were in control for lengthy spells and they fired their season via a debut goal from their record signing Roberto Soldado. The €30 million buy from Valencia tucked away a penalty early in the second half and, although Palace belatedly created chances, they could not find a way past Hugo Lloris.
The substitute Kevin Phillips took a heavy touch onto a ball over the top and the Tottenham goalkeeper was out to thwart him while Damien Delaney and Kagisho Dikgacoi drilled shots into Lloris’s body. Tottenham had the opportunities to make Villas-Boas’s afternoon more comfortable but Gylfi Sigurdsson and the substitute Jermain Defoe blew glorious chances. Soldado’s penalty proved sufficient.
Ian Holloway’s starting Palace formation had been narrow, with Dwight Gayle and Stephen Dobbie tucked in from the flanks and they endeavoured to stop Tottenham from playing through them. On a steamy afternoon, the home team needed to mine reserves of energy; their discipline had to be of the highest order. The captain, Mile Jedinak, led by example and it was one of those games that struggled for a spark.
Tottenham came to monopolise possession but it said much for the spectacle that the Palace goalkeeper, Julian Speroni, was worked only once in the first half, in the 35th minute, when he pawed Sigurdsson’s pot-shot over the crossbar. The only other first-half flickers came when Mousa Dembélé’s dipping shot from distance kissed the top of the crossbar and Nacer Chadli headed off target at the far post.
Tottenham made inroads up the right, where the full back Kyle Walker looked like an auxiliary winger but the end product was laboured at times.
Villas-Boas surely stressed the requirement for patience at half-time. Tottenham had the superior quality. They had to make it tell.
The breakthrough arrived early in the second period. Aaron Lennon had been frustrating, clearly having the beating of the Palace full back Dean Moxey, but too often hitting the first defender with his cross. He did precisely that on 49 minutes but, happily for him, the ball struck Moxey’s trailing hand.
Moments earlier, the referee, Mark Clattenburg, had ruled that Jedinak’s clumsy challenge on Paulinho was not worth a penalty but there could be no reprieve for Moxey. Soldado’s stutter-step and conversion was under-pined by nervelessness.
Holloway had to force the issue and he threw on the cavalry with a dramatic flourish, his triple substitution on 66 minutes lifting the home crowd. Phillips and the new signing Marouane Chamakh provided fresh options up front while Jonny Williams showed flashes of his quicksilver threat off the left.
Sigurdsson ought to have made the game safe for Spurs shortly afterwards. From Walker’s pass, Soldado pulled back astutely but Sigurdsson could only drag his low shot past the far post. Tottenham faces contorted, especially that of Sigurdsson and Palace wondered whether they could create one decent chance to pinch something. They did but Lloris denied them.